An Example of the Believers

June 14, 2016

Elder Von G. Keetch

General Authority Seventy

Elder Von G. Keetch was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 4, 2015, at age 55. At the time of his call he had been serving as a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy in the Salt Lake City Area and as chief outside counsel to the Church.

Elder Keetch received a bachelor's degree in political science from Brigham Young University in 1984. In 1987, he received a juris doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. During 1988 and 1989, Elder Keetch served as a judicial clerk to Judge George C. Pratt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Subsequently, he served as a judicial clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. He practiced law at Kirton McConkie from 1990 to 2015.  

Elder Keetch has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in the Germany Düsseldorf Mission, bishop's counselor, stake president's counselor, stake president, and Area Seventy.  

Elder Keetch is married to Bernice. They are the parents of six children and reside in Highland, Utah.

Spiritual Preparation

We invite you to study and ponder on the scriptures and other preparation resources below previous to attending devotional. As you come more spiritually prepared the Spirit will have greater power to inspire you, teach you, and to testify to you of the truthfulness of the principles that will be taught.

            My dear brothers and sisters: you are an awesome sight. Sister Keetch and I are so honored to be here with you-the next great generation of our world, and particularly of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want you to know how highly we think of you-all that you do, and more particularly, all that you are.
            The story is told of a small army unit that was assigned a very difficult mission far behind enemy lines. As they neared their objective, opposing units became aware of their presence. Superior forces quickly encircled them and began firing from all sides. As they found themselves surrounded and began to suffer withering fire, the members of this small army unit looked up to find their commander standing upon a rock, exhorting them. Looking at his men, the commander yelled: "Men, we've got them right where we want them. You can just fire in any direction!"
            You and I also have a difficult mission in today's world. It is to teach and defend the truths contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the world in which we live, I know it can be difficult to understand exactly what the best rules of engagement are, especially when you are surrounded by so many voices that are willing to challenge the truth. There can often be so many barrages from so many different angles that it is difficult to know how to respond. Today, I want to talk with you-and hopefully provide an example to you-about what it means to be what the Apostle Paul called "an example of the believers"[1]-what it means to teach and defend eternal truth in the way that our Heavenly Father desires, while at the same time exemplifying the respect, compassion, and deep love that Christ exemplified. What it means to earnestly defend what we know to be right without just firing indiscriminately in any direction at any perceived enemy.
            Indeed, it often seems that those two principles are in tension, doesn't it? We are taught that we must fight "against spiritual wickedness"[2] in all of its forms, that we must "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places,"[3] and that we must never be "ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ."[4] Yet, we are also taught that we should avoid contention and never "stir up the hearts of men with anger"[5]-that we should not just "live peaceably with all men,"[6] but that we should also actively "follow after the things which make for peace."[7]
            So, how do we fulfill our God-given charge to stand firm in the gospel and to teach others the truth without causing contention and anger? It seems that, especially in dealing with the controversial issues of the day, saying anything at all quite quickly leads to strife and contention. As you know so well, the world today seems to have very little patience with anyone who wants to express a view that is not consistent with newfound trends.
            And so today, I would like to acquaint you with a young woman named Samantha. Samantha is a fictional character, but the experiences she portrays are very real and have been lived by many of your generation. We are going to watch her experience in three parts. The first occurs in a university course in which she is enrolled:

[Part 1]              

Can you relate to Samantha? There she is, sitting in class, minding her own business, when all of a sudden her entire belief structure is attacked.
            When such challenges come, you and I tend to do one of two things. We either sound a hasty retreat, choosing not to engage in an environment that could quite quickly turn uncomfortable or even hostile; or we act just the way Samantha did-becoming defensive in a point/counterpoint debate that is entertaining to watch, but which generates much greater heat than it does light.
            As you might imagine, after Samantha leaves class that day, she has second thoughts. What should she have done? Is there any way she could have responded to Miki better? And so, presented with an opportunity to talk to her bishop about her experience, she seeks his counsel:

[Part 2]

Having counseled with her bishop, and more importantly, having studied it out in her own mind and then listened carefully for heavenly direction, Samantha is determined to improve how she left things with Miki. And so she works up her courage and-using the light she has found within herself-she tries again:

[Part 3]             

