How to beat an autocrat: Fear not—i.e. don’t cave, friends

by Abigail J.​, CES employee

A few months ago I wrote regarding the problematic nature of changes to conditions of employment (“opted-into” or not) and increased scrutiny over CES faculty. Some of you commented with further information from your corners of the CES world, including changes to the endorsement questions being sent out to bishops. Peggy Fletcher Stack then picked up the story, and her characteristically fantastic reporting subsequently drew out something of a confession (albeit a misleading half-truth of one) from the Church Newsroom hours later: indeed the endorsement questions were changing—“for new hires” so they said.

What follows is an update, and perhaps a bit of exhortation for all of us—for myself, but the collective whole too, that we don’t play right into his/their autocratic hand. Mike Austin recently called us off the fence. I think that’s a good call.

I am a full-time CES employee with “Continuing Faculty Status,” or what other institutions would call “tenure.” I did not “opt in” to the new “hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend” standard, which is not optional for 1) new hires, 2) adjunct faculty, 3) people who want to move up the ranks (or truly serve the faculty and students—it does happen) as an administrator, 4) lead a travel study, or 5) who knows what else they’ll come up with next (it’s been very ad hoc—each week there’s some new variation on the theme).

But here’s the thing. The new TR standard and endorsement questions have changed—for all of us. And the first wave of centralized firings has begun—at the level of the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office (ECO) in Salt Lake. Dozens of adjunct faculty, many who have worked for CES for years, given overtime and heart and health to students, received compensation for barely minimum wage, have received calls that they have been fired—even as the fall semester begins—with zero information as to the reason for their dismissal. (Can you imagine making such calls over and over? All in a day’s work.) 

The process is entirely opaque,​ and it is literally ruining people’s lives. Many are baffled—they have no idea why their endorsement would be removed—and some of their bishops swear it didn’t happen at their level. Theories range from a misinterpreted comment, whether in person or on social media, or a student’s report, or hearsay, or a system error.

In most cases, their interactions with students have been above reproach. Department administrators having to fill classes left vacant by these firings are scrambling to meet the needs of the students that the higher-ups express concern for. We already treat adjuncts only slightly better than indentured servants, yet the system—and students—depends on them. Yes, they can be fired at any time. But for many, this year, it’s not happening at the department level.

I was recently called in to my own “endorsement interview.” My bishop told me he had checked to see if I had a temple recommend. And he shared with me that bishops were sent a different endorsement form for all individuals working with students in a teaching capacity and that if he didn’t know the individual(s) well enough to answer the questions, to “please schedule an interview.” So he dutifully did—with myself and several other faculty within his flock. He then read me these questions:

  • “Does this member have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of its doctrine, including its teachings on marriage, family, and gender?
  • “Does this member support current church policies and practices and sustain the leaders of the Church?
  • “Has this member demonstrated an exemplary and extended pattern of avoiding pornography for at least one year?
  • “Please share any concerns you may have about recommending this member:
  • “This member will be an influence on youth and young adults. Your additional comments are needed for this endorsement. Please describe this member with regard to each of the following: Temple Worthiness, Church Attendance, Support of Church Leadership and Doctrine, Family Relationships, Testimony, Other Areas of Strength:”

This was sent to all bishops of all CES faculty, whether they opted in or not.

So that’s the latest, folks—along with new legal language on application forms for new hires waiving confidentiality (though confidentiality, too, has obviously already been discarded for all CES employees. At least they’re admitting it in the process of protecting their rear ends). I think it’s ‘safe’ to say we CES folk are working under an autocrat. 

But here’s the other thing, friends: whether or not you and I lose our jobs, if we shrink in fear, it will have accomplished present fundamentalist ends, well-intended and on-the-defensive-backed-into-a-corner-worried-about-membership-leaving-in-droves though they may be. Authoritarian regimes operate through just such fear. It is not the punishment, but the threat of it, that holds the most potential power.

I suggest, collectively, our strongest response: Change nothing. Whatever that is. As you were. Let’s stay true to what feels right at our core, esp in regard to those we teach, esp those who are vulnerable, esp those who are on the margins of the church and CES schools. Keep loving our LGBTQ+ students, keep supporting People of Color, supporting women who are grasping for a sense of self while navigating socio-institutional expectations. Continue acknowledging the complexity of the world, don’t dilute your intelligence, don’t reduce your teaching to platitudes, don’t stop associating with people Jesus himself would have been fired for associating with. 

We can only venture to guess the specifics of the institutional objections that have led to the present crackdown. Whatever. Let’s not lose the love due to fear. You are compassionate, complex, thoughtful, intelligent, giving, concerned for the individuals you teach in all their diversity, worried for their mental and physical health. Those students need you. We may be faced with a choice: demonstrating loyalty to the present-day institution, or to the beautiful young humans in front of us. When their well-being is in direct conflict with present institutional aims, and therefore our job security, which will it be? What will be the counted cost?

Comments

  1. Mike Holyoak says:

    It makes me feel a little better knowing that the young people of the church have leaders like this. Keep fighting the good fight and loving those you teach.

  2. Johan Niedermeyer says:

    ahahahahaha get rekt

  3. If I send my child to a CES class I would hope that the teacher has a temple recommend, including a testimony in God and Christ, in the restoration and believes in church doctrine regarding the family and gender, and doesn’t view pornography.

    If the teacher won’t meet these qualifications, then why would I trust them to teach my child’s CES class?

  4. Pontius Python says:

    ^ I would expect those qualifications for a seminary or institute teacher. But broadly speaking, CES != “Seminaries and Institutes”, and most of those qualifications are irrelevant to the vast majority of employment opportunities within CES.

  5. The church has effectively replaced the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbor with fealty to the prophet, the family proclamation, and to fear.

    Mac: I can only speak for myself. I’m fine with my children being taught by individuals who love God and love their neighbor. Whether they view family and gender through the lens of the Church or through the lens of science to me is a personal choice that doesn’t impact their ability to teach my children to be kind. Just a contrary data point for you.

