Additional Resource

Transcript: Elder Holland Speaks at BSA Gathering in San Diego

Duty to God Breakfast

BSA National Meetings, San Diego
May 26, 2016
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

My dear friends, fellow citizens, and Scouters, what an honor it is to address you this morning.

I appreciate the wonderful efforts of Paul Moffat and his committee for preparing this breakfast event we have all come to love.  Of course we extend greetings and best wishes to our distinguished colleagues Dr. Robert Gates, Tico Perez, and Mike Surbaugh for all they do. Their talents and commitment are exemplary, and I cherish their friendship.

On behalf of all of us, I want to thank Tico Perez for his stunning devotion to the Boy Scouts of America. I understand that assignments can and do change for all of us, but Tico has been a wonderful friend and we will miss him dearly. Tico, thank you for everything you have done, not only for those of us here but for Scouts throughout the world.  In the same breath we welcome my lifelong personal friend, Charles Dahlquist, to his new service.  On difficult days I am sure Charles will miss Tico most of all!

This is a rather unique gathering. Here we are, hundreds of men and women from a variety of backgrounds and cultures—to say nothing of our varied faith traditions—gathered to talk about our collective duty to God. In a day when some people are using religious faith to divide the human family, this little gathering is a bold declaration that commitment to deity can and should be a powerful, unifying force in this world. Furthermore, you are evidence that faith in God is not weaker, thinner, and less relevant in the public life. In the hearts and souls of dedicated people like you, a sense of duty to God has never been stronger or more evident. It is truly an honor to be counted among you.

Of course, it’s not just our commitment to God that brings us together this morning. We are also drawn here by our commitment to the boys and young men we serve. We feel bound not only by our duty to God but also by their duty to Him.

My assignment as an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes me literally around the world, where I meet and minister to young men and their families from all walks of life. I am constantly amazed by the capacity and potential of this generation of young people. Some of the challenges they face are unprecedented in history. When you and I were their age, if we wanted to get into trouble, we usually had to go looking for it. And in my case, growing up in rural St. George, Utah—well, let’s just say that trouble was a pretty long bicycle ride away, in any direction.

Today’s challenges are different from yesterday’s—if not in kind then certainly in intensity, frequency, and availability. Modern technologies make life more comfortable but also bring moral and spiritual dangers that can easily distract a young man from his duty to God. I echo C. S. Lewis, who said, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”[1] I believe that to be absolutely true, and no such claiming and counterclaiming anywhere is more crucial and conspicuous than that being waged for the minds and morals, the personal purity and future potential of the young. The battle grows more intense by the day.

So our youth make their entrance onto the stage of history during a harrowing scene, when for some “happily ever after” seems a little Pollyannaish. But I am just simple enough to believe that the great Director of this sweeping drama knew exactly whom to cast for this critical scene and knows precisely how to direct it. He matched the actors to the action and sent some of His finest children to this day and time. He has a work for them to do, a duty for them to fulfill. And not coincidentally, He sent many of them within the sphere of influence of dedicated mentors and leaders like you.

Perhaps verbal oaths today don’t carry quite the same weight they used to, but something still stirs inside me when I hear a young man say, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God.” You and I can help young men understand that when they start a sentence with the phrase “On my honor,” they better mean whatever they say next. An oath is a personal commitment, a personal vow, a promise to others and to the world that we will not yield, that we will not shrink, that we will not fail.

I think it is wonderful that this eloquent oath is recited at the beginning of every patrol meeting, Court of Honor, and campfire ceremony throughout the Boy Scouts of America landscape. But as these words are repeated so frequently, I hope they never become casual or commonplace. Perhaps all that is necessary to avoid this is an occasional reminder of what it means to actually do one’s duty to God.

Individually you will know the best way to help the young men you serve do this. Some examples will be moments of worship in a church, a synagogue, or a mosque.  Other examples will be in private religious practice, but some examples will be in showing our religious belief through kindness, compassion, and merciful service to others—the idea that we would rather “see a sermon than hear one any day.”  If it is useful to you, let me share a brief, real-life example that, for me, vividly illustrates the words “On my honor, I will do my duty to God,”  as boys offered godly kindness and compassion to a fellow Scout.

