Elder Holland’s talk at general conference

With two little children, it’s tough to always watch conference live.  But through the afternoon, I have received several e-mails and comments on Elder Holland’s talk at general conference.  So, this evening I listened to it, and it is one of the most powerful Church talks I’ve heard.  You can listen to it here.

I’ve been trying to analyze exactly why it was so powerful, and I have a few, inadequate thoughts.  Please help me out.

I think educated Latter-day Saints spend a lot of time trying to defend our testimony, both to ourselves and to others.  What I come back to time and again is the existence of the Book of Mormon.  There is no good explanation for its existence, except the explanation that Joseph Smith put forward.

And I think Elder Holland put together in a 16-minute talk the most cogent defense of the Book of Mormon that I have heard.  He declared that the pretended explanations for the Book of Mormon have been pathetic and shallow.  He pointed out an historical fact that I was unaware of, that Hyrum and Joseph Smith referred to the Book of Mormon just before they were about to die.  If it had been an elaborate falsehood, wouldn’t that have been the moment to set the record straight?  Instead, they did no such thing.

Elder Holland’s language was also unusually strident and forceful (remember I did not see him, I heard his voice).  It was kind of like listening to Gregory Peck in “Two Kill a Mockingbird” defend the things that were right and true.  Often conference talks can be calming and quiet.  Instead, this talk seemed intended to wake up the angels.

So, it appears those of us who experienced this talk have shared something special.  What are your thoughts?

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

35 thoughts on “Elder Holland’s talk at general conference

  1. The videos are all online and split apart so you can quickly find the session and speaker you’re looking for. FYI.

    I’ve already watched Elder Holland’s address again, and likely will do so once more before going to bed. I must say, I love the part where he describes as “pathetic” the various arguments made by the book’s critics. No mincing words here…

  2. Oops, I left off the “http://” so it didn’t convert the link correctly. Sorry about that — Bryce’s is the correct link.

  3. This was an amazing conference, especially with Elder Holland’s talk. I felt a powerful spirit with each session. What a blessing to be instructed by Prophets, Seers and Revelators and other church leaders.

  4. His talk definitely stood out – I liked it. I was left with a couple questions however. I’ve been taught and heard that Joseph and Hyrum knew they were going to die when they went to Carthage; if they did then why did it take a letter from Emma get them to come back and why wasn’t Brigham called back from his mission beforehand to be present to deal with the huge issues that would surely develop in Joseph’s absence. Why didn’t Joseph work out the succession issues clearly so that everyone was thinking similarly. He could have possibly penned something while in hiding. I think Joseph and Hyrum came back to Nauvoo thinking possibly he they were going to die but likely didn’t “know” they were going to die. Likely they thought they had been in several situations before and came through okay.

    My other concern was that if Joseph and Hyrum thought the book was revelation given to or through them, they would have looked to it for strength; that makes sense. Similarly if I wrote down something I thought was inspired and I was on death row I would refer to it. Joseph and Hyrum referring to the Book of Mormon just tells me they believed in it, however it doesn’t tell me that Joseph didn’t just write it. Either way he thought the book was inspired so it doesn’t matter if he was using gold plates of just inspiration – great talk and good points. I had to cringe just a little when he started to open the book in fear it would be damaged.

    Just thoughts I had.

  5. Craig,

    I think the history of the Church speaks for itself and similarly Elder Holland’s talk speaks for itself. I exhort you to re-read the events of Joseph Smith’s life as it relates to his last days and the final moments in Carthage. Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God, who sealed his testimony with his blood.

    You have to work out your own doubts and concerns, but this is not the proper forum where that task may be accomplished. If you will accept Moroni’s challenge contained in Moroni 10:3-5, you will have your answer as to the source of the Book of Mormon and to the reality of the Restoration.

    Further comments continuing your line of questioning will be promptly removed. Please respect this blog as a forum of faith and not a destination of doubt.

  6. Interesting. It was one of my least favorite talks as I thin it downplayed many people’s real concerns too much. Not that I share those concerns, I largely agree with Elder Holland’s talks. But it seemed to just brush aside people’s sincere doubts rather than engaging them. I was very impressed with Pres. Monson’s talk and from the notes I read about Elder Oaks I’m sad I missed that one.

