Buening: Religion Does Not Justify Your Homophobia


Kevin Cody

Local Mormon church near Foothill Drive on Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sarah Buening, Assistant Opinion Editor


Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the 12 Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, made a weighty address to BYU faculty on Aug. 23 2021, turning the spotlight on LGBTQ+ issues within the church once again. When I was an active member of the LDS faith, I knew many looked up to Holland as an example of acceptance and progress within the church. So much so that when I began to doubt my faith, I reached out to him for guidance. Thinking back, his dismissal of my concerns about the church’s LGBTQ+ policies foreshadowed his current stance.

Especially after spending my freshman year of college at BYU, his damaging words cut deep. But I have privilege as a straight, cisgender ex-Mormon — I’m far more concerned for the members of the queer community whose safety is at risk. For them, Holland’s words represent a deep betrayal. Several friends from BYU told me that Holland was the “last apostle they trusted” before his speech and that many fear coming out before receiving their diploma. The toxic culture causing these sentiments is heartbreaking.

Elder Holland’s words were a blatant attempt to curb and antagonize LGBTQ+ activism. However, because he cloaked harmful sentiments in proclaimed “love of institution” and “love of Christ,” many LDS platforms gravely misconstrued its message. At the surface, Holland’s address was tone-deaf, but it reflects deeper issues of homophobic rhetoric and violence. Elder Holland’s treatment of the queer community will have major repercussions, exacerbated by his influential position in church leadership.

Laden with hypocritical and manipulative statements, Holland’s speech expressed a twisted definition of so-called love and empathy for those with what he calls “a same-sex challenge.” And no, proceeding these statements with long-winded explanations of his love for BYU doesn’t make them okay. In my experience at BYU, I came across many students and faculty members that expressed genuine support for the queer community. Although multitudes of honor code protests were met with silence, it wasn’t for lack of trying. It’s because our pleas fell on empty ears.

However, some pleas are more valued than others. Holland introduced one such example in a memo he recently received from an unnamed writer. This individual poked criticisms at university professors like the ones I previously mentioned, saying that they “are supporting ideas that many of us feel are contradictory to gospel principles.” As a result, the person wrote, “Several parents have said they no longer want to send their children here or donate to the school.”

If Holland values monetary donations more than he values safety and inclusion for queer students, then his “love” isn’t love. Then again, the remainder of his words made that clear. Most notable was his reference to a violent musket-fire metaphor. In direct reference to defending the church’s doctrine on same-sex marriage, Holland quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who said that BYU scholars are “a little bit like the builders of the temple in Nauvoo, who worked with a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other.” He dug his hole deeper, quoting Elder Oaks: “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.”

Honestly, just reading this mention formed a pit in my stomach. In an institution that already rounds off plenty of “musket fire” toward LGBTQ+ people, encouraging further extremism and intolerance is unacceptable. Already, LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide. In Utah, suicide remains a leading cause of death. We are consistently in the top ten states for suicide deaths. To use reference of gunfire toward those experiencing this tragic reality is not only irresponsible, but sickening. Especially when, given our majority-LDS state, many will adhere to his words.

And in another example of harmful messaging, Holland publicly criticized former BYU valedictorian Matt Easton for coming out in his graduation speech. In a thoughtful response to said call-out, Matt wrote this letter in the Salt Lake Tribune. Matt said, “diversity is not divisiveness,” contrary to what Holland implied. Matt’s sexuality is “not antithetical to [his] divine identity — in fact, it is an essential characteristic of it.” However, Holland’s phrase: “don’t condemn don’t condone,” has grown in popularity. This motto is absurd. You cannot claim love for a community and in the same breath refuse to condone their essential identities and access to basic human rights.

But even worse, consider the contextual circumstances of these words. They closely followed another prominent controversy, where BYU professor Hank Smith faced no repercussions after calling a queer student the anti-Christ on twitter. And only one week before Holland chose to encourage theoretical musket fire against LGBTQ+, a lesbian couple was murdered near Moab. Making his remarks within such a short time span of these events is unforgivable. The repercussions are already forthcoming. For instance, one BYU student was caught on video proclaiming an antigay slur while defacing LGBTQ+ friendly art on campus.

So, Elder Holland, how dare you call the world “crushingly cruel” towards the LGBTQ+ community when you yourself encourage institutional homophobia? When you are a part of the problem. The hypocrisy is evident. The effects of this address are being felt by many, and it’s dehumanizing. However, we don’t have to let his words go without action. Instead of picking up your muskets, as Elder Holland encouraged, pick up your rainbow flags. Keep marching and fighting for what’s right — because this is a fight that he clearly cannot win.


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