Sunday Afternoon in a Nutshell

President Uchtdorf conducted the Sunday afternoon session, featuring talks by Elder Holland, Elder Cook, Elder Neilson, Elder Renlund, Elder Ringwood, Elder Sitati, and Elder Christofferson, followed by closing remarks from President Monson. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks given.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Twelve, on the Book of Mormon:

  • A latter-day warning to those within the Church: “In the last days, … even the very elect could be deceived.”
  • In Lehi’s dream, those who successfully navigated the mists of darkness and laid hold of the rod of iron (i.e., the word of God) were those who ignored all distractions.
  • Bears an intense testimony of the Book of Mormon and the willingness of Joseph and Hyrum to die as martyrs to its message and truthfulness.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve, on these perilous times:

  • Moral agency is the freedom to choose our own course … with accountability for those choices.
  • We have stewardship (1) over ourselves and our families, to practice virtue and chastity; and (2) toward the poor and needy, to pay a generous fast offering and support the humanitarian efforts of the Church.

Elder Brent H. Neilson of the Seventy, on missionary work:

  • Notes that President Monson has restated President Kimball’s 1974 challenge that every worthy young man should serve a mission.
  • The Lord needs “worthy, prepared, faithful young men and young women. … There is no greater work.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Seventy, on obtaining a new heart:

  • The ultimate operation is a spiritual one, obtaining a mighty change of heart.
  • Like the body trying to reject a transplanted heart, the natural man will try to reject the new spiritual heart. Do not become casual in your dedication and worship.

Elder Michael T. Ringword of the Seventy, on the easiness of belief:

  • Like the converting Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, “May we always find it easy to believe His word.”

Elder Joseph W. Sitati of the Seventy, on a global faith:

  • “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become a global faith.”
  • Notes there are 300,000 Saints in Africa and three temples (South Africa, Nigeria, and one other place).

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve, on moral discipline:

  • Quoting a young James E. Faust replying to senior officers in an Officer Candidate School interview: “I do not believe in a double standard for morality.”
  • “Moral discipline: self-discipline based on moral standards.”
  • Present-day society fails to encourage moral discipline, instead resorting to external authority — coercion and law — to try to enforce order and civility.
  • Arguing against the let-them-choose-for-themselves approach to the religious education of our youth: “Intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth.”

President Thomas S. Monson, closing remarks:

  • Society now often disregards God’s commandments: “We often find ourselves swimming against the current.”
  • “I invoke the blessings of heaven upon each of you.”

92 comments for “Sunday Afternoon in a Nutshell

  1. I also agree that Elder Holland’s talk was fantastic. I think it was the strongest testimony of the Book of Mormon I’ve ever heard. Just fantastic.

    I keep wondering as I listened to what he was saying if it wasn’t a kind of farewell or something, especially when he made the remark about not knowing how many years he would live. Is there something we don’t know?

  2. Elder Holland sounded defensive, angry and at times frankly “rattled” to me.

    I think it is past time the LDS church take withering criticism laying down, with a sweet smile. Sometimes what we believe needs to be stated with fervor and conviction by our top leaders. They have been reticent for too long. But recently (last ten years) the BoM has been taking a bath from the critics and I do not remember a church leader in Elder Holland’s position even mentioning some of the leading problems and dismissing them in a Sunday session of General Conference and doing it with a raised voice.

    If I was the questioning teenager in the heart of Zion that I once was, I would be very disturbed by this talk. It would send me to the library (internet now) with some questions, the answers to which I would not like.

    It reminded me of when BYU football fans think their team is really a top ten team and then listening to some of them after a big loss. Just my take, maybe not yours.

  3. Elder Holland had the same demeanor he has as any other subject where he’s emotional and feels the Spirit. To those who listened with the Spirit his talk will either help strengthen their testimony so their hearts will not fail them, or they will continue as they were before. Did it seem to you as if he had just had a ‘big loss’ of his testimony? I had just the opposite impression…

  4. Mike–

    Elder Holland’s testimony was fervent and emotional–but “rattled,” really?

    Also, we could (and many do, on blogs that might be linked here) discuss ad nauseam the many theories of the BOM’s coming forth with all their respective questions and flaws. But I think Elder Holland’s point is that none of those theories–Spaulding, Rigdon, stream of consciousness, whatever–has stood the test of time nearly so well as the Book itself. The only way any of them seems very plausible is if you reject Joseph’s account prima facie. That, of course, if the right of any man, but it only leads us back to Elder Holland’s other, implicit, and most important point: ultimately the BOM can only be accepted or rejected prima facie, so to speak. It is only on first principles–faith, prayer, and the (sometimes fiery, sometimes quiet) testimony of the spirit–that the truth of the book can be known; even though the attempts to disprove it over the years have all withered in the light of scrutiny, yet it also cannot be “proven,” and never will be, intriguing though the evidence in its favor is, except in the private precincts of one’s own heart.

  5. I think Mike makes a good point. I was honestly wondering what prompted Elder Holland to speak the way he did. For those who don’t think he was ‘rattled’, well, he was surely something. Crying, shouting, emotional, and preaching with fervor. I honestly wondered if he had recently had some encounter that prompted his talk and emotional nature (such as meeting or learning about various members losing their faith over attacks on the BoM). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed his talk, but I was really interested to see what prompted it to emerge as it did. I just wish he would speak out about why he gave his talk as he did so all of us on the archipelago can know rather than just speculate.

  6. A couple of thoughts on Elder Holland’s talk:

    Could this talk be a reassurance to his brethren in Church leadership following his statements of acceptance of non-believers in the Book of Mormon in his interview for PBS’ “the Mormons” in 2007? (Sorry for the run-on sentence)

    If I were an investigator this talk might prompt one of two thoughts: “Wow, this Church really has something worth defending, go fill the font!” or “Wow, I don’t know if I want to join this Church because if I ever decide to leave I will have the leaders’ wrath on me!”

