Jeffrey Nielsen's PhotoBummer. A BYU Philosophy professor got fired for publicly voicing his views about the church’s opposition to gay marriage. His original editorial essay in the Salt Lake Tribune can be found here:

The news about his firing can be found here:

Jeffrey is also being interviewed on RadioWest, which can be streamed, or downloaded later from here.


  1. John Dehlin June 13, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    And here is professor Nielsen’s response to his termination:

  2. Ben June 14, 2006 at 6:58 am

    “BYU instructor let go for questioning LDS stand on gay marriage”

    No he wasn’t. He was let go for publishing his conclusions (not doubts) in a prominent newspaper.

  3. MichealD June 14, 2006 at 7:27 am

    Hi John,
    you seem to be very upset about the gay issue.
    However, I want to point out why the church is against gay marriage and why it won’t change its opinion.

    Churches are about ideals. In his famous book “On the Essence of Christianity”, Ludwig Feuerbach, a german religion critic, analyzed that God is a projection of what we regard as “holy” and “ideal” and “good”.
    When you see God in this way, you can analyze the LDS god and thus see their ideals.
    And their ideals are family ideals.
    God has a heavenly wife, and together they produce heavenly children.
    This implies that family as a basic unit of community is regarded as ideal and holy.
    In the same way, Jesus was said to be married and to have children.

    And now, lets regard it from a salesman’s perspective.
    You work(ed?) at Microsoft, so you know that it’s not about the quality, it’s about selling as much of the crap you have for as much money you can get.
    The same holds true for mormonism.
    Why should people join the church?
    Because of:
    – The ban of coffee
    – The book of mormon which has no foundation in history
    – uniform underwear
    – a perfectionist ethic to which nobody can live up
    All these are not selling points.
    Therefore, the church concentrates on what is it’s characteristic:
    A stress on conservative family values. If they gave up this point, they would be become like any other church.
    Moreover, it would contradict the deep-ingrained family ideals described in the LDS view of God.

    Although you as a liberal mormon may protest as much as you like, you won’t change the church’s opinion on that topic, because for the church, nothing less than their future existence is at stake.

    If they give up their only selling point, they won’t sell any baptisms and undergarments to the next generation.
    So much for my thoughts,

  4. noyo king June 14, 2006 at 9:51 am

    I wonder how much of the support for this constitutional ammendment among church members and leaders falls into the observation and comment of Lavina Fielding Anderson in her essay on historian D. Michael Quinn. It is found elsewhere on She said of him, “Michael is a gay man in a church whose “love gays” rhetoric can only be described as the foam on a wave of deep fear and mistrust of homosexuals.

    My experience suggests she is probably correct. Cultural bias against and homophobia of gays found in our society is prevalent in the church.

  5. Kirk Faulkner June 14, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Oh BYU, you Pharisees,

    I am a BYU Alumnus. I attended the school from 1997 to 2003 (2 years off for a mission). And I hate that place.

    You kind of get one of two lines on BYU. The first is “BYU is not the Church so you can’t judge the church by BYU, cause it’s not the church, it’s a school, not a church, see no steeple!” The other is “Of course you can judge the Church by BYU and that’s why BYU is so (either rad or bad depending on whether this person has ever been to the Honor Code office.)

    What BYU really is is the worst attitudes in the church all gathered up in one campus sprinkled with some of the greatest people you will ever find in the church.

    It is all the dogmatic, narrow minded, militant simpletons who wish they could have been born in Nazi Germany but are doing their best with the lord’s university.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to use the Nazi hyperbole. I retract the Nazi statement.

    And then there are some very smart, interesting and lovely people at BYU. Freethinkers. Mavericks. And they are all scared. Every time I would have a really great teacher I would meet with them in their office and they would be open with me and tell me all the stuff they wanted to say in class but felt they couldn’t if they wanted to keep their job. Their hands were always tied.

    The free thinkers are horribly out numbered and they don’t usually last too long.

    Some might say “Oh he’s just bitter because while he was there he was thrown out of the film program for being too ‘extreme’”.

    DAMN RIGHT I’m bitter! I bet Jeff Nielson is probably feeling pretty bitter right now.

    I hope that in the future the church begins to divorce itself from BYU more and more. I hope they get to a point where they won’t censor Rodin exhibits and fire historians who publish true things and philosophy teachers who put forth opinions. I hope that one day it really does become a school of thought (again?) and not just a propaganda machine. But I’m not holding my breath.

  6. CraigBa! June 14, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Wow, that was quick.

    John, you also might have linked to the column that got Prof. Nielsen canned:

    I think the key sentence in the column, which wanders pretty far afield, is this: “I believe opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral.”

    Connect the dots: 1) the Church leadership opposes gay marriage; 2) opposing gay marriage is immoral; 3) Therefore, the Church leadership is…Well, you get the idea. No, he doesn’t think they’re wrong. He doesn’t think they’re making a mistake. He doesn’t think they’ve misread the tea leaves or haven’t prayed enough about it. He thinks they’re “immoral.” That’s a pretty heavy accusation to make in a supposed academic context.

    No one can argue that BYU shouldn’t be more tolerant of intellectual differences. I believe their attempts to impose rigid intellectual and religious orthodoxy on everyone – both faculty and students – aren’t in the best interests of the Church and negate the whole purpose of a university. I don’t think Prof. Nielsen’s column made all that great a case; but BYU’s actions might silence more articulate critics from speaking their mind or from ever even coming to the university.

  7. Johnny Rotten June 14, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Hello…its BYU…what did he think would happen? BYU and the church do not like being publicly chastised by their employees.

    I personally experienced the “thought police” while at BYU. One of my Poly Sci professors gave one of my papers to another department and they threatened me. If I didn’t stop looking into the subject I was investigating, they promised they could “destroy” my academic career. The paper was an investigative report involving legal issues, the BYU football team, and the BYU police department.

    I learned real quick that BYU was like any other institution and many at the University cared more about the image of the School than about truth and justice. It was an important moment in my life.

    Professor Nielsen should thank his lucky stars, he can now find an employer that allows discourse and respects academic freedom. Moreover, the critics of BYU should also take note that many in the business world are also under a similar gag order when it comes to political issues, especially when it comes to using their title and employers name in public statements. He should not be surprised by the response he received from the University.

    As a libertarian, BYU alumni and freethinker, I am disappointed with the University’s response, however, it is a common response of many businesses and university’s when embarrassed by an employees public comments.

    Professor Nielsen should have kept his criticisms to an academic discussion of his opposition to the Gay Marriage Amendment rather than editorializing, using a personal attack on the morality of the position of the Church and its leadership. Even then he should have realized that he would be disciplined.


    Johnny Rotten

  8. Kim Siever June 14, 2006 at 2:46 pm


    Number 2 dot should be “opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral”, not just “opposing gay marriage is immoral”.

  9. Kirk Faulkner June 14, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    It is a bummer that all of this had to happen over a stupid stunt by Republicans to realign with their constituency. It would be one thing if there was even a possibility that thing was going to pass, but it was never even a question. All of this is over a PR event.

  10. CraigBa! June 14, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Number 2 dot should be “opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral”, not just “opposing gay marriage is immoral”.

