Eric Huntsman, professor of ancient near eastern studies, spoke at Tuesday’s BYU Devotional about making room for both struggle and faith in our ministering to others.
Huntsman began his address by introducing the idea of “hard sayings.” The phrase comes from the New Testament. When Jesus taught “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him,” (John 6:56) many people did not understand. People turned away from his teachings, and even some of his followers claimed that “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60)
The expression “a hard saying” has become a trope for any doctrine or practice that is difficult to understand, accept or follow. In Huntsman’s experience, many hard sayings today come from life challenges that leave people feeling alone.
In order to deal with hard sayings, Huntsman shared two pieces of advice.
First, we must focus our efforts on ministering to the one.
“I submit that these struggles are necessary to our progression, but they are not struggles that we should ever face alone. While it is true that Jesus Christ and his atonement provide us strength, healing and salvation, in this life he often succors and blesses us through others,” said Huntsman.
Second, we must also create safe spaces for all kinds of feelings: for struggle, love, testimony, mourning, understanding, agency and joy.
Huntsman cautioned that when he speaks of safe spaces, he does not necessarily use it the way it is used in broader society. He uses it to “refer to creating environments that are, on the one hand, places of faith where we can seek and nurture testimony, but are also, on the other, places where our sisters and brothers can safely question and share their pain.”
To illustrate these kinds of safe spaces, Huntsman shared stories from people experiencing hard sayings. He shared the story of Tom Christofferson, who is both gay and LDS. His family met his hard saying with a safe space of love. He shared the stories of Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes, who are African-American LDS women. Their hard saying of race in the LDS church was met with a safe space of mourning and understanding.
He shared the story of his own daughter who, when faced with few scriptural examples of faithful women, asked why Heavenly Father loves boys more than He loves girls. Her hard saying was met with a safe space of testimony, where Huntsman was able to share the stories of women such as Old Testament Deborah, New Testament Mary, and latter-day Eliza R. Snow.
Huntsman concluded by sharing about the safe space of joy. He shared a clip from the LDS Church’s 2018 Be One Celebration, inviting members of the audience to join in the worship. As the choir sang, he danced along on stage, showing the kind of joy he spoke of.
As the video concluded, he said: “Before we reach such mornings of rejoicing, we must help each other through nights of struggle. We need to love one another as Jesus loves us. Without diluting the doctrine or compromising our standards, we must open our hearts wider, reach out farther and love more fully, making space for struggle and faith.”