Yesterday a friend, a long-time member of the BYU faculty, emailed me about my Dwelling in the Promised Land as a Stranger: “I want to tell you how much your book resonated with my experience at BYU. . . . Your book is one of the most necessary things ever published by BCC press. So glad you did this. I hope it is widely read and commented on.”
I emailed back that I was grateful that BCC Press published the book, but that I supposed it would be quickly forgotten.
That assessment is very likely accurate.
But this morning I woke with a memory and some questions. When Brian Waterman’s and Brian Kagel’s meticulously documented The Lord’s University: Freedom and Authority at BYU was published in 1998, I was aware of much of what they reported, but the combined force of their account struck me with enough force that I decided to leave BYU. By the fall of 1999 I had found work at UVSC, a state college.
As far as I can tell, BYU is currently doubling down on controlling protestors, people without temple recommends, non-heterosexuals, and so on. One of the essays in my book uses the BYU Grounds Crew’s mission statement to exemplify such attempts: “Clipped and Controlled.”
That my friend sees my book as necessary means, I think, that he supposes my arguments and examples could help rethink the consequences of coercion, especially in a religious context. How would that happen?
Here my fantasy takes hold.
The BYU Faculty Council assigns the book to all its representatives and they spend a session debating the issues I raise in the current context.
I receive an invitation to discuss the book in an open forum.
100 members of the BYU faculty, joined by 2 members of the administration and 300 students, release a statement laying out my arguments, citing my examples, and demanding ongoing discussion of policies imposed from above rather than agreed on by campus stakeholders.
A masked intruder leaves 1000 copies of the book in conspicuous locations around campus, including in the proximity of offices in buildings named after slaveholders, continuing distribution until they are arrested by campus police. The arrest is filmed by compatriots of the intruder and documented by accompanying journalists. Subsequent filming reveals the piles of books collected by officials and journalists ask what will be done with them. In short: the book makes a stink.
President Nelson reads the book and calls in parties responsible for the escalating coercion and says: What the hell are you doing? BYU is a university and not a school for the Taliban!
Okay, here my fantasy meets the reality that BYU faculty and students are so tightly controlled that they can’t risk their jobs and degrees to make any public statements about the book. There will be no succès de scandale. My book will be quickly forgotten. I can live with that. I did what I could.