WASHINGTON — Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, participated in events at two major American institutions on Wednesday.
He began the day offering the morning prayer in the U.S. Senate, then spoke at the Library of Congress about the legacy of the Book of Mormon, which has been part of an exhibit there since June.
Elder Christofferson asked God to bless the Senate and each senator with wisdom and judgment and to "honor their desire to contribute to the well-being of the people of this nation, and indeed those of all nations who may be influenced for good by their decisions."
He also noted the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"(We) remember with soberness and humility the sacrifice of so many who have offered their lives to preserve our liberty," he said. "We pray that thou wilt bless their descendants and sustain the vital institutions of our government that this precious liberty may be preserved through the generations to come."
The Library of Congress added the Book of Mormon to its list of 100 "Books That Shaped America" in 2013. Since June, the book, considered scripture by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been part of the "America Reads" exhibit about 65 books the American public says have had “a profound effect on American life."
Elder Christofferson spoke for 30 minutes about the history and impact of the Book of Mormon, with its initial print run of 5,000 copies in 1830. More than 176 million copies have been printed since then and distributed around the world in 100 languages.
The Book of Mormon has spawned pageants, plays, musical lyrics, comic books and paintings, he said. It also is now studied as literature in college English courses across the United States.
"You don't have to believe in its historic claims to appreciate [the Book of Mormon] as literature," Elder Christofferson said, quoting scholar David Bokovoy.
He also said the Book of Mormon enhances his appreciation for the Bible.
The America Reads exhibit ends on Dec. 31.
The Senate's traditional morning prayer has been a congressional practice since the late 1700s. Wednesday was at least the fourth time an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has prayed before the Senate.
Elder Reed Smoot, who was both an apostle and a senator from Utah, prayed for divine assistance to end World War I after the Senate voted to enter the conflict on April 6, 1917. LDS Church President George Albert Smith offered the morning prayer in the Senate on May 20, 1947, as did LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball on Sept. 11, 1974. Church presidents are ordained apostles.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced Elder Christofferson at both events. Hatch is the first Mormon selected by fellow senators as president pro tempore, which means he presides in the Senate when the vice president is absent. He called Elder Christofferson's prayer a historical event and proud moment for many Utahns.
At the Library of Congress, Hatch emphasized Elder Christofferson's apostolic calling.
"The rank of apostle is one of the highest priesthood offices in (the LDS Church)," Hatch said. "Just as in New Testament times, an apostle is called to be a special witness of Jesus Christ. … Having devoted the greater part of his life teaching others about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon, (Elder Christofferson) is remarkably qualified to speak on this subject today.”