The Book of Mormon in the “Real World”: An Answer for Apathy in the Church

by James F. Stoddard III

shutterstock_188251433There I was, 1996 and fresh out of BYU, teaching high school history, government and PE in Northern Arizona to students who couldn’t care less about the subject material.  It was culture shock after years at BYU and teaching motivated new missionaries at the Missionary Training Center.  How could I reach these students?  Even in the PE class students wanted only to sit on the side and talk with friends.  I tried everything—games, activities, video clips—all with limited success.  Then an idea came.  Most of the families in the area were deeply affected by a federal land grab.  As a class we started watching news clips and discussing historical and governmental principles directly relating to the “real world”; suddenly, every student was engaged—finally, an idea that worked!  This was their world. Apathy is not only a problem in public schools, apathetic feelings plague the Church.  Elder M. Russell Ballard explained on Bloomberg Television, “. . . one of the greatest problems that we have in the Church is the total—not total—but the extreme apathy—indifference.” 1 President Gordon B. Hinckley also commented on this spirit of indifference:

. . . it is the age of utter mediocrity.  . . . in this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity, above indifference.2

[dt_quote type=”blockquote” font_size=”big” animation=”none” background=”plain”]Our youth want something to sink their teeth into. They want truth that applies to the “real world.”[/dt_quote]

I think most of us know that we must rise above this apathy, this indifference, but how?  How do we help the youth, or even those much older overcome apathy? Currently, unemployed high school students spend on average 0.1 hours/day in religious/spiritual/volunteer activity.3 Why has our nation and our Church become apathetic to faith?  Heartbreak among even the best mothers and fathers is becoming near universal as parents struggle to instill in the hearts of their children a passion or even an interest in the Gospel.  How can we encourage our children or grandchildren to love the scriptures and help them to truly care?

Activities and programs are the popular remedy, but superficial remedies generally fail as the Church can never compete with the world in terms of pleasure. The world is always going to be more “fun”, more wild and provide more amusement than Gospel centered activities. When I taught high school and seminary, I learned early that the best way to engage students in the material was using current events. I used news clips and magazine articles—real world events—to show students that history, government and other courses applied to their “real” world. Could this approach also work for the Gospel? How does the Gospel directly apply to life? Should we be surprised that the Book of Mormon, the most correct of any book on earth, was written with this precise end in mind? President Hinckley taught:

The Book of Mormon narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions of those problems. 4

I believe that one answer to the extreme apathy in the Church has been staring us in the face. We have had the Book of Mormon for 185 years, but prophets have taught that we have not been using it as the Lord intended.5 How would apathy change if we straightforwardly applied the Book of Mormon message to our day, to our situation? But does the Book of Mormon speak directly of the United States and the issues that we face as twenty-first century Americans?

Book of Mormon Geography and the Doctrines of Salvation

a4326136e5479dcd4f1321f4c4d93763When Elder Bruce R. McConkie compiled some of President Joseph Fielding Smith’s essential teachings into a set of three volumes, he helped fill a void which had long existed in the Church.  Doctrines of Salvation contains a vital compilation of “answers . . . to gospel questions frequently asked, but seldom answered with the authoritative finality of the oracles of God.”6  As the preface to Volume 1 states, “Joseph Fielding Smith is the leading gospel scholar and the greatest doctrinal teacher of this generation.  Few men in this dispensation have approached him in gospel knowledge or surpassed him in spiritual insight.”  Not surprisingly, Doctrines of Salvation focuses on the most critical doctrines pertaining to our individual salvation.

Salvation being the purpose of the work, one section has often confused and bewildered readers.  Tucked among sections on Priesthood, Signs of the Times and Israelite covenants is a chapter dedicated to the Hill Cumorah! Upon closer count, at least 12 pages are dedicated to Book of Mormon geography, specifically detailing the one and only location of the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York.

Why in a work entitled Doctrines of Salvation, a work dedicated to the principles and doctrines necessary for salvation, is the physical location of the Book of Mormon discussed or even mentioned?  What does Book of Mormon geography have to do with the doctrines of salvation?  President Smith and Elder McConkie apparently understood a significant connection.