    Correct, but the point is pretty much the same. This constitutional amendment didn’t come out of left field. The only reason it’s been proposed is because some groups are trying to get the courts to foist gay marriage on everybody. The concern is that the US Supreme Court could use the Contract Clause and/or the Full Faith & Credit Clause to force all states to recognize marriages granted in just one state. I have no strong feelings on gay marriage, but I don’t want it foisted on us by a few unelected judges (as it already has been in Vermont & Mass.)

  11. jordanandmeg June 14, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    Yeah, BYU is full of a lot of boring dogmatic zealots, but I loved it there.

    The only difference I can think of is that I never felt it my duty to instruct the masses to thinking my way. Free thinkers cannot ‘convert’ not-so-free thinkers. Life, time, experience, and more time do that.

    The church and BYU have every right to disagree with gay marriage and kick out people who disagree with them. People also have every right to disagree with the church and either retain or give up their membership.

    But people should not try to change the church. And the church should not try to change people. Agency is the name of the game.

    Changes are up to the spirit and people’s or the church’s responsiveness to it.

  12. Kirk Faulkner June 15, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Jordanandmeg said:
    “But people should not try to change the church. And the church should not try to change people.”

    Um, isn’t the whole point of the church to change people?

    And as a corollary couldn’t you say that the whole point of the people in the church is to make the church better?

  13. D-Train June 15, 2006 at 9:44 am


    I agree that your 1-2-3 reasoning can be seen that way, but I would point out that this isn’t necessary. You can do something immoral and still not be immoral.


    I agree with Kirk. The church is worthless if it doesn’t lead to personal change (remaining neutral on whether such change is good or bad) and the people as church members are worthless if they don’t try to make the Church work (saying nothing about their value outside of their role as church members).

  14. jordanandmeg June 15, 2006 at 10:40 am

    The church invites people to change. Gives them the tools. People have their agency and do what they want.

    Agency is one of the most emphasized doctrines in the church. Changing people, or forcing them to change, is not the church’s mission. It’s, rather, a gathering of people who want to.

  15. JDude June 15, 2006 at 11:09 am

    CraigBa is correct. Nielsen’s column ran far afield. If he had stuck to the specific amendment the Senate rejected, and there’s plenty in it to criticize, he might have been OK. But when he says people who have a different view on it than he does are immoral, when he all but says that gay sex is a good and positive thing, and when he says that 30 minutes of Internet research can tell you more about truth than all the correlated church historical materials put together … well, you get the idea.

    It really is too bad. A well-written, well-thought-out article on the issue could have been a good thing for BYU and the Church, might have even ended up doing something positive for academic freedom. But this article was written in such a way that the BYU powers that be had little other choice than to dismiss him. I would like to be sympathetic to a voice of dissent. But in this case I cannot.

  16. russell June 15, 2006 at 11:54 am

    I support BYU decision to terminate Jeffery Nielson over the comments he made when he wrote the Salt Lake Tribune on June 4th. The reason is not for what he said but the methods he used to say it. He used his employer (that being BYU) to elevate his platform so that his comments would be read by a large audience. That I believe is completely UNETHICAL.

    Unless he go permission by his employer, he should never have used his employer as a device to gain a prominent plateform to air his views. The fact that he was a professor at BYU should never have been mentioned. He could have simply wrote an letter to the editor just like everyone else about is personal views and signed it with his name and perhaps mention his degree but leave his employer out. Nobody would have known simply by the name of Jeffery Nielson that he was a professor at BYU or manager at Walmart. If I was to use my employer as a device to elevate my views in a public forum like the Tribune without my employers approval, I should expect my employer to not be happy about me attaching their name to my comments. Nielson can say what he wants keep his BYU professorship out of the discussion.

    Should his membership be revoked? No. I don’t think is position on the gay issue is one of personal worthiness or denial of his testimony of the Church but a disagreement over the Church regarding a national public policy issue. The issue I believe should not be a federal issue. It should be an issue that should be decided by the states and judges should keep their noses out of it. Even if gay marriage was made legal, the Church would not be obligated to accept those marriages as legitmate in the eyes of the Church or God. The Church would not be obligated to perform such marriages and it will still retain the right to excommunicated anyone who would so boldly violate the Law of Chastity. Pornography may be legal but it does not change the Church and the Lord position on it. It is for that reason that though I don’t support gay marriage, if it was made legal it would not bug me too much. There are plenty of other more pressing issues that concern me.

  17. Margaret Young June 15, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    I am old enough to remember Hugh B. Brown, a courageous apostle who periodically came to BYU to calm the waters, after Ezra Taft Benson had left heavy turbulence in his outspoken support for ultra-conservatism. Brown said, “We are grateful in the Church and in this great university that the freedom, dignity and integrity of the individual is basic in Church doctrine as well as in democracy. Here we are free to think and express our opinions. Fear will not stifle thought, as is the case in some areas which have not yet emerged from the dark ages. God himself refuses to trammel man’s free agency even though its exercise sometimes teaches painful lessons. Both creative science and revealed religion find their fullest and truest expression in the climate of freedom. I hope that you will develop the questing spirit. Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones of progress. You will of course respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent – if you are informed…Seek truth in all fields, and in that search you will need at least three virtues: courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, ‘From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth – O God of truth deliver us’.”
    (Speech at BYU, March 29, 1958)

    And Joseph Smith had a bold opinion on curtailing freedom of expression:
    “It looks too much like the Methodists, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have a creed which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

    As a part-time teacher at BYU, I feel pretty nervous about Lindsay’s dismissal. From what I can tell, the dismissal was SOLELY because of a letter to the editor. I know I have some unorthodox views. Would I lose my job if I were to express them–like on this blog, for example? (I would be considered liberal in Utah on most issues.) I am very aware that some (NOT the majority) of my students are over-ready to get offended by a writer’s use of a swearword, or an author’s depiction of a sex scene. I genuinely worry about these students as they leave BYU’s borders. Have they learned to incorporate the love of God into their academic pursuits? Have they developed empathy? Are they prepared to read the BEST books (like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and the many others in fields I don’t know), or will they spend most of their time reading _Ensign_ articles–always correlated and written on a sixth grade reading level? Will they consistently seek answers to the hardest questions from the many quotes of General Authorities included in the Sunday School manuals, or will they learn to turn inward to a mature and generous heart? Will they continually seek to frame their experience within the idealized Mormon portrait, or will they be free to really grow when life pulls an inevitable surprise? Homosexuality is a surprise for thousands of people, and thousands families. How do we react to it? My reaction, as I’ve had family members, friends, and students come out to me, has changed over the years. The first time it happened, some 30 years ago, I was appalled and begged the person to repent. Now, my instant reaction is to open my arms to anyone who might feel crucified between desire and faith. I can’t remove that heavy cross, but I will certainly not participate in torment or condemnation, nor will I indicate to them that they need to feel more guilt so that my testimony can stay intact. I will never know what it’s like to be gay. And I will never pretend to know. Since I’m a woman, I will never be a Judge in Israel (thank God!). I don’t want to be a judge in Provo or even in my own home if I can help it. My children have a gay uncle. It has mattered greatly to me that they understand that we love him–and please note that I’m not including any disclaimer like “hate the sin, love the sinner.” I’m not going to label my brother-in-law as a sinner. From many indications, he’s a better person than I am. I know God loves him, and from all I can tell, he loves God. So can I keep my job at BYU?

