In this episode sociologist and scholar Mark Juergensmeyer, Ph.D. explains his reasons for boycotting Brigham Young University over its policy to expel LDS students who lose their testimony of the LDS Church’s truthfulness.

The text of Dr. Juergensmeyer’s letter is as follows:

Prof Elizabeth Clark
Associate Director
International Center for Law and Religion Studies
Brigham Young University

Dear Elizabeth:

I regret that I will be unable to participate in the Law and Religion Symposium that is being held this week at BYU. It was an honor to be invited to speak at this event, and as you know I made every effort to make room in my schedule to be there on Tuesday. My decision not to participate is an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion.

Alas I was unaware of this policy until this weekend when it was brought to my attention. I have decided that it would be hypocritical of me to participate in a conference in which the issue of religious liberty is paramount when the institution sponsoring it fundamentally violates this principle in its policies towards Mormon students. As I understand it, non-Mormons are allowed to enroll in BYU, and they are welcome to convert to the Mormon faith if they wish, but if  Mormon students change their religious affiliation they lose their scholarship, their campus housing and jobs, and are expelled from school even if they are months away from graduation.

In making this decision I mean no disrespect to you, the Center with which you are affiliated, or the other participants in this week’s conference. I know that many faculty members at BYU are opposed to this policy and are quietly working to change it. I applaud them, and hope that my decision will be taken as a sign of support for those within BYU who are seeking change. I appreciation your dilemma and admire your persistence.

Again, thanks for the honor of the invitation. I hope that I will be invited back to BYU and will be able to accept some time in the future when this policy restricting religious freedom is lifted.

Sincerely,

Mark Juergensmeyer
Professor of Sociology and Global Studies
Founding Director and Fellow
Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies

To sign the petition calling on the LDS Church to change its policy, please click here.

A HUGE thanks to the amazing work of FreeBYU.org for breaking this important story.

Dr. Juergensmeyer is director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, professor of sociology and global studies, and affiliate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a pioneer in the field of global studies and writes on global religion, religious violence, conflict resolution and South Asian religion and politics. He has published more than three hundred articles and twenty books, including the recent Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State (University of California Press, 2008). Here you can see picturesof Mark, read his full bio , or his wikipedia entry

 

40 Comments

  1. elsbeth October 6, 2015 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Dr.Juergensmeyer for acting in defense of students who aren’t free to speak for themselves.

    Thank you, John Dehlin for drawing focus to this injustice that even the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities failed to find the courage to address.

  2. Odell Campbell October 6, 2015 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    That was very refreshing! The video ends abruptly, it seems. Is there more of it available?

    • John Dehlin October 6, 2015 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Odell – Thank you! The audio version is fine, but the video version does cut off a bit early. I’m re-uploading now. More soon!

  3. Phonin' It In From Kolob October 6, 2015 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I find Dr. Juergensmeyer’s comments really refreshing.

    I don’t understand the “struggle” to remain in a “faith.” If you find yourself struggling, stop. You’re almost certainly not struggling for you. You’re probably struggling for the sake of how you will be perceived by someone else and maybe you feel compelled to do that, but . . . Only faith and belief are vulnerable; knowledge is not. If you opt for knowledge in lieu of faith or belief, knowledge will stand up all by itself; you don’t have to struggle to believe it. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily need to be based on external facts. It may be based on intuition, internal knowledge, as it were. But if you find your “faith,”—what you thought you “knew,”—crumbling, you MUST be free to abandon it in favor of whatever makes more sense. That’s the religious freedom that Dr. Juergensmeyer was talking about. If you’re struggling, you’re probably struggling to remain in a role, like an actor who doesn’t believe his lines anymore. You’re not struggling to know what you know; you don’t have to. What I got out of Dr. Juergensmeyer’s decision was that we, all of us, need to quit torturing ourselves and each other by trying to force ourselves and each other to remain in roles that we’ve outgrown or have discovered untrue to our nature.

    I’m just sayin’ . . .

  4. Brian K October 6, 2015 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    This was a fantastic interview. Thank you, John, and thank you so much, Mark Juergensmeyer, for doing this!

  5. Aaron October 6, 2015 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Thanks John for this interview, I hope it motivates BYU to end such an awful policy. It is not becoming of any credible University, religious or not.