  7. “Elder Holland’s talks never cease to keep me on the edge of my seat.”

    It kept me on the edge of my motion sickness bag…

  8. A cousin just referred to something I wrote as a Rorschach test. That seems to be true of Elder Holland’s talk, too — what you heard in it was what you brought to it, magnified.

    I heard an apostolic witness, a conviction that couldn’t be contained in a bland Conference voice, and that wouldn’t find expression in tears or a quivering voice. He found an ember burning inside of me and waked it to a flame.

  9. I very much enjoyed Elder Holland’s talk. I am a little surprised that his fervor was surprising to so many people. Though he was especially fervent here he has been quite emotional in a number of his talks in the last 15 years, both in general conference and in other settings.

    I’ve also seen clips in the past of him bearing testimony of the Restoration in fervent and emphatic tones. So I don’t think one needs to look to some recent event or transformation as causing this talk. It appears to be what he believes and always has.

    And what many of us believe, though he expresses it better.

  10. I too enjoyed Elder Holland’s talk. I hope that it is an indication that the General Authorities of the Church intend to confront the critics head-on. I, for one, would like to see the Church defend itself. The GA’s have left the field of battle to FARMS and others for too long. It’s time they got their hands dirty.

  11. I think those who are surprised aren’t familiar enough with some of his talks. Particularly the one on missionary work he gave at the MTC a while back.

    I understood that he explained what prompted his talk in his introduction – thinking about how in the last days, “men’s hearts shall fail them” and “even the elect shall be deceived.”

    I think this talk ties in well with the two following ‘change of heart’ talks. If we do our best in faith, the Lord will give us a new heart. My heart may fail me, but if the Lord gives me a new one, that one won’t. Elder Holland’s talk also relates to Elder Callister’s talk: “there will always be another intellectual crisis on the horizon.”

  12. One comment was particular shocking…

    “I found nothing spiritual in Elder Holland’s talk. He reminded me of Glenn Beck rallying the troops for his 9/12 demonstration.”Ann Moulton Johnson

    Please don’t compare Holland with Beck. I think you need to repent of those feelings, seriously. Read it again and gain a testimony of it..

  13. I thought Elder Holland’s talk was refreshingly alive. As to the idea that this is some new-found spark, JRH has mentioned his tendency to toward “temper” in a few contexts over the years, including this one, from a 1987 talk at BYU in which he discussed the tarring and feathering of Joseph Smith:
    “But those feelings that I have even now just reading about this experience 150 years later–and feelings I know that would have raged in my Irish blood that morning–mark only one of the differences between me and the Prophet Joseph Smith.” I would suggest that his Irish blood was raging yesterday–to magnificent effect.

  14. After reading some of your negative comments about Elder Holland’s talk, I’m discontinuing my reading of T&S. I would rather not be associated with such ilk. AMJ and jjackson should take Mark’s suggestion to heart.

  15. I heard Elder Holland’s talk through my experience sharing the Book of Mormon with investigators who ultimately rejected it. Because many of those people seemed to me especially humble, Christ-like, and with earnest desires to know and follow God’s will, I imagined Holland, or a missionary parroting his style, laying the fire on them face-to-face. That image kept me from liking the talk.

    I understood him to say there is no legitimate reason not to believe in the Book of Mormon, and even that it’s almost nonsensical to not believe the Book of Mormon (means Joseph and Hyrum knowingly blasphemed the day they expected to die, etc.), and that his only explanation for one’s failure to accept the Book of Mormon is their hard heart.

  16. Matt Evans, I understood the talk in the same way. It struck me as a bit sophistic; Elder Holland seems to have ruled out some possible belief structures in a sort of a priori way in order to strengthen his argument. For example, suppose that somebody thinks that Joseph Smith made up the text of the Book of Mormon but was confused in some way and believed that the text was a revelation. If that’s the belief in question, then the death incident that Holland emphasized isn’t even problematic. More broadly, the idea that we can accept as true any worldview that people believe when they die is self-evidently problematic. But somehow Elder Holland wants to push this narrow piece of argument very, very hard — much harder than the evidence can possibly bear. It struck me as unkind.

  17. First, to get to “He made it up, thinking it was true” you have to get through “He made it up”.

    That leaves you with trying to account for how a barely grown, barely literate common farm laborer managed to pull off such a complex work as the Book of Mormon at all.

    In top of that, it seems that it would have taken a truly miraculous feat of self-delusion for Joseph to have supposed, and claimed it to be authentic, when he had in fact made it up.

    Second, I would think that the possibility of being shot for a belief would tend to concentrate the mind wonderfully on the possibility that one’s belief might be a mistaken.

  18. There has been a lot of commentary in cyberspace about Elder Holland’s talk. I have been reading it with an eye to understanding my negative reaction to the talk. I think what struck me was Elder Holland’s my way or the highway approach. My beliefs about Joseph Smith and the BOM are quite a bit different than his. Generally I am ok with allowing reasonable minds to differ. But I felt that Elder Holland made it pretty clear how one is expected to view JS and the BOM. Perhaps it is time for me to stop kidding myself about my ability to stay in the church given my views.

  19. I like Holland’s fire. Personally, I would like to hear a GA speak
    about what Bishop Burton just touched on–how political discourse in this country has gotten so nasty and do a whole talk on how we need to return to civility. Perhaps HOlland could
    speak to that and add that you can be a democrat and be a faithful LDS. Some of this stuff just goes on for years and years and no one with authority ever clears it up–except good ol’ Elder Jensen–I love the man!

  20. J. Seawright — can I suggest that the fact that you found Elder Holland’s talk to be “unkind” says a great deal more about you than about his talk? It was anything but unkind. Frankly, I find your response to be far more narrow minded than anything he said.

