When Worthiness is Weaponized: The Problem with Ecclesiastical Endorsements


Richelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she works as a Swedish language instructor. She is also a talk producer at the community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

The universities owned and operated by the LDS Church have recently come under scrutiny for the ways in which the schools’ honor code can compromise Title IX investigations into allegations of sexual assault on campus. In 2016, the Salt Lake Tribune broke the story wide open with a Pulitzer Prize–winning series of articles revealing the punitive measures taken against sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University in Provo. The issue was that students—most of them women—coming forward to report sexual assaults were often probed and then disciplined for additional information pertaining to their assault that could be deemed honor code violations. This might include dress and grooming standards, alcohol or drug use, curfew violations, etc. It was a Church-school version of “What was she wearing?”  

Questioning like this makes survivors feel that the attack was somehow their fault. They are revictimized and ultimately punished for reporting what happened to them, which discourages future reporting and leaves BYU students especially vulnerable to continued abuse.

In the latest development, yesterday the Trib reported on a story out of BYU–Idaho. (Note: While the veracity of some aspects of this story are in the midst of being confirmed, the details provided are illustrative of widespread problems regarding ecclesiastical endorsements at Church schools.) Maria (the survivor’s chosen pseudonym) alleges that she was sexually assaulted; her assailant then reported that she had been drinking to their ward bishop. The bishop then informed Maria that her ecclesiastical endorsement was at risk.

In addition to abiding by the honor code, students at Church schools are required to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement from their religious leader each year in order to remain in good standing with the university. The endorsement is essentially a way to ensure compliance with the honor code, including levels of church attendance and activity. In Maria’s case, the issue was not the Honor Code Office or the Title IX Office but the bishop’s office. The man charged with pastoral care, confessions, repentance, and overall spiritual well-being is the same man who has been outsourced the university’s inquisitorial power and harshest disciplinary measures.

The experience of receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement runs the gamut from being an obnoxious formality to something that could seriously rattle your faith or upend your educational pursuits. Imagine not being on good terms with your bishop for one reason or another: a small personality clash with a dash of unrighteous dominion could lead to having your endorsement revoked. Your assigned bishop may not know you well because you travel extensively or attend another ward in your area (which is somewhat discouraged in the church but certainly not a serious offense). Yet, for reasons altogether unrelated to your worthiness, you might find that your bishop reports you as inactive and ineligible for a renewed endorsement.

More seriously, you may wish to disclose something deeply personal to your bishop. You may identify as LGBTQIA+ or be in the midst of a faith crisis. In either case, disclosure runs the risk of outsized consequences to your educational or professional life. The local leadership roulette that is a problem for many Church members is exacerbated when you need an ecclesiastical endorsement for school or work.

Further, imagine if that disclosure is made to the bishop by a fellow ward member or a roommate. Outing one another is considered by some an important duty of being an honor code–keeper. Some see it as an act of love. Whatever they may think, the “outed” student is put at risk of losing their endorsement based on gossip.

Even in cases of garden-variety confession of sin, Church-school students and employees may find themselves hesitant to share with or receive counsel from their bishop. Normally, bishops prompt confessors to make amends or briefly refrain from taking the sacrament. But at Church schools, confessing students may lose their student status, their job, or their housing. [1]

In all of these circumstances, worthiness is being weaponized.

The part of the Trib’s article that stood out most to me was how the assailant was treated by the bishop. Even though the assailant is guilty of sexual assault—as in, he is an accused criminal answerable to the law of the land, to say nothing of the honor code—his bishop was more than happy to get him back on the right track ASAP.

“She said the bishop told her the man she accused was remorseful and was working to get his temple recommend — a bishop’s authorization of worthiness to enter an LDS temple for certain ceremonies — in time to get married in August.”

One month. One month to repent of sexual assault and enter the holiest place known to Mormons to participate in the holiest ordinance known to Mormons. Meanwhile, Maria has been suspended from BYU–I for two semesters—potentially jeopardizing her entire education and future—because she was unwilling to talk to her bishop about the “drinking problem” reported by her assailant. He, too, was ultimately suspended with his endorsement revoked, although the Trib did not report the length of his suspension or if any further discipline was being undertaken by the Church.

This says two things to me. First, in the case of sexual assault, it seems that male worthiness is much easier to reclaim. All a man has to do is be (or act) sufficiently remorseful, and heaven and earth will combine to secure his spot in the kingdom. For these women who report sexual assault, the smallest infraction (being in a boyfriend’s bedroom, having a few drinks one night) can threaten their status, not just at church but at school or work. This is textbook revictimization, and it can alienate survivors from virtually all sources of community support.

Secondly, gender disparities aside, the accused man was ostensibly able to get back on the right track in order to be married in the temple within a month’s time.  Yet he was not worthy enough to attend classes. To be clear, the article reports that his engagement has since been broken off, but the bishop’s response suggests that the Church as an institution is quick to let someone who cheats on their fiancé and commits sexual assault re-enter the temple, even while campus remains off-limits.

I attended BYU for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and I tended to run in heterodox circles, but thankfully I can’t recall any particularly horrific zinger anecdotes of honor code run-ins or ecclesiastical endorsement abuse. None of my friends were dismissed from school during my time there (though several elected to leave or transfer due to the oppressive culture), nor did I have a candid conversation with anyone who was contacted by the Honor Code Office regarding a serious violation.

What I can attest to is the often small but perceptible ways that the pharisaical cult of worthiness affected all of us. It permeated the air we breathed. Knowing that at any time an angry roommate could retaliate by reporting something to the school or the bishop doesn’t inspire confidence and trust. All of us were at risk in some way or another: keeping cooking wine in the apartment, letting a boy trespass beyond the approved threshold to use the bathroom, hosting a co-ed movie party that goes past midnight. It’s likely that none of these things would cost you your temple recommend, but under the right circumstances they might cost you your degree. Ecclesiastical endorsements, because they often go above-and-beyond the community standards for full church participation or even temple attendance, make education and work especially precarious for Mormons who are at a Church-affiliated institution.

My point here is not to complain about strict curfews and beard cards (absurd as those things are), but to invite us to consider the real costs of the ecclesiastical endorsement. These are tens of thousands of Mormon students who, during the formative years of their adulthood, are learning that their fellow saints and priesthood leaders cannot be entrusted with the details of their spiritual welfare lest they lose their housing, job, or degree. They are being monitored and infantilized in ways virtually unknown to other adults in the Church. This erodes trust in friends and community members, to say nothing of their faith in leaders and the Church as an institution. The current practice of ecclesiastical endorsement stymies personal spiritual growth and robs students of the opportunity to receive meaningful pastoral care in tandem with their education.

[1] In Provo, many leases (including private leases) are contingent upon honor code compliance.

*Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash


  1. So what, then? No ecclesiastical endorsements, worthiness interviews, or honor code discipline? Just let the students do whatever they want on the backs of tithepayers? Or is there some more modest, incremental reform you’d propose that would still preserve the basic intent of those devices?

  2. “This erodes trust in friends and community members, to say nothing of their faith leaders and the Church as an institution. The current practice of ecclesiastical endorsement stymies personal spiritual growth and robs students of the opportunity to receive meaningful pastoral care in tandem with their education.”

    Yes, exactly this. This is such an important point, and we need to remember it. The “spiritual counselor” role and the “person who can get you kicked out of school by withholding a signature” role are not just incompatible, they are mutually exclusive.

  3. “Weaponized worthiness” is a telling and terrible phrase. It has driven me out of the Church in a cultural sense, even though I’m there on a back pew most Sundays.

    There’s more to say, including how the system affects men and women with jobs. How it disrupts and distorts the pastoral role we would like to see (and be) in bishops. How attitudes and behaviors around BYU and temples are fear based. But the OP is enough to start.