  6. Chad October 6, 2015 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    The question I have is not why Dr. Juergensmeyer boycott the event, but rather why did the other attendees *not* boycott it?

  7. Doubting Thomas October 6, 2015 at 10:46 pm - Reply

    Once again… John gets the interview. Nice “get” John and Mark is speaking my language. I hope this boycott gets A LOT of attention.

  8. Xposit October 7, 2015 at 6:08 am - Reply

    I don’t see any way to download this episode. What am I missing?

    • Coriantumr October 7, 2015 at 9:29 am - Reply

      youtube-dl or any other youtube downloader…

      • John Dehlin October 7, 2015 at 10:05 am - Reply

        It’s also available in audio format for downloading.

        • Xposit October 7, 2015 at 2:33 pm - Reply

          So how does that work? I don’t see the same download option for the audio that the other episodes have.

          • John Dehlin October 7, 2015 at 2:38 pm

            My bad, Xposit! I forgot to include the link to the audio file. It should be there now. Thanks for calling me out!

  9. Dave October 7, 2015 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Wonderful! John, please try and have Dr. Juergensmeyer back on the podcast. I think an in-depth discussion with him in regards to Mormonism as well as his experience as a professor of world religions would be so valuable.

    • Kelly October 7, 2015 at 9:17 am - Reply

      Yes, I agree. I really enjoyed the way Dr. Juergensmeyer explained his thoughts and position. Please, have him back.

  10. Bob D. October 7, 2015 at 7:23 am - Reply

    Dr.Juergensmeyer: I respectfully disagree with your views on this matter. I do not believe it is a matter of freedom of religion but rather adherence to a Code of Honor. BYU’s Code of Honor states, “A student’s endorsement may be withdrawn at any time if the ecclesiastical leader determines that the student is no longer eligible for the endorsement. If an endorsement is withdrawn, no confessional information is exchanged without authorization from the student. Students without a current endorsement are not in good Honor Code standing and must discontinue enrollment. Students who are not in good Honor Code standing are not eligible for graduation, even if they have otherwise completed all necessary coursework. Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the withdrawal of the student’s ecclesiastical endorsement and the loss of good Honor Code standing. Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual’s name from the official records of the Church.” This is not a surprise to students. They agree to the Honor Code before enrollment. If an LDS student cannot abide by the Code of Honor requirements, he or she should not enroll at BYU. That simple. And if a student has doubts, and don’t we all have doubts from time to time about our faith, no matter what that is, the student can continue at BYU, as long as he or she is not excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or disaffiliated, and continues to abide the Honor Code.

    • Brian K October 7, 2015 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Hi, Bob,
      Could a student continue at BYU if he or she was open about disbelief in major church tenets (validity of the Restoration, BOM historicity, or maybe even the existence of God), as long as they continued to obey all Honor Code rules? Or, would the student lose his or her endorsement simply by honestly admitting disbelief? In my experience at BYU, part of the endorsement process required a statement of belief and testimony. Some doubts were OK, but I think disbelief would have disqualified me. This feels like coercion.

    • elsbeth October 7, 2015 at 9:55 am - Reply

      BobD, I understand that you wish to support BYU’s policy but I think, rather than demonstrating that BYU does not engage in coercing personal beliefs you’ve demonstrated that they encode it into policy.

      Signing such an agreement before being allowed to attend does not in any way preclude someone having a sincere change of fundamental beliefs. If such a change occurs — and the LDS is out in the world actively attempting to change non-Mormons’ fundamental beliefs all the time — it’s clear this policy attempts to coerce belief or at least the feigned appearance of belief.

      This is the very opposite of the religious freedom that BYU and the CoJCoLdS demands for itself. They should have the honesty and humility to at least recognize it. They should be ashamed.

    • Matt October 7, 2015 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Bob D,

      You have completely missed the point. No one is debating whether or not BYU was upfront about its policy. No one is debating whether BYU **has the right** to have this policy. What Juergensmeyer is saying is that BYU **is not in the right** for having this policy. Just because we have the freedom to do something does not make it right. When we choose an action, we also choose its consequence. In this case, BYU has chosen to act like a discriminatory, petty, small-minded organization, and Juergensmeyer had the courage to point it out.

    • Susan M. October 7, 2015 at 11:19 am - Reply

      Bob you are right. The way BYU structures its admission is that students maintain the Honor Code via Ecclesiastical Endorsement. But the structure of obtaining and maintaining that endorsement is stacked against Mormon students who disaffect.

