Elder Holland asks BYU faculty to defend the university’s unique mission; offer love, hope to LGBTQ while upholding God’s commandments

PROVO, Utah — After loving Brigham Young University for nearly three-fourths of a century, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland pleaded with BYU faculty and staff on Monday, Aug. 23, to do their part to ensure the university “stands unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and to the Church that sponsors it.”

“From one who owes so much to this school and has loved her so deeply for so long, keep her not only standing but standing for what she uniquely and prophetically was meant to be,” he said.

The address came one week before the start of the 2021-2022 academic year and as the campus community continues to discuss important issues — including LGBTQ issues — that can be “more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”

Speaking during the BYU annual University Conference from the Marriott Center, Elder Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a former BYU president, titled his address “The Second Half of the Second Century.” The title references a 1976 talk given at BYU by Church President Spencer W. Kimball; in that address, titled “Second Century Address,” President Kimball urged the BYU community to be “unique” and “special.”

‘The real successes at BYU’

Although he can’t be certain, Elder Holland believes he had his first BYU experience in 1948 at age 7 when he first saw the block “Y” on the mountain.

“I believe it was a revelation from God,” he recalled. “I somehow knew that bold letter meant something special and that it would one day play a significant role in my life.”

Four years later, in June 1952, he would visit the campus while accompanying his parents to BYU Leadership Week — a precursor to what is now Education Week.

“My point, dear friends, is simply this: 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.”

Speaking directly to the faculty and staff, Elder Holland added, “Thank you for choosing to be at BYU, because your choice affected our choice.”

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Elder Holland said he asked BYU President Kevin J Worthen for a sample of the good things happening at BYU and was delighted to learn about the academic recognitions, scholarly rankings and athletic success.

But, he added, “the real successes at BYU are the personal experiences that thousands here have had, personal experiences difficult to document or categorize or list.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sits next to his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, at the start of the BYU annual University Conference held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Aug. 23, 2021.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sits next to his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, at the start of the BYU annual University Conference held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Aug. 23, 2021. Credit: Shafkat Anowar

The challenge ‘we face here’

Elder Holland also shared a few lines from another memo. “ ‘You should know,’ the writer says, ‘that some people in the extended community are feeling abandoned and betrayed by BYU. It seems that some professors (at least the vocal ones in the media) are supporting ideas that many of us feel are contradictory to gospel principles, making it appear to be about like any other university our sons and daughters could have attended. Several parents have said they no longer want to send their children here or donate to the school.

“ ‘Please don’t think I’m opposed to people thinking differently about policies and ideas,’ the writer continues. “I’m not. But I would hope that BYU professors would be bridging those gaps between faith and intellect and would be sending out students that are ready to do the same in loving, intelligent and articulate ways.’

While Church leaders don’t get many of those type of letters, Elder Holland said the one he shared isn’t unique.

“Now, most of what happens on this campus is wonderful. … But every so often we need a reminder of the challenge we constantly face here,” the Apostle said.

Referencing a talk he gave at BYU 41 years ago while serving as BYU president, Elder Holland told the BYU faculty and staff that because the university is an extension of the Church supported by sacred tithing funds, “our integrity demands that our lives be absolutely consistent with and characteristic of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Holland also quoted an address given in 2014 by Elder Russell M. Nelson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He called for faculty to “ally ourselves even more closely with the work of our Heavenly Father,” recalled Elder Holland.

Three years later in 2017, then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and now of the First Presidency, also addressed this subject, quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s remarks from a 2004 talk to the BYU President’s leadership council. In the talk, Elder Maxwell compared scholars at BYU to builders of the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, who worked with a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other. The dual role of builder and defender is unique and ongoing, Elder Maxwell said.

Elder Holland said Elder Oaks told the congregation, “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.

President Oaks noted that his remarks could be applied to a host of topics in various departments, but specifically mentioned the doctrine of the family and defending marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

LGBTQ and BYU

Elder Holland said Church leaders “are not deaf or blind to the feelings that swirl around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus.”

“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. 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.”

Attendees of BYU Education Week walk between classes on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Attendees of BYU Education Week walk between classes on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Credit: Joey Garrison, BYU Photo

Elder Holland declared his love and the love of other Church leaders to those who live with same-sex attraction.

“Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters,” Elder Holland said. “Like many of you, we have spent hours with them, and wept and prayed and wept again in an effort to offer love and hope while keeping the gospel strong and the obedience to commandments evident in every individual life.

“But it will assist everyone in providing such help if things can be kept in some proportion and balance in the process. For example, we 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.”

Referencing “musket fire,” Elder Holland said the Church will always need defenders of the faith and its doctrine, but “friendly fire” — aimed at the Church, its leaders and other defenders of the faith — is a tragedy.

“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. 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.”

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Elder Holland acknowledged the “beautiful parallel between the unfolding of the Restoration and the prophetic development of BYU.”

Like the Church itself, BYU has grown in national and international reputation.

Referencing President Kimball’s “Second Century Address,” Elder Holland said there is a need for BYU to be unique; in fact, in his discourse, President Kimball used the word “unique” eight times and “special” eight times.

Accompanying Elder Holland to BYU was the Church’s new Commissioner of Education, Elder Clark Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy. “You may be certain that he loves this institution, his alma mater, deeply and brings to his assignment a reverence for its mission and message,” said Elder Holland.

The Apostle told the faculty he has charged Elder Gilbert to visit the campus often in coming months and evaluate if the university is making progress. “First of all, I hope you will come to see quickly the remarkable strengths Elder Gilbert brings to his calling, even as he learns more about the flagship of his fleet and why our effort at a Church Educational System would be a failure without the health, success and participation of BYU. Second, noting that we are just a few years short of halfway through those second hundred years of which President Kimball spoke, I think it would be fascinating to know if we are, in fact, making any headway on the challenges he laid before us.”

Elder Holland added: “It seems clear to me in my 73 years of loving it that BYU will become an ‘educational Mt. Everest’ only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity,” even if it means forgoing some professional affiliations and certifications, he said. “We could mimic every other university in the world until until our noses bleed in the effort and the world would still say, ‘BYU who?’”

Elder Holland said BYU will pursue its own destiny — a destiny that is not a matter of chance, but largely a matter of choice.

“From one who owes so much to this school and has loved her so deeply for so long, keep her not only standing but standing for what she uniquely and prophetically was meant to be,” he said.

Read a full transcript of Elder Holland’s remarks on the Church’s Newsroom website.