Monday, September 20, 2021

Elder Mark E. Petersen’s Special Witness of Jesus Christ

[Readers desiring to obtain their own hardback copies of volume one of I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ can find copies on sale here  Softbound copies can be purchased here, on sale. An ebook (Kindle) edition is available on Amazon here, for cheap. The Amazon page also includes the Introduction and first chapter of volume one for free.]

(by Dennis B. Horne)

I know that God lives.

I know that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.

I know it as well as if I had seen him.

             “It was President Grant who gave to me my first real introduction to the Book of Mormon” remembered Elder Mark E. Petersen. “When I was about ten years of age, he came to the ward in which I lived and spoke in one of our Sacrament meetings. As he has done on other occasions, that day he told of his own first reading of the Book of Mormon and of the great impression made upon him by the life of Nephi. In his address he made Nephi such a reality to me that I had a desire to read about him for myself.

            “I took my father's Book of Mormon, and I read the story of Nephi, having in mind what President Grant had said. As I read, not only did I learn to appreciate that great prophet of old, but I had come into my soul also a deep love for the Book of Mormon, even as a boy.”


Early Years

            Mark Petersen was born November 7, 1900, in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he grew up. He served a mission to Canada (Nova Scotia) from 1920 to 1922. A year after returning he married Emma Marr McDonald in the Salt Lake Temple. He attended the University of Utah for his education. Mark worked for the Deseret News, the church-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City, Utah, for most of his career. He eventually moved from the lowest rung to the highest, when he was called into the Quorum of the Twelve.[1] (One of his employees for a year or so was a young man named Bruce R. McConkie, who would later join Brother Petersen in the ranks of the general authorities; see Elder McConkie’s chapter in the first volume).

            Brother Petersen served in two stake presidencies and was in demand as a guest speaker in many wards and stakes (back when that kind of thing was common).[2] His voice was strong and projected well and he used it to his advantage, becoming a fine orator and expounder of the gospel.

            Mark’s work at the newspaper was generally exciting, enjoyable, and challenging. He planned to spend the balance of his life there. He was responsible for many innovations, such as working out a joint operating agreement with the rival (usually anti-Mormon) Salt Lake Tribune, so they could both save on printing costs. He wrote most of the Church News editorials over more than four decades. During one difficult period, when his two bosses at the Deseret News were having a political infight, he was fired and rehired repeatedly, giving him ulcers as he strove to get the work done. He outlasted both bosses, including the one who disliked him.

            During these years President J. Reuben Clark noticed Mark’s talents and began mentoring him, and President Heber J. Grant alternately criticized and praised him over articles he read in the Deseret News.[3] Thus, at age 43, Mark Petersen felt he was on a course that would captivate and stimulate the balance of his working life.


Call to the Quorum of the Twelve

             Elder Petersen’s call to the apostleship actually had its roots in one of the more sorrowful tragedies in church leadership history. The story begins with President Joseph F. Smith’s declining health in 1917, worsening into 1918. When his son, Elder Hyrum M. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died in January, the grief was overwhelming for him. Combined with gradually failing health, he struggled under the burden.[4] Yet the vacancy needed to be filled in the Quorum of the Twelve. The two men that President Smith considered most closely were Richard R. Lyman and Melvin J. Ballard (see the chapter on Elder Ballard in the first volume). At this time of emotional and physical strain in his life, he selected Richard R. Lyman to fill the vacancy.

            Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who served as a close confidante and unofficial secretary for his father, told President Heber J. Grant of his father’s struggle: “Joseph Fielding said to me: ‘Brother Grant, at the time that Richard R. Lyman was nominated to be an Apostle by father, he said to me: “My son, I cannot make up my mind which of two young men, both worthy to be members of the Council of the Twelve, to name—Richard R. Lyman or Melvin J. Ballard.”’ Now you have named the other one.”[5] Thus Elder Lyman began serving in the Quorum.

