Can the Ecclesiastical Endorsement Process Be Fixed?

Over the weekend, a Salt Lake Tribune article highlighted an enormous problem at the BYUs: the annual ecclesiastical endorsement process means that bishops can circumvent the amnesty clause that BYU added to its sexual misconduct policy.[fn1]

And why is that bad? Richelle Wilson gave us an excellent explanation of the problems with weaponizing the ecclesiastical endorsement process, and Angela C. explained clearly some of the dangers of a view of sin that leads to disregarding others’ welfare. So is it bad that a bishop can get a student expelled for something the Honor Code Office explicitly wouldn’t? Absolutely; Richelle and Angela have made an airtight moral and ethical case for it. And I would add, as a policy matter, that it is bad, too. BYU has made the explicit decision that encouraging students to report sexual assault is more important than disciplining them for breaking the Honor Code. This “loophole” will chill the reporting that BYU wants (rightly) to encourage.

So what can BYU do about it? The short answer is, I have no idea. But the longer answer is, I have several ideas.

What Is the Purpose of the Annual Ecclesiastical Endorsement?

I have no idea what BYU should do because I have no idea what its goal is in requiring an annual ecclesiastical endorsement.[fn2] BYU’s website provides guidance for how to get an ecclesiastical endorsement [here and here], but it doesn’t explain why.

It is clearly neither necessary nor sufficient for ensuring that BYU students comply with church standards. It’s not necessary—plenty of Mormon students attend non-Mormon schools and manage to follow church standards. (From personal experience, I can tell you that I didn’t know of any Mormons who drank, did drugs, or had extramarital sex when I was at BYU. I also didn’t know of any Mormons who drank, did drugs, or had extramarital sex when I was a law student at Columbia, in spite of our no longer having an ecclesiastical endorsement requirement.) But it’s also not sufficient: some BYU students do stuff they shouldn’t do.

And that’s a huge problem: the BYUs have delegated a lot of power to bishops, including the power to effectively expel students (and fire faculty). These bishops don’t have any responsibility to BYU, though, and BYU doesn’t have any authority over them.

But I’d be shocked if BYU’s administration has articulated precisely why they’ve delegated this kind of power to bishops, other than that it’s always been that way.[fn3]

If BYU wants to keep the benefits of an annual ecclesiastical endorsement, while not discouraging students from reporting sexual assault, it needs to figure out what the benefits of the ecclesiastical endorsement are. Once it has articulated what precisely those benefits are, it can craft a policy that will allow it to provide those benefits (or something close to them) without chilling reporting. (Or maybe it will discover, as it tries to articulate the benefits, that there aren’t any; if it’s unable to articulate benefits, maybe it should eliminate the annual ecclesiastical endorsement.)

But honestly, until BYU has articulated precisely what the purpose of an annual ecclesiastical endorsement is, there is no way to fully reconcile it with the amnesty it has crafted.

Some Ideas Anyway

Although I want to reiterate that, without knowing why BYU requires an annual ecclesiastical endorsement, we can’t come up with a full solution, there are several things that BYU could do that would resolve this particular conflict between the amnesty policy and bishops. (Note that, for purposes of these proposed solutions, I’m assuming that there’s a reason for the ecclesiastical endorsement, without knowing what it is.) Here are a couple:

Online Ecclesiastical Affirmation. We could require students to affirm (online or, if we’re dinosaurs, on paper) that they have followed the Honor Code and that they pledge to continue to comply with its requirements, then take them at their word. This actually strikes me as the optimal solution. We do self-reporting at church all the time. I mean, that’s basically what the temple recommend interview is: self-reporting our worthiness. And I’m pretty sure that I’d be hard-pressed to find a member who thinks attending BYU is somehow more spiritually significant than attending the temple. If we take members at their word during the temple recommend interview (and, for that matter, baptismal interviews and priesthood ordination interviews and everything else), why not for an ecclesiastical endorsement/affirmation?

But what if a student lies?, you may ask. To which I answer, fine. I mean, it’s not the student won’t be expelled for honor code violations if she shows up to class drunk. In fact, the same culture of tattling that Angela wrote about could still exist—heck, you could still report to the Honor Code Office that a student was drunk when she was sexually assaulted. And then, in accordance with BYU policy, the Honor Code Office could ignore that.

Ecclesiastical Endorsement Administrator. The thing I really like about the online affirmation is that it doesn’t create any significant additional marginal cost to administer. But if we really want someone to look deep into a student’s eyes when he says he’s attending church, BYU could always hire someone(s) to administer the ecclesiastical endorsement.

Essentially, doing this would split the pastoral from the administrative. Bishops would be free to act in the manner they felt best for their congregants. If they were convinced that a member of their ward needed to face some sort of disciplinary proceeding for that member’s spiritual benefit, they certainly could. But their pastoral care would have nothing to do with the congregant’s academic standing.

The administrator, on the other hand, would have no ecclesiastical or pastoral role to play with the student. The administrator could not affect a student’s church standing, only her academic standing. Because the administrator would be an employee of BYU, BYU could train her so that she understood the amnesty policy and other school policies. The school could ensure that the purpose underlying the ecclesiastical endorsement (whatever it is) was met, while maintaining control over its processes.

Hiring people to administer the ecclesiastical endorsement would be expensive. But if it’s worth having, presumably it’s worth the cost.

Alternate Clergy. Along the lines of the previous example, BYU could also allow students to get an ecclesiastical endorsement from someone who is not their bishop. Non-Mormon students already do something like this: they can get an endorsement from their own clergy or a Mormon bishop. It gives them the ability to affirm their compliance without taking away their pastors’ ability to provide pastoral care.

Who would this alternative clergy be? It could be a bishop from another ward; it could be clergy from another religion; it could be community leaders. BYU could choose—if it wanted, it could even provide a whitelist of acceptable endorsers (be they individuals or classes). This provides similar benefits to the Ecclesiastical Endorsement Administrator, but without adding costs to BYU. The one potential downside is that BYU would still be delegating power to non-employees, but that isn’t any worse than the current way ecclesiastical endorsements work.

Mandatory Appeal. If the school is unwilling to take back academic power from bishops, at the very least, it needs to set up an appeals proceeding that can revisit a bishop’s withdrawal of an ecclesiastical endorsement. Again, this appeals proceeding would apply only to the academic side of things—it wouldn’t have any pastoral or ecclesiastical authority. But it would have to have the power to overrule the academic effects of a bishop’s withdrawal (or denial) of an ecclesiastical endorsement.

This solution would be a little trickier to construct. We’d need to establish who had the burden of proof and persuasion. We’d have to decide who was on the panel, and when it could overrule a bishop’s denial (only where the revocation was related to a sexual assault? anywhere where the bishop was overstepping?). And frankly, the appeal should be mandatory and automatic. We shouldn’t place the burden on young students (and especially young students who have been sexually assaulted!) to know what the proper administrative procedures are. We should probably provide some sort of advocate to the students who can guide them through the process. But a mandatory appeals process would at least diminish the ability of bishops to circumvent BYU policy through the ecclesiastical endorsement process.