  6. My dad was a CES employee and I remember overhearing him having a conversation with others CES employees about a few of their colleagues that left the church immediately upon retirement. Basically they stayed in their jobs teaching the gospel, long after they lost their belief in the church, in order to keep their pension. This as also around the time Grant Palmer wrote his book. While I think the lack of ecclesiastical confidentiality will only keep people from working with their bishop trhoughthe repentence process, I do understand why it would be concerning to have a non-believing person teching faith to a child just to keep their retirement plan.

  7. A few thoughts on the comments thus far:
    1. If you believe that the current crop of seminary and institute teachers (including those in RelEd at BYU) are 100% free of pron (or even mostly free, as they’re mostly men), I have some lovely beachfront property in Kansas I’d like to sell you.
    2. Church doctrine on family and gender is not clear now, nor has it been for several years, so making that the standard for teaching is very squishy.
    3. It turns out that broken, flawed people who are trying to do good and help others can sometimes teach with the Spirit, even if they sin on occasion.
    4. Pontius, I agree with what you are saying except where it comes to RelEd.
    5. “While I think the lack of ecclesiastical confidentiality will only keep people from working with their bishop through the repentance process, I do understand why it would be concerning to have a non-believing person teaching faith to a child just to keep their retirement plan.”
    This is a question that resolves itself; if you don’t make retirement contingent on keeping faith, you won’t have this problem.

  8. Makes me glad my mother managed to teach me that “support” and “sustain” don’t necessarily mean “agree with”.

  9. Daniel Ortner says:

    Calling your employer an “autocrat” for ensuring that employees are aligned with the organization’s mission and values is a pretty clear indicator that you are not in a position to be instilling that missing and those values on the youth.

  10. There are plenty of people who love God and love their fellow men but have no business teaching a CES course. Other Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, essentially any decent person of any faith tradition could fit within that box of loving “God and men”. Certainly, I can learn something from them, but that doesn’t mean the place to learn from them is as a paid instructor in a CES class.

    I cannot imagine this being controversial in any other setting. Shouldn’t believing, practicing Muslims teach Muslim youth religious courses? Shouldn’t practicing Vegans be the ones who teach others about what eating Vegan means? If there was a class dedicated to preserving the art of filmmaking on actual film instead of digitally, would it be reasonable to want an instructor who didn’t believe in film to be teaching the course?

    It’s not fundamentalism to desire that our youth be instructed by people who, while not perfect, will not lead them astray or muddy the doctrinal waters on purpose.

  11. A couple more thoughts:
    1. What is it about a Temple Recommend that leads you to believe someone with one won’t lead people astray?
    2. Why do you think sincere Muslims or Rastafarians who are paid to teach the truth about the church would “muddy” the doctrine?

  12. To be fair to Daniel Ortner, autocrats usually keep their secret police secret and we know who’s on the ECO and what their criteria are. Wait…one moment…I’m told we don’t know who they are and what their criteria are. Never mind.

  13. Pontius Python says:

    On the contrary, Mac, some of the very best professors in BYU history have been “other Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, essentially any decent person of any faith tradition.” One of the BYU professors I admire most is the now-retired Dr Juliana Boerio-Goates of the chemistry department, who was a proud and outspoken faithful Catholic. It greatly enriches the BYU experience to have non-LDS researchers and scholars teaching classes and contributing to high academic standards at BYU-Provo and all other CES institutions. Except, sure, let’s not have a practicing Muslim teaching “Foundations of the Restoration,” that might not be such a good fit. (But it might! Approaching the topic from an outside perspective might be just the ticket to strengthening someone’s faith in the restored gospel.) Who are you to suggest only card-carrying Church members should teach at CES schools?

    I actually feel very strongly about this.

  14. John C. I don’t read your questions as sincere. You know the answer to both of them I suspect.

    I’d probably feel better about sincere Muslims or Rastafarians teaching CES courses than members of our own church who do not believe.

  15. Mac, I am no mind reader. I’m afraid you’ll have to tell me or I just won’t know.

  16. Pontius,

    I’ve already commented too much and so this will be my last one here and I’ll let others discuss. In theory, I’d be just fine with non-LDS teaching all sorts of topics like chemistry, astronomy, business, etc. at BYU.

    But this isn’t the ecumenical Hinckley era anymore and not because the church abandoned it. Non-LDS Chemistry professor? Great… Non-LDS Chemistry professor at BYU who uses the classroom to undermine the faith of students… no thank you.

    But anyway, I think the Church and CES’s major concern is on seminary and institute classes, religious courses which should be taught be people who believe in the Gospel sincerely.

  17. I’m confused. Do these new rules apply to all church emplyeed educators (So chemistry, literature, ceramics teachers, etc) or just those that are teaching religious classes?

  18. James Drangus says:

    Chadwick:

    If you love God, you keep His commandments. Very simple.
    If I see you breaking those commandments willfully and rebelling against His prophets, I know you don’t love God. Go be apostate somewhere else

  19. Employers are allowed to determine the job qualifications of their employees (subject to federal non-discrimination law, of course, which is not the issue here). If one does not like the parameters of the employment, they are free to look for a job elsewhere. Also, it is not uncommon at all types of companies for management to change the job parameters that current employees must meet. If the current employees don’t like it they are free to look for employment elsewhere. Finally, it is a common law concept that one owes a duty of loyalty to their employer. One is not loyal if they accept payment from an employer, but activity try to undermine and work against their employer.

  20. Another CES professor says:

    There seems to be some confusion on what a CES employee is. All BYU-x professors are CES employees. This is not about BYU professors trying to undermine faith or not believing in the church and trying to hide that fact. This discussion has wandered so far from the author’s intent that the point is being missed. This is about faithful temple recommend holding professors being asked to sign a loyalty oath beyond the temple recommend questions based on legal issues that take away their right to talk to their bishop about confidential matters. It’s about having professors declared guilty without any accusations. It’s the assumption of harm without evidence of harm. This post is about faithful, believing professors having their right to pastoral care being removed without any recourse to change that. It’s about distrusting professors who make good faith efforts to keep students in the church.

