What is it like to leave the Church at BYU?

“What is it like to leave the LDS Church while at BYU?” you ask.

Well, I am in the process, and I can tell you that it is many things. It is absurd, because I was born into “orthodox” Mormonism and never ever anticipated a transition like this. It is a relief, because I have finally released myself from what others think and say. And it is marvelously difficult, because it really did affect how people treat me. Telling my friends was scary, but most of them were kind. But even as they tried to be understanding, at least five of them bore intense testimonies to me at the end of our conversation. Didn’t they know I had heard those things before, and that I was meticulously trying to explain my own beliefs—the product of a thousand sincere questions?

I left the Church because I think the power structure upholding it—one that values men over women, majorities over minorities, and uncharitable exclusion over warm inclusion—is seriously bad juju. For example, while I was a student, my college bishop frequently expressed unsolicited concern for my relationship with my boyfriend. The advice became ongoing, and he would say things like, “Remember, if you ‘mess up’ [have sex], you’ll have to tell your husband about that one day, and you just never want to have that conversation.” This is only one of dozens of my uncomfortable experiences with leadership.

Another example. At one point on my mission, both my companion and I struggled with depression. During one local meeting, some visiting missionary leaders decided to take over the lesson our local leaders were prepared to teach. As they taught, the missionaries looked at and spoke to my companion and I. The theme of the lesson was, “If you’re not always smiling and cheerful, you’re not truly living the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This imbalances of power in leadership signaled to me that the LDS Church couldn’t be inspired by the God that it believes in. It also seemed so typically patriarchal and old fashioned. I became increasingly surprised to learn that when I had kind leadership, my voice was heard in the ward. But when my leadership didn’t care to hear differing opinions, I felt silenced and ignored. Those are my conclusions, and if they’re not yours, they’re not yours—probably simply because we have different lives and backgrounds.

That being said, I first learned about goodness from Mormon people. I grew up in Provo with some really cool family and friends who wanted to make an impact on the world with the love they brought to it. Especially my Mom. When I was a kid, she would bake hot, fresh bread and have me deliver it to pregnant moms down the road so that she (my mom) wouldn’t have to take the credit. And my Dad was the same. He took us kids out to visit families who’d recently experienced a loss or to shovel our neighbors’ driveways. I knew Mormons to be friendly, thoughtful people who give loads of time to genuine service.

So when I made the nerve-wracking decision to “come out of the BYU closet,” I still had a lot of confidence in my LDS school and community. I eventually sat down with an academic advisor and told him, “I am here because I left the Church and would like to pay non-member tuition.” But during the next ten minutes, he carefully explained, “In your situation, you actually will not be able to attend classes at BYU this semester, or ever again. A lot of people disagree with this policy. However, the reasoning behind it is that you do not comply with the part of the honor code which states, ‘Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing.’”

What?! I thought. I grew up here. I’m a tutor doing research at your Writing Center. My beloved friends and professors are at this University! For heaven’s sake, I was conceived on this campus! But I had heard rumors about things like this happening, so I asked if I could finish my classes online instead of as a day student. My advisor replied, “No, sorry, to be able to graduate from BYU, you will need that honor code standing.”

And yet, no one—not a roommate, a friend, or a faculty member—has been able to explain to me why I do not belong with other BYU students. I’m from here, I’m a competitive student, I’m a contributing employee, and I’m willing to pay the price for non-subsidized tuition. So when I’m told I’m taking the spot of some poor student who wasn’t accepted, I’m thinking, This is my home, my community, and I have a real place here. I’m not in anybody’s spot but my own.

You may wonder if I had considered that very tempting and tormenting decision to “fly under the radar” and just pretend to be a member. But “pretending” I was a confident member seemed exhausting and, for me, unnecessary. I had decided I could handle the increased cost of transferring to another university, so I wasn’t going to cover up my real feelings and thoughts if I didn’t have to. It seemed so unlikely I’d ever be able to “pretend” away things like the panic attacks I had each time I went to church.