  18. paula June 15, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    Margaret, thanks for the honest reponses here. (I met you at the Rocky Mountain Retreat a few years ago). I’m wondering about BYU and part-time faculty. It seems to me that I’ve met or heard of a lot of part-timers in the last few years. Has there been a shift in hiring practices, or is that just my own perception? I’m wondering if that’s just to save money on benefits, etc, or a conscious decision to make it easier to let people go if they cause problems. I also wonder if the publicity over this doesn’t hurt LDS kids with degrees from BYU when they apply to grad schools, or look for academic positions. I doubt that most employers would take note of this, but it can’t be helpful in the academic market.

  19. russell June 15, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    In the article on my termination of Mr. Nielson in the Tribune, the Tribune writer notes some other issues that Mr. Nielson find are important. I think these issues are completely silly.

    He advocates a position of having all worthiness interviews between the church leaders and teens to occur only only in the presence of a parent or guardian. Now why in the world would one want to do this? The purpose of the interview is to be confidential so that the person being interviewed will be open. Having a parent present might cause problems with the teen being open about issues out of fear of problems from the parents after they leave the interview. This ideas is just absurd.

    He wants the LDS Church to reveal real membership and activity rates. I think too many people make a big deal about church membership levels. Whether the “real membership” is 12 million or 10 or 14 million it really does matter. Its a drop in the bucket compared to the 6.4 billion people on the earth.

    Given the fact that the Catholics and Protestants don’t really give any “real membership” levels in their ranks let alone have an “activity rate” standards like the LDS Church does, I don’t see the real need for this.

    I do believe that given the fact of the high standards the LDS Church has and what it asks of its members to do in contributing time to callings and other things outside a 3 hour block of meetings its amazing that the we have what we have. Most evanglical churches only require someone to confess Jesus and advise people to attend a sermon on Sunday. I would like to see what the real membership and activity rate of a Protestant denomination would be if they asked their members to attend a 3 hour block of meetings on Sunday, serve in Church callings that not only occur on Sunday but take time out on other days, had a hometeaching program, and so forth. Something just tells me it would dry up fast as they would bug out and find a new church.

    Another issue is to permit nonmembers and non-tithe payers to attend temple weddings. This complaint really bugs me. It bugs me because people don’t want to take responsiblity for their own actions. Part of our modern day culture I guess. “Blame the other guy as I am innocent.” They don’t want to follow the rules yet want accomodations made for them at their request.

    My family situation has had to deal with issue. My parents had 6 children. 4 of the 6 are married. 4 of the 6 including myself got sealed in the Temple. My parents who are members where not able to be at any of our sealings. They went through much of their life never doing the things to qualify them to enter the temple. My mom is not active. My dad is and has always been active. My dad finally went through the Temple about 5 years ago. Anyway all of us would have loved for them to be in the sealing room. My parents would have wanted to be there. But nobody, especially my parents, ever complained about the fact they could not enter the Temple. They did not blame the Church or think the policy should be changed. They understood that the opportunity was always there for them to go. In the end, the LDS Church did not keep them from being at our sealing. They keeped themselves from being there.

    I guess they where just raised in a generation where people took responsiblity for their actions. Todays generation seems to take the view of being a victim rather than responsiblity. ‘Its not my fault, but it’s their fault.”

    The Temple is open to everyone. All they have to do is qualify themselves to enter. If a person choses not to be a member of the Church, that is their right. If a person choses not to pay tithing, that is their right. But with choices come consequences. If you think the issue of non-members not being allowed to enter the temple is terrible, just wait and see what the Lord does when he assigned kingdoms of glory. Many good people who lived honorable lives will not be allowed to enter the Celestial Kingdom as it would not be just for God to award a person who chose not to play by all the rules to the same reward to those that did. God has given all of us our agency to chose whatever we want but our choices do come consequence of one form or another. The Temple is an excellent teaching tool of this eternal principle.

  20. Margaret Young June 15, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    Reply to Paula:
    Hi! I think I know who you are, though nowadays I’m lucky if I can remember my kids’ names. (I forget my students’ names as soon as I turn in their grades.) I am not under the impression that BYU is hiring more part-timers than they usually do. Our department just hired another batch of full-time profs. Happens annually, as older profs retire. In our department (English), we have lost some part time instructors for incompetence (and it was justifiable termination) and weirdness (yes, we’ve had part timers who simply could not fill their classes because they were perceived as too weird. Students simply dropped out.) But the one I remember best was my own office mate, who lost her job because a story of hers won the D.K. Brown contest and appeared in _Sunstone_. Our Chair found the story to reveal a “moral imagination” which was out of sync with BYU. Worse yet, another member of our department had been the judge of the contest that year and was brought to tears when she learned that the story had been read so harshly and had resulted in the writer losing her job. We have also lost full-time faculty over feminism. And one of my creative writing colleagues (one of our best writers whose work I admire but don’t particularly like) was not given continuing status because his short stories were violent. And of course, our greatest loss of all was Gene England. He kept his difficulties with the university very private, but he was deeply hurt by his treatment. I recommend the collection of essays published in his honor called _Proving Contraries_. As for me, well, I’m the great great grand-daughter of George H. Brimhall, who participated in the very first BYU crisis over academic freedom. Ann Chamberlin (a granddaughter of one of the professors who resigned in the hubbub) and I are planning on co-authoring a book about the crisis and our ancestors. We’ve started, but we’re moving very slowly. Probably within five years, we’ll have it done. Just a quick sum up of what happened under Brimhall: Four well-educated LDS professors (hired because Brimhall wanted to make BYU academically respectible)were teaching evolution and historical criticism of the Bible. A man named Horace Hall Cummings was the superintendent of Church Schools and was convinced that these professors were destroying the faith of BYU students. He basically orchestrated the crisis. (It all went down in 1911.) Since then, Boyd K. Packer has given a talk about the event and described a dream my great great grandfather supposedly had (except that the dream was taken NOT from Brimhall’s writings, but from Cummings’s) wherein birds (as symbols of BYU students) were earthbound because of worldly teachings. Okay, my personal take: I’ve read Cummings’s journals extensively and I’m afraid they reveal a very narrow and arrogant mind. He is consistently self-congratulatory, convinced that he is always right–including in the sections where he complains about his “jealous” first wife who just won’t support polygamy. I see no flexibility or ability to deal with ambiguity in any of his writings. David O. McKay released Cummings when he had authority to do so–about 1920, and said he felt terrible that a man such as W.H. Chamberlin had been so ill treated. But it was too late. Chamberlin was offered a job at BYU as an apologetic gesture but said simply, “It is too late.” He was dead a month later. In 1925, according to the son of a BYU professor who was hired then, evolution was taught again–and of course, we eventually got a whole packet describing various views of the creation, given to each incoming BYU student. So I come to this most recent event with a very long history. I have now read Nielson’s letter to his Chair and his letter to the editor. I really feel terrible that this happened. I had hoped we were better. I received a copy of the official statement on Academic Freedom today via e-mail. I believe all BYU employees probably received it because of the Nielson situation. I just can’t fit the puzzle pieces together. I cannot see how BYU’s actions are justified. I think we maybe cut ourselves too much slack because we’re a private institution. Is there something I’m missing? Has Nielson done more than write that letter? Has he aggressively attacked the Church or tried to persuade his students to leave it? Unless I am missing something, I can’t put this thing together in a way that makes any ethical sense.

