Church Historian Richard Turley Jr.: “The Power is Not in the Object, But in God”

On April 21, the campus community gathered to hear from Church historian Richard Turley Jr., the managing director of the Public Affairs Department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he spoke on God’s use of physical objects to help build and focus our faith in Him.

“From the beginning of time, God has communicated to his children who are willing to exercise faith and be obedient,” said Turley. “One of the ways he has communicated is through physical objects to assist in his work. However, the scriptures have always made it very clear that the miracles and power did not come from those objects, but from God himself.”

Showcasing physical objects from the past, such as Moses’s rod, Joseph Smith’s seer stones, and the clay Jesus Christ used to heal the blind man, Turley explained the ways each object was used to perform God’s will.

“God is not in the object, but God can make an object work,” said Turley. “In our day, we also have objects that help focus our faith and require obedience. Examples include consecrated oil, temple garments, and the emblems of the sacrament. However, they have no inherent power beyond the ordinance. The power is not in the object, but in God”

Richard Turley Jr.

Using examples from the Bible and The Book of Mormon, Turley explained that while God provides physical objects to help his people complete His work, in order for these objects to work, faith and obedience had to be exercised by the user.

“As we see several times with the Liahona in The Book of Mormon, without faith and obedience it did not function properly,” said Turley. “When Nephi and his family were faithful and obedient, customized messaging would appear on the Liahona that was easy to read. It gave them understanding concerning the ways of the Lord and would change from time to time, according to their faith and diligence.”

As managing director of public affairs, one of Turley’s stewardships is to oversee art submissions to the Church. Turley noted that many artists submit works of the Liahona, which signaled to him a common desire to have a personal Liahona providing custom messages and guidance.

“The scriptures work in the same way as the Liahona,” said Turley. “When we read the scriptures regularly and deeply, we receive general direction about where we should go in our personal search for our happiness. Just like the Liahona, studying the scriptures allows the Spirit to prompt us with specific messages that change from time to time to meet our immediate needs and solve particular problems.” 

Turley has served in numerous history positions with The Church, overseeing the Church Archives and Records Center, the Church History Library, and the Museum of Church History and Art. He also oversaw the creation of FamilySearch and the Joseph Smith Papers, and is the author of countless books and edited volumes on Church history. Turley received a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University as a Spencer W. Kimball Scholar, and later graduated from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU, where he was elected to the Order of the Coif. He and his wife, Shirley, are the parents of six children.

During forum, the Chamber Singers performed, “The Beatitudes,” directed by Dr. Kyle Nielsen, and the campus community joined in singing the University anthem, “Love One Another.” After the event, Turley attended a post-forum student Q&A hosted by the Honors Program.