My name is Louisa and I am a 30 year old modern dancer, ex-drummer, teacher and writer, and I support free BYU.
I was born into the LDS faith and grew up in Rexburg, Idaho. I consider my upbringing to be devout yet intellectual, as my parents encouraged questions and critical thinking. My dad experienced physical abuse as a child, and I always admired his dedication to the LDS church in his effort to be a successful father. My mom was a vocal instructor who raised me on Jazz music and dancing in the kitchen. My dad passed away when I was 15 years old from colon cancer, and our tight-knit neighborhood of Rexburg LDS members lovingly took care of my mother and her six children. Although growing up I struggled with certain cultural aspects of the LDS faith, I was obedient and determined to do what was right.
At age 21 I was sealed in the LDS temple, even though I had always resisted the idea of marrying young and quickly. I recently completely an English degree at BYU-Idaho. After being married for a year, the police knocked on my door and arrested my husband for felony charges. My whole world collapsed. I had no idea why my husband had been arrested and I eventually learned that he had stolen cash and credit cards from lockers at the LDS temple where we worked as clothing rental workers. He had also stolen a wallet from another student at BYU-Idaho. This experience was long, painful, and complicated, but eventually I decided to stay with him and make the marriage work. We attended counseling and I visited him in jail. He was placed on parole and we moved to Salt Lake City in 2015 where I was accepted into a Masters program for dance at the University of Utah. A few years later, a woman in my neighborhood approached me and told me that my husband had been cheating on me. I filed for a divorce. Throughout all of this, I kept my faith.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 2018, I landed teaching positions as adjunct faculty at Brigham Young University and Snow College. I moved to Provo and commuted to Ephraim to make both positions work. During this time I met and married my now husband and moved back to Salt Lake City Utah. In January of 2021, my faith crisis began.
For the past year of 2020, I had prayed desperately to know if the LDS church was true. The main conflict lied in the fact that I was dating a non-member, and this seemed to contradict my patriarchal blessing. I had suffered so much pain in my previous “LDS approved” marriage, that I was confused to have fallen in love with a wonderful man who did not have the LDS temple checklist, yet respected my values and was much more Christ-like than my previous spouse. I also was confronted by honest questions from my now husband about the church and my beliefs. He was, in essence, trying out the LDS religion for himself. I desperately wanted to know if these things were true since I wanted to be obedient to God. In the end, I married my husband civilly during the pandemic in 2020. It was a beautiful ceremony and I am incredibly lucky to have married this amazing man.
I continued to pray after we were married about the truthfulness of the gospel. In December of 2020 I finished the Book of Mormon along with the Come Follow Me manual and felt that I could honestly pray according to Moroni’s promise. I prayed with sincerity, humility, and tears. No answer came. No burning in the bosom. I brought up my experience in Sunday School to try to receive support, but ultimately I realized that no one else could give me a testimony.
One month later I began watching a Netflix documentary about Scientology. As I watched, I began to be aware of some of the similarities between Scientology and the LDS church. The question began to form: What things do I justify in the LDS church because I believe it’s true? I made a list of the things I believed in and the things I struggled with. I noticed that the struggles were greater than I thought. The list incorporated everything from polygamy in the early church, to current LGBTQ issues and policies. I began to do more research into ideas that I had placed “on my shelf”. Justifying so many things was no longer an option for me.
As I researched, I found more and more information that caused me to question my faith. My bishop offered me a calling in the Primary Presidency and I shared my doubts and concerns, but told him I would accept the calling. This was a confusing and troubling time. I began to rethink and examine my whole life. I was worried about being lied to and manipulated, and I can’t deny that my previous life experiences contributed to that fear. I questioned my whole identity, and continued to pray and study various sources. Then the phone rang.
My Bishop called to let me know he had received an email from BYU asking about a bishop’s endorsement. He had never filled this form out before since we lived in SLC and the first question asked if I had a current temple recommend. I learned that my temple recommend had recently expired. During this phone call, my heart dropped. I was horrified, as I realized that my belief in the church was directly tied to my employment. I had taught for BYU for three years with a full adjunct load, and I loved my students and dance faculty. I was working towards obtaining a full time position at a university and had been grateful to have a job in the arts during the pandemic. My bishop was very kind and mentioned that he knew I had some questions about the faith, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed. We set up a time to meet.
When I met with the bishop, he asked me the temple recommend questions. I could answer all of them affirmatively except ones that referred to LDS prophets, the restoration of the gospel, and tithing. I jokingly told him that I could lie in order to keep my job, but that didn’t feel right. He assured me that BYU would be “jerks” to let me go. After the meeting, he continued the survey and the form said he would be contacted within 90 days about my endorsement.
I eventually worked up the courage and reached out to BYU HR about my situation. The man I talked to was kind and sympathetic, but not hopeful. He told me that he had never heard of a faculty member maintaining their job while going through a faith crisis. LDS members were held to the temple recommend status regardless of the situation. I asked about non-members and was told that they were held to a different standard, but that I would not be treated as such. I asked for a number my Bishop could call since he was new to this process. He gave me a number for the endorsement office.
My bishop called the endorsement office and set up a time to meet with me and my husband. In this meeting the bishop told us that he had advocated for me the best he could and asked specific questions about the wording in the temple recommend interview. He was even passed along to a supervisor because he was insistent for answers. I felt that my bishop advocated for me the best he could. My bishop then relayed the response from the endorsement office. He read to me the D&C scripture about the three kingdoms of glory, and indicated that I was now considered terrestrial rather than celestial. The endorsement office explained that there were plenty of honorable people out there, but they were not celestial and this policy was in place to protect the students. I learned that I had until July 14th to receive a bishop’s endorsement. I cried quietly as the bishop relayed this message. I felt devastated and ultimately rejected as a good and honorable member.
During this time I continued to teach at BYU with mixed emotions. I felt manipulated by the university and the imposed deadline crippled my faith crisis. I was surprised that no one from the endorsement office had talked to me personally or reached out to those who worked with me in the dance department. I eventually let my area administrator know and she was compassionate and supportive. The BYU dance department made it clear that they would hire me as long as they were allowed to. I was so thankful for their kindness and support.
My last ditch effort was to reach out to HR as the July deadline approached and try to asses any possible options. I received the following response:
“A successful application for a faculty position would require clearance from the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office. This includes confirmation of meeting the temple worthiness standard required. Any Latter-day Saint applicant not meeting that standard would not be eligible for employment.
While non-member applicants are not required to meet temple eligibility standards, it has been my observation that those applicants, who were previously members of the church but who no longer claim affiliation, are not assessed as traditional non-members and, in all likelihood would need to regain their prior standing within the church in order to be considered as a viable applicant.
Finally, I should also note that BYU has a strong preference in hiring members of the church who are in good standing. This has been interpreted to mean that non-members will be considered for hire only when a qualified member in good standing is not available for the posted position.”
This was when I realized that there was no chance for me to go through a serious faith crisis and maintain my employment.
Ultimately I realize that I am at the mercy of the private university, however I was not prepared for the quick dismissal or lack of institutional support. I did not ask to have a faith crisis. I was deeply troubled when I discovered that students are also not supported at a time in their life when they should be allowed to learn new things and evaluate their world view and beliefs. I absolutely loved my time teaching at BYU and am sad that these policies punish so many honest students and faculty. I hope these policies change in the future, in order to reflect the messages the church is currently giving about how to treat people in faith crisis. My heart goes out to all the students and faculty who are penalized for their honesty about their religious beliefs.
I support Free BYU.