I appreciate the invitation to speak on this occasion and hope that what is communicated will be helpful in causing us to reflect seriously on things that matter at Brigham Young University.
If you will indulge me for a few moments, I would like to take a brief personal excursion. It will help explain why I have such a fascination with the mission of BYU.
I was reared in another part of the country, in the southern states. I grew up in the Church and remained actively involved throughout my teenage years, although most of my friends were Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic. Following graduation from high school I began my university life at Louisiana State University, a school with a long tradition of excellence in many areas, especially football and basketball. LSU sought to maintain at least a moderate academic standard for a state school. When it came to a moral code or dress and grooming standards, however, there simply were none. This was the mid-1960s, and the spirit of anti-establishment-- the spirit of revolution--was thick in the air. After two years at LSU, I left on a mission to the Eastern States and learned for the first time (this is hard to imagine, but it's true!) of Brigham Young University from missionary companions who had attended here. When I finished my mission I returned to LSU for a semester and then transferred to BYU.
I had felt much of loneliness and rejection at college in Louisiana. One example will illustrate. I remember taking a biology class in which for a few weeks we studied genetics. I became fascinated with the subject and read, not only the section in our large text, but also two other books I found in the library that seemed intelligible. One day after class (a large class of about five or six hundred) I excitedly approached the professor about a question I had. As he puffed on his pipe he said rather harshly, "What do you want?" I indicated that I had a question. He looked at his watch, looked at me with fire in his eyes, and asked: "Do I look like Santa Claus?" I sheepishly responded that he did not. "I mean," he continued, "are these my office hours?" "No," I answered. "Then don't waste my time," he countered. I walked away from that exchange embarrassed, frustrated, suddenly disinterested in Genetics, and even more alone than before.
I transferred to Brigham Young University with excitement but with much trepidation. I at least had known several high school buddies at Louisiana State, but I did not know a soul at BYU. I know this is not true for all those who come to Provo, but I fell in love immediately with the campus and the city. For someone who had gotten no closer to the Salt Lake Temple than an Articles of Faith card, there was something special about being so near the headquarters of the Church. I loved each of the devotionals; I still have copies of the General Authority addresses in my files. I thrilled at the idea of having prayer in many of my classes. I can't explain it, but there was something so unusual about being on a large university campus among thousands of people who believed basically the same things about life that I did. My professors were kind and for the most part concerned about me.
My earliest class was an 8:00 a.m. Monday-Wednesday-Friday class, "An Introduction to Philosophy." It was a terrific class. The instructor, who is no longer here, was excellent; there was a warmth about him that drew me to him. About three weeks into the semester, I approached him on a matter we had covered during the hour. "What can I do for you," he asked. I posed a question. At that point he looked at his watch. Memories of a disinterested biology professor with a pipe in his mouth flooded back into my mind, and my heart began to beat a little faster. He responded: "What are you doing this hour?" I didn't know what he meant. "I mean," he said, "do you have a class right now?" I indicated that I had a break for a couple of hours. "Come on," he said, "walk with me to the Wilkinson Center--I'll buy you something to drink, and we'll talk about it." It was a tender and important moment for me, one that comes back frequently when I'm busy, tired, and being summoned by a troubled student. It made all the difference in the world to me: I felt at home, at peace here.
There was something else about this instructor and the class that made a difference, a difference that has helped to form my perception of what BYU is and can be. He was much more than a concerned and caring teacher, as important as that was. He did something frequently--not every class period, but frequently--that made the course particularly worthwhile. He would allow about five to ten minutes at the end of the class and say something like, "Well now, let's get a little closer to the truth," or "Now let's step back and look at what we've said in light of the restored gospel." It was never forced or pushy or artificial. And it never seemed inappropriate. I remember in particular after a lengthy discussion of the nature of truth and epistemology that the instructor said: "I'd like to make reference now to the words of the Lord in a modern revelation." He then read and reflected on the implications of several verses from the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing did not happen too often at BYU during my undergraduate years or even while working on my masters program. Some of my professors would discuss the Church or its teachings in closed sessions--in their offices or occasionally after class--but, for the most part, little was said about the relevance of the restored gospel. I sincerely felt shortchanged. To be sure, there was no evil intention, no desire to deceive, no effort on the part of the instructors to confuse or lead astray, or even to hide their faith; there simply was very little connection made between what we as a people feel and know in our souls and what we study and research and do as professionals. As President Jeffrey Holland once observed, "at BYU the faith of our faculty must never be difficult to detect" ("The Idea of a Brigham Young University," p. 10).
By the time the master's degree was finished, I was ready to leave BYU. I had been accepted here in a Ph.D. program, but the frustrations associated with my futile search for connections between the gospel and academic life had intensified; I felt I needed to leave school for a while to do some serious thinking. In addition, my quest to associate with persons who felt the need or desire to view things from a Restoration perspective had not been extremely fruitful. One young faculty member, sensing my frustration and having desires akin to mine, sat and talked with me for over two hours. He assured me that the time would indeed come at BYU when bright and energetic and committed LDS scholars would take seriously the teachings and doctrines of the Restoration in regard to their own disciplines, would probe and ask poignant but significant questions about their fields of study, and would no longer be satisfied to lead two lives--the academician during the week and the disciple on the Sabbath. Many would forego more lucrative academic opportunities, he said, in order to be a part of a noble and challenging enterprise. I felt the truth of what he said and have prayed and longed for such a day. That conversation took place twenty years ago.
My friend and colleague, Robert J. Matthews, told me of a discussion he had with another faculty member on this campus. After they had spoken at length of some of the challenges BYU faces, the faculty member said: "The members of the Board of Trustees simply don't know what a university is!" Bob's response was quite simple: "Yes they do," he said, "but they don't want one!" The comeback is far more profound than it may at first seem. No, I do not think the Board of Trustees wants a university as the rest of the academic world views universities. They want quality education, to be sure. They want our young people to leave here with a competence that is second to none. But they do not want a secular university that happens to be owned and operated by the Church. The Brethren want the students to leave here as rooted and grounded in their faith as they are equipped professionally to make a difference in the world of work. We really can have both, the very best intellectual and spiritual education it is possible to have, but it takes strenuous effort to keep things in proper perspective. This is not really a matter of giving equal time to one or the other, an issue of balancing the secular and sacred; such a model is inadequate to describe what needs to happen at BYU. Rather, it is a matter of building on a solid doctrinal foundation and then pursuing our teaching, citizenship, and scholarship from an informed point of view, an orientation driven and directed by the Restoration.
It seems to me that most people who are associated with Brigham Young University are united in the fact that this place is and should be a "Mormon university." What we are not united on is what that phrase means. For some, a Mormon University is an institution of higher learning that is owned and operated by the LDS Church. Period. They believe that this should be a place where Church standards such as the Word of Wisdom and a moral code are to be observed, a place where students, faculty, and staff strive to live in harmony, in the spirit of the highest of Christian virtues. I have been a part of several universities at which there are few or no standards, and I for one would fight to maintain a Christian atmosphere at BYU. Beyond the maintenance of a spiritually healthy environment, however, many would see BYU as having little difference from other large universities.
There is, of course, another way to see things. But before suggesting a different view, let me indicate how some have characterized a "Christian" college or university. One writer has asked:
Is the idea of a Christian college . . . simply to offer a good education plus biblical studies in an atmosphere of piety? These are desirable ingredients, but are they the essence of the idea? After all, through religious adjuncts near a secular campus [read institutes of religion], students could be offered biblical studies and support for personal piety while they are getting a good education, without all the money and manpower and facilities and work involved in maintaining a Christian college. . . . The Christian college is distinctive . . . because we live in a secular society that compartmentalizes religion and treats it as peripheral or even irrelevant to large areas of life and thought. . . . The Christian college refuses to compartmentalize religion. It retains a unifying Christian worldview and brings it to bear in understanding and participating in the various arts and sciences, as well as in nonacademic aspects of campus life. [In short] underlying it all [is] the basic conviction that Christian perspectives can generate a worldview large enough to give meaning to all the disciplines and delights of life and to the whole of a liberal education. (Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, pp. 5, 9, 10.)