            Sometime in the 1930s, Elder Lyman began committing adultery with a woman he had been assigned to counsel and assist to full activity in the Church. This situation came to light in 1943, whereupon the Quorum of the Twelve held a disciplinary council. Elder Spencer W. Kimball described the scene:


It was a terrible experience that came to me today. I think I can never forget the scene. We were called to a special meeting of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. . . . The slow, deliberate and saddened approach of some of the brethren as they came to the Temple presaged something ominous was ahead of us. As soon as we were all seated the meeting was called to order and announcement was made by President George Albert Smith, who was almost overcome, that there was a very serious charge against one of our brethren. He then directed that the charge be read. Our hearts stood still as we heard that Richard R. Lyman, for 26 years a member of the Council of the Twelve, was accused of immorality. His written confession was read and he being present did not deny the accusation nor the confession. He told also of the situations. He had little to say. He was as pale as could be. He minimized his act and seemed to feel that it should be overlooked but showed no repentance and no expressed sorrow for his sin. . . . It was a terrible ordeal. To see great men such as the members of this quorum all in tears, some sobbing, all shocked, stunned by the impact was an unforgettable sight! No tears from him but plenty from the rest of us and what a heart-rending experience. After considerable discussion a motion was made, seconded and we voted unanimously to excommunicate him from the Church.[6]


            Only a few weeks before this episode, Mark, then working as the Managing Editor for the Deseret News, was given a strong premonition of what would shortly take place. According to his biographer:


            One night he fell into a deep sleep and had a dream. The very existence of the dream made him uncomfortable because he rarely dreamed. The subject of the dream was appalling. He could see the lead headline of the front page of the Deseret News with a terrible mistake in it. The headline read “Lyman R. Richard Dies.” How could the copy desk make such an error and reversed the order of Elder Richard R. Lyman’s name? He was absolutely certain that . . . he would lose his job because of it. . . . He woke with a jolt. “I was responsible for the newspaper, and to think of Elder Lyman’s name on the front page all scrambled up made me almost sick, even in the dream,” he recalled. . . .

            Mark could not shake the feeling that some terrible accident or swift moving illness was about to strike down Elder Lyman, and that he himself would replace him in the Twelve. . . . But he knew President Grant would call him to the Twelve.

            “Then on a very fateful day, Joseph Anderson came over to the office at the Deseret News and told me that President Grant wanted the little notice that was in the envelope which he handed me placed on the front page of the newspaper. . . . It was a plain announcement, but no news story was to accompany it. When I read it, to my horror I saw that Brother Lyman had been excommunicated from the Church. . . .”

            Mark began to feel nervous about the second part of his dream in which he took Elder Lyman’s place. A few days before April conference he received a telephone call from Joseph Anderson asking him to come to see President Grant. . . . As Mark related, . . . “I knew exactly what he was coming for. When he came in, he shook hands with me. He had been a great friend to me over the years . . . He sat down and told me that the Brethren had appointed me the new member of the Council of the Twelve. I said, ‘President Grant, I have known for some weeks that this was coming.’ I told him about my dream. He shook my hand warmly and told me that the Lord had given me the right impression. I was sustained the following Sunday, April 7, 1944, in general conference. I felt so weak and young and so inadequate, as, of course, I was all of those things.”[7]


            In his first talk to the membership of the Church as a special witness, he said:


            I was greatly shaken by the call which came to me yesterday. I feel that I am the least among you all. I have never felt so humble in all my days, as I do at this present moment. . . .

            I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. I know it as well as if I had seen him, and I shall take great pleasure in declaring His word for the remainder of my life.

            I am thankful for my testimony of the divinity of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I love him. I have read all I could find about him. I know that God spoke to him and appeared to him, and I know that his testimony, for which he died, is true.

            I willingly and gladly, although most humbly, accept this great call which has come to me. It certainly has humbled me. . . .[8]


            Thus he began a powerful and uncompromising ministry as an apostle of the Lord. He felt great love and loyalty to the Brethren he began serving with, and was eager to say so, and to also bear witness of Jesus:


            Five years ago, I stood at this pulpit trembling from head to foot, when I accepted a call to the Council of the Twelve. I have lived now these five years, in close association with the men you sustained today as the leaders of this Church. I have come to know them well. I knew most of them well before I came to this position, but not nearly so well as I now know them. . . .