  21. Abigail J. says:

    I appreciate your engagement with this post and the various viewpoints expressed. On a few things I see considerable confusion. If I may make a few clarifying go points:

    1) CES employees do not work in seminaries and institutes. If you think they do, you’re using that term archaically; the appropriate umbrella is S&I, Seminaries and Institutes. CES refers to higher education run by the church. In large part, the BYUs.

    2) There is an assumption throughout many of these comments that if faculty are getting fired, they must be in the wrong. Let me be clear: faculty getting fired are utterly unaware why they are getting fired. They aren’t being told. The process is opaque. Temple-attending, church-attending lovely souls are being called by the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office telling them they’ve been fired for an undisclosed reason, and bishops had cleared them. We don’t know why! One can only guess

    3) There is an assumption in the whole crackdown that began months ago that faculty are to blame for students’ choices, and that faculty are teaching falsehoods and undermining faith in classrooms. Several of you seem to presume the same. I have been in many, many classrooms and I can attest that my colleagues are phenomenal humans who care about their students. Faith is not being undermined by faculty in any classroom I have been in, including that of those who may be culturally or politically “astray” from the prevailing culture.

  22. Anon CES faculty says:

    I’m baffled that people commenting above aren’t appalled that, once again, leaders in the institutional church/CES lied. They took away confidentiality long before they had permission to. Now they’re realizing, oh we’re talking out both sides of our mouth so we’ll have people sign it away. They acted like this ‘new standard’ was optional for current employees, and something to lift us up, rather than the club that it is. “Opt in” was a rouge. They changed the conditions of employment quietly, for everyone, and slid it in. This church taught me to be honest, to be loving, to listen. In reality, in the current climate, I’m being told to love only those who are doing fine, and the institution can speak falsely, abuse others and ruin their lives with impunity.
    I don’t want to leave, though some of you seem to want me out because I’ve been injured by this. Believe me, I’m considering my options. Perhaps that’s not in line with the message of the OP. But it is the hard reality many of us are facing.

  23. One of the possible reasons individuals are being fired could be that the church is using cookies via lds.org to track members’ internet use. If I understand correctly the lds.org privacy policy allows them to do so. So if employees visit websites the church objects to….

  24. If BYU gave employees the boot simply for looking at the wrong websites (by which I think you mean porn) half their employees would already be gone.

  25. “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place—with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.” Boyle, Gregory. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (p. 72).

  26. “But this isn’t the ecumenical Hinckley era anymore and not because the church abandoned it. Non-LDS Chemistry professor? Great… Non-LDS Chemistry professor at BYU who uses the classroom to undermine the faith of students… no thank you.”

    I wonder if we’re all missing something here. Recently the courts have been applying non-discrimination statutes in such a way that churches are only able to decide who they employ or don’t if they are religious teachers, teaching doctrine. In effect, if they are the equivalent of clergy. Thus, in order to protect its ability to hire (or fire) whomever it wants, the Church *has* to make all those positions much more doctrine-centric–hence, the strict guidelines about what they can and can’t teach, do, etc, even when not “at work.”

    Some may respond that it’s good that the non-discrimination rules apply to the Church. But when the government starts to encroach further into how the Church (and its ancillary organizations, like the BYUs) operates, it’s no wonder that the Church retrenches and hunkers down. If the state would back off a little, maybe the Church would, too.

    (Would love to get Sam Brunson’s take on this, from one attorney to another.)

  27. Fully endorse Abigail’s post and subsequent comment.

    There is a morale crisis of Brobdingnagian proportions on campus at BYU due to these policies. The McCarthy-esque atmosphere of fear and anxiety permeates every department and every interaction with the administration, students, bishops, professional colleagues, and even family. The creation of an unattainable standard of conduct for faculty–which is goes well beyond LDS doctrine and the temple recommend questions and rejects the theology of the Atonement, not to mention depends on the uneven interpretation of a local leader–is the cause.

    This is CES’s Cultural Revolution.

  28. It always discourages me when the institution is forgiven for things that the members are not.
    Worried about teachers or members not living the doctrine? What about the institution? Apparently it’s OK for them to demand strict behavior of others while not following it themself. They can repeatedly change standards and claim they are righteous simply because they have authority.

    I mean equating righteousness with authority is a pretty standard human problem in all cultures, I just cringe when we don’t see that’s what we’re doing.

  29. The brilliance in this poignantly and personally vulnerable post is in how nuanced you are able to narrative the narrow dance of near professional death atop the razor’s edge juxtaposed with you brutally beautiful conclusion.

    Bluntly put, The Church of Jesus Christ is compelled to fire Jesus in order for its administrators to administrate.

    No ministering about it.
    Blessings, sister.

  30. Is any of this surprising?
    We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

    Seriously though, churches need to get out of the university business, and BYU needs to just go away. Even before Big Brother’s increased clamp down on Party dissenters over the past couple of years, the output from that school was what drove me away from the church.

  31. Comments about seminary teachers are really missing the point here but others have addressed that so I won’t belabor it.

    In any event, this isn’t about professors being punished for openly disagreeing with their employers in the classroom — although actually, there’s a strong argument to be made that academic freedom requires them to be able to do so. But there’s no real academic freedom at BYU.

    It’s not even just about faculty and staff being punished for things they do and say outside the classroom.

    It’s about faculty and staff being punished for their private religious beliefs. If they can’t answer the TR interview questions, many of which focus not on conduct but on actual *beliefs*, then they stand to lose their jobs regardless of what they teach or do and whether they have ever actually said or done something contrary to Church teachings or practices.

    They have no freedom of conscience. I can’t even imagine the pressure.

    And yes, my friends, that’s an autocracy.

  32. Perhaps I should know this but I don’t. Are all BYU educators employed by CES or does CES only employ seminary and institute?

  33. Chip Browne says:

    In my industry, there is a thing called a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), which is a very transparent process for managers to express their concerns for performance, and for the employee to respond and commit to change (or leave the employer by his/her choice).

    One could see that a transparent process like a PIP would, at least, solve the problem of the “opaqueness” of the current process of the “first wave of centralized firings” that has begun.

