Dave Winslow: Church must practice what it preaches on respect and civility

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kate Foster rallies with hundreds of other students and supporters Friday. Brigham Young University LGBTQ students took their concerns about the schoolÕs policy reversal regarding romantic behavior by same-sex couples to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints office building, Mar. 6, 2020. Despite removing the section on Òhomosexual behaviorÓ from BYU Honor Code last month, The LDS Church has clarified for the first time that same-sex romantic behavior is still Ònot compatibleÓ with the rules at BYU.

Respect, kindness and civility. Are these necessities in short supply during the present pandemic?

At the November 2019 conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Dallin Oaks quoted the June 29, 2015, response by church leaders to the legalization of same-sex marriage:

“The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Further, we must never persecute those who do not share our beliefs and commitments. Regretfully, some persons facing these issues continue to feel marginalized and rejected by some members and leaders in our families, wards, and stakes. We must all strive to be kinder and more civil.”

Ironically, just four months following the response, church leaders quietly instituted the draconian November 2015 policy. Respect, kindness and civility?

Two generations have passed since President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to black members of the church. During the Feb. 6 “Black & Immigrant” panel discussion at Brigham Young University some of the questions submitted anonymously by attendees reflected white privilege and racism.

In response, BYU President Kevin J. Worthen stated “We believe everyone is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents and each one of us has a divine nature and destiny. That is a very powerful truth and it's the basis for our commitment to respecting others.” Nevertheless, afterwards a panelist stated “The black students no longer feel that the campus is a safe space anymore.” Respect, kindness and civility?

On Feb. 19, the Church Educational System (CES) Honor Code was updated to be in alignment with the concurrent Church Handbook changes. The section on homosexuality was removed from the Honor Code without further clarification. When students inquired, the Honor Code Office stated that chaste, romantic behavior was permitted for both heterosexual and LGBTQ students. Many LGBTQ students openly celebrated these changes.

The March 4 letter from Paul V. Johnson, CES Commissioner, states, “Out of respect for all concerned, we are providing the following clarifying statement … Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.”

The Honor Code was updated to appear progressive towards homosexuality but there was no policy change. The church cannot maintain its historic un-Christlike doctrines and appear to be progressive to the world. A lesbian student said, “There really is no place for me here.” Respect, kindness and civility?

The BYU Board of Trustees includes the First Presidency and four apostles. While BYU, CES and church leaders give lip service to respect, kindness and civility, they will not decisively address the epidemic of racism, intolerance and homophobia which has existed in the church over its entire history. Until church leaders truly emulate Christ, abandon and denounce racist and bigoted scripture, doctrine and policies, these evils will continue to afflict the church throughout future generations. The church stands condemned by the Savior’s words “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:45)

Why do minority groups feel unwelcome at BYU and in the church? The only way to change this condition is through true charity - empathy, respect, kindness and civility.

During this period of social distancing and telelearning, many students are no longer on campus. In the interim, private introspection regarding our personal attitudes and actions can lead us to be better students, members and leaders. To be a better church. Hopefully, these attributes are not permanently in short supply.

Dave Winslow

Dave Winslow graduated from the University of Utah, but stands with the black and LGBTQ students of BYU.