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BYU Professors Calling the Brethren Autocratic Fascists is Not Going to Help Anybody

At a recent post over at BCC, a tenured BYU-X professor communicates some anxiety about CES’ new direction, which is certainly their right, but in doing so the author calls the people who made this decision (i.e. the brethren, if that wasn’t clear from Elder Holland’s talk) autocrats, and prominently displays the fasces at the top of the post. Now, I don’t know if this is a weird attempt at a “they who have ears to hear” thing, but the fasci is a well-established symbol of fascism. Implying that the people who actually have the power to do anything about this are autocratic fascists isn’t going to help their case.   

While as a matter of principle I think non-inflammatory rhetoric is generally best, for what it’s worth I’m on the other side of this. However, I’m actually skeptical that the new direction will achieve much, although I might be wrong. It doesn’t matter if all the deans are on board with the church’s “teachings on marriage, family, and gender” (which they aren’t, in at least one case I’m aware of); I suspect that the faculty who fundamentally disagree with the Church on hot button social topics and are in part at BYU to “reform” the Church through its institutions will just lay low and continue to hire the kind of people who also fundamentally disagree with the Church and are trying to reform it.

I suspect that the concern over arbitrariness, while valid, is also in part simply masking a concern that the Church is putting their foot down on the expectation that faculty’s primary ideological loyalties lie with the Church when its teachings directly conflict with another ideology (usually the predominant ideology of the academic discipline). For example, a less “bishop roulette” and more “one size fits all”  alternative that I suspect would cause even more gnashing of teeth is for the Church to ask more direct questions (e.g. do you support the Church’s theological position that only a man and woman married together can be exalted? Do you believe that President Nelson is God’s most authorized representative on earth? For non-members maybe replace “support” with “respect”) that don’t leave any wiggle room like the current wording does. 

Then, the Church is very public and open about asking these questions, so eventually word gets around the relevant academic professional organizations that every BYU professor has signed a faith statement to that effect, essentially forcing BYU professors to be more transparent about where they stand instead of being coy about where their primary loyalties lie when the Church’s position conflicts with the predominant ideology in the field. If that makes it so BYU can’t recruit enough to field a full department, then so be it. There are a lot of other places the widow’s mite can be spent, because at the end of the day BYU is not the gospel or the Church, and the mission of the Church is less dependent on recruiting a theorist from a top ten school than some academics think. The implicit threat that the departments will be hollowed out if the Church presses these issues does not have much leverage, as I suspect the Board of Trustees would be fine if the English Department was operating at half strength. (Although I have no idea where the BYU English Department is on these issues, for all I know they’re all Molly Mormons who never skipped seminary). 

Of course, it’s not my place to tell the First Presidency what to do here, but I’m making the point that from some perspectives the new direction is less restrictive than it could, and possibly should be in order to get BYU faculty on-mission.

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