  7. Clark, fyi, you can watch a rebroadcast of Priesthood session on the Church’s broadcast page. 🙂

    Geoff, I like your phrase about waking up the angels. The thing that stuck out most to me is the sense that this time, his focus wasn’t on reaching out, it was on planting his stake of testimony firmly in the ground, in unequivocal terms, for all the world to hear for now and for generations to come (for eternity?). I felt that he felt the weight of declaring the truth of Book of Mormon with such boldness so as to never be misunderstood and to stand before the Lord with a clear conscience that there was no question where he stood.

    Elder Holland is, in my opinion, one of the most tender-hearted leaders we have ever had. And so I think it’s important to keep that in mind here. In a way, it makes it all the more striking, because he’s usually a bit more reachy-outy. But he’s also fiercely faithful and passionate about his testimony. That he did nothing touchy-feely today tells me how strongly he feels about this.

    It also all calls to mind a talk from Sat. who said something along the lines that typical concerns about the Book of Mormon are a bit like trading a birthright for a mess of pottage.

    A testimony of the Book of Mormon ends up being something so essential. I agree with how you began your post. I sympathize with those who have their doubts, but I have to say that I think the true solution is to be deliberate about choosing to not focus on them, but to seek answers through the Spirit in faith. In a way, if people can not take offense that he didn’t give the concerns any credence, they might see in his boldness a way away from the path of doubt. In my view, he invited all to look truth boldly in the face and to find its reality for themselves, rather than to “crawl” right through it and away from it. To stop feeding the doubts and to choose faith, until that faith grows into a knowledge.

    In his boldness, there is an invitation to, as Alma said, not cast the seed of faith out by unbelief. We have to choose to cast away doubt, and having doubts validated in my view only keeps them growing. It prolongs the process, imo, of truly finding peace.

    And I think Elder Holland’s words can help people see that they can have a sure knowledge that this book is true.

    It IS true. It is. Knowing that means more to me than almost anything. It’s worth whatever it takes to gain that conviction.

    p.s. Had a thought — remember the description of Joseph Smith when he thundered at the guards in the prison? I wonder if we caught a glimpse of that kind of power today. Joseph at that moment was not trying to be mean, but he also wasn’t going to dance around what he had to say. He roared with power, and shook the guards to the core. Elder Holland roared today.)

  8. m&m, nice comment #11. Yeah, now that I think of it, Elder Holland’s talk kind of reminded me of the description of Joseph in prison. Brian, we’re going to have to name you Elder Maxwell the second with all of that alliteration. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the comments on the alliteration. I would accept the title of Elder Maxwell the second, but there will never be anyone as good as he was in my lifetime, certainly not me. How I miss his talks in conference!

    This was truly a weekend to “Feast upon the words of Christ.”

  10. This conference was wonderful, and Elder Holland’s talk was the highlight for me. However, so many of the talks just really spoke to me. Personal revelation is a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about the last couple of weeks, so it was interesting that so many talks seemed to focus on that. Very useful to me. I’m really looking forward to going back and reading every talk.

    The power of the Spirit was just intense during Elder Holland’s talk, though. I’ve read several comments in various blogs complaining that Elder Holland didn’t actually address “legitimate” criticisms. Of course he didn’t. This isn’t an academic conference. Go to a FAIR conference if you want that sort of thing. (And don’t get me wrong, I do want that kind of thing sometimes, which is one reason I do go to the FAIR conferences.) But General Conference is a time to testify. And testify he did.

  11. As far as I am concerned, I got the President Holland back from my youth. He gave the most stirring discourses at BYU firesides; very much like what he gave us on Sunday. To some extent he seemed to have lost his vim and vigor as a Apostle speaking at conference after leaving BYU.

  12. I loved the talk as well. Although I thought it VERY VERY interesting that he seemed to be addressing members of the church that did not believe in the Book and not necessarily external criticism.

