Saturday, February 20, 2021

Context of the Feb 2011 change to the BYU Honor Code

BYU's LGBT association which I co-founded, USGA, recently posted The History of BYU and LGBTQ Issues to their blog. I reached out today to one of the authors with the below, providing additional context on that change.

hi Gabi, 
I just finished your/Hayden/Elijah's excellent article, The History of BYU and LGBTQ Issues! Would you be interested in additional context behind the Feb 2011 honor code change? You may wish to add a line or two to the article, or perhaps publish a dedicated article on the subject. I'm one of the original founders of USGA, helped with the BYU LGBT history Wikipedia article, and have some insight into that change. 

In November 2010 I finished a draft of my book, Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student's Perspective. I shared that draft with several of my professors, friends, and with my bishop, asking them for feedback. Shortly after I was contacted by an emeritus general authority who wrote "Members are free to hold their own opinions on the issues involved, but it seems very unwise to publish them unless you have been asked to do so by leaders.  I hope you will not publish the book for your sake and for the good of the Church that is handling the issues in the manner the Prophet and his associates feel is morally right.  Church leaders undoubtedly know about the book and have great concerns, not about your views which you have your agency to have and hold, but about publishing them and sharing them.  If you value my counsel, please lay this aside and keep your views private."

My bishop Jan Meilsoe also expressed his concerns about the book; from his comments it seemed he didn't understand what I had written, and when I challenged him about that he confessed he had only skimmed it but that the stake president was concerned and asked him to take action. Bishop Meilsoe emphasized his hard line against homosexual conduct and reminded me of the temple recommend question about sympathizing with those who oppose church policies, including same-sex couples.He said that if I publicly advocated for acceptance of same-sex marriage in the book, I would be subject to church discipline (with the associated risk of expulsion from my grad programs- I was in a dual JD/MPA program at the time at BYU Law and the Marriott School). 

The emeritus general authority contacted me again, this time saying "There is enough concern about your book that the President of the University, your priesthood leaders, and General Authorities are worried about it and my counsel remains even stronger that you need to put it aside and let anyone know to whom you have sent it that you are going to let the Church handle the issue as its leaders feel inspired to do. In no way do you want to end up in a disciplinary situation." A BYU stake president pulled me aside to condemn my book and actions and warn me that Satan was "separating me from the herd" so he could take me down. An influential BYU professor wrote "you are not free to dictate what the reaction of Church leaders will be towards it. I would suspect (having interfaced with the General Authorities for many years) that they are not going to take kindly to your book which will, because it is logical and well-written—lead many people away from the Church’s mainstream teaching. If I were to counsel you, I would say to put the manuscript away until the Church changes its stance." Two law school deans confronted me about the draft and reminded me they have no power over the Honor Code Office (HCO).

To keep a long story short, I nevertheless persisted in publishing the book the next month (December 2010), and sold copies to several libraries and the BYU Bookstore (where it sold out). QSaltLake featured me on the cover of their 3 Feb 2011 edition, including articles about (1) my book and (2) the Feb 2011 honor code change. My book included a chapter entitled "A Moral Case for LDS same-sex marriage" that explored moral arguments for and against same-sex marriage in the context of a thought experiment. 

A professor of mine who was on the honor code committee shared with me his belief that the honor code was changed to make it more difficult for conservative voices to succeed in ensuring I was publicly disciplined (on the basis of violating the removed "advocacy of homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code...Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable" language). 

This professor proved more cognizant of the risk of HCO enforcement than I was. Shortly after the QSaltLake article, one of the trusted friends I'd shared my book with for feedback turned me into the HCO. I later obtained my honor code office file and learned the language my friend used: "I have a friend of mine that I am quite worried about. I would like this to be totally anonymous please. He has been getting deeper and deeper into homosexuality ideas, groups, etc. Please contact me and I will give more details." 

Linda Rowley from the HCO responded to the email and arranged a phone call. The HCO called my friend and subsequently opened an investigation. The investigation included a review of my personal blog and YouTube channel, as well as an analysis of the QSaltLake articles. The HCO analyzed whether my book was sufficiently orthodox, including commentary such as "notice he did not say he believed in latter day prophets" from HCO staff member Kristine Long. It also stated (incorrectly), "Much of the book contradicts teachings from the First Presidency of the LDS Church." Because the HCO didn't contact me, I don't know what role the Feb 2011 honor code change played in their decision: but ultimately the dean of students and VP of student life decided "that no action was necessary at this time" and I graduated normally two months later.