  21. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 7:38 am

    Suppose that Nielsen was a Stake President and delivered a talk like that during stake conference. What do you suppose would happen? He would be released of course.

    Why? For using his position of authority / influence to propagate views strictly incompatible with his office:

    1. The Church is taking an immoral course of action
    2. The Church leadership has no business commenting on this matter (but BYU professors do)
    3. Church leaders have no particular divine authority
    4. The Church is otherwise Orwellian
    4. Gay marriage (implicitly) has divine favor

    Jeffrey Nielsen has done the same thing, only in a much larger forum. And so he was released. Simple as that.

  22. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 7:49 am

    That should be “but I do”

  23. Doc June 16, 2006 at 8:41 am

    –“Um, isn’t the whole point of the church to change people?

    And as a corollary couldn’t you say that the whole point of the people in the church is to make the church better?”

    The point of the spirit is to change people, and the Church as a whole to progress as we are able and choose to do.

    I loved your point Jordan/Meg, it is all about agency. Arguments can be made for or against Mr. Nielsen and For or against BYU. The bottom line is they both made choices and there are consequences for those choices. It is the law of the harvest. You reap what you sow. Both are experiencing consequences that were foreseeable and I believe made a conscious choice in spite of those consequences.

    Who is right and who is wrong? Well- that isn’t my place to judge. It is what it is. The need for academic freedom comes from the idea that none of us has all the answers. We need the discourse in order to find the answers. I find convincing reasons to say both parties reacted in such a way as to stifle that discourse, feeling that it was necessary as some part of some bigger moral principle. I can only hope that the conflict and turbulence may lead to some character building changes for both. But in the end, I don’t believe either to be perfect and am willing to suspend my personal judgement, as desperately important as I am sure it is to either.

  24. Doc June 16, 2006 at 8:53 am

    P. S.
    The more I learn about Hugh B. Brown, the more I love that man. ;)

  25. Mike Thomas June 16, 2006 at 9:00 am

    When you say, “academic freedom comes from the idea that none of us has all the answers,” are you including those in the First Presidency of the Mormon Church?

  26. Doc June 16, 2006 at 9:14 am

    Honestly, yes. I heard tehm answer too many questions with “I don’t know” to conclude otherwise. I have also read to many statements by church leaders stating something to the effect that they are human and doing the best they can

    That said, I do believe they have a certain access for the will of direction for the church that I do not have. Rest easy, I do believe the proclamation of the family to be a prophetic warning. The question of how best to reconcile that with an imperfect world is a much more difficult and vexing question that we as a church and a society are left to work our on our own.

  27. Kirk Faulkner June 16, 2006 at 9:51 am


    Can you see any difference between some one being a philosophy teacher for a school and a stake president for a church?

    Also, shame on you for twisting the poor guy’s words into those 5 statements. That’s not Orwellian of you, that is modern American political spin doctor of you.

    Every time some one gets in trouble at BYU or some one has a disagreement with the church the people who are against them start demonizing them (and the people for them start lionizing them I know).

    This guy wrote an article. Maybe there are better ways he could of phrased it, maybe not. Free speech isn’t only free specch if you get your words in just the right order.

    Now does BYU have the right to fire this guy? Yeah. Sure. It’s their school. But they should be damn embarrassed about it. Even if they have to look big in the papers I hope that Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson (who used to be in the Quorum of the 70) is sitting at his desk right now and thinking about why Jesus didn’t fire his disciples when they told the children they he was too busy (OK that’s a cheap example, but the point is this is un christ like behavior, unless Jeffrey Nielsen was trying to exchange money in the Wilkinson center on a Sunday)

    We hate doubt in this church. Hate it. In ourselves, in other people. STAMP IT OUT. It’s a shame really. Doubt is like a plague, and too often when we see the signs of it, rather than try and heal it, we get rid of the person to get rid of the doubt.


    Maybe we ought to get those stupid bracelts in this church. Choose The Right just aint cuttin it.

  28. DavidH June 16, 2006 at 10:51 am

    “Another issue is to permit nonmembers and non-tithe payers to attend temple weddings. This complaint really bugs me. It bugs me because people don’t want to take responsiblity for their own actions.”

    That is absolutely correct. Parents in other faith traditions who are devout and who raise their children in that tradition should recognize that it is their own damn fault they can’t attend their children’s weddings, if their children convert to Mormonism. Those parents need to take responsibility for their own actions or failures (i.e., their failing to convert at least one year before their children are to be married in the temple, to contribute 10% of income to the Church, meet the other standards and gain a sufficient testimony to receive a recommend). Shame on those parents. What were they thinking?

  29. TMD June 16, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Two key things here:

    First, this guy was daring them to do it. Knowing the relevant positions of himself, the church, etc., it wasn’t a matter of taking a risk on bahalf of a personal opinion–for instance, he could have chosen not to include his institutional affiliation (though the paper probably would not have published it without, because then it’s a lot less interesting). He wanted it to be out there that a ‘BYU prof’ was disagreeing with the 1P on this issue–not that some particular guy who happens to be a member of the church is disagreeing with them. It’s all the better for him if they take him up, because he becomes a ’cause celebre’ for progressives, which might be useful since he’d been unable to get a tenure track job as it was.

    Second, pretending that this is somehow related to academic freedom is destructive to the real rationale for academic freedom itself. Academic freedom is about protecting scholars’ ability to do serious, ultimately peer-reveiwed academic work. It is not–or, for the sake of that rationale, should not be–about protecting crackpot who works at a university and chooses to express a personal opinion about an issue in a controvercial way.

  30. Josh Kim June 16, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    This reminds me of that German LDS kid during Nazi Germany who spoke out against the Hitler regime. He was excommunicated by the Church there. It’s sad. This shows how weak the testimony of some people are when they feel threatened by an article like this.

  31. BYU Alum June 16, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    First time I’ve seen a picture of the guy. I thought I read that he’s married but maybe not. Anyway, he’s obviously gay. Sort of funny.

  32. Josh Kim June 16, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    yeah Nielsen obviously must be a gay, flag-burning, baby-killing, troop-hating democrat.

  33. Chris Grant June 16, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Margaret Young writes:

    And one of my creative writing colleagues (one of our best writers whose work I admire but don’t particularly like) was not given continuing status because his short stories were violent.

    Brian Evenson wasn’t at BYU long enough to be denied continuing status. He left BYU at the age of 28 after a year and a half here, when it was made clear to him that he’d probably have to stop writing about psychopaths sucking eyeballs out of people’s faces if he’d want to keep his job.

    I received a copy of the official statement on Academic Freedom today via e-mail. I believe all BYU employees probably received it because of the Nielson situation.