So can the ecclesiastical endorsement process be fixed? Probably. But to fix it, we need to know what it plans on accomplishing, and it’s far from clear that we have any idea.

[fn1] In short, the amnesty clause provides that BYU won’t discipline honor code violations of victims or witnesses who report sexual assault, unless someone’s health or safety is at risk.

[fn2] You don’t know either, unless, perhaps, you’re BYU administration, and even then, I kind of doubt you know.

[fn3] (Though, fwiw, it apparently hasn’t always been that way.)


  1. As a freshman at BYU many years ago, I began feeling guilty about something I had done a couple years previous. I was terrified to go to my bishop and receive pastoral care, since I thought he would revoke my endorsement and I would be kicked out. I finally decided to go. He didn’t revoke it, and I was glad I went. It helped me bring peace.

    I graduated BYU and left. I returned several years ago as an employee and have remained ever since. There was a 3-4 year stretch a few years back when I went through a difficult faith crises. I would call it a faith transition now. I’m glad I stayed in the church. I would have loved to have talked through some faith issues with my bishop, who was also a friend. But he had also told me that BYU called him from time to time to confirm that each BYU employee in his ward had his endorsement. Terrified that he might say something, even inadvertently, that would get me fired, I kept my mouth shut. This time, I did not receive the care I would have liked. I made sure to keep those walls whited, feigning something outwardly that I did not feel (for a time) inwardly.

    (If my faith transition had ended differently, I would have left BYU employment. At the time, I wasn’t sure how it would end, so I wasn’t prepared to uproot my family just yet. Just to preempt the “if you don’t like it then leave” crowd.)

    Anyway, I’ve learned from these two experiences just how much of a stumbling block the ecclesiastical endorsement process can be, discouraging people from seeking out appropriate pastoral care. I personally love the first recommendation here, a self-report, which would keep bishops out of the process and allow open communication between them and their flock.

  2. I think, since the reporting process of BYU has shifted, the next move is for the Bishops to receive better training. it should be pretty simple –

    If someone comes to a Bishop with some harm being done by one person to another (such as abuse & assault), then the Bishop should do everything to help the victim to find peace and stop the abuser. The lower bound of this reporting would be actual abuse, not “She wore something that showed her shoulders which could tempt the men”.

    If someone comes to complain that someone else is sinning, Bishop should hand them a stone, marked with John 8:7 on one side and the phrase “this is not any of your darn business” on the other.

    Endorsement should be aspirational, not punitive. The Bishop should want to help potential/current students to work toward keeping the standards they will be/are committing to, not being the one to “bring down the hammer” when someone might be falling short and wants to be better.

    Beyond that, BYU needs to take the step of dropping the Honor Code Office altogether. Reporting the sins of others is completely antithetical to Christs teachings. I wonder if we can start a campaign of leaving stones outside the office, as a reminder of what the office encourages.

  3. Bro. Jones says:

    Thanks for thinking through this. As in the comment you linked in fn3, it seems like in the past the endorsement was handled much differently. What’s especially odd is that it asks different questions than a temple recommend interview. Based on what Google says is the text of the ecclesiastical recommend, it seems to hypothetically allow a faithful member who does not pay tithing to receive the endorsement: nothing on it asks about tithing or whether the person holds a current temple recommend. Likewise, it doesn’t duplicate questions like “do you associate with groups/individuals contrary to the church?” or “is there anything in your conduct with your family not in harmony with the church’s teachings?” (paraphrased)

  4. Re fn2, I don’t know either. But I bet it’s the church—school split that’s existed for all my life (of conscious attention). That is to say that (my bet is) BYU has virtually nothing to do with ecclesiastical endorsement. The school is told it will happen. End of story.

    The reason for saying this is that your interesting and thought provoking proposals (although none of which are what I would do) probably need to be pitched at a Church administration level, not a school administration level.

  5. Sam, I think you’re spot on with your assessment that the root of the problem seems to be that we don’t have a clear sense of what the ecclesiastical endorsement is. Even aside from lack of any articulation of the benefits, which you address, we’re not even clear on the character of the endorsement. On the one hand, it looks like nothing more than verification of compliance with university (not ecclesiastical) standards. On the other hand, it’s called “ecclesiastical” and administered by Bishops, which suggests that it’s about whether the student is a person of good religious character/wothiness.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but your post seems based on the assumption that it’s primarily about verifying compliance with the honor code. And if it’s primarily about compliance with university standards, then there should be no issue with a university board overruling a bishop’s decision about a university issue. In fact, it makes you wonder why bishops are even doing it in the first place, when the other options you mention would verify compliance without blurring ecclesiastical and university lines of authority. (Though, also, if that’s the case, framing it as a university “ecclesiastical endorsement” coordinator would be a little weird, because in that case we would be recognizing it as a university thing, not an ecclesiastical thing. It would make as much sense to just call it an honor code office endorsement.)

    If it’s primarily about good religious character/worthiness overall, I could see framing it as an appeal, with the university having power to overrule the bishop’s determination could be problematic, because it could suggest that the university is exercising supervisory power over a bishop’s ecclesiastical determinations. If that were the preferred solution, I’d frame it instead as an application for a determination that the student meets university standards and for a limited waiver the university’s ecclesiastical endorsement requirement, based on that determination.

    I suspect that this confusion over what the endorsement really is plays into some of the problems. If a bishop thinks his role is to holistically assess overall worthiness, he’s going to act different in some cases than if he thinks his role is to verify compliance with the honor code. I’d be willing to bet that BYU bishops across the board vary in how they understand their role in deciding whether to give the endorsement.

  6. fwiw, the problem with online reporting is that you’ve put the victim into double jeopardy. Tell here to report and she won’t get in trouble (honor code amnesty) but now she has to lie on the form to preserve her standing, which lie is very likely an honor code violation itself.

  7. Tom Irvine says:

    First-time offenders who show contrition should be given some leniency and mercy. In most cases, they should be allowed to remain in school but required to do some community service and undergo counseling. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Further to footnote 3, I don’t remember having to do an annual endorsement when I went to BYU back in the late Jurassic (1976-77 and 1980-82). Maybe it was a thing, but I have absolutely no memory of doing it. There may have been an initial interview with your bishop required before admission in the first place, but not annual interviews for this purpose.

    My recollection was this stuff was all handled by the Honor Code Office on campus, not by bishops. If someone wanted to narc you out for something, they went to that Office, which was a university function.

    I was only ratted out once, for my hair being too long. I have no idea who ratted me out; presumably an employee at the Testing Center, since I think that was considered part of their job. It was no big deal; I got a trim and it was taken care of. (I think I could make the argument that I had the longest hair of any man on campus during my time there, but except for this one time it was never a problem. The thing is, my hair is naturally very curly so I wore it as an afro. The honor code talked about hair not going down over the collar or over the ears, but my hair didn’t go down at all, it went up and out. Enforcers of the rule apparently took a literalist approach to the wording and pretty much left me alone.)

