There are still some campuses across the nation seeking to bridge an expanding gap between freedom of expression and inclusion. Mindy Benson, president of Southern Utah University, recently found herself in that divide when protests surrounding Jeffrey R. Holland erupted after an Elder of the First Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was announced as this year’s commencement speaker. To those who understand Holland’s extensive career and life of service, the speaking invitation made sense. A Yale graduate, former Dean, Commissioner of Education, university president, and perhaps even more relevant to the crowd, a Southern Utah native. But for others, all they hear is the potential of “musket fire” ringing in their ears.
In a recent letter to the SUU community, Benson, in her characteristically graceful manner, proposes that this seeming clash of values instead be approached as an opportunity for growth. “Today, we stand at a pivotal moment in our University’s 125-year history. Together we are writing the next chapter in SUU’s inspiring saga. May history say of us that we overcame our differences and found ‘common ground by moving to higher ground.’”
As it turns out, given the news of today’s news from the Church about Elder Holland’s health, he will likely not be speaking at commencement anyway.
As announced last weekend, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was excused from general conference due the fact that he and Sister Patricia Holland were both still suffering from the effects of Covid. Elder Holland also recently began treatment for a kidney condition. Consequently, the First Presidency has excused him from all Church assignments and meetings for at least two months to allow his medical treatments and recovery to take full effect. Elder and Sister Holland note their gratitude for all the prayers and outpouring of support offered in their behalf at this time.
One wonders how Benson might be feeling today. At one point in the course of the public controversy at her school, she may have found herself wondering, like many members of the Church occasionally grappling with speeches, policy, callings, or even doctrine not easily understood … Will I be loyal to my faith? Will I let the spirit guide? Or will I choose what is best for my career – and yield to other voices? Must I choose between them, or is there another way?
Elder Holland has encouragingly reminded us we are made for such time – even made for greater things. His reassurance on precisely thee moments has been heard by Saints around the world. For instance, “Fighting through darkness and despair and pleading for the light is what opened this dispensation. It is what keeps it going, and it is what will keep you going.”
But this apostle also has consistently pointed us to another who asked such questions, and who fought through even greater darkness. This Easter season reminds us of the preciousness of life and the good news that Christ overcame what threatens abundant life, while offering us all the gifts to do the same.
There were severe conflicts arising in His own heart and mind as well. Yet in the Garden, He asked, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
As Elder Holland takes this space to wrestle with the mortal infirmities that plague us all, he appreciates more than most the ‘why’ of such difficulty. For he has said, “salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?”
May this beloved leader also take comfort in the sustaining love so many show him these days, from university presidents to normal members around the world. Elder Holland, we offer you the same prayers and kindness you have blessed so many with as we recite your own beautiful words, “Keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. “Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, forever.”
We’re all rooting and cheering you on!