Borrowing from the preceding statement, it would seem that a Mormon college or university seeks to do more than provide a healthy climate and an atmosphere suited to finding one's eternal companion (as valuable as such things are). For this campus to become a "temple of learning" we need to stretch beyond what the Christian college seeks to do. We must constantly ask ourselves: What difference does it make that there was a Joseph Smith, a Restoration, or modern revelation? How does my religion, my way of life, my revealed worldview, impact what I study or the discipline in which I spend my professional life? Am I at peace, one with myself, or do I tend to compartmentalize my life, being a behavioral scientist, for example, on Monday through Saturday and a Latter-day Saint on Sunday? Is there any tie between the scriptures I read, the sermons I hear, the prayers I utter, and the work I do in my chosen field? Finally, how willing am I to ask such questions? Is it difficult to do so, and if so, why? Is my intellectual quest merely an effort to master and acclimate myself to an academic discipline, to memorize and converse in the vocabulary of the prevailing school or trend, or rather is mine a sincere effort to seek for, tap into, acknowledge, and adapt to eternal truth, to judge and assess all things thereby?
For me, a Mormon university is one which is imbued with Mormonism. That is to say, it is one in which its faculty and students are committed unconditionally to Christ the Lord, to Joseph Smith and the Restoration, and to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is one in which we face some of life's challenges--including hard questions--in a context of faith and mutual support, aided immeasurably by the scriptures of the Restoration and the words of living apostles and prophets. One response to such an effort is: "You just want to turn this place into a large seminary!" No, I do not, but I have no desire to apologize for wanting the religion of the Latter-day Saints to permeate all that is done at a Latter-day Saint university. We are much, much too sensitive about this, so much so that I feel it is offensive to the Lord and probably offensive to those chosen by the Lord to direct the destiny of this institution. On the one hand, it is wrong to hide behind our religious heritage and thus neglect our academic responsibilities; there may have been a time when some faculty members at BYU excused professional incompetence in the name of religion, on the basis that BYU is different, that it is a school intent on strengthening the commitment of young Latter-day Saints. This was and is wrong. It is just as wrong, however, if not more so, to hide behind academics and thus cover our own spiritual incompetence. We can be thoroughly competent disciples and thoroughly competent professionals. If we had to choose, then surely we would choose commitment to the faith. But we do not. We do not hide behind our religion, but rather we come to see all things through the lenses of our religion. "We are not only to teach purely gospel subjects by the power of the Spirit," Elder Marion G. Romney counseled. "We are also to teach secular subjects by the power of the Spirit, and we are obligated to interpret the content of secular subjects in the light of revealed truth. This purpose is the only sufficient justification for spending Church money to maintain this institution." (From "Temples of Learning," emphasis added.)
I am one who is not too excited about seeking to merge and mesh everything or to locate and point out similarities between what the world teaches and what we believe. I see limited value in taking an idea from this text or that theory and then saying, "Oh, look! This sounds similar to what Jesus said" or "That's interesting! That sounds very much like what Paul (or Joseph Smith or Ezra Taft Benson) taught on the matter." I suppose there is some merit in that approach, but it does not, from my perspective at least, require the kind of mental and spiritual discipline (nor yield the same righteous fruits) of seeking to filter all that we study and declare through the teachings and doctrines of the restored gospel. It is simply a matter of perspective, of orientation, a matter of what comes first, a matter of where we start. "If we start right," Joseph Smith observed, "it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it [will] be a hard matter to get right" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 343).
I am certainly not suggesting that at a Mormon university we ignore or take lightly what has been said or done in the past in our given fields, even when we know that there is a more excellent way. "Bashing" is unbecoming of one who aspires to Christian discipleship; it's awfully easy to sit back and take intellectual potshots at others. Such tactics are borne of and breed a type of pride and arrogance that preclude the kinds of fruitful and meaningful dialogues that might otherwise take place. President Joseph F. Smith, in writing to one of his missionary sons, explained:
Kindness will beget friendship and favor, but anger or passion will drive away sympathy. To win one's respect and confidence, approach him mildly, kindly. No friendship was ever gained by an attack upon principle or upon man, but by calm reason and the lowly Spirit of Truth.
Now note this important concept:
If you have built for a man a better house than his own, and he is willing to accept yours and forsake his, then, and not till then, should you proceed to tear down the old structure. Rotten though it may be it will require some time for it to lose all its charms and fond memories of its former occupant. Therefore let him, not you, proceed to tear it away. Kindness and courtesy are the primal elements of gentility. (Letter of 18 May 1896 to Hyrum M. Smith, in From Prophet to Son, pp. 42-43, emphasis added.)
There are other more practical reasons why the person who seeks to take seriously his or her religion must not dismiss the rest of the academic world with a wistful wave of the hand. Students and faculty need to be fully conversant in the literature and research of a given discipline in order to make a difference in the field. From one perspective, we cannot fully appreciate the power and depth and breadth of the Restoration until we immerse ourselves in what people have put forth without the aid of modern revelation. It is then that the light of truth can shine forth in a way that could not otherwise be the case. We really do have something to offer the academic world--a better idea, if you will--but we will make very little difference in what others think or feel if we spend most of our time belittling or denigrating their way of viewing things.
If we are respectful, if we are more positive in what we have to offer than we are eager to destroy the foundations of others, then we shall have opportunity to demonstrate those better ideas. Let me illustrate. Several years ago Professor Allen Bergin was asked to chair a session of the American Psychological Association meetings in Los Angeles. He called me and a colleague of mine in Florida and invited us to present a paper on "Religious Values in Psychotherapy." We accepted, knowing that we had four or five months to prepare. I began early pushing my friend, suggesting regularly that we get together, organize ourselves, and make arrangements for the writing of the paper. He put me off again and again. To make a long and painful story short, I found myself on the plane to Los Angeles saying, "Charley, we've just got to pull something together. This is big time. We can't wing it; we can't go into that meeting totally unprepared." He reached into his coat pocket at that point, pulled out an envelope, and we began making a few notes. The presentation was at best okay. It was not spectacular, not excellent, not even very good. It was okay. I was a bit embarrassed and wished that we had spent some time ordering our thoughts. The funny thing is, a number of people surrounded us after the session to ask questions, to inquire after our own religious beliefs, and to request further information. Quite a few asked me if they could receive copies of our presentation. I was sorely tempted to indicate that all they needed to do was xerox the envelope, but I did not yield! The occasion taught me something, a lesson which is not easily forgotten: people out there need and want what we have. Often they are not even aware of what that something is; they just want it! Brigham Young University has been established to assist the Church in extending to Latter-day Saints and to men and women of good will everywhere the very glory of God, but we must be in a position--be competent as well as humble--to let a light shine in a world that desperately needs it. That light--the glorious light of revealed truth--must be allowed to shine forth undimmed and unrefracted.
Brigham Young University cannot bless the world, cannot be what it was intended to be, independent of its sponsoring institution. The university cannot march to a different drum, cannot cut its own way, cannot afford to have a different orientation than the Church and the Board of Trustees, at least if it expects to enjoy the approbation of heaven or the success that the prophets have foreseen. Just as principles or programs in the Church receive power and life only to the degree that they are anchored to the atonement of Jesus Christ, so also BYU will have vision and Spirit breathed into it only to the degree that its faculty and students maintain individual and institutional ties and loyalty to the restored gospel and to the Church and kingdom which administer the gospel. To loosen or sever those ties will only lead to spiritual and intellectual impotence. President Rex Lee observed:
The central mission of this university--indeed our sole reason for being--is now quite clear to me. Brigham Young University is an integral part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It exists because it can contribute to kingdom building in ways that can be done by no other organization or entity within the Church. The most obvious and most important of these is the university's ongoing contribution to creating and maintaining a core of well-trained young professionals and others with great faith who will provide tomorrow's leadership and role models. Other distinctive contributions relate principally to the general enhancement of the Church's reputation, and therefore to its long-range ability to spread the message of the Restoration and perfect the Saints. ("The State of the University: Sound Spiritually, Academically, and Financially," p. 9.)
Like the leaders of the Church, Brigham Young University cannot be all that it is intended to be without the confidence, faith, and prayers of the members of the Church (see D&C 107:22). "BYU will earn academic esteem," Elder Neal A. Maxwell pointed out, "but the respect and love of the Lord's university by the members of the Church will be a crucial ingredient in the process of BYU's achievement of greatness in its second century!" ("Why a University in the Kingdom?" p. 9).