      A student that is from another religion can get an ecclesiastical endorsement from their religious leader (i.e. their pastor or reverend), or those with no religious affiliation can get an ecclesiastical endorsement from the BYU Chaplain. So, in theory, when a Mormon student wishes to convert to another religion or become non-affiliated, they could then get an ecclesiastical endorsement from these avenues. In other words, be treated as a regular non-Mormon student.

      However, the policy is structured in a way that if a student wishes to switch to another religion, or become non-affiliated, they become, at the least, inactive in their ward, and at the worst, disfellowshipped or excommunicated. Thus they lose their endorsement, but are not all able to have another religious leader give them an endorsement instead. That is where the religious inequality comes to play.

      Also, the policy used to allow Mormons to switch religions, but changed in the 1990s I believe. FreeBYU.org does an excellent job of addressing the messiness of the Ecclesiastical Endorsement and Honor Code violations.

    • Bakirish October 7, 2015 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      Four years, and sometimes substantially longer if graduate degrees are involved, is a long time and changes in belief can, and do, happen. Instances exist where an honest believing student entered BYU totally expecting to run the course as a believer, but honest investigation resulted in a loss of faith. These people are forced to “hang on” until they can graduate. The concept of “If an LDS student cannot abide by the Code of Honor requirements, he or she should not enroll at BYU.” is not applicable to this situation.

    • Cory October 11, 2015 at 9:24 am - Reply

      I think no one would disagree with you that BYU is straightforward about its policy. Dr. Juergensmeyer’s position, though, is that he disagrees with that policy because it restricts religious freedom.

    • Barbara Bastian Elledge October 12, 2015 at 10:26 am - Reply

      LDS Hymns #240; Know This, That Every Soul Is Free

      1. Know this, that every soul is free
      To choose his life and what he’ll be;
      For this eternal truth is giv’n:
      That God will force no man to heav’n.

      2. He’ll call, persuade, direct, aright,
      And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
      In nameless ways be good and kind,
      But never force the human mind.

      3. Freedom and reason make us men;
      Take these away what are we then?
      Mere animals, and just as well
      The beasts may think of heav’n or hell.

      4. May we no more our powers abuse,
      But ways of truth and goodness choose;
      Our God is pleased when we improve
      His grace and seek his perfect love.

  11. Michael Surkan October 7, 2015 at 10:40 am - Reply

    It would be very interesting to have John follow up with conference attendees who declined to boycot the event and went anyway. What is their view on BYU’s honor code policies regarding conversions?

    I am actually quite surprised that no one in the media seems to have bothered to ask the other conference participants what their thoughts are and whether their attendance is a tacit endorsement of BYU’s policies.

    Actually, I think this is a question that should be put to any outsiders who are engaging with BYU. Maybe the coaches of football teams from other universities should be asked why they are tacitly endorsing BYU’s religious discriminatory policies by participating in athletic events with BYU.

    BYU may be immune to criticism about it’s policies but outsider may think twice about participating in BYU related activities if they know they will be put through the public ringer for doing so.

  12. Cherisha Norman October 7, 2015 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Fantastic refreshing interview, I hope his point of view becomes contagious at BYU!

  13. Koa October 7, 2015 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    I had an offer to teach where I went to school. However, I decided I didn’t want my employment tied to my religion so I turned down the offer.

    Students going to BYU know going in their schooling is tied to their religion. If you don’t like that fact, don’t go.

    By the way, outstanding interview, John.

  14. Katie Did What? October 8, 2015 at 8:00 am - Reply

    This is one of my favorite podcasts! This professor is brilliant. I wish I could take a class from him. I am so happy to hear about this. I am sharing it with others in my Religion, Ethics and the Law class.

  15. Xposit October 8, 2015 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Wait what? Dr. Juergensmeyer kept using terms like open inquiry and honest inquiry and freedom of inquiry which,as I understand it, stands in direct opposition to much of what the brethren warned us against in conference last week. No wonder BYU banned him from speakin . . . no, wait what?

  16. 2close2call October 8, 2015 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    I just wanted to say thanks to this professor Mark Juergensmeyer and comment that I have total admiration and respect for his action! I am happy to see there are principled people like him in this world!