This question puzzled me as a child and later as an adult.  However, I left the door open.  Someday I hoped to understand why Book of Mormon geography held such weight for these prophets of God.

bom-youth-apathy-scripturesYears later a clue came when studying the latter-day Signs of the Times, in particular the list compiled by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine.  I was struck that at least 20 of Elder McConkie’s 51 Signs of the Times occurred in, or were directly tied to the United States of America.  Some regard the signs of the last days in a dreamy, vague, surreal way.  On the contrary, these signs are clearly discernible, literal, physical events.  The “real world” if you will.

Could understanding the correct location of Book of Mormon geography be essential to correctly interpreting the latter-day Signs of the Times?  Could understanding Book of Mormon geography and correctly identifying the Promised Land of America be essential to preparing for the Second Coming of Christ?  Could these teachings deter apathy in the Church?

What if we stepped through the Book of Mormon history and paralleled it with Elder McConkie’s 51 latter-day Signs of the Times?  Even more, what if we could find these 51 Signs of the Times foreshadowed in the Book of Mormon chronology in the correct sequence?  To this day the chronology and even reality of the Signs of the Times is debated.  Are they literal or figurative?  Where and when did, or will, they take place?  Who was, or will be,  involved?  In the end there have been more questions than answers.  Does the Book of Mormon, the most correct book on earth, hold the key to unlocking the most important “real world” questions confronting us as latter-day saints?

51 Signs of the Times

We will commence with the earliest latter-day Signs of the Times and parallel each sign with corresponding events in the Book of Mormon.


Because of the wickedness of the people and the persecution of an apostate church, faithful saints suffer oppression for living the commandments of God.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Nephi and Lehi acquire Plates of Brass, c. 600 B.C.

Persecution of righteous by apostate church

Reformers translate and acquire scriptures in their mother tongue

Millions of men, women and children tortured and martyred

#1 Spirit to be poured out on all flesh

#2 Discovery and use of printing #6 Translation and printing of Bible

#3 Protestant Reformation

If the Book of Mormon genuinely parallels our day, the book must begin with a scenario very close in theme to that of the Protestant Reformation—the Reformation being the earliest sign in latter-day history.  Can we look into the early part of the Book of Mormon and find a church that has become apostate and persecutes true followers of Christ?  Do we find faithful saints struggling to acquire scripture held in the hands of this apostate church?  Do we find individuals forced to flee for their belief in the true and living God, while others are martyred?  Looking into the beginning of the Book of Mormon, this is precisely how the chronicle begins.


Righteous groups are led out from the wicked to a promised land where the freedom of worship according to conscience is possible.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Lehites/Mulekites travel to America, c. 589 B.C. Gentiles migrate to America, 1607- c. 1780

#4 Discovery and colonization of America

#17 Ten tribes to return

#19 Return of Judah to Jerusalem

Embarkation_of_the_PilgrimsThe colonization of America by righteous individuals fleeing religious persecution is another principal sign of the times in the Latter Days.  Looking into the Book of Mormon do we find a foreshadowing? The Lord desired to lead the Lehites and the Mulekites to a promised land and the tool he used was persecution.  Fast forward over two thousand years and he uses that same tool to drive the early colonists to America.  Puritans, Covenanters, Separatists, Huguenots and other groups were led by God to America in the Great Migration. Additionally, the Nephites relied upon the same legal and moral foundation as the American colonizers: the laws set forth by Moses and the prophets in the Brass Plates, on the one hand, and the laws set forth by Moses and the prophets in the Bible on the other.


The Lord inspires righteous leaders to establish a divinely sanctioned government whereby the people can worship God in liberty.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Laws of Mosiah given by hand of God, c. 92 B.C. Lord establishes U.S. Constitution, c. 1775-1787

#5 Establishment of the American Nation

#7 Establishment of US Constitution

It is no accident that the principles of the Nephite republican form of government—the Laws of Mosiah—can be found in the Constitutional law upon which this nation, the United States of America, was established. The enemies of these divinely sanctioned governments are also prophetically similar.  Do we study the Book of Mormon as the most authoritative textbook on government?