    I’m expecting some defenses and rationalizations. For myself, I long ago determined that I will not send a child where they would be subject to the ecclesiastical endorsement lottery. I will not work in a place where my tenure would be subject to control by an arbitrary bishop. In the final analysis, I will not sit for a temple recommend interview. It’s surprising how much of Mormonism is eliminated by these choices. It’s also surprising how freeing these choices feel.

    Myra: Most of me wants to say no, no incrementalism. Trash the system. But in fact there is an easy answer to many of the ills of the present system. Disentangle the bishops from the school and the jobs. Schools handle disciplinary matters all the time. Employers deal with performance and behavior issues all the time. Get the bishops out of the picture completely.

  4. richellejolene says:

    @Myra, I believe another BCC blogger is going to take up the issue of policy recommendations sometime this week, so stay tuned. The scope of my post was to identify the problem rather than to propose solutions. At the very least, I agree with @Michael Austin that your bishop/faith leader can’t perform their role as a spiritual guide if they are also tasked with deciding whether or not you get to finish your degree, so that’s gotta give.

  5. richellejolene says:

    @christiankimball, what you say resonates with me so much. I wanted to get into the employment situation as well but figured that deserved its own post. I have found myself not bothering to apply for Church and BYU jobs that I would love and be great at because some of the application requirements make me incredibly uncomfortable. Life and work is precarious enough as it is; I don’t need the additional pressure of worrying about my job security being tied up with my faith and/or performing the cultural scripts of Mormonism.

  6. Oh working for the church is testimony challenging in and of itself. Where I worked I only needed a temple recommend, but I shudder to imagine if I’d been subject to the whims of a bishop. And I’ve had some “lovely” bishops.

  7. This was very interesting. I’ve heard a lot of BYU related cautionary tales – my parents and brother went there – but I’d never considered the problematic nature of the ecclesiastic endorsement until now.

  8. @Richelle, thanks for your thoughts on this subject. Since reading the article I have hoped someone would pick up the topic.

    I have followed the parent story since the Tribune’s first article. I have deep feelings regarding how BYU betrayed their sacred trust to care for victims of assault (I personally know two of the victims’ families…there is so much I could write). As that story unfolded, it left me numb and utterly ashamed of my alma mater. And now this story? I was nieve enough to think amnesty meant amnesty across the entire process. And for an assault victim’s word of wisdom violation to be subjugated compared to the actions of her assailant? I can’t express my utter disappointment strongly enough. I will make a few points.

    First, years ago I served in a student ward bishopric at BYU. (Luckily, the bishop with whom I served was pastoral in his approach and handled things like this in an opposite manner when compared to the bishop in the BYU-I story.) Based on our experience, students know the consequences of having an endorsement withdrawn, and know how to leverage that process to their own ends. We had several scored boyfriends and girlfriends come in to report behavior, and their motive was less than pure. This is one of the many unintended negative consequences of the process. It made adjudicating these matters extremely complicated, and unnecessarily so. It made it more difficult for our bishop to be a bishop–his words, not mine. (We also often discussed one of the unintended consequences of the endorsement–it provided an incentive for students who were struggling to lie. Our bishop suspected he was lied to often because students were just too afraid to be honest with him about their struggles.)

    And I’ll add the bureaucratic nature of all things honor code has grown substantially since I was a student. At the time I was a student, faculty did not go through an endorsement process (this was started under President Bateman when it was deemed the president of the university would henceforth also be a general authority). When I was a student, there was no church attendance requirement as well. Did everyone not go to church? Of course not. Most all of us attended. This leads me to my second point.

    @Myra you seem to assign a lot of credit to the honor code and endorsement requirement for student’s behaving the way they do. Maybe I am misreading you, but I feel like you think without the honor code and endorsement campus life would devolve into bedlam. I am always perplexed when I encounter this thinking. Based on my experiences, the honor code has nothing to do with the choices students make, which are guided largely from their desired to live with character and in alignment with a gospel in which they believe. Yes, some make mistakes, and why not allow bishops to help them grow by applying mercy and counsel instead of be charged with being border cops. I have children who have elected to attend non-church schools (which relieved me, despite my holding two degrees from BYU), you might find it surprising to know they live gospel-centered lives notwithstanding the absence of an honor code or endorsement process. They also enjoy a wonderful relationship with their bishop; I believe this is true because when the bishop is not charged with being a gatekeeper, a greater level of openness and trust can exist.

  9. “Just let the students do whatever they want on the backs of tithepayers?”

    Why, yes Myra. Imagine how freeing it would be to seek spiritual guidance and repentance as often as necessary (seventy times seven, I suppose). Imagine transforming the BYU campus from an environment of pharisaical tattling to a place that begs us to love others as they are on their journey. To have a faith crisis without shame, to obey out of love and not fear, to stop the exhausting facade of perfection, to relate genuinely to others on their paths. Think of all the heavy loads so many are carrying unnecessarily – what a terrible thing. Tithing helping people change for the better is tithing money well spent.

  10. Left Field says:

    Back in my day, the bishop’s endorsement was not an annual requirement. You had to have a bishop’s interview when you applied. The bishop of your home ward reviewed the behavioral expectations, made sure you understood the requirements, and then signed the application. You could of course, be expelled for violating the agreement, but your bishop didn’t have anything directly to do with the process.

    It would certainly be an improvement if they reverted to that procedure.

  11. Clearly, one skill to be learned at the BYUs is the ability to convincingly lie to one’s bishop.

  12. Angela C says:

    @Myra: If our reasons for behaving are not sufficiently compelling in and of themselves, we have no business forcing compliance through the Honor Code Office and an army of tattling roommates or through the Ecclesiastical Endorsement policy.

    Do people lie to their BYU bishops? Of course they do. They learn to leave their integrity behind if they encounter a bishop who wants to play God with their education weighed in the balances. Is that really what we want to teach them?

    I was very fortunate in all the bishops I had at BYU save one (yes, surprisingly I attended church without it being a requirement–it wasn’t asked in the Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the late 80s / early 90s when I attended). The one bad apple I had went way off script, probing for lascivious details of my love life (I stuck to strict yes and no answers) and pushed and prodded to try to catch me in a lie, all because I was only in that ward for 2 months, but attended church in my fiance’s ward in SLC.

    This bishop really hated that for some reason and wanted to keep me from getting married. My EE wasn’t at risk, and I had a current TR. He wanted to withhold my live endowment recommend, if only he could drum up a reason. He couldn’t, and I swear he was ready to “rend his garment” in frustration that I wouldn’t confess something. I honestly have never seen anything like it. It was a very scary and weird experience. I have no idea what became of him because I was only on a summer contract there until I got married. So yes, there are some loony bishops out there doing some loony things.

    A system in which you can simply run afoul of some random weirdo and lose the sunk cost of time and money associated with your education–that’s not a good system.

  13. Meanwhile, out in the real world. Mormons send their children to BYU because of the honor code, not in spite of it. My kid’s much better off there than most other places because of it, and changing the honor code would make it a worse place. And if my kid doesn’t want to live according to the honor code, I’d be the first to tell them to go somewhere else. Drinking alcohol and lying about it isn’t a small thing. It’s a direct flouting of the Church’s standards. I hope my kid’s roommates would do something about it, including go to the bishop.

    And if my kid or any other student gets suspended for a couple semesters, it won’t ruin any career or educational plans. Students take a year off all the time for many reasons. Students transfer colleges to greener pastures all the time. If BYU isn’t the right school for you, move on and let someone who might enjoy it there have a chance.

  14. Mike Hunt says:

    “These are tens of thousands of Mormon students who, during the formative years of their adulthood, are learning that their fellow saints and priesthood leaders cannot be entrusted with the details of their spiritual welfare lest they lose their housing, job, or degree.”

