There are reasons to celebrate the recent changes to BYU’s Honor Code — specifically, the changes regarding “Homosexual Behavior” — that are the length of 10 football fields beyond sports. But those changes could have an important future impact on sports at the school.
When BYU attempted to get into the Big 12 a few years ago, significant resistance cropped up that had little to do with the value and attractiveness of Cougars football, the size and reach of its fan base, the seating capacity of its stadium, the program’s history, the worth of its program in the eyes of network executives.
The school’s attitude toward LGBTQ students, and those who might visit the campus, spelled out in the language of its Honor Code, was a problem, a problem that wasn’t going to fade, rather it was going to grow in the seasons and years to come.
School presidents want to make money through their sports teams and their teams’ associations with other league members, no doubt. What they don’t want is headaches that come from the harsh stance of member schools, or potential member schools, particularly as they pertain to sensitive — and, in some cases, explosive — issues that can be avoided by exclusion of those schools.
They aren’t worth the difficulties they cause.
With news that BYU has abridged its Honor Code, dropping the section on homosexual behavior, the one that previously read, “Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
That’s gone now.
And while BYU issued an online statement that read: “With the recently released general handbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church Educational System has updated the CES Honor Code to be in alignment with the doctrine and policy of the Church.”
Students who contacted the Honor Code Office were informed, or at least given the impression, that some forms of physical expression would no longer violate the code, as long as couples remain chaste prior to marriage.
The church doctrine regarding proper marriage being between a man and a woman remains.
As for the ecclesiastical gymnastics required, if any — and stances open for interpretation in individual cases — in lining up the doctrinal positions of the church as a whole with the code, the changes might be enough to heighten BYU’s chances for inclusion in a Power Five league at some point in the future.
Other schools with conservative religious-based behavioral codes, such as Notre Dame and Baylor, feature language that makes manageable the positions of their associated churches, Catholic and Baptist, which have doctrines that dictate, in so many words, that lesbian and gay relationships should remain non-sexual in nature. At the same time, the schools find room to embrace LGBTQ students, to make them feel valued and safe. And while that embrace may not be as complete as some might want or wish for, it’s enough for schools in leagues with them to be satisfied.
Notre Dame football is associated with the ACC, and while not a full member, it would be heartily welcomed by every conference in the country on account of its prowess. Baylor is a member of the Big 12.
Baylor changed the wording in its code five years ago, altering it to: “Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.” It defines marriage, according to the Baptist faith, as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
Notre Dame also emphasizes that sex, as dictated by Catholic doctrine, should happen between a man and a woman in marriage, and that when it occurs outside of that blessed union, perpetrators can be referred to the “University Conduct Process.” But it also has adapted a support system for LGBTQ students and staff, with phraseology that includes: “… the University is committed to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect that is grounded in its Catholic mission.” It calls for all students to be “friends and allies.”
Which is to say, the school’s policy toward students and staff, in its Christian administration, might wander just a bit from the formal paths, preferences and proscriptions of the Catholic church.
Maybe BYU has learned from these other schools and while the softening, if that’s the right word, of its policies and the enforcement of doctrine, may not swing a heavy hammer, the way the school once did, it will gain more acceptance as it opens its hand to those who want to better their lives in association with the university as they, like all humans, bump and skid their way through this life.
And if it leads to membership in a P5, there’s that, too.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.