Brigham Young University is not going to be intimidated into conforming with the rest of the world, President Dallin H. Oaks told BYU students and faculty Tuesday.
Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, urged students to be “different” and pursue both secular and spiritual education while they are at the church-owned Provo school. And he called upon faculty members maintain “gospel standards.”
“Those who deviate from a majority are often made to feel like ignorant handouts on subjects where everyone else is more enlightened,” Oaks said in a speech at BYU’s Marriott Center. “When higher education or the world in general call upon faculty to vary from gospel standards, do we dare to be different? ... Keeping gospel standards does not make you second class or condemn your example to obscurity.”
The 90-year-old apostle, next in line to lead the global faith of 16.8 million, harked back to an address then-church President Spencer W. Kimball gave at BYU in 1975, when Oaks was president of the university. He quoted Kimball saying BYU must sometimes “be willing to break with the educational establishment (not foolishly or cavalierly, but thoughtfully and for good reason) in order to find gospel ways to help mankind. Gospel methodology, concepts and insights can help us to do what the world cannot do in its own frame of reference.”
“We must understand,” Oaks said, “that having an additional purpose for education will not be welcomed by many educators. It may even be opposed by them and others. And even by government regulators.”
He suggested BYU will fight back against government regulators, pointing to the university’s successful challenge of Title IX regulations in the 1970s. Oaks recalled appearing before Congress and, while expressing support for “the overall nondiscrimination objectives of Title IX,” protested what he said were “impermissible conflicts with the independence of private colleges and the religious freedom of church-related institutions.”
And BYU’s objections “prevailed.”
“Where would BYU and other church-related colleges and universities be today,” he asked, “if BYU had not dared to resist the government’s ... proposal to significantly expand its control over private higher education?”
Oaks’ talk Tuesday came in the wake of multiple recent stories that drew attention to BYU and its policies, including:
• A mandate that newly hired employees must not only have a temple recommend, but also must waive their right to keep confidential their interactions with and confessions to their church leaders.
• BYU authorities threw away LGBTQ resource pamphlets intended for incoming students. And protesters, including some BYU students, tried to disrupt a “family friendly” drag show at an off-campus “Back to School Pride Night.”
• Allegations of racist outbursts at a BYU women’s volleyball match made by a Duke player. The Provo university’s investigation found no evidence that the accusations were true, but a West Coast Conference report — while agreeing with that conclusion — said that some fans’ behavior violated its sportsmanship policies.
Oaks said that love thy neighbor is the Lord’s second greatest commandment, but not as important as the commandment “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. ... The love of neighbor — however important — does not come ahead of love of God and obedience to his commandments.”
“If we truly love God and serve him as he has taught us,” the Latter-day Saint leader said, “we will love our neighbor as God loves him or her and as he would have us love and serve them.”
Oaks also quoted a talk given by current church President Russell M. Nelson earlier this year: “There is a major difference … between the responsibilities of secular educators and my responsibility as the senior apostle on earth. Their job is to educate and prepare you for your mortal experience — meaning, how to succeed in your life’s work. My responsibility is to educate and prepare you also for your immortal experience — meaning, how to gain eternal life.”
“The uniqueness of our church education,” Oaks said, “has the same purpose — education for eternity as well as education for our mortal experience. We go forward with that goal.”
Oaks played a clip — shared by general authority Seventy Clark G. Gilbert, the commissioner of the Church Educational System, at BYU’s August 2022 Education Week — of an old episode of “Candid Camera,” a hidden-camera reality TV series. Three or four people employed by the show get into an elevator and face the wrong way. Another person gets on the elevator and, observing the others, turns to face the wrong way, too.
“As students, do you dare to be different?” Oaks asked. “Are you willing to face the opposite direction in the world’s elevators? More important than what you do as a student are the choices you are making in your personal life — the priorities you are adopting consciously or subconsciously. Are you going forward against the world’s opposition?”