8 min read

The Office of Belonging and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's Comments vs. An Alliance of Thought

The Office of Belonging and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's Comments vs. An Alliance of Thought

We like to keep things light at GEHB. We are sarcastic. We mock stupid people who do stupid things. We talk food. We talk football. We have a good time.

We don't often dabble into things like religion and politics (outside of a few jabs at weird political stories and a plea to get vaccinated so that we can go to football games this fall).

Today, however, we dabble. Why are we dabbling? Because those topics could have a major impact on BYU athletics moving forward. And because we're GEHB and we can do whatever the hell we want.

It was a whirlwind of a day on Monday. BYU President Kevin Worthen announced that BYU will be creating a new 'Office of Belonging' and appointing a new Vice President to run the new department.

Per President Worthen, the decision to create this new department comes as a result of the findings by BYU's Committee of Race, Equity and Belonging. The new office's mission statement is as follows:

We are united by our common primary identity as children of God (Acts 17:29; Psalm 82:6) and our commitment to the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ (BYU Mission Statement). We strive to create a community of belonging composed of students, faculty, and staff whose hearts are knit together in love (Mosiah 18:21) where:
All relationships reflect devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor (BYU Mission Statement);
We value and embrace the variety of individual characteristics, life experiences and circumstances, perspectives, talents, and gifts of each member of the community and the richness and strength they bring to our community (1 Corinthians 12:12–27);
Our interactions create and support an environment of belonging (Ephesians 2:19); and
The full realization of each student’s divine potential is our central focus (BYU Mission Statement).

The mission statement and the new Office of Belonging was widely regarded as a first step towards significant progress amidst many complaints that BYU's policies are harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, and that BYU's lack of diversity makes the environment difficult for racial minorities.

Even BYU's harshest critics were optimistic after President Worthen's announcement.

And then Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke and those critics went right back to being harshly critical.

He spoke for nearly 40 minutes and spoke on a myriad of different topics. It was received extremely well by some, and others are still talking about anecdotes from the talk on social media.

There is one particular section of his speech that we will focus on today because it could have a major impact on BYU athletics moving forward.

Elder Holland said, "When you look at President Kimball’s talk again, a copy of which will be distributed following this conference, may I ask you to pay particular attention to that sweet prophet’s effort to ask that we be unique. In his discourse, President Kimball used the word “unique” eight times, and “special” eight times. It seems clear to me in my 73 years of loving it that BYU will become an “educational Mt. Everest” only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity. We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, “BYU who?” No, we must have the will to stand alone, if necessary, being a university second to none in its role primarily as an undergraduate teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the process. If at a future time that mission means foregoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it. There may come a day when the price we are asked to pay for such association is simply too high, too inconsistent with who we are. No one wants it to come to that, but, if it does, we will pursue our own destiny, a “destiny [that] is not a matter of chance; [but largely] a matter of choice; . . . not a thing to be waited for, [but] a thing to be [envisioned and] achieved."

A lot of this paragraph sounds like stuff you hear from Church leaders on a regular basis. But there are a couple of particular sentences in there that are incredibly interesting moving forward. "If at a future time that mission means foregoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it. There may come a day when the prices we are asked to pay for such association is simple too high, too inconsistent with who we are. No one wants it to come to that, but, if it does, we will pursue our own destiny."

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a major, major statement.

It wasn't five years ago that Iowa State's student senate formally stood against BYU's Big 12 candidacy because of LGBTQ+ policies.

Several LGBTQ groups wrote the leaders of the Big 12 and also pushed the conference not to consider BYU for inclusion.

Just seconds before his statement about potentially losing certain certifications, Elder Holland made these comments:

"My beloved brothers and sisters, “a house divided against itself . . . cannot stand,” and I will go to my grave pleading that this institution not only stands but stands unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and to the Church that sponsors it. We hope it isn’t a surprise to you that your Trustees are not deaf or blind to the feelings that swirl around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus. I and many of my Brethren have spent more time and shed more tears on this subject than we could ever adequately convey to you this morning, or any morning. We have spent hours discussing what the doctrine of the Church can and cannot provide the individuals and families struggling over this difficult issue. So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.
If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually anything goes? What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long? Do we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere.
In that spirit, let me go no farther before declaring unequivocally my love and that of my Brethren for those who live with this same-sex challenge and so much complexity that goes with it. Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters. Like many of you, we have spent hours with them, and wept and prayed and wept again in an effort to offer love and hope while keeping the gospel strong and the obedience to commandments evident in every individual life.
But it will assist everyone in providing such help if things can be kept in some proportion and balance in the process. For example, we have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy, or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people. 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.” We are tasked with trying to strike that same sensitive, demanding balance in our lives.
Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith, but “friendly fire” is a tragedy — and from time to time the Church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community have taken such fire on this campus. And sometimes it isn’t friendly — wounding students and the parents of students who are confused about what so much recent flag-waving and parade-holding on this issue means. Beloved friends, this kind of confusion and conflict ought not to be. There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine. My Brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today. There will continue to be those who oppose our teachings and with that will continue the need to define, document, and defend the faith. But we do all look forward to the day when we can “beat our swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks,” and at least on this subject, “learn war [no] more.” And while I have focused on this same-sex topic this morning more than I would have liked, I pray you will see it as emblematic of a lot of issues our students and community face in this complex, contemporary world of ours."

It is clear that Elder Holland, BYU leadership and the Board of Trustees knows they are in the middle of a very, very difficult position. Two belief systems - two ways of life - that are seemingly antithetical from one another  have been cruising towards a head-on collision for the last decade.

Could there come a time when BYU shuts down shop because of external pressures? To talk about "professional affiliations and certifications" on the heels of talking about "this same-sex topic" feels like it could be a signal to the future. What certifications would BYU consider relinquishing? Certainly athletic conference affiliation makes the short list, but what else? TV contracts with ESPN? Game agreements with teams who refuse to play BYU because of policies? Or even more drastic, their accreditation as a university?

It is a little crazy to think about, but those are all questions that have to be asked.

Depending on who you ask, the right answer is obvious. One group will say to change the Honor Code policies while another will say that BYU is rooted in the gospel doctrine and, therefore, cannot change those policies. No matter how obvious one thinks this decision might be, it isn't. It's complicate for BYU decision makers - and the easiest decision could end up being to shut it all down.

And Then An Alliance Goes And Makes This Even More Confusing

The Big Ten, PAC-12 and ACC announced an alliance yesterday. The details of this "Super Friend Alliance" will become more clear over the coming months and years, but one thing is clear today - these athletic conferences are using academia to aligns themselves for the future. It is difficult to see a place for BYU in that kind of alignment.

BYU's Honor Code likely prohibits them from joining this alliance.

BYU's religious beliefs likely prohibit them from joining this alliance.

BYU's lack of a AAU accreditation likely prohibits them from joining this alliance.

BYU's lack of a renowned 'research institution' likely prohibits them from joining this alliance.

Let's just reflect back on Elder Holland's quote one more time, "If at a future time that mission means foregoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it. There may come a day when the prices we are asked to pay for such association is simple too high, too inconsistent with who we are. No one wants it to come to that, but, if it does, we will pursue our own destiny."

The timing of Elder Holland's speech and the Super Friends Alliance (no, that's not the real name, but this has been a heavy newsletter of real-world topics and we have to find a way to keep it light somehow) seem more than coincidental.

But On The Other Hand...

BYU is still making investments into athletics. From stadium upgrades at LaVell Edwards Stadium to new courts at the Marriott Center, BYU is still ponying up more and more money for the future of athletics. If the writing was truly on the wall for BYU sports, they probably don't invest millions of dollars into a new locker room. If the writing was truly on the wall, they probably don't announce deals like their new deal with Built Bar. The end is not night, but the comments this week are interesting, without a doubt.

And On A Lighter Note...

I watched a TikTok video this week that displayed the best of the stupid internet. Folks, I'm concerned for the collective human race. If a chain is only as smart as its weakest link, then we're all screwed.

A friend asked if the restaurant they were going to served food "allah cart." Allah, like the Muslim God, and cart, like the pioneers. Oy.

Another woman forgot the word 'nephew' and referred to her nephew as her "boy niece." Woof.

A young man, who I am sure is very nice, didn't know the word aquarium. So what did he call it? THE LIQUID ZOO! The future is bleak.

Because I watched it, now you have to: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMRjbwEU4/