    So one approach would be just to go back to the old way of doing things. Keep bishops out of it altogether and leave any enforcement to the Honor Code Office. Since that is a university function and subject to university control, they could be trained on these issues and taught to comply with the amnesty policy, something that will never happen with a thousand bishops not beholden to BYU in any way…

  9. Part of the problem is that BYU administration and bishops are in different silos within the church hierarchy. While they both sit under the supervision of the Q15, there’s probably not much overlap in some cases. Imagine the single BYU student living near UVU. The bishop of that college singles ward may live far away from BYU and not be familiar with BYU standards or policies. That’s probably a minority case but it does happen.

    Another issue that probably fits under the sub-category of “training” or “screening” is that there are some conservative bishops who take their role as judge very seriously. A counselor in my bishopric here in AZ believes that women bear some responsibility when they are raped and therefore that they need to repent – and there are surely bishops who believe that in Utah Valley. These bishops believe they are doing the victims a favor by subjecting them to church discipline and that they are protecting the church by retracting an ecclesiastical endorsement.

  10. Marivene says:

    Frank, I like the stone idea!

  11. We’ve talked about the benefits to the students but this would also benefit bishops who already have enough on their plate without having to meet with annually to renew these “endorsements”.

  12. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and comments. A couple quick responses:

    Chris, an online questionnaire wouldn’t have to put victims in the position of needing to lie. You could have the option for a text comment; for example, the question could ask, “Have you followed the WoW?” If a person checks “no,” in the text box, she could say something like, “It was related to a reported sexual assault.” The trained BYU employee (or AI software or whatever) would recognize that as falling under the amnesty and disregard it.

    And JKC, it’s a real problem of not understanding the purpose underlying the ecclesiastical endorsement (though fwiw, I’m not trying to be technically accurate. If we assume there’s a good reason for the EE, but we move it to the university, it’s worth—at least in a thought experiment blog post—keeping the same terminology, even if it doesn’t map precisely).

    You’re probably right that, even though I’m saying we don’t know the reason, I’m implicitly assuming it’s a compliance issue. Because a good religious character test seems inimical to education, and contrary to the idea that good religious character isn’t something we have, it’s something we aspire to and work toward.

  13. “A counselor in my bishopric here in AZ believes that women bear some responsibility when they are raped and therefore that they need to repent.”

    That is so awful. We need to correct that false doctrine.

  14. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I imagine (recognizing that nobody really seems to KNOW) that the EE exists to ensure that, once accepted and admitted, students continue to conform to some standard (arbitrary) of worthiness throughout their educational career. I’m reminded of the many parents who begin paying tithing and attending Church once their child gets engaged, in order to be able to get a temple recommend and attend the ceremony, only to disappear once the couple is married. I guess I can imagine someone who REALLY wants to attend BYU but has no interest in Church activity, playing a similar game in order to be accepted and begin their studies (though I can’t imagine why – financial reasons, maybe?). And they could do so without any actual violations of the Honor Code.

    Your second suggestion, the Ecclesiastical Endorsement Administrator, seems like a fine solution but, as you say, would be costly. However, am I being too cynical to think that BYU has intentionally decided that they want someone to evaluate each student, annually, and it’s just cheaper to have Bishops do it than to hire someone at the University to do so? That seems consistent with the BYU we have all come to know.

  15. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    …let me just clarify that, in reference to the example of parents who “shape up” just long enough to get a temple recommend to attend a marriage ceremony, I have no problem with that. Let them attend the ceremony.

  16. Sam, I hear what you’re saying about the problems with a good religious character test. But I wouldn’t count it out as a possible reason. We have, or should have, such tests for things like serving in leadership positions, holding authority in the church, serving missions, etc., and I could see an argument that a tithing-subsidized education comes with a responsibility to represent the church well.

    But even then, consistent with your comment that good character is aspirational, the goal is to build a graduate with good character, not necessarily to insist on strict perfection all along the way. Somebody could be outwardly strictly compliant and then graduate and become a rabid anti-Mormon. And conversely, somebody could struggle with compliance, but have the character of a person that would represent the church well. So insisting on compliance doesn’t really match that goal. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if some version of that were the rationale.

  17. Sam, the primary virtue of an online check-off is that it prompts creative thought in the context of the school managing the process. I could spin out a dozen objections and problems with actually doing it. There are solutions to some, maybe to all. All conditional on understanding the purpose of the ecclesiastical endorsement in the first place, and probably not an easy off-the-shelf fix no matter what the answers.

    The underlying reporting problem is a relatively hard problem. The joker or shocker in the deck is that the BYU committee did careful work and ended up acknowledging the ecclesiastical endorsement problem without being able to do anything about it. It makes me very cautious about suggesting solutions myself. There are wheels within wheels and probably nothing is easy.

  18. I’m with adano. Self-declare. There are two reasons to get bishops involved in the ecclesiastical endorsement process: (1) as a local police force that’s more likely to know the crimes of the individuals seeking an endorsement, and (2) as a distributor of church funds (since BYU is heavily subsidized and accepting a student is the same as giving them a grant). The first clearly interferes with pastoral care, and the second doesn’t make sense, since church charity isn’t contingent on worthiness as much as need, and need doesn’t play a particularly big part in school admission.

  19. Chris, absolutely there are problems with any of my solutions (the big one, of course, being that I don’t know the purpose of EEs, so I can’t craft a solution that is fully consonant with their goal). But still, given that none of these compromise BYU’s goal of amnesty or the bishop’s pastoral role, I think they’re all better than the status quo.

  20. Left Field says:

    BYU has an archive of past catalogs. The 1977-78 catalog, which was the year I was admitted as an undergraduate, requires a bishop’s interview with the application, but no annual endorsement:

    “Primary factors considered in granting admission to BYU are the results of the American College Test (ACT), the student’s grade-point average, and the confidential Interview by the student’s bishop or clergyman …
    To be considered for admission, a student must submit the following required materials by the appropriate deadline dates listed above:
    5. The student’s commitment and confidential report completed by the student and his/her bishop or other appropriately designated church or school official.”

    Th 1983-84 catalog has the same provision. The 1984-85 catalog has this:

    “Continuing Endorsement Interviews
    All students are to be interviewed by their bishop or other appropriately designated church official at least once each academic year to verify that they continue to be worthy to be enrolled at BYU. A student’s endorsement is in jeopardy when there is a violation of the Honor Code. ”

    I finished my Master’s in 1983, but I don’t remember ever having to do an annual endorsement. Perhaps it wasn’t required at the time for graduate students, but probably I just forgot. I didn’t bother to check the graduate catalog to see what the requirements were.

