The main theme of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s much-referenced talk given at Brigham Young University was an invitation for faculty, staff, and the administration at BYU to show empathy to everyone, while still being devoted to doctrine. Yet some have taken his recent talk to be divisive. They lament that Elder Holland is no longer an “amiable” General Authority, and that his advocacy for revealed truth was somehow an attack on a particular community. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Many are attacking Elder Holland without having listened to or read his speech in full. They rely on secondhand accounts, which fail to account for or address the complexity of his message, or they conflate Elder Holland’s teachings with decades old controversies. When you read or listen to Elder Holland’s talk, his meaning is clear – the revealed doctrine of the church is sacrosanct and should be advocated for, but in our advocacy, we must be careful to avoid contentious behavior. Two paragraphs from Elder Holland’s talk make that message clear.
Elder Holland first reminded those at BYU of their main purpose: to not only pass along new secular knowledge, but also the “vital and revealed truths that have been sent to us from heaven.” Brigham Young University is exceptional in that it has both a secular and spiritual mission, both to teach about and discover new secular truths, and to teach about and study revealed truth.
God’s revealed commandments are meant to bring his children happiness and joy. Those who teach and advocate for God’s revealed truth know that obedience will bring His children “exceedingly great joy,” and will “make one happy.” When we don’t follow God’s commandments, we forfeit a measure of happiness and joy.
Elder Holland said that there is a delicate balance in advocating for God’s revealed truth. Some don’t understand all of God’s truth and may not agree with the doctrines. We should be careful that “love and empathy (for those people) do[es] not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy” and on the other hand “that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people.” He continues, “[a]s 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.” We must lovingly advocate for the revealed truth.
Elder Holland went on to speak out against contention. Those at BYU should never engage in behavior that wounds others. He said “[W]e 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…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.” Our defense of the doctrine must never be based in anger or contention. We must be amiable and empathetic with others, but firm in the defense of our faith.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is a great example of how to show empathy for others while still being devoted to the revealed doctrine. As he lovingly advocates for revealed truths, he stands firm in the faith, and shows others that the only way to find true happiness and joy is by obeying God’s commandments.