What Is Our Duty to God?

Friends, what these boys teach us is that fulfilling our duty to God is not a project. It is not an event or an item on a list of requirements. Nor is it simply a part of a catchy slogan. There is no box that one can check to indicate that he has “completed” his duty to God. In short, it is not just something we do; it is who we are—or perhaps more accurately stated, it is who we are becoming! It is at the core of our very identity. It defines us and affects every part of our lives or should do so if it doesn’t.

Throughout life we will all fill many different roles and hold many titles. In my life I have done everything from deliver daily newspapers to selling skis in a sporting goods store to being a university president.  But through it all I would like to think that the one thing that has always been constant in my life was my love of God and the duty I felt toward Him. That sense of duty has deepened over the years, growing as my blessings and greater understanding of God’s goodness has also grown. The debt I feel I owe Him is not something I can turn on or off as a matter of convenience. It is not a cloak that I put on Sunday morning and take off Sunday night. It is always with me, and I pray it always will be.

Our duty to God should never be at the mercy of, or compromised by, anything else that confronts us. Latter-day Saints are familiar with these words spoken to and about people who were going to make their own commitment to divine duty: they were to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [they] may be in, even until death.”[2] As the Savior Jesus Christ said, “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”[3]

Our Challenge

I love the famous painting by Arnold Friberg titled The Prayer at Valley Forge. It depicts General George Washington kneeling in the snow at Valley Forge, seeking heaven’s help before heading into a crucial battle. But sometimes, when I look at that painting, I don’t see George Washington. Instead, I see the young men I know. And I don’t see Valley Forge; I see the halls of a junior high school or an underprivileged neighborhood or an inner moral conflict that, in its sphere, may be just as challenging and ultimately just as pivotal as any Valley Forge. And I am reminded that part of my duty to God—and yours—is to help these young men know that they can turn to the Almighty for help and strength and power. We need to believe and promise them in their belief that God will deliver them just as surely as He delivered George Washington and his rag-tag assemblage of cold, weary, untrained soldiers.

Now, such boys might not always seem like George Washingtons to you, but I’m confident that there were days when young George did not seem much like George Washington either. But I encourage you to see them not as they are today but as they can be. We all need to be viewed with the eyes of faith on what we can become, not what we happen to be at the moment.

By and large our youth are wonderful. They are courageous, strong, and anxious to do the right thing. They are seeking for good and strong examples of those who exemplify duty to God. Let us strengthen their faith by living true to our own.  If there is anything this generation is demanding, it is transparency, genuineness, integrity.

One of our past Church leaders, Apostle Harold B. Lee, put it this way: “You cannot lift another soul until you are standing on higher ground than he is. You must be sure, if you would rescue the man, that you yourself are setting the example of what you would have him be. You cannot light a fire in another soul unless it is burning in your own.”[4]

If we want the next generation to fulfill their duty to God, the best thing we can do is be true to our own pledge to do so.

My dear friends, the young people we serve take their flight into the future with our thrust and with our aim. And even as we anxiously watch that arrow in flight and know all the evils that can deflect its course after it has left our hand, nevertheless we take courage in remembering that the most important mortal factor in determining that arrow’s destination will be the stability, strength, and unwavering certainty of the holder of the bow.

In the most difficult and discouraging days of World War II, Winston Churchill said to the people of England: “To every man there comes … that special moment when he is tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”

With all the energy and love for our youth that I have, I testify that our sacred charge and divine responsibility is to love God and our neighbor also.  Included on that list of neighbors are these precious young men that we serve.  Helping them grow into men of integrity and rectitude is our solemn duty, an oath we declare with the angels of heaven as witnesses.  May God bless us all to live so, “on our honor.” Thank you for listening.


[i] Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (1967), 33.

[ii] Mosiah 18:9.

[iii] 3 Nephi 27:27.

[iv] “Stand Ye in Holy Places,” Apr. 1973 general conference.

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