Is it necessary?

So we’ve been in the Chicago area for a little over a week now. I’ve had one day of classes in addition to all of the new student orientation activities, some of which I dragged my husband along for.

Earlier this year, after I got accepted to TEDS, I e-mailed my admissions counselor and asked him what the dress code was. I doubted that I had much in my wardrobe that wouldn’t work for the seminary—I’m really nowhere near as lascivious in person as I make it sound on the Internet—but I wanted to make sure I did not spend any money on new clothes only to find out they’d be prohibited at my new school. Much to my surprise, the admissions counselor simply replied, “There is none. In the beginning I wore a t-shirt and shorts and skateboarded to class each day.  Now I wear a suit and tie, but only because I work in an office.  You can wear anything in between those extremes.”

As my husband and I walked around the TEDS campus, we were surprised to find that the student body at Trinity looks and dresses almost exactly like… the student body at BYU. Minor variations abounded. There were plenty of beards, because evangelicals have nothing against beards (and I’ve always found BYU’s beard policy rather bizarre in light of whom the university is named after), but they were intentional beards. I don’t recall seeing any guys who simply looked like they’d been lazy and not shaved for a day or two, though I have less of an eye for such things. There were a few women in tank tops, but again, evangelicals don’t preach against those. I saw one woman in a shorter skirt and tank top, but the thought never occurred to me that she was “immodest;” it was, after all, a hot day. I saw a few guys with longer hairstyles than what would be allowed at BYU, and one guy with hair past his shoulders. Ignoring the beards, I would say 95% of the people there had nothing about their personal appearance which would be forbidden by the Honor Code. Without any Honor Code to monitor them, the student body was governing itself with pretty clean standards of dress and appearance.

There isn’t any kind of “ecclesiastical endorsement” system at TEDS, either. The school has a code which forbids “dishonesty, theft, pre-marital sex, abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior, and use of pornography, profanity, gossip, racism, and infringement upon the rights of others,” but you don’t have to check in with your pastor once a year to make sure you’re not doing those things. (To view Trinity’s graduate student code of conduct, see page 7 of this PDF here. BYU’s Honor Code can be found here.)

It all got me thinking: is BYU’s Honor Code system really necessary? Do yearly interviews actually cut down on the number of students breaking the Honor Code, or merely increase the number of people who lie about it? If the school simply asked students to keep the standards of the church and did not require it under threat of discipline, wouldn’t most people simply do it anyways?

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This entry was posted in Evangelicalism, Mormonism by Bridget Jack Jeffries. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bridget Jack Jeffries

Bridget Jack Jeffries is a human resources professional living in Chicago. She holds a BA in classics from Brigham Young University with a minor in Hebrew and an MA in American religious history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church and a single mother of two. You can read more of her writings at www.Weighted-Glory.com.

37 thoughts on “Is it necessary?

  1. I’m not a big fan of the way the BYU honor code is enforced, so don’t take this comment that way, but:

    Can you really compare the two campuses/student bodies? BYU is mostly undergrads and Trinity is a graduate seminary, right?

  2. There’s a Trinity College (for undergrads), Trinity Graduate School and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, all on the same campus. I would have to check on the enrollment numbers, but it is much smaller than the BYU-Provo campus. Maybe comparable in size to the BYU-Hawaii campus.

    EDIT: Here are the numbers. It looks like about 875 undergraduate students and 1450 graduate students.

  3. I have no problem with annual interviews (and how many people lie during them, I have no idea). An education at BYU is heavily subsidized by church members, so I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect some sort of a worthiness (for lack of a better word) qualification to attend.

    That said, if it were strictly my decision, I’d abolish most of the restrictions that go beyond the TEDS requirements. (I could go along with requiring clothing to be “garment-friendly,” however, even though I don’t find tank tops and such to be immodest.) I’ve already had two kids tell me they wouldn’t consider going to a college where they have more restrictions than they had at home during high school (another would have been willing to attend BYU but chose to go elsewhere). If I were a student, I’d probably consider the rules insulting.

    As to what difference ending some of the restrictions would make as to what BYU students look like, I don’t know (I’ve never attended, and I’ve visited the campus only twice). I do know that most of the teenage boys in my ward (including mine) have hair too long for BYU, and beards for post-college-age males (including me) are not unusual in the least in my ward. Overall, I suspect, the students would end up looking much what they look like at TEDS. I wouldn’t see that as a bad thing.

  4. Tomchik ~ You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve told someone I went to BYU only to have them ask, “Which one? Idaho? Hawaii?”

    Um… Provo. That’s what BYU usually means if we don’t say “BYU-Idaho” or “BYU-Hawaii.”

