Transcript of Elder Holland at 2017 Windsor Conference

Transcript of Elder Holland at 2017 Windsor Conference

Additional Resource
 

“From Persecution to Integration: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”

By Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Windsor Conference: St. George’s House, Windsor Castle
September 9, 2017

I am grateful to Baroness Nicholson for this invitation to speak at this important and significant conference once again. Last year I spoke on the Mormon experience as refugees in 19th-century America. This year she asked me to speak on the Church’s return from exile, so to speak, its move from persecution to integration, with its gradual emergence out of religious obscurity.

To outline how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—our official title—has reengaged after a period of persecution, I wish to remind you of its beginnings. Then I would like to make a distinction between a refugee and pioneer, illustrating this distinction through the Mormon prophet Joseph’s Smith experiences. Finally, I will share some anecdotes of modern-day pioneers lifting the Church toward greater engagement and service.

Before beginning, let me emphasize that I focus on the Latter-day Saint story only because I have been asked to do so. I hope that by understanding our people’s willingness to reengage in society after a period of persecution, some light might distill on other religious people’s refugee experience and how their faith can be a source for renewal and hope for the future.

  1. Latter-day Saints’ Persecution and Tribulation

Last year I explained that the early Latter-day Saints in America faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, being driven from one state to another to another; losing their beloved prophet, Joseph Smith, in a violent mob attack; and being forced to migrate 1,300 miles over rough terrain long before the railroad connected the east and west coasts of the United States.

The Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley in what is now the state of Utah. But even from this dry and mostly uninhabited, remote Rocky Mountain home, they continued to face persecution for their religious beliefs and practices.

At times during the next several decades, some Church leaders were jailed or forced to live in hiding, while many Church members were disenfranchised. Laws were passed that threatened to seize the Church’s assets and properties, including houses of worship like chapels and temples. The Church and its teachings were smeared in national newspapers, and its leaders lampooned in political cartoons. These times were dark for the Latter-day Saints. Observers of the day would have thought that the Church was on the brink of extinction.[1]

So what motivated these men and women to keep the faith in the face of such adversity? What drove the Latter-day Saints not only to continue in the Church, but to strive to bring their religion and ideas to the society around them?

  1. Refugee v. Pioneer: Illustration through the Prophet Joseph’s Smith Experiences

I was grateful last year to the Reverend Ruth Scott, who observed that these Mormons “in the experience of persecution were able to see themselves as pioneers.”[2] Part of the answer to the questions we are posing rests in that distinction between a refugee and a pioneer that Reverend Scott drew out last year.

The origin of the word refugee comes from the past participle of the French word refugier, which meant in the 1680s to “take shelter, protect.”[3] Although the secular meaning of “take shelter, protect” likely includes migration or relocation, for me it has a deeper spiritual meaning than that.

Temporal or physical refuge is certainly important. If we hadn’t needed physical refuge, early Latter-day Saints would not have fled to the Intermountain West. However, of upmost importance to us is the spiritual shelter or protection that we took then and take now in our faith. As Psalm 9:9 reads, “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”

The word pioneer has evolved through time.[4] For many, the word evokes the image of rugged men and women taking on the challenges of settling new lands. But in modern times, when there is less land to settle but equally as much challenge to overcome, the pioneer spirit has persisted in the form of individuals who open to us new thoughts, ideas, or ways of living. Baroness Emma Nicholson is, to my mind, a wonderful example of a modern-day pioneer.

Of course, being a pioneer is not easy. It requires an inner strength for which many aspire but few achieve. For Latter-day Saints, this inner strength comes from the conviction deep in their hearts that what they believe is true. In that conviction is the strength not only to endure but to prevail. One of the foundation stones in every Latter-day Saint’s conviction, or personal testimony as we call it, comes from 14-year-old Joseph Smith’s 1820 reading of James 1:5 in the Bible: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph took that passage at its word and retired to a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, New York, so that he might receive an answer to personal prayer. In his own words, he says:

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. …

“… I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”[5]

Thrilling as this revelatory epiphany was, Joseph discovered his newly found conviction brought an onslaught of persecution. Of this Joseph stated:

I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me … and was the cause of great persecution … ; and though I was an obscure boy, … and my circumstances in life such as to make [me] of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; [it seemed] … all united to persecute me.”[6]

This young, obscure 14-year-old farm boy could have denied his experience and avoided his fate, including eventual martyrdom. But his integrity matched his conviction and he persisted. He said of that persecution:

“It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, … should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.