Certain disciplines lend themselves quite readily to the consideration of academic matters in the light of the restored gospel. Discussions of this sort will often be rather spontaneous and unpremeditated. With some areas of study this will be more difficult, and efforts to integrate religion or religious principles may be perceived as unnatural or contrived. It is not that we must create a "Church-centered chemistry" or a "Mormon mathematics" or an "LDS linguistics" at BYU. More important, we must live in such a way that students and faculty have no reason to wonder where we stand on matters of faith and commitment. Obviously when we cultivate the spirit of inspiration on this campus the truths of the gospel will be taught and learned more effectively; edification will be the order of the day. But the principle extends beyond the teaching of religion or the explanation of gospel precepts. It has much to do with how we teach, research, write, discover, integrate, display, and apply truths in all fields of study. Students who attend a calculus class taught by an instructor imbued with the Spirit of God will be richly rewarded, even if a religious principle is never mentioned. Students who counsel with a professor who is striving to keep the commandments of God will be enriched and strengthened from the engagement. Students who study with faculty members who are loyal to the Church and its leaders, who are earnestly seeking to put first in their lives the things of God's kingdom, will come away from the BYU experience with an informed perspective that will tower above that which they might have received elsewhere. In short, the quest for personal and institutional spirituality must underlie all we do.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked to Henry David Thoreau that Harvard College then taught all the branches of learning. "Yes," said Thoreau, "all the branches, but none of the roots" (cited by Trueblood in "The Concept of a Christian College," p. 23). We have been reminded frequently in recent years that religious institutions of higher learning are a dying breed. During the past century, several colleges and universities have broken the ties with their sponsoring churches. Such happenings bear testimony to a rather painful reality: it is extremely difficult for faith to survive in a purely academic climate.
What happens? How do individuals and schools slip from their moorings? One answer is suggested by the following statement:
The beginning of wisdom on this subject is to recognize that the road to the unhappy present was indeed paved with good intentions. To be sure, there were relevant parties who made no secret of their hostility to religion. But, for the most part, the schools that lost or are losing their sense of religious purpose sincerely sought nothing more than a greater measure of 'excellence.' The problem is that they accepted uncritically definitions of excellence that were indifferent to, or even implicitly hostile to, the great concerns of religion. Few university presidents or department chairmen up and decided one day that they wanted to rid their institutions of the embarrassment of religion. It may reasonably be surmised that most believed that they were advancing a religious mission by helping their schools become like other schools--or at least more like 'the best' of other schools. The language of academic excellence is powerfully seductive. ("The Death of Religious Higher Education," p. 8.)
Ironic, isn't it? Secularization in the name of excellence. Movement away from religious roots in the name of excellence. It would seem that a striving after excellence would be a good thing, something to be desired. This is true in our case, so long as our striving for excellence is built upon an undeviating commitment to the Church and a loyalty to an unusual Board of Trustees made up primarily of prophets, seers, and revelators. Unfortunately, the push for excellence almost always eventuates in an effort to seek notoriety or the plaudits of other institutions. There is nothing inherently wrong with aspiring to greatness, with seeking to improve, to stretch and expand and be better than we are. There is nothing wrong with receiving the honors of men. The day will come, in fact--perhaps not until the Millennium but hopefully before then--when Brigham Young University will become a world center for educational excellence in regard to the discovery, integration, and application of truth. The problem comes, however, when the first becomes a means to the second, when we actively aspire to the honors of men (see D&C 121:34-36). Such desires--what President Joseph F. Smith called a yearning for the "flattery of prominent men" (Gospel Doctrine, p. 313)--tend to affect critical decisions in such matters as hiring, promotion, and retention of faculty. When we promote and laud one dimension of scholarship, such as discovery of new truths in the case of the pure sciences, and de-emphasize other fundamental aspects of university life such as application and integration of truth or undergraduate teaching, we have begun the trek on a road which is in reality a detour. When we hire persons as faculty on this campus who cannot, because of their own personal or religious predispositions, share in, contribute to, and extend the spiritual vision of BYU, we are scattering stumbling blocks in our own path. As one faculty member at Notre Dame observed:
Many of the decisions that are contributing to the secularization of Notre Dame are being made in the name of excellence. The arguments go something like this: If Notre Dame is to become and be recognized as a truly great Catholic university, our faculty must include many outstanding scholars. It would be desirable to appoint outstanding scholars who are also committed Christians, but we cannot become a great university by appointing second-rate Christian scholars instead of first-rate non-Christian scholars. Therefore, we should hire the best scholars money can buy, without considering their religious and moral beliefs. (Lutz, "Can Notre Dame Be Saved?" p. 39.)
To refuse to yield to such persuasions is not to be bigoted or closed or parochial; it is to realize that some things matter more than others, that if it were necessary to choose, then depth of commitment to Joseph Smith, the Restoration, and the modern Church is more vital than curriculum vitae and academic credentials. To yield to such persuasions, on the other hand, is to participate in our own undoing.
One of the other well-recognized signs of secularization is a decline in commitment of faculty to foundational truths. One historian has noted:
The ultimate measure of the extent to which a given college in a given period--past or present--has moved toward secularism is how completely the college personnel still believe that the central act of history (and thus the key to ultimate meaning and truth in the universe) is the supreme revelation of God to humanity through Christ. When doubt begins to grow on this primary issue, many of the later stages in the secularization process follow quite naturally. For example, as key decision-makers begin to believe that the Christian religion is merely one of the many good systems of thought and that Jesus was only a good man, there remains little reason to hire only Christian scholars rather than good and knowledgeable scholars of all religions . . . (Ringenberg, The Christian College, pp. 121-22.)
Can we see the implications for BYU? In our day, on our campus, it is absolutely essential, for example, that LDS faculty have a personal witness of Joseph Smith's first vision. This is foundational. It is absolutely essential that LDS faculty have a personal witness of the authenticity, antiquity, historicity, and doctrinal veracity of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is foundational. It is absolutely essential that LDS faculty have a personal witness that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in the language of the revelation, "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" (D&C 1:30) and that God speaks today for the benefit of the entire Church through living apostles and prophets. A testimony of the Church today is foundational. We teach what we know and what we are. These things become obvious to students even if we never voice them. Non-LDS faculty come to BYU with the understanding that they must in no way denigrate the faith, teachings, and practices of the sponsoring Church. If faculty members at BYU feel they have a right to speak or publish their views when such views challenge the veracity of the First Vision, challenge the historicity of the Book of Mormon, or challenge the Church, its constituted authorities, and the positions or policies of that Church, then they are sorely mistaken; they may choose to do such things elsewhere, but not at BYU. To allow such abuse of privilege to go unchecked is to participate in our own undoing.
A related problem which manifests itself as a part of the secularization process has to do with religious vocabulary. "The public statements," someone has pointed out, "about the Christian nature of the institution begin to include equivocal rather than explicit phrases; these statements often describe Christian goals in sociological but not theological terms." Further, "denominational colleges which have begun moving in the direction of secularization often describe themselves as church-related rather than Christian [read Mormon] because of a fear that the latter term suggests a narrow or sectarian intellectual orientation. Some colleges proclaim a continuing connection with the Christian religion by identifying with its broad social principles as opposed to its specific theological ones. For example, one college currently notes that it retains a 'basic Christian outlook in the values it espouses,' and another states that 'the focus of . . . its church-relatedness is the enhancement of human dignity in the world.'" (Ringenberg, pp. 122, 123.) We yield to such temptations when we speak only of goodness and fellowship, when our religious enterprises are more ecumenical than enduring, when our sermons and lessons deal with ethics more than doctrine, when we talk in terms of being "men and women of faith" rather than of persons committed to and indoctrinated in the work of Joseph Smith and his successors. We open ourselves thereby to the pull of a social program and relinquish our hold on a redemptive gospel, thereby participating in our own undoing.