    Matt: Elder Holland is right about the reason people don’t believe the Book of Mormon in my view. It is a matter of heart.

  21. Please read my comments in a kind tone. It’s difficult to convey this sometimes in text alone:

    Elder Holland was speaking to those who have or have had a testimony, made covenants, and keep worrying about “the next intellectual crisis on the horizon.” Laman and Lemuel needed to be shocked into remembering God’s power. Sometimes we unfortunately need this because of our hard hearts or looking beyond the mark. Elder Holland was perfectly in line, and passion/emotion is not anger. In many instances BoM prophets were much more direct than he was, under the guidance of the spirit.

    You shouldn’t have to be told what you already know. Read D&C Section 6 if you’re forgetting or go read some old journals if you kept them.

    You don’t have to have a perfect knowledge. You don’t need to be told everything. You just have to do your best with what you’re given. Waiting for church leaders to waste conference time focusing on answers that you already know (like politics) is not the best use of such sacred time when the entire kingdom of God is listening for inspiration.

  22. I think if people heard Joseph Smith today (or any of the 19th century religious speakers), today’s audience too, would think those preachers were “rattled.” We really haven’t seen much of that passionate display in General Conference. Our prophets and Apostles today are rather mild in demeanor. It’s nice to see every now and then someone who expresses himself a little more vociferously.

  23. Re: post #13, comparing an Apostle’s testimony with Glen Beck’s political rants? The two are totally incompatible.

  24. Matt–

    I don’t think you’re imagery is fair to Elder Holland’s talk because, as others have pointed out, he was not talking to those Christ-like people you met who did not accept the book for whatever reason, and he certainly was not commenting–as your comment seems to imply–on why they may not have accepted the book’s truth. He was, rather, and quite explicitly, talking to those who already have come to know the book is true.


    I have to preface this by saying I’m going to talk about my perception of the talk and not the talk itself. I don’t know if the text has been posted, but if so I haven’t reread it. In any case: I didn’t get the impression that Elder Holland was inviting those who don’t believe in the Book of Mormon in the same way he does to take to the highway. In fact, I would argue that his testimony could be interpreted quite differently. He is one of those to whom “it is given to know,” and he wanted everyone “within the sound of his voice” to know that he was proclaiming–publicly, vociferously, prophetically–that that is the emphatic case. That others may not know as he does is not surprising.

  25. I remember listening to Elder Holland give a talk on the Book of Mormon at a CES Symposium back in 1994. The language, style and passion were very similar to his GC address we just heard.

    What stayed with me from that talk was the audience’s reaction. I don’t remember what he said, but it was a grand slam out of the ballpark exclamation. I thought to myself, amen! Then the audience erupted in thunderous, prolonged applause. Keep in mind it was a large gathering of CES personnel, true believers. But to hear that kind of spontaneous response in a usually reserved and subdued religious setting was electrifying.

    Elder Holland’s Conference address was (how shall I put it?) refreshingly aggressive. Assertive is too tame a description. I can understand why some were turned off by it. I for one felt a desire to be more acquainted with this volume of scripture and be more bold in sharing it with others.

  26. Blake,
    Thank you for furnishing your example of kind readings.

    I think the talk was at cross purposes with the sentiment he expressed in the interview. Would a non-BoM-believer who honestly sought space in the Church feel more or less welcome after hearing this? I also think that the more bombastic, theories-besides-mine-are-pathetic stuff worked at cross purposes with the power of his own personal testimony.

    I’ve heard him talk with this kind of passion before — at a stake conference 7 or 8 years ago in which he pounded his fists insisting that there was room for everyone in the church who desired to be there, smokers, drinkers, swearers — “come and join us, bring your shortcomings, we’ll work with you, there’s room for all!”

    The contrast is obvious, and I find it discouraging. Plus, the notion that an orthodox position on BoM origins is the only intellectually defensible one cheapens the significance of personal spiritual witness (the only measuring stick, according to the BoM itself, of its truthfulness).

  27. Where is the concern for the feelings of those who accept Joseph Smith’s account of the origins of the Book of Mormon? Where is the angst over believers who need occasional reassurance that we are not alone in a world that actively questions the sanity of believers, and charges us daily with intolerance and being the source of violence and all that is bad in the world? Where is the hand-wringing over the survival of our testimonies whenever a new theory is proposed claiming fraudulent origins of the Boom of Mormon, a lecherous character for Joseph Smith, the reputation-damaging disaster of Brigham Young, the intolerant and hateful intent of modern church leaders, and all the other claims that are made in the world and even among our brothers in discussions here?

    I do not understand the one-sided concern of so many condemners of Elder Holland’s talk. Must your angst be the only focus for discussion year in and year out?

  28. Ardis, I don’t understand. How would Elder Holland’s being less stridently and bombastically critical of non-orthodox positions have threatened the position of orthodox believers?

  29. It wouldn’t; it also wouldn’t have met the needs of orthodox believers that so many of us have said it met.

    My point (as I’m pretty sure you’re bright enough to have caught) is that when non-orthodox positions are shouted from the housetops, there is no equivalent concern for the damage and pain those non-orthodox proposals cause to orthodox believers.

  30. I honestly don’t understand how claiming that the orthodox position is the only intellectually defensible one meets the needs of orthodox believers. I consider the Book of Mormon to be a (loosely defined) translation of an ancient text, delivered to JSJ by a resurrected being, and brought forth by the gift and power of God. That conviction is born of spiritual witness. I also strongly disagree that this position is the only or even most intellectually reasonable explanation for BoM origins. I don’t find the derisive dismissal of the non-orthodox to be even remotely faith promoting. It cheapens faith if the thing you’re supposed to have faith in is also something that you’d be frankly pathetic for not accepting on rational terms alone.