    Maybe their spiritual welfare is more important than their housing, job, or degree. Maybe sacrifice is part of the repentance process.

  15. For those arguing the virtue of the honor code, I don’t seriously disagree. (I mean, I wouldn’t choose that route, but there is a consistent coherent position that it’s the path chosen and students should abide by it.) But that’s not the topic at hand. To put the case bluntly, imagine that your daughter’s bishop informs her that forgIving her attacker is a condition of maintaining her ecclesiastical endorsement. (Don’t say it never happens.)

  16. This story has been on my mind all day, and it hurts. I feel for the students who are not well served by these policies, and I hurt for the university where I spent a lot of my life. I think I agree with everything that Richelle wrote here. The one thing I’ll add is a comment about how poorly this reflects on the school’s administration and board of trustees.

    The committee that studied BYU’s problem of punishing students who report sexual assault had very good people on it. I believe that senior BYU administrators, led by Kevin Worthen, also understood the problem and wanted to solve it. However, everyone who participated in that process knew that the bad-bishop loophole existed. They knew that this loophole could entirely undermine the goals of the proposed reforms. That’s why their report pointed out specifically that the ecclesiastical endorsement system was not within their mandate. It seems they were powerless to do anything about it. There was a lot of happiness when the reforms were approved. I can only imagine the bitterness now as the members of that committee are seeing the undoing of their work–a failure that they knew must eventually come.

    What did the administration and the board of trustees think was going to happen? At best, they knew that they were just kicking the can down the road. That’s really poor leadership. At worst, well, I don’t want to go there, and I don’t believe it. It’s ugly.

    This story probably will not get the play that the original story got. Maybe the powers that be are hoping that it just goes away. But I will not forget, for whatever that’s worth. This, more than anything that the Worthen administration has yet faced, is the acid test of leadership. Does BYU want to help the victims of sexual assault or not? Show us.

  17. @JVT… um “the real world” is a funny way to refer to BYU. I went to BYU for undergrad, and to secular schools for grad… As posited by others here, members at non-BYU schools do just fine– often better even — without some arbitrary honor code to “protect” them. Since the honor code is all a reactive hippie-scare program to begin with, how do you account for BYU’s decades of turning out graduates and active church members without it? Why (as the article briefly touches on) is a temple recommend/abiding temple recommend standards insufficient for endorsement? Any supposed strengths of the honor code are moot since, again, LDS students per capita do just fine or better without them, so what makes all the pronounced negatives outlined in this article and otherwise worth it?

  18. Charmaine Ferreira says:

    As an Australian, reading about these comments (let alone the article) is seriously troubling. I can’t fathom why in one comment drinking is mentioned as “not a small thing” whereas any comment about the sexual assault was omitted. I can’t comprehend how normal, developmentally appropriate behaviour of ADULTS somehow has anything to do with one’s university education? We ARE talking about adults here right?? This is so fundamentally weird, and doesn’t do one iota of impressing on people (who are not of the LDS faith) that Mormons are anywhere near the vicinity of “normal”. How does drinking excuse or even entertain “equal-ness” to sexual assault? This is 2018 not 1950. In addition to some posters; how about a person’s suitability to a church owned and run school be decided by, I don’t know, University COUNSELORS who are trained to Ecologically evaluate said students past experiences and trauma, development, background, family dynamics, and potential to actually support themselves without endorsement. How does a (albeit well meaning) Bishop with no training/education in adolescent and/or adult development (among many other things) evaluate that trying drinking (a very normal thing for even active LDS youth to have participated in, and is even humorously looked back on as active LDS adults) should be equal to stopping or halting your education. It is plain absurd and does nothing for the image of the church, only as Richelle puts it, to infantilize developing adults, breed and train liars, and perpetuate a toxic culture of shame and fear.

  19. “Maybe their spiritual welfare is more important than their housing, job, or degree.”
    This is baloney. I mean, sure it is important, but if you are homeless and have no prospects, it is hard to imagine that repentance is going to be priority #1, especially if your church leaders are the reason you are homeless and have no prospects. Mere survival isn’t the situation in which to insist someone else spiritually grow.

  20. This does not even get into the fact that the BYU Faculty and Administrators are kept in line using the exact same abuses of power and control. If you have a disagreement with your bishop over any issue, no matter how sleight, he has the power to terminate your employment even if it is out of spite. This is at least as damaging as what they are doing to the students, possibly more so.

  21. Even if we grant that drinking or whatever is a serious honor code infraction, is it more serious than sexual assault (a sin that many Mormons claim to consider a sin next to murder)? Because the end result of justifying BYU-I’s decision here is to say otherwise. If you kick people out for drinking, then you’re incentivizing predators to assault people who do and allowing them to go largely uncaught and unpunished. Personally I think that’s pretty messed up, to say the least.

  22. I have never understood the argument that without the honor code our teenagers would become wanton sinners. There are a multitude of ways for parents and church communities to “incentivize” moral and proper behavior. And more importantly, you have to put some modicum of trust in the adults you have raised through primary and youth programs and seminary that you taught them correct principles, and they can govern themselves — including repenting.

    I attended state schools, far away from Utah. I was at one of the top “party schools” in America — but that was in no way a problem to live up to Mormon expectations. The cariacature that Mormons paint of “the World” based on watching Jersey Shore is so far away from day-to-day, going-to-class reality it’s laughable.

    I enjoyed a robust community of Mormons at the school. I lived by temple recommend standards. And when I had various age-appropriate spiritual struggles and ethical dilemmas, I approached my bishop as a pastoral and trusted friend — I never worried the rest of my life was at stake.

    I wore flip flops, and hosted post-midnight movie nights, and let boys use my apartment’s bathroom, and once hung out in my guyfriends’ apartment just chatting and making jokes until 4 a.m. Nothing improper ever happened. The fact that if I had been at BYU, I could have been disciplined or expelled for normal and appropriate college behavior where NOTHING HAPPENED and I was still “temple worthy” was and is an absurdity. The “Honor Code” is Mormon’s greatest “hedge about the law” while utterly ignoring the spirit of it, and ignoring the establishment of appropriate boundaries between adults.

  23. Anon for this says:

    I am also a PhD candidate who has been ‘courted’ by BYU faculty (of course no guarantee I would actually get a job there), but I also increasingly have no intention of even applying because of these very dynamics. My husband is undergoing a faith transition, and although I plan to stay active in the LDS Church, we will likely raise our children primarily in another faith community. Depending on scheduling conflicts and demands, that means I may miss a fair amount of Sunday meetings. I imagine this would be fine in many (most?) wards in the Provo area–it certainly wouldn’t bother any bishops I’ve had in my East Coast wards, where mixed-faith families have been welcomed and embraced–but the anxiety I feel over ‘bishop roulette’ and how that anxiety could negatively affect my family and my relationship with my husband in particular makes a job at BYU fundamentally unappealing.

  24. Steve LHJ says:

    “One month to repent of sexual assault and enter the holiest place known to Mormons to participate in the holiest ordinance known to Mormons”

    This to me is the much bigger issue. Sexual or physical abuse, affairs/adultery, unjust divorce, etc. and the relative ease we push people back into the sacred temple after checking a few boxes. It’s a slap in the face to victims, and it’s a mockery of God. Yes, drinking at a BYU school may have consequences, I think that is just, however it should pale in comparison to how seriously we take the issues listed above, particularly in regards to what is meant to be the most sacred place on earth.

  25. Bro. Jones says:

    Carolyn — wait, flip flops are against the honor code?

    Anon — all the best to your family, and best of luck with your studies.

  26. nobody, really says:

    I once managed to get a job in Provo for the simple reason that I didn’t go to BYU. Everyone else in the department had BYU degrees, they wanted to make sure they weren’t becoming “inbred”.