    I have learned that BYU, for example, actually uses a “PIP” for its employees. It has a different name. It is a PDP (Performance Development Plan) and is described here (https://hrs.byu.edu/pdp-procedures).

    What I don’t understand is, if this process exists, why is it not being used in this process of separating current employees? It appears to be very transparent and very well considered.

    Or, another possibility is that PDPs are, in fact, being used, and we are not considering them in our current analysis. Perhaps, in fact, it is a “failed” PDP that is being used as a basis for these firings.

  34. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I currently don’t have a TR. It lapsed during COVID and I simply haven’t bothered to get it renewed. I am worthy, in every way, to get one. I know, for a fact, that Ward and Stake leadership have looked at my records and noted this when considering certain callings, and that the absence of the TR was immediately disqualifying (don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want those callings, anyway). Regardless of my worthiness, it is the piece of paper that matters most. This is how an autocracy works. It’s not enough that I play by God’s rules by being worthy and righteous. I have to satisfy the autocrat’s requirement to physically possess a signed piece of paper. I accept the value of that form for entry to the temple. I do not accept the use of that form as a proxy for things entirely unrelated to entry into the temple.

  35. UTManMI, while I’m flattered that you’re thinking of me, this isn’t really my area of law.

    That said, I don’t know whether requiring this extra set of ecclesiastical information does much ministerial-exception-wise. Part of the Supreme Court’s decision-making was that she was ordained and held herself out as both a minister and religion teacher.

    That said, mostly the BYUs don’t need the ministerial exception to fire people. Most employees are at-will and can be fired for good reason or no reason. (Tenure protects from the no reason, but I really don’t understand the BYUs’ pretend-tenure.) All the ministerial exception does is allow for bad-reason firings.

    So I suspect that CES can do these things. But should it? I’d answer vociferously that it shouldn’t. But I’d also answer that it should be willing to hire non-Mormon employees even where there’s a Mormon employee capable of doing the job. So you see how much they listen to me.

  36. Oh my freaking heck, your employer tightening up requirements is not authoritarianism. You’re mad about it, fine, but illustrating your rant with a fasces just makes you look ridiculous.

    It also trivializes a real and deadly serious problem. Look around the world and you’ll see authoritarian regimes invading their neighbors and murdering their citizens. If you can’t tell the difference, maybe teaching isn’t your true calling.

    Beyond that, I can’t tell that there’s any substance to this post. BYU wants bishops to sign off on teachers being faithful church members. Um, good? This shouldn’t come as a surprise. All the better for students who choose to attend BYU for that reason. All the better for faithful church members who want to teach there. Your bishop read the questions to you. He’s not trying to find out if people harbor liberal ideas, vote for Democrats, or support marginalized students.

    Dozens of adjuncts aren’t having their contracts renewed, you say. That’s what makes them adjuncts – a job can disappear from one semester to the next. If they really were making barely minimum wage, the university is doing them a favor. The labor market is hot, SLC/Provo is a thriving metro area, and there are better opportunities out there.

  37. I think byu employees, like all church employees, are getting a raw deal. I can’t imagine having my employment tied to a temple recommend or some ecclesiastical leader’s opinion on whether I follow church doctrine, which is often clear as mud and evolving. I think it honorable that good people choose to stick it out, but honestly, it’s not the path I would choose. Why put up with this? Leave, find better jobs. And hey, maybe if enough people leave all at once, it will get some attention. Anyway, I’m truly sorry for what you experience there. Best of luck.

  38. C keen. You seem fun.

  39. C. Keen,
    It is true that what is happening with at BYU isn’t going to result in anyone getting killed (probably). But there have been periods when the administration exhibited authoritarian tendencies (the Wilkinson era comes to mind). And it does appear that BYU is entering another of those cycles. While I agree with you that no-one in their right mind should send a child there or seek employment there because of these tendencies, some people were hired in a period when the expectation was that they would not be monitored by thought police.

    Also the problem doesn’t appear to be individual bishops based on what was described in the OP, which I assume you read. It is this the mysterious ECO which can veto all decisions made below it based on criteria that are not explained. Now BYU can do whatever it wants; it’s in an at-will state and it doesn’t even offer tenure. But let’s not pretend that what’s happening there is the product of a healthy organization responding to educational or business trends. If the result of your change is to make your employees paranoid and much less trusting if the institution, it’s possible it is a mistake.

  40. Sister Seeker says:

    Oof. Maybe it’s time for a former BYUI adjunct to chime in, because a lot of these comments clearly do not understand or empathize with the adjunct position.

    To be an adjunct is to be powerless. I wouldn’t dare make this comment if I was still in the BYU system because of fear. Shouldn’t that give us pause?

    I once had the dubious honor of being brought in front of a bishop and accused of not paying tithing. The bishop could do this because of that annual ecclesiastical endorsement. As it happened, we had set up an automatic payment that wasn’t happening and we didn’t realize, so honest mistake and all was eventually well, but in the moment, I had a panic attack. A messy, ugly one as I saw how a bishop could take away not only my livelihood and the source of my children’s security, but one of my strongest ties to the Church and one of the spiritual joys of my life.

    It’s ugly. You would never, ever want to be in the position of trying to defend yourself in the face of these rules. Having left that job, my mental, emotional, and spiritual health have improved because I’m no longer constantly worried my church will find me Not Righteous enough. I miss the actual job dearly, but that ecclesiastical endorsement is a tool of autocrats who wield unchecked power. This is not the way disciples of Jesus Christ should go.

  41. C. Keen,
    Also, I apologize for not mentioning this earlier, but, as a former adjunct (at BYU, even), I just want to say Go To Hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go Directly to Hell.

  42. C Keen – I presume you’ve not heard of the scriptures about mourning with those who mourn and bearing another’s burdens? You might want to review those scriptures and contemplate how they align with the comments you made

  43. Timothy Birt says:

    Wow,
    The fearless bravery to speak truth and empathy to autocratic ecclesiastical power and give their name!