  31. Brad, your interpretation of what “meets the needs of orthodox believers” may not be quite the thing that met my needs, or the needs of others who have said they responded to his talk and its presentation. For me, he met a need by declaring so boldly that, essentially, he knew that “the book of Mormon [was] a (loosely defined) translation of an ancient text, delivered to JSJ by a resurrected being, and brought forth by the gift and power of God.” His reasons for knowing that may not be precisely the same reason that you have, or that I have. It was *that* he had such a conviction, and didn’t hesitate to state it, that I responded to.

    Why cannot you permit Elder Holland to have such convictions, and me to appreciate his manner of stating them? Why should he have spoken soothingly in your ear, suiting his testimony to that which you can support, instead of speaking as he did? Why must every talk be tailored to your beliefs and your preferences in delivery?

    I don’t get much out of sports metaphors and anti-porn and how-to-raise-your-children and temples-are-beautiful-because-I-can’t-imagine-heaven-without-my-family talks. I don’t often respond to the tearful eye and the quivering voice, either. But I don’t rant and rave that some general authorities give such talks, and I don’t complain that their concerns cheapen my life experiences because I don’t share them.

    Move on to a talk that you CAN respond to. Stop trying to rob me, and people like me, of the response we felt to Elder Holland.

    But I very much disagree with you that faith is cheap if “rational terms alone” can’t sustain the proposition. I have faith in a great many things, such as the Atonement and the eventual turning of my weaknesses to my good, that can’t be supported solely through mental effort. Is my faith in them cheap because of that?

  32. Brad,

    “claiming that the orthodox position is the only intellectually defensible”
    I don’t recall him saying that. Did he?

    I read some of the PBS interview transcript. He very clearly says that we are not looking to ex people for failure to believe the Book of Mormon origin story, but in no way does he suggest that he thinks that is an okay place to be, intellectually. He treats it as an obvious failing that we will try to work with and help people through. This is entirely consistent with his talk.

  33. Brad Kramer: “Would a non-BoM-believer who honestly sought space in the Church feel more or less welcome after hearing this? I also think that the more bombastic, theories-besides-mine-are-pathetic stuff worked at cross purposes with the power of his own personal testimony.”

    First, I think that you and I hold roughly the same view of the “truthfulness” of the Book of Mormon — and even the way in which it was translated. I have a burning testimony of it. That doesn’t mean that one has to agree with me or have the same testimony to be a member in good standing.

    My commitment to and testimony of the Book of Mormon probably accounts for my response to Elder Holland. My heart burned to hear his testimony. I also agree with Ardis that the responses to Elder Holland’s talk are more of a window into the soul of those commenting on it than on Elder Holland’s talk.

    That said, I disagree with those who seem to implicitly believe that apostles must walk on egg shells around disbelievers in the church for fear of offending them (or more accurately, for fear that they will freely choose to take offense). The Church is based on the revelatory claims of Joseph Smith to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ — in part or even chiefly thru giving the Book of Mormon to the world. To those for whom the book is a stumbling block rather than a shared treasure, there is room to fit in but hardly room to carp if an apostle declares his testimony of its truthfulness and gives arguments which he believes are compelling to support his view.

    Now I don’t buy the Lewisesque argument that the book must be true because an evil man wouldn’t write such a book and a mad man couldn’t write such a book and so a good man wrote it and was telling the truth about it. However, it is an argument that has at least some weight and some merit to consider. Even an argument that isn’t dispositive is worth giving and considering. I don’t fully buy that those who thoughtfully reject the book’s historicity are pathetic, but I do accept that they haven’t given adequate weight to the testimony of the 3 witnesses and the banal attempts to explain away their contemporaneous written testimony by double hearsay by a dissident critic nearly 12 years later. That argument also isn’t beyond doubt, but it is well worth engaging.

    That said, I believe that many arguments given against the Book of Mormon are pathetic. I agree with him that the evidence of semitic origin is compelling — but one can reasonably disagree with that without being bad or just insane or pathetic. However, it is pathetic to expect an apostle to cow to those who reject the Book of Mormon because they may feel bad and freely chooses to take offense.

  34. Blake,
    I agree with most of what you wrote. My concern is not the feelings of non-believers, but the impact the speech had on believers in terms of their relationships with and understanding of non-believing positions. I think that some of the most strident defenses of the speech reinforce that concern.

    “I don’t recall him saying that. Did he?” is a pretty disingenuous question.

    I have no ungodly idea what interlocutor you imagine yourself to be in conversation with, but it isn’t me.

  35. But I very much disagree with you that faith is cheap if “rational terms alone” can’t sustain the proposition. I have faith in a great many things, such as the Atonement and the eventual turning of my weaknesses to my good, that can’t be supported solely through mental effort. Is my faith in them cheap because of that?

    That’s not remotely what I said or implied. Elder Holland claimed in very strong language that the Book of Mormon being what JSJ claimed it to be is the only position that isn’t intellectually impoverished, weak, pathetic, etc. The meaning and significance of faith is cheapened when the thing you’re supposed to have faith in is also the only rational position you could reasonably take. Your faith in the Atonement would be cheapened if its reality and efficacy could be proven rationally and alternate accounts of the nature of God’s relationship to His children were dismissible as frankly pathetic and totally unable to withstand scrutiny.

  36. I am disingenuous and Ardis is talking to imaginary people? I see where you get your strong dislike of fervent rhetoric.

    Brad, do you have a transcript of the talk? In which case show me where he says what you claim. If not, perhaps you should wait to make such broad claims about the talk until you have a transcript in hand. I though your reading of the PBS interview was off target, so I am a little suspicious of your readings in general without confirmation.

  37. [Referring to non-miraculous theories, including Spaulding, Smith, deranged paranoid, cunning genius] “None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book have ever withstood examination.”

    He also describes people who reject the belief that it is of divine origin as “deceived” and “foolish or misled.”

