Back in 2012, TT announced a series here on the balance or integration of faith and scholarship, revelation and reason, etc., in the context of Church Education at the BYUs. TYD contributed to the series. I took a stab at it then too. Unfortunately, the series apparently fizzled out after that. (My apologies, if I’ve missed someone.)
I’d be interested to read more from other LDS bloggers and commenters, especially those of you who think about religious studies and the humanities. Above all, I’d be keen to know how your thinking may have changed over time.
I myself am revisiting the topic now several years later.
The occasion is this: Rumor has it that, as a thank-you to faculty donors at BYU-Provo, LDS Philanthropies recently gave out pamphlets of a talk by Elder David A. Bednar, current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and past president of BYU-Idaho.
The talk was originally delivered to BYU-Provo faculty and staff last year. So the pamphlet is something of a re-gift to them. And that emphatic repetition is probably no accident.
In fact, Elder Bednar’s talk itself underscores previous remarks by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, current member of the First Presidency and past president of BYU-Provo.
The part of the pamphlet/talk that I want to focus on is the following, where he says …
Elder Oaks has addressed challenging and hard issues in several BYU leadership conferences with the deans, associate deans, and department chairs. I now reiterate five of those issues:
1. Acknowledging the reality that the mission of Brigham Young University will not be attained in exactly the same way that other universities have achieved their greatness. It will become the great university of the Lord—not in the world’s way but in the Lord’s way ….
2. Aligning all aspects of the work performed at BYU even more closely with the purposes of our Heavenly Father.
3. Resisting external pressures that would prevent or impede the attainment of our Church and institutional goals.
4. Encouraging BYU faculty and other employees to offer public, unassigned support of Church policies that are challenged on secular grounds.
5. Inviting serious consideration of and adjustment to the patterns of what and how we measure student learning and faculty research and publication.
Elder Oaks can speak to these challenges in such a direct and clear way precisely because he left his professional and scholarly “nets” in response to the Lord’s call to serve as a special witness of His name in all the world. He has learned of and from the Savior, he listens to His voice, and he walks in the meekness of His Spirit. I admonish you to review and heed his counsel and instruction.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on these five points. Maybe you work at one of the BYUs. Maybe you’re an alum. Maybe you’re a student. Maybe you have family and friends that are.
Here’s my take, for now anyway.
The BYUs are, or claim to be, universities, and universities are first and foremost places set apart for critical thinking and the scientific method.
That does not mean universities must eschew faith, revelation, and the like, but they must begin with scholarship, reason, and so on. If they don’t, then they are not universities. Period.
Elsewhere, beginning with faith, revelation, and the like is by no means necessarily a bad thing to do – it’s just not the thing that universities do, or at least not what they should do.
If the Church does not want its universities to begin with critical thinking and the scientific method, the Church needs to get out of the university business. It’s as simple as that.
In that case, the Church would do better to invest its time and resources in institutes of religion, while selling off the BYUs so that the BYUs can in fact do what universities are supposed to do, you know, as accredited institutions.
That’s my overall comment.
About the specific points, let me just mention the fourth. Elder Bednar seems to be saying quite plainly that BYU faculty should back up the Church if ever the Church faces ‘secular’ opposition.
But that is not what universities are for. University faculty are not troops to be marshalled and commanded by religious leaders in various culture wars.
It is shocking that past presidents of accredited universities would not understand that.
It is also shocking that he/they would couch his/their commands as ‘unassignments’ on the one hand and apostolic admonitions – using ritual temple speak no less – on the other.
We are not within a thousand miles of a university setting at this point.
Furthermore, the notion that the Church and its policies ‘are challenged on secular grounds’ presumes that there are no challenges based on ethical grounds or the grounds of basic human decency. There are. Many.
And it is perhaps the most important job of any university to ensure that those sacred grounds of ethics and basic human decency are respected, even and especially by religious leaders.