A record of scripture is translated by the gift and power of God from gold plates containing the record and warning of a fallen people who formerly inhabited America, but were destroyed when they ripened in iniquity.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Jaredite plates of gold translated by Seer, c. 121 B.C – 92 B.C. Joseph Smith translates plates of gold, 1829

#9 Coming forth of the Book of Mormon

Did Mormon foreshadow the Book of Mormon in the Book of Mormon?  Limhi sent 43 men in search of Zarahemla, but rather, this party discovered the remains of the Jaredite nation, including gold plates, swords, breastplates and dry bones.7 These gold plates were translated by a seer, found near the hill Ramah (also known as the hill Cumorah)8 and contained a witness and warning for the Nephite civilization.9 The Jaredite nation and record were the witness and warning to the Nephites that the Book of Mormon is to us in our day. The 12 witnesses (3 witnesses + 8 witnesses + Joseph Smith) of the Book of Mormon were given a view of the Breastplate, Sword of Laban and the plates of gold.  They also traveled over the dry bones of the Nephites.10 Each of the records concludes describing the destruction of the former Christian inhabitants of America in bloody confrontations near the hill Cumorah.11


The Church of Jesus Christ is restored.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Church of Christ organized by Alma, c. 147 B.C. Church organized by Joseph Smith, 1830

#8 Latter-Day Revelation

#11 Restoration of keys and priesthood

#12 Restoration of the Gospel

#14 Church and Kingdom set up again

Did Mormon, when abridging the record, carefully select and highlight the formation of the Church of Christ in the days of Alma and Mosiah to correspond with the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation?  Does the persecution and driving into the wilderness of the Church founded by Alma foreshadow the driving and expulsion of the saints in the latter days?


A righteous prophet of God is raised up to teach the true Gospel and is martyred for teaching doctrines which had been lost including the true nature of the Godhead.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Abinadi martyred, c. 148 B.C. Prophet Joseph martyred, 1844

#10 Opposition to the Book of Mormon

#13 Messenger to precede Second Coming

#24 Persecution of the Saints

The martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith is one of the principal signs of the times in the latter days.  Was the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith foreshadowed by the mission of Abinadi?  Each restored the true Gospel lost through apostasy.  Each was miraculously preserved and each testified that his death would be a type of that to come.  Each stirred the animosity of wicked ecclesiastical leaders.  Each was placed in prison for three days and each voluntarily laid down his life.   These are a sampling of dozens of parallels between the Prophet Joseph Smith and Abinadi who were also types of Christ.


Antichrists arise preaching enticing doctrines and philosophies in direct opposition to the true Gospel of Christ and the principles of liberty upon which the freedom of the people depend.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Anti-Christs: Sherem, Nehor, Korihor and others, 91 – 74 B.C. Anti-Christs: Darwin, Freud, Dewey, Keynes and Marx, 1830-

#40 Many false churches in Latter-days

#39 Apostate darkness covers earth

The Book of Mormon contains the teachings and chronicles the ministries of men who were anti-Christ. President Benson taught:

The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon is similar to the type we have today.  God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time.12

We have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should . . . Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, and so forth.13


Missionaries are sent at great personal sacrifice to those who have never heard the true Gospel and many thousands are converted.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Sons of Mosiah, Alma and his brethren, c. 90 B.C. Missionaries to the world, 1839-

#16 Gathering of Israel

#26 True gospel to be preached in all the world

The Book of Mormon is careful to describe in detail how Ammon teaches and later how his brother Aaron teaches.  They each begin with the Creation, then teach the Fall and the Atonement followed by the scriptures.14 The Book of Mormon is the pattern for missionary work. The sons of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman and Nephi exemplify the work of the ministry.  Zeezrom, Corianton and others illustrate repentance and the need for purity in those called to serve.


Wicked men conspire to take away the freedoms of the righteous using treachery, murder, intrigue and carefully devised words to stir their followers to extreme hatred against religion and imagined wrongs.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Amlici, Zerahemnah, Amalickiah, Ammoron, 87 B.C. – 57 B.C. Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others, c. 1900-

#25 Persecution of the Jews

The tactics of those seeking to destroy the freedom of the Nephites in an attempt to destroy the “cause of Christians” is exposed in the Book of Mormon.   Amalickiah, Amlici and others use secret societies, propaganda campaigns and education programs to promote humanistic state worship and to submit many thousands to their rule.  Once in power they deceive the people and stir them up to anger against the liberty, lands, family order, and religion of the Nephites.  Do we recognize the parallels in our day?


Great leaders fight to preserve the liberty and lands of the people enabling the Gospel to continue to be taught and lived.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
The War Chapters of the Book of Mormon, 72-57 B.C. War is poured out upon all nations

#35 Peace taken from earth

#37 Wars and rumors of wars

The Cause of Christians or religious freedom is perhaps the primary theme of the Book of Mormon.  Nephite lands in the Book of Mormon were an asylum for the Anti-Nephi-Lehi converts to the Gospel, the escaping people of Limhi and others.  Rather than policing nations outside Nephite jurisdiction, the Nephites warmly welcomed and donated land for refugees, protecting the downtrodden.  Nephite armies were defensive rather than offensive in preserving liberty.


