[Editors Note: Because this BYU student faces dismissal from the University for changing his beliefs, his name has been changed for this story]
Like many others, I am currently a student at BYU, in Provo. Though I had never planned on going to BYU before my mission (as all my friends were at the University of Utah or other schools), during my mission I felt like I should attend BYU, as there couldn’t possibly be a better university in the world, because after all, it was the school most aligned with the values of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. When I first started attending BYU, I was as strong in the faith (though still remarkably open minded) as they come. I had served an honorable mission, met all my mission baptismal goals, and held numerous leadership positions. I was also blessed with a temple marriage built on love for one another and devotion to expanding God’s kingdom. If you had told me then that I would someday leave the church, I would’ve laughed you to scorn. Such a thought never once crossed my mind, and why should it? I had an unshakable testimony, I knew the church was true, and I was ready to devote my life to it.
Fast forward two and a half years latter. My wife and I are just leaving the temple and she remarks how amazing it is that the temple ordinances have never changed. I gently corrected her that she is misinformed, that they have indeed changed. Because some people who work for the church and are in positions of authority told her otherwise though, she refused to believe me. So, that night, I started researching the history of the temple ordinances…and down the rabbit hole I went. Within two weeks of feverish and incessant study, I no longer believed that the LDS faith was true and my entire life fell apart.
Walking around campus after that felt alien and oppressive. In doing some additional research, I discovered that if I resigned from the church I would not be treated as a nonmember at BYU, instead I would be expelled from the university, losing all of my academic progress. This news not only fueled me with paranoia, I became very bitter, for I knew that my credits wouldn’t transfer very well to other universities and I was too far in my major to simply start over. I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave and I couldn’t in good conscious, stay. This (coupled with PTSD) caused me to withdraw myself from the university for a time.
During my time away from BYU, my wife also decided to leave the church. After careful consideration and weighing all of the options, we decided it would just be best to “fly under the radar” at BYU until I graduate. While I wish I could be true to myself and my own convictions, the sad truth is that given my circumstances, it simply isn’t practical.
Thus, currently, I’m living a lie. I go to church on Sundays (at least for sacrament meeting), I always wear an undershirt so it looks like I’m wearing garments, and I try not to rock the boat to much in my classes; I quite literally have to censor my comments, findings, and papers so that I don’t challenge anyone’s testimony or raise suspicion. While I should be able to use this time to question the world around me and evolve, I instead have to conform to the expectations and requirements imposed on me. School has been transformed from a joyous experience to one of drudgery. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I support the Free BYU movement for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I would argue that it is the ethical and moral thing to do. BYU should make no distinction between nonmembers and ex-members of the LDS church. To treat them differently implies that ex-members are somehow worse or lesser than nonmembers. Why are nonmembers allowed to convert to the LDS faith (thus breaking any previous religious obligations/promises they’ve made) and that is applauded, whereas if an LDS member resigns, they become a pariah and are expelled? Additionally, for a church and academic institution that focuses heavily on religious liberties, to not give those liberties to all your students is blatant hypocrisy. Lastly, to not allow exmormons this freedom of conscience is detrimental to the mental health and academic drive of students like me. We shouldn’t have to go to school in constant fear of being discovered, or afraid to socialize with our peers for fear of them finding out, and above all, we shouldn’t need to live a lie solely to ensure that our academic progress and achievements are kept safe.