Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why I didn't care for Elder Holland's general conference talk, and why neither should you

(This is essentially a comment I posted on my friend Blair's blog, Life on Gold Plates.)

Much ado has been made about Elder Holland's talk this last general conference. He certainly spoke with force. He definitely stated things clearly and powerfully. It was easily the most fiery sermon I have ever heard in general conference.

. . . . But really. . . . Who cares?

What value are those things if the world essentially remains the same as it is. Sure... because of Holland we might have more people getting up on the first Sunday of every month, and they might bear their testimonies with even more force... but so what?

Earlier that morning, President Monson's talk demanded action and change. It demanded that we start to actually be Christian rather than saying over and over again that we are Christian. Why care so much about the historicity of the BofM, when it's the message of the BofM that is important.

It doesn't matter how strong your testimony is in a book, a prophet, a church, a Christ, or a God... If we aren't loving our neighbours, if we are neglecting the poor, if we aren't caring for the needy and fighting for the oppressed, it is all for naught.

Based on Jesus' teachings in Matthew 25, an atheist who volunteers at the homeless shelter and prison will have a far better chance being in the Kingdom of God than the strongest of BofM believers who converts a hundred to sharing her testimony of the book, while neglecting the sick and immigrants.

Monson's talk was, IMHO, the greatest talk I've ever heard in General Conference. While not given with the rhetorical gusto of Holland, Monson plead for us to meet the fundamental requirement of our faith--to love our neighbour. This is one reason why I love him so much. He isn't caught up in the Pharisaical world of self-righteousness, obedience for obedience's sake, legality, and conformity. His talks have almost consistently dealt with the simple Christian duty of service....just like that Jesus guy we Mormons try to go out of our way to say follow.

The most successful missionary in recorded scriptural history didn't go out with Holland's force. He didn't share a powerful testimony of a book, leaders, or a church. He didn't try to win hearts with his rhetorical strength or power of words. In fact, he didn't even begin with a testimony of that sort. His mission began with "I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die. . . . I will be thy servant" (Alma 17 23-25). Through his love and service, not with his words, Ammon converted thousands. And he didn't convert them to a book, a leader, or a church; but rather he converted them to Christian love, caring, and service.


  1. This is such a good post. After seeing on your FB that you liked Pres. Monson's talk I went and looked it up to listen to it. I decided I would listen a few other talks. I chose Elder Holland, because I used to enjoy his talks. After I heard it I was (not in a good way) This post more clearly summarizes my, ""


  2. Powerful post. I haven't watched either talk yet, but, I am very excited to now.

  3. that was really beautiful, loyd. i'll have to listen to monson's talk now.

    i was impressed by holland's talk- even as a non-believer. i was impressed by his oratory skills and conviction. on another tangent, however, i would like to add that conviction does not equal truth (as there were several who were quite sure of their faith that flew into the twin towers).

    also, holland went on and on about how one cannot disprove the bom. this is also fallacious argumentation. if we should follow that which we cannot disprove (and promotes good morals) then the world has a huge selection of theologies too old or undocumented to scrutinize. he also had somewhat of a mocking attitude towards doubters and he may have burned more bridges than were strengthened.

  4. Yikes, telling me I shouldn't have enjoyed it is about as wrong as me insisting you should have, isn't it?

  5. While I agree with this message, Loyd, this doesn't pay the bills.

    Think about what you are saying...Ammon did not convert people to a book, a church, a leader, but to Christian love and service?

    Notwithstanding Matthew 25, this actually isn't good enough. The church presents itself as the organization on earth with priesthood authority and the ordinances necessary for exaltation. So no, one cannot simply love and serve and earn this.

    Priesthood authority and priesthood ordinances do rely on a lot of things. They rely on revelation being true. They rely on the church framework being true. This framework can be validated and verified *if* the BoM is an inspired document (because it is one of the first "proving grounds" from Joseph Smith as a prophet).

    That is why Elder Holland's talk matters.

    (I'll have to get into the topics later on when I can see the transcripts...I'm trying very hard not to sit through videos or recording...

  6. Good post, Loyd.

    I didn't listen to Elder Holland's talk very closely. In fact, about halfway through it, my wife muted it because she didn't like how angry he sounded.

    I'm not a big fan of fiery talks. Such charged rhetoric is often invoked in order to compensate for or mask flaws in one's argument. As you stated in the comments on Blair's post, Elder Holland overlooks some very real concerns that people may have with the Book of Mormon's origins. Talking loudly, acting mad, and using words like "pathetic" and "foolish" don't change that.

    I would rather have a talk that addresses day-to-day living. Elder Ballard and President Monson both gave excellent talks in this regard.

  7. Andrew,

    I've never been entirely comfortable with the argument that the Book of Mormon proves--or, as you put it, "validate[s] and verifie[s]--that the Church is "true"--i.e., that it is divinely endorsed, that God's authority is exclusively exercised in it, and so forth. The logic is simply flawed.