    One of my co-workers was, by his own admission, pretty obnoxious. He bucked the BYU administration every chance he got, but he was a returned missionary, fully active, and held a temple recommend. He was Elder’s Quorum President in his student ward, no issues with ecclesiastical endorsements. But, when he went to pay his tuition bill, he found that there was a block on his account. He simply wasn’t allowed to pay. A lady in the payments office told him, “Perhaps you’d be happier at another university.” No appeals – he hadn’t been expelled or suspended. He had no chance to face his accusers. One semester away from his degree and he was judged and sentenced by bureaucratic process. I thought he was a really nice guy until he decided to change the default font setting and button layout in Excel on my office computer.

    My wife finished her degree at BYU simply because we were living in Provo. Our biggest complaint was that if you disagree with any facet of BYU, you disagree with Jesus. Perfection on the part of every member of faculty and staff is simply a given, and every single decision they make has been verified by the Holy Spirit. It’s a theocracy at it’s finest.

  27. Regarding the idea that you should transfer out of BYU/I/H if you can’t live the HC anymore – when I graduated two years ago from BYU, the common understanding in my ward was that if you were kicked out for HC/EE issues, BYU would not transfer your academic records to other schools. I don’t know if this is true, it doesn’t have to be to make people afraid of talking to their bishops. Even if it’s false, BYU is a weird religious school. From what I’ve gathered from people who have willingly transferred into/out of BYU, there is not much course recognition reciprocity (BYU-I even less so). If you are forced away from BYU-I after 3.5 years, have fun redoing your last two years of coursework.

    The idea that getting suspended for a couple of semesters won’t ruin any educational or career plans is definitely not true for everyone. Student loans hurt. To be fair, I don’t know how most student loans cover suspension, but again in these cases its beliefs that drive behavior. I’ve known students whose parents would only support them financially at college if they went to a BYU school. You will probably come out okay in the long term (which I think is what people usually mean when they say this), but at best it’s going to add tremendously to personal debt and be a rough few years at a point that is already incredibly challenging spiritually.

    Finally (and a little off topic for the OP), I learned recently that a/the director of the Honor Code office at BYU was a bishop of a YSA ward as recently as last year. That is such a blatant conflict of interest that I still get amazed by it.

  28. Bro. Jones: http://www.byui.edu/student-honor-office/ces-honor-code/dress-and-grooming

    “Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any manner. Men and women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle and behavior. Pants, slacks or jeans should not be patched, faded, frayed or torn and must be ankle length. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles and unnatural colors. Caps or hats should not be worn in buildings. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas. Flip-flops and other casual footwear are inappropriate on campus. Shorts are not appropriate campus attire. Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings.”

  29. nobody, really – “I thought he was a really nice guy until he decided to change the default font setting and button layout in Excel on my office computer.” Pure evil.

    The honor code isn’t really the problem. Lots of places, religious and non, have honor codes of one sort or another. Every job I’ve had has had a rather long document that was a requirement for us to sign every year, detailing what was unacceptable conduct. The problem is how the code has been weaponized, not only adding hedges to the law but adding guard towers and dogs who will report even the smallest infraction. There should be no office where people can go to “tell on” others. Endorsements should not be another layer of barbed wire to clear.

    And I’m so glad to hear the guy is no longer getting married. No idea what the Bishop was thinking (though I am glad my Bishop was lenient with some pre-marriage fooling around), but assaulting another woman (or even a fiancee) should be a major deal-breaker for getting married.

    Let the school handle legal problems, but keep the spiritual ramifications within the Church. Crossing spiritual and secular tends to hurt more than it helps.

  30. To be fair, the flip-flops and shorts restrictions are BYU-I only. I’m curious what “other casual footwear” was intended to prevent though.

  31. Not a Cougar says:

    If having an honor code with an ecclesiastical endorsement is non-negotiable, could the concern with “subsidizing iniquity” be resolved with having a bifurcated tuition policy? As I understand it (as the screen name indicates, I’m proudly not a BYU grad), nonmembers who attend BYU pay higher tuition. While I understand they agree to abide by the honor code, could BYU have a “non-honor code” rate that reflects the “full cost” of attendance (understanding that that is a loaded term itself)?

    Students would have the option of not having to follow the honor code at the cost of a more expensive education (a cost that would be much more in line with other private religious schools). Sure, many students would still lie to get the discounted rate and you would still deal with the fall out of increasing tuition rates on victims of sexual assault who broke the honor code in connection with their assault, but at least you’re not kicking them out. And you could make the tuition rate increase effective for the next semester, not the current semester.

  32. @ethchr I can only hope it was intended to cover crocs, toe shoes, and any other similar abominations that mankind or the devil might think up :)

  33. Franklin says:

    The whole Mormon worthiness culture is a perversion of a perfectly good English word. We do this a lot.

  34. jaxjensen says:

    “They are being monitored and infantilized in ways virtually unknown to other adults in the Church.” Being infantilized is a GREAT way of putting it. Not just BYU schools, but anything the church touches. LONG LONG gone are the days of “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves. Two daughters at girls camp this week were told to not even bring shorts because they weren’t allowed, but they were going canoeing (and other water activities) because some girls bring shorts that are too short. Our missionaries here were told they can’t go shopping with the missionaries they share a car with because of “fraternization” problems. Rather than teaching youth how to make appropriate decisions, and participate in decision making processes, we have been mandating the smallest details of what decisions they ought to make. As Carolyn pointed out, giving punishments for events where NOTHING WRONG HAPPENED is grossly negligent parenting/mentoring/governance. How on earth can anyone expect kids/youth/adults to become proper adults if they are never given adult responsibilities… and making adult decisions is a major factor in that.

  35. The systemic subordination women is not surprising in a church privileges male membership over female. When leadership and liturgy requires almost exclusively male priesthood holders, then the baptism, support, programs, retention, etc. are all prioritized. Through this lens, the loss of a priesthood holder to a ward has a greater impact than the loss of woman. How many women will we lose so a boy can serve his mission, or a man get is recommend?

    So we create artificial environments (at the expense of women) where men can more easily maintain their worthiness. We hide our nursing breasts. We shame and sexualize our young women. Men, it’s time to grow up and leave Eden. You’ll be alright.

  36. Not a Cougar, so are you advocating for the sale of indulgences?

  37. Rexicorn says:

    I spent several years at BYU in and out of group therapy, and I can tell you that most students with mental health issues (especially if faith was a part of their stress) were suspicious of their bishops and afraid to speak with them in case it jeopardized their ecclesiastical endorsements. And I’m not even talking about going to a bishop for mental health counseling, which is a bad idea in any case — if there was anything about them that made them feel outside the “norm,” they were afraid it could be used against them. So many of them didn’t want to talk to their bishops at all, even when it would’ve been appropriate or helpful. Of course, *not* talking to your bishop also jeopardizes an ecclesiastical endorsement, as some bishops will assume you aren’t active if they don’t know you. So, as others pointed out upthread, you get very good at lying to your bishop. I sat in groups with many students who talked about how hard it was to pretend they weren’t struggling around their wards and bishops, because they didn’t want to be penalized for having a mental illness. It’s a very real problem.

    Giving a bishop the ability to impact your school/work life like that really does impact their ability to minister. You’d think bishops would be in favor of giving up some of that power so they could focus on what they’re actually called to do.

  38. nobody, really says:

    Rexicorn: “Giving a bishop the ability to impact your school/work life like that really does impact their ability to minister. You’d think bishops would be in favor of giving up some of that power so they could focus on what they’re actually called to do.”

