Thanks, Elder Holland

Holland Yesterday

Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t. 

Your lead story illustrated that sometimes pain is caused by the errors and unwarranted “skepticism” and escalated “wrath” of priesthood leaders — and you later included yourself among those who had “caused” harm and needed to apologize.  Your message taught that leaders, like all of us, are imperfect.

Hopefully, between imperfect people of good will, humble acknowledgements of error, mutual apologies, and open embraces will heal old wounds.  But you also recognized that healing through Christ permits setting boundaries:

“It is important for some of you living in real anguish to note what Christ did not say.  He did not say ‘You’re not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experience you’ve had at the hand of another.’  Nor did he say ‘In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.'”

Thank you for giving “permission” to those who suffer to seek separation from those that perpetuate the harm.  Christ succors us in our pains and anguish, and often the path he provides towards healing means leaving.  This is a message a tragically large number of our fellow saints needed to hear.

With love towards all,


P.S.  I’m not so vain as to think you in any way read my prior post — especially since General Conference talks are usually finalized a month in advance.  I’m just grateful that your keynote Sunday morning address proclaimed a message that will benefit many in the years to come.


  1. Hope Wiltfong says:


  2. Carolyn, I’m confused by your use of “permission” in quotation marks. Is that usage employed because some erroneously think they need Elder Holland’s or another leader’s permission? Is it a dig at leaders who think they have a right to give or withhold permission? I’ve found my use of quotation marks has sometimes confused others and now I’m confused by yours.

  3. JR: It is confusing, I get that. I’m trying to figure out a better way to capture the sentiment. Maybe I should delete them. What I was trying to express was that he did not actually say the word permission, but his words will be interpreted as tacit permission by many who need it (yay!), and at the same time I’m slightly sad/skeptical that any spiritual permission in those circumstances is needed at all.

  4. Dante's Shadow says:

    When I listened to Elder Holland’s talk, I immediately thought of you and your previous post. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually did see your post, though he may not have. In any case, I liked his message as well as your post about it. I hope it brings peace, healing, and consolation for those in desperate need.

  5. Carolyn, if only we had italics available we could avoid using quotation marks to indicate that we are not quoting anyone for the words we place between them! Of course, this is not the only common irony of current usage. I’m still sometimes amused, e.g., that “I could care less” actually means “I could not care less.”
    It took me a while to figure out that the confusion my quotation marks have sometimes caused arose because of others’ assumption that they were written air quotes and not literal quotations. But then I’ve sometimes used them as written air quotes. Oh, well.
    Your explanatory comment is appreciated.

  6. anon for this comment says:

    Wrote those words in my journal as I listened with a ‘thank you’ in my heart to Elder Holland

  7. D Christian Harrison says:

    Elder Holland’s words were pure goal. The very best of what General Conference can offer.

  8. Ryan Mullen says:

    My favorite talk of the conference, though in truth, it was the only talk I listened to. It was surprising to me how Elder Holland’s three sentence caveat did wonders to still the myriad of times I thought “But, what about …” I hope more GC speakers take time to similarly qualify who their intended audience is (and is not).

  9. How do those who experience pain at and from others at church? Then what? Typically, the response is essentially that they are the problem, and need to fix themselves for being hurt or offended. In any other circumstance in life, if you are treated poorly, you would remove yourself from that situation, or the offending person would be removed. Except at church. At church we are supposed to just change our attitude and let those who have wronged us or others keep on in their ways. And we are expected to continue to support them?! Too often it feels as though these social rules or principles apply everywhere except those with whom we attend church. I of course recognize that what people experience at church may not involve the same kind of abuse or level of mistreatment you meant in your response. There is a wide range of wrong behavior that goes on, and I don’t want to belittle the experiences. But it does beg the question, why are we expected to stick around and put up with a**holes?

  10. Carolyn: first, your initial post a few days ago spurred me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, which was to send my ward a note about abuse (I’m the bishop). The church’s publication on abuse earlier this year was helpful and I felt all adults in my ward should have that, along with my own thoughts on the matter. I had my RS president and the stake RS president review my email beforehand, and they had some good input. The importance of exiting abusive relationships was a central part of my note. So, thank you for your heartfelt and important thoughts, and emphasis on the female perspective.

    Second, if I may offer a few thoughts on your original post: when I first read it, my reaction was “I’m pretty sure that of all leaders, Elder Holland would probably agree that when a situation isn’t fixable, then yes, get out of it, and that’s ok and preferred in such a circumstance.” The challenge with social media “bite-size” communications — like the one Elder Holland wrote — is that it’s impossible to capture every nuance, exception, permutation, unique circumstance, etc. in a communication like that. It is unfair to expect leaders to address every such potentiality in their communications, even in longer talks or articles.

    His core message was “Marriage is hard and takes patience. When hard times come, don’t succumb to the temptations to throw in the towel, but work at it. We can often improve the things we work on. But some situations are violent and abusive, and those may need to be ended.” As a *general* message, I think that’s pretty good counsel.

