In reviewing my early life, I’ve come to realize that my faith developed according to the process taught by Alma the Younger to the Zoramites in Alma 32:21-43, although unknowingly and not without pitfalls and wrong turns along the way.
As a very young boy, born as was Nephi to goodly parents, I remember feeling a strong desire to gain a testimony like that of my parents. Thus, the seed of faith was planted and the experiment begun. With the help of many people, including my parents, my primary and Sunday school teachers, my priesthood leaders, and my friends, the seed of faith began to grow. But I soon realized that in many ways my growing faith was actually founded on the faith of others. So I began a process of independent learning during which I read the standard works several times along with every other church book I could get my hands on. And after learning the importance of seeking wisdom “out of the best books” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118), I began to read books on every possible subject, including the World Book Encyclopedia cover to cover. I also attended early morning seminary, where I was blessed with wonderful teachers.
Of course, along with my secular education, this left little time for other pursuits, especially those of a social nature. Also, I’ve come to realize that I spent so much time reading that I didn’t pray for the Lord’s guidance as often as I should. So when I received my mission call after a not very successful year academically at BYU, I was somewhat prepared intellectually but my faith was weak. I remember praying for the Lord’s help several times in the mission home in Salt Lake City and a couple of times during my first week in the mission field. But, at the end of that first week, I was seriously injured in a car accident and hospitalized for two weeks. I remember waking up in the intensive care unit in terrible pain and unable to speak due to my injuries. It grieves me still to say that my first thought was “Why did the Lord allow this to happen to me?” I’d prepared the best way I knew for my mission and was doing what I thought the Lord expected of me. These thoughts persisted for what seemed like hours or even days, until I was at the point of despair and decided that there was no way I wanted to stay in the mission field. Then a voice came into my mind quoting these words of the Lord to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8): “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes,” along with a reminder that “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:8). At that time, my spirit was so deeply touched that I committed to stay on my mission.
And that’s what I did. But it wasn’t until a few months later, after realizing that I still did not have a firm witness of the truth of the Gospel even though I was telling people that they could gain such a testimony, that I prayed fervently one morning for such a witness. That afternoon, as I was teaching a discussion, I felt impressed to tell our investigator that the Lord would answer his prayers if he was sincere. As I did so, the Spirit bore witness to me that the Gospel was true. Since that time, although I’ve not always done the right thing, I have never doubted my faith in the Lord and the truthfulness of the Gospel.
One might then ask how I reconcile my faith with my scholarly pursuits. Did my training and experience in anthropology and archaeology, based as it was on the scientific method, ever raise conflicts in my mind regarding spiritual things? While I admit to wondering about this at times, it became clear to me very early on that science and religion are very different but complimentary ways of looking at the world. Since I believe their goals are different, to me science and religion can never truly be in conflict. Science strives to develop an understanding of the natural and social world based on empirical observation, while religion strives to develop faith in something that we cannot directly observe. It is, as Paul observed, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Since science deals in probabilities, not certainties, it can never disprove religion, just as religion cannot disprove science. All scientists believe, or at least I hope they believe, that there is always the possibility that new evidence will appear that challenges and even overturns existing explanations. This is what makes the pursuit of scholarship so exciting to me, whether it be unearthing new archaeological data that turns existing ideas on their heads, finding exciting new evidence on the origins of early LDS hymns, or helping students develop the research and critical-thinking skills required to meet their information needs. In sum, to me all knowledge comes from God, whether we gain it through scientific inquiry or through faith in the Lord. In the end, both can result in a better understanding of the world and help us prepare to return to live with our Father in Heaven.
Dr. Wade Kotter was born in Boston and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. After graduating from Wheaton High School in 1972, he enrolled at Brigham Young University, where, following a semester of uncertainty, he decided to major in anthropology and archaeology. After returning from the Oregon Portland Mission in 1975, he continued his program at BYU, graduating magna cum laude with a B.S. in anthropology and archaeology. A defining moment in his undergraduate career was the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Jerusalem in 1987, where he decided on a career in Near Eastern archaeology. This led to a master’s degree in ancient history and archaeology from Andrews University in 1980 and a Ph.D. in anthropology (specializing in Near Eastern archaeology) from the University of Arizona in 1986. During these years he spent several summers on excavations in Israel and a year in residence at Tel Aviv University pursuing his dissertation research.
After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Kotter returned to the Washington DC area, where he taught anthropology and archaeology as an adjunct at several universities in the Washington DC and Baltimore suburbs. Unfortunately, there were very few job openings in his specialty, so in 1991 he entered the Master of Library Science program at the University of Maryland, which he completed in 1993. After a year of working several temporary library positions and volunteering at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Dr. Kotter was appointed Social/Behavioral Sciences Librarian at Weber State University (WSU), where he is currently Social Sciences & Music Librarian and Professor of Library Science. Dr. Kotter also regularly teaches as an adjunct in the WSU Department of Sociology and Anthropology. While he retains an interest in and continues to teach archaeology, his current research focuses on early Mormon hymnody, including work on a historical companion to Emma Smith’s 1835 hymnbook and an article on the origins of the tune and text of the hymn “All is Well,” which was the source for William Clayton’s hymn that we now know as “Come, Come Ye Saints.” He is also working on an article describing the sources used for hymns of non-LDS origin in the 1840 Manchester hymnbook. His publications include numerous book reviews as well articles on the relationship between academic librarians and classroom faculty and subject access in anthropology. Dr. Kotter is also an active musician, including both formal and informal training in music history, theory, and composition. He has composed several hymns and is active in local choirs and sacred harp singing.
After a long period of bachelorhood, Dr. Kotter was sealed in the Ogden Temple to the former Janet Marie Jensen in 2008. He is especially proud of the two grandchildren he inherited as a result of his eternal marriage. In terms of church callings, Dr. Kotter has served as a ward clerk, stake clerk, counselor in a branch presidency, elder’s quorum secretary, priesthood instructor, Sunday school teacher, primary teacher, priesthood chorister, and high priests group leader, and is currently serving as gospel doctrine instructor in the Pleasant Valley 7th Ward, Ogden Utah Pleasant Valley Stake. He can be contacted by email at [email protected].
Posted July 2011