Elder Oaks’ recent talk was NOT about climate change or Trump

Elder Oaks gave a commencement address at BYU-Hawaii on Feb. 25, 2017.  The title of the talk was:  “Push Back Against the World.”

The anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune’s headline was “Mormon leader Dallin Oaks points to ‘aggressive’ Trump, climate change as ‘big worries’.”

I am going to shock you, I know, but guess what:  the talk was not about Trump or climate change.  Not even remotely.

I have seen this talk celebrated throughout the liberal Mormon on-line world.  At last, an apostle who is willing to accept the reality of climate change and who hates Trump!  “Hurrah!”

Except that was not the subject of the talk.  Keep on dreaming, liberal Mormons, but if you actually read the entire talk it is pretty standard social conservative fare.  And there is even a paragraph that will certainly disappoint the left (if they are paying attention):

We hear much about cleaning up the physical environment—air, water, and other essentials that are being polluted in a way that is poisoning the physical environment for all of us. We may choose to join in such efforts. But we who are responsible to push back against the world should be at least equally concerned about forces that are poisoning the moral environment. I refer to such moral pollutions as pornography. I also refer to language that pollutes public communications with profanity, vulgarity, and morally degrading coarseness. Push back against these kinds of pollutions also.

I am going to ask readers to read the entire talk.  I will be going through some key points of the talk, but it would be helpful for readers to read it themselves.  Done?  Ok, let’s move on.

The paragraph that has anti-Mormons and left-wing Mormons rubbing their hands with glee is this one:

These are challenging times, filled with big worries: wars and rumors of wars, possible epidemics of infectious diseases, droughts, floods, and global warming. Seacoast cities are concerned with the rising level of the ocean, which will bring ocean tides to their doorsteps or over their thresholds. Global warming is also affecting agriculture and wildlife. Nations whose prosperity depends on world peace and free trade worry about disturbing developments that threaten either or both of these. We are even challenged by the politics of conflict and the uncertainties sponsored by the aggressive new presidential administration in the world’s most powerful nation.

Elder Oaks is listing some of the things that are worries for people right now.  Of course there are people who are worried about “global warming” and the “new presidential administration in the world’s most powerful nation.”  If you do any international travel, you may have probably noticed that you cannot talk to anybody without them asking you about Trump and why Trump doesn’t believe in climate change.  Clearly, it is a “worry” for many people, but not necessarily for Elder Oaks.

Is it a worry for the Brethren?  I would be willing to bet any reader out there that if you were to poll the GAs, the majority of them 1)have a lot of questions about the supposed consensus on climate change and 2)voted for Trump.  This does not mean that the GAs endorse all of the crude things Trump says, or that they like his style or all of his policies, but let’s face it, the majority of GAs are registered Republicans, and given the escalating degeneracy of the Democratic party, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

One paragraph does not a talk make, regardless of what the SL Tribune would try to fool its readers into believing.

Elder Oaks starts out the talk with this introduction:

As is traditional on such occasions, I will give some advice to graduates. I have titled my message “Push Back Against the World.” By pushing against “the world” I obviously do not mean all that the world has to offer in modern conveniences, prosperity, and security. When I say, “Push back against the world,” I mean push back against that part of the world’s values and practices that draw us away from the Lord’s teachings and our covenant obligations.

So, what is the talk about?  Well, it should be pretty clear:  the talk is about pushing “back against that part of the world’s values and practices that draw us away from the Lord’s teachings and our covenant obligations.”  Isn’t it funny how when you actually read the entire talk, you can figure out what it is about?

Elder Oaks continues.  After the famous climate change/Trump paragraph, he immediately says this:

But as serious as all of this is, we must worry just as much about the rising tide of evil in the world around us. Though some of us may feel isolated from the physical and political threats I have just mentioned, all of us are surrounded with evil in literature, music, movies, videos—on the internet, in our schools, and in the marketplace.


I see all of these challenges as a fulfillment of Father Lehi’s prophetic teaching that there must be “an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). We cannot change the evil influences that surround and press upon us and our families, but we can increase our power to deal with them as we push back against the world. We must try to carve out personal islands of purity and serenity and strengthen our barriers against the forces that besiege us in these protected spaces.