One element of secularization that strikes a particular fear in me has to do with the teaching of religion at the university. The push for academic excellence, the push for stronger and more competent faculty members, the push to raise the quality of religious instruction and faculty research and publication--all these things may result, if not checked, in a movement away from inspirational and motivational teaching and a focus instead upon the study of religion as an academic discipline alone. Having worked in such an environment (and I will refer to that more specifically later), I know the sterile and purely cerebral climate that can come through a literary-historical study of scripture. I also know that such things rarely touch anyone's heart or excite them about a personal encounter with holy writ or with its ultimate Author. Professor Robert J. Matthews has written:
The word "religion" literally means "to tie back to." It is related to the word ligament, which ties the muscle to the bone. Religion is supposed to tie the person that has it to God and to holy and sacred things. . . . There is "religious education" and there is "religious education," and there is a wide difference between the content and spiritual value of different brands of religious education. Many universities and theological schools offer "religious education," and it differs from school to school, but not one of them offers what a Latter-day Saint student should receive at BYU. . . . It is not enough to merely say we believe in and [offer] Religious Education at BYU. That simply means we are believers, rather than atheists. It is what we believe and what we teach and what we focus on that makes the difference. We are chiefly interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the only system that will prepare human beings for the celestial kingdom of God. We are particularly interested in teaching the gospel the way it has been revealed by Jesus and his angels to Joseph Smith in the dispensation of the fulness of times. We are interested in bearing testimony by the Spirit and reinforcing that testimony with research, scripture, and data. We are not destined to be a theological seminary or divinity school in any traditional sense. ("What Is a Religious Education?" pp. 1, 2, emphasis in original.)
There is no question but that we need to better prepare ourselves to teach the gospel; that there are related fields of study--history, culture, ancient languages, etc.--which may enhance the presentation of the gospel; that we need to be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is within us (see 1 Peter 3:15). The message of the Restoration needs to be as satisfying to the mind as it is to the heart. However, when we make hiring, promotion, and retention decisions almost solely on the basis of competence in the academic fields associated with religion, we are participating in our own undoing. In his prayer of dedication on the new Joseph Smith Building, President Gordon B. Hinckley implored the Lord:
Bless the faculty who will teach here that they may be qualified through scholarship to do so effectively, but, more important, that they may teach by the power of the Holy Spirit, that their faith may be strengthened, that truth shall be established, and that thy divine will may be done.
President Hinckley prayed further:
Let thy Holy Spirit abide constantly within these walls and be felt by all who teach and learn. May there be an absence of intellectual arrogance; rather, may there be that humility which comes of recognition that man, with all of his knowledge and understanding, shares only a feeble light when compared with the wisdom of the Almighty. ("Dedication Remarks," p. 17.)
That which is to be taught on this campus must be and shall be worthy of the blood of the Prophet Joseph and the Patriarch Hyrum, worthy of the toil and consecration of over a century and a half of devoted members of the Church. Nothing less than the teaching and writing of sound doctrine and faithful history will do.
As students and faculty we must reach the point in our own spiritual and intellectual maturity where we feel to glory, not mourn, over the fact that BYU is different. While we are striving to reach for academic excellence, we must cease the incessant cry to be "like the nations." Professor Arthur Henry King addressed this issue over twenty years ago.
Why do we have to be like other American universities? All other universities in the world except this one are in decline. They are in moral decline and therefore they are also in intellectual decline; for the one will follow from the other, and follow fast, as it is already doing. I notice in the universities I know that as members of the staff become more cynical, agnostic, atheistic, . . . the students rapidly become so too. Some colleagues at BYU believe at the bottom of their souls that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence; I have spent most of my life in the grass on the other side of the fence; it is plastic, that is why it holds its color so well and needs no watering. ("The Idea of a Mormon University," p. 119.)
Our strength, as well as our contribution, is to be found in our differences. Though we need to provide a high quality learning experience for the students, an experience that would allow them to compete successfully with those schooled and trained elsewhere, such must be founded on our faith. It is vital that we recognize that our ideal university, the one after which we seek to model ourselves in every respect, is not to be found on this earth. We must be open and teachable and flexible, eager to apply new techniques and implement novel points of view, whenever such are in harmony with revealed truth. But we must not stray from our moorings, nor seek to become what this university was never intended to become. In short, in our quest for excellence, we cannot afford to exchange our spiritual birthright for a mess of pottage. Intellectual greatness and achievement at BYU will always and forever be built upon spiritual certainty, as well as moral courage and integrity. In the words of President Jeffrey R. Holland,
Faith must ever be the scholar's hallmark here, including of course faith fostered by diligent study "out of the best books." (D&C 88:118.) Faith in friends, faith in facts, faith in the future, above all faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Secularism will be shunned as a callous compromise with shallow society. Mere utilitarianism will be shunned as an unworthy expediency falling short of eternal consequence. With this vision the idea of Brigham Young University is to succeed at that great and abiding Christian challenge--to be in the world and to indeed bless the world but ultimately never to be of it. ("The Idea of a Brigham Young University," pp. 7-8, emphasis added.)
There is much discussion and disputation these days about the matter of academic freedom at Brigham Young University. I would like to offer my feelings on this issue. It seems to me that any person who is hired to teach on this campus and supposes that such employment offers him or her the right, the academic freedom if you will, to present points of view that are obviously hostile to foundational truths we have discussed or the present established directions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or its constituted authorities is sadly in error. Such is not freedom, but license. Freedom implies responsibility. There is really no such thing as agency void of accountability. This is a Church school. It is built on a doctrinal foundation; it is built on certitude about a number of things. Those things are not up for grabs, nor are they open for debate. One may contend endlessly about whether there really is an Id or an Ego; one may question whether all things in the universe are really moving toward dissolution; one may go back and forth about the implications of Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle; one may assert with enthusiasm that Moby Dick does or does not have strong religious undertones. But at this school, at this campus which is owned and operated by the Church and established and directed by prophets, we do not publicly debate whether God and Christ appeared in a grove in upstate New York in the spring of 1820. We do not contend over the historicity of the Book of Mormon. We do not spend our days impugning the motives of prophet-leaders in either the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. "Nor does academic freedom," as one person has written, "give the teacher the lecturn to ride hobbies, to proselytize for peculiar viewpoints, or to engage in a knock-down drag-out fight with everyone who disagrees" (Holmes, p. 70). Academic freedom is not the right to challenge the Board of Trustees. Academic freedom is not the right to shake students' faith, to "liberate" the unwary from their religious naivete, or to play the role of spiritual iconoclast. Far too often the devil's advocate approach to truth is just what its name implies. Academic freedom is not the right to steady the ark, to set the Church on course in regard to this or that social issue, or to politicize the classroom or the campus.
President Spencer W. Kimball explained in 1975 that
BYU is being made even more unique, not because what we are doing is changing, but because of the general abandonment by other universities of their efforts to lift the daily behavior and morality of their students. . . .
We have no choice at BYU except to 'hold the line' regarding gospel standards and values and to draw men and women from other campuses also--all we can--into this same posture, for people entangled in sin are not free. In this University (that may to some of our critics seem unfree) there will be real individual freedom. Freedom from worldly ideologies and concepts unshackles man far more than he knows. It is the truth that sets men free. BYU, in its second century, must become the last remaining bastion of resistance to the invading ideologies that seek control of curriculum as well as classroom. We do not resist such ideas because we fear them, but because they are false. . . .
When the pressures mount for us to follow the false ways of the world, we hope in the years yet future that those who are part of this University and the Church Educational System will not attempt to counsel the Board of Trustees to follow false ways. We want, through your administration, to receive all your suggestions for making BYU even better. I hope none will presume on the prerogatives of the prophets of God to set the basic direction for this University. No man comes to the demanding position of the Presidency of the Church except his heart and mind are constantly open to the impressions, insights, and revelations of God. ("Second Century Address," p. 3, emphasis added.)
The fact of the matter is that we do not have academic freedom at BYU in exactly the same sense that we might have it elsewhere. I cannot in good conscience subject my students to my personal hangups, my unorthodox views, or my doubts in the name of academic freedom. We simply are not free to do those things. (I cannot, for the life of me, understand why any person with integrity would want to do so anyway.) We are accountable for what we teach, accountable for the souls as well as the minds of our students. More important, we are under covenant. Covenant is the issue, not rights. Covenant is the issue, not freedom. There are certain things we do and certain things we do not do, because we are under covenant. When I made sacred promises in holy places and consecrated myself to the building of the kingdom of God, there was no exception made for academic freedom.