    A manager and friend of mine in Provo was called as a BYU Singles Ward Bishop. He related how he was specifically told when called that besides being a Bishop and common judge in Israel, he was now a watchman on the tower for BYU. “There are students who don’t belong here, and students who do belong here waiting for their seats.” To his credit, he moved out of state to escape the calling.

  39. Rexicorn: Bishops I know, including myself back in the day, would jump at any chance to be rid of the ecclesiastical endorsement. There is no joy in the process, no upside at all, for bishops. (And if there is some sadistic pleasure to be had, for a particular individual, that ought to be disqualifying by itself.)

  40. nobody, really: That is awful. Unfortunately, though, I’ve heard enough similar things that I’m sure it happens a lot. (Example: One professor proudly told the class that when she was given her job, the authority issuing the job offer told her that part of her duty was to remove all the feminists from campus. This was about 10 years ago.)

    christiankimball: I agree.

    To be clear, I enjoyed my time at BYU! But it’s a minefield in many ways.

  41. There seem to be several issues here getting mashed up together, as if they were one:
    (A) Whether there are flaws in the implementation of ecclesiastical endorsement process and, if so, how best to address them.
    (B) Whether tying “real world” consequences to personal worthiness (e.g., discipline meted out by the University) is so inherently coercive that the ecclesiastical endorsement process should be dispensed with altogether.
    (C) Whether the ecclesiastical endorsement process is effective in maintaining a college experience that’s qualitatively different than would be otherwise available.
    (D) Whether, or to what extent, the Church and its members should subsidize the education of a subset of its members, if the beneficiaries of that generosity don’t uphold generally-held institutional values.
    (E) The extent to which one’s agreement or disagreement with those institutional values shapes the analysis.

  42. Not a Cougar says:

    JLM, seriously? Are you just trying to be cute?

  43. pconnornc says:

    In reading this report, is anyone else cautious that we only have 1 person’s account? It seems to portray that we have a bishop that would rush an assaulter to the temple and yank a word of wisdom violators endorsement – and though it is possible, it seems incongruous.

    I’m 100% sympathetic to the “bad bishop” loophole and the problem it presents. I’m also leery of scorned relationships, bad roommates weaponizing the process.

    But, it could be the bishop heard the accused account and is working w/ him on repentance. Also, informing Maria that if she continues to ignore the WoW requirement, that her endorsement would be at risk (it doesn’t say it was, and it should be if she were to continue). We also don’t have (and shouldn’t!) any information on whether the bishop in listening to both, felt this was an assault and reported it, or why he would have made that decision.

    It just seems to me something doesn’t add up here.

    Regardless of the facts of this incident though, the discussion to find a balance is valid.

  44. For my own education, what does the ecclesiastical interview involve? Is it a standard set of questions like the temple interview? If not then I can see where there would be problems.

  45. Marc, from my memory, it’s basically a form the bishop fills out. It’s *supposed* to hinge on things like whether you actively attend your ward and are a member in good standing — just basic stuff. You actually don’t even need a formal interview with set questions. But the bishop has ultimate authority over whether to grant it or not, so it’s very vulnerable to bishops deciding that you’re not worthy of it and shouldn’t attend your school.

    (FWIW, BYU also requires endorsements of non-LDS students; they just have to get it from their congregational leader instead of an LDS bishop. There was no provision for atheists when I was there; you had to attend some kind of church with an ecclesiastical authority.)

  46. ChristianKimball “In the final analysis, I will not sit for a temple recommend interview. It’s surprising how much of Mormonism is eliminated by these choices. It’s also surprising how freeing these choices feel.”

    word up, brother, thank you

  47. Found just after I hit submit! Here’s what bishops certify when they submit an ecclesiastical endorsement:

    – The applicant’s membership record is in your unit.
    – The applicant is in full fellowship in the Church (not disfellowshipped, excommunicated, or “voluntarily disaffiliated” with the church
    – I have discussed the Honor Code and Grooming Standards with the applicant.
    – I certify that the applicant is worthy to attend a Church school, has been and is now abiding by the requirements, and will continue to abide by them while a student at a Church school.

    Found here: https://it.byu.edu/byu/sc_help.do?sysparm_document_key=kb_knowledge,f6b1a65f2b1e70007ed590a069da1507

  48. I think I can see both sides of this. On one hand it seems like if you got a hostile bishop you could have issues. Hopefully they would be rare.

    The flip side is there has to be some type of control. BYU tuition is heavily subsidized by tithepayers. Many of whoms children will never get accepted to BYU P.

  49. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Ultimately the tithing subsidy needs to go away.

    I’ve heard it said that BYU exists in its current form to create a standardized form of Church leaders, which is a very mid-20th-century corporate way of doing things. (Until age 11 I grew up in wards full of these men and their families, all of whom might as well have been stamped from a machine, in a professional-class suburb of Chicago.) If it ever existed, the need for this certainly has passed.

  50. “Do people lie to their BYU bishops? Of course they do.” My husband was a witness at our son’s temple marriage while living with another woman. Liars are liars. Situations and age have nothing to do with it….except many become better over the years through experience. Maybe it started at BYU.

  51. Without the tithing subsidy BYU turns into a tremendously expensive school. Graduates only wealthy kids and those willing to shoulder massive debt for an undergrad degree.

  52. Forgiving seven times seventy times is good and required counsel for personal forgiveness, and for forgoing revenge, grudges, and vendettas. It is not a good formula for maintaining civil order, at least if it means there are no consequences for dangerous or anti-social behavior. Ask a policeman. Or consider the case of a very large denomination whose clerics were repeatedly transferred to other congregations after abusing their congregants (including children) rather than be being dismissed from their ministry and criminally prosecuted.

    Consider also the case of aircraft safety. The goal is to reduce the number of air crashes. After a serious accident or a near-miss, the pilots are questioned and all the relevant circumstances are investigated. What if no inquiries were allowed into the condition of crew or the mechanics or air traffic controllers prior to the crash. Would you fly on such an airline? Would you book your children on such an airline? Do you consider the FAA and NTSB to be weaponized if their investigations have consequences? Would you prefer that the NTSB not be allowed to investigate plane crashes and the FAA not be allowed to make and enforce regulations? What effect would that have on air safety? Do you consider the FAA’s rules to be part of a pharisaical aviation cult or an oppressive culture? Do you consider that pilots are being infantilized by the FAA’s rules? Should aviation professionals be discouraged or prohibited from reporting colleagues who abuse alcohol or drugs or have mental illnesses or suicidal tendencies (see Germanwings Flight 9525)?

    The author of the original post is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to official University of Wisconsin-Madison statements, sexual violence is a very serious problem at that university. 27.6 percent of their female undergraduates reported experiencing sexual assault. Alcohol was reported to be a common factor in sexual assault. I would prefer that my grandchildren go to BYU-I rather than to UW-M. It is a free country, of course, and there are many campuses like UW-M available for those who prefer those schools and believe they are, on average, better and safer than Church schools.

  53. @Leo, don’t be obtuse. Pretty much everyone here, as I see it, is fine with there being consequences for breaking rules. The question is whether you want to incentivize people who have broken minor rules (e.g., alcohol, or staying at a boy’s apartment past midnight if you prefer an even smaller infraction) to report people who sexually assaulted them when they did so. Personally I would much rather let some drinking go unpunished in order to catch _a sexual predator_. But hey, maybe my values are out of whack.

    The proper analogy to your FAA scenario is whether you want to have some protection for whistleblowers who report serious security lapses to the FAA–should the company be able to fire them based on a minor violation like, say, they weren’t wearing their full uniform on the job one day?

  54. If endorsements are important, then the real issue is the lack of recourse (as it continually is with ecclesiastical abuse). If there was some sort of appeals process that was readily available to students, that they could all trust to review cases fairly, then it wouldn’t be too much of a problem. But right now, the system is easily abused, whether intentionally or not, by bishops who have too much power without enough training or checks to balance that power.

