Matthew Scott Holland, the son of Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Patricia Terry, was born in 1966 and raised in the Utah Valley where both Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University are located. He graduated from Provo High School in Provo, Utah, and earned the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America in 1980. He graduated from Brigham Young University with honors in 1991, and was valedictorian for the political science department. Also in 1991, he was awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Scholarship for a year of graduate study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from Duke University.
He currently serves as the sixth President of Utah Valley University, a position that he has held since June 2009. His father, Jeffrey R. Holland, served as the ninth President of Brigham Young University. Political science has always been his strong suit, and before coming to Utah Valley University to serve as President, he was an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University where he taught courses in political philosophy and American political thought. Recently, in honor of the Sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address (4 March 1865), he presented a public discourse.
Lincoln’s second inaugural address, 150 years old today, is as pertinent as ever. It reminds us that we must resist the poisonous temptation to see those with whom we disagree as bitter enemies even as we vigorously defend the moral truths that ought to guide our public life.
One hundred and fifty years ago, on Saturday, 4 March 1865, President Abraham Lincoln stood on the eastern portico of the U.S. Capitol and delivered his Second Inaugural address. His speech which consisted of 703 words has been referred to as a “theologically intense speech” and has been widely acknowledged as one of the most remarkable documents in American history. Holland notes that even Fredrick Douglass, who was not a particular supporter of Lincoln, referred to the speech as a “sacred effort.” It is recorded that the London Spectator said of it,
We cannot read it without a renewed conviction that it is the noblest political document known to history, and should have for the nation and the statesmen he left behind him something of a sacred and almost prophetic character.
Journalist Noah Brooks, who was present at the time of the speech stated that the audience received the speech in “profound silence.” Albeit, he further notes, some passages were acknowledged with cheers and applause, and moist eyes and tearful faces were noticed among the crowd.
Holland pointed out in his remarks that “Lincoln himself acknowledged it was filled with ‘lots of wisdom’ and predicted it would ‘wear as well as—perhaps even better than—anything I have produced.’ It is noted that Brooks further commented:
But chiefly memorable in the mind of those who saw that second inauguration must still remain the tall, pathetic, melancholy figure of the man who, then inducted into office in the midst of the glad acclaim of thousands of people, and illumined by the deceptive brilliance of a March sunburst, was already standing in the shadow of death.
Brooks was referring to Lincoln’s assassination which occurred on the evening of Friday, 14 April 1865, just six short weeks after he had delivered a timely speech which was then considered to be, and has since proven to have been, prophetic in nature.
When Lincoln stepped forward to speak on that momentous morning, the gray overcast skies were suddenly illuminated by a brilliant ray of sunshine. Chief Justice Chase, as well as many other spectators, saw it as “an auspicious omen of the dispersion of the clouds of war and the restoration of the clear sunlight of prosperous peace.” Although there were several reasons for such an interpretation including the sense that the Civil War was finally drawing to an end, as Lincoln spoke, he did not appear to be overly optimistic about the future. He concluded his speech that day with these words:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Holland further notes in his discourse:
Twenty-seven years before this singular moment, in one of his very first speeches as a young, aspiring politician, Lincoln had argued that the greatest threat to the survival of the American republic would never be foreign invasion. Rather, it would come from internal challenges connected to “the deep rooted principle of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge” that so often lurk in our human nature. If ever there was a moment in our history when the acids of hatred and revenge were at a rolling boil, it was 150 years ago today. Never before, or since, has the country come anywhere close to the massive destruction of life, limb, and brotherly love caused by the Civil War. Yet there Lincoln stood, speaking more like a prophet or priest than a political-military leader on a wartime footing, giving voice to a nation that would suppress the very natural response of hatred and revenge in favor of a profound and active love for “all.” Such words in such a situation were without precedent in history.
Lincoln realized that it was Not His War
By his extensive reading of scripture and long reflection, Lincoln came to conclude that God was both in control of human affairs and ultimately indecipherable by mere mortals. It is perhaps this view of God’s active role in the affairs of unknowing men that best explains why Lincoln was so resolute and scrupulous to avoid prematurely predicting an end to the Civil War conflict given the facts of 4 March 1865. Lincoln realized that he could not be an arbitrator of a war that was not his to arbitrate. Holland further comments:
If the war was, in fact, a punishment to “both North and South” from God for two and half centuries of either practicing or abetting slavery—something the mere human Lincoln could only surmise but not emphatically declare—then it just might be the case that more divine justice was to be exacted and the war would continue.
He further exhorts that although we should love one another, and treat one another with dignity and respect, as Lincoln also believed, we should exercise caution to avoid misreading or misinterpreting what Lincoln was alluding to in his Second Inaugural address, whereby we may inadvertently reduce his timely speech to nothing more than a “crude postmodernism simply spruced up in religious garb.”