We are free to do certain things at BYU that simply could not be done elsewhere. After I had finished most of my doctoral coursework at Florida State University in the field of religion (biblical studies and nineteenth- and twentieth- century religious thought), and while working as the director of the LDS institute of religion adjacent to the university, the chairman of the Department of Religion at FSU approached me about teaching an Old Testament course at the university. He specifically requested that I not proselyte people to Mormonism, that I teach a literary-historical approach to the Hebrew scriptures, and that I avoid doctrinal matters. I agreed to do so, anxious to discover what this new opportunity might entail. I taught the class for a couple of semesters. To be honest, while it was a type of diversion from the kinds of things I had done with the CES or through the organizations of the Church, it proved in the end to be a difficult undertaking. I was bored to tears, so I can only imagine the extent of torture that must have been experienced by those poor students. But there was more to the problem than dullness. Let me quote briefly from my journal under the date of May 1, 1980:
I am teaching Old Testament at F.S.U. My soul cries out in yearning to teach the full truth! A few days ago I taught a lesson on Ezekiel and found myself in chapter 37 longing to speak of the Book of Mormon as the fulfillment of verses 15-17. I wrestle with a feeling of shortchanging the kids in class, but pray that my message and demeanor may at least encourage them to be truer to their present light and knowledge.
Now note the following entry from Tuesday, May 6, 1980:
I walked over to the campus to teach the Old Testament class and had a heart-rending experience. As we were discussing what most scholars call "Second Isaiah" we made our way to Isaiah 53, the great messianic prophecy. One young lady asked me: "If I answer that this chapter refers to Jesus Christ, will you mark it wrong on my test?" Her query really shook me because it caused me to ask myself: Am I teaching in such a way that they cannot feel that I know (deep down) that this prophecy was perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ? Further, is it possible--as a result of the constraints placed on me regarding what I can and cannot teach--that I am confusing or leading someone astray? It grieved me to the core to even fathom those possibilities, because I do care for the young people in my class.
To take away testimony and conviction and doctrine and application was to take away the life of the scripture. It was to remove the music from what could have been a glorious composition. Some of my colleagues who have taught in religious studies departments around the country will, I think, offer a companion witness to my own. I have thought on this experience again and again and have come away with an appreciation for a kind of academic freedom at BYU that simply cannot be enjoyed anywhere else. President Dallin H. Oaks said some sixteen years ago:
We have true academic freedom at BYU. Here we are free from the legal restrictions that put religious faith and insights off-limits to tax-supported colleges and universities. We are also free from the artificial neutrality on many moral values that hamstrings all public and most private colleges and universities. We are free to speak of what we know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost, as well as the theories we propound on the basis of observation and the scientific method. . . . With teachers who are praying to teach the truth and students who are praying to learn it, we have the most favorable possible conditions for knowing the truth. ("Expectations at BYU," p. 132.)
As the faculty member from Notre Dame (referred to above) pointed out,
The well-known distinction between negative and positive freedom is helpful. . . . Negative freedom is freedom from restraint; positive freedom is freedom to pursue a worthwhile objective. . . . Academic freedom at a Christian university should be a positive academic freedom. If academic freedom at a Catholic [read Mormon] university means the freedom to teach anything whatsoever, even if it contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church, what distinguishes a Catholic university from any other kind of university? . . . True academic freedom is not freedom from ecclesiastical authority, but freedom to speak the truth. And Christians have an understanding of truth not shared with secular scholars.
What follows has remarkable relevance for you and me:
Some people at Notre Dame believe that we cannot have a genuine university in the modern world without laissez-faire research and teaching--that a university must be a 'marketplace of ideas.' Professors, it is maintained, are not in the business of sheltering students from intellectual challenges to their faith. I grant that one of the things a Catholic university should do is introduce students to intellectual positions opposed to Christianity. But to place a higher priority on challenging students' faith than on teaching them how to defend their faith against attack is simply imprudent. Most Notre Dame undergraduates arrive at the University without knowing the basics of their own moral tradition--and most graduate in the same condition. To attack faith without first nurturing it is like teaching people to swim by dropping them in the middle of the ocean.
I am not arguing that Christian universities should have less academic freedom than non-Christian universities. On the contrary, I am claiming that only genuinely Christian universities are truly free. One of the roles of a Christian university is that of exploring ways to further the development of the Christian tradition. But there is a difference between working within a tradition to help it progress and stepping outside it in order to attack it. (Lutz, p. 38, emphasis added.)
In short, as another non-Latter-day Saint educator has explained, academic freedom at a religious institution
implies working loyally within the framework of reference to which one stands committed, rather than acting like iconoclasts or teaching subversion. The teacher in the [religious] institution operates within the framework of belief confessed by his college. In this sense the academic community is always a community of the committed. (Holmes, p. 69.)
Covenants do not derive from mortal man, nor did they originate with mortality. Joseph Smith taught that
Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth; these personages, according to Abraham's record, are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness or Testator. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190).
In fact, the whole plan of salvation, the divine program by which the redemption and exaltation of the sons and daughters of God might be accomplished, is a product of covenant. "Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever" (Moses 4:2), Jehovah declared, as he became the chief advocate and proponent of the Father's plan. Elder John Taylor thus explained that "a covenant was entered into between [Christ] and His Father, in which He agreed to atone for the sins of the world; and He thus, as stated, became the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world." Thus a "proposition is made to meet the requirements of justice, which proposal is accepted by the contracting parties." As to our place in this covenantal arrangement, Elder Taylor continued:
Who are the redeemed, except those who have accepted the terms of the ransom thus provided? The ransom being provided and accepted, the requirements of justice are met, for those contracts are provided and sanctioned by the highest contracting parties that can be found in the heavens, and the strongest, most indubitable and infinite assurances are given for the fulfilment of that contract. . . . (The Mediation and Atonement, pp. 97, 106-107.)
I believe that once we grasp and incorporate the concept of covenant, once the spirit of that sacred principle takes hold of us individually, we will begin, as students and faculty, to view our words and our works at BYU very differently than we would otherwise. The new and everlasting covenant, the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see D&C 1:22; 45:9; 66:2; 133:57), has been restored in order that faith might increase in the earth, that disillusionment and disbelief might be dispelled, that men and women might speak confidently in the name of the Lord, and that the cobwebs of apostate darkness might be replaced by the glorious light of the Restoration (see D&C 1:17-23). The apostasy was long and deep and broad; it made its way into every phase of human endeavor and study, not just religion. Its pull was on the humanities. Its effects are now felt in the social and behavioral sciences, the arts, indeed in all avenues of human inquiry. The Gods of heaven have called Joseph Smith, empowered and instructed him, and set in motion a religious system that shall in time revolutionize the whole world (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 366) and shed relevant light on and provide solutions to the dilemmas to every field of study. Our task at BYU is to discover that truth, by study and by faith, and then to maintain an allegiance to the truth. It is not merely to tack on or attach scriptural or prophetic ideas as an afterthought. Restored truth thereby undergirds, animates, and colors all that we teach and write.
In a covenant society, a society built upon and committed to the principles of the restored religion of Jesus Christ, men and women labor, not primarily for personal gain or applause, but rather in a single-minded effort to build up Zion, the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness (see JST, Matthew 6:38; 2 Nephi 26:31). It is only in such a place, only in a community of men and women who love the Lord with all their heart and operate by covenant loyalty, that we are able to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable--to balance mature individualism and social union. Just as one finds himself or herself only to the degree that they lose themselves in Christian service (see JST, Matthew 16:27-29), even so one does not arrive at that point of spiritually mature individualism until he or she has, ironically, learned to submit and surrender to a higher will. The people in a covenant society are committed to a cause higher than anything earthly; they have matured beyond the point where they feel any desire to rebel or bristle under standards. Students and faculty at BYU who are possessed of the spirit of covenant, for example, view dress and grooming standards and codes of morality and decency as means of accomplishing the higher good, means of becoming the peculiar people--the city set on a hill that gives light to all the world--that the Lord and his prophets have envisioned. President Dallin H. Oaks thus observed that
At BYU we believe that character is more important than learning. All who enroll at BYU sign a solemn covenant to observe all of the principles of our Code of Honor and our Dress and Grooming Standards. Our teachers and other workers are committed to the same standards. The observance of these requirements is a matter of honor. Persons in violation have broken a promise. ("Expectations at BYU," p. 128.)
In a broader sense, a people of covenant are at peace; they work and operate within the bounds the Lord has set and feel no need to live on the edges or test the limits.