    Nope, it doesn’t seem to have been sent to the Math Department. But I think most people here read it long, long ago.

    I just can’t fit the puzzle pieces together. I cannot see how BYU’s actions are justified.

    Publicly calling the deliberate actions of the First Presidency “immoral” seems to clearly violate BYU standards for faculty. I, myself, am glad that BYU has a policy of this sort and takes it seriously.

  34. Doc June 16, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    There is a certain rule in the LDS blogs that the first to invoke Nazi hyperbole automatically loses the debate. Where did you learn that story? Ex-Mormons for Jesus?

  35. Josh Kim June 16, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Reply to Mark:

    President Samuelson technically still is a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, I think. He got released as a member of the Presidency of the Quorum but he is still in that quorum.

  36. BYU Alum June 16, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Maybe you can see more than I can Josh, but I wouldn’t go that far.

  37. Josh Kim June 16, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    I’m not calling anyone a Nazi per se. I’m just reminded of a story about this kid who spoke out on what he thought was wrong, which it clearly was. Nielson was speaking out against what he thought was wrong. I wouldn’t choose the same words as he did like “immoral.” He’s a college professor; I think he ought to know how to edit his own article and make it so that it would be less edgier. This is the route he has chosen. However, he didn’t need to be let go. I realize it’s the Philosophy Department’s choice to let go of someone. The reason why they did it is pretty weak. Couldn’t they have just asked him to revise or explain his comments? This whole incident just reveals that both sides lacked finesse in dealing with controversial decisions.

  38. DavidH June 16, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    “Nope, it doesn’t seem to have been sent to the Math Department. But I think most people here read it long, long ago.”

    One nice thing about mathematics is that it seems to be a field where there is little danger of bumping up against official teachings of the Church or political/moral positions, because there do not seem to be many Church teachings or political/moral positions that relate to mathematics. Other than, of course, the well settled fundamental doctrine (I do not recall the scriptural citation) that, given a line and a point not on the line, there is one and only one line through that point that is parallel to the first line.

  39. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    Kirk F.,

    Of course there is a difference between the role or function of BYU professor and a stake president. However in this case the similarities are more relevant than the differences. A BYU professor is hired to teach about a much wider range of material than a stake president, is paid out of the tithing funds of the Church, and generally has considerable latitude to promote any view not incompatible with the fundamental doctrines of the Church.

    Now if you do not think that the five points I made are an accurate summary of Nielsen’s guest editorial, you are going to have to explain why, because I cannot imagine how any rational person could conclude otherwise.

    1) He says:
    “I believe opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral.”

    “The leaders of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently spoke out against gay marriage and asked members to encourage their U.S. senators to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting homosexual marriage”


    The Church is acting an immoral course of action [by opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it]

    2) “Ultimately, any appeal to religious authority to create law is misplaced. Our Founding Fathers were inspired by their study of history to separate constitutional authority from religious belief, recognizing as they did the potential for tyranny in unchecked religious influence.”

    The church is making an appeal to religious authority. Therefore, the churches appeal in this matter is misplaced, i.e. it has no business meddling in the matters of government – that could lead to tyranny.

    Subtext: However, my position as a professor at a Church owned institution gives me a unique capacity to check the Church’s misplaced appeal.

    3) “We need to trust the membership of the church and treat them as adults, as equals. We are a church of brothers and sisters, not one of the few privileged leaders and the many subordinate followers.”

    “In fact, when we examine the statements opposing gay marriage, we find few reasonable arguments.”

    i.e. There is no revelation or divine authority that privileges Pres. Hinckley’s views above my views. We are equals – the leaders of the Church have no mantle of authority, they (implicitly) are imposing their own personal views on the rest of us.

    Subtext: all authority is founded in rational argument from assumptions that are manifest to us all. The leaders have not made such an argument, therefore their authority is invalid.

    4) “God is not the author of incoherence or injustice, but we humans often are.” We [the Church] teach a redacted version of history that does more harm than good.

    “We [the LDS Church] must be more honest about our history, including the past and future practice of polygamy in our official doctrine. This will be difficult, for it will reveal that we have been less than truthful in our public relations, and it will show our inconsistency with current statements opposing gay marriage.”

    [How is that not Orwellian?]

    5) Also, ergo, favoring polygamy and opposing gay marriage is an untenable inconsistency.

    “Truly, God would be unjust if He were the creator of a biological process that produced such uncommon, yet perfectly natural results, and then condemned the innocent person to a life of guilt”

    Ergo, God must approve of homosexual relations, in the form of gay marriage.

    Now there are some subtleties here of course, but Nielsen consistently depicts the Church leadership as clueless, backward, out of line, exercising unjust authority, irrational, uninspired, and so on. He did not make a pro-gay marriage argument so much, as an anti-authority argument, demonstrating once again the intellectual poverty of contemporary liberalism, especially in regard to the life of the spirit.

  40. Margaret Young June 16, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Well, I’m left with the same conclusion I generally take from debates: the issues are far more complex than we make them out to be. Chris Grant’s description of Brian Evenson’s situation is over-simplified, I’m afraid–but I recognize he wasn’t doing a full exposee, just a couple of sentences. (I know much more about Evenson’s case than I put down in my post.) And so is Josh’s allusion to Helmut Huebener (NOT a character invented by ex-Mormons, but a real person who was indeed excommunicated by his BP, who happened to be a member of the Nazi party–and felt that Huebener’s actions were literally endangering the lives of his congregation. You can read about Huebener in a number of Church-published books (_Three Against Hitler_ for example). I still find the Nielson case unsettling, though I’m sure BYU’s position would hold up in court because BYU is a private university. But sometimes we have a RIGHT to do something which we shouldn’t do–or which should be reserved as a last resort. I know only the facts which have become available in the press. I wonder if the department chair (a man I think highly of, btw) spoke with Nielson to attempt some less drastic resolution before sending the letter of dismissal. Is the question all about loyalty? Is it loyalty to the Brethren? To the Church? To Jesus Christ? What kind of loyalty are we asking? Surely loyalty must not involve coercion. One of the questions potential hirees at BYU are sometimes asked is, “Do you think you really fit in here? Is this where you belong?” It’s really a lousy question, since it implies that BYU is a sort of Procrustean bed; we’ll lop off your limbs if you don’t fit. The true gospel of Jesus Christ is just the opposite. It should expand the mind and enlarge the heart, and each individual should experience that personally. They will grow beyond the cradle of their babyhood into an ever expanding world of possibility, where morality goes beyond the thought of consequences or punishment for misbehavior and into the realms of godly concern for “the other” (meaning the person who is NOT me, and who cannot be reduced to fit my own agenda). The gospel ultimately teaches us to seek further light and knowledge directly from God, though we can be aided in our quest by many helpers. I remain concerned at what the Nielson case appears to imply. As it has been reported (and I recognize I might know some unpublished facts), the case increases fear, not love. But “God hath not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” That scripture should be the basis of BYU’s ethic, for surely our students will need the power to grow beyond “childish things,” the love to direct them to pure and mature religion, and a sound mind to discern not just what our rights are, but what is actually GOOD.

  41. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Persons A and B are close friends with different opinions. Person A harshly criticizes what person B stands for. Person B ends the friendship.