(Note: To those who do fly under the radar, I recognize we’re all in unique circumstances and I have massive respect for you.)

So yes, I was awkwardly “invited to leave BYU,” despite my adherence to the honor code in every respect but belief. BYU didn’t tell me when to leave either, or give me any guidance besides, “You can attend UVU or SLCC!” So I just kind of mosied out at the end of 2015 summer term. I said a tearful goodbye to my beloved job, my coworkers, my academic scholarship, and my senior year of classes. And I set out to find a new job, in a new town, at a new school where I hoped to find a few open, empathetic arms.

I don’t think belief is something you choose. You form your beliefs and assumptions about the world based on your experience. You can’t physically harm anyone with beliefs, and they’re part of who you are and how you experience the world. It’s been weeks now since most of this happened, and here I sit with my computer, my heart pumping and hands shaking, wondering, “Will they get where I’m coming from? Will they scoff at me? Will they hate me? Will they hear me?”

The Struggle of Faith at BYU

This week BYU, once again, drew attention to the policy stating that LDS students who change religions must leave the school. This is part of the honor code that all students must sign in order to attend.

I signed BYU’s honor code when I was 18. I hadn’t graduated from high school yet. I was applying to colleges, while still living at home. I was planning on serving a mission. I had an intense desire to figure out and do what was right for me. A lot of things have changed since then, but that desire remains.

The few years that followed were the best of my life. I fell in love with learning. I fell in love with people. My mind was opened to ideas I had never considered by being exposed to people with new thoughts I had never heard. Professors in my classes taught with love. I came home from class feeling uplifted.

The highest praise I have for BYU is that it taught me to ask more questions. Henry B. Eyring said in his talk, “Education For Real Life“, “Insatiable curiosity will be our trademark.” This school took my inherent curiosity and stoked the flame until I knew I could never learn enough to be finished. Every day I learned about how to ask better questions and how to become even more curious.

My curiosity led me to a place I hadn’t expected. I had questions about the structure, history, and policies of the church I needed to understand this church that raised me–the church that was so much a part of me, I was connected to it through an intertwining of its teachings with the very strands of my DNA. To separate myself from it, would be to unravel who I was. But I was curious. I needed to know if its teachings were true.

I went in search of answers to my questions, following the format I had been taught. I studied it out in my mind and in my heart. They told me two different things.

My mind led me to find disturbing inconsistencies in church history. I had heard of these problems before, but always was too scared to search them out and find out if they were true. Then my mind led me to ideas about group behavior and the brain’s powerful ability to convince itself of anything it wants to.

But my heart responded. My heart longed for the church. It felt an overwhelming love for people in the church. My heart loved going to church because of the peaceful and familiar feeling I got there. My heart told me that overall happiness was more important than any individual problem that made me uncomfortable. The church was a place of refuge and security and the thought of being without it made me sick.

My mind didn’t trust my heart, but the feeling was mutual.

My searching led to some solid personal beliefs. I believe in a God who is aware of me. I believe in a Savior who atoned for me. I believe an increase in love is the answer to the world’s problems. I don’t know what I believe about the LDS church, but I do believe I won’t be able to figure it out while at BYU, not with the threat of removal from school hanging over my head.

I believe I must address my concerns rather than ignore them. Forever “doubting my doubts” will not lead me to a resolution. The church’s authenticity is still a question for me, and it is not one that can be answered in this environment.

As long as I go to BYU, how can I tell if my belief is real or if it is driven by my fear of being suddenly removed from the overwhelming happiness I get from the beauty of this place and the people who are here?

Similarly, while I am here, I cannot be sure if my doubts are real or if they are simply fueled by my God-given tendency to fight back against restrictions of my agency.

There is far too much at stake for this choice to be considered a choice at all.

As long as BYU punishes students who change their religious beliefs, it is impeding students’ spiritual progress. It is crippling their free-thinking ability and wounding the hearts of all those who strive to do what is right, but come to a different understanding of what that might be.