    Admittedly, he does not explicitly discount all possible versions of Joseph himself authoring the text, so maybe my reading of the PBS interview isn’t that far off after all.

  38. What Ardis said in every one of her comments.
    My two-year-convert wife came from a more “energetic” religious background. Elder Holland’s testimony kindled hers and mine. It alone was worth the weekend given to watching this Conference.
    BTW, his Master’s thesis was a textual comparison of different editions of the BoM. This Book has been a dear subject for him for a long time.

  39. I don’t see the talk as a shot across the bow of people who have alternative ideas regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon, so long as those ideas reflect a divine origin somehow. I do see it as a considered rejection of non-divine origin theories and suggest that the rejection isn’t from the logic of any of the arguments that he presents but rather from the force of his personal testimony and the testimonies of much of his audience. His examples don’t prove why he is right; they remind himself and others why they believe. To call theories that are purely naturalistic “frankly pathetic” is not to call them that in a rational sense, but rather to acknowledge that his experience makes those explanations facile and silly. So, I’m cool with the talk.

    That said, Ardis,, whom I love and respect generally, if you do not find support for your orthodox belief in the Book of Mormon in church every week, in your daily walk, and in your own personal experience of the divine sufficient to not require various online amateurs to support it, then I’d suggest that it’s not the online amateurs whose testimony is shaky (at least, not theirs alone). If the church cannot handle people asking it to make a space for people with all sorts of faithful beliefs, then the church is being a bully and will make us all bullies, not better men. If nothing else, it is God who determines the time to start separating the wheat from the tares; in the meantime, its our job to try and get all things in our purview to grow and grow well.

  40. Jeff Holland’s book, Christ and the New Covenant, focused on the content of the Book of Mormon, especially its teachings about Christ. It was not an effort to argue for the authenticity of the witnesses about the source of the book, including the testimony of Joseph or the other 11 of the 12 formal witnesses. But his sermon last Sunday does that.

    Elder Holland’s personal view, his testimony to us, and to any non-members who listen in, is simply that those who dismiss the Book of Mormon out of hand as something Joseph Smith cooked up in conjunction with one or more co-conspirators (clearly including the 8 and 3 witnesses) is a failure to take the book and its historical context seriously. As Mr. O’Dea said, most people think they can judge the Book of Mormon without actually reading it. And to call that attitude intellectually dishonest is simply being accurate.

    I can agree that someone could honestly read the Book of Mormon and the testimony of Joseph and the witnesses and be puzzled and frankly agnostic about how they came to make their affirmations and what they experienced to cause them to do so.

    But to make specific assertions that Joseph and the other witnesses were either dishonest or confabulating doesn’t uphold a standard of intellectual rigor. It is a conclusion driven mainly by an unwillingness to credit anything outside of mundane material causes rather than actual evidence and reason. (That goes also for those who claim to be Christians but can’t even consider a belief in modern prophets who can’t be controlled and mediated and tamed through an intellectual filter of theologians.) It is a matter of an intellectual presumption rather than deduction based on facts.

    I am sure that many people would have no problem accepting the teachings of the Book of Mormon in some way, perhaps as an extended parable that has moral value regardless of the reality of the story, and that is the attitude that the Community of Christ (nee RLDS) Church seems to have embraced (if it retains any regard for the Book of Mormon at all).

    But the Book of Mormon itself is tied irrevocably to the circumstances of its production, and challenges us explicitly to ponder the reality of the story it tells, with Moroni concluding the narrative by promising (or threatening) to erupt out of its pages and come “triumphant through the air” to confront us at the judgment bar of God to condemn us if we have not accepted the reality of his testimony. Terryl Givens has repeatedly pointed out that the simple reality of the Book of Mormon as a miracle in modern times was much more significant to the conversion of people to the Church than the specific contents of its sermons and commentary and examples.

    Elder Holland has gone a long way toward teaching the contents of the Book of Mormon, but he clearly does not want us to forget the urtext of it, that it announces the restoration of miracles and of God’s active intervention in the history of mankind. If we don’t get that message, we have missed the most important part of the book. We are not “standing as witnesses of god in all times and all places” and thus are failing of our baptismal covenants.

    This does not mean that Elder Holland wants someone who does not have that vision of the Book of Mormon to resign his membership. All of us members have at some point been in that position, as we grow up or first investigate the Church. What he says is that there is no reason to make a condition of uncertainty about the Book of Mormon a permanent condition in our lives. There is ample reason and evidence to give the Book of Mormon the benefit of the doubt, to cast our lot with those who put their lives on the line for it, to choose to believe in it rather than choose not to believe it. It is after we make that choice that we become entitled to get the confirmation of that choice through the Holy Ghost.

  41. Thank you, manaen and Gregory.

    John, that’s a somewhat creepy thing to say about my faith, especially since I have made no disparaging remarks about anyone else’s faith. I simply object to being put on the defensive for having responded so strongly to an apostle’s powerful witness, especially in an online community that ostensibly comes together because of an affinity for Mormonism.

    The special witness of an apostle is of an entirely different order from any of the sources you recommend to sustain my faith. No matter what support I gain from those other sources, I have the right to recognize and appreciate Elder Holland’s particular message and style.

    I’m sorry you have joined the ranks of those who, speaking directly to me in the past two days, callme intellectually immature, spiritually deficient, and/or socially irresponsible for having been deeply thrilled by this talk. Find another talk that suits you better; stop trying to undermine this one, and my response to it.

  42. Ardis,
    The fact that I find only some parts (but not all parts) of this talk deeply thrilling does not mean that I think you are intellectually immature or socially irresponsible. Your framing of my reaction to the talk as an effort to target and attack people who liked some parts of it more than I did or to prevent him from having convictions or prevent you from enjoying how he expresses them does not accurately reflect my intentions, and I think you know that. Not everyone who feels as strongly as you but disagrees with your perspective is a bully.