The Church grows as apostasy increases; the truly faithful are persecuted and the prophetic leadership strives to teach true doctrine and regulate the Church.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Thousands and tens of thousands baptized, 43 B.C. Worldwide Church growth, c. 1960-

#15 Growth of the Church

#20 Jews to begin to believe in Christ

#21 Building of Latter-day temples

#23 Spirit of Elijah and genealogical research

#43 Lamanites to blossom as the rose

The Book of Mormon speaks of astonishing Church growth and walls of separation tumbling down where the Gospel had previously been forbidden.  Church leaders struggle with difficulties associated with rapid expansion and increasing apostasy.


Miracles and revelation are rejected as religious principles are removed from society and even members of the Church become a stumbling block.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Youth rebel, God and commandments forsaken Secularization, humanization and apostasy, c. 1960-

#18 Times of Gentiles being fulfilled

#33 Latter-Day wickedness

#41 Refusal of men to believe signs of times

The Book of Mormon speaks of youth rebellion, education systems without God, redistribution of wealth, society rejecting miracles and revelation while seeking and being surrounded by demons.  It speaks of Church members rejecting true prophets while following after deceptive educators and worldly counselors.  “In the Book of Mormon we find lessons for dealing with persecution and apostasy.”15


Free travel and free trade lead to increased prosperity and wealth including great expansion and building.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Wealth increases, free trade and travel, c. 49 B.C. – Prosperity, international trade, c. 1960-

#27 Worldly knowledge to increase

#28 Scientific and inventive progress

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Those familiar with the Iron Curtain in our own day will see the parallels here.[/perfectpullquote]

Early in Book of Mormon history the Nephites and Lamanites divide.  This iron curtain of separation continues generation after generation despite attempts made by the Nephites to bring Gospel light to those who have never heard the truth.  The Lamanites are taught to hate Nephites; that their problems were largely the result of wrongs inflicted upon them by Nephi or his descendants.  This line of separation divided freedom of religion on the one side and a culture of idleness and hatred on the other.  Those familiar with the Iron Curtain in our own day will see the parallels here. Almost overnight the walls come down in an era of free travel and trade; an era of expansion and building with cement structures and roads.


Secret combinations become common first in the more settled parts of the land and then spread to include many of the those claiming to belong to the Church.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Judges murdered, combinations among Nephites, c. 52 B.C. Leaders/others murdered, intrigue and complicity

#32 Strikes, anarchy, violence, to increase

#24 Persecution of the Saints

In the Book of Mormon, as the Nephites move away from their righteous Christian foundation, terror and secret combinations that once existed primarily among the Lamanites, come to permeate the Nephite society.  The threat is no longer in foreign lands; it is among the Nephites and even Church membership.  Among both political and religious leaders.  Youth and others flock to growing robber bands, becoming a threat to formal government. Finally, the Nephite republican government, which parallels our own constitutional republic, is destroyed by a secret combination and the people divide into tribes.


Many physical signs are seen in the heavens and the earth including famine, earthquake, stars in the heavens, lightning and darkness.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Earthquakes, fire, famine, flood, slippery treasures, 32 A.D. Earthquakes, fire, famine, flood, economic instability

#29 Disease, plague, pestilence to sweep earth

#30 Elements in commotion

#31 Disasters and calamities to abound

#36 Angels now reaping the earth #38 Famines, depressions, and economic turmoil

#42 Signs on Earth and in Heavens

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Every physical sign recorded in the Book of Mormon is also a Sign of the Times in the latter days.[/perfectpullquote]

Every physical sign recorded in the Book of Mormon is also a Sign of the Times in the latter days.  Some of these include famine, earthquake, pestilence and the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.  Other signs include treasures slipping from the hands of those whose hearts are upon them.  In our day fortunes are gained or lost in a day as markets fluctuate and the judgements of God increasingly stare us in the face.


The more righteous gather in and the wicked are destroyed to prepare the way for the Coming of the Son of God.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Righteous gather, more wicked destroyed, 3 – 34 A.D. Saints gather, destruction poured out

#34 Spirit ceasing to strive with wicked

#44 The gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman

#45 Final Great War to attend Second Coming

#46 Sorrow and fear precede and accompany Second Coming

#47 Fall of the great and abominable church

#49 Wicked to be burned as stubble

In the Book of Mormon the more righteous are preserved from physical judgements while the more wicked are destroyed.  The more wicked are those who had rejected and cast out the prophets and saints living primarily in the population centers of the land.