    I also hate how I can’t just say “I’m from Washington.” At BYU and here in Chicago, if I tell people “I’m from Washington” they say, “D.C.?” I have to say “Washington state” because all those damned east-coasters call D.C. “Washington.” *shakes fist angrily at Whitney, Kullervo & Katyjane*

  5. I usually assume Washington = Washington state. Which is usually how it goes where I’m from (GA). We say Washington DC for the nation’s capital, and Washington for the state.

    Back to the topic of the OP, I think it should truly be an honor code. There could be enforcement if people were breaking it, but the endorsement would probably become just a signature each academic year.

  6. WARNING: the following comment is much pissier than usual…

    BYU honor code + yearly interviews = micromanagement and over-control by institutional authority, lying, unnecessary guilt, Pharisaical self-righteousness and a culture of excessive judgment.

    It’s utter bullcrap.

    (Sorry, this thread at FMH re: young girls being grilled about their sexuality by middle-aged men has got me super fired up about the institutional checks the church puts on its membership to enforce “worthiness”…grumble grumble…)

  7. I agree with Katie L.

    Eric, you have no problem with annual interviews because you are too immersed in Mormonism’s norms to realize how invasive and unreasonable they are.

  8. I think that the way the comparison (e.g., between BYU and TEDS) kinda suggests to me a trust issue. BYU doesn’t *trust* its students enough, whereas TEDS does.

  9. To be fair there are plenty of Evangelical institutions with similar dress and behavior codes. Bob Jones and Pensacola Christian come to mind as places that have stricter limitations on their students than BYU.

    Having gone to a Christian university with it’s own social contract I can tell you that the merits of these contracts are debated no matter how strict they are. It always comes down to what’s the best way to disciple someone vs. having a culture of uniform, “safe” behavior for the entire community.

    At my school the debate was over legal-aged drinking and school sponsored dances (neither was allowed).

  10. Kullervo told me:You have no problem with annual interviews because you are too immersed in Mormonism’s norms to realize how invasive and unreasonable they are.First of all, you have no way of knowing how “immersed” I am, and I am perfectly capable of determining what’s invasive or unreasonable.

    That said, I was speaking as a matter of principle. In principle, I think it reasonable for a church that is providing such a huge tuition subsidy to have some sort of moral qualification to receive that subsidy, just as it is reasonable for a state university to provide proof of residency before providing the in-state tuition discount.

    For what it’s worth, I have never had an interview that goes beyond the authorized questions, which can all be answered by yes or no based on my understanding of the questions. I realize that many people haven’t had my experience, and certainly I have read (most recently in the thread referred to by Katie L.) about people who have had invasive interviews. I do not defend such practices and consider that type of probing unreasonable and a type of “unrighteous dominion” the scriptures warn us against.

    Tim said:

    At my school the debate was over legal-aged drinking and school sponsored dances (neither was allowed).

    At my school (and this was some years ago), there also was some debate over school-sponsored dances while I was there (social dancing now allowed, I understand), but the big debate was over what hours males could visit female dorm rooms and vice versa (the door had to be open at least a crack). I don’t know what the current rules are. Use of alcohol and tobacco is still prohibited on or off campus (except that alcohol is OK at family events). Other rules currently are like those at TEDS. There hasn’t been a dress code for at least 35 years.

  11. Feeling much calmer this morning. 🙂

    Eric, I agree that it’s not unreasonable for a church-sponsored university to have standards requirements. I think the KINDS and EXTENT of the standards at BYU are unreasonable and counter-productive, but they can do whatever they want, I guess. I don’t have to go to BYU, so besides the smugness I have to deal with from folks who buy into so bad they think BYU standards = God’s One True Law, it doesn’t really affect me.

    But thinking about this issue on a broader scale, lately I’ve become extremely uncomfortable with the idea of worthiness interviews at all. I think even the standard questions are unreasonable and intrusive. Why should it be anyone’s business what I believe, with whom I affiliate, whether I’ve committed sexual transgression, and how much money I give to the church? These issues are between God and me, no one else.

    Yes, Mormonism promotes a “clean” lifestyle–which is a good thing. But it enforces that lifestyle at spiritual gunpoint. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if there is anything good about the practice at all.

    Help me out here. I want to try to find the positive, but I’m coming up short.

  12. I dunno, Katie, but just for sake of discussion it’s possible that it’s someone else’s business because God asked that someone to come in and stand in his place. If God did do that—and he’s certainly free to, right?—then that changes your argument.