    “General” authorities teach “general” rules. Elder Oaks has made this point a few times. They always get letters from individuals after their talks saying “hey, what about my situation!” and Elder Oaks notes that of course, there are exceptions to general rules, and that we have to figure those out through various means the Lord has given us (which for some, might include counseling with priesthood leaders). Sometimes listing or focusing on all the exceptions dilutes the strength of the core message (and again, yes, absolutely there are important exceptions to “stay married and try to work it out”).

    I simply think we should give leaders like Elder Holland the benefit of the doubt and not expect a comprehensive, all-inclusive treatise on a topic that was meant to have a short, concise focus.

  11. Jeff: thanks for your efforts as Bishop.

    I understand that general authorities teach general rules. But all too often, it is the exceptions who are the marginalized and the suffering. It is the exceptions who need love and counsel the most. And yet it is the exceptions who have nowhere to turn, and who are told that they are mistaken and unrighteousness and don’t have the authority to declare themselves the exceptions. I would be content with passing references in most talks if we had at least some talks squarely aimed at empathizing with the reality of the suffering exceptions.

  12. The Right Trousers says:

    BS: I took Elder Holland’s caveat as permission to leave the church.

  13. This talk actually bothered me a lot. In the case of the interaction that was mentioned between Bishop and ward member, reconciliation may be possible. But in my case, one experience that I had with a Bishop would qualify as much more than a mere ” misunderstanding”. Bishops say and do things that are abusive and that cause pain and scars on people’s entire lives. I have had to go to years of counseling because of ideas that a Bishop put in my head that we’re “inspiration”……..I also had a Bishop who outright kept information from me that took away my affect to chose based on correct information. Sometimes the Bishops ARE the toxic ones,but we are told to love and support and forgive them or ” get over it” ( which is exactly what I felt like this talk was eluding to), without their behavior ever being addressed.

  14. Wolf13, I too have had bishops comments that I am sure they thought were appropriate but left me emotionally scarred for decades. It is terrible to be misjudged or badly advised by someone who may or may not be inspired in what they say. Most often, the mistake I have seen is the bishop making assumptions without even asking a question. And the bishop then usually does not apologize for the accusation he just levelled at me even after I correct him. Amen to the priesthood of that bishop.
    The other error I have seen a lot of is giving advice without talking about the problem. Why should I assume the bishop is speaking the Lord’s words when he offers no discussion, especially if his marriage is hardly one I could ever admire? I need to know why he is telling me what he is telling me. When I look back on some of the serious mistakes I have made in life, some involve ignoring my bishops when their advice was inspired. Others involve acting on priesthood advice that turned out not to be inspired. Both did horrible, life crippling damage.
    Carolyn, I agree with your statement that it is the exceptions that are marginalized. I always want to scream when people quote Boyd K Packer’s statement about dealing first with the rule and then with the exception, because Church leaders so seldom get to the exceptions. And Heaven help you when you are dealing with the average self-righteous narrowly educated Latter Day Saint. They cannot imagine exceptions even exist. If a General Authority did not list it, it cannot be real.
    I did finally throw such a fuss about the way I was treated in one case that I received an apology from one of the General Authorities. It did not fix the problem, but it did help.

  15. Jeff, perhaps you can clarify. What exactly are our options when our bishops are harming members with their actions or words?
    I have had friends approach the bishop directly. I have had friends approach the stake president. One wrote to a General Authority. One voted against the bishop in ward conference. Usually the people I know simply start bypassing the bishop and handling things themselves, referring ward members to professional counselors for serious situations, in one case a rape counselor when the bishop told a woman she had not protested enough when she was date raped. One went onto the bishop’s business Yelp page and made her complaint publicly there because he was so rude she thought this was the only way to get his attention. And now we post our stories on blogs.
    So many of these methods seem contrary to a Zion society. I know the correct way is to speak with him privately, but what about when that does not help and the stake president won’t do anything? Or when the person injured is too damaged to defend himself against the bishops false accusation?

  16. Jeff, along Carolyn’s line here: I’m not convinced that the conceit that general authorities teach general principles actually works. We’ve pedestaled them, rightly or wrongly, such that their words carry a tremendous amount of weight with a tremendous number of people, and probably most saliently with the marginalized who may well be the exception.

    It seems that if the rule is important enough to articulate, it’s also important enough to explicitly recognize exceptions (or, at least, classes of exceptions). And, to his benefit, Elder Holland seems to have done that at this conference. So it takes ea little more work and a little more thought, but Elder Holland has demonstrated that the effort is well within the grasp of church leadership.

  17. As someone who now realizes that my life experiences are exceptions if there ever were any, I am wondering, how does it best serve my life to consult my bishops, whose life experiences simply do not match mine? Do they have inspired advice to offer me? Some seem to, but not all. I am still grappling with the issues.

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