    By 1990-91, the text had been fleshed out:
    “Continuing Ecclesiastical Endorsement
    Each winter semester students who plan to enroll for fall semester will be required to have a continuing ecclesiastical endorsement interview with the bishop of the ward where they reside while enrolled at BYU. The purpose of this interview is to determine the student’s commitment to the Code of Honor, including dress and grooming standards. Non-LDS student interviews may be done by a local ecclesiastical leader or through the Student Life Office. Forms may be obtained from campus information desks, college advisement centers, on-campus housing offices, or the Student Life Office. A late fee of $20 wall be assessed for any endorsement completed after the announced deadline. Expected of LDS students for annual continuing ecclesiastical endorsement to attend BYU: Do your duty in the Church, attend your meetings, and abide by the rules and standards of the Church. Expected of all students: Abide by all the requirements of the BYU Code of Honor, which include the residential living standards and dress and grooming standards of the university.”

    The 2000-2001 catalog has the following:
    “Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement

    All enrolled continuing undergraduate, graduate, intern, and Study Abroad students are required to obtain a Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement for each new academic year. Students must have their endorsements completed, turned in, and processed by the Honor Code Office before they can register for fall semester or any semester thereafter. To avoid registration delays, endorsement should be submitted to the Honor Code Office by March 15.

    LDS students may be endorsed only by the bishop of the ward (1) in which they live and (2) that holds their current Church membership record.

    Non-LDS students are to be endorsed by (1) the local ecclesiastical leader if the student is an active member of the congregation, (2) the nondenominational BYU chaplain, or (3) the bishop of the LDS ward in which they currently reside.

    Whether on or off campus, all students are expected to abide by the Honor Code, which includes (1) the Academic Honesty Policy, (2) the Dress and Grooming Standards, (3) the Residential living
    Standards, and (4) this Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement.

    LDS students must fulfill their duty in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attend Church meetings, and abide by the rules and standards of the Church on and off campus.
    Students who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also expected to maintain the same standards of conduct. They are encouraged to participate in
    services of their preferred religion.

    Withdrawn Ecclesiastical Endorsement
    A student’s endorsement may be withdrawn at any time if the ecclesiastical leader determines that the student is no longer eligible for the endorsement. Students without endorsements, except in unusual circumstances, must discontinue enrollment. Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints results in the withdrawal of the student’s endorsement. The decision to withdraw an endorsement may be appealed through the
    appropriate ecclesiastical channels and then to the university through the Honor Code Office.”

  21. Okay, Left Field, that’s fascinating. The 1983 versions talks about verifying the student’s “worthiness,” which sounds to me more like an ecclesiastical assessment, but the 1990 version explicitly says that the purpose is to verify compliance with the honor code, which sounds like a university assessment. But then the 2000 version mentions an expectation (read: requirement?) that students “fulfill their duty” in the church, which sounds again like an ecclesiastical issue. The shifting explanations of the purpose seems to illustrate the confusion I mentioned in my earlier comment: is this an ecclesiastical thing or is it a university thing?

    Most interesting to me is that indication that there is (or at least was, in 2000), an option to appeal the withdrawal to the honor code office. I graduated BYU in 2005 and I never heard of that. The existence of an appeal to the HCO, not just to stake leaders, seems to me to suggest that the endorsement isn’t about an ecclesiastical determination, but about university standards.

  22. I dont have any problems with the process as currently practiced. Students receive 50 to 75k at least in tithepayer subsidies. If you want the money you need to follow the rules. If you cannot follow the rules there are lots of other colleges.

    There are thousands of students denied admission to Provo that will attempt to follow the rules.

  23. Bbell, your comment is 100% irrelevant to this discussion. Note that I don’t argue against the honor code, or even the rules that BYU students are subject to. It is purely the fact that a bishop’s ability to withdraw an ecclesiastical endorsement in certain circumstances undermines the schools’ stated policy of not punishing students for honor code violations that occur close in time to reported sexual assault.

    If you want to talk about that tension, this is absolutely the place. But there’s nobody on this thread disagreeing with BYU’s right to impose idiosyncratic rules. So if you just want to support BYU’s ability to punish students it has expressly said it doesn’t want to punish, please go somewhere else.

  24. Jack Hughes says:

    Left Field, thanks for digging that up. Like other commenters here, I recommend fixing the process by having the EE requirement rolled back to what it was in the old days, when it was just a one-time event as part of the application process, signed off by the prospective student’s hometown bishop, with no annual renewal requirement, and no continuous enforcement by BYU bishops, and cannot be revoked except by graduation or voluntary withdrawl. It would also help to formally sever the connection between BYU bishops and the university, so that a bishop has no power to jeopardize a student’s academic progress for any reason. If a student reports a sexual assault to the bishop, it becomes a matter for the police, not the school.

    Also eliminate the mandatory church attendance requirement. That just seems silly and infantilizing.

  25. bbell query the percentage of students who follow the honor code with perfect precision. I doubt that number is high. I certainly didn’t. There’s the honor code and there’s the need for understanding, mercy, and repentance. Abuse or academic fraud? Boot ’em. A repentant confession of a one time hand wander? My goodness . . .

  26. Like I said I dont really have an issue with Bishops being the gatekeeper. Somebody has to do it. There is no perfect process for this. Bishops seem the logical choice to me.

  27. obviously anon for this says:

    My opinion: get rid of the EE, get rid of any Honor Code enforcement other than for the types of violations that get enforced at other universities – criminal conduct, academic dishonesty, etc. Unlike Sam, I knew plenty of people who drank/blatantly broke the Honor Code while I was at BYU. Their drinking/parties/extramarital sex did not impact me in the slightest because, as it turns out, most Mormon kids are going to BYU because they want to avoid those types of things, and naturally keep the rules on their own because they *want* to.

    The ability to “rat someone out” is powerful – I had a pair of friends who were roommates, both of whom were breaking the Honor Code (one was having guys spend the night, the other was a bit of a partier). The girl who partied didn’t say anything about the guys spending the night (because she was a good person and didn’t want to get her friend in trouble), and the one who had the guys over…turned her roommate in, and got her suspended from school. Of course, the one who had been suspended couldn’t retaliate, because then it looked like retaliation, so the other girl got away with everything.

    Leadership roulette is a problem in the church, but an even bigger problem at BYU – I had bishops who didn’t care if you literally never went to church, they would always give you your endorsement (great), and others who would hesitate if your testimony wasn’t perfect (not great). And of course, men are the gatekeepers to everything. A man cannot understand what it’s like to be a young 19 year old woman at BYU who has been coerced into having sex with her 24 year old RM boyfriend, but he’s the one who gets to decide if said 19-year old young woman gets kicked out of school. I knew someone who was suspended as a freshman for a year when her (much) older boyfriend got her pregnant. He wasn’t a student at BYU, and she paid all the consequences. Why BYU would rather a young woman be suspended and quickly married off rather than helping support her as she becomes a new mother is beyond me. #defendthefamily I guess.