  13. Katie L — I’ll give this some more thought later (I have to leave in a few minutes), but my instant response is that (as far as I know) no “worthiness” (and I’ll admit I don’t like the word) interview is mandatory to remain a member of the church. I’ve taken part in interviews only when I wanted to, and I’ve never felt like I was at the end of a “spiritual gun.” And when I’ve taken the process seriously (which hasn’t been always), they serve as a reminder of some of the things I need to work on.

    What I was told before I got a temple recommend for the first time was the interview process was one by which I could, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, evaluate myself, not one where I present myself to some human for his approval. And that has worked pretty well for me (although, again, I haven’t had the stray-from-the-official-format interviews that some others have had). YMMV.

  14. Brian said:
    it’s possible that it’s someone else’s business because God asked that someone to come in and stand in his place. If God did do that—and he’s certainly free to, right?—then that changes your argument.

    It always comes back to the same question: “was Joseph Smith telling the truth?” If Mormonism is objectively true, than yes. If Mormonism is just a system that uplifts our spirits, then the better question for Katie to ask is “does it uplift your spirit?”

  15. I’m having difficulty finding the words because I agree that these systems are far from perfect, and in the case of the BYU Honor Code, severely broken. We allow them to exist for the same reason that we allow other broken systems to exist. In the end, the subset of people that get shafted by them is relatively small.

    But among other things already mentioned it allows the church to maintain a certain image and standards. During the Catholic church’s sex-abuse scandal, it is true that some people thought allowing the pedophile priests to continue working was a great act of mercy and forgiveness on the part of the church. But most people saw the Catholic church as protecting an army of child rapists.

    That’s an extreme example, but in my defense I did say I was having trouble finding the words.

  16. Well, Tim, Mormonism is true and Joseph was telling the truth (though I’m not really sure whether or not he’s the one who started interviews in the Church). Still, I think the second question, “Does it uplift your spirit?”, is one that should always be asked. Just because something is true doesn’t mean we should say “tough luck” to people struggling with it.

  17. Katie, I think I speak for most people here when I say, “we’re glad you’re feeling better today.”

    FWIW, I never heard anyone at BYU conflate the BYU honor code to God’s One True Law. I’ve heard more than enough of them from BYU-i say it, so complain away.

    But Katie, if you believe the LDS Church is Jesus’ true church, and that it’s led by revelation, you don’t get much of a say. I’m sorry, but I do think going to the Temple is a privilege, not a right, and that one should be able to live up to the standards required by the Lord, and the Church. I believe it is the Bishop’s business what you believed, how you live your life, and if you’ve committed any sexual transgression, and if you live the law of tithing. He’s the common judge of Israel.

    Having said all that, you shouldn’t think I’m judging anyone in terms of behavior. I currently don’t go to the Temple, mostly because I’m not down with the anti-single discrimination the Church inflicts there. And I hate the ideas some people have that because they can go to the temple as Mormons somehow they are “more worthy” non non-Mormons. I also agree with Eric that Church leaders should not “make up their own questions.”

    And Eric, Joseph Smith did institute temple recommends.

    These issues are between God and me, no one else.

    Not according to current LDS policy.

  18. Coming from Idaho to BJU in Greenville, I led a rebellious life on campus. I drank lots of Mountain Dew. But as Tim would suggest, there are “stricter standards”. Yet if worthiness is based on standards, it is a living hell.

    [I had to laugh, yesterday, when I met a jack-Mormon family (some of my friends) in reactionary mode at the convenience store. Dad had a Mountain Dew. Mom had a Mountain Dew. Older brother had a Mountain Dew. Older sister had a Mountain Dew. And the youngest son carried Code Red.]

  19. Todd ~ An evangelical friend of mine attended BYU in the mid-90s. When he first arrived on campus, he was living in Heritage Halls (the on-campus apartment-style dorms) and he decided he was going to try to be good and not make his LDS roommates feel uncomfortable by drinking caffeine and whatnot. So he immediately went out and bought some decaf Coke and decaf Mountain Dew.

    Came back to the apartment and put it into the fridge… next to his roommates’s caffeinated Coke and caffeinated Mountain Dew. That was the last time he bought decaf soda in Provo.

    I have more thoughts on this thread, but I’m going to bed.

  20. Katie L. said:

    Help me out here. I want to try to find the positive, but I’m coming up short.

    I’ve thought about this more, and I’m not sure how much I can add to my instant response above. Part of the problem, of course, is that those with authority are human, and so what should be (in my opinion) a process that encourages us to live in the way that Jesus taught us can end up becoming a process fraught with elements of judgmentalism, exclusivism and, in some cases, unrighteous dominion. And when that happens, we indeed are talking about a “spiritual gunpoint,” to use your words.