  17. ameliafyoung October 9, 2015 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Another great podcast. Dr.Juergensmeyer, I would love to take one of your classes, I think it would be so interesting. I also admire your willingness to stand up for your convictions.

    John, you have a great way of interviewing. You ask pertinent questions, but don’t shy away from trying to ask the opposite point of view, even when you disagree with that view.

    The only place I disagree is that many, many students are not accepted as students at BYU. Two of my children applied and were accepted, but would have been so disappointed to have been turned down. They went, and I paid for it, because of the Mormon influence and standards. BYU is an academic school, but also sponsored by the church, with church funds making tuition less expensive. If you don’t want to be there, leave, and open up the slot for someone else. If you stay as an unbeliever, then you need to pay nonMormon tuition. I don’t agree with the church being unhelpful with transferring credits, etc.

    And I say this as someone who now knows (within the last 2 years) that the church’s truth claims are false, and it is not the “one true church.” So I totally get that a person can have a strong, unshakable testimony, and then lose that belief within a short period of time.

    • Katie Did What? October 14, 2015 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      They aren’t allowed to stay and pay non-member tuition, ameliafyoung. That is the whole point. If you are a disaffected member you can either stay and pretend or get the boot.

      Also, I have heard disaffected members, who have been kicked out, say that they have had problems transferring credits. One man had already completed all of his credits when he came out as an unbeliever and was denied his diploma. It is hard to believe that an institution you have have trusted your whole life would do something like that, but believe it. It is true.

  18. EDiL13 October 12, 2015 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Wonderful thought provoking stuff as usual, including the comments by listeners, especially for such a short podcast compared to the usual. I was surprised and a little disappointed when it was over so soon!

    Which reminds me: I’ve noticed that the webpages for older podcasts display a running time, but that seems to have dropped out maybe somewhere between episodes #50-100. So, John — when you post future podcasts, is there any way you can start including the running time again next to the icon we click on to play the audio, like you used to?

    It’s nice to be able to figure out if I have enough time to listen to them before my beloved TBM husband comes home :)

    EDiL13

  19. Phil October 14, 2015 at 5:51 am - Reply

    So student A converts in November of Senior year in high school. Is accepted to zoobie land with reduced member tuition, and in the fall of freshman year decides to join some other faith.

    What then? Extend reduced tuition over x years through undergrad, post grad ad infinitum?

    • Xposit October 14, 2015 at 12:56 pm - Reply

      Nope, nope and nope. Why not take the time to learn something about what’s being discussed?

      • Phil October 14, 2015 at 4:19 pm - Reply

        Did the spirit prompt you to not answer my question?

    • Katie Did What? October 14, 2015 at 4:13 pm - Reply

      Phil,

      The student would not be allowed to stay at all! That is the point. You don’t have the option of staying and paying the higher tuition. If it is known that you are no longer a believer, they will toss you out on your behind! You can no longer attend classes, online or otherwise. You are kicked out of BYU approved housing and you will lose your job if you work on campus. End of story. No refunds and no returns.

      • Phonin' It In From Kolob October 14, 2015 at 9:15 pm - Reply

        I have no direct experience, but have heard quite a few stories about students being denied transcripts when they tried to leave early for whatever reason. I know how reluctant we are to use the “C” word, but maybe we need to be honest with ourselves and apply elsewhere. People all over the planet do it daily. I went to a private Catholic college that was expensive but had none of this religious stickiness. You didn’t have to be Catholic to get in OR to get out—you just had to cough up your $900/cr.hr., or whatever it was.

      • Phil October 15, 2015 at 6:12 am - Reply

        What would the tuition policy be like if the Free BYU folks have their way?

        Would a newly Unitarian ex-mo student pay full tuition, while attending classes with foreign exchange students who are pretending to be LDS?

        Anyway I’ll sign your petition since you were kind enough to answer a couple questions.

    • Michael Surkan October 14, 2015 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      @Phil – Ex-Mormons who join another church prior to applying to BYU are explicitly denied admittance according to BYU policy. Mormons who convert to another religion prior to receiving their final grades are kicked out and not even given their grades even if they completed all their courses.

      Simply put, any Mormon that falls away from the faith is prohibited from attending BYU regardless of whether the change in faith occurred before or while attending BYU. About the only thing that the school doesn’t do with apostates is claw back your diploma or grades once you have completed your degree (and received your grades).

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