    Heaven forbid we create a safe environment to help college aged Mormons who are transitioning to adulthood – a place where it’s safe to make mistakes and learn how to repent (without having your academic future destroyed), a place where students can have their testimonies challenged and strengthened, and a place that isn’t just a meat market for Mormon men to prey on vulnerable girls. The rape/sexual assault stats at universities in the US are astoundingly terrible – one in five young women in college are assaulted. It’s not better at BYU – in fact, it’s worse. At another school, if you get assaulted and go see a therapist or your religious leader, you aren’t going to get kicked out of school. At BYU, if your bishop thinks you’re responsible in some way for your actions, he can pull your endorsement and that’s that. It’s frankly unacceptable, and I’m baffled that parents continue to send their kids to BYU while this policy is in place.

  28. Two more data points on the purpose of ecclesiastical endorsements:

    In its most recent reporting on this issue, the Salt Lake Tribune asked the church for a statement. This is what the church said (note that this came from the church, not BYU):

    “Students who study within the Church Educational System have wonderful and unique opportunities for learning and growth. All students agree to demonstrate high moral conduct, act with integrity and honesty, and adhere to standards of dress and grooming. Bishops have an important responsibility to help them live in this manner and continue to grow spiritually.”

    Here is an excerpt from “Ecclesiastical Endorsement Instructions for Church Leaders,” found at,f6b1a65f2b1e70007ed590a069da1507

    “The Church’s institutions of higher education are founded on the gospel of Jesus Christ and exist to provide an environment of faith in which young people can, through serious study, pursue both spiritual and academic preparation. The Church Educational System would like to accommodate all who desire to attend. However, each institution has a limited enrollment. A student who is admitted without being fully worthy is not prepared spiritually and displaces another student who is qualified to attend. To help ensure that those who attend Church institutions of higher education are living by Church standards and will continue to do so, prospective and continuing students must receive endorsements.”

  29. Left Field says:

    I say go back to the pre-1984 procedure. You sign a form with your application saying you understand and agree to the requirements. The bishop also signs and verifies that you understand. After that, the bishop is no longer involved. If you are found to be in violation of the rules, you are subject to action by the university, up to and including expulsion and (if appropriate) referral to law enforcement.

    The Title IX office, the university police, and bishops would be prohibited from notifying the Academic Standing Committee (or whatever it’s called) of any violations, and the committee would be prohibited from acting on any information received from those sources. If a student is charged with a crime, then that information becomes public knowledge, and the university can respond as it sees fit.

  30. richellejolene says:

    Thanks for writing this, Sam, and for the kind words about my post. My best guess regarding the “why” of the ecclesiastical endorsement, especially “why bishops,” is that they are a kind of character witness—someone who has ostensibly gotten to know you as opposed to a random university administrator you only see once a year to say, “Yes, I deserve to be here.” I don’t offer that as a defense of the current system by any means; I think everyone would be better off if students were just, you know, trusted. But why let students self-report their levels of church activity when you have a built-in, standing army of spies?

    I’m reminded of something that I saw a lot in my last student ward at BYU. A number of student athletes were often nowhere to be found, probably due to some combination of traveling with their team and possibly because they were at school primarily TO play on the team, not to be the super-active member of their student ward. In any case, our bishop made a big exception for these athletes by signing their forms even though he had no idea who they were. As a result, we ended up with a lot of student athletes in our ward boundaries because word got around that this bishop could be trusted to just push you through the system.

    I mean, I’m not at all opposed to the bishop’s leniency here (or to a little ward shopping), but it just goes to show that there isn’t a way to apply the standards evenly under the current system. The leadership roulette is real, and it has outsized consequences in the case of Church students/employees.

  31. Left Field says:

    I would also add medical personnel to the list of those who are not allowed to report you to the university. Bishops, police, medical personnel, and Title IX officials all provide specific needed services that are incompatible with enforcing university rules. Let the university do their own enforcement.

  32. Bill Lund says:

    As a student ward bishop I never involved the Honor Code Office unless I was forced to by another bishop. I found that the Honor Code Office and the University were very inconsistent, perhaps even hypocritical, in how they managed the students versus the faculty. In my college I was aware of a faculty member who had a long standing current Word of Wisdom problem. The university and the college were aware of the issue and essentially nothing was done about it. I suspect that a student would have been suspended or expelled for the same behavior.

  33. It is not unusual for young college-age students to question their faith or to make mistakes. When a student finds himself or herself wondering about God, they should to able to go to their bishop and work with him on their problems — and not have to worry about getting kicked out of school! Everyone knows about some prominent athletes at BYU were removed from the team while they worked through repentance — but they were not kicked out of school. Every bishop should know the difference between an unrepentant or apostate repeat offender and a young person who has made a mistake or has some doubts and needs some pastoral counseling.

  34. The Church may not publicly post its rationale for the EE system, but it doesn’t require much imagination to think of some reasonable, plausible explanations. For example:

    (1) Because the Church heavily subsidizes the education of students, it has an interest in selecting students who embody institutional values.

    (2) Because BYU is among the most public representations of the Church (ranking just behind Temple Square and the worldwide missionary corps), the Church has an interest in selecting students who it feels will be good public ambassadors.

  35. M, it’s clearly possible to come up with a rationale. The problem is, we don’t have a great history if we look at the ex post rationales we’ve come up with. No tea and coffee? Must be caffeine. The priesthood and temple restriction? Must be some kind of sin in the preexistence. Etc.

    Also, positing a rationale, rather than doing the hard work of actually describing what the rationale is, allows for lazy thinking, and for just keeping the status quo, whether or not the status quo is the best policy.

  36. another anon says:

    This (and other posts like it that I’ve read) is largely focused on the problems with the ecclesiastical endorsement process. I think this is a good focus. I’m personally ok with the bishop having the first word on this. He knows the student best, and he has an ongoing role in the student’s life. From a process perspective, my problem is with the idea that the bishop gets the only word. For the reasons already talked about, I think the suggestion of adding in an appeal process to the University itself has a lot of merit.

    Putting process concerns aside a bit, though, I’m much more troubled by the substantive problems of the current system. I think the standard itself is off, because it seems to take no account of ongoing repentence. The good news of the gospel is that we’re not bound by our past mistakes, that we can be freed from them (quickly, even) through the Atonement. And yet if you’re a BYU student, that’s not true. Commit the wrong sin, and, no matter where your heart is, you can suffer massive personal consequences. In a very real sense, BYU is tacking on its own earthly punishments for sin. From a gospel perspective…that’s just bizarre to me.

    What if a student sins but is truly repenting? What then? Suppose a student commits a sin, a serious one, even. If they’re heartbroken and contrite and trying to repent…why would BYU want to exclude that kind of student from participating in the BYU community? Even if the goal of the endorsement system is to ensure that only actively participating members of Zion/the church/whatever are part of the BYU community, wouldn’t a repentant sinner naturally still be a part of that? Isn’t that exactly the kind of person we want to keep around?