  55. The tithing subsidy is not an argument for imposing “control” on BYU students. A school that’s subsidized by tithing should try to be a Zion community where fear is abolished and students learn to live by forgiveness, repentance, and personal integrity. And that’s something you only learn by trial and error.

    Leo’s analogy to plane flight is about as bad an analogy as he could have found. Young adults in college are nothing like airline pilots charged with life-or-death responsibilities. Where does he come up with such nonsense? I suppose it comes from the same hysterical attitude that justifies the secret police mentality of the Honor Code Office. I really find it deeply disturbing that this mentality is allowed to poison the relationship between bishops and the members of their wards.

  56. Not a Cougar says:

    Leo, I can’t speak to civil aviation, but when a U.S. Air Force aircraft mishap occurs (e.g., a crash), the Air Force prohibits use of privileged information gathered in a safety investigation as evidence in a subsequent court-martial or other adverse employment action. The idea is to ensure the Air Force gets all of the possible facts about the mishap so as to immediately ensure similar incidents don’t occur. You can’t do that if those involved (usually aircrew) are afraid of being prosecuted or losing their jobs by making statements. Hence the use of the privilege. Yes, there is always a subsequent mishap investigation, but the investigators can’t compel military members if the members are suspected of having committed a crime.

    Not sure how you would go about doing something similar in the Church (or even that you should), but I do like the idea of allowing people to speak freely without fear of retribution to ensure no one else gets hurt.

  57. Not a Cougar says:

    *compel military members to make a statement

  58. I am a bishop. I have a child at BYU. Being a bishop is hard. But someone who looks forward to discipline or to withholding an EE for any reason should not be a bishop. I also hope those instances are rare. But one is too many. And there are many more than one out there. Yes, there should be controls. To address academic cheaters and blatant and outspoken opponents of the church and its schools. But someone who has a WoW slip or puts his/her hands where they shouldn’t in a moment of understandable, if preventable, weakness . . . and penitently visits a bishop to address that weakness? Sheesh. That should be a moment to celebrate the repentant heart. That’s the point of of the Church. And should be the point of BYU. To shell out repentant, humble, talented graduates that faithfully pursue good things in their lives. Not Pharisees who can’t see past their own nose, and when confronted with their own weakness, are simply unable to responsibly address it.

  59. Rexicorn says:

    I suspect the problem is not so much bishops who *enjoy* revoking/withholding an endorsement, as those who are overzealous and believe they should revoke it when they shouldn’t. Similar to bishops who withhold temple recommends over things that aren’t on the TR interview list, or subject members to discipline for things that have never explicitly been outlined as offenses against the church. It’s what happens when you have a system that leaves so much up to individual interpretation while encouraging people to go “above and beyond” in pursuit of righteousness.

  60. Bishops at BYU have both a pastoral, ecclesiastical role and a university enforcement role. This raises a couple of problems.

    (1) Those two roles could conflicts in certain cases. The pastoral role is focused on the individual, on reconciliation, repentance, mercy, and individual growth. The university role, at least as it appears to be carried out, is much more focused on strict enforcement of university standards. There does not appear to be much room for mercy or flexibility. I suspect this conflict is part of why there’s such an apparent difference between the standards for temple attendance in the story going around (serious chastity violations that at best of questionable consent don’t appear to be strictly disqualifying for temple attendance and can be worked through in a few weeks) and the standards for university attendance (the slightest word of wisdom violation is apparently grounds for revocation). I also suspect that the conflict comes from a sense that on the ecclesiastical side, we want to offer the blessings of the gospel and the temple to anyone we can, but that on the university side, we’re trying to be wise stewards and allocate limited resources to those that are truly deserving. University attendance appears to raise a scarcity problem that temple attendance doesn’t really raise. It’s one thing to act in those two different roles in separate cases, but it’s another thing to try to act in both roles with respect to the very same student. A very careful, scrupulous bishop may be able to navigate that conflict fairly and without bias, but that’s not easy to do, and it’s asking a lot of bishops to expect them all to be able to do so every time.

    (2) Those roles are often blurred. Is giving an ecclesiastical endorsement an ecclesiastical function or a university function? The problem from an ecclesiastical perspective is that bishops aren’t ordained and set apart and given keys over University policy. They’re given keys to determine temple worthiness and give pastoral care, but temple worthiness and BYU honor code compliance are obviously not the same thing. And the problem from a university perspective is that Bishops aren’t trained by the university or accountable to the university, so there’s no easy way for the university to refine or clarify its standards as they get applied to ensure they’re applied uniformly.

  61. The attitude that the only two options that exist for LDS students are 1) church universities or 2) evil secular universities where they’re left to flounder away alone is so odd to me.

    I’m a graduate of one of the church’s oldest institute programs. My parents met and married there. I met my husband there. My children are there, with one just married. This particular institute program is almost 70 years old now; it was the brainchild of N. Eldon Tanner, and the very first institute teacher was Hugh B. Brown. It was the center of my social life during my formative university years, and I have many wonderful memories of that time. Carolyn’s comments at 6:12 about her experiences are very similar to mine.

    The more I hear about the Honor Code and its conflicts of interest, the less I like it. And here’s something that hasn’t been brought up yet. I’m in my late 40’s, and went back to university last fall, and even though I’m a minority, I certainly am not the only one my age on campus. You’re saying that if I went to BYU, my years of service in the church and decades of temple attendance wouldn’t mean as much as my capris and the purple streak in my hair? Seriously?

  62. richellejolene says:

    @Leo, it’s true that a lot of universities have problems with sexual assault on campus, and I’m not suggesting that BYU or BYU–I have higher than average rates of assault. However, if I report a sexual assault at UW–Madison, it is highly unlikely that the investigation process will put me at great risk of being dismissed from school. And, more to the point of my post, if I do something not in harmony with Church standards, I can go to my bishop and receive counsel (which may include Church-related disciplinary measures like being released from a calling, not partaking of the Sacrament, or temporarily losing my temple recommend) without putting myself in jeopardy of not graduating, of losing my job, or of losing my housing. The repentance process would likely have very little bearing on my educational or professional pursuits, much less my living arrangements.

    Might that inspire one to be more forthcoming with their leaders? Based on some of the other comments in the thread, I’d say yes. To all the honor code defenders in the thread: there is a world in which BYU can still distinguish itself from other universities, a world in which the honor code is still valued and upheld. But that world does not need LDS bishops having the compromising blended role of spiritual guide and university-appointed inquisitor. This could mean having appointed chaplains do endorsement interviews, or any number of other things, but my main point is that the students and bishops are both compromised under the current system.

  63. “A very careful, scrupulous bishop may be able to navigate” — I don’t believe it is possible to navigate both roles in the same case. More importantly, it does not matter if a careful bishop could do it. One that can’t or doesn’t is too many. Much much more importantly, it does not matter if many bishops could do it because perceptions and beliefs matter critically. Unless members—students at BYU for this purpose—know and believe and trust that bishops will be pastors without also being policemen, every time, without fail, the system fails. This is the reporting dilemma in a nutshell. It is also Christian charity—true agape love—in a nutshell.

  64. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think those are good points, JKC. Isn’t it absurd that the University would think enough of itself to dare establish worthiness criteria that exceed those applied to general members? The very definition of looking past the mark.

  65. “there is a world in which BYU can still distinguish itself from other universities, a world in which the honor code is still valued and upheld. But that world does not need LDS bishops having the compromising blended role of spiritual guide and university-appointed inquisitor.”

    I agree that the idea of having an honor code is terrific. I would argue, however, that the problem of bishops as enforcers is a level removed from the underlying problem. Scrapping ecclesiastical endorsements might solve one very serious problem, but it would not address the other one. The deeper problem is that honor code enforcement at BYU is an inquisition, whether bishops or others are the inquisitors. Inquisition is the wrong model for honor code enforcement.

