Mormon students amidst “friends of their faith” at YDS
Like many students accepted at Yale Divinity School, Erik Yingling ’14 M.A.R. anticipated his New Haven life with both joy and fear. Together with the excitement to learn under renowned professors and work with other exceptional students came the anxiety of making a home out of a brand new place and constantly fielding questions about his academic background, his family, and his faith.
Yingling, along with several other YDS students, belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though open to explaining his beliefs, Yingling admits that introducing himself as a Mormon has had unsettling effects in the past.
“Before I came to YDS, I was really scared. In the past, sometimes I had a harder time in new places. Mormonism isn’t always well-received,” he described.
Now several months in to his first year as a student in liturgical studies, Yingling’s fears have been relieved in more ways than one.
“People have been very receptive here, both to me as a person and to my faith,” he said. “One of my professors even came to one of our worship services.”
In January, Yingling joined with fellow Mormon student Bryan Bozung ’14 M.A.R. and the LDS chaplain at Yale, Stephen Weber, to offer a presentation on the Book of Mormon. Reuben D’Silva, ‘13 M.A.R., organized the event independently and served as moderator. The group discussed the role the book plays both in their faith and in world Christianity.
For millions of Mormons worldwide, the Book of Mormon accompanies the Bible in enlightening and encouraging belief in God. The text, produced by LDS founder Joseph Smith through divine revelation, is now printed in 90 percent of the world languages. As Yingling described, the book is a complex narrative, as impossible to explain in a single hour as the Bible itself.
Before guiding the audience through exegesis of select passages, the men spoke about what the book means to them both as Mormons and members of an academic community.
“I have read this book almost every day of my life,” said Weber, adding that “years and years ago, I realized it was not the words that mattered but rather what it drew out of me and what it gave to me.”
Bozung, who is studying Second Temple Judaism, explained that “the central purpose of the Book of Mormon is to teach people about Jesus Christ and to bring them nearer to God. I can’t resolve all the questions in my life, but the Book of Mormon has bolstered my faith in God and helped me become the person I want to be.”
At the end of the presentation, audience members had the opportunity to ask questions about myths that continue to plague the Mormon faith. Yingling and Bozung referred to community members in the room as “friends of their faith,” willing to listen and let go of preconceived notions.
“I am thankful that we could work together to understand the book rather than bifurcating ourselves into converts or enemies,” said Yingling.
Events like the Book of Mormon talk have become a vital part of YDS’s efforts to be a warm and welcoming ecumenical environment. Dean Gregory Sterling emphasizes the school’s openness, perhaps a natural result of having 40 different religious traditions represented within a student body of fewer than 400 people.
“We cultivate an atmosphere that makes it possible for students of faith or no faith to think carefully about the great questions in life, questions that are often bracketed in their undergraduate education or are posed but remain unanswered. We do not prescribe answers, but faculty and students are free to argue the strengths and weaknesses of answers,” said Sterling.
As Yingling and Bozung prepare to begin applying for Ph.D. programs in a few short months, both men are thankful for the time they have now to enjoy being a part of the YDS community.
“Though I continue to field questions almost daily, people have been very kind to me,” said Yingling.
Bozung echoed, “This is where I was supposed to come.”