    As I understand it, the argument proceeds as follows: If the Book of Mormon is "true," then that means that Joseph Smith was a prophet. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the other revelations he produced, the divine authority he claimed, and the church he established must also be "true." On my mission, I was repeatedly taught by mission leaders and General Authorities that it is in this sense that the Book of Mormon "proved" the truth of our message.

    The argument rests on the assumption that a prophet can only produce "true" revelations. That is, it implicitly posits that if Joseph Smith was a prophet, then he could not have produced a revelation that is true (i.e., the Book of Mormon) while also producing other revelations that are false. Either it was all true, or none of it was true.

    The problem is that Joseph Smith himself never made that claim. He stated that a prophet was only a prophet when acting as one. Even then, he managed to produce a "revelation" that he later admitted to be mistaken: that his brethren would be able to sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon in Toronto, Canada. As he explained, some revelations are from God, some are from men, and some are from the devil. Even for true prophets, there's no guarantee that any particular revelation will be true. Hence the need to test the truthfulness of Joseph's (and subsequent church leaders') "fruits" individually.

    For this reason, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon does not establish that the Doctrine & Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the Priesthood, temple ordinances, plural marriage, or any other aspect of Mormonism is "true."

  8. re Steve M:

    I understand that it is flawed reasoning, but *still*, this is what the church is banking is its claim to fame and truth and all of these good things.

    Now, I don't think that this argument rests on the assumption that a prophet can only produce "true" revelations. Apologists and GAs already acknowledge what you said -- prophets are prophets when they act in capacity as one.

    The relevant issue is...when do we view a revelation to be true and when do we view a revelation to be false? The church, even if they allow that prophets can err on revelations, must establish that on certain key revelations (the validity of spiritual experiences, as Holland notes in his talk), the prophet did not err. As you say, we have no guarantee that the particular revelation will be true, but that is why members are counseled so often to have faith.

    If the BoM is true, then Moroni's challenge holds. If this challenge holds, then you can have faith that knowledge gained from spiritual experiences and personal revelation is sound. If you have had these experiences, the GAs want you to have faith that these spiritual experiences and confirmations are reliable elsewhere -- so that you should seek confirmation for the D+C, the PoGP, temple ordinances, and the rest of revelations provided by the prophet that has not been "overruled" by other revelation...when you seek these confirmations, the church expects that you will find them, and thus know that *all* of these things are "true."

  9. @Loyd - I think that saying "who cares" and "neither should you" are unnecessary. You are not a high energy person, that's part of why you passed for a poly so easily on your mission (pardon the stereotyping). Monson's method resonates with you. That doesn't mean that Holland's method is erroneous. To some, it was a motivation to action, not a motivation to be more motivating as you said. For example, some people finish watching the movie Rudy and they want to run outside and throw a football. I assume you would not be that person...

    @andrew, true he never did say that all his revelations were also true if the BOM is true. But, he did say that the purpose of the book is to know if the church is the only true church of God, therefore the BOM is the essential link in that chain.

  10. Vaunting legality and obedience over compassion and service does not mean that legality and obedience are unimportant. While every LDS should have compassion and serve, every LDS should also obey the laws of LDS doctrine. To obey the laws of our doctrine requires knowledge of LDS doctrine (especially in terms of knowing that there are ordinances and how covenants with God are made). The BofM is one powerful source that explains LDS doctrine. Holland’s attempt to convince the congregation that the BofM is true helps people to understand other laws (like laws regarding covenant formation). Having a conviction that the BofM is true is essential in the progress of making covenants with God (if only having for the fact that having a testimony of the truthfulness of the BofM is a prerequisite for temple entrance where covenants are made.)
    Compassion and service are just as important in LDS life, especially for covenanted members of the church. But an understanding of the laws of God gives an LDS context for compassion and service. Holland’s and other talks about the truthfulness of our doctrine our essential to contextualize LDS compassion and service. That is why Holland’s talk matters.
    If you were only ever to listen to a message of compassion and service, you would not be exalted. By the same token, if you thought you could achieve exaltation by obeying the form of the law without the substance(the compassion and service) you would not be exalted.

  11. Carson

    (1) but a motivation to what kind of action? a motivation to get up and bear an even stronger testimony of a book? a motivation to put down others who don't share the same faith as you?

    (2) a testimony of a book doesn't get you very far. david whitmer had a testimony of the book and that took him only a few years until he believed that joseph had become a fallen prophet. in fact, one of the reasons he believed so was because he felt joseph went beyond what the bofm and earlier revelations required of joseph.