Joseph Smith explained: "It was my endeavor to so organize the Church, that the brethren [and sisters] might eventually be independent of every incumbrance beneath the celestial kingdom, by bonds and covenants of mutual friendship, and mutual love" (History of the Church 1:269). There is much said today about diversity, and we hear regularly of the need to celebrate such diversity. It is as if the divine decree had gone forth: "Be diverse. And if ye are not diverse ye are not mine." It is true that no one of us is alike. And it is true that each of us brings his or her own peculiar strengths and perspectives to the task of establishing Zion. But a covenant community is and shall forevermore be founded on unity, the harmonization of mind and heart through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. Elder Oaks declared to BYU students:
Love and tolerance are pluralistic, and that is their strength, but it is also the source of their potential weakness. Love and tolerance are incomplete unless they are accompanied by a concern for truth and a commitment to the unity God has commanded of his servants. Carried to an undisciplined excess, love and tolerance can produce indifference to truth and justice and opposition to unity. . . . The test of whether we are the Lord's is not just love and tolerance but unity. ("Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall," p. 9, emphasis added.)
President Brigham Young explained that "If this people would live their religion, and continue year after year to live their religion, it would not be many years before we would see eye to eye; . . . and the veil that now hangs over our minds would become so thin that we would actually see and discern things as they are" (Journal of Discourses 3:194). Elder John Taylor observed:
We are seeking to establish a oneness under the guidance and direction of the Almighty. . . . If there is any principle for which we contend with greater tenacity than another, it is this oneness. . . . To the world this principle is a gross error, for amongst them it is every man for himself; every man follows his own ideas, his own religion, his own morals, and the course in everything that suits his own notions. But the Lord dictates differently. We are under his guidance, and we should seek to be one with him and with all the authorities of His Church and kingdom on the earth in all the affairs of life. . . . This is what we are after, and when we have attained to this ourselves, we want to teach the nations of the earth the same pure principles that have emanated from the great Eloheim. We want Zion to rise and shine that the glory of God may be manifest in her midst. . . . We never intend to stop until this point is attained through the teaching and guidance of the Lord and our obedience to His laws. Then, when men say unto us, "you are not like us," we reply, "we know it; we do not want to be. We want to be like the Lord, we want to secure his favor and approbation and to live under His smile, and to acknowledge, as ancient Israel did on a certain occasion, The Lord is our God, our judge, and our king, and He shall reign over us. (Journal of Discourses 11:346-47, emphasis added.)
Being under covenant to build, strengthen, sustain, and defend implies being loyal and faithful. It is an established fact that in those institutions which eventually broke their ties with the churches there was a transfer of loyalty from the Church to the academy, a tendency to judge and criticize the faith from the standpoint of the profession but never an inclination to do the reverse. We must avoid as we would a plague what is so prevalent in the modern academic world--a kind of unilateral academic freedom: freedom to take on the institution, freedom to attack the traditional, freedom to challenge the Board, but no freedom to defend and sustain the same. Our loyalty to this institution, to the LDS Church, and to its leaders must be stronger than our loyalty to our individual disciplines. The idea that there is a hierarchy of truth and thus a hierarchy of loyalties is critical. All truths are not of equal worth, nor are they acquired in the same way (see Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord's Way, pp. 16-17, 19). Surely we are put here on earth to learn as much as we can in the sciences, in the arts, in languages, in history and foreign culture, and so on. And, to the degree that we can master some of these fields, we are better able to present the truth understandably and appropriately to more and more people (see D&C 88:78-80). But some truths matter more than others. It is valuable to know of gravity or the laws of motion, but it is vital to know of the reality of a Redeemer. It is helpful to know the laws of thermodynamics, but it is essential to know how to repent and call upon God, in the name of his Son, for forgiveness. The idea that spiritual truths are of greater worth to our eternal welfare than the field to which we have dedicated our professional lives should not be threatening to anyone, nor should it cause us to be defensive about our own discipline. The perpetuation of eternal truth and the conversion of individual souls must be more important to us than the discovery or dissemination of this or that idea. We are children of God, Christians, Latter-day Saints, and devotees to disciplines, in that order. When we get things out of order we open ourselves to trouble; we begin the gradual dilution of our discipleship.
Then what of my obligation as a scholar to tell the truth, to present the whole truth, to make known certain details that might prove uncomfortable for the Church? Am I not duty bound as a member of the academic community to say what I think needs to be said and let the consequence follow? I cannot speak for the Board of Trustees, nor can I speak for the university administration. My own feelings are that at BYU there is and must be a hierarchy of loyalties; my obligation to the sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is greater than any professional loyalty. There are more fundamental questions at stake here: Who has the responsibility to decide what should be given to the membership of the Church? Whose stewardship is it to dispense sensitive historical details or make known unusual doctrinal interpretations? It would seem to me that one who sincerely seeks to build up the kingdom of God and further the mission of the Church--one whose desires to please God are greater than his or her desires to please the academy--would at least take the time to seek and heed the counsel and direction of those charged with the education of the Church. Further, perhaps we should be more willing to provide a faithful context for what we teach or write, to deliver "truth and more," as Elder Russell M. Nelson once explained to BYU faculty (see "Truth and More," in The Power Within Us, pp. 89-100).
Being loyal to the Restoration implies taking seriously the word of the Lord--not ignoring or belittling that word on the basis of what is taught in particular academic disciplines. A number of years ago a colleague and I were involved with a group of LDS faculty members at BYU in a study of the Book of Mormon. As my associate began a discussion of the opening chapter of the book of Ether and thus of the Adamic language, one of the other faculty members, a person who had been quite outspoken during the entire six weeks we had been together, said: "Hold it! Hold it! I think it is ludicrous for us to suppose and dangerous for us to teach our students that there was some kind of ancient, pure language spoken by Adam, Eve, and their children." The comment stunned my colleague and, frankly, most of us in the room, especially given the teachings on the matter in the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 6:5, 46). I blurted out: "I want this person to tell the group why it is ludicrous to believe in an Adamic language." He responded quickly: "Because the idea goes contrary to everything I've been taught in my field of study." Hugh Nibley reminded us almost forty years ago that
the words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity. (The World and the Prophets, p. 134.)
Our covenant loyalty may be judged by our orientation; that is, we are loyal to the degree that we put first things first. Elder Boyd K. Packer stated:
I have come to believe that it is the tendency for many members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research to begin to judge the Church--its doctrine, organization, and leadership, present and past--by the principles of their own profession. Ofttimes this is done unwittingly, and some of it, perhaps, is not harmful. It is an easy thing for a man with extensive academic training to measure the Church using as his standard the principles he has been taught in his professional training. In my mind it ought to be the other way around. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extensive academic studies, to judge the professions of man against the revealed word of the Lord. ("The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," in Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, p. 101.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie spoke once of a test of our loyalty to God's kingdom. He asked:
Do I put first in my life the things of God's kingdom? Is it with me and mine the kingdom of God or nothing? . . . A wise cleric of a former day leaves us this counsel: "If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead." . . . On every issue it behooves us to determine what the Lord would have us do and what counsel he has given through the appointed officers of his kingdom on earth.
No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom. No Latter-day Saint who is true and faithful in all things will ever pursue a course, or espouse a cause, or publish an article or book that weakens or destroys faith.
There is, in fact, no such thing as neutrality where the gospel is concerned. . . . If we do not sustain and uphold and support the kingdom of God in all things, we are thereby aiding a cause other than the Lord's. (Conference Report, October 1984, p. 104, emphasis added.)
To summarize, Brigham Young University must become a covenant community if we are to enjoy those divine powers that are channeled through covenant. Covenants provide direction. Covenants establish parameters and limits. Covenants bestow and extend vision. Elder Packer related an experience which highlights the importance of becoming a covenant people.
Several years ago, I installed a stake president in England. . . . He had an unusual sense of direction. He was like a mariner with a sextant who took his bearings from the stars. I met with him each time he came to conference and was impressed that he kept himself and his stake on course. Fortunately for me, when it was time for his release, I was assigned to reorganize the stake. It was then that I discovered what that sextant was and how he adjusted it to check his position and get a bearing for himself and for his members. He accepted his release, and said: "I was happy to accept the call to serve as stake president, and I am equally happy to accept my release. I did not serve just because I was under call. I served because I am under covenant. And I can keep my covenants quite as well as a home teacher as I can serving as stake president.
This president understood the word covenant.
Elder Packer added:
The mariner gets his bearing from light coming from celestial bodies--the sun by day, the stars by night. That stake president did not need a mariner's sextant to set his course. In his mind there was a sextant infinitely more refined and precise than any mariner's instrument.