    And I agree with you Tayna, there seemed to a great concentration of talks about personal relevation; something I really needed at this time in my life.

  13. On personal revelation talks this weekend: I needed them too. The pattern Elder Scott described came back to me this morning as I felt the stirrings of the Spirit. I’m in the pondering stage, and it’s so good.

  14. Elder Holland’s testimony of the Book of Mormon mirrored the vigor and spiritual strength of his testimony of Christ in a previous conference.

    My thoughts were: “Preach it, Brother!”

    Also note, due to his age in relation to the Brethren ahead of him in seniority, it’s likely he will be President of the Church some day.

    In order of seniority: (From the Religion 341/342/343 Institute Manual, and Wikipedia)

    Elder Monson, b. 1927.
    Elder Packer, b. 1924.
    Elder Perry, b. 1922.
    Elder Nelson, b. 1924.
    Elder Oaks, b. 1932.
    Elder Ballard, b. 1928.
    Elder Scott, b. 1928.
    Elder Hales, b. 1932.
    Elder Holland, b. 1940.
    Elder Eyring, b. 1933.
    Elder Uchtdorf, b. 1940.
    Elder Bednar, b. 1952.
    Elder Cook, b. 1940.
    Elder Christofferson, b. 1945.
    Elder Andersen, b. 1951.

  15. I think the danger is that when you are speaking at Conference you are speaking to such a wide audience. I’ll trust that the spirit was directing Elder Holland and that being that strident was something a significant portion of the audience needed to hear. The difference between large conferences and more narrow settings is that the very size of the audience lets you customize things to them. (Which is why I always love hearing GAs speaking in small settings where they can be more pointed)

    So I hope my comment above didn’t come off other than I intended. It was just as I was watching it I was thinking of those for who the strident tone might push them further away rather than bring them to ask God. But realistically there are also those for whom that style was very necessary to shatter their complacency. Judging style for an audience is hard at the best of times.

    I think the reason it wasn’t my favorite talk, beyond those concerns, was simply that I already have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. So in contrast to other talks which did motivate me, this one didn’t do much for me. Sort of like yelling about cleaning your room when you have a spic and span bedroom. Elder Monson’s talk, which was my favorite, stuck with me because it was so motivational.

    It’s interesting as one thing I was thinking of as I watched conference is how the theme is rarely to teach in the sense of conveying new information. (Although there are usually a few of those targeting new or naive members) Rather the point is to motivate people to either change their lives – which they already know they should – or to think about where their lives are. As such, as I get older, I find myself seeking out doctrinal talks far less and motivational talks like Pres. Monson’s much more.

  16. Elder Holland has certainly raised the bar for defenders of the faith. Until now, the objective of the FAIR group and others has been to keep the Book of Mormon plausible — that is, throw enough doubt on the evidence against the Book of Mormon that a person who desires to believe can do so without having to feel as if he is actively closing his eyes to the evidence.

    Elder Holland has now taken the position that the Book of Mormon’s ancient origin is not only plausible, but so obvious that no person of good will can believe otherwise.

    That may be a harder proposition to defend.

  17. Thomas, I think one of Elder Holland’s main points is that anyone looking for physical or archaelogical evidence either for or against the Book of Mormon is looking for the wrong thing. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. There will be no slam dunk physical evidence available for quite a long time. Faith is needed. And for those who have received spiritual confirmation of the Holy Ghost (and know they have received it), physical evidence is not needed.

    Elder Holland’s passion for the Book of Mormon is somehow close to how I feel, even if I don’t live up to it. It’s a divinely miraculous book. It somehow attracts and creates miracles. I’ve personally witnessed that it has powers that President Benson ascribed to it.

    If you go back and read President Benson’s “Flood the Earth” talk, and read it in Elder Holland’s voice (that he demonstrated in this latest talk), not in the voice of the physically frail elderly man who originally delivered it, you’ll get a better understanding of the meaning.

    I believe Elder Holland fulfilled President Benson’s prophecy about “pulpits aflame” with Book of Mormon testimonies and stories.

  18. In his Feb 1979 talk, entitled “A More Determined Discipleship”, Elder Maxwell said: “Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even in these, however, let us leave a record so that the choices are clear, letting others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel.”

