Cycles of Coercion at BYU

BYU announced that newly hired LDS employees must hold a temple recommend— Thursday, 27 January 2022

An essay included in my forthcoming book with By Common Consent Press (mid-February 2022) responded to the announcement by Merrill Bateman (8 February 1996) that all employees would henceforth be subject to “ecclesiastical endorsement.” It wasn’t a good idea then. It’s not a good idea now. The essay begins with William of Orange’s statement about the Inquisition that is devastating the Netherlands:

Religion is being destroyed by the Inquisition, for to see a man burned because he believes he has acted rightly is painful to people, it exasperates them.    

                                                             William of Orange

DURING GAIL Houston’s August 1996 appeal of Brigham Young University’s decision to deny her tenure despite overwhelmingly positive English Department and College Committee votes, Associate Academic Vice President James Gordon testified that procedurally the University could not be faulted. Houston broke into his technical testimony to remind Gordon and the appeal panel that the hearing was about more than technicalities, that she was a woman with a family, that she was being forced from a position at a University where she had served with dedication, that the decision, in short, was existentially important to her. Gordon’s responded to the panel that in her outburst she had exhibited the behavior that had led to her dismissal: “From the moment she arrived on campus we have been unable to control her.” 

On October 22, 1996, Steven Epperson, an assistant professor of history at BYU since 1993, was told that his services would no longer be required as of the end of August 1997. This made him an early casualty of the policy announced by BYU President Merrill Bateman on February 8, 1996, according to which the bishop “of each Church member employed at BYU” would be asked to certify annually “whether the person is currently eligible for a [temple] recommend.” 

The University has the legal right to establish regulations like the one demanding that all faculty must undergo ecclesiastical endorsement and Epperson’s bishop, for reasons I will enumerate later, would not certify him. Similarly, James Gordon may have been right when he asserted the University correctly carried out its own policies in Gail Houston’s case (although the American Association of University Professors has argued otherwise and is currently investigating BYU for academic freedom violations). But when Houston appealed for a wiser, more charitable judgment, when she asked that Gordon, for the University, look into her face and discern there more than the features of a feminist who had supposedly “enervated the moral fiber” of the University, she showed us a way out of the sanctimonious edifice we have constructed for ourselves, or have allowed to be constructed. 

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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