I graduated from BYU with an MS degree several years ago. I loved my time there and, to be honest, I still miss it. Now that I’m finished with my degree I maintain my connection with BYU by reading the Alumni magazine, following college sports, and contributing every year to the Annual Fund. Studying at BYU was one of the best times of my life, and I want to give back where I can.
Unfortunately, not all my memories of BYU are pleasant. While working on my Master’s degree, I spent a significant amount of time studying the roots of my faith in Mormonism. I found to my horror that many of the things that I always took for granted seemed to wither away whenever I looked more closely.
The cracks in my faith started with the religion’s epistemology and spread through its history and doctrine until I finally had to concede that I no longer believed. It was an intensely painful and stress-filled process, and it dragged on for over a year. I finally found peace and solace one spring evening while listening to the patter of a light rainstorm. In a moment of powerful spiritual transcendence I felt that God was happy with the direction I was moving and that everything would be OK. That settled it for me.
I mostly kept my change of faith a secret, but during my final semester I finally decided to confide in my bishop. In the process of expressing my feelings I found, to my surprise, that he was angry. I suppose that I can’t blame him for it. I had at one time been just as distressed by the issues I discussed with him.
We met several times to talk. In the end, he accused me of hiding a secret sin (because why else would my testimony fail?) and he indicated that he wouldn’t sign an endorsement for me to continue studying at BYU. It was fortunate that I was in my last semester and wouldn’t need a new endorsement, but I realized that he had the power not only to withhold a new endorsement, but to withdraw my existing endorsement and prevent me from graduating.
And according to BYU’s Honor Code, he would have been justified in doing so. My only crime? Failing to believe in Mormonism. This naturally came as a big shock to me. It never occurred to me that confiding in my bishop might result in my dismissal from BYU near the conclusion of my Master’s degree. Being expelled at that time would essentially force me to start over because my finished thesis wasn’t transferable.
To my discredit, I didn’t have the intellectual honesty to stand by my beliefs and risk losing two years of hard work. So I pretended to change my mind. I came to church early every week and sat on the front row. I actively participated in Sunday School. I even shed a few repentant tears in an interview with the bishop.
It hurt to be dishonest about my beliefs, to hide myself behind this false veneer to appease the man who had the unilateral power to prevent my graduation. But for better or worse I did it. In the mean-time, I grew to resent both my bishop and the church he represented. When I finally received my diploma in the mail, I felt a sense of relief to officially remove myself from the organization that had (I felt) needlessly imposed its will on me.
BYU’s belief policies seem incongruous for an organization that presumes to value religious freedom as a fundamental article of faith. While I’d honestly love to go back for a PhD someday, I fear that my new beliefs will prevent that from happening.