Stubble Inhibits Priesthood

Students across Brigham Young University’s campus in Provo, Utah are unable to fully perform their priesthood and Christian duty due to failure to comply with the University’s Dress and Grooming standards (a portion of BYU’s divinely instituted Honor Code).

One of these students is Jesus Gonzales, a Junior from Tijuana, Mexico majoring in Accounting. Gonzales was crossing campus Thursday morning when he passed Mary Young, who had been involved in a vicious bicycle accident due to an as-yet-unidentified cyclist failing to yield and follow campus guidelines. Young was severely injured and in urgent need of medical and priesthood attention.

Gonzales, the Elders’ Quorum President in his local YSA ward, stopped to attend to Young’s injuries. He immediately pulled out his pocket vial of consecrated oil and began to perform a healing blessing because, as he said “Why wait for an ambulance when you’ve got God on your side?”

Unfortunately, Gonzales’ blessing was utterly ineffective. Young noted, “I thought I was saved, but then I noticed Jesus’ worldly stubble and realized that with such blatant disregard for his covenants there was no chance I would be healed.”

Young’s comments reference a recent devotional by BYU President Kevin J Worthen. Worthen stressed the importance of shaving daily, quoting past President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball:

“[Y]ou must not compromise your integrity by promising to do what you cannot do. By taking covenants lightly you will wound your eternal self.”

Worthen further emphasized that the Dress and Grooming Standards are one such covenant that cannot be violated without resulting in eternal, nigh unforgivable wounds.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Gonzales complained, “Just last week I helped an ox from the mire, fed five thousand for ward FHE, and turned some water into Diet Coke—caffeine free, of course.”

Gonzales is one of many that have found their priesthood impotent. Anecdotal evidence suggests that hundreds, if not thousands of students are unable to exercise their priesthood, due to disregard for what has come to be known as the Clean Shaven Covenant. It is likely that this has been an unacknowledged problem throughout campus for decades, perhaps explaining why seemingly-worthy and upstanding priesthood holders have been unable to receive matching spiritual confirmation to marry their long-term girlfriends.

Gonzales exemplifies this problem, wondering, “I read my scriptures and pray every day, do my home-teaching…I even visit my grandma regularly and try to give food to the homeless man on the corner. I just don’t know how this could happen.”

The stark reality facing Gonzales, and countless others across campus, is put in a slightly different light by Pres. Worthen: “But let me emphasize that adherence to each of those [standards] bears a critical role in our eternal development.”

Young, somewhat surprisingly, expresses gratitude for this higher law, “I’m grateful to live in this time of fullness of the Gospel, where we fully understand the limitations that beards and stubble can put on our spirituality. I mean, if Noah had been clean shaven maybe God wouldn’t have needed The Flood. Maybe Moses could have skipped over that messy Mosaic Law stuff if he’d only remembered to shave…I’m just so glad that I’m able to live in this chosen generation where our leaders are clean-shaven and delightsome.”

It seems apparent that the campus population of BYU will continue to suffer, until the men stand up and shave their faces, honoring that covenant of all covenants, the Dress and Grooming Standards. Refusing to do so not only wounds their eternal souls, but also hinders the spiritual growth and well-being of the entire student body.

BYU’s Lack of Religious Freedom

Imagine you have been conducting a study. You’ve talked to experts. You’ve performed test after test. You’ve done research coming at the issue from multiple perspectives. Finally, you form a theory based on the evidence you’ve obtained. You believe in your theory.

Now imagine someone says to you, “Your theory is wrong. Change it.” Then they drop their mic and expect you to comply. What do you do? Perhaps go back to research? You try again and again, but keep coming to the same conclusions. You deeply believe in the theory you have come up with. Can you change your belief simply because someone has told you to? Should you change your belief when the evidence you have obtained tells you not to?

