“Free BYU”: Should Brigham Young University and its Sponsoring Institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Simply Say, “No Harm, No Foul” When LDS Students Conceal Their Loss/Lack of Faith in Order to Continue Receiving the Reduced Tuition Rate Available to Members of the Church Who are In Good Standing?
By Ken K. Gourdin
Chad Hardy, a former student at Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church), has garnered headlines for leading a movement that apparently is an effort to do away with the requirement that students who are also Church members remain in good standing with the Church in order to maintain their standing at BYU and receive their degrees. See the thread discussing the issue at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion here, last accessed May 3, 2015: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/64559-free-byu/. One option for BYU students who experience a loss of faith is to transfer to another institution of higher learning. In response to the contention that credits don’t transfer well, I replied:
And? Most BYU students are young adults. Part of what it means to be an adult is making choices and being willing to live with consequences of those choices. Why should BYU change to cater to Little Johnny’s or Little Janie’s whims when that’s not how the world works? They’re in for a rude awakening the minute they become affiliated with some other organization that refuses to cater to their whims anyway. Why postpone the inevitable?
In response, another poster stated that my stance is un-Christian and uncharitable. I replied:
As I said in an earlier post, there is room for discussion about how to treat someone who confides in an official of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or in a BYU official, about his loss/lack of faith, and wonders how to proceed. From where I sit, however, that same room does not exist where someone conceals his loss/lack of faith, lies about it to receive a continuing ecclesiastical endorsement*, then seeks to make the Church of Jesus Christ and its flagship university look bad when the latter withholds his degree. Christ is merciful, kind, loving, patient, et cetera, but even He encouraged His followers to be cognizant of how the world currently works while, at the same time, hoping and working to establish a different ideal. That’s why He encouraged His followers to be “wise as serpents” and “harmless as doves.”
*BYU students (both LDS and not) are required to meet with member of the clergy each year (in the case of BYU students, that official is an LDS bishop; in the case of those of other faiths, it is a clergy member of the student’s faith) who certifies their continuing eligibility to attend BYU as one who continues to live up to the standards of BYU’s Honor Code, which if one is a Latter-day Saint, requires church attendance and active participation, and which requires all students to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and non-prescribed and harmful drugs. This process is known as an ecclesiastical endorsement.
Another poster said he had no problems transferring credits to or from BYU, and I replied:
But, but, but … BYU requires its students to take classes in … [hushed whisper] … religion. And not just classes in any religion, but classes in the Mormon religion! And those credits, earned by studying a religion in which the sort of testimony-losing student [gaining a testimony is how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to gaining faith in the Church’s truth claims] under discussion here no longer believes, don’t easily transfer!
Oh, the horrors!
In response to another poster who said that transferring to another school wasn’t a reasonable option for Hardy, I asked, “Why not?” Later, I added: I realize he may have to take a few extra classes; I did that when I transferred. Why is he so special?” And still later, I added:
This source (http://www.appeal-democrat.com/creator-of-mormon-calendar-loses-appeal-for-byu-diploma/article_f75dd09e-f8df-55d2-bb16-2bbe4417421a.html?mode=jqm) says Hardy ceased or curtailed his activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2002. If that is correct, why shouldn’t Hardy be required to mitigate his own damages by coming clean with school and Church officials and seeking to transfer then? I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but I suspect at least part of the answer to that question is because Hardy told himself something like this: “Why should I transfer to another school? Why not keep up the charade and not let on about my change of heart until I’m about ready to graduate? That way, I can paint school and Church officials into a corner, make them look like the bad guys, and get all kinds of publicity for me and for my pet cause(s) if they withhold my degree.”
Maybe people who argue that BYU should deal with LDS students who lose their testimonies differently can make a good case but, if so, Chad Hardy isn’t the poster child for that case. His case isn’t a case of a BYU student losing his testimony, coming clean, and arguing in good faith what the consequences of those events should be. Apparently, rather, Hardy’s case is a case of someone who lost his testimony in 2002, lied to maintain good standing by receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement thereafter, and now simply wants the Church of Jesus Christ and its flagship university to overlook that conduct.
In response to another poster who suggested that Hardy simply should have transferred to another school, such as the University of Utah, I responded:
That’s true, but everybody knows the “U” is The Devil’s School!* Besides, sure, Hardy could’ve come clean and sought to transfer rather than apparently keeping up a charade, trying to make Church and BYU officials look bad, and then getting all kinds of publicity and sympathy by suing them for not giving him what he wanted! But where’s the fun in that?!
*Kenngo1969 = “U” Graduate
To another poster who suggested that it’s unfair to ask BYU students who lose their testimonies to jeopardize their enrollment by disclosing their loss of faith, I replied:
If Hardy’s were a case of someone messing up, feeling terrible about it, coming clean, and striving to repent; or even if his case were a case of someone confiding in a Church or in a BYU official that he’s lost his testimony [how members of the Church describe a witness of its truthfulness] and wondering what his options are, I would agree with you, but it’s not: Hardy’s is a case of someone who lost his testimony, apparently concealed that fact in order to receive continuing ecclesiastical endorsements, then sought to paint Church and BYU officials into a corner after they denied him his degree. Yes, Christ loves the sinner while hating the sin, but He also said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”; and He also said, “Go, and sin no more.”
Besides, while I’m not a lawyer, and while anyone who is a lawyer will tell you (rightly, in my view) that this theory is a stretch, and while I don’t claim to speak for BYU, arguably, Hardy received a benefit under false pretenses by concealing his loss of faith from BYU officials and continuing to enroll, all the while paying a rate reserved for BYU students who are LDS and who are in good standing. While, again, I’m not a lawyer, and while anyone who is a lawyer will probably tell you this is a stretch, in my book, that’s fraud: actually, BYU is letting Hardy off easy by simply withholding his degree.
When that same poster wrote, “Go, Utes!” I replied, “On that, we agree, Sister! On that, we agree!”