The righteous are resurrected.  Christ comes to His people, heals the sick, reestablishes His Church and expounds all things.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
Christ comes to Nephites, 34 A.D. Second Coming of Christ

#22 Lord to come suddenly to Temple

shutterstock_190170518In the Book of Mormon, the coming of the resurrected Christ to the Nephites, is the central event.  This event was spoken of and anticipated throughout their history.  In our own day, we are focused on preparing the world for the Second Coming of Christ. The righteous are instructed to watch carefully for the signs, indicating the time is near.   Parallels between the coming of Christ to the Nephites and the Second Coming include: the gathering of the remnant, the Savior coming in the clouds of heaven, multitudes falling to the earth, men and women gazing upon the nail-prints in the Savior’s hands and feet, Christ’s teachings transcending the law, healing of the sick, visitations of angels, resurrections and sacrament ordinances overseen by the Son of God.


All eventually are converted to the true Gospel and become partakers of the Heavenly Gift.  The cities are rebuilt and a great period of peace continues for several generations.

Book of Mormon Signs of the Times
~200 years of Peace ~1000 years of Peace

#50 Final restitution of all things to be completed

#51 Christ to reign personally upon earth

Following the destruction, the Savior descends from heaven and comes to His temple.  His coming ushers in the beginning of a lasting period of peace.  If each phrase from the end of 3rd Nephi through 4th Nephi is carefully compared with prophecies of the Millenium the foreshadowing is unmistakable.  Some of these include: all things common, universal missionary work, the coming forth of hidden scriptures, people multiplying to fill the land, the rebuilding of cities and an end of contention.


shutterstock_68364532In sharing this critical message paralleling latter-day Signs of the Times alongside Book of Mormon chronology with thousands of latter-day saints I have been fascinated by common responses.  The feedback of all ages including the youth, the middle aged and the elderly generally includes at least one of these themes:

  1. The individual is inspired to carefully study the Book of Mormon to personally discover this parallel message;
  2. A new inclination is spawned to become more active in family, Church and community in applying the Book of Mormon message;
  3. A stronger devotion to living specific principles that apply concretely to the respondent’s personal circumstances is born;
  4. A new hunger to correctly understand the Signs of the Times and how they personally apply is given rise. I believe that each of these responses is a personal testimony that carefully applying the Book of Mormon to our day is a fundamental solution to overcoming the extreme apathy in the Church.

President Benson seemed to think so as well:

Sometimes I think we are so inclined to be complacent and to more or less take things as they are. The prophets in the Book of Mormon saw our day, and, oh, how I wish every American would read the Book of Mormon. To practically every problem that faces us as a nation today and as a people, you can find the answer in the Book of Mormon.16

This is an earnest plea to take another look at the Book of Mormon as specifically and concretely the “most correct book on earth.”  Our young men and women were born with intelligence and a strong desire to establish Zion.  This drives them to cry for something authentic.  The Gospel is true, but when presented in an abstract, unrealistic and speculative fashion the power is lost.  Our youth want to know the truth; things as they really were, really are and really will be.  They want something to sink their teeth into.  They want truth that applies to the “real world.”

  1. M. Russell Ballard, Bloomberg Television Interview with Mike Schneider, 18 April 2008.
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stand Up for Truth,” BYU Devotional Address, 17 September 1996.
  3. (February, 2015).
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, Aug. 2005.
  5. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986.
  6. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft 1954-56, 1:v
  7. Mosiah 8:7-11
  8. Ether 15:11
  9. Mosiah 28:18
  10. “The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendor and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed,…” (Joseph Smith, Jr. [letter to Emma Smith, June 4, 1834], Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. 1984, pp. 323 – 325).
  11. J. Golden Kimball wrote, “Heber C. Kimball said it was revealed to him that the last great destruction of the wicked would be on the lakes near the Hill Cumorah.” (Lundwall, N. B., Inspired Prophetic Warnings to all Inhabitants of the Earth, N. B. Lundwall, publisher, 1940, p. 52).
  12. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, 3
  13. Ibid., 5
  14. Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1984.
  15. Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and a Warning (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 21.
  16. Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 391.
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