ST. GEORGE — Taking his wording from a well-known Mormon hymn, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told college-age church members Sunday evening, "Israel, Israel, God is calling us to live the gospel of Jesus Christ personally in small ways as well as large, then reach out to those who may not look or dress or behave quite like we do, then (where we can) go beyond that to serve in the widest community we can address."
Elder Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke at a Church Educational System satellite broadcast emanating from the M. Anthony Burns Arena of the Dixie State College campus.
On Friday, a new Centennial Commons Building was named in his honor and dedicated by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's First Presidency.
St. George is Elder Holland's hometown.
Contrasting conditions today with the those of ancient Israel and the church's turbulent early history, he pointed out that Latter-day Saints are no longer forced to flee from oppressors. "We no longer think of Zion as where we are going to live as much as how we are going to live," he said.
To frame that new task, he drew upon three incidents he has recently encountered.
In the first, a college basketball player in Utah wasn't getting as much court time as he wished, so he transferred to a school in another state where he hoped to contribute more.
As it turned out, he became a starter at his new school, which subsequently came to play his former school at the then-named Delta Center in Salt Lake City, an event scheduled years in advance of his transfer.
"The vitriolic abuse that poured out of the stands on the head of this young man that night, a Latter-day Saint, returned missionary, newlywed, who paid his tithing, served in the elders quorum, gave charitable service to the youth in his community, and waited excitedly for a new baby to come to him and his wife" should not have happened to anyone, Elder Holland remarked.
"But here is the worst part. The coach of this visiting team, something of a legend in the profession, turned to him and said, 'What is going on here? You are the hometown boy who made good. These are your people. These are your friends... Aren't most of these people members of your church?"
Elder Holland said that the next day, there was some public chastisement over the incident. One young man responded in effect, "We pay good money to see these games. We can act the way we want. We check our religion at the door."
Commenting on the incident, Elder Holland said at the broadcast, "Lesson number one for the establishment of Zion in the 21st century: You never 'check your religion at the door.' Not ever. My young friends, that kind of discipleship cannot be – it isn't discipleship at all."
In the second incident related by Elder Holland, he was invited to speak at a single-adult devotional, where he saw a woman in her 30s with tattoos, ear and nose rings, spiky and multi-colored hair, a skirt too high and blouse too low.
"However one might respond to that young woman, the rule forever is that it has to reflect our religious beliefs and our gospel commitments," he remarked. "Therefore, how we respond in any situation has to make things better, not worse. ...
"We start by remembering she is someone's daughter here on earth as well and could, under other circumstances, be my daughter. We start by being grateful she is at a church activity, not avoiding one. In short, we try to be at our best in this situation in a desire to help her be at her best."
The third incident was told in conversation with Elder Holland by a church member who is a police officer. The man told of investigating a scene where he found five young children huddled together in a bedroom trying to sleep without bedding on a filthy floor as one woman and several men were in the home drinking and profaning. The officer found no food of any kind, and the only mattress was in the mother's bedroom.
The officer found some sheets, put them on the mattress and tucked all five children into the makeshift bed.
"With tears in his eyes he knelt down, offered a prayer to Heavenly Father for their protection and said good night," Elder Holland recounted. "As he rose and walked to the door, one of the children about age 6 jumped out of bed, grabbed him by the hand and pled, 'Will you please adopt me?'"
The officer put the child back in bed, found the stoned mother (the men had fled the scene) and said he would be back the next day "and heaven help you if some changes are not evident by the time I walk in that door. And there will be more changes after that. You have my word on it."
Elder Holland remarked: "All of us should care for the welfare of others and the moral safety of our extended community."
"If we don't take gospel blessings to our communities and our countries, the simple fact of the matter is we will never have enough policemen ... to enforce moral behavior even if it were enforceable."
He added that it is not just the children in the home who are sons and daughters of God. "That mother, more culpable because she is older and should be more responsible, is also a daughter of God. Such situations may require tough love in formal, even legal ways, but we must try to help when and where we can, because we are not checking our religion at the door, even as pathetic and irresponsible as some doors are."