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Elder Holland promotes unity while poking detractors of church in BYU keynote

By Genelle Pugmire - | Aug 24, 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)

Faculty and staff at Brigham Young University met Monday for the university’s annual conference, where they are given instruction, information and a yearly pep talk before school starts next week.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a former student and president of the university, gave the keynote address.

His key points were to stay close to the Savior and embrace the uniqueness that is BYU.

Quoting former Church President Spencer W. Kimball, Holland said BYU can become an “educational Mount Everest” — but only, the apostle added, “to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity. … We must have the will to stand alone, if necessary, being a university second to none in its role primarily as an undergraduate teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the process. … Until ‘we all come (to) the unity of the faith, and … (have grown to) the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ [Ephesians 4:13], our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed, those whom He has designated to declare Church doctrine and to guide Brigham Young University as its trustees.”

Shedding some humor on his introduction, Holland said, “Someone once told me that the young speak of the future because they have no past, while the elderly speak of the past because they have no future. Although it damages that little aphorism, I come to you as the veritable Ancient of Days to speak of the future of BYU, but a future anchored in our distinctive past. If I have worded that right, it means I can talk about anything I want.”

Speaking of the 69 years he has been acquainted with BYU, Holland added, “I have loved BYU for nearly three-fourths of a century. Only my service in and testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including my marriage and the beautiful children it has given us, have affected me as profoundly as has my decision to attend Brigham Young University. In so testifying, I represent literally hundreds of thousands of other students who say the same thing.”

While Holland said he asked BYU President Kevin J Worthen for a list of the school’s recent successes, Holland said the real successes at BYU are the personal experiences that thousands here have had.

Holland noted an individual who wrote that they were concerned that some in the extended community at the university are those feeling abandoned and betrayed by BYU. Some vocal professors, he said, are supporting ideas that many feel are contradictory to gospel principles, making it appear to be about like any other university.

“Several parents have said they no longer want to send their children here or donate to the school,” Holland added.

“Fortunately, we don’t get many of those letters, but this one isn’t unique,” Holland said. “Several of my colleagues get the same kind, with most of them ultimately being forwarded to poor President Worthen. Now, most of what happens on this campus is wonderful. That is why I began as I did, with my own undying love of this place. But every so often we need a reminder of the challenge we constantly face here.”

Holland indicated the message has not changed in the 41 years since he was president of the school.

“I said then and I say now that if we are an extension of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taking a significant amount of sacred tithes and other precious human resources, all of which might well be expended in other worthy causes, surely our integrity demands that our lives be absolutely consistent with and characteristic of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Holland didn’t mince words when it came to the mission of the university, nor some of the concerns it is facing.

“A house divided against itself … cannot stand, and I will go to my grave pleading that this institution not only stands but stands unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and to the Church that sponsors it. We hope it isn’t a surprise to you that your Trustees are not deaf or blind to the feelings that swirl around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus,” Holland said.

“I and many of my brethren have spent more time and shed more tears on this subject than we could ever adequately convey to you this morning, or any morning,” Holland added. “We have spent hours discussing what the doctrine of the Church can and cannot provide the individuals and families struggling over this difficult issue. So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”

“If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually anything goes? What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long? Do we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere,” Holland said.

Holland noted that individuals should show an outpouring of love, but they have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy, or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people.

“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,” Holland said.

“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,” he added.

Holland said that while he focused on the same-sex topic, “more than I would have liked, I pray you will see it as emblematic of a lot of issues our students and community face in this complex, contemporary world of ours.”

BYU will open the fall 2021 semester Monday, Aug. 30.

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