I was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1927, to parents who had been married in the Salt Lake Temple and who themselves were children of LDS parents. I absorbed my testimony from my mother and from regular church attendance and association with others of the faith. I have always been a believer, even as a small child. Mother once recalled to me how, as a little boy of three or four, I shot an arrow into the air and never saw it come down. When I couldn’t find the arrow I told Mother, “I guess Heavenly Father has it.” In my young mind the spiritual and the temporal were not different kinds of reality but just parts of one, integrated natural order. I still feel that way.
As I grew a little older I was constantly and profoundly aware of the gospel standards that should guide my conduct, and they influenced my decisions on a daily basis. That is not to say I never did anything wrong. I did, but it was usually from thoughtlessness and carelessness, or ignorance, rather than a conscious decision to do something I knew the Lord would not approve. God was very real to me then, as he is today, and I wanted to do what was right.
Although I felt good about my relationship with the Lord, my obedience to what I accepted as his commandments sprang more from a sense of duty than from any overpowering love of God and fellow man. I recognized God as my Father in Heaven, and felt comfortable with that concept, and I generally felt good will toward other people (except temporarily when someone did something that offended me). But I was never sure I really loved God with all my heart, might, mind and strength, and I was quite certain I didn’t love my neighbors as myself. I still have difficulty with that. As a young teenager, I always assumed I would get better as I traveled along life’s highway, so it didn’t bother me to admit I had some distance to go before reaching perfection. It is a little more troubling sixty or seventy years later to recognize that the gap hasn’t narrowed much, but the pain is softened by a realization that the mortal condition, for the vast generality of humanity, is not compatible with perfection. The really good news is that the atonement of Jesus Christ will fill that gap, if only we keep trying.
During my teenage years I felt a desire to learn more about the scriptures, and I read them all, word for word, with the exception of some of the more obscure materials in the Old Testament. I don’t recall taking Moroni’s challenge at the end of the Book of Mormon to pray fervently to know if the book was true. I already believed the book was what Joseph Smith said it was, and to ask if it were true would have been the expression of a doubt I never felt.
Higher education did not in anyway detract from that simple testimony. In Champaign, Illinois, where I did my Ph.D., Sunday meetings were for me a needed break from studies. A number of university faculty were members of the branch and, in Sunday School and Priesthood meetings, gospel principles were often examined with some degree of rigor by keen minds intent on reconciling faith with secular learning. As I saw it, gospel principles never lost out in the process; they simply were placed on a foundation of reason as well as faith. This was my first exposure to such careful analysis of the gospel by people strong in the faith, and I found it both faith-promoting and intellectually stimulating. It helped set the pattern for reconciliation of faith and secular learning that has undergirded my testimony throughout my life.
This is not to say that my testimony has remained stagnant throughout my life. There is always more to learn about the gospel as well as about the physical and social world. In Minnesota where I taught for eleven years, I came to know the true meaning of a “ward family.” Beyond the reasons of faith, fellowship and personal development, which makes the Church important to us wherever we are, the Church in Minnesota became our surrogate family. In Arizona my wife and I had family all around us. In Utah where I first taught, contacts with extended family were less frequent but still considerable. In Minnesota we were far removed from parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, as were many other Mormons who had come to Minnesota from points west. Local members generally had family connections, but those members were often converts whose new religion was more likely to separate them from their non-member family than bring them together. Thus uprooted, geographically or socially, we turned to each other for support and sociability. The expression “ward family” is used throughout the Church in recognition of the close ties that do, or ought to, exist among the membership. In Minnesota we really were a ward family.
There has never been a time when I doubted the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as a sacred record of ancient peoples, nor Joseph Smith’s story of the events that accompanied the restoration of the gospel in our day, nor indeed the reality of the Savior’s life, atoning sacrifice and resurrection. Can I say I know these things are true? From personal experience I know that prayers are answered, sometimes in surprising ways. I know that people can receive inspired spiritual promptings that have tangibly good outcomes when acted upon. I know that blessings come from living according to the teachings of Christ as revealed through the scriptures and through our latter-day prophets. There are many things I know about the church and its teachings that are good and true.
For some things, however, at this stage of my eternal progression, I must settle for an unwavering belief, based on faith and trust, sufficient to exclude doubt. Moroni tells us, in the Book of Mormon, that “by the power of the Holy Ghost” we “may know the truth of all things.” I hope some day to reach that point. But at present I am comforted by the discussion of spiritual gifts in Section 46, verses 13-14, of the Doctrine and Covenants:
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
This is my testimony of the truthfulness of the restored Gospel and the reality of the Savior’s life, atoning sacrifice and resurrection, which I declare, in his Sacred Name.
Posted May 2011 on FairMormon.org
Robert E. Riggs is Professor of Law Emeritus at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, where he held the Guy Anderson Chair and received a Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award.
He lived in Arizona until age 18, was drafted into military service at the end of World War II, and served in Korea prior to the outbreak of the Korean war. After discharge he served a two-year mission in Britain and edited the Millennial Star during his second year there. He married Hazel Dawn Macdonald, September 1949, in the Arizona Temple. They have seven children, twenty-seven grandchildren, and at latest count eighteen great grandchildren. Together they served a mission at the Arizona Temple Visitors Center, 1993-94.
He received a B.A. (1952, with highest distinction) and an M.A. (1953) from the University of Arizona, both in political science, studied a year at Oxford University under a Rotary Foundation Fellowship, and was awarded a Ph.D. (1955) in political science from the University of Illinois. He taught political science at B.Y.U., 1955-1960, with a year on leave as Rockefeller Research Fellow in International Organization at Columbia University. During 1960-1963 he was a Research Associate in the Bureau of Business and Public Research at the University of Arizona while earning an Ll.B in the law college. In 1970, he was retroactively granted membership in The Order of the Coif, conferred by the college upon the top student in each class that graduated before the University of Arizona chapter of the society was organized. For a year he practiced law in Arizona, then accepted a position in the Political Science Department of the University of Minnesota. He served two terms as Mayor of Golden Valley, Minnesota, and conducted a losing campaign for Congress as the Democratic candidate in Minnesota’s Third District in 1974. From 1975 until retirement in 1992 he was Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School.
His published works include books, monographs and articles in the disparate fields of constitutional law, international relations, and Arizona state government.