Elder Holland issues call to BYU faculty to strike a ‘sensitive, demanding balance’ between showing empathy and having ‘devotion to revealed doctrine’

Speaking to faculty at Brigham Young University at the outset of a new academic semester, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who formerly served as the school’s 9th president, began by thanking those employed by the school for all of the good they do.  

“Thank you for what you do. Thank you for classes taught and meals served and grounds so well kept. Thank you for office hours and lab experiments and testimonies shared — gifts given to little people like me so we could grow up to be big people like you. Thank you for choosing to be at BYU because your choice affected our choice and, like Mr. Frost’s poetic path, ‘that has made all the difference,’” he said. 

Elder Holland then went on to respond to recent concerns regarding what he calls “the challenge we constantly face” at BYU—the challenge of being an academic institution that is 100 percent committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle went on to share a few lines from a letter he recently received: 

You should know 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. 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. Yet, I fear that some faculty are not supportive of the Church's doctrines and policies and choose to criticize them publicly. There are consequences to this. After having served a full-time mission and marrying her husband in the temple, a friend of mine recently left the church. In her graduation statement on a social media post, she credited [such and such a BYU program and its faculty] with the radicalizing of her attitudes and the destruction of her faith.

Elder Holland addressed these concerns with comments by fellow Church leaders throughout history about the role of BYU. He emphasized that in a talk given in 1976 by President Spencer W. Kimball about how BYU is capable of becoming an “educational Mt. Everest,” the prophet used the words “special” and “unique” eight times each. Elder Holland then said, “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. We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, ‘BYU who?’ No, 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. If at a future time that mission means foregoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it.”  

Why is BYU’s mission so important to the Church at large?  

“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,” Elder Holland said. 

Citing the challenges surrounding the topic of sexual orientation, Elder Holland expressed the love that he and the Brethren have for those in the LGBTQ community.  

“Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters. 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,” he said.  

Still, Elder Holland emphasized the delicate balance between love and “devotion to revealed doctrine” at the university.  

“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.”  

He concluded by reiterating his love for the university, leaving an apostolic blessing with its faculty, and then said, “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.”  

Read a transcript of Elder Holland’s address at Church Newsroom

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