    I am not a CES employee, I have known a very few in my 48 years in the Church. The first was a very empathetic progressive man with a depth of understanding and a complex open world view. He lent my wife issues of Exponent II when she publicly wrestled with church teachings about roles of women as a PhD student and feminist scholar. He discussed challenging issues and articles from Dialogue and Sunstone with me and recommended I attend the Miller-Echols Study group in So. Cal. He was a marvelous man of depth and able to face complex challenging issues in Mormonism.

    The second is a local CES institute director who is a nice man interpersonally yet his religious teachings and orientation is very orthodox and legalistic. When asked if he understood or taught the Documentary hypothesis he said “we teach faith,” and wouldn’t discuss matters outside correlated materials. He said women staying home and not working was doctrine “hard doctrine,” but God’s will. The difference is certainly personality but also 40 years in time. I doubt the nuanced CES director from So.
    Cal would be able to keep his job today in the church.

    The author of this article is exactly what kids in the seminaries and institutes need. Most high school students and college students in the CES system could not answer the first question that they support the current church view on gender marriage and sexual orientation.

    Now the purges begin so only the most orthodox loyal unquestioning or inauthentic CES personnel will remain and the cultural divide between the morals of todays youth and church demanded orthodoxy broadens. This trajectory is not sustainable. The church must let go of its cultural inquisition on sexual orientation, gender, patriarchy, and sexual representation or only the most uncritical loyal fundamentalist members and youth will remain.

    When the leaders and teachers that remain have to be hard core orthodox, the exodus of members especially youth will grow exponentially.

    The author of this article will soon be out of CES employment and the church will be less moral because of it.

  44. College students are going to continue to reject the church’s “teachings on marriage, family and gender” no matter how many church employees bear testimony of them. The church lost this battle years ago. If it’s not going to change those teachings (and don’t tell me it can’t because it already has multiple times throughout history without any discernible revelatory catalyst), it could at least stop shooting itself in the foot by going on and on and on about them.

  45. I am so sorry for students, staff, and faculty friends still at BYU. So many now are caught between their career choices and their moral integrity. We tend to divide those who remain into the questioners and the orthodox. But unfortunately what we also have are the liars – those who fake orthodoxy because it leads to safety and power in the church and in their careers. Many begin that trajectory at their first bishop interview as a deacon (and the masturbation question), continue through the mission, and are comfortable with lying as adults. I’m sorry for them too. Only a few end up revealed as actual psychopaths, with all the public or private damage they do, but the rest live cramped and twisted spiritual lives because of it.

    It’s been a while since I was involved with BYU, but it hurts to see a bright and beautiful place blown up by church leadership.

  46. George C. Marshall once said, “I can’t expect loyalty from the army if I do not give it.” The Board, Clark Gilbert, and the BYU administration needs to adopt that attitude. Demanding loyalty without reciprocation is a recipe for disaster–or increasingly authoritarian actions and policies.

    Let’s face it: BYU faculty are already the most vetted people in the entire LDS Church. Just to get an interview on campus, you have to be deemed “worthy” by your bishop and TPTB at the ECO…aside from your academic credentials. Once on campus, you get interviewed by no less than four academic leaders–each of whom is instructed to make a determination about “mission fit” as part of their assessment process. Then you go to the COB for a General Authority interview, usually including your spouse (whose social media posts and other “worthiness” factors can be used against you in the decision-making process). Even after all of that, a job offer extended by a department has to be approved by the dean, academic vice president, and president before getting further approval from the ECO (again), commissioner of education, and the Board. A “no” from any of those kills the offer–with no transparency as to why, at this late stage, there is a problem. And yes, that happens–in fact, just this year in one department in my college.

    Given all of that, why don’t they trust the faculty?

  47. A very sad day for an institution I love.

    Let’s talk about the first question: Does this member have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of its doctrine, including its teachings on marriage, family, and gender?

    First, there is grand total of one statement in the ProcFam that specifically prohibits sexual relations among same sex persons, and it is this: We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We know that this statement was not followed by any of the first 6 presidents of the church, each of whom had relations with wives to whom they were not lawfully wedded. We therefore know that this particular teaching is not unchanging doctrine, but is instead simply a statement of current church policy of relatively recent vintage that may well change in the future (alternatively, we can conclude that the violation of this law is the kind of minor sin that we expect most people, up to and including the church president, to commit with regularity). So bishops, when interviewing BYU faculty, please don’t tell the church that they said YES to this question unless the professor clearly understands and has a testimony of, among things, the idea that the ProcFam is statement of policy subject to change and is NOT unchanging salvific doctrine.

    Second, I’m reminded of Julie Smith’s excellent piece over at T&S a while back (2015) entitled A Rhetoric of Indirection. I quote in part: This emphasis on The Family is going to do us more harm than good. And it is starting to feel like idolatry to me. It often feels in church settings as if The Family is more important–more emphasized, more loved, more fussed over, more worshiped–than God or Jesus Christ. And anything that doesn’t mesh well with The Family–be it an older single member or a child raised by gay parents–needs to be ignored or banished so as not to interfere with The Family.

    I am particularly dismayed over how the recent emphasis on The Family impacts our study of the scriptures. In recent years, an evaluation portion was added to the seminary curriculum. You can see part of one of the assessments here. There is one essay question in those materials and it is “What have the Old Testament and modern prophets taught about marriage?”

    Well, that’s certainly an interesting question. You could talk about the acceptability of concubines, for example. You could talk about Joseph Smith’s polyandry. You could talk about levirate marriage. You could talk about how Joseph Smith did not inform his first wife of some of his subsequent marriages. You could talk about how Tamar was deemed the more righteous for pretending to be a prostitute. About the ease with which Brigham Young permitted divorce. You could talk about how the Law of Moses required a woman to marry her rapist. You could talk about how modern prophets have vacillated from advocating male-headship marriage to a marriage of equal partners. You could talk about how Abraham passed his wife off as his sister.

