Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland released a statement Monday withdrawing a story he shared at a recent training event for newly called church leaders.
Elder Holland serves in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a top governing body for the LDS church, and he is known for his storytelling. When speaking at the church’s bi-annual General Conference he typically opens his remarks with an anecdote, often something shared with him second hand.
When speaking to newly called mission presidents back in June, Holland shared another inspiring story. It involved a young man from Idaho serving a proselyting mission in California.
While going door to door the young missionary happened upon a relative of his, an estranged older brother who had cut himself off from his family and the Mormon church. With time his faith is rekindled and he reconnects with his parents and siblings.
In a statement released Monday, Holland says he told the story as he heard it from the friend of the family. But, the family of the two brothers soon contacted him to say it wasn’t completely true.
Although the estranged brother had returned to his faith and family he did so in Idaho and not by a chance encounter with a missionary sibling. The story, published in Deseret News, was promptly removed and Holland requested it no longer be shared.
"I think there is a tendency in everyone to embellish stories," says Mormon writer Fiona Givens. "Particularly if they are very good stories, and this story was beautiful."
Givens says that while this isn’t strictly a Mormon issue, there is a tendency in church culture to gravitate toward difficult to believe, sensational stories. And there is a risk when those stories come from church leaders, especially someone as well-trusted as Elder Holland.
“Which is why it was so necessary for Elder Holland to say, 'I have received more detail about the story from his immediate family and this is not the case,'” says Givens.
Givens says she was impressed to see Holland own the mistake as he did and hopes to see many more examples of this in the future. Because this is surely not the last time a story too good to be true ends up being exactly that.
Clarification: Fiona Givens believes Elder Holland shared the story just as it was told to him and applauds his willingness to withdraw it once further information became available.