Now imagine the study you are conducting is on whether you should remain in the LDS church and the conclusion you have come to is that you should not. This is a situation many BYU students have encountered. They do not make the decision to change their belief system lightly. For many raised in the church, it is a difficult and painful process. This isn’t a decision made out of laziness or lack of thought, but through careful spiritual and intellectual consideration.

Students are required to regularly attend LDS church services to keep their endorsement from their ecclesiastical leader. The ecclesiastical endorsement is required not just to enroll in classes, live in BYU housing, and work at BYU, but also to receive a degree at graduation.

The honor code states, “Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing.”

The student population consists of 98.7% LDS members. The 1.3% who enter as non-LDS students are permitted to change their religion without penalization, but students who enter as Mormon are expected to leave the same way they came.

BYU leaves very few options for LDS students who wish to change their religion.

Option 1: Stop doubting and just believe in the church. Students with questions are told if they just keep on praying, they will come to the same conclusion as their superiors. If you are not succeeding at obtaining the “correct” answer you are told to try harder.

Option 2: Leave BYU, no matter how much time, money, and emotion you have invested in it. Leave your job if you are employed by BYU, which approximately 52.5 percent of students are. Leave your housing and move into a new place, which is hopefully not too expensive because you no longer have a job.

Option 3: Live a lie by pretending to be a part of a faith you do not believe in. Hide the part of yourself that wants to speak freely about your ideologies and how you came to them. Outwardly show support for a church that you do not consider yourself a part of. Basically, give up your honor in order to comply with the honor code.

The 11th article of faith states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Upon signing the honor code, however, this privilege of worshipping freely is forfeited by 18 year olds who have never lived away from home, before they have begun the process of higher education. Teenage students agree to not change their ideologies during the next four years of learning new ideas and discovering different ways of thinking.

Leona Clark* is one such student who signed the honor code when first entering BYU as an 18 year old with full faith in the LDS church. Now she is a 22 year old returned missionary who in her search for truth has found herself led in a different direction than she anticipated.

“I couldn’t possibly have known at 18 who I would be at 22,” she said. “Especially after going through a myriad of identity forming experiences.”

Leona has explored her options for continuing her education, but was informed she is no longer eligible to stay at BYU.

“I could never have anticipated that a decision like this would disqualify me from finishing my education when I’m so close to a bachelor’s degree, force me to leave the job I receive so much fulfillment from, and remove me from my living situation with my close friends. Despite the conclusions I’ve come to about the church, I’ve found a home with the professors I’ve met and friends I’ve made.”

Leona is now faced with a total upheaval in her life because of her personal convictions. She is one of many who have been penalized for their beliefs at BYU. She is expected to give up the “theory” she came to on her own and accept one that does not match up with the results of her careful study. If she does not comply she will be removed from BYU. Where is her privilege to worship God according to the dictates of her own conscience?

*Name changed for privacy

BYU Student Fights Against Stigma from Mental Illness

By Kayla Goodson

With one combat boot swinging off the side of the kitchen table to the beat of “Get It” by Matt and Kim, and the other leg tucked thoughtlessly underneath her, Kelsie paints the perfect picture of a typical college student. Then she reaches up to scratch her cheek with bubble-gum pink, pointed acrylic nails, which she got to stop the scarring. The scarring comes from an obsessive-compulsive tendency that she has; she digs into her skin because she is trying to set her mind free. She hides her scars well, though, with a combination of freshly applied make up and a careless attitude.

It is after years of this- of hiding her secrets so well- that people do not seem to realize it. They do not realize that Kelsie* has a mental illness. That she is fighting an internal battle every second of every day. That she has to make a sincere effort to appear this nonchalant.

BYU freshman Kelsie Brown was diagnosed with a combination of OCD, anxiety, and depression her senior year of high school.  It started out as just OCD, which triggered extreme anxiety and eventually led to depression. Ever since then, she has been in and out of the psychologist’s office and on a constant rotation of anti-depressants.

Mental illness affects even the simplest of tasks. Kelsie is constantly questioning her actions as normal or a result of her depression, a common symptom of the illness. “Am I unmotivated or is this depression? Like what are normal people supposed to do? Normal people are supposed to shower every day. That’s been a rough one this week,” said Kelsie with an ironic laugh.