    But, as you can see from the CES materials, the students are expected to answer as if all Old Testament and modern prophets have consistently taught the same thing about marriage. There are so many problems with this, I don’t know where to begin. First, this is an excellent case study in proof-texting: the points that CES wants students to make in the essay are only tangentially–if at all–supported by the text. Next, it ignores large swaths of the text (see above). And in so doing, it sets students up for problems in the future: I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is the next faith crisis. These kids will not be surprised by stones in a hat or by 14-year-old brides; they will be shocked at what the scriptures say. And they will ask why the church “lied” to them about it. And they will not trust the other things that their teachers and leaders have taught them. And they will be adrift. Even if they don’t get to that point, they are not learning the skills required to study the scriptures as adults: they are essentially memorizing proof texts and associated doctrine. This is not a recipe for a life-long interest in studying the scriptures. It is also a betrayal of the scriptures, which are not lists of prooftexts and doctrine but rather mostly narratives designed to require thought and engagement by the reader, ideally in a community. This seminary assessment is but one example of many of how our focus on The Family is leading us to focus on precisely the wrong things, to the detriment of individuals and families.

  48. And to C.Keen:

    Clearly, you have not had the misfortune of having an ecclesiastical leader question your politics, interpretation of doctrine (according to his obviously correct perspective), or level of commitment to the Church. Otherwise, you would not dismiss the peril those interviews hold for faculty.

    Not paying tithing on your gross? A bishop may have a problem with that (one of mine did). Drinking Coke? A violation of the Word of Wisdom according to some bishops (like one of mine). Missing church meetings on occasion to care for a sick spouse and developmentally challenged child? No BYU endorsement for you, at least from a bishop of mine. Watch R-rated movies? No temple recommend for you (happened to my mother, who then drove from the Midwest to SLC to complain…and got our bishop replaced).

    Perhaps think about the position others find themselves in before you pontificate and condescend to them.

  49. I love how, if you merely post a link to a Trib article that questions the dominant progressive narrative, you get deleted at BCC.

    But post nasty comments about Clark Gilbert and you’re totes fine.

    Keep up the good work!

  50. Quick guide to recognizing autocratic leadership:

    Are they transparent?
    Are they accountable?
    Is there shared governance?
    Do they follow recognized standards?

    *’gospel methodology’ is not a recognized standard.

  51. To Anon BYU X prof: That was the most creative invective I have ever read!

  52. It’s easy (very easy) to blame this all on Clark Gilbert, who I believe deserves the scorn he receives, but he is in his position because he was put there but the Board. For the life of me I cannot understand how leadership including two former BYU Presidents wants to replace mind-expanding education with indoctrination by dimwitted fundamentalists. Do we worship patriarchy or God? The glory of God is intelligence!

  53. @david day, couldn’t love your comment more.

    @byu prof, that’s an excellent reminder that trying to work for an organization that fundamentally distrusts you is an absolute and total morale killer.

  54. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’m sure, given the personal nature of the insults from Anon BYU-X prof, it warrants eventual removal (it’s a holiday weekend and moderating takes time!). But let me say that the level of creativity, the nuance (and…not), structure, and breadth of wit demonstrates the level of intelligence I would hope anyone who teaches my kids in college would bring to the table.

  55. The last half makes it very clear how serious a problem we have with radical extremists. There isn’t a thing I could write to get through to this person. In Moses’ day, there was a separation so Zion could be purified to do her crucial work to unite heaven and earth, the Bride and the Bridegroom. Today it is the same only they don’t die when they are separated as they did with Moses. We either sustain the Lord and His authorized servants, or we don’t. There is no middle ground or fence sitting any more. Good will have a purified people.

  56. As an academic, married to an academic, with both of us with an eye always on the job market for other opportunities, I will say that the BYUs have never interested us as long as we had children at home (we’d never wish to raise them as mentally exhausting as Utah). Without children, however, we would have both consider the BYUs somewhat seriously. Over time, however, that interest waned. After that Holland talk at BYU about muskets, I’d say the interest sunk to less that 1%. No it’s zero. The same goes for sending our children there. Our oldest is capable of great charity and dealing with all sorts of crazy ideas that people hold (a byproduct of living in the Deep South during the Trump and Covid years). We had thought that he would be fine at BYU. Now, however, even though he would be fine and would be great asset to them, I don’t want him there. I don’t want any of my children raised in such a ‘Moses’ mindset that Joy is promoting. In fact, the views expressed by Joy is what Church leaders are hearing from their donors. This has been explicitly expressed. The Church its following the donors on this point and thus retrenching themselves into a black and white, spiritually undeveloped culture. I get it; they are scared nothing else will work. The Church is still in its adolescence. Unfortunately, the leaders are treating members with fear and control, hoping it will stick. It’s bad parenting, and bad leadership, and I want nothing to do with it. I will say with the same fervor as Joy that God wants nothing to do with it either. The naiveté (that’s the generous reading) is astounding.

  57. Shortly after the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party came to power in 1933, all universities in Germany were purged by the process of Gleichschaltung: the enforced conformity that brought every public institution into line with the ideology of National Socialism. For example, the new minister of culture of Bavaria, Hans Schemm, delivered this message to the faculty of the University of Munich: “From now on it will not be your job to determine whether something is true or not, but only whether it is in the spirit of the National Socialist Revolution.”

    As Richard Hanser notes in his fine book, “A Noble Treason,” “the authorities were never able to overcome a rankling distrust of what might be going on in places where books were read, ideas discussed, and the working of the mind took precedence over the exercise of the muscle. [I]ntelectuals were classified with Jews, and therefore, merited much the same treatment. With the coming of National Socialism, more than twelve hundred university professors—mostly liberal Jews—were dismissed, among them some of Germany’s most brilliant scholars and several Nobel Prize winners.”

  58. Abigail J. says:

    Sister Seeker. Oh I hurt for you. I can only say that BYUx adjuncts, who are phenomenally over-qualified, are treated like excrement. Layer on the current state of affairs. Do we really want to do that to these beautiful people? And—their students?