    Now how exactly is B coercing A?

    Also, loyalty is not an determinative principle, in other words one can balance loyalty to multiple persons, institutions, whatever at once. Nielsen shows very little evidence he has any loyalty to the leadership of the Church or any conception of a divine mantle of authority. He treats them as having *less* authority than if they were democratically elected by majority vote.

  42. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Might we not with equal justice claim that A is coercing B?

  43. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Choose the Left when a choice is placed before you
    Choose the Left the Democrats do guide
    And their light is forever shining o’er you
    When in the Left your heart confides

    Choose the Left! Choose the Left!
    Let suspicion mark the way before.
    If bereft, choose the Left!
    And we will bless you ever more.

    Choose the left! Let no spirit of confession overcome you in the evil hour.
    There’s no right nor wrong to every question
    Be safe thru rationalization’s power

    Choose the Left! Choose the Left!
    Let suspicion mark the way before.
    If bereft, choose the Left!
    And we will bless you ever more.

    Choose the left! There is peace in skepticism.
    Choose the left! There is freedom for the soul
    Choose the left in all labors your pursuing
    Let pure discretion be your goal.

    Choose the Left! Choose the Left!
    Let suspicion mark the way before.
    If bereft, choose the Left!
    And we will bless you ever more.

  44. Doc June 16, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for your correction on the story of the German excommunication. Thank you for placing it in context. It just struck me as a story used in such a black and white, polemical way that it smelled of propaganda. I should have realized that didn’t mean there could not be a kernel of truth to it. You quoted one of my favorite scriptures. I pray for the day we can all have enough perfect love to cast out fear and be more civil with eachother. I believe my earlier comments show some degree of agreement with you. You make some valid points about why things at BYU don’t have to be the way they are. Mark makes some equally valid points that Professor Nielsen did not have to make his remarks in the manner he did either. I fear when things are done in a coercive way by either side all they do is cause the opposition to dig their heels in.

  45. mullingandmusing June 16, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Surely loyalty must not involve coercion.

    Loyalty does not involve coercion. However, a lack of loyalty can bring consequences. For those who choose to attend or teach at BYU, the guidelines are clear. It’s silly to get all bent out of shape about the rules that Nielsen was aware of. He was not coerced in any way; he simply made a choice knowing what the consequences could be.

    They will grow beyond the cradle of their babyhood into an ever expanding world of possibility, where morality goes beyond the thought of consequences or punishment for misbehavior and into the realms of godly concern for “the other” (meaning the person who is NOT me, and who cannot be reduced to fit my own agenda). The gospel ultimately teaches us to seek further light and knowledge directly from God, though we can be aided in our quest by many helpers.

    The gospel teaches us to seek light and knowledge within bounds set by the Lord, through His prophets. There is not some higher law to go beyond or against them and somehow be into some “spiritually adult” realm. The kind of spiritual growth comes not from seeking one’s own path, but by following “with exactness” the path God has set for us.

    Since this discussion has even included math, consider this: The shortest distance between two points (where we are and where we want to be eternally) is a straight line, even the strait and narrow path. BYU is first and foremost about keeping that path strait. There is plenty of truth to be found without trying to draw a new path.

    Nielsen may have felt he was right, but it is never a good thing to speak out publicly against the prophets. That’s reminiscent of the whole steadying the ark thing. What good are prophets if all we do is think whatever they say is up for grabs and is disposable? I think some want to hold Nielsen up as some extra-moral person because he “stayed true to his conscience.” We cannot hold someone up as living a higher level of morality when he undermined the prophets and their stand on this issue.

    We can still love others and hold this line. True gospel-centered love, however, can’t be lived without still being true to God’s laws and His prophets.

  46. mullingandmusing June 16, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    First time I’ve seen a picture of the guy. I thought I read that he’s married but maybe not. Anyway, he’s obviously gay. Sort of funny.

    Actually, he’s married with four children.

  47. jordanandmeg June 16, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    It’s not beyond church members or institutions to make mistakes, and we should realistic about those mistakes. But this does not mean that imperfect members or institutions are unloveable. If so, then we would all be.

    Very off topic, but I think Margaret is a wonderful writer.

    Margaret, where did you find that Joseph Smith quote about curtailing freedom of expression?

  48. Kirk Faulkner June 16, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    Oh Mark Butler,

    Here we were, having a nice conversation about matters church related. And you go and bring politics into it. For shame.

    I appreciate you explaining exactly how you put the slant on what Brother Nielsen said. I will concede that each point of your collected list of his positions can be retraced to an original comment in 1-3 steps of a kind of “7 degrees of Kevin Bacon” like logic. Let us put a rest to THAT debate. I invite anyone who might have encountered Mark’s list without reading the actual article itself to read the original document before coming to any final conclusions. I am sure Mark would echo me on that.

    I am also going to concede the person a, b thing. This is because I couldn’t understand it. I don’t really want it explained to me, so I will just give you that point.

    But on to the democrat thing, Mark, please!

    Why do you think I (or whoever you were singing the song at, it occurs to me that it might be Jeff Nielsen, or both of us, but we’ll say Me or people like me) am a Democrat?

    Ok stupid question. Democrats love gays. Stereotypes are great, I knew that. But you shouldn’t SAY you think I’m a Democrat and here’s why:

    When we are talking about things like the priesthood and the infallibility of the church as a whole and you invoke political references, you alienate people. You alienate wonderful smart faithful liberal people who most likely agree with you. Maybe not entirely, but they might like your stance more than mine. When you make it political you slap them as well as me. You tell them they are not welcome in your church.

    How can you possibly let your conception of what “good” is, what “faithful” is, to be colored by the lines of the Republican and Democratic parties. I mean, do we really want to be either of these guys? Between the violence and corruption and greed and indecency that goes on in BOTH of these parties, you are gonna hold one up to me as a religious archetype I should follow?

    I am not a supremely active Mormon, I will give you that. But when I think about the good things my parents raised me with, the basic principles of the gospel, I have a hard time matching that to any American political party.

    And this is why your comments rub me wrong. You are not arguing that this guy knew what he was getting into and got fired for it. We know that’s what happened. That is the reality of the situation. No one is surprised BYU did that. It’s what BYU does.

    You are calling heretic. You want to demonize him. If I am honest I probably have to admit I want to prop him up and have his voice heard. Difference of opinion. We both have really good points to our arguments.

    But don’t think it’s going to be as easy as left vs. right. Hillary vs. McCain. Those cats aint gonna solve our problems.


  49. CraigBa! June 16, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Loyalty does not involve coercion. However, a lack of loyalty can bring consequences. For those who choose to attend or teach at BYU, the guidelines are clear. It’s silly to get all bent out of shape about the rules that Nielsen was aware of.

    I guess I have a problem understanding what’s meant by “the guidelines” as it applies to a university, and especially as it applies to students at that university. The whole purpose of an education is to expand one’s understanding of the world. If you stick a young student fresh out of high school in an intellectual straightjacket by imposing a rigid orthodoxy on him, that hardly helps him to explore alternative possibilites.

    I understand how this puts the Church in a dilemna. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to support a university where large numbers of the faculty were in open apostasy, but how do you achieve genuine freedom of thought and inquiry in the liberal arts when they have so many restrictions?

