I Wish BYU Would Stop Shooting Itself in the Foot

Contrary to popular belief, I actually prefer writing fluff pieces. Give me a good “top 10 favorite fruits” post any day of the week. Not because I mind writing on a weighty subject, but because it means there’s nothing weighty on my mind at the moment. Also, I never have to worry about the comments section on fluff pieces. (Except from those pesky apple connoisseurs . . .)

But late last night, I came across troubling news: BYU had (yet again) created a PR nightmare for itself and seriously upset and angered a good portion of its student body by bungling an Honor Code issue. If you weren’t following along at home, a bit ago BYU revised its Honor Code. As part of the revision, it deleted the section in it that dealt specifically with homosexual behavior. Students read it and were very confused. Was it now okay to have same-sex dating on campus, as long as no sex was involved? Many students asked the Honor Code office and were told “yes.”

(True, this is just what I hear second hand. I wasn’t involved in any of the actual discussions with the Honor Code office. All the school said publicly was that it would be dealt with on a case by case basis.)

There was much rejoicing from a significant chunk of the student body. (There was also much gnashing of teeth from another chunk.) What there wasn’t was clear discussion and explanation from BYU right from the get go. Either way, it made national headlines, and many students at BYU came out of the closet, since they now felt like they were free to do so without repercussions.

Then, yesterday, the school tweeted to say, “Just kidding.” True, it wasn’t quite that callous. (Though who handles important things like this through Twitter? Honestly? Is this what we’ve come to as a nation? Isn’t this the grownup equivalent of breaking up through someone on the phone, or with a letter? Apparently it also went out as an email, which is marginally better, but . . . ) What they actually did was explain that homosexual behavior (kissing, public displays of affection) can still get you in hot water, and then they gave a bunch of reasons that I suppose made sense to them at the time, but came across to yours truly as fairly tone deaf.

This, in turn, has caused all those students who were excited to now be crushed. Many are looking at transferring away from the university. Thousands are protesting. (And at BYU, that’s saying something.)

Let me be clear: I don’t speak for the Church. (Duh.) And I don’t pretend to receive revelation for everyone. How the Church and BYU decide to handle same-sex attraction is way beyond my pay grade. However, what can say is that the way this was handled was just plain awful. It was as if the administration didn’t realize deleting the whole “homosexual behavior” section of its Honor Code might catch the attention of other people. Like they were taken aback that they had to explain it at all, and so there they were fumbling for a response for weeks after the announcement, only to end up with this.

Speaking as a parent, one of the worst things I can do with my kids is to set false expectations. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. They might think it’s not fair. They might think it’s stupid. But if I’m consistent in what I say and do, things are a lot less problematic.

This waffling back and forth around such a hot-button issue isn’t just tone deaf. It’s cruel. I’m not saying BYU was being cruel on purpose, but casual cruelty or indifferent cruelty is just as bad in many ways. And all of this was so avoidable. If they weren’t going to really change the policy, then they shouldn’t have edited the policy in a way that so easily could have been misinterpreted. If the policy was being misinterpreted, they should have clarified that right away. All of that should have been ready to go as soon as the first new Honor Code announcement was sent.

Instead, we have this mess . . .

I feel terribly for all the students affected. I’m saddened leadership keeps lurching from one bungled response to another. Why? Because I still believe in the religion and the school. They’re both definitely run on a day to day basis by humans, though. No doubt about that. Plenty of mistakes to identify. On a decade-to-decade level, they improve however. Let’s hope that improvement keeps coming.

At bare minimum, hopefully they get better at not actively making things worse for themselves and others.

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