    Timothy Birt – I wonder if your prophesy will be fulfilled. Who knows? It may or may not be a good change in my life. But—I do love much about my life at BYU. My students and colleagues are just excellent. And I do believe in what this place -could- be. If only. But no, as a few of you mentioned, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I had no idea I was signing away pastoral care or risking getting my spiritual motivations all in a twist. I had no idea how it could blow up my career. And I had no idea that I was volunteering into the umbrella of an autocracy – and indeed, it is – according to the very criteria many of you have so eloquently laid out.

  59. When I see an organization destroying itself, I look for a rational explanation. First I ask whether it’s possible that what we’re seeing comes from clumsy incompetence? I don’t think that’s likely. The CES overseers have put Clark Gilbert in place because they know he is good at one thing: destruction. He used to call it “disruption” in trendy business-speak a decade ago, but his talent has always been for destroying things. So, what do they intend to destroy? I think they want to destroy liberal education in the Church Educational System.

    Here I need to take a moment to clarify what liberal education is. Liberal education teaches students to appreciate the diversity in life, culture and nature. It assumes that our engagement with others must constantly adapt to the endless volume of things that we do not yet know. The role of liberal education is to provide students with the tools to live that kind of life and find beauty in it. Liberal education is what Abigail is talking about when she writes, “Continue acknowledging the complexity of the world, don’t dilute your intelligence, don’t reduce your teaching to platitudes, don’t stop associating with people Jesus himself would have been fired for associating with.”

    The alternative model of education for CES is something like a religious finishing school, where students learn life skills, overlaid on the foundation of orthodox indoctrination. The theoretical purpose of education at a school like this is to teach the boundaries of acceptable inquiry. The overarching skill that students learn is how to shut down their openness to learning when they hit the boundary.

    In practice, there’s something of the finishing school in every liberal college, and there’s some element of liberal thought in every finishing school. But every school has its essential character. The problem the BYU trustees have is that BYU-Provo, in particular, is trying too hard to be a liberal university. In the 1970s and 1980s, becoming an excellent liberal university is what the trustees genuinely wanted. Now they have decided that it’s too much of a headache. Elder Holland’s boast that they are willing to sacrifice accreditation is as clear an indication of that as anyone could want.

    It seems the trustees believe that the way to turn a liberal university into a finishing school is by replacing the people who are most committed to liberal education. The only way to be really sure you get that job done is to purge pretty much everyone, but you can’t do that overnight. I’m very, very sorry to say that the pain is likely to continue.

    In the long term, the core issue here is that there is more diversity among believing, faithful and committed Latter-day Saints than the current board of trustees knows how to work with. Abigail is right to exhort us that all is not yet lost. But if faithful Latter-day Saint liberal education is, in fact, destroyed within the Church Educational System, one of the consequences will be the need for new, independent centers of liberal education for Latter-day Saints. It’s not too soon to think about what that might look like.

  60. Wait what. You’re going to be fired for associating with someone? Can you define what you mean by associate? Visit, talk to, serve, spend time with or partner with and advocate for their organization?

  61. Ironically, in the 80’s under then University Present Holland, I enjoyed a liberal college education at BYU that included an excellent Religion Class, “World Religions” taught by a very orthodox professor who was well qualified and had travelled the world. I was also part of the Scandinavian choir, led by a Lutheran professor, which included interesting conversations on religion at get togethers at his house. Sounds like that kind of BYU experience is long gone. Sad. Could it ever come back?

  62. I am curious, how does one demonstrate a pattern of avoiding pornography?

  63. This article and its legitimate questions and criticisms would be a lot easier to take seriously if they weren’t accompanied by an image of a fascio. A church, which is a private and voluntary institution, doesn’t embody fascism by requiring its employees to demonstrate alignment with its mission, even if it does so in a flawed or ambiguous manner.

  64. DSC,
    Good Point! Religious organizations that engage in the behaviors described in the OP are more likely to be cults than churches.

  65. This is troubling, but there seem to be a few questions missing from the ecclesiastical endorsement that should be there:

    –Have you ever heard the candidate use the term “Mormon” when “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” should have been used?

    –Does the candidate complete 100% of their ministering assignment?

    –Have you ever seen the candidate roll their eyes in Sunday School?

    –Does the candidate own any University of Utah paraphernalia?

    –Are there any other victories for Satan that the candidate has been a part of?

    The recently added questions are only slightly less ridiculous than these. BYU is not a conducive space for the production of knowledge otherwise expected at a university. The upper administration thinks they are solving a problem by weeding out troubling faculty. The reality is they are cultivating a group of people who are forced to choose between honesty and their livelihood. They will, understandably, choose the latter. This will only make the situation worse in the long run.

  66. Abigail J. says:

    Loursat, yes! [applause] Thank you for articulating so well my point. Maybe you can be my ghostwriter next time.

    Suter, it’s hard to say anymore what we might get fired for. And—they won’t tell us. Could we get fired for whose company we keep? Maybe, maybe not. But the larger issue at stake, in my view, is that the fear of it will influence who we do and don’t associate with, how we treat one another, how we respond to each other’s genuine experiences, especially when they appear to contradict the institutional agenda, even if someone is in pain. The threat hanging over a person or persons can cause people to withdraw from one another, suspect one another. I worry our hearts will shrink—a reverse-Grinch heart growth, where we withdraw from one another – 3x’s smaller.

    Would Jesus attend Pride? Quite possibly. I think so. Would he get fired for doing so? Maybe. Would he allow that possibility to influence his support of the marginalized?

    Of course, he wore sandals, long hair and a beard so he would never be considered at the BYUs anyway. Not to mention his cross dressing.

    And I agree that the choice between job security and genuine care for our students’ well-being is an unfortunate, unnecessary dichotomy. I know that some higher-ups and some of you will say that that choice is not being required—but that would only serve to demonstrate a gap in understanding—a chasm that is unfortunately widening. It just need not be such a competition between institutional loyalty and seeing the complexities of people’s lived experience. But that’s the very choice that’s been presented.

    Also, Cosmo, I neeeeeeeever roll my eyes in SS so I’m good.

  67. John C.

    “Go To Hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go Directly to Hell.”