Summary:  we can’t change all the things we worry about in the world, but there are things we can change, and we should concentrate on those things.  And what are Elder Oaks’ specific suggestions?

The very first one is….keeping the Sabbath!  Huh, wait, what does keeping the Sabbath have to do with the horrible President Trump and the wonderful Al Gore??!!!  I am so confused and triggered!  This talk is starting to make me want to retreat to my safe space.

One of the most effective ways we can go forward with faith and push back against the world is to observe the Sabbath day in an appropriate, positive way. The Sabbath day of worship and rest from worldly labors is the divinely appointed anchor to hold us fast in the storms of life. Properly observed, the Sabbath will help us and our families develop the spiritual strength we need to stand firm against temptation and to stay unspotted from the world.

But don’t panic:  surely Elder Oaks will be telling us to spend our money contributing to Greenpeace and the Sierra Club and volunteering for the next Bernie Sanders campaign…right!!??

NOPE.  His next suggestion is…be nice in your communications.

Another way to push back against the world is to stand clear from the current atmosphere of hate and to refrain from participating in the contentious communications that are so common today. Partly such contentious communications result from modern technology, which fosters conflicts by expanding the audience and the speed of dissemination. Careless charges, false representations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, widening and intensifying the distance between different parties and different positions. I am not referring to differences in policies, which need to be debated publicly, but to the current ugliness and personal meanness of the communications.


Don’t be part of such communications. As followers of Christ, we know that all of the inhabitants of this earth are children of God. Use that knowledge to push back against the worldly prejudices that preach hate or hostility toward other nations, ethnic groups, or even political parties.

Wait a second:  isn’t it OK to hate Republicans??!!  I mean, they are racist/sexist/homophobes/transphobes/biphobes/fascists/Hilter lovers.  Right??!!  When is Elder Oaks going to get to that part of the talk?

But the next thing Elder Oaks does is get all religious on us.  He says it is important to promote religion as being important to society and to promote religious freedom.

Good examples of those kinds of positions where our voices need to be heard are the importance of religion and religious freedom for all citizens, believers and nonbelievers alike.

As to the importance of religion, we can be alert to insist that its importance in the founding of this nation and the progress of our civilization is given fair treatment in our public schools. This is needed because some influential leaders and many educators have come to consider it bad taste or even illegal for public schools even to mention religious influences and motivations.

The American Textbook Council, which surveys the most widely used American and world history textbooks, gave this report two decades ago: “The strength of religion in shaping human thought and action is not often explained, and its role as a motivating agent of culture, politics, and ethics often remains under examined. … Religion in the contemporary world is discussed by region, out of context, and often in oblique and misleading ways.”2

We should push back against such incomplete and inaccurate portrayals of our histories and our people.

Under the banner of Jesus Christ, we should also go forward in coalitions of like-minded persons to protect and advance the strength of our precious freedoms of speech, conscience, and the free exercise of religion.

This talk is definitely not what you usually hear at universities these days.  Not a single reference to Mao or Noam Chomsky or even Malcolm X!

Elder Oaks continues….discussing keeping the commandments!

Of course, pushing back against the world includes as one of its most important elements keeping the commandments of God. Graduates, I plead with each of you not to seek happiness in the glittering temptations and attractions of the world. As the scriptures teach, wickedness never was happiness. Those who yield to the enticing of Satan may, as the scripture says, “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25), but that kind of pleasure can never lead to lasting happiness or eternal joy. Over time, yielding to the influences of Satan will only halt eternal progress and bring feelings of darkness, anger, hate, and misery.

Satan!!?? How retro.

But it gets even worse for left-wing Mormons because Elder Oaks then does something really uncool:  he talks about self-reliance rather than being on welfare.  I mean, doesn’t he get that socialism is the future!!??

We should also push back against the worldly practice that has been described as the culture of dependency—the expectation that the extended family or the community or the government will provide what you desire with a minimum of effort on your part. As required by the spiritual growth that is the purpose of the plan of salvation, the gospel teaching of self-reliance pushes back against the idea or culture of dependency.