The spiritual sextant, which each of us has, also functions on the principle of light from celestial sources. Set that sextant in your mind to the word covenant or the word ordinance. The light will come through. Then you can fix your position and set a true course in life. (Conference Report, April 1987, pp. 26-27, emphasis in original.)
As we ponder upon the challenges we face at Brigham Young University now and in days to come, there seem to be certain principles that ought to govern what we do and say. Jacob, son of Lehi, counseled his people: "Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good." (Jacob 2:18-19.) To paraphrase Jacob for our purposes, "Before ye seek to become a great university, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ, ye shall become a great university, if ye seek to do so; and ye will seek to do so for the intent to do good--to bless the sons and daughters of God and glorify Him whose we are." We must consecrate our hearts and minds, must rivet ourselves on the things of God as well as prepare ourselves academically to make a difference in our chosen field of study. Whenever we fail to build our scholarship on the rock of the Restoration, we sacrifice our distinctiveness and come short of what could be.
We must, as a covenant community, do everything in our power to avoid the kinds of attitudes and mindsets that too often permeate university campuses and that are repulsive to the Spirit of God. I speak here, for example, of such things as academic snobbery or intellectual prejudice. We must approach our task in humility. We must not allow pride, as we mentioned before, to cloud our vision or adversely affect our relationships with people. To put it simply, people matter more than truth. There is little virtue in attacks on traditional ways of viewing things, little good to be accomplished by making a man an offender for a word. It must never be said of BYU what was said recently of universities in general by Paul Johnson, a noted historian:
Universities are the most overrated institutions of our age . . . Of all the calamities which have befallen the 20th century, apart from the two world wars, the expansion of higher education in the 1950s and 1960s was the most enduring. It is a myth that universities are nurseries of reason. They are hothouses for every kind of extremism, irrationality, intolerance, and prejudice, where intellectual and social snobbery is almost purposefully instilled and where dons attempt to pass on to their students their own sins of pride. (In The Spectator; cited in First Things, No. 24, June/July 1992, p. 71.)
Also prevalent on today's campuses is a creeping cynicism, a snide skepticism, an antipathy toward the simple belief or the desire to hold fast to the faith of our fathers and mothers. As long as there are faculty and students who delight in controversy, who revel in noncomformity to Church or university standards, who challenge the positions of the Board of Trustees, who chafe under Church sponsorship and see loyalty as a type of stifling influence or a form of "intellectual suicide"--as long as such sentiments and behaviors exist, we have miles and miles to travel before we come to rest in the holy city. Our challenge as students, faculty, and administration is to seek, not to ignore or circumvent, the direction of the Board of Trustees, not to do things the way we think they should be done, but rather to acquire and operate in harmony with the same seeric vision they have. There is a prophetic passage in the Book of Mormon that haunts me, a scene that will surely find more than one fulfillment. As a part of his own panoramic vision, Nephi wrote:
And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father [Lehi] saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:35, emphasis added.)
God grant that we will never be found in such company.
We must stop apologizing for our religion or our religious heritage at Brigham Young University. As President Marion G. Romney pointed out, too many people are trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil (see "The Price of Peace," p. 7). In his inaugural charge to Howard S. McDonald in November of 1945, President J. Reuben Clark stressed that BYU
has a dual function, a dual aim and purpose--secular learning, the lesser value, and spiritual development, the greater. These two values must be always together, neither would be perfect without the other, but the spiritual values, being basic and eternal, must always prevail, for the spiritual values are built upon absolute truth. ("The Mission of Brigham Young University," p. 10, emphasis added.)
I know there are some who feel there should be no distinction made between the secular and the spiritual at Brigham Young University. Though such an approach is neat and tidy, though it certainly does much to avoid placing one dimension of learning and experience above another, it is inconsistent with the teachings of latter-day apostles and prophets. It is true that to God all things are spiritual (D&C 29:34), but God has all knowledge and all power. He sees things as they really are (see D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13). Our views are at best an approximation of what is. We come to perceive reality from God's perspective most nearly through the spirit of prophecy and revelation. That is why it is so important to be true to the word of God, true to the revelations, founded on the rock of revealed verities. I have no desire to denigrate secular knowledge, nor to suggest that only spiritual truths should be promulgated at BYU. Such would miss the point of a Mormon university and cause us to fall far short of what we can accomplish here. Rather, we must remember that life is a mission and not a career. As President Kimball explained,
If we spend our mortal days in accumulating secular knowledge to the exclusion of the spiritual then we are in a dead-end street, for this is the time for man to prepare to meet God, . . . for even in the spirit world after death our spirits can go on learning the more secular things to help us create worlds and become their masters. . . . (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 390.)
Exaltation does not come through education per se. Exaltation comes through the knowledge and application of divine truths and powers which transform human nature. Salvation is not a matter of simply acquiring truth about the world and its laws. Salvation is the process whereby we are redeemed from sin and death and made into creatures that are like God. In the language of Joseph Smith, "salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him (Lectures on Faith 7:9, emphasis added). President Kimball stated:
We must recognize that secular knowledge alone can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom to anyone. . . . Yet secular knowledge can be most helpful to the children of our Father in Heaven who, having placed first things first, have found and are living those truths which lead one to eternal life. These are they who have the balance and perspective to seek all knowledge--revealed and secular--as a tool and servant for the blessing of themselves and others.
Further, President Kimball observed that
the Church is the greatest institution of learning in the world. The Church is designed to enlarge and develop the powers of our spirits, to educate us for eternity and to help us live intelligently and joyfully in mortality. The gospel and its teachings lead us to Christlike living, which in turn leads us not only toward exaltation but toward knowledge. ("Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith," pp. 3, 5 emphasis added).
(For examples of other Church leaders who make the distinction between the spiritual and the secular, see John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 13-17; Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 65, 389-91; Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp. 293-95; Marion G. Romney, Learning for the Eternities, pp. 49-57, 71-80; Gordon B. Hinckley, Faith, The Essence of True Religion, p. 73; Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, pp. 22-30; Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 810-12; Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are, pp. 1-18; Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord's Way, pp. 16, 45-76.)
It is sad to say that there are scholars from other institutions of higher learning who take us more seriously (and seem to have more appreciation and respect for what we stand for) than some of us do. I wrote my doctoral dissertation under the direction of a former Presbyterian minister, now a scholar of some repute in the field of religion in America, and one quite familiar with the history of the LDS Church. When he finished reading an early draft of my dissertation, a study of the expanding concept of Zion among the Mormons, he pushed the papers to the center of the long seminar table where we were working and said, "Bob, I don't think you are making your points strongly enough." I asked what he meant, and he offered observations to the following effect: "The Mormon position in the religious world is stronger than I think you realize. You people are able to pull off something that no other religious group has been able to do. The LDS faith is able to effect the union of the priestly and the prophetic--the static and the dynamic--elements of religion. You hold tightly to the beliefs and rites of ancient Israel and first-century Christianity with one hand and reach into the future through continuing revelation with the other. That's quite a feat. No one else has been able to do it!" He then suggested that I write with a bit more confidence and defend our position on particular matters with the zeal that had characterized Joseph and Brigham and the early Saints. I was both shamed and instructed, and the lesson has been taken to heart.
We must have courage, the moral courage to stand up for what makes Brigham Young University distinctive, moral courage to put down all that seeks to erode or hack away at that distinctiveness. This will be a painful process. But there is a greater pain, the pain associated with knowing that we could have contributed to the realization of prophetic dreams concerning this place but chose to wait out the storm instead, only to find after the storm that we had lost something that cannot be retrieved. It is the pain known only to those who might have but did not.
We must open ourselves to very serious spiritual introspection and make whatever individual and institutional adjustments in our lives that might be necessary to enable this campus to become the temple of learning that it has been prophesied to become. We must ask ourselves hard questions, like the Master's apostles: "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22.) "Search your hearts," Joseph Smith the Prophet counseled the members of the Church, "and see if you are like God. I have searched mine," he added, "and feel to repent of all my sins." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 216.) Perhaps one might ask: Is my commitment to the Church and kingdom known? Is it obvious? Can people tell by my words, my works, or my appearance where my heart is? Have I matured beyond the point where I am prone to yield to the easier approach to university life--the compartmentalization of the spiritual and academic? Am I willing to pay the price to acquire new vision? It is not enough for us to be members of the Church who attend our meetings, observe the standards, pay tithing, and attend the temple, although such should and must be part of our lives. What is needed is vision, perspective, and orientation, a peculiar kind of orientation that drives us to put first things first.