            I want to bear you my testimony, and I do it with God as my witness, that these men who lead your Church are honest, true, great men of God; that they do receive the revelation and the inspiration of the Almighty; that they are guided by the Holy Ghost: that this is God's Church; and that if you desire to have guidance from heaven, then you follow the guidance of these men whom you sustain as the prophets of God. They are prophets. They are prophets just as Jeremiah and Moses were prophets. They are Apostles in the same sense in which Peter, James, and John were Apostles, because those three gave the powers of the apostleship to modern men, and those powers have been handed down to the men who stand and sit before you today. . . .

            I am grateful for the experience of the past five years. I have learned a better appreciation of this, the great restored Church, of its principles, of the men who lead it. I humbly submit to you my solemn testimony that Mormonism is true, that the restored Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is God's own Church, and that through it we find salvation.[9]


West European Mission

            From early 1962 through 1964 Elder Petersen served as president of the West European Mission where he supervised the work of eleven mission presidents. London, England, served as the mission headquarters. While on a brief return to Salt Lake City for some medical care, he was able to report his labors to President McKay. This visit, “Allowed him to hear President McKay explain a little more about the reason for his overseas assignment. President McKay told him that he had been ill and thought he was dying. Then he dreamed that he had gone to the other side and that all his family there were preparing a happy reunion for him. But just as he reached his arms toward his waiting relatives, a voice said to him that his time had not come, for he had work still to do. President McKay felt a deep conviction that it was Mark Petersen who must go abroad [to serve in Europe].”[10]

            Later, near the end of his mission service, when President Hugh B. Brown visited the mission headquarters and spoke to the eleven mission presidents serving under Elder Petersen’s charge (and while President Petersen was not present to hear him), he told them: “You have been very fortunate to have spent three years of your lives with Elder Mark E. Petersen. None of you know the role Elder Petersen will play in the hereafter, but I tell you that it is a very important part.”[11]


A Watchman on the Tower

            In the 1940s and 50s, a time when the Church was much smaller, one of Elder Petersen’s assignments was to work with (and try to correct) doctrinally errant or apostate members and groups. Consequently, some of his general conference addresses reflected this effort and awareness of the many doctrinal divergences scattered throughout the Church. In one of his first messages, in what has to be one of the longest single sentences ever spoken in general conference history, he said:


            Latter-day Saints, beware of false teachers. When men come among you and begin to preach doctrines unto you which tend to destroy your confidence in the holy scriptures, when men come among you, as they are now coming, declaring to you that the appointment of George Albert Smith as President of this Church is not valid, because they say this Church should only have seven presidents and no more, when people come among you declaring that Christ is not divine, or when they come among you advocating the so-called practice of plural marriage, contrary to the teachings of this Church and contrary to the law of the land, when they come among you declaring that you can enter into domestic relations with another man or another woman without committing adultery, when you do not have a marriage bond which is recognized as legal by the law of this land, or when people come among you declaring that the Church is out of order, because we are at the present time not practicing the United Order, or when a man comes among you declaring that the Church is off the track and that he is one mighty and strong sent to set the Church in order, or when anyone comes and tells you that temple marriage is just a fad and that it has no relationship to your exaltation in the kingdom of God, or when someone comes to you, as one group is now doing, preaching that reincarnation is a Christian doctrine, or when men come to you declaring that predestination is one of the doctrines of the gospel, declaring that one group of the Saints is predestined to go to one degree of glory and another group of the Saints is predestined to go to another degree of glory, or when they come among you declaring that they have had dreams and visions about some get-rich-quick scheme by which they are going to save the Church financially in some period of distress, or when they come to you and declare that the method of administering the sacrament of the Lord's supper is to be changed, contrary to all the teachings of the scriptures, or when they come to you and say you can serve two masters, that you can serve the Church and also one of these wild-cat cults that are starting up, when you hear teachings of this kind you remember that such doctrines cause dissention among the people, that they cause disputes which lead to apostasy and that the Lord condemned disputes of that kind. . . .