    To me, so much of the problem here is substantive, not procedural. And I wonder if it couldn’t be fixed with a simple addition to the ecclesiastical endorsement standard that is given to bishops. Suppose the Church (or BYU, or whoever it is that actually tells the bishops what the endorsement standard is) added a line saying: “Even if a student has committed a sin that resulted in church discipline, the student is entitled to an ecclesiastical endorsement if he or she is actively engaged in the repentence process.”

    I know there would still be loopholes/roulette problems with that standard (though adding an appeal process could help solve those). But even putting the process part aside, I’ve got to think that tweaking the standard that way will solve the problems we’re worried about in most cases. It would allow the student who messed up one time or even the student who is battling an ongoing addiction or whatever to still use his bishop’s help to repent, without worrying that the endorsement will go away (and that he’ll then lose his degree or job or whatever).

  37. Wondering says:

    From another anon: “I’m personally ok with the bishop having the first word on this. He knows the student best”…

    Four years at BYU. Five bishops. If I remember correctly, only one of them would have known my name, and if pressed there probably wasn’t much more he could have said about me than my name and church calling, and that I knew his parents. I might have been asked to speak in church once in four years of student wards. How are these bishops who “know students best” and really don’t know most of them at all supposed to speak to testimony and character?

  38. another anon says:

    Wondering–Fair enough. Make it the home ward bishop. My point was that if someone else has to have the first word, I’d rather it be a bishop who (should? probably?) knows the person personally than a university administrator, who very likely doesn’t.

  39. I’m with Wondering. Only one of my student ward bishops knew me even half decently, but that’s because I was one of about 5 people with a calling (for that one school year) that had me interacting regularly with the bishopric.

    And my home ward bishop didn’t know me either. My home ward bishop changed during my freshman year to somebody I didn’t know well. And I didn’t go home for summers; once I left home at 18, that was it.

    In general, bishops in my college years only ever talked with me when I came to them for an EE interview.

  40. I remain perplexed at one fairly simple question: why is it harder to get in to and stay at BYU than it is to enter the temple–which is, doctrinally, the holiest place on earth?

  41. Great post, Sam. I think you have some great suggestions even though, as you note, without knowing BYU’s reason for the EE, it’s hard to suggest things. I like your online affirmation idea, or Left Field’s one-and-done idea best.

    I really like another anon’s point above, about how the EE process is effectively adding an extra punishment rather than really doing anything to encourage repentance. It’s like the folks who are masterminding the EE have read “The Not Even Once Club” a few too many times.

  42. A knock on problem with the EE mess: the real pastoral care is being inadvertently farmed out to BYU faculty. Students can’t go to bishops because bishops can ruin their college careers and derail life plans. Where do they go when they need an adult (well, adult older than college age adults) to talk to and seek some guidance from? Professors. The burden falls on only a fraction of the overall faculty, those who students, through various means, determine to be trustworthy to divulge all manner of things to. And, of course, the burden falls most heavily on the female faculty of that fraction (due to their vast minority here, the culture of female=nurturing, the fact that every single bishop is male, etc.). What do I spend a great deal of time doing in my office? Listening to kids come out as LGBTQ+, as reconsidering their faith, as completely done with all things Mormon, as victims of misogyny, as victims of assault, as barely able to function under the crushing pressures of BYU expectations, as suffering with the spectrum of mental health issues, and on and on. Yeah, a whole lot of profs around here could be getting a whole lot of students kicked out of the uni. But I don’t see that happening. Supply your own guesses why.

    And where do the profs go? They too are policed by their own bishops (to say nothing of their non-clergy ward members/neighbors) and tenure here is fake. Literally a full professor can be fired for whatever a bishop deems beyond his own personal pale. It’s a rigged system that incentivizes facades, desperate acts of self-preservation, lonely suffering, and dishonesty for the sake of providing for one’s family. At least an expelled student can, with moderate pain and legwork, get back into BYU’s good graces or transfer elsewhere in a relatively short period of time (say, a year at most). What about the professors? Yeah. The job market, if you win the lottery and get any job at any institution, only opens once a year. The profs aren’t saying boo to nobody. Simple game theory.

    One of BYU’s many dirty secrets that is barely kept from public view: people here are miserable. Mountains of misery. Self-hatred and desperation in terrifying magnitudes. Like, to the tune of students not being able to get in to see a counselor without a 6 week wait because the well-staffed counseling center is overrun. You have a student in crisis, like suicide or other self-harm for various causes? The only way to get them immediate help is personally to use your prof status to call the counseling center and say, “This student is in my office and is in crisis and needs to talk to someone right now.” And this happens. Because the students sometimes come to your office and say as much. Your office. At your place of work. As you are about to dash off to teach a lecture. Bet they aren’t doing that with their student bishops on Sundays and Tuesday evenings. These kids want to stay in school and graduate. The profs I know want the same for them. The EE and all its layers and processes is broken and harmful.

  43. anon as well says:

    As a former BYU professor who is also female, I second anon’s point that students come to female professors, rather than their bishops, to seek guidance on serious issues. I was surprised when I taught there how oppressive the system could feel, and was relieved when I had to leave for health problems.

  44. DJ: Maybe because holiness isn’t about exclusion in the same way that BYU has decided it wants academics to be?

    That’s a little glib. I’m not especially interested in defending every part of the BYU honor code or its enforcement, but I don’t think it really makes sense to assume that the temple should be harder to get into than BYU, that the level of holiness of a place is a function of the relative difficulty of getting in, or that no church institutions should ever have unique rules or standards that go beyond the basic requirements to have a temple recommend.

  45. I mean, if the assumption is that the temple should be the hardest place to get into because it is the holiest, and the BYUs are harder to get into the solutions are either (1) is to ratchet down the BYU standards to match temple standards, or (2) ratchet up temple standards to match BYU standards. The problem is that some BYU standards that aren’t required to enter the temple (like curfews, for example), might be arguably appropriate in a University setting (again, saying nothing about their enforcement), and people might use that as a reason to say therefore, the only solution is to ramp up temple recommend standards, and that would be a very bad thing, in my opinion.

  46. anons, that underscores an extremely negative (and unnecessary) effect of making the person who is supposed to provide pastoral care the same person who functions as a gatekeeper to education/jobs.

    The Jesuit school I teach at sees its religious mission differently than BYU, but it’s probably not a bad place to mention our chaplain. He’s a Jesuit priest, so he has the kind of pastoral training that our church leaders don’t have, but he also does a lot of innovative stuff. Maybe the most interesting, in my mind, is that, in addition to his formal office hours at the school, he holds informal office hours every morning for a couple hours at one of the many Starbucks that encircles the school. He does it both because he likes his coffee and because he wants to attract students who need his help, but would feel awkward or uncomfortable if their classmates (or professors) saw them going to him. Stopping at Starbucks means they’re away from the school and their peers, and they have plausible deniability if someone does see them (“Hey, I was just grabbing coffee, and I saw Father Jerry and thought I’d sit down to talk.”).