  12. ryan,

    one can be compassionate without having been given the laws from a book. furthermore a person can believe that the bofm is a divinely inspire book while rejected its ancient origins.

    furthermore, you can't really say that "The BofM is one powerful source that explains LDS doctrine." the bofm actually says very little (if anything at all) concerning unique contemporary lds 'doctrine.' (i hate the word doctrine btw). in fact, the unique lds doctrines (anthropomorphic deity, tri-layered heaven, baptisms for dead, deification, rejection of the trinity, and pre-existence) are all located in the bible and not in the book of mormon. by your reasoning, holland should have been using his charismatic sermon to affirm the absolute truth of the bible--a sermon lds usually avoid.

    also, a belief in the ancient origins of the bofm are not required for entrance into the temple.

  13. @Carson,

    I think you were responding to me, not Andrew, in your second paragraph.

    If the purpose of the Book of Mormon is "to know if the church is the only true church of God," it's not very effective. My previous comment is just as applicable to this statement. Furthermore, there are a number of other religious organizations that embrace the Book of Mormon. At least 400 Mormon splinter groups have existed since 1830. If the Book of Mormon is true, that doesn't really tell us which church is "the only true church of God."

  14. Carson, you said "@Loyd - I think that saying "who cares" and "neither should you" are unnecessary."

    Maybe Loyd is trying to do unto us as he feels Holland did unto him?


  15. Loyd - If you reread his opening paragraphs I think you will see that his talk was intended to motivate people to stay the course. This ties in nicely with your second point about my second point (which was for Steve not Andrew, sorry).

    I don't think anyone will disagree with the statement that things are getting increasingly difficult in the world in many different facets of our lives. For many, that strains their testimony and resolve to do what Christ's gospel teaches us (from loving your neighbor to paying your tithing). Although a testimony based in the BOM is not a sure fire way to avoid losing a testimony in the Church and its cause, it is the best way to gain a testimony that it is the singularly most important church and cause. Therefore, by strengthening one's resolve in that personal conviction, Elder Holland helps that person stay true to the cause.

    Blair, you may be right. Although I don't expect blind loyalty from everyone on the "Mormon side of the battlefield," this seems more divisive and impeding than evaluative and exploratory.

  16. Carson... but what course and what cause?

    In the OT, the role of the prophet is always to promote change and action.

  17. The course as laid out in my second paragraph..."resolve to do what Christ's gospel teaches us." It did that for me :)

  18. Kinda like Carson said, that the post seems somewhat exclusive and divisive, maybe suffering from similar things you didn't like about Elder Holland's address. "You shouldn't either" and so forth. :)

  19. I agree with your assessment of Pres. Monson's talk, and in general, I agree with your interpretation of Jesus' teachings in Matthew 25. I worry, though, that you might be punching through a straw man in your critique of Holland's talk. You've determined to judge the merits of this sermon on whether it cures social ills, which seems a tad disingenuous. So, a sermon is only valuable insofar as it encourages social change and care of the poor? If that were the case, then much of Jesus' teachings and parables ought to be discarded as well, to say nothing of much (most?) of public discourse that, though small in individual effect still contributes to effective social change.

    I was looking for you to zero in on the particulars of Holland's talk that you feel move Mormons away from the ideal, but you seem turned off by the delivery rather than by the substance of the talk. Holland wasn't unfair in stating his points: he believes there is a kind of personal rather than public destruction going on which he identifies as a loss of hope and faith resulting from deception. He then affirms the BofM as the counteroffensive designed by God to fortify one against such deceptions in the last days, and he urges his listeners to return to hope and faith by reading the Book. Unfortunately, the debate over the historicity of the BofM stands in the way of getting to the message of the Book—many are all too often distracted with this controversy and don’t notice Jesus in the Book, so he takes issue with the debate and scoffs at how imbecilic it has become. You recommend not caring for this talk because you feel it detracts from the message of the BofM, but it seems to me that Holland is agreeing with you and wanting to set the historicity problem aside. True, he does this by defending the historicity of the Book, which, in light of Givens’ work, isn’t an altogether unintelligent angle; what theory other than Joseph’s adequately accounts for the singularity of this text? It’s worth asking and, for those who claim an apostolic witness of the Book, defending.

    Yes, Holland defends the validity of the BofM using gusto and eloquence which anyone may take issue with. But substantively, his message encourages faith in the Book and a continued application of its teachings. I'm quite perplexed that this message would cause offense on the grounds that it somehow detracts from Monson's message, unless one comes to the sermon wincing at boldness of speech.

  20. David, my post was not meant to say that Holland's talk was terrible or bad, but was rather intended to respond to all the many blog posts and reactions to his talk which touted it as being something extraordinary, when I really believe that it was not all that great and that Holland's exuberant rhetoric detracts from more Christian talks like Monsen's. My blog post which follows this one is in response to a comment that I believe adequately represents the unfortunate priorities that result from talks like Holland's (and perhaps moreso by their reception).


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