            Salvation comes not by being tossed about by every wind of doctrine but by learning the truth as it is taught by the inspired, authorized leaders of the Church, and then having learned that truth, by living up to it and enduring in faithfulness unto the very end.[12]


            Elder Petersen taught by the power of the Holy Spirit and continued to bear his special witness, also with great power—and concerning critically important matters related to the foundation of the Restoration. At the 1955 general conference he declared: “I testify to you, and I testify to all men, that God has made known to me that he lives, and I know it as well as I know that I live. He has given me testimony that Jesus of Nazareth was his literal Son in the flesh, and that he is our Savior, and our Redeemer. And he has given to me testimony that Joseph Smith truly knelt in prayer and in answer received the glorious visitation in which he talked face to face with the Father and the Son. And he has given me personal testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. I know it as well as the three witnesses or the eight witnesses who held the plates in their hands. I know it. God as made it known to me, and I give you my testimony.”[13]

            He testified likewise in 1963: “I bear you testimony that I know he lives, and I am raising my voice as loudly and as strongly as I know how to declare it to everyone who is willing to listen. Jesus lives. He is the Christ. He is the Son of God. He is the Divine Redeemer. He is the Creator of the worlds, and if we will but follow him, great will be our joy—salvation in this life and eternal life in the world to come.”[14] His special witness mingled with that of his Brethren: “I have come to realize more and more that there is only one voice in all the world that can bear testimony to these groping nations that Jesus is the Christ. I mean only one voice of authority, and that is the voice of the Latter-day Saints. We are the only authoritative voice declaring to the world that Jesus is the Christ. We know that God lives because our prophets have seen him and talked with him. We know that Jesus is the Christ because our prophets have communed with him, and we know that he lives because of the testimony of the Holy Ghost that burns within us.”[15]

            Elder Petersen wrote prodigiously, publishing some 43 books on gospel subjects (which is probably a record for a general authority), along with a number of pamphlets and editorials. Most of his writings were a response meant to correct error he saw in others’ works.


The Creation of Man and Scientific Theories

            In several of his messages to larger church congregations, such as general conference and the Brigham Young University studentbody, and as part of his effort to correct error in the Church, Elder Petersen taught the true (but often misunderstood) doctrine of the creation of man, and the fall, and also spoke strongly against the false scientific theory of evolution. During the first portion of his first address to BYU students (in 1953), who may not have fully understood his message and specific wording usage, he taught:


            I am so glad that you believe in God. I am so glad that you accept Him as the great Creator of all. He is the great Creator. He made all things. He made this earth on which we live. He made the light. The scripture makes it clear that the Gods decided to create this world. In the process of their work they did separate the light from the darkness. They put lights in the firmament of heaven. As they looked upon their work they said it was “good.” And then they separated the waters from the earth; and they said it was “good.”

            Then they began to make life upon the earth. All sorts of vegetation. And each bit of vegetation was given a commandment—to reproduce after its own kind; after its own image and likeness. As God surveyed His work, He announced that it was “Good.” Then He created the birds in the air and the fish in the sea, and they were given a similar commission—that they were to bring forth after their own kind; after their own likeness and image. As the Lord surveyed that bit of His work, again He was pleased and announced that it was “good.” And then He created the animals, and each one of them was commanded that it should bring forth after its own kind; reproduce in their own likeness and image: the cow, the bear, the horse, the sheep—all the animals. As He surveyed all of that, he pronounced it “good.” Then came the time for the creation of man; the time for the crowning act of creation. Why was it the crowning act? Why was it so important? God was placing His own race upon the earth; His own children. God knew that He was to perpetuate His own race; that we were His offspring; that we were to come to the earth and that we were to have experience in mortality.

            So He placed us here and the record says that man was made in the exact image and likeness of God. Why?—because we are of the race of God. We are His children. Is it at all unusual that a child should resemble its parent? He was our Father; we, His children. The first of our race to enter mortality was placed on the earth. They [Adam and Eve] were in the exact image and likeness of God—just as the cows that were placed upon the earth and reproduced after their kind had more cows that were in the exact likeness and image of the parent cows. Just as was the case with the horse, and with the sheep, and with the trees and the birds and the bees and the flowers. Each one bringing forth after its own kind. Then God brought His own race upon the earth and commanded that they should reproduce after their own kind; in their own likeness and image. And they in turn were in the likeness and image of God. Therefore, as they reproduced, they reproduced the race of God; each one being in the exact likeness and image of God. Wasn’t it a marvelous creation? He, our Father; we, His children; we, of the race of God. After He had made man, male and female, in His own likeness and image, He surveyed His work. This time He did not say it was only “good.” This time He said, “It is very good.” It was a great act.