    Do you say: “Well, the CHurch is true, I know it’s true, and you know it’s true, so you don’t need to go outside those boundaries;” or do you assume that if you let them past those boundaries they’ll return by choice once they realize that the Church’s explanations of the world are the best available?

  50. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    Well I am not exceedingly fond of the Republican party these days either, the word Democrat just fit nicely into the song, as being the preferred party of those who promote a hostility to organized religion using exactly the same type of arguments Nielsen was making. Sola scriptura without the scriptura.

  51. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    In short the Republicans are way too amorphous and lackadasaical to inspire loyalty of a non-contingent kind. They are not a family nor a Church, just a very loose coalition. The Democrats are far more coherent than the Republicans are, they just have trouble expanding their coalition to the right, and it is not that hard to see why. It doesn’t matter that much though because the Republicans are pretty impotent as it is. Nothing really big happens in Congress without ~2/3 majorities and it will likely be a *long* time before either party has that kind of power again.

  52. paula June 16, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    Margaret, thanks for the response. It almost got lost in all the rest. It seems to me that if Nielsen had been allowed to keep his job, this would most have been blown over by now, but BYU has found a way to give new publicity to it. While it’s true that BYU is a private school, owned by the church, if the administration really wants to be considered a respectable, real university, they need to play by most of the rules that other institutions would. And while it’s well-known that academics can be small-minded and petty, I can’t think of a lot of other institutions where someone would have been fired over a letter like this. It can’t be helpful to BYU students who are looking for academic jobs, or positions in graduate schools to have this kind of publicity for BYU.

  53. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    First of all, the restrictions at BYU are much more liberal than they are at a variety of Protestant institutions. We do not have a narrowly defined creed that practically dictates a philosophical theology, we have basic principles with enough diversity to construct a half a dozen different Protestant sects.

    The only thing that really matters at a place like BYU are the fundamentals. Heterosexual marriage and the inspired authority of the church leadership are first line fundamentals that Nielsen directly attacked, using his BYU position as a calling card. He could hardly have chosen two more important principles to question – one is the basis of God’s own authority (cf. D&C 121:46) and the other is the foundation of exaltation in the celestial kingdom (cf D&C 132:19).

  54. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    That should be “Protestant-size sects”

  55. Mark Butler June 16, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    Here is the comparable Catholic canon law on the matter.

    Can. 807 The Church has the right to erect and direct universities, which contribute to a more profound human culture, the fuller development of the human person, and the fulfillment of the teaching function of the Church.

    Can. 809 If it is possible and expedient, conferences of bishops are to take care that there are universities or at least faculties suitably spread through their territory, in which the various disciplines are studied and taught, with their academic autonomy preserved and in light of Catholic doctrine.

    Can. 810 §1. The authority competent according to the statutes has the duty to make provision so that teachers are appointed in Catholic universities who besides their scientific and pedagogical qualifications are outstanding in integrity of doctrine and probity of life and that they are removed from their function when they lack these requirements; the manner of proceeding defined in the statutes is to be observed.
    (Code of Canon Law (1983))

    Would we consider Nielsen “outstanding in integrity of doctrine”?

  56. Kirk Faulkner June 17, 2006 at 1:01 am


    It is late and I don’t have the mental where-with-all to come up with anything clever. But I just have one question: Should a Mormon be able to express the opinions that jeff N. expressed and stay in good standing with the church? Temple worthy. Able to hold a calling. Good to take the sacrament. The whole (how do they say?) kit and kaboodle.

    That’s what i am interested in.

  57. Tom June 17, 2006 at 5:11 am

    Paula, BYU is considered a real, respectable university. It’s not top tier but it’s respected. U.S. News and World Report calls it the best value in higher education and ranks it overall alongside University of Connecticut and Southern Methodist University. Its law and business schools are highly regarded natioin wide. BYU has always had what people might call academic freedom issues, so maybe they are affecting its ranking, but they’re not a huge deal in terms of its ability to provide a rigorous secular education.

  58. paula June 17, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Tom, U.S. News and World Report rankings aren’t what I’m talking about. The rankings there are somewhat controversial because of the methods by which they are achieved. They’re mostly for marketing to prospective students and their parents. I’m talking about how an employer, particularly an academic instutution, would look at a prospective employee from BYU, or a graduate school would look at an applicant from BYU. My husband’s a scientist, and has been in admissions committees– BYU applicants had to be very good to be considered because of some problems with previous graduates, who had not been very well-prepared for graduate school. I also have a friend who’s a professor at a University of California school. She says that her undergraduate degree in English from BYU has definitely been a problem. She has had questions about BYU in interviews where she has had to reassure the interviewers about her education and credentials. These interviewers were concerned about how widely read she would be, coming from BYU, etc. She says she would not go there again, just because the name is not respected. (Sorry Margaret for being blunt.) This kind of publicity doesn’t raise BYU’s respectability in academic circles at all. I imagine that a degree from BYU doesn’t matter in some fields or geographic areas, but I think it’s a problem in others.

  59. jordanandmeg June 17, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    I’m in medical school and my class is 20% LDS, most graduated from BYU. My sister’s dental school class has an even higher percentage.

    You may be right Paula, but health professional graduate programs, at least, are certainly impressed with BYU.

  60. paula June 17, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    jordanandmeg, the health professions are probably the first area I would choose where BYU is probably at least not a negative sign. Business, maybe also. In my own field, Linguistics, BYU is seen as fairly good, especially in Applied Linguistics. In my husband’s field, we’ve known of several times that a degree from BYU was a deal killer for employment or admission to programs. (Neither of us went to BYU.) And I’ve known of several people in the humanities who just don’t list where their BA is from, after they finished their PhD and got some other experience in their field.

  61. Doc June 17, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    I have no doubt that what you say may be true. They are called the “Liberal Arts” for a reason, but seeing how they are humanities, it seems to me they are by nature subjective and that devaluing a BYU degree is simply a matter of prejudice.