    The BYU version of this would naturally look different, but it’s worth considering how we can encourage, rather than discourage, students (and faculty!) who want some kind of pastoral care.

  47. And JKC, bringing the temple into it is probably at least partly my fault; I did make a facile comparison in the OP. You’re absolutely right, though, that the temple and BYU serve different functions, and the standards for going and remaining differ. (I mean, a 2.5 GPA will keep you out of BYU-P, I suspect, but not the temple.) Still, even if standards differ, it’s probably fair to say that if we trust people to tell the truth for their temple recommend, it’s worth trusting them for BYU continuing status purposes.

  48. Oh, for sure, Sam.

  49. The purpose of the ecclesiastical endorsement really isn’t a mystery. The purpose is moral policing. Ernest Wilkinson was the BYU president who created BYU’s modern honor code system in the 1960’s. From very early in that process, Wilkinson began to involve bishops and stake presidents in identifying problem students. Wilkinson’s goal was not to counsel and strengthen these students. He wanted to get rid of them. More precisely, perhaps, Wilkinson wanted a system that would routinely sacrifice some students as an example to keep the rest in line. That basic function of the honor code system has never changed. The ecclesiastical endorsement simply makes bishops agents of the university’s moral police.

    There is really no ambiguity about this. In the instructions given to bishops, there is no provision for the possibility that a person might continue to be a BYU student while working through whatever issues might affect worthiness. (“Worthiness” is not clearly defined. Enter problems of leadership roulette, etc.) The bottom line is that the ecclesiastical endorsement is not about a bishop’s pastoral duties. It’s about weeding people out and keeping people in mind (and in fear) of weeding out.

    Now, what does this mean for the question whether the ecclesiastical endorsement process can be fixed? I think it means that this is the wrong question. What’s really happening here is a recapitulation of the same debate that happened two years ago. At that time it became clear that the university’s honor code system had led to some very bad practices, including the illegal abuse of Utah police databases for honor code enforcement and the illegal breaking of confidences in the university’s Title IX office. It also became clear that the effect of the university’s honor code system was to punish crime victims who reported crimes–especially victims of sexual assault.

    The university committee that worked on this was thorough. They understood the problem and they explained it well. They suggested excellent reforms. But they also understood that they had been kneecapped before they ever started their work. The powers that be told them not to touch the ecclesiastical endorsement system. This made it impossible to solve the problem that the committee was asked to solve.

    So the real question is not ecclesiastical endorsements. The question is whether BYU and the church will honestly face the way the honor code system, of which EE is just a part, re-victimizes crime victims. If they are willing to be honest about this, then solutions are possible. Solutions might require a more basic reconsideration of the honor code system, but that could turn out to be the greatest blessing that BYU has received in a long time.

    There is a detailed, critical history of the BYU honor code system here:

  50. anons [BYU prof and former prof], I’ve heard the same observations and concerns from male BYU faculty members approached by students for the same kinds of matters. The burden may be disproportionately on female faculty members, but it is not uniquely their burden. Depending upon class size and frequency, faculty members often know the students much better than BYU student ward bishops do. This is on top of the ecclesiastical endorsement problem.
    One of those male faculty members reported having asked a student “why are you telling me this instead of telling your bishop.” The answer was “because I know you love me” clearly implying that either the bishop did not or the student had no persuasive evidence that he did.
    Not knowing the ward members and their not trusting the BYU student ward bishops seems to be unavoidable. When a volunteer/lay bishop suddenly has essentially almost 250 new young adults each year to run a ward with/for, there is no time to get to know them. As a long-ago BYU student there were a number of faculty members I would trust, but I never had a BYU student ward bishop I knew I could trust had there been any need to do so. (I did have a couple I knew I could not trust!)
    One faculty member called as a student ward bishop long ago (so long ago he was ordained/set apart by a general authority) had 11 children at home. On learning that, the GA told him he could be a bishop on Sundays and one evening a week and that if he couldn’t get it done in that time, he was not to do it. While I agreed with that direction, I also wondered where he would ever find time to do more as bishop than keep the organization running and keep up with temple recommend interviews and tithing settlement. In such a setting one should not expect any pastoral care from an overburdened bishop.

  51. To clarify, when I say that fixing the EE system is not the real question, I don’t mean that it’s not a question worth discussing. The insights on this thread about that question are incredible.

  52. Monkeyking says:

    1) They should be no more than once a year, and there should be no mid year withdrawal of endorsement. If the bishop thinks there is a violation he can send it to honor code office. By allowing bishops to withdraw endorsement it makes them both judge and executioner. This also acts like an automatic “appeal” because the honor code office does the investigation and there is a hearing that has some rules and level of proof required.
    2) Violations of moral code, i.e. sex, word of wisdom… student should be allowed to continue in school until end of year and allowed to return if new ecclesiastical endorsement is sent.
    3) The purpose behind it all should be to help students live church standards and repent when they don’t. Terminating school attendance is not helpful to repentance.

    Thus in the current situation, the girl, would continue school, perhaps the school chooses to investigate the drinking after the bishop forwarded the info, and if they determined that it was a ‘moral’ violation (i.e. nothing illegal) she would have until the start of the new school year to “repent” or transfer to a school that is more suited to her.

    Why they won’t do this: They are of the opinion that the church is subsidizing the education and so the student is there at the will of the church. There are some in the leadership who believe that the spiritual side of the “church” must be in control. Thus everyone is subject to their local leaders… They fear if that is not the case it will be too secular. What it really is that GA’ Q15 have already vetted bishops and stake presidents to make sure they can be managed and so they can also direct back channel influence on bishops and stake presidents.

    This is not exactly on point but from my own experience at a BYU working for a church owned company that hired students. The relative of a GA was hired as an “independent contractor” to do the same job as me, literally the exact same job, but was being paid nearly double what I was. Needless to say I voiced my disapproval to coworkers, but never officially. One day my supervisor pulled me aside and warned me to stop talking about the matter because the director and someone else met with him to discuss my “work Performance” and if there was grounds to fire me. He told them that I was very good at my job and there was no cause to fire me for work performance. The other person in attendance said, that’s fine he will still be “easy to get rid of.” My response was, well if they think they can use the church to do it (meaning making it into some worthiness issue, because temple recommend was required for employment) they will discover that I am more well connected than they suppose, and briefly mentioned a couple of examples. (I personally despise name dropping and that is why no one knew that I had the personal connections that I did) Unsurprising to me, nothing more was made of it and the GA’s relative found new employment a couple of weeks later. Just an example of how GA’s try and snuff out dissent or objection to their will and had I not had the connections I did, I believe I would have been called into my bishop to have my recommend revoked over something either false or petty, as was the girl at BYUI. It is all quite disgusting.