May I point out to you just a few things that I learned from Samantha and Miki that will always be in play as we do our best to teach and defend the word of God, while at the same time showing love and compassion to all people?
            First, note that although Samantha and Miki's particular disagreement was centered on one specific set of issues society is currently confronting, the same principles of engagement apply no matter what the issue might be. Whenever there is heated controversy, the best way to proceed is with love, respect, and understanding, while never abandoning the conviction of truth that we hold in our hearts.
Second, Samantha has the most success when she engages Miki one-on-one. In today's polarizing culture with stinging one-liners and perpetual attempts at one-upmanship, little is usually accomplished in large group free-for-alls. That is especially true with social media, where we must be very careful that our comments on a sensitive societal issue do not veer away from the spirit Christ would want us to convey. If we allow ourselves to be limited to 140 characters, we will often be misunderstood. Usually, much more can be accomplished one-on-one, face-to-face, as individuals come to understand each other. That is precisely the way President Monson has taught us that we should reach out and rescue. One by one. And it is most often the way the Savior reached out and touched lives during His ministry on earth.
            Third, although Samantha would undoubtedly have been overjoyed if Miki had seen the light immediately and had agreed to receive the missionaries the next day, that was not Samantha's initial goal. Her initial goal was to understand where Miki was coming from-to respect her as a person and to understand her views. Only then could Samantha effectively communicate with Miki, getting past the sound bites of accusation and misunderstanding that too often dominate our discussions.
            Fourth, Samantha suggested to Miki a unique method for how the two of them could respect each other's views and still live together in society. In response to Miki's suggestion that the two of them would simply have to live according to their own views without infringing on one another's freedoms, Samantha suggested something better. She suggested to Miki something that is fundamental in a pluralistic society if everyone is to be treated fairly-we must stand up for the basic civil rights of others if we are to expect others to stand up for our basic civil rights.
            Finally, understanding one another rarely occurs in a single event. It is a process-one that often can take a good deal of time. At the end of their discussion, Miki certainly did not accept Samantha's views. And it is possible that she never will. But gone from their discussion were words like "bigot" and "hate." Miki saw Samantha, perhaps for the first time, as someone who was intrinsically good and reasonable, even if she holds basic views that Miki herself will never accept.
            I could go on and on. Indeed, I hope you have made your own mental or written notes about what you witnessed between Samantha and Miki-principles and actions that spoke to your heart, or which might be of help to you in a current difficult situation you are facing. As Paul taught, being "an example of the believers" is much more than just living the principles of the gospel for others to see. Paul tells us specifically that those same gospel principles must be part of our conversation, of our love for others, as part of the spirit we convey, as part of the faith that defines who we are.
            In the end then, when properly understood, there is really no tension between the two great gospel principles of standing up for truth while at the same time respecting and loving others. Our strong conviction of the truth should never cause us to act in a way that is disrespectful or resentful toward others. But at the same time, our desire to show kindness and love to everyone should never undermine our duty to stand for truth. These two principles are really just two sides of the very same coin. On one side of the coin is our duty to explain and firmly defend the doctrine of God. On the other side of that very same coin is our duty to act in a Christlike way, always showing respect and love. Elder Dallin H. Oaks puts it this way:

Our tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs does not cause us to abandon our commitment to the truths we understand and the covenants we have made...We must stand up for truth, even while we practice tolerance and respect for beliefs and ideas different from our own and for the people who hold them. This inspired caution reminds us that for persons who believe in absolute truth, tolerance for behavior is like a two-sided coin. Tolerance or respect is on one side of the coin, but truth is always on the other.[8]

            My dear brothers and sisters, my friends. In a world that is quickly becoming more polarized and more contentious-where bullets often seem to be coming in rapid-fire staccato from all quarters-may I challenge you to examine both sides of your coin? In each circumstance that arises in your lives, ask yourself how you can best teach and defend the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while at the same time showing love, kindness, and understanding to a person who may not accept that doctrine. As you do, I testify that you will have our Heavenly Father's help and guidance. You will feel Him leading you along, putting thoughts in your minds and feelings in your hearts, and words in your mouths at the precise moment they are needed. I testify that as you do so, His Spirit will lead and guide you, transforming you into a true "example of the believers"[9]-not only someone who lives the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also someone who defends and explains its doctrine in a firm yet loving and inclusive way.
            In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:12: "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." [2] Ephesians 6:12 [3] Mosiah 18:9 [4] Romans 1:16 [5] 3 Nephi 11:30 [6] Romans 12:18 [7] Romans 14:19 [8] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Balancing Truth and Tolerance, CES Fireside, September 11, 2011. [9] 1 Timothy 4:12.

Full Audio Transcript