  43. I loved Elder holland’s talk.

    We needed a trumpet to sound in our ears. “Now’s the time to believe! Because soon you won’t have a choice!”

    The evidence is already begining to be shouted from the rootops.

  44. Ardis,
    If you can make it to Sunday, you will get your fill of people ecstatic about the talk. Heck, talk to random people in the archives or wandering temple square and you find plenty of affirmation. Talk to me for that matter, as I like the talk quite a bit, more than Brad, I think, and definitely more than JNS.

    When you say: “when non-orthodox positions are shouted from the housetops, there is no equivalent concern for the damage and pain those non-orthodox proposals cause to orthodox believers,” I am assuming that you are speaking of damage and pain to yourself and your testimony along with others. I don’t see how non-orthodox proposals cause pain to orthodox believers; if you are happy, confidant in your belief you ignore them. Asking for a space to be made for faithful approaches that are heterodox shouldn’t cause faithful believers any pain at all.

  45. Which isn’t to deny the pain, because what do I know about someone else’s pain. But it is to wonder why it is being caused.

  46. Re: manaen (#47). This is true about the thesis and him studying this book for many many many years. In fact, I have the orignal thesis at my house. I know him personally.

  47. Brad, you are not the only one who has been whining about Elder Holland’s talk, and this is not the only thread where people have been complaining that he (and by extension, anyone in whom his talk resonated) wasn’t sensitive enough to the feelings of the heterodox. Besides, we’re not talking to each other, remember? I’m the one who’s mumbling to herself in imaginary conversations, you said.

    And I guess John C. is telling me I should wander around downtown Salt Lake mumbling to anyone who will listen in a desperate effort to make it to Sunday. Just don’t talk about it online, right? because this is the place for the heterodox to find affirmation. Gotcha.

    I’m no longer responding to criticisms of this talk, anywhere. You’ve succeeded in wearing me down.

  48. “Admittedly, he does not explicitly discount all possible versions of Joseph himself authoring the text”

    This was my point — he does not explcitly dismiss all the theories, just the pathetic ones like Spaulding.

    “, so maybe my reading of the PBS interview isn’t that far off after all.”

    I don’t know how this follows, but I actually read the PBS transcript, so I can see for myself what it says. Nowhere does it suggest that it is peachy for a member to not believe in the BoM. Rather it says we should be kind to the people with that failing.


    You note that you liked many parts of the talk, so obviously you recognize the fact that talks have costs and benefits to different listeners. Apparently you think you have identified portions of the talk for which the cost was greater than the benefit. But on what basis? Are you really that all-knowing as to be able to aggregate the effect of this talk across every listener? Of course not. Only God could pull that off.

    So maybe you should give Elder Holland the benefit of the doubt that, as an Apostle, he was fulfilling his calling and what he said had more benefits than costs, when one considers the aggregate effect across all listeners from now to the end of time. I mean, it is not as if the scriptures aren’t full of sermons that offended some segment of their listeners– so we know that sometimes it is justified to offend some people. In fact, Jacob discusses this issue explicitly– and then goes ahead and gives the sermon.

  49. Hooray for Elder Holland. He taught us to be bold, truthful and accurate in proclaiming the Gospel and the Book of Mormon. But to be open,accepting and inclusive for all to come to Christ. I loved his talk. Ross

  50. Frank,
    Nowhere did I claim the ability to assess the costs and benefits for all listeners. Neither did I claim that the PBS interview puts non-believers on equal footing with believers from the perspective of the kinds of traits our leaders desire for us to have. I outlined reasons why I personally had concerns over certain portions of the talk and what I felt might be the negative consequences for some listeners in terms of their attitudes toward and understandings of people who, for a wide variety of reasons, don’t share Elder Hollands convictions about the book.

    Oh, that and I did also whine, claim to have God-like powers of discernment, and attempt to prevent people like Ardis from being able to enjoy the talk. Now that my agenda and pretenses have been exposed, I guess I’ll stop commenting.

    Watch out, Matt Evans. Nothing gets past these guys.

  51. I have a question for those of you claiming that Elder Holland’s talk would cause division between Church members: are you ready to apologize now that you’ve been proven so wrong?

  52. @ #57 – inspired fiction? I think that’s stretching things. It’s either historical fact or a sham. There is no middle ground.

  53. Perhaps one of Elder Holland was to spark serious, fervent conversations about the Book of Mormon, about the bounds of orthodoxy in discussing that scripture, and about the bounds of rationality.

    And perhaps one of his objectives was to cause a little of the division apparently intended by Jesus, to which Elder Oaks referred in his talk, and to which President Hinckley referred in his talk at the time of the Iraq invasion.

    Those objectives have surely been accomplished already, at least in the bloggernacle.

    I support the first listed objective; I regret the potential second one listed.

  54. Brad,

    Oh, so you were not suggesting that the talk should be changed? OK, that was not clear to me. I thought you were.

    We agree, right, that if you were suggesting the talk should be changed, then you were implicitly making a claim about the costs and benefits?

    And when you said the talk was at “cross-purposes” with his PBS comments, I disagree with you. The two are completely in harmony. Perhaps you misunderstood what his purpose in the PBS interview was?

    Your closing comment sounds like you are feeling abused. I’m sorry for that. I was not suggesting that you thought you were omniscient. That would be dumb.

  55. The fact that I would have reacted differently to a different (or differently delivered) talk does not mean that I consider myself to be capable of or authorized to make definitive cost-benefit judgments regarding the overall effect of the talk on all persons, present and future. Whether or not the talk has the effect that I expressed concern it would have, I guess, remains to be seen. And, even if it does, whether or not that is a bad thing is for others do determine.