  53. I think the best solution is to transform the endorsement to a recommendation, much like other letters of recommendation in other contexts. In that way, the bishop has an opportunity to vouch for the student and that the student understands Church standards and is likely to abide by them, and then the school can do with that information what it will, keeping in mind the mission of the university. This should be done on admission and every few years or require new recommendations for other purposes and milestones (application to a program, application for certain jobs, etc.). The recommendation could be in a form that allows the bishop to qualify their recommendation, provide standard survey-like insights about particular character attributes (without going into too much detail). And the bishop could even formally write the university to withdraw or further qualify a recommendation. But the bishop’s actions would not be automatic, and would instead inform the decisions of the university administration.

  54. Truckers Atlas says:

    Great post, Sam, all the more so for your presenting concrete options for avoiding future damage done to students who deserve nothing but empathetic pastoral and academic care.

  55. Loursat’s comment above triggers the following thought (surely an unintended consequence for which I bear full responsibility):

    In an era of high demand, capped enrollment, and very high institutional support (any of which could also change), there’s a crude businesslike calculation possible that any individual student doesn’t matter very much and the harshest tightest criteria for continuing student status can be rationalized.

    Playing about in that mindset, three observations jump out:

    1. The logic is morally reprehensible, whether applied at a family or local church unit or school or church or country level.

    2. Within a harsh tight criteria world, it would seem ‘logical’ to put up hedges around abusive behavior, whether sexual, ecclesiastical, verbal, or physical. Impose hair trigger sanctions at the slightest indication.

    3. When I compare principle and practice about skirt length (which scans as a victim indicator) vs principle and practice about sexist or racist language (which scans as a perpetrator indicator), I’ve got to wonder what happened to the hair trigger on abuse? The answers that come to mind are disturbing.

  56. Several commenters have pointed out that BYU has stated its purposes for the honor code in various places, but it shouldn’t be hard to guess. By way of analogy, it would appear obvious that the purpose of West Point’s honor code is to thoroughly instill and impart the corresponding values and behaviors in its cadets and graduates. Conversely, if West Point reduced its honor code to a self-administered check box, the obvious implication to the cadets, faculty, and officer corps in general would be that the code wasn’t very important any more. I hope and believe the strict West Point honor code promotes honesty and integrity in the Army’s officer corps, and I believe weakening or downplaying that code would weaken the integrity of the corps.

    President Monson, I believe, once used the analogy of bicycle spokes and church government. The wheel fails if the spokes are tightened too tight or left too loose. To complicate matters, people fall on some sort of bell-shaped curve. Some are tortured by overly sensitive consciences and some are quite deaf to the voice of conscience. Harvard psychologist Martha Stout maintains that a shocking 4% of otherwise normal-looking people may have no conscience, or, if you prefer, have killed their conscience. We do want to screen out and avoid sociopaths as far as possible.

    So what is to be done in terms of guiding and protecting young and often immature students in terms of honor codes and ecclesiastical reviews? The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the recent SL Trib article. The Chronicle article (unlike BCC posts and comments) is not agenda driven and is balanced, presenting some evidence that honor codes may actually reduce abuse overall. While no system run by mortals will be perfect, I see nothing in the current system that couldn’t be fixed by better training of bishops and a simple appeals process with reasonable guidelines.

    Consider some of the proposed alternatives. How many times have you checked a box when downloading software affirming that you have read and agreed with the vendor’s terms and conditions. How seriously did you take that one-click agreement?

    Consider setting up yet another parallel bureaucracy. It would not be long before the SL Trib and BCC attack that new silo and its administrators. Trained therapists can be good and helpful, and the Church uses them, but they can also be substandard, ineffective, and even abusive, as an internet search will easily reveal. No magic bullet there.

    Others have suggested modeling other schools. At the UW-M (the school in the first weaponized post), the school itself admits that in their honor code free and amnesty committed environment, sexual assault is dismayingly frequent and often goes unreported to campus officials, while victims do confide in fellow students. How is that working out for either the students or the university? Complaints against Columbia’s policies, including a federal complaint, are easy to find on line. As for Catholic schools, there is an example in Rod Dreher’s blog post of August 10th (one of a long series) on an alcohol and sex scandal (the two very frequently go together) at a prominent Catholic seminary, not just a university, but a seminary. Dreher is not anti-Catholic and is quick to point out that scandal is not just a Catholic thing. His point is that any culture of not reporting serious failures of behavior, discouraging such reports (“When I brought this up to other seminarians, I was criticized for being “uncharitable” and “gossiping.”), and authorities not reacting swiftly with serious consequences, can and does easily lead to tragic and even catastrophic consequences. Lax pastoral care is neither pastoral nor caring as the sheep are neither fed nor protected.

    As for the point that BYU interviews may be more rigorous than temple recommend interviews, I note that rules can appropriately be tuned to context, environment, expected temptations, and the church’s experience. For example, senior missionaries have less strict rules than apply to younger missionaries. This is not because one calling is holier or more important than the other, but because of the church’s experience with the behaviors of the respective groups. My observation in a Church office of the rules, interviews, and policies applied to paid Church employees is that the Church’s policies are exemplary. While no system run by mortals is perfect or beyond improvement, I have a very high level of confidence that the Church schools know what they are doing, have the students’ best interests at heart, and, most importantly, have leaders who are uniquely divinely inspired. See D&C 1:30-33. I don’t have that confidence in this blog.

    Finally, for those who believe BYU, BYU-I, or the Church in general to be Pharisaical, weird, toxic, oppressive, silly, or infantilizing, I emphatically recommend attending, transferring to, or being employed by other institutions. There are many, and they are found in all price, geographic, philosophical, academic, and behavioral ranges.

  57. The bishop should not be able to kick you out of school, it is completely ridiculous that they have this power. The Honor Code should be just that, on your honor. As you stated, we take temple goers at their honor, why not students? BTW, I am a graduate of BYU, went there because it’s where my parents wanted me to go. I signed the honor code and never gave it a second thought, if I kept it, great, if I broke some aspect of it, oh well. But, because I had to have it renewed every year, there was no way I would have ever confessed any misconduct to a bishop while at BYU. I was just really lucky I that I never got tattled on nor was I assaulted so I made it through just fine.

  58. Several observations of late, including posts on this blog, have underscored the over-reliance we have on bishops and other church leaders to mitigate problems that would be better managed by ourselves and others. We have lost confidence in our ability to receive personal revelation and the reconcile hard things one with another.
    I don’t think BYU is where it starts, but it certainly fosters a reliance on deferring to authority, even when it’s not appropriate. I often see on Facebook groups for various callings where members post questions about what to do in challenging situations, and invariably someone chimes in with “Ask the bishop.”
    Whether you are uncomfortable with about a nursing mother’s breast, need a pickup from the airport, or are seeking retaliation under the guise of spiritual guidance, the bishop need not be at the center of these issues.

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