  19. Word on the street is that this talk departed from Elder Holland’s planned, written address significantly. The translators were in a tizzy trying to keep up with him. It sounds like the spirit took over and what needed to be said came out fast and furious. Make of that what you will.

  20. Thomas, I think one of Elder Holland’s main points is that anyone looking for physical or archaelogical evidence either for or against the Book of Mormon is looking for the wrong thing.

    That’s the way I see it as well. And that isn’t a character attack in my view, but an invitation to seek for truth. It’s not that some proofs haven’t been or might not be found – but they are not sufficient to carry us through the storms and challenges to faith that come.

    And I still think that ultimately, that is a message filled with love, because of the urgency of the desire to have people KNOW for themselves. For all that I care about people who struggle, I don’t want to encourage them to spend their time seeking for a conviction in physical ‘proof’ — I want them to know, as I know, through faith and the Spirit, that the book is indeed divine.

    I think that talks like this, too, need to be kept in context with the big picture. Any talk given by a leader is not something in isolation — it always has its place in the larder context of the gospel, of past messages, of the spirit of love and truth that is part of what we believe.

    I am always disappointed when talks are analyzed so much at the individual level (usually when people are upset for some reason) that the speaker is given all the blame for possible misunderstandings or offense — as though they could anticipate or prevent all the possible reactions anyway, which is bordering on ludicrous to expect — when it is as much our job as the listeners to receive their messages with the Spirit and with a spirit of charity.

    I have had times when talks or articles have stung, but invariably, as I look back on those times, it reflects more of where *I* have been. And invariably, with some help from the Spirit and some time and thought, I can engage the words in a way that helps me see more how things really are.

    I am reminded of something Elder Anderson said about repentance — that God’s voice isn’t one that comes at us with criticism. Sometimes WE process words and counsel and yes, even rebukes, and hear that, but I think that shows as much about our mortalness as anything. We often hear and see through our fight-or-flight-like reflexes, rather than letting the Spirit settle in and help us hear what God’s voice is saying to us. In the end, even the imperfections of others — which will always exist, even with the best of talks — don’t have to be a barrier to us hearing God’s voice. But we have to get past blaming, hiding in shame, or retaliating in anger (or other such ‘fight-or-flight’ kinds of responses) in order to feel the Spirit. (Now Elder Scott is coming to mind…how he talked about how strong emotions can get in the way of revelation.)

    Anyway…lots on my mind about all of this right now, obviously.

  21. I was interested in the Spanish translation of Elder Holland’s talk. In my view, the translator did a good job of translating – so I believe Elder Holland did stick to the script. Every new sentence was started on time. What do others think?

  22. I think Elder Holland stayed with his written talk. I don’t think he spoke off the cuff. It will be interesting to see if there are any differences in the written version that should come out on Thursday.

  23. Pingback: Elder Holland’s Book of Mormon Talk « Symphonyofdissent

  24. I just posted at Mormon Matters my explanation of why, after careful examination of Elder Holland’s address last Sunday, I believe he was not denouncing the Inspired Fiction theory of the Book of Mormon, but rather, was carefully avoiding it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments at the MM site:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2009/10/07/did … on-theory/

  25. Andrew: I must respectfully disagree. I have yet to read the text of his talk, but my recollection is that he denounced the “inspired fiction” theory rather plainly. He may not have used the word-choices some may have wanted, but I thought it was plain enough.

  26. Pingback: Elder Holland’s “Safety for the Soul « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  27. Yea, I saw and heard this talk, it was very moving and powerful then, but as I reread his words. I could not help myself from crying and declaring to myself that I also know that the Book of Mormon is true, and can only be the word of God. And those that have known this and have fell away need to reconsider their position with the church. Nothing in the world is worth losing this beautiful truth, I know because i walked away 20 yrs ago, and the Lord God in his mercy has brought me again back into the fold,and I can never lease again or I will lose my eternal soul to Satan. Thank you for reminding of me of this powerful testimony. I also know tht this book is true in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ amen

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