Elder Oaks then concludes:

I have been speaking about pushing back against worldly values and practices that are contrary to gospel teachings and covenants. I now conclude by urging you to practice one worldly value that is consistent with the gospel culture. It is the importance of lifelong learning, which for us is promoted and directed by eternal priorities. Beyond increasing our occupational qualifications, we should desire to learn how to become more emotionally fulfilled, more skilled in our personal relationships, and better parents and citizens. There are few things more fulfilling and fun than learning something new. Greater happiness, satisfaction, and even temporal rewards come from this.

So, to conclude, dear readers, Elder Oaks’ talk was not about climate change or Trump (who is never mentioned by name, btw).  The talk was about not being worldly, which has been discussed by GAs approximately 8 bazillion times.  The specific suggestions are:  keep the Sabbath, be nice in your communications, promote religion and religious freedom, keep the commandments, be self-reliant and continue lifelong learning.

Good try, left-wing Mormons and anti-Mormons!  But another big swing and a miss trying to turn an apostle into an Elizabeth Warren clone.  I am sure we will play the same game again soon.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

23 thoughts on “Elder Oaks’ recent talk was NOT about climate change or Trump

  1. Elder Oaks and the other apostles preach the gospel whether or not it agrees or disagrees with the stands of the two American political parties. I enjoyed reading this talk earlier in the week. I will read it again in the original form because it was challenging to feel the spirit of the talk with the political commentary interspersed above. I am tired of both sides of the political debate explaining what the apostles did or did not mean – or reading their minds as to how they voted or what they think of climate change. As a Canadian, who almost always votes conservative, the defense of the Republican party on this site is getting tiresome. Please stick to defending the Gospel. I have debated unfollowing, but still enjoy many of the articles.

  2. Kristine, yup, you should read Elder Oaks’ talk in its original form. That is what I said in the OP. As for politics, the Republican party is horrible, and just about every writer on this site has said so in one way or another in the past few months. But there will be occasional articles that may disagree with your interpretation of the politics, and my advice would be: don’t read those. I am not a fan of readers telling writers what they should and should not write. Nobody is forcing you to read this blog or the individual posts on the blog. Thanks.

  3. I absolutely agree that Elder Oaks’ talk should be read in its entirety and that the paragraph that has got some Mormons excited is just a small part of the whole. But I would make a couple of comments about that paragraph.

    “Global warming is also affecting agriculture and wildlife.”

    This is stated as a matter of fact. Elder Oaks doesn’t say some are worried that there may be global warming. He states quite plainly global warming is affecting nature.

    “We are even challenged by the politics of conflict and the uncertainties sponsored by the aggressive new presidential administration in the world’s most powerful nation.”

    The ‘we’ that begins this sentence is inclusive, suggesting that Elder Oaks is himself challenged (rather than worried) by the aggressive Trump administration.

  4. I wonder if the SL Trib(ulation) ever sees itself as Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Because that’s what they are with all of their efforts to malign the Church.

  5. I don’t think it is relevant because it is not germane to the central point of his talk. The talk is about not being worldly. I am not convinced that Elder Oaks believes in the “consensus” on global warming, nor am I convinced that he personally is criticizing Trump, but I will admit it is possible. But again, the point of my entire post is that such a discussion completely misses the point of his talk, which is very clear when you read the entire thing.

  6. Another point: when we miss the primary subject of a talk by a GA and get caught up in the left’s political chicanery, we are falling for “the world’s” tricks, which is exactly what Elder Oaks is speaking out against.

  7. Thanks for your reply Geoff. I appreciate your response and recognize why my comment was received how it was. Upon rereading, I spoke more strongly than I recognized. I have really enjoyed following Millennial * but have struggled with the tone of some of these pieces – this one in particular – and wanted to express that as a regular reader.