            Having made man and woman after His own likeness, He introduced something that had not been introduced in creation before. Not with the animals, not with the birds nor the bees nor the fish nor the vegetation. Something different was now being introduced—because there was a different species—here was the race of God. The animals and the birds and the bees were His creations, yes. They had life in themselves; He gave them the right and the power of reproduction after their own kind. But now with man, who was of the race of God, something else had to be introduced before He could give them the commandment. That something else was marriage. So God brought the woman whom He had made to the man whom He had made. They twain became one flesh; she, his helpmeet. Having given her, in the bonds of holy matrimony, to the man, the Father in heaven stood before those two and gave them a commandment: to bring forth after their own kind. To multiply and fill up the earth with more of the race of God. . . . It [sex] is holy. It is part of the function of Almighty God.[16]


            Twenty years later, Elder Petersen taught the same creation doctrine at the same church school and while doing so used unusually (even for him) blunt language to describe those teachers seeking to supplant or taint pure church doctrine with evolution. To students at BYU that were being subjected to this theory being taught as fact, he both taught and warned with emphasis:


            How are we the offspring of God? We are dual beings. Actually every one of us is a spirit, and our spirit occupies a body of flesh and bone. The body is not the person at all. The spirit is the real person. I am a spirit; you are a spirit—every one of you. Our spirit resembles our body, or rather our body was tailored to fit our spirit. The spirit bears the image and likeness of God, and the body, if it’s normal, is in the image and likeness of the spirit. And the spirit is the offspring of Almighty God. You remember that Paul said also, “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9).

            So we, as spirits, were begotten of Almighty God. We are his children. We are not products of creation in the usually understood sense. We obtained our being by birth and not by manufacture, if I may use that word without being misunderstood. We were born of Almighty God in the spirit, in the same sense in which our bodies were born of our parents here on the earth. As we have the blood of our earthly parents flowing through our veins, so we have divinity within us, because our eternal spirits have a divine parentage. . . .

            There has developed in recent years what almost amounts to a cult in certain fields. This is a cult which also points the finger of scorn at believers and would seek to make us ashamed of our faith. It is one which would have us reject the doctrine of a special creation and accept the unproven but time-worn theory that all life evolved from lower forms, that worms and microbes were our ancestors, and not God. It teaches that God is not our father, but that our first progenitors were microscopic forms which came into existence spontaneously, without cause, without reason, and without purpose. According to this theory of primordial life, man at one time developed from an ancestor which, as one writer described him, was “a hairy, four-legged beast which had a tail and pointed ears and lived in trees.” I ask you, which requires more faith, to believe that God is our father, or that some monkey-like ape gave us birth? And which would you rather have as your father, a creeping ape or Almighty God?

            Our religion tells us that God is our Father. Some so-called intellectuals who point the finger at religion have become so domineering in their attitude toward those who do not believe their ghastly theories that they assume an attitude almost approaching tyranny. In some circles it has become persecution. . . .

            Yes, our religion tells us that God is our Father, and that we lived with him before we were born on this earth. It tells us further that every creature, microscopic and otherwise, was made by him before it lived here on the earth, and also that each one was made as a spirit before it was made in the flesh here in mortality. There were two creations, one in which God made all things in the spirit. That is, he made the real life, the real being, as a spirit, in the first creation. And then, in the second creation, he provided these mortal tabernacles in which he placed these spirits that he had created in the preexistence.

            I hope you read the scriptures on this. Moses, in the book of Moses, was very specific on this subject, and I’d like to read to you what Moses had to say.

            “And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth;

            “And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. . . . in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air.” [Moses 3:4–5]

            They’re significant words, aren’t they? He made all life in heaven, making them spirits, which were the real persons, or the real creatures, or whatever they were. He made them all as individual persons—or creatures, as the case may be—and they were in the spiritual creation. Then he created the mortal part of life, this earth and all mortality. But at the time he made the spirits there was no flesh, Moses says, “upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air” (Moses 3:5). He hadn’t even sent them here.

