homepage logo

Provo protest sparks as part of ongoing reaction to Elder Holland speech

By Genelle Pugmire - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Aug 27, 2021

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gives keynote speech at BYU's annual conference for faculty and staff Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Photo supplied, Intellectual Reserves)

PROVO — Commotion surrounding a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on Monday at the Brigham Young University Annual Conference has grown to a high pitch.

Holland’s address was specifically tailored toward faculty and staff — no students attended — but naysayers and supporters alike have been stepping up on social media and causing public protests and confrontations.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation in Provo called for a Friday afternoon protest just off the BYU campus, calling some of Holland’s statements unacceptable, particularly accusing Holland of using a “violent metaphor, suggesting that faithful members of the church at BYU should pick up their ‘muskets’ and defend the church against pro-LGBTQ+ forces.”

Holland’s metaphor was referring to a comment made by the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Holland noted Maxwell quoted the following:

“In a way (Latter-day Saint) scholars at BYU and elsewhere are a little bit like the builders of the temple in Nauvoo, who worked with a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other. Today scholars building the temple of learning must also pause on occasion to defend the kingdom. I personally think this is one of the reasons the Lord established and maintains this university. The dual role of builder and defender is unique and ongoing. I am grateful we have scholars today who can handle, as it were, both trowels and muskets.”

During the building of the Nauvoo Temple, the early saints of the church who were desirous to see the temple built were under their own violent attacks, Joseph Smith was martyred and the great western migration of saints began, according to church history.

The group that protested Friday was advocating for LGBTQ+ liberation and the end of religious bigotry.

Endorsers and speakers included the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Provo, Provo Pride and UVU LGBTQ+. Speakers included Kelli D. Potter, a transgender woman, UVU professor and Mormon studies scholar, as well as Kaylee Wilkinson, an organizer from the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Conversely, a video posted through the video-sharing app TikTok shows a young man pouring water on rainbow-colored chalk art and wording, seemingly at BYU, while using a derogatory slang term for homosexuals and yelling at them “to just go to hell.”

On Friday, BYU released a statement concerning the TikTok video.

“We unequivocally condemn behavior and language that is disrespectful and hurtful. There is no place for hateful speech, or prejudice of any kind, on our campus or in our community,” the BYU statement, posted on Twitter, said.

“The Honor Code explicitly states that each member of the BYU community has the obligation to respect others. The incident seen on a video circulating on social media is now under review. This behavior runs counter to the directives shared by President (Kevin J) Worthen in his University Conference address Monday,” the statement continued. “We are striving to create a community of belonging composed of students, faculty and staff whose hearts are knit together in love. Every students and individual on our campus deserves to feel that belonging.”

From former LDS member John Dehlin’s podcast on the topic to a Facebook page posted by Tom Christofferson, the openly gay brother of Elder D. Todd Christofferson, the comments have been nonstop since Monday.

Tom Christofferson went to BYU during Holland’s tenure as University president, along with his wife Pat. The Hollands were a popular addition to the campus, and when they would speak together it was warmly referred to as the “Pat and Jeff show.”

“I grieve to think that a student at BYU today might feel they need to do what I did there: hide, pretend, just try to get through another day, semester and year,” Tom Christofferson wrote in his Facebook post. “If the glory of God is intelligence, and I believe that it is, then surely in an academic community focused on following Christ there is room to allow each individual to share all of themselves in a learning, growing and safe environment.”

Some groups considered to be right-wing LDS have used the Twitter hashtag #DezNat, referring to Deseret Nation. It has been described by detractors as an alt-right, white nationalist extremist movement.

In January, following the incursion at the U.S. Capitol, the church made the following statement:

“This group is not affiliated with or endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In recent months, Church leaders have spoken directly on such issues as condemning the recent violence in Washington, D.C., and lawless behavior, the evils of racism and peacefully accepting the results of political elections.

Church leaders have reminded members — of all political views — to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ in treating others with respect, dignity and love, and that “(A)nything that encourages or incites violence is contrary to the recent instruction given by Church leaders.”

The church did not comment on the reaction to Holland’s talk.

In his talk, Holland noted, “As near as I can tell, Christ never once withheld His love from anyone, but He also never once said to anyone, ‘Because I love you, you are exempt from keeping my commandments.'”

“We are tasked with trying to strike that same sensitive, demanding balance in our lives,” he added.

“Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith, but ‘friendly fire’ is a tragedy — and from time to time the church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community have taken such fire on this campus. And sometimes it isn’t friendly — wounding students and the parents of students who are confused about what so much recent flag-waving and parade-holding on this issue means,” Holland continued. “Beloved friends, this kind of confusion and conflict ought not to be. There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine.”

Within five weeks, the Semi-annual General Conference of the Church will be held. Latter-day Saints will gather around their TVs, computers and radios throughout the world to hear the words of those who call themselves “special witnesses” of Christ. The speculation has begun as to whether the BYU and/or LGBTQ+ concerns will be addressed.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)