Kelsie hoped that the freedom of college and the change of scenery would help her mental state. Instead BYU has been hard for her. She has found herself in a downward spiral back into the depths of her own mind.  She cannot fit into the typical “Provo specimen”, so she feels distinctly out of place and alienated on campus.

“There are such high standards to live up to here, and mental illness is very taboo in Mormon culture- or so I’ve found. I’ve been told in the past that because I self harm, I’m not temple worthy and I won’t go to the Celestial Kingdom. I think that because it’s taboo here that it’s difficult to be yourself and be open about it,” said Kelsie. She is so nervous to talk about it that even her roommates are unaware of her mental illness. She has learned that not everyone is going to be supportive of her. In fact, her parents did not believe in mental illness until she was formally diagnosed.

Kelsie does, however, have a close group of friends who know about her mental illness, and she says most of them are very respectful and do not treat her any differently because of it.

“It doesn’t change who she is. We all have our personal struggles, this struggle just happens to be hers,” said Sean McGregor*, Kelsie’s close friend.

These friends also serve as a strong support system. “I support Kelsie by trying to let her know that I’m here if she needs something. All I can really do is let her know that I am more than willing and want to help her out or talk to her if she needs me,” said Trevor Ludlow*, another one of Kelsie’s friends. And that’s exactly what Kelsie says she needs.

The one piece of advice that Kelsie would give to other people struggling with mental illness would be to surround yourself with good, open-minded people. She says the best way anyone can support someone with mental illness is to simply be a friend and to not treat him or her like they are delicate.

Kelsie believes that everyone is capable of becoming this type of friend. She suggests that an increased public awareness at BYU and more support groups for those struggling with mental illness would be beneficial.

While mental illness may not be something that people like to talk about, it is a fairly common issue in our society. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012 there was an estimated 43.7 million adults aged 18 and over, or 18.6% of the adult population, in the U.S. with a mental illness.

“More people are suffering from this than you think, so there’s no reason for it to be kept under the covers when you can get help and support,” said Kelsie.

*Name changed for individual’s privacy.

A Skeptic’s Guide to GenConf

general-conference-300x218

Loosely adapted from these two earlier posts by the author: https://conorhilton.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/the-blessing-and-curse-of-general-conference/ and https://conorhilton.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/a-skeptic-and-his-acorns/

 

General Conference (GenConf for ease and it’s goofy and I like it) is a time of note for Mormons across the globe. For many, it brings excitement. For others, that excitement is tinged with dread at the way certain topics will be addressed and handled.

 

As someone who falls into the latter camp, yet earnestly wants to engage with my fellow Mormons, here are some suggestions for finding value in the GenConf #churchforliteraldays marathon:

 

 

  • Use Social Media Wisely. The Mormon world can get a bit crazy during GenConf, flooding the Internet with quotes and pictures and snide remarks. I personally disengage during GenConf to allow myself to have a personal, spiritual experience. Others may find comfort in online communities.
  • Surround Yourself With Support. Make sure that those around you while you watch/listen/whatever are going to enhance your experience and not detract from it. If this isn’t possible in person, maybe finding online communities is the best option.

 

    1. Engage on Your Terms. Watch a session a week for a month, wait and read all of the talks, watch the Morning sessions, but not the Afternoon, play bingo or drinking games (non-alcoholic, of course…), snarkily comment on Twitter about the going’s on and the hideous knot in Pres. Monson’s tie. Do whatever makes the experience valuable for you.