            And then another very interesting thing in the second chapter of Moses: he says that when he did place them here on the earth, he placed within each one the seed, of reproduction with the power to reproduce after its own kind. Well, he gave human beings the power to reproduce, didn’t he? We have within ourselves the seed to reproduce, but what do we reproduce? We reproduce after our own kind, don’t we? The only reproduction among human beings is more human beings, isn’t that right? Whoever heard of a human being bringing forth a horse or a cow or—well, excuse me for being ridiculous, but it’s to the point, isn’t it? Human beings can reproduce only human beings. And he put this seed in animals, likewise, so that animals can reproduce only after their own kind. So dogs will only reproduce dogs, and never cats or polliwogs. They will only reproduce after themselves. The same is true in vegetable life. An apple will only bring forth an apple, and it will not bring forth a cucumber. Now, I’m being a little extreme, but I think you get the point. God placed in every one of his creations, as it says here in Moses 2, the seed within itself to reproduce after its own kind. . . .

            It’s a very interesting thing to read in section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants some further information on this same subject. . . . The Prophet asked the Lord for some explanations, and in this section 77, certain explanations are made that have to do with this very subject. We learn from this section that in heaven beasts and fowls and creeping things exist as spirits. Then the scripture goes on: “That which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual” (D&C 77:2). So you see, the body matches the spirit, and the spirit was made in the preexistence, so that the body that’s made here fits the spirit that was made in the preexistence. Then notice this next part of this little section: “The spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast and every other creature which God has created” (D&C 77:2). Isn’t that a marvelous and an interesting scripture? Lots of people don’t read that, but this is one of the most significant things in the Doctrine and Covenants, in my humble opinion. So in heaven God created the spirits of all forms of life as they appear in mortality, the mortal form being in the likeness of the spirit, with mankind being God’s own offspring, his literal children, having the full capability of becoming like him.

            . . . Man, then, was always man, because he was made that way in the preexistence. Cows were always cows and horses were always horses, because they were made that way in the preexistence, when first they were made as spirits before they were tabernacled in flesh, since all things were made spiritually before they were temporally in the earth. Then trees were always trees, corn was always corn, cats were always cats, because they were made that way in the preexistence. Now I ask you, if God were not our father, literally, why would the Savior teach us to pray as he did in the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven?” Would he deceive us? And why, after the resurrection, would he say to Mary, “I ascend unto my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17)? If it were not so, why would he have said a thing like that? Our whole religion, you see, is based upon the concept that God is our Father. . . .

            According to our doctrine, the fall of Adam and the process of death are inseparable. Death and Adam are inseparable; death and the resurrection are inseparable; the fall of Adam and the atonement of Christ are inseparable; Adam and Christ are inseparable. If there was no Adam, there was no fall. If there was no fall of Adam there was no atonement by Christ. If there was no atonement by Christ our religion is in vain, for if there was no Adam, there was no Christ either. If there is no Christ, where are we? Are you ready to reject your inspired religion, your faith in God and Christ, to accept the questionable philosophy that may be thrust upon you by some unbelieving, even atheistic, professor of an unproved hypothesis? This is certainly a case in point where we must do as Joshua of old said, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15).[17]


            To conclude his clear and direct teachings of Christ as the Creator and that mankind are the children of God, Elder Petersen bore testimony that he had taught them the truth:


            Paul was one of the great witnesses of Christ anciently. We have many witnesses for Christ today. I am one of them, and I humbly stand before you as one of his witnesses. Today I join with the apostle Paul and give you my testimony in Paul’s words, so that Paul and I bear you the same testimony as it is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:50, 53–55, 57–58. . . .

            Let us realize this great fact, that God reproduced himself and gave us birth to give us the opportunity of sometime becoming like him, and he provides the means, which is the gospel of Christ, to help us to become like him. It was not an idle statement, quoted by President Lorenzo Snow, that “as man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.” That is why Jesus commanded us to become perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. For this reason we must follow his way of life, his plan of development, the only plan which will permit us to reach this goal. . . . That is why we must not be like the world, even though we live in the world. That is why the apostle Peter declared that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood an holy nation, a peculiar people, that we might indeed become like God our Father. . . .