I sense in a very real way that we need to be reborn as individuals and as a university community. The scriptures teach that if men and women hearken to the voice of the Spirit, to the voice of conscience that comes through the Light of Christ, they will be taught by the Father concerning the reestablishment of his covenant in these last days. Those outside the faith will be led to the covenant gospel, while those who hold membership in the Church will come to feel and sense the sacred significance of that covenant (see D&C 84:46-48). If we continue to hearken to that Spirit, we shall come to see ourselves as we really are, will turn to God for divine assistance, and will gladly receive the counsel of living oracles. Elder Harold B. Lee said: "I testify to you and tell you that [the Lord] is closer to the leaders of this Church than you have any idea. Listen to the leaders of this Church and follow their footsteps in righteousness, if you would learn not only by study but also by faith. . . ." (Conference Report, April 1968, pp. 131-32, emphasis added.) We need a change of heart, a conversion if you will, and need to be refocused on things that matter most. Rebirth follows on the heels of repentance and forsaking the things of the world. It results in new vision. Elder Lee thus observed that
one is converted when he sees with his eyes what he ought to see; when he hears with his ears what he ought to hear; and when he understands with his heart what he ought to understand. And what he ought to see, hear, and understand is truth--eternal truth--and then practice it. That is conversion. (Stand Ye in Holy Places, p. 92.)
I am not certain that faith, saving faith, faith unto life and salvation, can survive in a purely academic climate. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained to BYU faculty in 1990:
President J. Reuben Clark outlined a fundamental principle of Church-sponsored higher education [in his "The Charted Course of the Church in Education"] over fifty years ago. Speaking for the First Presidency, he reminded an audience of Church Educational System teachers that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is not a system of ethics to be rationalized according to secular truth, but a system of eternal truths revealed by our Creator and transcending human reason. . . .That kind of testimonied teaching," Elder Oaks continued, "has always taken place at BYU, but it does not happen effortlessly. The teacher that testifies must move against the natural academic tide that runs in universities. I mention this as a challenge for each of us to strengthen our collective resolve to move against that tide. ("Meeting the Challenges of the Nineties," pp. 19, 20, emphasis added.)
Elder Boyd K. Packer likewise issued the following warning:
Spirituality, while consummately strong, reacts to very delicate changes in its environment. To have it present at all and to keep it in some degree of purity requires a commitment and a watch-care that can admit to no embarrassment when compared with what the scholarly world is about.
The moral and spiritual capacity of the faculty, and what they shall give, and the spiritual atmosphere in which students are to learn and what they receive, will not emerge spontaneously! They happen only if they are caused to happen and thereafter maintained with unwavering determination. We at BYU can be competent in both and also merit the respect of those charged with the accreditation of institutions of higher learning. ("I Say Unto You, Be One," p. 89, emphasis added.)
Like an individual, an institution that is reborn will show forth the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-25). Its faculty members will mirror and reflect the light of the Lord. They will be far less concerned with what the academy thinks of their labors than what the Lord and the Board of Trustees think. Having thus an eye single to the Lord and his overarching purposes, they shall be filled with that light and truth, that intelligence the scriptures call the glory of God (see D&C 88:67-68; 93:36). Viewing all things through the lenses of the Restoration will then follow naturally and be reflected in the teachings and writings of men and women with regenerate hearts. And as we begin to do what we alone have been charged to do here at Brigham Young University, we shall become a light to the religious and academic world; such will come, ironically, because we sought first the glory of God. In other words, if BYU is ever to achieve its prophetic destiny, is ever to make its mark in the world as a spiritual and intellectual Mount Everest, it must more closely approximate Mount Zion. As time passes, as President Spencer W. Kimball prophesied, there will be "a widening gap between this University and other universities both in terms of purposes and in terms of directions" ("Second Century Address," p. 4).
The covenant gospel is intended to lead us out of darkness into light, to make known plain and precious truths not only in regard to religious matters, but also in regard to all we study and teach and promote. In a modern revelation the Savior sounded a warning, not just to those outside the faith, but also to those of us who take lightly that which has been given to us: "And when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel; but they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men" (D&C 45:28-29). In 1955 Elder Marion G. Romney was very direct in his counsel to BYU students and faculty:
I can see no justification for us, who have the clear light of the revealed Gospel of Christ, to spend our lives stumbling around through the mists following the uncertain glimmer of a flickering candle lighted by the wisdom of men. It seems to me that we should devote our energies to spreading the true light, and leave the mists to those who do not claim to see that light. ("The Price of Peace," p. 10.)
President Ezra Taft Benson explained similarly that
Only a Zion people can bring in a Zion society. And as the Zion-people increase, so we will be able to incorporate more of the principles of Zion until we have a people prepared to receive the Lord.
This means that on this campus, in due time, there will be an increasing number of textbooks written by inspired men of the Church. There will be less and less a tendency to subscribe to the false teachings of men. There will be more and more a tendency first to lay the groundwork of the gospel truth in every subject and then, if necessary, to show where the world may fall short of that standard. In due time there will be increased teaching by the Spirit of God, but that can take place only if there is a decreased promotion of the precepts of men. ("Jesus Christ--Gifts and Expectations," p. 305, emphasis added.)
We have a model, a living, breathing case study of what I have been describing, right beneath our nose, an example of what can be, an illustration of what can happen when we put first things first. In fact--and this is the point--others frequently come to us to see how we do it. It is so close, in fact, that we have not fully appreciated what we have. It is the Missionary Training Center. Into this most unusual center of higher learning--a language training facility that often perplexes the wise--thousands of Mormon missionaries, young and old, come from distant parts of the earth to acquire those skills and that unique vision that will enable them to deliver their message, the message of the Restoration. The strangest thing about the whole business is that it works. It actually works! Why? Why are we able to accomplish something so phenomenal at the MTC? Is it the facilities? They are certainly lovely and appropriate to the task. Do we look to methods or techniques or avenues of learning for our answer? Some of the approaches to language acquisition would no doubt be regarded by those who know best as highly successful. How about the faculty? Many of those who teach are recently returned missionaries who have not even obtained a university degree. No, the answer is not really in the facilities or the method or the faculty, is it? It is the truths that the missionaries proclaim and the soul-satisfying Spirit that certifies to their everlasting relevance--these things make the learning and development possible. In short, the doctrine and the Spirit underlie an educational endeavor that has become an object of special interest across the globe. I think there is a message in all of this for us, if we have eyes to see.
Something took place on this campus on February 27, 1990 that had a profound impact on me. On that day President Rex Lee called a special meeting for all BYU faculty and announced that his cancer had returned. With a great deal of courage he spoke of how he planned to proceed, on the nature of the therapy, and of his desires to go about his work in spite of this new and unexpected development. It was a very sober occasion. He opened the meeting to questions. After a few inquiries and responses, one faculty member raised her hand and said, in essence: "I plan to fast this Sunday and pray for the healing of President Lee. I invite any and all who would like to join me to do so." A benediction was then pronounced by a member of the faculty who pleaded with great earnestness that the Lord would work a mighty miracle in behalf of our leader. There was power in that prayer as a quiet peace spread throughout the de Jong Concert Hall. As the prayer was ended and as we began to file out of the hall, I turned to a colleague and, with much emotion, said simply: "Now that's academic freedom!"
I love BYU. I confess that I still pinch myself each time I cross the campus and realize that it is my privilege to be employed here. When I think about all that has been done over the decades--about the prayers of dedication offered, the sermons preached, the thousands upon thousands of students prepared for meaningful service in a world which desperately needs them, and about the fact that apostles and prophets have walked and talked and taught here--I want to quote the words of the Lord to Moses: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). There are things we are able to do here that are neither permitted nor comprehended elsewhere. If we as a community are willing to work with single-minded dedication to bring to pass God's righteousness, willing to speak and act as a covenant people, we shall indeed become "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" who "shew forth the praises of him who hath called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9). The God of our Fathers has his eye on this campus. This I know. May he give us the strength, the moral courage, and the vision to do what needs to be done, what he wants done. May we live to see that glorious day when all that has been predicted and foreseen concerning Brigham Young University comes to pass.
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