“However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. …”

“… I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”[7]

In a sense, that passage is the key to Latter-day Saint survival and eventual success. Individual conviction leading to purposeful action, no matter how great the odds against us, is not only our story but the story of many individuals and many institutions that have made a difference in the world.

Latter-day Saints continue to follow this pattern worldwide. They seek a spiritual witness, ask for divine help, and strive to see that their actions concord with divine will. Such spiritual conviction combines faith and works in a way that can move mountains. An ancient prophet who lived on the American continent some five centuries before Christ is recorded in the Book of Mormon as saying:

“Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.”[8]

This personal testimony of God’s existence, His power, and His hand in our daily lives is the fount from which Latter-day Saints draw strength when faced with life’s challenges, great or small. It is what moved the Latter-day Saints on their forced religious migration—sometimes on foot pulling handcarts across the Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains—and it is what propels our members today to face life’s vicissitudes with courage, determination, and hope.

  1. Examples of Modern-Day Pioneers and the Church Emerging from Obscurity

This individual, pioneer spirit that existed in recent Church history and continues today leads Latter-day Saints to engage in and contribute to society. In fact, to understand our people, you need to understand that their religious convictions influence all their actions, no matter how small or seemingly “secular” the tasks may be.

The faith of Latter-day Saints: “reaches into every aspect of daily life. Home life is filled with prayers, devotionals, family [gatherings], and daily teaching. A Mormon at work is expected to uphold his moral standards even while participating in the challenges of the business world. … Relationships with others are … to [reflect] the standards of love and respect Jesus Christ taught His followers to uphold.”[9] Their faith is strengthened by Sabbath worship, but its influence is to be evident every day of the week.

Let me share with you a handful of examples of everyday, faithful Latter-day Saints:

  1. Standing as a Witness: J. Willard Marriott Sr.

Most of you will recognize the name Marriott. It can be found on hotels in 122 countries and territories across the world.[10] Some of you may even know that its founder, J. Willard Marriott, was a devoted Latter-day Saint. He exemplified the covenants discussed in Mosiah 18:9, a passage in the Book of Mormon, which reads, “Yea, and are willing to … stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, … that ye may have eternal life.”

Bill, as he was known, stood as a witness by sharing his convictions about Christ and his Church openly. For example, he placed not only a Bible but also a Book of Mormon in each of his hotel rooms around the world. If including a Bible in his hotel rooms raised any eyebrows, then certainly including a book of scripture from a minority religion would do even more so!

He was interviewed about his career and religious affiliation by dozens of media outlets over the years and proudly declared his membership in the LDS Church. On more than one occasion, he introduced the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at special performances in the United States capital. Bill Marriott’s actions show that his religious identity informed even his “secular” life. You could not separate his religious motivations from his success; they are a part of his life and his legacy.

  1. Standing as a Witness: Mitt Romney

You are probably also familiar with the name Mitt Romney—former governor of Massachusetts and two-time United States presidential candidate. Mr. Romney’s religious devotion was evident both times he ran for president of the United States. Consider a few excerpts from his speech “Faith in America,” delivered in December 2007:

“We believe that every single human being is a child of God—we are all part of the human family. The conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced. …

“The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God. …

“This great moral heritage is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. … I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord’s words: ‘For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and yet gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me.’”[11]

As you may already know, we never as a Church endorse political candidates, but we do take pride in those virtues any public servant emulates that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy: Eli Herring

Of course, most Latter-day Saints do not enjoy the level of notoriety that Bill Marriott and Mitt Romney enjoy. In fact, one such individual’s commitment to his covenants led him from millions of dollars and stardom in the NFL to teaching high school math.

During Eli Herring’s senior year of football at Brigham Young University, he was listed as a prospective first-round pick for the National Football League’s draft. Now, that is the erroneously named American football that I’m talking about—not the real British football where you actually use your feet.

Cultural differences aside, Eli was concerned that this possible career choice could hinder him as he tried to live his covenants—specifically the covenant to keep the Sabbath day holy. He chose to walk away from a career in professional football.

