Holland’s BYU Address Merely an Event in the Arc of History
On Monday, August 23, Elder Jeffery R. Holland addressed BYU faculty and staff at the 2021 University Conference just one week before the beginning of the academic year. During his forty-minute address, he honed in on LGBTQ issues, reiterating exclusionary positions and rejecting behavior that Queer people affiliated with the church are very familiar with. Shortly after the address, Laurie Lee Hall, Immediate Past Senior Vice President of Affirmation, offered the following context and insights to Elder Holland’s speech with openness and a candid hope for the future.
by Laurie Lee Hall
For those struggling with the fact that today’s critically harsh language came at the hands of a member of the Q15 known more often for uplifting, thoughtful, and inspirational talks, consider the precedent.
In November 2015 after the PoX (the Policy of Exclusion, banning children of same-sex couples from receiving saving ordinances) was leaked, Elder D. Todd Christofferson was assigned to do a hastily arranged and terribly awkward Public Affairs interview in a failed attempt to justify the PoX. In September 2017 I heard Tom Christofferson explain that his brother called and granted Tom permission to distance himself from the apostle over the things he had to say (which Tom did not feel to do).
A friend asked me tonight if members of the Q15 are able to say no, and turn down assignments to deliver certain messages.
Clearly, the answer is no. They cannot.
It was relatively true when I was a stake president and when I was a senior employee at HQ. You followed your line leaders. There was no choice.
The problem for me is the fairly evident lack of unity among the Q15 on LGBTQ issues. I was always taught that the strength of the church and its greatest protection was unity among the council of the presiding quorums. It was apparent in 2015 and remains apparent now that on the subject of LGBTQ issues internally, the Q15 are not united.
No time was this more clear to me than in the January 2016 address to young singles in Hawaii when President Russell M. Nelson attempted to paint the PoX as a Pentecostal revelation to then-President Monson when that was absolutely untrue. At that point (and I was still an employee at HQ) the Q15 lost their moral authority for me.
My friend also asked if I saw today’s grotesque remarks as a part of a doubling-down overall trend.
My response was No. Today’s address was an event. There have been similar events before.
In 1994, Hawaii was considering marriage equality, the following year the church’s amicus brief becomes the Family Proclamation. Over time there has been an easing of the false policies espoused by the church against homosexuality in the 1990s.
Similarly, in 2016 the church prepared an amicus brief in the Gavin Grimm case, disavowing anyone’s right to self-determine their gender identity, the following year a witch hunt began against transgender members, I was caught up in that time and excommunicated. Two years later the handbook eased the general language towards transgender members.
Sometimes we see moments that feel positive and give us reason to hope for better days, such as in March of 2015 when the church assisted (and helped themselves) with the passing of the Utah Compromise. Then SCOTUS ruled on marriage equality, then whiplash, the PoX happened. The terrible public discussions mentioned above followed.
Lives were destroyed, too many were lost. But three and a half years later, it was eased.
Lately, there have been sweet and positive things happen for the LGBTQ students at the BYU’s, which have felt positive and right.
Then today’s event. Which is all it is. An event.
We’ve seen it before. Events occur, but the arc of the history of this painful intersection between the LDS church and their LGBTQ members is bending towards eventual fellowship and perhaps even equity.
I say this as a historian, not because I trust the institutional church, but because I see it happening though painfully slowly. My terrible pain with the institutional church at this time is the tremendous toll these toxic events take on the faith and hope of innumerable innocent people. And how many are irrevocably harmed, and how many lives are needlessly lost from us.
For me, the institutional leaders may only afflict me to the extent that I give them power to do so. I no longer grant them that power.