    I read the PBS interview as articulating a desire to make non-believers and non-orthodox believers feel more welcome in the Church, not as erasing the difference between orthodox and non-orthodox or believing and non-believing positions. Perhaps, to the extent that it’s not compatible with your interpretation, that is a misreading. Maybe you and I have different ideas about whether the talk and its impact on membership will make people with non-orthodox positions feel more or less welcome in the Church.

  56. Or maybe. Brad, you and Frank have different levels of concern about whether people feel welcome in the church. Because the subtext of this conversation is, I fear, that some people really don’t deserve to feel welcome.

  57. #61 Ross: “Hooray for Elder Holland. He taught us to be bold, truthful and accurate in proclaiming the Gospel and the Book of Mormon. But to be open,accepting and inclusive for all to come to Christ. I loved his talk.”

    Really? Bold, truthful, accurate, open, accepting and inclusive?

    Um…bold, at least. 1 out of 6 ain’t bad, I guess.

  58. Your closing comment sounds like you are feeling abused.

    Funny, I was thinking that too. Just about someone else.

  59. Thanks, Brad. I think I have a better understanding now of where you are coming from. You see, I saw both talks not as having seperate “purposes”, but rather as both only have the purpose of being up front statements of what Elder Holland believes. Since the beliefs are compatible, I saw no cross purpose.

    You, perhaps, take the talk or interview and then ask “what is the underlying purpose of this talk”, _inferred_ different purposes, and so found a conflict? If so, there are a few hypotheses that match the data:

    1. Elder Holland is speaking at cross purposes to himself
    2. You made a mistake in inferring the purpose of one or both
    3. Elder Holland realized that some people were inferring _the_ _wrong_ purpose from his PBS comments and so decided to clarify his views.

    I find (1) unlikely, (2) likely, and (3) less likely but at least plausible.

    Kristine, on the other hand, has been mis-infering _my_ purpose since 2004.

  60. OK, then, Frank, rather than leave me to mis-infer, why don’t you just say whether you think it matters if non-orthodox believers feel welcome in the church? Can someone who doesn’t believe in an absolutist literal historicity of the Book of Mormon be a member in good standing?

  61. Gee,

    What if God *actually* inspired his apostle to give this particular message. Does that mean God doesn’t care whether or not non-orthodox believers feel welcome in the church?

  62. That would be a much more difficult question for Frank to answer than the one I asked him.

  63. I testify that no one can come to full faith in this latter-day work and find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these our times until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough, or misled enough, to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text, teaming with literary and semitic complexity, without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages somehow, especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers, if that’s the case then such persons elect or otherwise have been deceived. And if they leave this church they must do so by crawling over, or under, or around the BoM to make their exit. In that sense the book is what Christ himself was said to be, ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work.

    This is the passage that I imagined Holland or a zealous missionary saying to the investigators I’ve taught who rejected the Book of Mormon.

    Frank, he addresses members but he includes non-members in some parts, too, and his statements about Book of Mormon evidences equally apply to non-members. Members don’t have a lock on logic or the ability to evaluate literary and semitic complexity. Most importantly, he doesn’t characterize it as a spiritual matter, which would cross with membership, but says it’s an intellectual failure, of the elect or otherwise (emphasis mine to show he intended this to apply to everyone, not just members) to account for 531 pages of previously unknown text, etc.

    Reading through the comments I’ve been fairly surprised by how many people felt uplifted that he not only bore ardent testimony of the Book of Mormon but basically mocked the people who don’t see it the way we do as being foolish, misled or deceived. To me that, and framing a testimony of the Book of Mormon as an intellectual rather than spiritual exercise, weakened the talk. My hope is that he was just throwing red meat to the wavering faithful and doesn’t actually adopt a mocking style when working with people struggling with the Book of Mormon, elect or otherwise. My fear is that even if he knows this was just a boost for insiders, that too many members or missionaires will think that boldly using terms like foolish, misled and deceived is a good way to talk to or about people struggling with the Book of Mormon.

  64. As I am coming down with something, I’ll keep this brief.

    Kristine, of course those people are welcome, though I should add it isn’t my job to decide who is or isn’t welcome. Naturally, that does not mean we will stop preaching true doctrine, any more than welcoming people who don’t do their home teaching means we will stop telling people to do it. And, as usual, there is a caveat that members should not publish or systematically preach their pet theories over doctrine if they wish to be in full fellowship.


    That paragraph (and the talk) is OBVIOUSLY directed at members. You imagine members (incorrectly) taking that as their approach to missionary work, but it is not as if we don’t have lots of other talks (and books!) about how to do missionary work correctly. I can assure you that after hearing the talk my impulse was not to run next door to the non-members and call them misled. Presumably that was not your impulse either. On the other hand, I hope missionaries _do_ take to heart the fervent testimony Elder Holland bore. As that really is the key to conversion.

    That said, I’d ask you the same thing I asked Brad, do you think you know better how the talk should have been phrased, considering all the pros and cons together?


    That would follow if I though the only relevant feature of the talk was how it impacted heterodox members and I bought Brad’s argument about how it made them feel bad. But it might be that the talk was justified on the grounds that it helped some other group more than it hurt the heterodox. In which case I can’t infer anything.

  65. “Members don’t have a lock on logic or the ability to evaluate literary and semitic complexity.”

    Yes but they probably have actually _read_ the book and been exposed to those arguments. It is not clear the same could be said for the median investigator. The median investigator probably never even reads the book all the way through.

    “My hope is that he … doesn’t actually adopt a mocking style when working with people struggling with the Book of Mormon, elect or otherwise.”

    As it happens, I know one of his sons. If the fruit does not fall far from the tree, and if the many talks I’ve seen Elder Holland give are any indication, I think we can safely discard the possibility that Elder Holland goes around mocking people when they come to him for guidance and help.

  66. …it isn’t my job to decide who is or isn’t welcome.

    Frank, let me guess. You’re not the ward mission leader, are you?