Two decades later, Eli Herring has a firm conviction that his decision not to play in the National Football League was right for him and his family.

Interestingly enough, his decision was influenced by another Church member named Erroll Bennett, who had decided not to play soccer on Sunday. Yes, Erroll played real football! In fact, according to some, Erroll Bennett was a better soccer player than anyone in all of Tahiti. When he joined the LDS Church, he told his soccer league, and his country, that because of his newfound understanding of the law of the Sabbath, he wasn’t going to play anymore. As a result of his conviction, all soccer teams in his division agreed to move their play to weeknights.[12]

The stories of Eli and Erroll show that testimony affects new members as well as the existing members. Today’s pioneers, like Eli and Erroll, don’t need to cross continental distances; the only vast wildernesses they need to cross are between their convictions and the society that often surrounds them.

  1. Eternal Families: Brussels Missionaries

Let me share a recent incident that will strike closer to home for you in this room. Four of our Mormon missionaries in Europe recently crossed that rocky crevasse between heartfelt conviction and Christlike action. They are the missionaries significantly injured during the bombing at the Brussels airport on March 22, 2016. Sixteen people died that day.[13]

Unfortunately, such horrific scenes are all too close these days. Some of you may have known the injured—if not from Brussels, then perhaps recent terror victims from the U.K. One of our members lost her husband during an attack here, a victim Baroness Nicholson ministered to personally.

The missionaries in Brussels were blessed to have wonderful medical care to help them heal physically from this terrible event. But their faith helped them heal emotionally.

This adversity could have driven these injured missionaries to isolation, to turn away from the community and the world. However, expressing their faith allowed them to work through the pain, and if anything, the opposite has happened.

  1. Conclusion

Our people continue as pioneers today, attempting to engage vigorously with the society in which they live and contribute to those around them who are in need. Their pioneering spirit, anchored to a testimony of Jesus Christ, continues to raise the Church out of obscurity from its refugee past and give its members the courage to face the challenges in their lives.

As invited, I have spoken today about one religion’s effort to rebound from refugee status and make a contribution to the society from which it was once alienated. Other faiths have different histories and have different reasons for their resilience, but they too are God’s children. Whatever their experience, room needs to be created for the sacred beliefs and righteous religious practices of all people. Many will often need various other resources to survive—financial, educational, medical. But I hope it has been clear in what I have said that I believe religious communities have one crucial resource that, above all others, will help their members through life’s challenges, including the extreme test of being a refugee. That resource is the full and free exercise of their faith, allowing them to pull deeply from the wellsprings of life that are sacred to their tradition. That is a need that must always be met, a right we must always guarantee.

Thank you for caring about the disenfranchised and downhearted. We were among that number once, and now, in better times, we are determined to do all we can to assist others who face the same circumstances. We salute all of you for inspiring us to do more. Thank you for your courtesy in listening today.

Additional Resource: 

News story: Faith Key to Rebounding from Refugee Status, Apostle Says

 

[1] See James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (1976), 295–428; Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (2002); Davis Bitton and Gary L. Bunker, The Mormon Graphic Image: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations (1983), 33–56.

[3] Online Etymology Dictionary, “Refugee,” www.etymonline.com.

[4] See Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “Pioneer,” www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pioneer.

[5] Joseph Smith—History 1:15–17.

[6] Joseph Smith—History 1:22.

[7] Joseph Smith—History 1:23–25.

[8] Jacob 4:6.

[9] “Mormon Culture and Personal Life,” jesus.christ.org/basic-beliefs/mormon-culture-and-personal-life.

[10] See “About Marriott Hotels—Marriott Corporate Business Information,” www.marriott.com/marriott/aboutmarriott.mi.

[11] “Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Faith Speech,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16969460.

[12] See Jeff Call, “20 Years Later, ‘Blessed’ Herring Believes He Made Right Decision Not to Play in NFL,” Deseret News, Apr. 29, 2015, www.deseretnews.com.

[13] See Tad Walch, “Wounds Still Healing, LDS Missionaries Share Lessons a Year after Brussels Bombing,” Deseret News, Mar. 21, 2017, www.deseretnews.com; “Updates on Mormon Missionaries Injured in Belgium Explosion,” www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormon-missionaries-injured-belgium-explosion.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.