  62. Margaret Young June 17, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    I have to put a plug in for Linguistics–and I plan on sending what I’ll say to my dad for Father’s Day. (My folks are currently in Guatemala.) My father, Robert Blair, started the linguistics department at BYU back in–gee, I guess 1964. Dad is THE expert on Mayan dialects–including Cakchiquel, Mam, and Quiche. (He has written books on Cakchiquel and Mam.) He has taken a busload of RMs to Guatemala to write dictionaries of the dialects they picked up on their missions. Of those missionaries, several changed their career goals and studied linguistics, ultimately working in Church translation. One set up a charitable foundation in Guatemala (The Rose Foundation), which is being manned at the moment by another of those RMs. Another still spends his summers in the land where he learned Kekchi, ministering now not just as a missionary but as a doctor. I cannot imagine where else, other than BYU, one could find a busload of young men who already speak obscure dialects to spend a summer writing dictionaries! If you’ve heard of my dad, I’d love to know. Most likely, you haven’t, because he has been a great advocate of doing the work without worrying about getting the credit. But whenever I see Book of Mormon displays in many languages, I think, “Yep. Dad helped with that one. Oh yeah, that’s the one Frishknect or Bringhurst was working on.” I have strong feelings about academic freedom, but the mention of the Linguistics Department actually makes me teary. My dad laid the foundation, and most of the senior professors are his former students. My dad helped countless missionaries learn to communicate in the private languages of Mayan Indians (and many other languages too). I remember when we visited a Guatemalan church service and Dad stood to bear his testimony. He began in Spanish, and then said (in Spanish), “I hope you’ll forgive me if I speak in ‘OUR LANGUAGE’ [Qa Cha’bel] now.” The whole chapel woke up. The walls seemed to quake a little. A gringo speaking Cakchiquel! He was speaking a language I didn’t speak, but he was teaching me an indelible truth. That lesson, that we can communicate better than our comfort zones suggest, that we can wake up a soul by speaking the language it knows best, has stayed for me for these many years. Language, when respected, can lead us to greater understanding of our common humanity and to greater humility as we acknowledge that we do not know all things. This blog has addressed the idea of language–of a BYU faculty member writing a potent letter to the editor which cost him his job. All communication was done using words–as on this blog. What’s very clear is that we can do better when our linguistic gifts are tempered by love, and when we’re humble enough to recognize that we might not understand everything, and most importantly that the gift of language is double edged: it can hew or harvest. It can be used to demonstrate our mastery of vocabulary, or to actually open a conversation. My father learned languages (more languages than he’ll ever admit to) because he loved God. It’s that simple. He learned Russian first because he wanted to serve a mission there, though because it was 1950, Russia was not open to missionary work. He was called to Finland. Years later, as a Mission President, he presided over the Baltic States. I remember being with him in a Russian woman’s home and hearing him say, “Mbi bac liubim” (sorry, there’s not a cyrillic alphabet available to me here). “We love you.” Dad learned languages so he could take the love of God throughout the world and convey it to God’s children. He’s doing it right now. As his daughter, I have inherited his gift and love for languages. I will be in Guatemala with my children next month, and I have been studying my dad’s textbooks so that I can speak to my Mayan brothers and sisters in the language of their homes. I have never asked myself why I would do that, because language learning has just been a Blair thing to do. But I’d have to say that I do it because my father taught me to honor the ways other people communicate, to go as deeply as I can into the realms of understanding, to do my best to learn another’s language, not to expect them to speak mine. Ultimately, I do it because I love God too and because I’m following my dad’s example. Believe it or not, I always enjoy leaving the encumberances of my educated vocabulary and becoming a child again, balancing between verbal and non-verbal communication, and sometimes learning how to read a mind. I can already see the gift in my children. I hear it in my daughter’s Spanish. She will love languages. I wonder how wide my father’s influence is–as a BYU professor who urged his students to fling open the doors which language presents; as a missionary and mission president who lived as a stranger in a strange land, eager to find and worship with fellow citizens in the household of faith; as a loyal husband to my mother; as a devoted father to his children; as a guide to many returned missionaries who felt that they had had found their souls in a Mayan dialect, and longed to keep the language and the love alive. We always knew Dad would be studying some obscure language–sometimes even a dead language. And we always knew he would use his gifts in the service of others, including us. Sometimes the Mayans saw more of him than we did, but that’s okay. Sitting here at my computer as a 51-year-old woman with plane tickets waiting, I am simply thinking that Dad’s legacy can’t be calculated. Whenever some missionary from a little Utah or Idaho town manages to speak Cakchiquel, my dad will be there, a teacher of teachers. When I address some church group next month in a rare and beautiful language, the congregation will wake up a little bit, and my dad will be there. When the next generation of Blairs ventures into other cultures and languages, Dad will be there–and I won’t be at all surprised if some of my nieces, nephews, and children have Dad’s former students or missionaries as their mission presidents. When we visited Dad while he was a mission president in the Baltics, one of his elders said, “Your dad is the most inspired man I’ve ever met.” Wow! I figured the kid hadn’t gotten out much. But I have to say that my dad is a man without guile, a man who is pure in heart, a man who loves God and has spent his life obeying the commandment to take the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. When it comes right down to it, yeah, my dad is one of the most inspired men I know. Thank God for BYU professors like Robert Wallace Blair. He has reached around the world and blessed it. His life is an inspiration.

  63. Kirk Faulkner June 17, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    Your dad sounds awesome. That is a really nice fathers day present.

  64. Jim Sawyer June 18, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    My faith tradition is Mormon; Ph.d from U of Utah in Economics; 25 years on faculty at Jesuit Seattle U. I note Jeffrey Nielsen has a philosophy Ph.d from Boston College, another Jesuit institution. I would like to email him; do you happen to have his email address?

    Many thanks,
    Jim Sawyer
    Institute of Public Service
    Seattle University

  65. lcw June 20, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Are you the co-author with Darius Gray of the Standing on the Promises series? If so, I’d love to establish some communication with you and point my younger brother in the direction of any classes you teach at the Y.

  66. Margaret Young June 20, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    That would be me. I’m easy to reach–and will be until July 10, when I head to Guatemala. My BYU address is . I teach only two classes at BYU–one in fall and one in winter (both creative writing).

  67. foulgerm June 20, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    Is it possible that the church’s active position in regard to the current marriage amendment issue might be another statement in the church’s ongoing cause to eradicate polygamy from its past? It is no secret that in order to become more “mainstream”, the church has made a concerted effort to leave much of that history out of its current curriculum, or at least rationalize the purpose for its inception. In any event, the “one man and one woman” wording flys in the face of the founders of the Mormon church. However, in these times, it does not bode well for the church to rationalize polygamy in any way. I do not see anything wrong with asking difficult questions in any forum. However, Jeffrey Nielsen’s firing was inevitable given the fact that the church does not need any negative publicity from within its own ranks. But one question keeps nagging at me… what would Jesus do? He was never afraid to ask the tough questions not matter what the cost. The idea of any religious institution getting involved with government to solidify its stance just does not sit well with me. My guess is that 100 years ago, the church would not have been in favor of this amendment. (That’s just my guess though). Mr. Nielsen also asks some other tough questions which of course will never be addressed by the church. There is no need for explanation, after all, a person can find the truth to any pertinent subject at Deseret Book. The church will take their usual position which is to be silent on these issues and over time it will all blow over. But life for Jeffrey Nielsen will never be the same. Historically speaking, when a group in authority demands unquestioning servitude of its followers, a tragic ending often results. The problem with Christianity as a whole, as I see it, is that they have abondonded the simple, basic teaching of Christ…Love one another as I have loved you & Love thy neighbor as thyself. As far as I can remember, there were no qualifiers to that statement such as “unless you are gay, drink or smoke, don’t go to church”, etc. I commend Jeffrey Nielsen for standing up for what he really believes, especially knowing what the consequences would be. We need more people like him.

  68. jordanandmeg June 20, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Margaret quoted Joseph Smithabout curtailing freedom of expression:

    “It looks too much like the Methodists, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have a creed which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

    Great quote Margaret. Where did you find it?

  69. Margaret Young June 20, 2006 at 10:03 pm

    Sorry I never answered that. The reference is Documentary History of the Church, Vol. VI, 273-274. Bushman also quotes it in _Rough Stone Rolling_.

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