Friday, April 18, 2014

Honor, Revisited

Today was the first day of finals. I was supposed to have a final for my 20th-century American literature class. I didn't take it.

"I want you to understand that this decision has nothing to do with what you said about me," Brother Simmons told me yesterday. "You can think or say whatever you want about me. What you can't do is violate the Honor Code that you signed and expect to have a BYU diploma hanging on your wall."

"I haven't used my mutant ability in months, and when I did, I confessed it to my bishop." I had little hope that anything I could say--or was willing to say--would change Brother Simmons's mind, but I thought this worth mentioning.

"You know that's not the issue, Brother Christensen. Tell me this: Do you sustain Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, seer, and revelator?"

I sighed. It would be so easy to just say "yes." One word, and a week later I'd have my college degree. Just one word. But I couldn't. "No. I once believed he was a prophet, and I wish I still believed it, but I don't."

Brother Simmons nodded. "I understand. And I hope you understand, a degree from BYU is not just a certificate of academic achievement. It's also a symbol of spiritual achievement. It's a sign telling the world that you represent Brigham Young University, that you are the type of person this university produces. When you go out into the world with a BYU degree in hand, you go as a representative of Jesus Christ."

"What about Muslims or Jews or other non-members who attend BYU?"

"They also have to abide by the Honor Code."

"Which I've done!" I insisted. "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't have girls in my apartment after curfew, I even go to church every Sunday. I just don't believe in the church anymore. What's the difference between me and any other non-Mormon who goes to BYU?"

"The difference is that you had light and knowledge that they didn't, and you have rejected it."

I buried my face in my palms. "I can't choose what I believe. I just... do."

"I think," Brother Simmons said, putting a hand on my shoulder, "deep down, you still know the church is true. I understand where you're coming from--I'm sure it's difficult to resist the temptation of living a mutant lifestyle, so it's easier to believe there's no God. But I assure you, Brother Christensen, there is. And he never said it would be easy, but I promise you, it will be worth it."

I stood up, brushing his hand away. I was done. Take away my degree, tell me I'm violating the Honor Code because I don't believe what I used to, but I will not sit there and listen to you telling me what I do or do not know. "You understand nothing," I said on my way out the door. "If I wanted easy, we'd be having a very different conversation."

So that's that. I'm done. I'm no longer a BYU student, one week short of graduating. I considered taking my finals, just to say I did, but the official email I received later yesterday afternoon explained that my professors have been instructed not to let me participate in final exams. So where do I go from here? I don't know. I'll transfer to another school to finish my degree, if I can. Maybe go on to get a master's or a doctorate. I've heard horror stories about BYU not releasing transcripts of students kicked out for Honor Code issues, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Image source:
I've talked before about the Karl G. Maeser quote that the Honor Code Office claims as its motto:
Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.
It would have been so easy for me to tell Brother Simmons what he wanted to hear yesterday. There were no walls between me and that diploma; just a chalk line. One little step, and I'm on the other side. One simple lie. One word. I may have been expelled from BYU for violating the Honor Code, but I like to think Karl G. Maeser would recognize me as a man of honor.


  1. Wow, my heart goes out to you. For what it's worth, maybe a wooden nickel, you have my respect and I think that you are a man of honor.

  2. I am so sorry that things have devolved this way for you.

    And, for what it is worth, I think it is VERY unfair of BYU to not let you participate in finals. You have written on your blog that you have been struggling with your testimony for some time. How can they say you rejected the honor code because your beliefs have changed? You have followed the honor code. If you have had an issue, you have gone to your Bishop. How can they, in good conscience, deny you your degree because your faith, your beliefs have changed? That is not right. The Savior, himself, would never have done this to you. Instead, he would have acted in love, with compassion.

    And, if Brother Simmons is reading this, I would say to you, "Please. Can you search your heart and make sure YOU are following the Savior's admonition to love, to support the feeble hands that hang down? Surely, as you have read this blog, you have seen Mormon X describe his feelings about the Church. He has desired to go on a mission. If his faith has wavered, or even changed, truly, it is not a reason to keep his degree from him. The honor code does not say, "One MUST believe ALL things in order to graduate from this university." It says nothing of the kind.

    And, what you told him about being a graduate of BYU, that it carries the charge to be different than other universities, well, that may be the lofty goal of BYU, but it is not the mandate to be able to get a degree. There have been MANY who have graduated from BYU who have since gone out in to the world and have not carried themselves as representatives of the Savior. Mormon X has NEVER said that he would be someone who would discredit the Savior. Never.

    Please. Can YOU be a representative of the Savior and rethink YOUR position of taking away Mormon X's degree because he cannot unequivocally say that Thomas S Monson is a prophet? If ANYTHING, Mormon X should be applauded for being honest, for telling you the truth, for being a man of honor. He has told the truth. As he wrote, it would have been SO much easier to just lie and to give you the answers you want, but he, being a man of honor, told you the truth. THAT has to count for something, doesn't it?

    Please, Brother Simmons. Be an ambassador of the Savior and love Brother Mormon X, help him to get his degree. You may be saving his life: his spiritual life. Perhaps what you are doing is the one thing that will only further fuel his unbelief. Maybe YOU will be the reason he never reconciles with the gospel. Is that something you can live with? Is that something you will be able to tell the Savior about, at judgement day, that you destroyed a soul because of your hardness? I beg you, please reconsider what you are doing. You may just end up saving a life.

    And, I am sorry, but where did the Savior EVER say "I never said it would be easy. I only said it would be worth it"? Please, can you give me the scripture reference? Those words are merely something someone came up with, attributed it to the Savior, and now everyone and their puppy dog says it. It did not come from the Savior. Those are not his words."

    I feel for you, Mormon X. I truly do. Hang in there. Perhaps things will change. At the very least, as you wrote, you can get your degree from another institution of higher learning.

    I am so sorry this happened on top of your losing your friend, Jan. Needless to say, you have had a VERY difficult week or two.

    Sending love and support, and good energy, your way. Duck

  3. Reading this makes me screamingly angry. You should get this out with your whole social media network and get the national media involved. They like this kind of story, and maybe the school would have to backtrack to save face.

  4. All of that time. I don't understand. Seems things between you and the honor code person was extremely personal. I'd plead decision made under duress. I would not surrender my degree. You will need it. Mind you, you don't need then. But you'll need the degree. I hope you can salvage this somehow. As you grow older, you realize that you can maintain your honor in difficult situations. I am sorry if this seems judgmental. I don't want the opposition in your life to win.

  5. For Brother Simmons: here is an article from today's Deseret News for you, it is how the Savior, when confronted by power, chose truth- just as Mormon X has been doing with you. He chose to tell the truth. You must now step up and help rectify the bad that has been done because, and you know it, it is the RIGHT thing to do. Please.

    Here is the article:

  6. This is so unacceptable. The BYU's have always bothered me for their "extra" rules they enforce on top of all the church's standards (and varying rule between the schools at that). That is why I left BYU-I after my first semester, so something like what happened to you, would never happen to me.

    I am so sorry. I wish there was something I could do to help you. I hope there is some sort of appeals process you can go through?!

  7. Thank you for the support, everyone. I've been talking with a friend who went through something similar. He transferred to the University of Washington, which is very mutant-friendly, and they helped him work it all out with transferring credits and everything. If all goes well, I'll be able to finish up with just one more semester. Also, UW has a great English PhD program that I've been considering, and I've always wanted to live in Seattle. Maybe years from now I'll look back at this and see a blessing in disguise.

  8. Aside from becoming a Huskie (GO COUGS!) I think that might be a good idea. Still unacceptable on BYU's actions.