Behold an editorial I wrote for one of my classes. It's intended for an LDS audience, particularly someone at or familiar with BYU but, since as per usual I haven't written anything for a while and I have a feeling that it would never actually get published in "The Universe" I figured I'd throw it on here.
I always assumed that Hotel California was just a too long song that had to be endured once in a blue moon, generally when in the company of those over forty. That is until I became a student at BYU and signed its famous Honor Code. This policy must be followed by all who associate with the university, be it as a student, faculty member, or in any other way. In almost all aspects it is a solid representation of the standards established by BYU and the LDS church, and serves as a strong moral code of conduct for those who willingly choose to pattern their lives after Christ. There is however, one little phrase that makes me say “welcome to the Hotel California.” And no, it’s not the lack of spirits.
In the third section of the code can be found the member loss policy. This policy states that “Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing.” What this means is that a student of no religious identification or any religious identification aside from being LDS is allowed total religious freedom. But once a student becomes a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (herby known as The Church), all religious freedom is lost. If an LDS member chooses to convert to another faith or simply to no longer associate with The Church, he is no longer in good standing with the Honor Code, and can no longer teach at, attend, or even graduate from BYU. Such a stance blatantly disregards the teachings of The Church, the ideals of Christ, and even the idea of honor itself. As well as of course bring that famous Eagles hotel to life, albeit a bit more eastward than originally intended.
To attend school at BYU, every year students must receive an ecclesiastical endorsement. If you are LDS this means being interviewed by your bishop, who asks you questions to see if you are an active and faithful member of The Church, a person of honesty and integrity, and if you are keeping the other conditions in the Honor Code. In order to pass their ecclesiastical endorsement and continue their education at BYU, students who no longer wish to be LDS must lie to religious leaders, fellow students, and ultimately live a lie, as they continue to participate in general LDS worship practices that they no longer believe in or value. As the Eagles would say, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device”. Such a lifestyle is also not only contrary to the condition in the Honor Code to be honest, but it is the opposite of integrity to one’s beliefs and actions, which is everything that honor claims to be.
This prevention of allowing for members to reflect on and change their religious values shows a serious lack of trust in students and even faculty by the school. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” This apparent need for power and control over beliefs and ideas is defiant of God’s gift of agency, the very thing that we were placed on Earth to exercise and develop. Our own Heavenly Father allows for us to have total religious freedom and beliefs to the point that it could be argued an entire country was founded on the principle. The school that claims to emulate His teachings not only denies this God given right, but also the rights against religious discrimination that this country currently and should forever uphold. The BYU power struggle also creates strong animosity towards members of both The Church and the school. Elder Holland in a 2012 devotional said referring to less active or inactive members that “How we respond in any situation has to make things better, not worse. We can’t act or react in such a way that we are guilty of a greater offense than, in this case, she is.” Banishing from institutions of education those that decide to choose another religious path is rarely considered improving opinions or situations.
Worst of all, this principle of the Honor Code is directly contrary to the teachings of The Church. The Honor Code states that it “exists to provide an education in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”, meaning that it should theoretically derive its principles from the prophets and should be in harmony with the teachings found in the standard works. However, when the Nephites (who like modern day BYU students were primarily all members of The Church), were presented with a similar problem, Alma tells us that the law was handled a bit differently.
Now there was no law against a man's belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds. For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve. Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him. But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished. For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man's belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds. (Alma 30: 7-11)
On a similar note, when writing the 11th Article of Faith Joseph Smith said, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” Notice that it does not say “how, where, or what they may as long as they don’t change their minds.”
Alma tells us that judging strictly based on beliefs is contrary to the commandment of God. And doesn't something like the commandments of God sound like the kind of thing we would like to uphold in “an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of The Church”? Alma and the Nephites judged others based on their actions and their crimes, and so should we. If a former member of The Church decides to break other aspects of the Honor Code, or harass members, or commit some other form of pre-established reasonably unacceptable crime, than for that action and that action alone the individual should be accordingly punished. To punish a person simply due to his change in religious beliefs is morally cowardly, and in the case of the Honor Code, highly hypocritical, which is another topic Christ had a few things to say about.
BYU is well known for its ties to The Church, and it reflects this admirably in the majority of its dealings. This however makes the flaws in its Honor Code even more blatant and all the more in need of serious correction. There may come a day when BYU will change its member loss policy of the Honor Code. There may come a day when it will reflect true honor, practice the system of trust instilled in humanity by God himself, and most importantly, reflect the values and principles of the religion that it claims to be derived from. But until that day, welcome to the Hotel California