    What I’ve tried to do is use the process as one that helps me become a better person (kind of like in some evangelical groups some people have “accountability partners”). I focus on the questions that can’t honestly be answered with a 100% yes, such as whether I’m living in “harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel.” Fairly recently, I delayed renewing my temple recommend because of that particular question; I had something I needed to be working on. (I’m still not all the way there, but I have faced the issue in a way I didn’t before.)

    Katie L. said:

    I agree that it’s not unreasonable for a church-sponsored university to have standards requirements. I think the KINDS and EXTENT of the standards at BYU are unreasonable and counter-productive

    I wouldn’t argue against you there. My feelings probably aren’t as strong as yours, but like I said earlier, if I were in charge (and it’s probably a good thing I’m not) I would do things differently.

    PM said:

    And I hate the ideas some people have that because they can go to the temple as Mormons somehow they are “more worthy” non non-Mormons.

    Amen to that.

    PM said:

    And Eric, Joseph Smith did institute temple recommends.

    I don’t remember suggesting otherwise. I would have assumed that’s the case, although I’m sure matters were less institutionalized in those days.

    TW said:

    Dad had a Mountain Dew. Mom had a Mountain Dew. …

    Nothing wrong with that, except that’s way too much sugar, which is a far bigger problem in LDS (and evangelical, for that matter) circles than caffeine is. Fortunately, diet Mountain Dew isn’t bad, although I prefer the cherry and lime versions of diet colas.

  21. “These things may be done; these things may not be done. Give me a complete list, and I will observe the commands, and I will be careful not to do that which I am forbidden. That is the easisest and the laziest and the most pernicious life that any man can live.”

  22. That doesn’t sound easy to me, and neither does it sound fulfilling. I’m glad the gospel’s not like that.

  23. In some ways sounds very similar to going through the Bible looking for unnecessarily precise didactic theology to believe or not believe.

  24. – probably better said – by which to judge others instead of just “believe or not believe”

  25. Ages ago, Jack said, I also hate how I can’t just say “I’m from Washington.” At BYU and here in Chicago, if I tell people “I’m from Washington” they say, “D.C.?” I have to say “Washington state” because all those damned east-coasters call D.C. “Washington.” *shakes fist angrily at Whitney, Kullervo & Katyjane*

    For what it’s worth, I rarely say “Washington” because saying DC takes way less time. But whenever people tell me they’re from Washington, I do ask which one.

    As far as the interview questions, I rarely had to do any–although one time right after I joined the church, I spent an evening kissing a cute boy who was about to go on a mission, and then he felt guilty and told the bishop, so then I felt like I had to do the same, since we had the same bishop. The bishop didn’t ask my any invasive questions about it, but I never knew how much he knew from the guy. And I also felt kind of crappy that the boy thought that kissing me was something he should feel guilty about.

    At temple recommend interviews, I was always terrified of lying, so I always brought up that I drink caffeinated soda (never a problem), and when asked the general stuff, I was usually kind of vague–like, “I’m doing it to the best of my ability, but I’m not perfect, so I’m afraid to say anything definitive.”

    In one temple recommend interview, I did get a long talk from the stake president about my relationship with my mother, and how I needed to fix it and forgive her. At the time, I just wasn’t ready, and I felt like he was overstepping his boundaries, as he didn’t know the whole story and didn’t ask about it. (I don’t remember why my relationship with my mother was brought up at all, actually.)

    Katie, to answer your question–I think it depends on how you look at the interview questions. If you look at them like a spiritual gunpoint, then they will definitely feel like it. If you look at it like a somewhat regular time to meet with someone who reminds you about the standards to enter the temple–and then address any issues with God, then it could, theoretically, be a good benchmark. I don’t know if I’m making sense when I write it, but sometimes having a reminder of the track I want to be on helps me adjust to get on it if I’m not, and a nice way to be smug if I’m already there. 😀 (just kidding about the smugness)

  26. “I have to say “Washington state” because all those damned east-coasters call D.C. “Washington.””

    To be fair, Washington D.C. has been called “Washington” since 1790, whereas the area of Washington state was named such 50+ years later in the Oregon Treaty with Britain—and it took another ~40 years before the name “Washington state” could be used.

  27. Well, if we’re going to put it to a vote then DCers don’t get to participate anyway, so WA state wins regardless of the ratio.

    But just out of curiosity, who’s who?

    WA State: me, Jack…

    DC: Whitney, kullervo, katyjane…

    Who am I missing?

  28. I don’t live in Washington any more, but I used to. So Washington will always be Washington state. And now it’s looking like we’re going to be moving to Utah, a place I used to say I’d never live.

  29. When are you moving to Utah, Eric, and where? (You can e-mail me that or something if you don’t want to say it on here.)

    I’m pretty sure I’ll be visiting Provo with TEDS in March.

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