  68. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    I’m trying unsuccessfully to interpret the comment about Jesus cross dressing as anything other than a twisted reference to the crucifixtion. Who can help me out here?

    I thought we had previously plumbed some of the murkier depths of civility on this post, but that’s a new low.

    There’s some useful insights getting buried by ugliness I usually only see elsewhere.

  69. Larry, I suspect it just means that he wore garments that would be interpreted as dresses in the modern era.

  70. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    That sounds much better.

  71. I’m one of these adjuncts. Most of you probably won’t appreciate one of my issues, because it’s not popular.

    That’s because I question the Church policy on the experimental Covid-19 “vaccines”. I question whether they should have encouraged them, I question if they should have called missionaries to foreign missions if it was going to require experimental vaccination, and I question if they should have been required for BYUH students.

    I also question the abuse hotline. I think it is protecting the Church and not the children. I also question the Church’s use of ecclesiastical confidentiality to shield bishops from reporting abuse and I hate how lax the Church is on child abuse.

    Because of those things I cannot in good conscience answer yes to the question about supporting Church policy when I question some of it. Because I also work full-time for the Church this is also calling my day job into question because my bishop has doubts about whether I sustain Church leadership even though we’ve been told that questions are ok.

    But at the end of the day, what do you do? Look for a new job, I guess.

  72. Grateful reader says:

    For some, it’s easier to be the most liberal minded person in a conservative space than to go out into the mixed up world that has no definitives and you are free to figure it out on your own terms.

    Trying to make one’s conscience fit the mold of the Church–recipe for self-loathing.

    Trying to make the Church fit your conscience–recipe for self-loathing.

    Choosing who and what you are, even if that means finding a new job, working away from LDS people–best thing that I could’ve done. Scary at times. Lonely too. But you find your true people slowly.

  73. Away from the mothership says:

    May be it is time for the Church to get out of Higher Education. We don’t have a paid clergy to train. We can support Institutes of Religion. There is a model for independent Mormon Universities – SVU is “a private, self-reliant, residential university aligned with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its principles and values.” How do the BYUs support the primary mission of the Church to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man? I’m not seeing a good ROI here.

  74. Truckers Atlas says:

    The Rexburg-ification of BYU.

    I would be interested to hear any current BYU-I faculty explain what their contracts are like these days. Perhaps their experiences would seem to forecast what a professor in Provo could expect in the future.

  75. I’m glad you ended with the focus on students. Most of us send our kids to the byu because we want certain types of teachers to guide the process. I realize it’s hurtful to be rejected because you don’t fit the mold of what your employer and customers are looking for, but that’s the way it is.

    The well being of my children is being is being undermined by some of the teachers BCC believes should still be teaching. If you feel free to say the institution is undermining some child’s well being, that’s a judgment call which is no more inherently correct than the institutions position you’d criticize.

    As frustrating as it seems to have these policies, many(most?) of us don’t want our kids at the byu if it’s antagonistic to the tradional church perspective.

  76. So, sute, you would agree that promoting conservative ideals that don’t mesh with the gospel should null the ability of one to teach at the BYUs? Because I’ve heard plenty of false doctrine and support for conservative values that go against church positions.

    And, contrary to your position, I don’t mind at all having a mix of ideas expressed at the BYUs.

  77. @sute, honest question, who at BYU is undermining your kids’ well-being and how?

  78. First, let me tell BYU, faculty and students how much I feel for you. Seriously, big virtual hugs.

    Second, I’m so glad my gay cousin got out of BYU last year, even though it set him back a semester. We caught up this summer and he’s sooo much happier

    Finally, if I could post a GIF, it would be the Michael Jackson popcorn-eating GIF. Watching the BYUs become such a joke of an institution is… idk… I can’t look away. (Also I’m glad I graduated over 20 years ago so I could drop it from my resume like the dead weight it’s becoming.)

  79. @sute: “many(most?) of us don’t want our kids at the byu if it’s antagonistic to the traditional church perspective”

    The idea of BYU faculty that are antagonistic to the church is just astonishingly out of sync with every observable reality about BYU.

    There’s no reason for an antagonist to seek employment at BYU. The BYUs don’t compensate better, they’re almost universally worse. They come with a whole host of overhead that discussions like these reveal. These factors cause even some of the uncontroversial and orthodox to pass on BYU (which is common sense, given that I’ve known even orthodox people to have their careers hurt by BYU politics). Outright antagonists aren’t trying to sneak in, and even if they were, let’s revisit Doc’s point above: BYU faculty are among the most vetted people in the church. They have passed strict examination and are there because in some way they believe in contributing to its mission (and yes, helping the kids). They already fit a demanding mold.

    And I don’t think this is a fight over what the kids believe; lots of the kids already understand some of the key gospel issues even if BYU professors never weigh in at all, not to mention the way that *some* recent positions in the church aren’t even self-consistent enough to sustain. There’s no shortage of adolescents who are good at ferreting that out.

    But if we’re honest, you know what does make sense? Internal institutional politics. Defining what orthodoxy is and will be, as the restoration is ongoing. The head carves off the foot saying “I have no need of thee” most aggressively when it knows the foot has as much claim on the body and its direction, but doesn’t like it. And I’d guess that’s really what you and others here are fighting about too.

    I Corintians 12 is there for a reason. If the way the church has of dealing with people have already dedicated as much as BYU faculty have to both their field and their faith is to find tighter boundaries to squeeze them out with, then the day will come it will sorely regret that, just as it has now cause to regret the way it’s treated some it characterized as dissidents earlier.

  80. As a final note from me, attending BYU was very difficult on my testimony . . . because of the abundance of black/white non-nuanced thinking students. The faculty who did show hints of nuance are the ones that saved me. I’d strongly argue that there are many students whose testimonies will suffer because of this direction.

    Sadly, it seems more and more the Church doesn’t want nuanced believers around. I’ve come to face the stark reality that we are not desired in any way, and that, indeed, the Church are very clearly now trying to push us out.

    If the Church wants conformist, myopic, blind obedient sheep for disciples, then they are taking the right steps to achieve that end.

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