Holland continued by saying,
In the very same breath that Lincoln calls forth a supreme spirit of charity for all, he presses the North to act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” striving “to finish the work we are in.” The work, of course, is the work of war—a war that began as an effort to save the Union, but which by Gettysburg had been transformed into an effort to give a “new birth” of liberty to “all men.
By Lincoln’s reckoning, it may have been impossible to know God’s “own purposes” in full, but there was a discernibly right answer in the conflict over slavery. Thus, just as the practice of love was clearly the obligation of those who would follow the God of the Bible, so too was a vigilant defense of the notion that all individuals are, by nature, equals, entitled to rule over themselves and not be ruled by others but by their consent.
Lessons Learned from Lincoln’s Words
It is a certainty that the very fibers that bind the fabric which holds our great nation together are being ripped apart by the malevolent ideologies, cultural discord, and religious indifference that continue to plague our nation like a growing cancer.
However, a careful reading of Lincoln’s immortal words reveals that he was not asking for a complete surrender of a commitment to moral truths, but rather he was emphasizing that moral truths do exist, and if we are to survive as a nation, we must make a concerted effort to understand those moral truths which are the foundation upon which the pillars of our nation rests, and let those moral truths be a beacon to us in our daily living. We must not only stand firm on these truths, but if necessary, we must be prepared to preserve them through the giving of our own lives.
Lincoln’s words also remind us that if we yield to the temptation to merely view those with whom we have disagreements as our mortal enemies, we do so at the risk of putting our nation in jeopardy.
At the close of his First Inaugural address he had declared, “We must not be enemies, but friends.” His sentiments align with the words of the Savior who taught us:
But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45).
Holland concludes his discourse:
If Lincoln was right, then one of the chief tasks for today’s citizens and civic leaders is to see that, while our passionate disagreements over public principles may sometimes strain, they must not be allowed to “break the bonds of our affection.”
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and lived in the same neighborhood my whole young life. Then as a 12-year-old boy we moved and started a life in the country. Totally foreign to us, life on the farm was a brand new experience, but it turned out to be wonderful.
Gaining a Sure Testimony of the Holy Spirit
Interestingly, since that time I have faced similar occasions in my life when the future was uncertain and the circumstances at the time were sometimes confusing and even foreboding. But the Lord has always seen me through. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my whole life, I have attended dozens of testimony meetings where others have borne witness of the influence of the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which provide direction in their lives. When I was young, my father too testified of the truthfulness of the gospel. His testimony was passionate, and I knew he would not lie. Anyone that knows my father can attest to that. It was not his character to do so. So even as a child, I knew what he believed was true. I felt warmth and confidence and certainty surround me. Others would say manifestations of the Spirit would come in thoughts and impressions and as a still small voice. I felt it, but at the time I couldn’t put it into words.
I remember thinking then “Is this it? Is this warm feeling from the top-of-my-head to the tips-of-my-toes the Spirit?” Of course the words were those of a child, but the essence of my request is captured in those questions. My parents taught me the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I felt it was right. I believed the teachings to be true, but the feeling was a frequent occurrence for me as a child in my home, and I thought then that this feeling is too good to be true.
But now after a lifetime of experience seeing its fulfillment and feeling the assurance of the gospel, I am familiar with this warmth and comfortable feeling it again and again.
Experiencing the Gospel through the Life of Progeny
Five of my children are daughters. Annually during their teenage years, they would attend girl’s camp. At church on the following Sunday, there were often talks from both the girls and the leaders regarding this week-long adventure. Naturally, I took particular interest in these reports, since my daughters and frequently my wife were involved. Well, this year was no different. My youngest attended camp with my wife, but this time I was actually able to spend the last evening with my daughter, wife, and others at girls camp. I heard all about the fun activities they had been involved in all week.
They told me about the evening when Ardeth Greene Kapp came and spoke to the young women. She’s 83-years-old now and a few of the girls thought she would be a dry speaker. But from the very moment she began presenting, the girls were captivated with stories, humor, and testimony. The Church encourages inspired leaders within its ranks, and Kapp epitomizes such a person. She was called to an ecclesiastical position as ninth president of the Young Women organization (1984–92). Exerting her gifts and skills to direct this organization, Kapp developed major elements in the Young Women program, including the revised Personal Progress book and official motto, logo, and theme. Her life experiences previous to this call primed her to lead the Young Women organization and make these contributions. Kapp herself has expressed this idea: “I didn’t recognize [how parts of my life led up to later events] until I looked back. And I thought, oh my goodness, the Lord does lead our lives.” After the meeting, my wife was speaking with Kapp’s escort. She said that while her sister had twelve children, Kapp was unable to have any children, yet she influenced the Young Women’s and Personal Progress programs more than 20-years-ago. The Young Women organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instructs, encourages, and supports living the gospel for teenage female Church members ages 12 through 17.