    This thread has revealed some fascinating things. I’ve talked or emailed with dozens of friends over the past few days and discusssed what this talk might mean for the church. I have asked people specifically what pathetic theories they understood Elder Holland to be condemning, and there is a pretty broad consensus that his talk was meant to include, tada, Blake Ostler’s expansion theory. Both guys I know who work for CES or whatever it’s called now thought that this talk gives the expansion theory the smacking down they think it richly deserves.

    I do not share that opinion, and find Blake’s work interesting and valuable. But it goes to show how the Brethren’s words can be understood and misunderstood. I have no idea whether Holland meant to include Blake in his condemnation. I think probably not. But I am also quite certain that many LDS, maybe even a majority who would. And I am also almost certain that there are other men in the highest levels of the hierarchy who absolutely would classify any explanation except a straightforward, word for word translation from golden plates as a dangerous heresy.

    The point being, let’s be careful who we put the unbeliever label on.

  67. Frank,

    My little schpeel was meant to be ironic — and it was aimed at your opposition, not you. As I think about this whole debate it seems to me that a better starting point would be to assume that Elder Holland was inspired and go from there — instead of parsing the virtues of his talk based on who may or may not have been offended by it.

  68. Ah, that was kind of a crummy thing for my to say. But thanks for responding anyway.

    No I can’t find a specific assertion. But I’m as good as anyone else around here (ahem) at digging up “subtext.”

  69. Being neither a mind-reader nor omniscient, I offer the following very carefully worded statements of my overall impressions of the talk:

    1) If Elder Holland’s purpose (or one of his purposes) was to bear impassioned witness of the divinity of the Book of Mormon and have that witness move other believers, I think he succeeded.

    2) If Elder Holland’s purpose was to engender or deepen hostility on the part of some believers toward either toward non0believers or toward those believers who publicly express sympathy toward non-believers, I think he succeeded. (If this was not one of his purposes, then this outcome has been an unintended consequence of the talk).

    3) I consider the outcome of #1 to be positive.

    4) I consider the outcome of #2 to be negative.

    5) Whether or not the positive outweighed the negative is not, for me, a particularly relevant question, since I believe outcome #1 is not dependent on outcome #2. Which is to say, (and clearly there are some who disagree with me), I believe that the apostolic witness of the Book of Mormon could have been just as powerful (if not more so) had it not sown division and hostility between believers and non-believers or between believers with differing degrees of sympathy toward persons with non-orthodox positions.

    That is all.

  70. Brad, I think your #2 is a natural consequence of strong speech. In Oct 98 Elder Holland spoke in similarly strong terms – if not stronger – about the gravity of the law of chastity. I had never thought about it until now, but using your lens to approach the talk, I imagine it could have been read as encouraging members to take condescending attitudes towards those who fail to uphold it.

    The notion that one should never say anything that could, “engender or deepen hostility on the part of some believers toward either toward nonbelievers or toward those believers who publicly express sympathy toward non-believers” means that no one speaks in strong language about anything ever.

  71. I think you’re overstating the scope of the case in your second paragraph, Eric. But, overall, point taken. It is a delicate balance. That said, strong speech does not necessarily require the particular kinds of confrontational and combative comments with which I and others here have taken specific issue. I have personally seen Elder Holland use strong speech in ways that promoted inclusiveness made space for the less orthodox. Still strong speech. And, still, perhaps divisive in that it might make people who have negative attitudes toward the unorthodox or toward inclusiveness feel marginalized. Like I said, a tough balance to strike. It just felt to me that in this particular speech, Elder Holland made more of an effort at balancing it at some times than at others.

  72. Frank, I think the talk would have been better had he not presented the gaining or losing a testimony in the Book of Mormon as an intellectual exercise. I disagree with him on that and I’m confident that I could find quotes showing other Apostles who agree with me and disagree with Holland on this point.

    And of course if it is an intellectual exercise, and we’re to weigh the probabilities of the possible origins of this book of 531 pages, etc., the intellectual issue isn’t whether it teams with literary and semitic complexity, or any other argument in favor of Book of Mormon historicity, but whether the arguments in favor overcome the arguments against, such as anachronisms, modern language, King James bible, lack of archeological record, etc.

    I agree that it’s very unlikely that he uses this tone when talking to people who struggle with or even reject the Church’s position about the origins of the Book of Mormon, but I’m not as confident as you are that missionaries and members won’t take this as signalling that its time to throw down the gauntlet and raise their voice about the foolishness of ignoring chiasmus.

  73. Ok chaps, now that we got all of that settled;

    An intelligent and well educated member of my family once had a strong testimony of the BofM, held numerous ward callings and even taught early morning seminary for several years. But about 5 years ago, went off the Mormon reservation and attends an evangelical church now and thinks Joseph Smith made it up, with lots of help from the Bible, Ethan and perhaps others.

    Share this Elder Holland talk or not?

    Assume an attention span limited to maybe 2 or 3 conference talks, if that.

  74. Elder Holland:

    “I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this Latter-day work and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these our times until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text, teeming with literary and Semitic complexity…”

    Notice the HUGE qualifier here:

    “…without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages somehow–especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers…”

    He continues:

    “…if that’s the case then such persons, elect or otherwise, have been deceived. And if they leave this Church, they must to do so by crawling over, or under, or around the Book of Mormon to make their exit.”

    He makes it clear that if we have not *honestly* attempted to account for those things that he states in his qualifier it is *then* that we have been deceived. That’s putting it rather mildy, I think. Of course, I’m one to believe that even those who do honestly account for those things and still reject the BoM are probably deceived. But then Elder Holland’s a lot nicer guy than I am.

  75. There’s a black and white thinking here that dismisses other, legitimate paths through life. It’s a temptation, when finding something true and right for you, to extrapolate that to the rest of humankind. As such, I think Holland’s anger was misplaced.

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