 

  • Snacks. All of the Snacks. Since you can watch from home (assuming you have internet, which if you’re reading this you do) make the most of it and supplement your viewing with all sorts of delightful food. Everything’s better with snacks. And despite what some may tell you, they’re not just for little kids.
  • Focus on What God’s Telling You. The wonder of the Spirit is that it can speak directly to you. Even if what’s being said is causing you to cringe and feel a knot in your stomach, seek out what God is saying to you.
  • Realize that Not Everything’s Meant for You. GenConf is meant for the whole Church, and to a lesser extent the entire world. This broad scope of the entire 12 hours means that there will inevitably be talks that fall flat for you personally. Don’t sweat it. Some things are just not meant for you and that’s fine.
  • Use the Talks as a Springboard for Discussion. If there’s been something you’ve wanted to chat about with your less questioning friends, watch for talks that reference it and use GenConf as a springboard for thoughtful and productive discussions with your friends and family.

 

 

Remember the words of Pres. Uchtdorf “the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding.” And know that you’re not alone.

 

John Dehlin Excommunicated from LDS Church

John Dehlin, founder of the Mormon Stories podcast was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week by a unanimous vote in a church disciplinary council.

Dehlin believes his public support of the Ordain Women movement, as well as his support for civil same-sex marriage, was the cause of his excommunication. Last June, Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement faced a similar council and was excommunicated from the church. Dehlin has been a strong supporter of Ordain Women, and received warning letters around the time of Kelly’s excommunication.

A letter from Bryan King, North Logan Stake President, listed the following as evidence for apostasy:

  • “Dehlin’s teachings disputing the nature of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
  • His statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham — part of the LDS canon — are fraudulent and works of fiction.
  • His statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as being “the true church with power and authority from God.”

Dehlin does not believe his religion can be taken from him so easily. On Tuesday, Dehlin was quoted saying, “Mormonism is my heritage, culture, tribe and identity. I don’t believe it can be taken from me in a process like this.”

Trent Taylor, a neuroscience major at Brigham Young University, said in regards to Dehlin’s reaction to being excommunicated, “A lot of people do not understand why he cares about leaving. Sometimes someone can stop believing in the church, but still want to be a part of it.”

Dehlin’s excommunication has attracted a lot of attention, especially from those who have concerns similar to those Dehlin raised in the Mormon Stories Podcast.

In response to questions about this being an issue of whether or not it is okay for members to simply disagree on issues within the church, D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle of the LDS church said, “We have individual members in the church with a variety of different opinions, beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues. . .It doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders — if that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.”

3 Reasons Why Listicles Are So Addicting

You get on Facebook to stalk your hot TA and determine his relationship status. Then Buzzfeed or Upworthy grabs your attention. 18 Jokes Only People from Northwestern Georgia Understand. 11 Pictures of Grown Men in Tutus You Need to Complete Your Life. An hour later, you find yourself deep in a vortex of cat videos. Why are listicles so enticing that they swallow up hours of our time?

1. They are predictable. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.41.03 AM

We like listicles for the same reason we like Russell Crowe and Chipotle: we know what to expect. There will be a few solid memes, some grammatical errors, a dash of witty banter. And after a hard day of work – from breaking up with our boyfriends for a mission call, to fighting for custody of our facial hair – what better mind-numbing, sorry excuse for journalism is better to read than listicles?

2. They make us feel connected to something greater. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.41.47 AM

Do you think people judge you harshly because you’re athletic and a feminist? Are you a Communist puppeteer you think more people should consider dating?  There is a listicle for all of those! In this post-modern era of bullying and Facebook privacy settings, it’s easy to feel out of the loop. So it’s comforting to know that somewhere out there, a snarky liberal arts student with little-to-no writing experience thinks the same way you do.

3. Listicles are the literature of the future.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.42.28 AM

Modern technology has changed our lives far more than we ever imagined. We have access to billions of content at our fingertips, and in order to have time for all of it, each piece of content has to be brief and to the point. Listicles give us enough information to get by, leaving room for more laughing babies and Frozen spin-offs.

Listicles have become a huge part of our culture, filling up our Facebook feeds and infusing our daily conversations. It is important to remember that their purpose is to entertain, often having little to do with intellect or logic or fact. But if you come across 21 reasons Student Review writers are the sexiest people on campus, you best believe every word.