The young women from our local congregations were involved in numerous other activities during the week; canoes at the water front, high adventure hikes, and the challenge course to name but a few. The adventures culminated the night I went up to camp with a faith walk, delicious meal, and testimony meeting around a roaring fire. The evening was deafening because the wind howled and the trees swayed and rustled as a result. Yet, the young women persevered and one-by-one many of the girls stood and expressed their appreciation for the gospel, love for their families, and testified of the divinity of the Savior. I thought to myself as I observed these young women how remarkable and comforting to see the caliber of these youth. Despite spending a week camping in the middle of the woods amid less than comfortable circumstances and here in the face of windy, cold conditions, these young women spent time thanking others and furthering the good all around them. This experience is a metaphor for life that will be repeated time and again in their role as mothers.
Now admittedly, I am not an attorney, and I do not practice law inside or out of the courtroom, but I believe I have seen enough hearings to know that one or two key witnesses can sway a jury and ultimately dictate the outcome of a verdict. We have seen many instances of that over a lifetime. Compare that with the dozens or hundreds, perhaps thousands of testimonies of others—including those of our young women—that witness of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord has promised us that if we will live His Word, we can know for ourselves that it is true. This week was once more evidence of that.
Loss, grief and the process of moving forward are intensely personal and different for each person. Alissa Parker started a blog to chronicle her family’s journey through their grieving process. Alissa and her husband Robbie lost their 6-year-old daughter Emilie in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. She named her blog “The Parker Five” because “we will always be together as a family,” she wrote.
“Writing is a tool for us to process and articulate our thoughts during this painful and confusing time,” the introduction to her blog begins.
“I felt like there were things that I needed to process and there were things that I needed to articulate,” she said in a Deseret News article titled “Blog helps Utah family deal with loss of daughter in Newton shooting.” “I enjoy photography a lot and I needed a medium that kind of would help me to express myself and I needed to be able to have time to kind of think and process what I was actually feeling and what I was going through.”
“She doesn’t allow comments on her blog for a reason. It’s about her process and about the things she is going through,” the article said.
Alissa said she descended into “a very dark place on the day of the shooting,” according to the article. “This was the deepest hole I had ever been in. I tried to look up and see a way out, but I could barely see any light. I felt this enormous pain inside as I realized a piece of me had been taken away forever, all by one person’s evil act.” (more…)
I grew up in a Christian family, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; therefore Easter was always celebrated. There was a good mixture in our home of balancing the fun traditions of coloring eggs and getting surprises from the Easter Bunny, and always being mindful of the true meaning of Easter. I always had a new dress to wear to church on Easter Sunday, and we would gather as a family for a special meal. Just like Christmas, I grew up knowing it was all about Jesus. Still, as children we can’t help but get caught up in the fun of holiday traditions. Even as adults we still enjoy those things.
Merging into adulthood, I always knew the meaning of Easter, and I knew in my heart that it was true. Over time my belief that Jesus had actually died and then rose from the tomb on the third day gradually evolved into a knowledge that it was true. I can’t comprehend how He did it. I just know that He did. And I don’t have to understand it to know it’s true, just like I don’t have to know how a cell phone works in order to make a call. Truth is truth, even if we don’t fully understand it; that’s something I’ve learned with conviction over the years. And when we allow truth to come into our hearts, it’s a remarkably peaceful feeling. Traveling from belief to truth over the principle of the Resurrection was a slow journey for me, but it was a journey that brought me to a sure knowledge. And once that knowledge was firmly settled into my spirit, I never felt the need to question it.
As a mother and grandmother, I’ve carried on the same balance of traditions. We do the fun things together as a family, but for me the most important part of Easter Sunday is my own mindfulness of considering what my Savior did for me and for those I love. I can express my devotion to my Savior by attending my church meetings on Sunday rather than choosing to be somewhere else. And my truest devotion is to strive to live a Christian life every day of the year. (more…)
It’s now been more than seven years since I lost my brother to suicide. Some memories have become much easier with the passing of time, partly because I have trained my mind to simply not think about certain things that can’t be changed, and therefore they have no purpose. Some memories will always be completely fresh when they come into my mind even against my strongest efforts to hold them back. But whatever my mind might hold onto, the peace I have come to feel over losing my brother so tragically has deepened with my ever-growing and certain knowledge that all is well with him, and therefore I can think of him and feel nothing but peace.
I find it strange to note how I have very clear memories of things that happened for hours preceding my being made aware of his death—as if the trauma of getting the news created a reverse effect in holding onto the time that led up to it. It had been a day busy with mostly trivial things, and in the evening I sat down with my laptop to work on my current novel. My young daughter came in at one minute after seven to tell me that someone was at the door for me. I know the time because I saved the file at that very moment. Of course I was surprised to come down the stairs to face two police officers. I quickly tallied the whereabouts of my children and knew they were alright, so I couldn’t imagine what they might want. When they mentioned my brother’s name, I first wondered if he’d gotten into some trouble. When they told me his body had been found, that he’d apparently taken his own life, I wasn’t surprised at all. But shock made me weak and unable to fully take in what this meant. (more…)
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