Here's the third review drawn from the excellent interview transcripts posted at the PBS site for "The Mormons." Although Elder Holland (of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve) was not shown much on the series, his posted interview is quite lengthy and full of interesting remarks. As before, I'll first post excerpts from the interview, then make a few comments.
On the origins of the Book of Mormon: I dismiss out of hand the early criticism that somehow this was a book that Joseph Smith wrote. The only thing more miraculous than an angel providing him with those plates and him translating them by divine inspiration would be that he sat down and wrote it with a ballpoint pen and a spiral notebook. There is no way, in my mind, with my understanding of his circumstances, his education, ... [he] could have written that book. [Ellipsis in original.]
Responding to whether or not there's a "middle way" regarding Book of Mormon origins: I think you'd be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we're not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. ... We would say: "This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I'm going forward. If I can help you work toward that I'd be glad to, but I don't love you less; I don't distance you more; I don't say you're unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can't make that step or move to the beat of that drum." ... We really don't want to sound smug. We don't want to seem uncompromising and insensitive. [Ellipses in original.]
On his own experience as a young missionary: As you've probably heard from others, my mission meant everything to me, partly because my father had been a convert and there really hadn't been a long tradition of missionaries in my life. So I was kind of venturing out a little bit onto new ground. ... It really was a pivotal, defining, electrifying moment in my life. ... I'd never worked harder; I'd never searched my soul more. Because I went to England, I'd never been that wet. It rained every day, it seemed. [Ellipses in original.]
On "the folklore problem" relating to the pre-1978 priesthood ban: One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. [Ellipses in original.]
On Juanita Brooks and her book on Mountain Meadows: As a young man, as a teenager, ... that's when I first came in contact with Juanita [Brooks'] book [Mountain Meadows Massacre]. Juanita was my high school English teacher. I grew up with her sons and daughter, and they're still dear friends to this day. ... I don't ever remember her ever talking to me about it. I don't think she saw that as her call. Certainly she never talked about it in any public way, not like a high school literature class. I don't even remember a back-lawn conversation about it. What little bit I knew, I knew from her book, and that's probably the way most people knew about it. [Ellipses and parenthetical insertions in original.]
On the September Six and excommunication in general: We don't discipline people in this church for very much. In a church of over 12 million people, I keep hearing about the September Six [the 1993 excommunication and disfellowshipping of six Mormon academics]. ... All I'm saying is, I think this church has a history of being very, very generous. There are some lines -- I'd probably say "lines," plural. The chief among these is the issue of advocating against the church. Personal beliefs within the give-and-take of life and associations and whatever you choose -- there are lots of people who carve out their life in the church all the way out to the edge and beyond. I guess that's always the way it's been, and that's always the way it will be. But I think where the church will act is when there is an act so decisive or so glaring, and particularly in this case, so much cast in the spirit of advocacy, that the institution itself cannot retain its identity and still allow that. [Ellipses and parenthetical insertions in original.]
On whether questioning Book of Mormon historicity is a basis for excommunication: There are plenty of people who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and they are firmly in this church -- firmly, in their mind, in this church -- and the church isn't going to take action against that. [The church] probably will be genuinely disappointed, but there isn't going to be action against that, not until it starts to be advocacy: "Not only do I disbelieve in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, I want you to disbelieve." At that point, we're going to have a conversation. A little of that is more tolerated than I think a lot of people think it should be. But I think we want to be tolerant any way we can. ... "Patient" maybe is a better word than "tolerant." We want to be patient and charitable to the extent that we can, but there is a degree beyond which we can't go. [Ellipses and parenthetical insertions in original.]
On what he tells Latter-day Saints with homosexual urges when he counsels them in interviews: As others of my colleagues and brethren have, I have counseled hundreds -- I don't know how many hundreds -- of these young people. I say young people because often that's the group that come to us most, but there are people of every age struggling. ... The counsel I have given is that God loves them every bit as much as he loves me; the church loves them. We do have doctrine; we do have borders; we do have foundational pieces on which we stand. And moral chastity -- heterosexual ... and homosexual -- are areas where God has spoken and where the church has a position. [Ellipses in original.]
On whether Christians are Christian (following a question on the Great Apostasy): It is absolutely incumbent upon us and our solemn obligation to acknowledge every good thing and every good act and every good truth of anybody on the face of this earth, including -- and especially, in terms of a brotherhood and sisterhood -- Christians and Christian churches. Somehow there has evolved this chasm, this decisive distinction. ... That seems to me absolutely wrong. It's wrong on the face of it; it's wrong in my experience; it's wrong doctrinally. ... As an institutional response, it seems to me that past, present or future, it is not our call to damn or deny or vilify anybody else. Our call is to extend the fruits of His ministry and the benefit of what we know. [Ellipses in original.]
I won't comment on the substance of the quotes, which pretty much stand on their own. I will say how impressive it is that Elder Holland and Elder Jensen not only gave lengthy interviews but also gave permission for the transcripts to be published (I assume their permission was required either before or after the interview). And these were not easy interviews. There weren't questions like "tell us about what you accomplished while President of BYU" or something aimed at one of the many successful features of the contemporary Church. No, most of the questions were on tough issues on which most of us would be hard pressed to come up with a coherent but concise response, especially while looking at a television camera and knowing the response would be transcribed, published, and parsed. So bravo to those LDS leaders who were asked to step up to the plate on this one.
And it is rather enlightening to see leaders respond directly to the tough questions. They don't do that in General Conference. They don't do that if you send them a personal communication (my understanding is they generally just forward any inquiry back to your stake president for action and a response). So Helen Whitney has really done a great service to rank-and-file Latter-day Saints in conducting and publishing these interviews where LDS leaders do address the tough questions. I've never really seen leaders bring this level of candor to the tough issues. Strange (and unfair) that they won't give straight answers to Latter-day Saints but they'll level with some journalist. So I guess if I ever write a letter to the COB and want straight answers, I'll have to begin like this: "I edit a religious publication that reaches over five thousand readers per month, and I have a few questions about LDS doctrine ..."
And why is this the case? I thought the responses Elder Holland and Elder Jensen provided were reasonable and effective. They sounded considerably better than the "party line" responses one sees coming out of Correlation, which are often unreasonable and rather ineffective. [Honestly, I think Correlation is killing the Church — death by doctrinal and historical anemia.] It is even possible that the whole experience of being so frank and public about these tough issues will change the manner in which LDS leaders speak publicly on these and other issues.
And now that I mention it, there are other examples that suggest a new willingness to engage in direct dialogue on a full range of issues: Michael Otterson's contributions at the On Faith project; the interview (with LDS PR staffers) of Elder Oaks and Elder Jensen on "same-gender attraction"; and the whole upgrade of the LDS.org Newsroom site. I wonder how much of this apparent change in approach is a result of the sudden prominence of LDS politicians and candidates?