            I bear you solemn testimony tonight, my brothers and sisters, that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is true. By all that I hold sacred, I testify to you that God indeed is our Father, that we are the offspring of God, that he’s the father of our spirits, and that we can become like him. By all that I hold sacred I testify to you that Jesus Christ lives, that he is the Savior of the world, and that he will save every one of us if we will but allow him to.[18]


            Elder Petersen’s teaching is most germane: “We believe in God. Regardless of what all the rest of the people of the world may say or do, we Latter-day Saints have a testimony that God lives, and therefore we believe in him. We have various reasons for believing in him. One of the reasons is, of course, that our prophets have actually seen him. Our prophets have seen Almighty God, and they bear testimony that he lives.”[19]

            Around 1959-60 Elder Petersen was assigned, along with Elder Marion G. Romney, to read and report on the first edition of Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s famous book Mormon Doctrine. Elder Petersen had noticed that this best-selling work was becoming highly influential in the Church. He read it and took his (unspecified) concerns to the First Presidency. For some reason, that the available historical records do not make entirely clear, Elder Petersen did not like the book and made an issue of it with the First Presidency, who, with him present, called Elder McConkie in and gave him a “horsewhipping” over it (for further information on this incident, see the chapter on Elder McConkie in volume one). Publication of a fifth printing was halted, but President McKay permitted Elder McConkie to revise and republish a second edition of  Mormon Doctrine under the supervision of Elder Spencer W. Kimball, in 1965-66.

            For many years, these two dedicated doctrinal giants of the Church (Elders Petersen and McConkie) did not get along well and were not close, but as the years passed and they sat in collegial council with their brethren of the Twelve, their relationship improved and it is likely that by the time they died (within a year of each other) they had patched up their differences. Certainly all is well between them now, on the other side of the veil.

            In comparing some of their individual doctrinal teachings on the same subjects I find that they were highly harmonious (such as with the creation, the fall, and the atonement). I therefore conclude that Elder Petersen’s objections to certain content in Mormon Doctrine were probably mostly related to smaller more incidental matters. And it also ought to be acknowledged that neither man was much of a diplomat at the pulpit or in writing.[20]

            Elder Petersen’s beloved wife, Emma Marr, an accomplished and prodigious author in her own right, died in 1975, leaving Elder Petersen grief stricken. He applied to the First Presidency to be relieved of the normal requirement to remarry and thereafter lived the rest of his life single.


Bearing His Special Witness

            As Elder Petersen entered the fullness of his apostolic years, he continued to raise his voice in testimony, such as before another assemblage of students at BYU:


            I bear you solemn testimony my young friends that what I say to you today is true. I bear you solemn testimony that there is a God in heaven. I know it as well as I know that you live. I know it as well as I know that I live. God does live and He is a person and He is our father. He is as real as you are real. . . .

            I bear you solemn testimony that Jesus the Christ lives as you live. That He is just as real as you are real. I bear you solemn testimony that He not only died on the cross but that He came forth in a literal physical resurrection. It was a fact that He could say, “Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me have.”

            It was a fact that 2,500 Book of Mormon people came up one by one in a line and felt the marks of the crucifixion in His hands and feet and side. It was a fact that they knew by their physical experience that He lives.

            It is a fact that He appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith; and that the Father likewise appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I bear you testimony that that visitation was not a dream. It was not something that came out of the Prophet’s mind. It was not even a vision in the sense of which we normally speak of visions. The Father and the Son came to the Prophet Joseph Smith physically and literally, even as you have come to this campus. The Father and the Son literally and physically were there in that sacred grove and faced that boy and talked with him as one man speaketh to another.

            I bear you solemn testimony that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw Jesus the Christ there in the Kirtland Temple. And that they saw His face and figure; His beautiful white hair, whiter than the driven snow. And that they heard His voice as He spoke to them and announced that in truth He was the Christ.

            These things I know by reason of the experiences God has given to me. I bear you this testimony and ask you to believe it and to know that you are really and truly the children of a real God who is really and truly your Father.[21]


            Of Elder Petersen’s special witness of Jesus, his daughter wrote: “Mark had born strong testimony of the Savior even as a missionary. But as he grew in the gospel and served so many years as a special witness, those close to him noticed that his sermons on the Christ had a slightly different quality. No longer were there any “I believes.” He began to speak as if he had received some personal manifestation. As he referred to Jesus with such solemn knowledge, his family wondered if he had seen the Christ, but being well brought up, . . . they knew better than to ask. Mark always taught those close to him that certain things were too sacred to be discussed.”[22]


Final Years

            With the advent of the 1980’s, Elder Petersen began to suffer from a number of ailments that he had largely avoided during his ministry, but that now slowed him down. He realized that such were the accompaniments of old age, for he was passing eighty.

