At least two instructors at BYU-Idaho, an affiliate of Brigham Young University in Utah, have been fired for not receiving “ecclesiastical clearance”… but even the instructors have no clue what they did wrong.
In 2020, the Mormon Church created an “Ecclesiastical Clearance Office” that was meant to help LDS leaders verify that potential employees at LDS-run schools agreed with the Church’s beliefs. Earlier this year, the ECO announced an updated set of questions to help facilitate this. There’s nothing wrong with any of this at a private religious school, of course. The religious group gets to set its standards and it can dismiss anyone who doesn’t want to further those values. (Faith-based schools are usually firm on certain theological beliefs but flexible on others.)
This updated set of guidelines included several predictable questions: Is their church attendance solid? What are their family relationships like? Do they support Church leadership and doctrine?
One of the questions got extremely personal: “Has this member demonstrated an exemplary and extended pattern (at least one year) of avoiding pornography?”
There was also one question—a new question—that you have to assume is what this was all really about: “Does this member have a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of its doctrine, including its teachings on marriage, family, and gender?” Basically: Does this person oppose LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage like the Mormon Church requires?
Whatever you think about the nature of that interrogation, it all boils down to the idea that Church employees at its universities should be on the same page as Church leadership, including on matters of sex and sexuality.
Lindsay Larson Call had taught online classes at BYU-Idaho for 10 years. Ben Buswell did the same thing for around 6-7 years. Both of them were good at their jobs, according to every usual metric, and they also got endorsements from their local bishops when it came to ecclesiastical clearance. On paper, they were model employees of the BYU system.
And yet both of them were fired by the school for failure to meet ECO standards.
Making matters worse? When they tried to get answers as to where, exactly, they fell short, they were left without any answers from the Mormon Church. When they contacted their bishops, both were told they got positive recommendations. So what the hell happened?
The Salt Lake Tribune explains what Buswell soon discovered:
It turns out that Buswell had recently opened up to his bishop, someone he saw as a peer and a friend, about concerns he had around the church’s policies regarding the LGBTQ community. The conversation had been a casual hallway chat that, according to Buswell, ended with him reassuring his bishop that he felt “confident I’ll figure it out, and it’s not a big deal.”
That conversation had been fresh on the bishop’s mind, the bishop told his congregant, when he had completed the form. “So, he told me, ‘I said Brother Buswell has expressed some concerns’” around the issue, but that ‘”…he is honest in his desire to understand the Lord and will come to the right decision on this.’”
To paraphrase, Buswell said he had some concerns about the Church’s anti-LGBTQ bigotry, but he also said he believed he would end up on the same page as the Church. He wasn’t endorsing same-sex marriage or taking part in some kind of activist event. He just shared some of his uneasiness with a religious leader he was told he could trust.
The trust was broken. And now he’s out of a job. BYU-Idaho won’t admit that’s what got him fired, but the dots aren’t that hard to connect.
What about Call? She has a theory about why she was let go:
In her case, Call said, she wasn’t shy about raising concerns from time to time in faculty meetings about how the curriculum treated LGBTQ issues, pushing back in one instance against a video that theorized mothers contributed to same-sex attraction in their children. Such speculation, she pointed out, was at odds with the church’s own stance, spelled out on its website, that it did not take a position on the causes of same-sex attraction.
“That was five or six years ago,” she said. “I don’t think that my advocacy for removing that video specifically probably made its way to [the] ECO, but it is emblematic of some of the changes that I advocated for over the years.”
Again, she expressed concern over certain anti-LGBTQ messaging (for good reason!) that didn’t even contradict the Church’s beliefs… and yet that may have been what got her axed.
Ultimately, it seems the Church isn’t just demanding that all employees agree on general principles. They want all employees to agree on the specifics too, no matter how irrational or hateful they may be.
They have every right to do that. But they should at least have the decency to be honest and up front about their rules instead of hiding behind several layers of bureaucracy. Just say that no one is allowed to question or challenge the Church’s LGBTQ bigotry.
It’s not like this is new either. A few years ago, a BYU-Idaho professor was fired after she said in a private (!) personal Facebook post that she didn’t believe homosexuality was a sin. Her firing seemed like an extreme measure at the time, but the situations involving Buswell and Call are far more mild.
At this point, anyone who’s still working for a BYU school is complicit in the hate. Anyone who’s still proudly Mormon is subscribing to a system that makes LGBTQ lives much worse. A week after another mass shooting targeted that very group, maybe the Mormon professors who should rethink their choices are the ones who still have a job.