Elizabeth A. Clark

I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since I was baptized at age eight, but have been a convert to the Church since my freshman year in college. I remember at one point in high school thinking that the Church taught good morals and encouraged good families, but that the stories about how Joseph Smith obtained the plates that were translated into the Book of Mormon just sounded very strange. I had no single experience thereafter that radically altered my views of the historicity of the founding of the LDS Church and the Book of Mormon, but after reading the Book of Mormon as a junior in high school, I knew it was true—not in the sense of mental conviction formed by weighing of evidence, but because a settled conviction had come to my heart and mind as I had read and studied the book. Over the years, I have gained increasing appreciation and respect for the power and complexity of the Book of Mormon. In addition, as I have experienced divine intervention, answers, and influence in often small but very powerful ways in my life, I no longer find the idea of Joseph Smith being taught and led by angels and God strange. I have come to know that God loves us and can and does interact with our world in tangible, physical ways.

As a freshman in college, I heard the then-current president of the LDS Church, Ezra Taft Benson, challenge members to get nearer to God by reading the Book of Mormon daily.[1] I took his challenge and started reading the Book of Mormon every day. The Book of Mormon came alive to me and helped me find insights in the literature I was studying as a comparative literature major. I found myself changing for the better, being happier, more full of hope and optimism, more peaceful. I started to see the obligations I had assumed as a member of the Church as invitations to joy rather than expectations set by others. I came to appreciate and see the need for Christ in my life; in short, I became a convert.

Through college, law school, legal practice, and my academic experience, my understanding of the teachings found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has continued to bring me joy and peace. One example that some may relate to or struggle with is the question of marriage and motherhood. LDS Church leaders have repeatedly taught the importance of family and have encouraged men and women to make marriage and family a priority in their lives. While reaching out in love to all, the Church teaches the importance of marriage between a man and a woman and the potential for these marriages to last eternally.

Having experienced academic life as a single woman, a married woman with teenage step-children, a married mother of young children, and now as a single mother, I have found peace and joy in each of my various seasons. Throughout this time I have felt reassurance and direction as I have tried to shape my life to follow LDS doctrine and divine promptings. I have spent many years adult and single. During this time I have continued to feel the truth of the importance of marriage. Although I may not ever fit the stereotype some have of Mormon women (or Mormon women may sometimes have of themselves), I know that God knows me and has directed my life. I have trusted in God’s timing and continue to believe in the doctrine of marriage and family.

After being happily settled in an academic career, in a field that I enjoy and find deeply satisfying, I married a man who had four children from a previous marriage. Combining full-time academic life with instant step-motherhood was an adventure, but again, LDS doctrine and the individual peace and guidance that are such an essential part of it have given me reassurance, help, and sanity. Some ask how one can know that guidance and prompting are from a divine source and are not merely self-suggestions or imagination. It’s hard to give an answer that can satisfy others, but I have increasingly learned and am still learning to better recognize and follow the small voice of the Holy Spirit that speaks peace and wisdom from God, a voice which I can feel when I try to trust God instead of relying exclusively on my own rational thinking. Over time I have seen the results in my life from using this inspiration in combination my rational faculties, and continue to see miracles. Even more importantly, I know that seeking to serve God with all my heart, might, mind, and strength has changed me and made me a more careful and thoughtful scholar, a more patient and understanding parent and friend, and a happier and kinder person. The path is far from over, but I’m grateful to see the good fruits that have come in my life from attempts to choose a faithful life as a Latter-day Saint. To me, these serve as an additional witness, confirming that of scripture, Church leaders, and the promptings from the Holy Spirit.

After step-parenting in combination with full-time academic life, I had two more children and spent several years as a part-time academic and a stay-at-home mom. LDS Church leaders have underscored the important role of mothers, and their influence, particularly in the lives of their young children, and have encouraged women to make the raising of children a key priority in their lives. I know many mothers face difficult decisions and that not all women are in position to or have a desire to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m deeply grateful that this has been possible for me. I know there are books and articles I have not written and conferences I have passed up, but I find deep and often surprising joys in raising my children. Parenting small children brings immense amounts of repetitive and seemingly mindless tasks, but to me this also brings a tremendous opportunity to help my children develop a base of love and trust and curiosity for the world around them. I also continue to learn from my children and step-children—from their grace, their kindness, their willingness to forgive, their desires to understand the world, and their joy in life. I see colleagues and friends who have been more fully engaged in the academic world and admire their publications, their ability to inspire students, and their impact in the world. I feel peace and deep satisfaction, however, from my choices and attempts to listen to divine direction through LDS Church doctrine and individual divine guidance.

Faith and listening for God’s voice have brought immeasurable peace to me through my divorce as well. Divine inspiration and the assurance of a loving Father in Heaven have never been more tangible to me. I feel that love through peace from the Holy Spirit and in a flood of divine light, guidance, and comfort as I study the Book of Mormon. It’s not an easy or ideal situation, but the peace and guidance keep coming one step at a time.

I am grateful to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a follower of Jesus Christ. My life has been blessed by many friends of other faiths and those of no faith; although they may not share all or any of my convictions, they are examples to me of the life I seek to lead. I wish to add my witness, however, that I have come to know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been established by God; that its leaders, including Joseph Smith and the current leader, Thomas S. Monson, are prophets called by God. The Book of Mormon has brought me closer to God and is a powerful witness of Jesus Christ. Reading the Book of Mormon, trying to follow LDS Church doctrine, and attempting to listen to the quiet direction from the Holy Spirit have shaped my life, brought me deep and abiding joys, and continue to give me faith and hope for the future.

[1] Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign (Nov. 1988).

Posted December 2010 on FairMormon.org

Elizabeth A. Clark earned her B.A. magna cum laude in Comparative Literature and Russian from Brigham Young University in 1994, and was the student commencement speaker for her class. She went on to earn her J.D. summa cum laude from the University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1997, serving, during her time as a law student, as Editor-in-Chief of the BYU Law Review.

As Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Professor Clark has taken part in drafting commentaries and legal analyses of pending legislation and developments affecting religious freedom, and has assisted in drafting an amicus brief on international religious freedom issues for the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Clark has co-taught classes on Comparative Law, Comparative Constitutional Law, International Human Rights, and European Union law. She has published numerous articles and chapters on church-state issues and has been an associate editor of three major books: Facilitating Freedom of Religion and Belief and two books on law and religion in post-Communist Europe. Professor Clark has also testified before Congress on religious freedom issues. Fluent in Russian and Czech, she has been a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Church-State Studies in Slovakia since 2009, and is a reviewer for the Journal of Law and Religion, a member of the Review Board for Critical Issues in Politics and Justice, and a member of the Ukrainian Association of Researchers of Religion.

Prior to joining the Law School, Professor Clark was an associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Mayer, Brown & Platt, where she was a member of the Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Group. Professor Clark also clerked for Judge J. Clifford Wallace on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.