  8. Do you think I’m caught up in the left’s political chicanery? I agree it’s not the main thrust of his talk but I thought it was interesting that Elder Oaks referenced global warming so matter-of-factly as it’s not something the brethren typically talk about. Similarly the reference to the Trump administration as being aggressive. It’s not clear to me why talking about these minor points and talking about the main thrust of the talk are mutually exclusive. And labelling discussion of the minor points as falling for the world’s tricks seems like a way of trying to shut down discussion.

  9. Kristine, regarding “tone.” Sometimes people are not going to like the tone that I or other writers use. Believe me, I hear that all the time from friends who are faithful and people I respect. They know who they are, and right now they are agreeing with you. I find a lot of posts, even ones I write, very monotone, and every once in a while I like to change the tone a bit. When you take a risk, not everyone is going to like it. As I say, the solution is not to read those types of posts and skip to the ones you do like.

    James, dude, the point of my post is that the central point of Elder Oaks’ talk is being missed. It is right there in the title. So, yeah, I would rather we discuss the point of my post than other things. Thanks for understanding.

  10. Apart from the SL Trib article, was there some public posts from “anti-Mormons” and/or “left-wing Mormons” that this post is a response to? The tone is quite … “vigorous”, I guess I would say (obligatory “not that there’s anything wrong with that”). So I am wondering if there is something specific that might have prompted this vigorous response. (If Geoff doesn’t want to link to that sort of thing from this website, I understand and that’s fine. Just don’t tell me I can find it myself – I tried and I can’t. I don’t know where to start to look for stuff like this.)

  11. As regards the specific language about specific points (the inclusive We, warming as fact, etc), I go to the reference to “big worries” at the start; the entire paragraph after that is readable as “everything that follows is something that someone somewhere is worried about”. Not Oaks specifically.

  12. Mormontarian, that is how I read it also.

    Steve, I am mostly referring to other social media where the tone among leftist and even some moderate Mormons has been celebratory and somewhat in line with what I said in my OP. Yeah, I am vigorous in my disdain for the twisting of Elder Oaks’ words that I see out there, and that explains why I wrote the way I did.

  13. I actually agree with the points James makes in his first comment; that little aside in Elder Oaks’s talk did catch my attention in part because it is not a common thing to hear, and his phrasing implies more than recounting just others’ worries. I also agree with Geoff’s main point that it was exactly that: a little aside, in a talk about something else.

  14. Thanks Geoff. Not enough Mormons or anti-Mormons among my social media friends to pick this up, I guess.

  15. I have a handful of very progressive/leftist LDS friends on Facebook who posted that section from Elder Oaks’ talk before the Trib got around to writing about it. What was interesting was reading their fellow progressive/leftist comments on their posts. Those who read just the quote were joyful that the brethren were finally “getting it”. Those who bothered to read the entire speech then wrote that they wished they had simply read the quote instead.

  16. James Stone, exactly. It really bugs me when that happens. The bottom line is that the LDS church is socially conservative (against gay marriage and many transgender/LGBT causes, generally opposed to abortion (yes, with some exceptions), against drug legalization, and in favor of promoting the traditional family). Utah and Idaho voted for Trump. This does not mean there is not room for opposing views, and everybody who has actually gone to church knows that there is on an institutional level. I have a LOT of friends in person and through social media who don’t agree with the Brethren on one issue or another, and they continue to go to the temple, do their callings and believe the truth claims of the Church. However, there is not room (in my opinion) for trying to twist the prophets’ and apostles’ messages in favor of your own politics. I find that really dangerous, and this is why I write so many posts on that particular subject.

  17. “However, there is not room (in my opinion) for trying to twist the prophets’ and apostles’ messages in favor of your own politics. I find that really dangerous, and this is why I write so many posts on that particular subject.”

    Agreed. This is why I enjoy your posts and the M*.

  18. Elder Oaks’ comments complement President Monson’s counsel from the Oct 2015 Conference.

    We are surrounded by persuasive voices, beguiling voices, belittling voices, sophisticated voices, and confusing voices. I might add that these are loud voices. I admonish you to turn the volume down and to be influenced instead by that still, small voice which will guide you to safety.

  19. Elder Oaks gave the same talk a decade ago at the Hawaii commencement. Same worried about global warming aside too.

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