  66. To see the issue presented in this Op-Ed clearly we need some stats. How many Bishop’s withhold endorsements? For what reasons? How many students are forced out of BYU because of Honor Code infractions? We need details. Without details imaginations run wild.

    We only hear one side of the story on issues like this. How can anyone correctly evaluate the value of BYU and the Honor Code without accurate information?

    BYU is unique among universities because of the Honor Code.

    Not long ago, I observed excommunication at work. In this particular case, excommunication served at least two purposes, to help church members repent, and protect other church members from those who think sex is a recreational activity. The person excommunicated said that God doesn’t mind if I share my love with others. The fact that two families with children ended in divorce and several single individuals had their lives ruined didn’t seem to matter to this individual. This individual lied to maintain a temple recommend. I can’t imagine someone attending the temple and at the same time being in multiple adulterous relationships at the same time. Hard to believe how some church members become a law to themselves and think it OK with God, that somehow they are an exception to God’s word.

  67. nobody, really says:

    BYU isn’t unique. I know they love to feel like they are The Lord’s Own True University (TM), but we can find people with high standards all over.

    Besides military acadamies:
    Amherst College, (Massachusetts)
    Brigham Young University, (Utah)
    Bryn Mawr College, (Pennsylvania)
    California Institute of Technology, (California)
    College of William and Mary, (Virginia)
    Connecticut College, (Connecticut)
    Dartmouth College, (New Hampshire)
    Davidson College, (North Carolina)
    Duke University, ([North Carolina)
    Georgia Institute of Technology, (Georgia)
    Gettysburg College, (Pennsylvania)
    Gustavus Adolphus College, (Minnesota)
    Hampden–Sydney College, (Virginia)
    Harvey Mudd College, (California)
    Haverford College, (Pennsylvania)
    Johns Hopkins University, (Maryland)
    Kansas State University, (Kansas)
    K.J.Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research, (Mumbai, India)
    Knox College, (Illinois)
    Lawrence University, (Wisconsin)
    University of Maryland, College Park, (Maryland)
    University of Mary Washington, (Virginia)
    University of Michigan, (Michigan)
    Meredith College (Raleigh, NC)
    Middlebury College (Vermont)
    Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts)
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, (North Carolina)
    Notre Dame of Maryland University, (Baltimore, MD)
    Lyon College, (Arkansas)
    Oberlin College, (Ohio)
    Pohang University of Science and Technology, (Daegu-Gyeongbuk, Republic of Korea)
    Princeton University, (New Jersey)
    Reed College, (Oregon)
    Rice University, (Texas)
    Rhodes College, (Tennessee)
    University of the South, (Tennessee)
    Southwestern University, (Texas)
    Stanford University, (California)
    Stevens Institute of Technology, (New Jersey)
    Texas A&M University, (Texas)
    Valparaiso University, (Indiana)
    University of Virginia, (Virginia)
    Virginia Commonwealth University, (Virginia)
    Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, (Virginia)
    Washington and Lee University, (Virginia)
    Webb Institute, (New York)
    Wellesley College, (Massachusetts)
    Wheaton College, (Massachusetts)
    Williams College, (Massachusetts)
    Wilson College (Chambersburg, PA)

  68. How many of university on this list have apostles and prophets on their board of trustees? How many have tens of thousands of missionaries representing their faith? How many have an Honor Code equivalent to BYU’s?

    Please provide a list of universities that are comparable to BYU. The list won’t be very long.

    However, this list is interesting. Thank you.

    I believe this is the link to the list.

  69. I was a student at BYU in 1978. The Honor Code ,stricter than now, was being discussed
    in a class. The professor said it was over-the-top because college age people often rebel as part of adolescence. So the idea is to keep what they rebel against, small and
    inconsequential rather than something big. It was still annoying. They didn’t allow jeans on campus. Today, BYU-I allows long shorts but not capris–go figure??
    Over the years my frustration with ‘Mormon rules” has only grown. Minutia of rules pervade
    every facet of the Church that I am amazed anything gets accomplished because things are made harder than necessary. I have a feeling when Christ takes the helm in the Millennium, there won’t be any hoops to jump through. I can hope.

  70. Jack Hughes says:

    “How many of university on this list have apostles and prophets on their board of trustees?”

    This is a large part of the problem. The fox is guarding the henhouse.

  71. Not a Cougar says:

    JFK, how does it matter whether the other universities have apostles and prophets on their boards or thousands of missionaries representing them? The question is whether the ecclesiastical endorsement is a roadblock to obtaining necessary pastoral care and what happens when students have to choose between keeping quiet about indiscretions and completing their educations at the cost of covering up more serious crimes or obtaining necessary spiritual care from their bishops at the risk of wasting years and thousands of dollars on a not-yet-complete education.

  72. p.s. They also locked the dorm doors at midnight.If you weren’t in by then, too bad. “Nothing good happens after midnight”, which made sense. That rule has since been nixed. But they kept the absurd no member of the opposite sex may use the bathroom rule. Both the Honor Code and Dress Code I have not forgotten!

  73. For those who are critical of the concept of ecclesiastical endorsement for attendance at a Church-owned university with financial support of Church members, would you also object to de facto ecclesiastical endorsement for (a) authorization for temple attendance and ordinances, (b) service as a Church missionary, and (c) employment by the Church? If not, why not?

  74. For a moment I forgot, I am in the mist of many who are underwhelmed with the church.

  75. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Myra: the provision of a university education is primarily a secular business. (a) and (b) are spiritual in nature, and ecclesiastical endorsement is of course in order. (c) varies from position to position; needing an ecclesiastical endorsement to mow the lawn and weed the gardens at the Los Angeles or Oakland Temple, for example, seems a bit much.

    This gets into the question of why the Church should be operating a university in the first place. We know why it did, but just as the Church divested itself of its hospitals 40+ years ago, perhaps it’s time that the Church divest itself of its directly operated universities and the tithing subsidy for their operations.

  76. I think the church should divest itself of BYU should the majority of the students find the Honor Code too difficult to live.

  77. Myra, you missed the point. The problem is not really the honor code. It is not the ecclesiastical endorsement per se. It is that we have weaponized the system to the point that we can rationally ascertain that human beings are suffering harm and injustices are occurring. If the same things were occurring in options a-c of your list, yes, I think the issues should be discussed and changes in practice and policy made.

  78. When did the Honor Code Office start? I really seems like someone saw McCarthyism die and said, “Hey, that’s a good idea, making sinners turn in other sinners. How can we keep this going?”

  79. chompers says:

    For me, I think the church should get out of BYU entirely. The issue of ecclesiastical oversight there is a complex one, but ultimately it just makes the church look like an ass.

    I don’t know if my tithing money goes there (I’m not in the US), but I don’t like that tithing subsidises degrees. What about students in other countries? They don’t get subsidised education like that. Maybe when the church was smaller, but now?

  80. Here is what has always puzzled me: why are the standards promulgated at BYU as the result of a policy (not doctrine, not revelation) higher than those required to enter the temple–the holiest place on earth, as we are taught in LDS doctrine? When did qualifying for temple privileges suddenly become not enough to attend a university? Tithing funds are not the answer–otherwise, those with beards or who have members of the opposite sex using their bathrooms would not be allowed in chapels or City Creek…..

    BYU has had an honor code for decades, but the Honor Code (TM) dates to the 1960s and 1970s under the Wilkinson regime. It was a reaction to the counterculture in the United States and reflected Wilkinson’s personal proclivities…and those of his successors. I could cite specific dates and policy changes over time (I discuss this with my students when I cover this material in class….at BYU), but one thing is clear: the Honor Code is fungible and has changed significantly over time. Hopefully, it can do so again.

