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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

LDS Apostle Calls On BYU Staff To Stay Committed To Faith’s Teachings — Including Stance On Same-Sex Marriage

A photo of a sign at a BYU protest that reads 'While at BYU, 74% of LGBT+ students at BYU experience suicidal ideation & 24% of LGBTQIA+ students attempt suicide #thatsnothonor.'
Kelsie Moore
Students protest Brigham Young University’s honor code office in 2019. A top Church leader called on BYU faculty and staff to stand “unquestionably committed” to the faith, including its stance against same-sex marriage.

A top leader for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed Brigham Young University’s mission to stand for the faith’s fundamental teachings, which includes its stance against same-sex marriage.

Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Church’s twelve apostles and former president of BYU, told faculty and staff that Church leaders “unequivocally” love LGBTQ members.

But he said empathy shouldn’t be confused with condoning and advocacy.

“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,’’ Holland said Monday at this year’s university-wide conference.

He called on professors to stand “unquestionably committed to [BYU’s] unique academic mission and to the Church that sponsors it.”

Madi Hawes is heading into her sophomore year at the school and is a co-founder of BYUQ — a student group that advocates for queer people on campus. Last year, Hawes said she compiled a list of faculty members who are allies, so queer students knew who they could turn to. Now, she’s planning to take it down because she doesn’t know what Holland’s remarks mean for those faculty members.

Hawes said the speech felt like a gut punch.

A photo of Matt Easton holding up a sign that reads 'I'm here, I'm queer & I deserve to feel safe.'
Kelsie Moore
Matt Easton, a then senior at Brigham Young University, holds a sign at an honor code protest in 2019. Easton was a valedictorian that year and came out as gay during his speech. During Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk this week at BYU, he singled out Easton saying he “commandeer[ed]” the podium that was supposed to represent everyone. Easton said in response on Twitter that his speech was pre-approved by the university and that he drew on personal experiences that shaped his time at the school.

“I don't know what he is trying to do,” she said. “But the effect, [which] weighs more than the intent, was not full of love like he may have been trying to do. And that's what's important.”

Benjamin Park is a historian who studies the Church and an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University. He said Holland’s talk was in line with the Church’s long-standing stance on sexuality issues.

“Even as the world has evolved and LDS culture has transitioned over the last few years and the institution has made a number of accommodations on some of these important issues, the directive has remained mostly the same,” he said.

Park pointed out that Holland drew on other leaders’ metaphors of having more “musket fire” in defending the Church, rather than pointing criticism at the doctrine. He said that kind of language can be used dangerously by others.

“What this talk does is it gives metaphorical ammunition for those who want to reaffirm traditional boundaries within the Church to emphasize that this is a Church that is not going to accommodate voices and people and lives that had previously been marginalized,” Park said.

Equality Utah released a statement Tuesday about Holland’s remarks, saying “words matter.” That was in response to a now-deleted Twitter account that had latched onto Holland’s musket idea.

Hawes said there’s been an outpouring of support from alumni and other students since the Church leader’s talk. But she’s concerned about students’ safety on campus.

“Unfortunately, some extremist groups within the Church have taken Elder Holland’s words quite too literally,” Hawes said. “I can't speak to his intent, of course, but I know that I've talked to numerous students that they don't feel physically safe returning to campus, yet they have no other choice. No one should have to experience that.”

BYU also announced a new Office of Belonging on Monday. It’s goal is to “combat prejudice of any kind,” according to a press release from the university.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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