            He had a close doctor friend that had helped him with some of these ailments, but had been killed in a car crash by a reckless teenage driver. “Mark spoke at the funeral services. Recalling his association with Dr. Webster, he told of the physician’s influence on his grandchildren and of the time Jim had literally saved Mark’s own life after back surgery. Then, in matter-of-fact tones, he told of an interview that Jim had just experienced with the Savior in which he was asked how he had treated his fellowmen.” One of those in attendance, Dr. Russell M. Nelson (who later became the President of the Church), wrote a note to Elder Petersen: “Having just returned from the funeral service for our dear friend and colleague, Dr. James W. Webster, I want you to know how moved and inspired we all were to have heard your address at his funeral service. I happened to be sitting by many not of our faith, including Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and the like. I testify to you that there wasn’t one of them who wasn’t moved to the point of conviction that they had heard a true apostle of the Lord speak to them.”[23]

            An illness that Elder Petersen couldn’t beat was cancer, which caused him great suffering and pain as he endured surgery and other common energy-draining treatments. His last couple of years were spent fighting illness while trying to magnify his apostleship. He was sometimes able to attend his meetings with the First Presidency and the Twelve. He noted one of these occasions that was somehow exceptional and critical, but exactly how is not given: For December 16, 1983, he wrote in his diary: “Today I was able to attend a special meeting of the Twelve. Some of the brethren picked me up at home and drove me downtown for this special meeting. I was delighted to be able to go.” To his family, he said: “I needed to be in that meeting. It was one of the most important of my life. Afterward almost everyone came to tell me how glad he was that I had expressed my opinion. This is a difficult time for Gordon Hinckley, who carries so much of the burden of the Church. He is doing a magnificent job, just as I would expect.”[24]

            A year later, on January 11, 1984, Elder Petersen succumbed to the cancer and died. In an article in a church magazine eulogizing his beloved associate in the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Thomas S. Monson wrote: “Told at his funeral were several accounts of his being voice in prayer on occasion for the Brethren at our regular Thursday meeting, particularly one time when President Spencer W. Kimball was not well and not present. Elder Petersen’s crystal clear faith and pleading soul sought in our behalf a blessing upon the President, and it was as if a ‘conduit opened to the heavens.’ We knew that our prayer and our faith had been recognized. How completely natural that our spokesman on that occasion would be Elder Mark E. Petersen, such a giant of unshakable faith.”[25]


[1] For this biographical information and other info throughout this chapter, see Thomas S. Monson, “Mark E. Petersen: A Giant Among Men,” Ensign, March 1984.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This information and some of that in preceding paragraphs is taken in summarized form from Peggy Petersen Barton, Mark E. Petersen: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985).

[4] See Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 473-75.

[5] Heber J. Grant diary, April 7, 1937.

[6] Spencer W. Kimball diary, November 12, 1943:

[7] Barton, Mark E. Petersen: A Biography, 85-87.

[8] Conference Report, April 1944, 92.

[9] Conference Report, April 1949, 145.

[10] Barton, Mark E. Petersen: A Biography, 129.

[11] Ibid, 130-31.

[12] Conference Report, October 1945, 91.

[13] Conference Report, October 1955, 63.

[14] Conference Report, October 1963, 123.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Mark E. Petersen, “Chastity,” (also titled, “The Sacredness of Procreation,” BYU Speeches, February 3, 1953; (4 mins to 15 mins); audio file transcript excerpt created by author.

[17] Mark E. Petersen, “We Believe in God, the Eternal Father,” BYU Speeches, September 2, 1973.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. I don’t think Elder Petersen meant all of the prophets, but some of them have indeed, along with many many apostles.

[21] “Be Ye An Exponent of Christ,” BYU Speeches, September 28, 1965.

[22] Barton, Mark E. Petersen: A Biography, 166.

[24] Barton, Mark E. Petersen: A Biography, 212.

[25] Monson, “Mark E. Petersen: A Giant Among Men,” Ensign, March 1984.

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