ON THE SAME DAY THAT BYU announced the creation of an Office of Belonging, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland took the pulpit at BYU’s annual conference for faculty and staff and delivered an address in which he takes imprudent aim at gay students, student allies, and allies on the staff and faculty. He gaslights those present who have embraced the Church’s occasionally kinder, softer rhetoric on homosexuality and inclusion, accuses them of disloyalty to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and blames them (and BYU students within the LGBTQIA and ally community) for divisions in the Church. The new Office of Belonging would do well to build moving sidewalks throughout the campus to facilitate transporting the alienated employees and students from wherever they’re found directly to it’s door. After this talk, it’s going to take some hard labor to convince queer students they belong at BYU (or in the Church for that matter) or allies that there isn’t a target on their backs.
To recap in brief, Elder Holland made homosexuals (particularly in gay marriages) out to be enemies of the Church. He called members to figuratively bear muskets against those who don’t see gay marriage as a disruptor of the plan of salvation. He blatantly misrepresented the facts surrounding Matt Easton’s 2019 valedictorian address, accusing the graduating senior of “commandeering” the pulpit to come out when he had received university approval for every word he said. Thick was the indirect accusation that Easton’s coming out was an attack on Church doctrine. It wasn’t a good look for an apostle.
Many LDS rank Elder Holland as their favorite apostle because he has consistently delivered General Conference messages of empathy and love, things this speech didn’t just lack but directly attacked. His speech felt a lot like being assaulted in broad daylight. It just wasn’t expected.
Elder Holland’s most volatile language–calls to raise muskets in protection of the Church’s “temple of learning”–entered his speech through quotations of President Oaks, also a former BYU president, a man who has made advocacy against both political and religious gay rights his hill to die on. In a certain light, the impression of President Oaks’ fingers seem visible on Elder Holland’s throat.
Still, it was Elder Holland who made the speech. This hard reality reminds us that men called as apostles are required to put the institution ahead of the individual. In fact, any church leader, on any level, must publicly support what he’s told to support by the man one up the chain from him, even (and especially) when it violates his conscience, or he forfeits his good standing with the Church. Even though Elder Holland had to know that DezNat would hear his speech as a rallying cry, even though he knew his words would endanger vulnerable, gay students who I believe he cares about, even though his rhetoric on Monday, August 23, 2021 doesn’t resemble his previous rhetoric, he proceeded. Maybe he believes what he said that day. Maybe we’ve been had all along.
What I understand, however, is that, although this kind of high-demand loyalty may work in the business or political worlds, it can’t be sustained in a faith community. Eventually, men with corrupted ideas will lead the way and that puts an unhappy amen to a religious man’s ability to lead in the name of the Lord. It just doesn’t reason that today’s leaders always speak the Lord’s mind because Joseph Smith had a face-to-face with the Father and the Son 200 years ago. Nor is it reasonable to think Jesus wants us to follow a misguided spiritual leader. It’s on this slippery slope of illogic that the Church mingles the philosophies of men and with the will of God. This is the great sin of our system.
A person need only skim our history to find evidence that our apostles have offered the Saints corrupted ideas. Brigham Young University needs an Office of Belonging precisely because of the racist, sexist, homophobic, ignorant statements made by past apostles, including the one who both became the second president of the Church and gave his name to the university. Brigham Young was pronounced in his racism, often fomenting the very worst of his era’s racist ideas. By virtue of his title as the priesthood keyholder on Earth, Young impacted generations of Latter-day Saint leaders, such that contention roiled the Q15 until President Kimball put an end to the egregious doctrine of white superiority. There’s nothing divine in corrupted thinking.
I imagine what I’m saying is what the Brethren most fear is taking hold in the Church. I hope they stop fearing it and start facing it. The Latter-day Saints are good people who listen to the still, small voice and let it guide us as we cultivate the attributes of God, as we seek to understand one another’s hearts more closely to the way God understands our own. We won’t be tied to corrupted thinking, and we earnestly seek for our doctrinal tenets to expand, not contract as if what we believe can be nothing better than the drying crust of dirt during a drought.
The drought is ending. Elder Holland’s address doesn’t change that. He was wrong, and Elder Oaks before him, when he says we need muskets to defend ourselves against doctrinal change. Rather, we need the Holy Ghost to compel us forward, toward a more expansive theology, one that waters our garden so that the good fruit of the gospel can better grow in each and every one of us, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or race.
Today the Church membership is addressing the realities of the human prejudices that have limited us. Today, we are gaining courage through the gift of the Holy Ghost, or the light of Christ, or that still, small voice–whatever wording you prefer–to testify that our leaders, all good (or well-intended) men have not always spoken as the Savior would. We are creating in our own hearts individual Offices of Belonging and throwing open the doors that will end division in the Church. We aren’t afraid. Elder Holland spoke of his tears. They can end. Or rather, transform into tears of joy through the redemption of our Savior. It’s not hard. It’s not new. It’s beautiful.
Through the lens of pure love, we see immortal beings of infinite potential and worth and beloved sons and daughters of Almighty God. Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard, or discriminate against anyone. Dieter Uchtdorf, Oct. 2018