    Indeed, the primary focus on campus for the Honor Code is external–that is, has a guy shaved, is a woman’s dress “immodest,” are all of the “rules” being adhered to for all to see? If not, your status at BYU is in jeopardy to one degree or another. When talking about other issues, however, there is more leniency. I have had students plagiarize a term paper who get nothing more than a slap on the wrist for dishonest academic conduct that should make one ineligible for a temple recommend. The internal does not appear to be as significant for the Honor Code office or for some bishops in the ecclesiastical endorsement process as is the *appearance* of propriety and obedience.

    The fact that faculty must have an ecclesiastical endorsement is wholly problematic as well. Most weeks, I bite my tongue in Elders’ Quorum and Sunday School because I worry about having a comment misconstrued and potentially used to threaten my employment. And more broadly, it is a complete disincentive to be forthcoming with your ecclesiastical leaders. But this is a bigger issue for another time.

    For those who say, “if you don’t like it, leave,” that is not the point. Sometimes, people do not have that option. But even more significantly, these policies need to be reconsidered and revised. They are not doctrinal, they are not necessary, and they can do more harm than good. These policies lean more closely to Satan’s plan (forced obedience) than the Savior’s (teaching correct principles and allowing for repentance through the Atonement), quite frankly.

    Finally, in many ways, the comments have ignored some of the key points mentioned in the original post. Weaponizing worthiness–a terrific if terrifying phrase–is so antithetical to the doctrine of the Gospel that it should concern everyone.

  81. Geoff - Aus says:

    As a foreigner who has had none of my children or grandchildren go to BYU I should get a proportion of my tithing refunded. I think the same about having one ward sized building in our stake.

  82. former byu-er says:

    Thank you for writing this post. I feel as though I could have written it myself. I was recently reflecting back on my time at BYU, and was contemplating why my BYU jobs were full of much more stress and animosity between myself and my employer (I was a resident advisor) than I’ve experienced in a job since. And then it hit me, never again will my employer be evaluating my religious standing and morality in addition to my work performance. BYU is cheap, but almost not worth the psychological strain of trying to figure out how to be an LDS adult with people watching your every single move.

  83. Christian, I think we probably agree more than we disagree. The important point, as you point out, is that one bishop that fails to fulfill his pastoral, ecclesiastical role, because he is trying at the same time to fulfill a university enforcement role, is too many.

  84. I have a fun story of my bishop acting as the face of BYU’s honor code enforcement. I started at BYU in the fall of 1997 on the heels of a faith crisis my senior year of high school. I thought BYU would be the perfect academic and religious environment to work through my stuff.

    About a month into my freshman year, I spotted a flyer for a lecture about Joseph Smith. The flyer listed an off campus address and time for the lecture, and I decided to attend. It was held at the local Baptist church (I didn’t know that until I arrived), and they asked us to sign in before we took our seats. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I realized early into the lecture that it was garbage, and I walked out.

    About a week later, my bishop asked to meet with me. I thought it was a “getting to know you” interview, but he informed me he had been contacted by the honor code office. They reported to him that I had attended an anti-Mormon meeting. I explained that it was garbage and I left early, but I did admit my doubts and troubles to the bishop, as one does. At the end of the interview, he explained that my ecclesiastical endorsement was at issue, and that I needed to enter into a repentance/faith plan in order to continue at BYU the next semester. The plan required, among other things, the bearing of my testimony every fast Sunday that semester. I still remember looking him in the eye every month as I bore a paint-by-numbers, and totally insincere, testimony. My priority after our first meeting was to not get kicked out of BYU, and any sincere spiritual development was tabled.

    I don’t know whether my roommate told on me or someone from the BYU honor code office got a hold of the list. At the time, it didn’t seem that weird to have my bishop mediate my scholastic probation. Twenty years later, it blows my mind.

  85. Kori, that story is crazy. Compelling a person to bear testimony is, in my opinion, probably the worst (both morally bad, and ineffective) way to try to strengthen a testimony.

  86. your food allergy is fake says:

    That is spiritual abuse.

  87. Leo, you misunderstand my comment. Maybe that’s because I was hasty. As I reread my comment, I’m not satisfied with it. I strongly disagree with what you wrote, but I’m sorry for my dismissive tone.

    My point is not that sexual assault is less important than airline safety. My point is that you have compared these two things in a way that is actively harmful. The problem of preventing sexual assault is, first of all, a problem of preventing crime. BYU’s policy of punishing victims of sexual assault makes it less likely that crime will be reported and less likely that criminals will be detected. Leo, you seem to be defending a complex of rules that punishes victims for reporting crime. Is that really what you want?

  88. I found BYU’s environment to be very nice and relaxing. As far as I could tell I was around people who were the standards that I lived all of my life. Nothing façade or fake about it at all.

  89. Irresponsible, and biased, not to include the fact that BYU now has an “honor code amnesty” provision for sexual assault victims.

  90. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    jpv, while the effectiveness of the honor code amnesty is yet to be determined, it’s a positive step forward. It’s omission from the discussion is neither irresponsible, nor biased, as the point of the OP is that, regardless of how the University deals with these violations, a Bishop can circumvent any putative amnesty by withholding an ecclesiastical endorsement. This is how worthiness may be weaponized.

  91. This post is about ecclesiastical endorsement, not honor code enforcement. The HCO amnesty provision is good, but it does nothing to protect against withdrawal of an ecclesiastical endorsement in the exact same situation that it would protect against honor code enforcement.

  92. jpv, I agree that it would have been better to make the amnesty policy clearer. I remember lengthy threads about amnesty here at BCC and elsewhere, back when it was being discussed at BYU. I recall some strong opposition. I would expect that anybody strongly opposed to amnesty would also believe that there’s nothing wrong and a lot very much right about ecclesiastical endorsement creating a “second bite” effect. But that’s a no news response.

    For this current discussion I’m more interested in the “even so” argument, i.e., given honor code amnesty, and accepting at least arguendo that amnesty is a good and right policy at the school, is there a reason to override it with a rogue bishop’s insistence on hearing the rest of the story and imposing some kind of discipline?

    Bishops as the “last line of defense” doesn’t cut it—that’s just replaying the old opposition. Maybe some very high regard of bishops as more right, more inspired, more likely to get it right than anyone else? To the latter, my response would be that as a culture we do put bishops on pedestals, but not quite so high. There are enough bishop roulette stories floating around that—true or not—they have destroyed our cultural confidence in the perfect rectitude of all bishops. And it’s confidence that matters here. Repeating myself from above, no matter how good the bishops are, if a person who has been attacked doesn’t believe then the system fails.

  93. Loren Carle says:

    Overall message: Don’t go to schools or join religions that engage in bizarre surveillance tactics against their (especially female) populations.

    Title IX is the law of the land and the moral high ground. I don’t care who you are or what your religion’s self-serving authorities say.

  94. Loren Carle says:

    I feel I should apologise. While I stand by my previous comment, I made it before knowing more about the aims of this online forum as a primarily Mormon discussion. I could have said what I did more kindly perhaps. The truth will out: that’s how I really feel.

    I am Canadian Anglican who recently moved to Salt Lake City, and confess to a fair degree of anxiety and apprehension about the entrenchment of Mormon power here. Do people really believe they’re going to hell unless they control other people’s drinking? There are 12-step meetings for that kind of extreme codependency.

    I jest, but that’s just one relatively harmless, tip-of-the-iceberg example.

    I am grateful to learn of all of this via your forum—thanks for being there and having the courage to dissent in such a repressive mental space. I hope that your “common consent” will hold these abusers accountable!

  95. https://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/17/

    on ecclesiastical endorsement for faculty in the early days

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