Hope that helps,
Brad Levin (formerly Carmack, I took my wife's surname when we got married)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The luckiest generation?

My spouse and I were recently discussing the tech and screen saturation we and our kids live in, juxtaposed against the simpler and more people interaction-oriented milieus of our childhoods. This led to reflections on the improved medical and information technologies avail to us compared to our parents' generation, and the advances we're likely to witness over the second half of our lifespans. 

This caused a reflection on generational luck. We're luckier than any previous generation relative to expected lifespan, access to medical care, and more. However, how likely is this trend to continue? Will our kids experience the continuation of these trajectories? I think in the next 50 years there are likely to be a couple big changes, and possibly some extremely destructive or disruptive ones. Existential or extreme risks associated with environment degradation, AI, easy access to nuclear-level destructive technologies (including biological attacks), world war-level conflict, totalitarianism, and the many others pointed out by folks who publish on this sort of thing- all could lead to various dystopias or, at least, a state of affairs net worse than present and trending worse. Should any of these futures come to pass, it may well appear to a putative researcher many millenia in the future, that my generation was the "luckiest" in the sense that it benefitted from more choice and healthspan and size than the generations before and after it.

Part of me is insatiably curious about how this far future will unfold: angered that the certainty of my death precludes that particular satisfaction.  

Monday, October 28, 2019

Poem - Defenders of the Status Quo

Defenders of the Status Quo

All around me I see
Lives of quiet sacrifice to "the way things are"
Offered up by devotees, whose allegiance came
Merely from a natural instinct
To fit in

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why my posting frequency is lower these days

Over the last few years, my posting frequency on this blog has decreased.


The amount I comment on other platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, and other blogs) has significantly decreased as well. It's not because I'm too busy: it's because I view "being more right" as less pragmatic and valuable than I did when I started this blog (especially between 2010 and 2012).

Early on, partly due to my distinctly Mormon value of "pursuing truth from whatever source," I put a lot of energy into trying to be more right in my thinking and positions. For example: in early 2010, I uncritically accepted the LDS position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I then researched the subject immensely (including writing a book and speaking on the subject), applied the critical thinking tools I picked up in higher ed, and changed my position. Awesome.

The thing is, it didn't matter much to the big picture. Sure, my activism and research definitely helped some folks. And personally, it matters a ton that I changed my position: both because of the journey of getting there, and because of the other conclusions that has led me to. However, with respect to the root causes of the suffering of LGBT Mormons, my "being more right" counted for very little. The words of LDS leaders and the consequent rejection of their LGBT family and ward members by mainstream Mormons, are much more substantial drivers. Those factors don't change much because a few people at the bottom of the totem pole achieved a more enlightened position.

In other words, power counts for much more than being correct. The recent presidential election readily illustrates this principle as well- despite the immensity and abundance of the logical and ethical flaws of Mr. Trump's behaviors and rhetoric; and despite the far superior marks in those same categories of other candidates, he nonetheless won tens of millions of votes and ultimately the electoral college. Demagoguery counted for much more than the "being more right" of competitors: much as the authority of LDS leaders counted for much more than the superior morality and logical consistency of my new position on homosexuality.  

Dictator-associated suffering in Syria and Venezuela is similarly explained by the victory of power over principle, and I could provide many more examples. Together these observations suggest to me that, although pursing truth is good and valuable, it's often powerless or at least inefficient at increasing human happiness, reducing suffering, and bringing about justice. Since I care about those things, I'm now focusing my limited energy more on activism and philanthropy, and less on the research, dialogue, and critical thinking that result in "being more right."

[I also think folks don't change their positions often, even when presented with more ethical and logically consistent alternatives. This immunity to merited persuasion is another reason I consider "being more right" to be inefficient at producing change].

Monday, January 2, 2017

Second from left

We need a word for "second from left," e.g. the second from left lane.

I'm thinking "pensinistral," combining penultimate and sinistral. It's also scalable- you could have pendextral (second from right), antependextral (third from right), etc.
What do you think? What's a better word?
#wordsmithing

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Take-Home Baby


Audio

For us, it happened on a Monday.

I got the text from Michal at work. I fumbled some words to my manager; she stopped me at baby. "Go. Run!" she said. Week 39: exactly seven days before the due date.

I picked her up and we rushed to the delivery wing, emotions high. First thing they did was an ultrasound, to confirm everything was okay. The intense contractions began a few hours later.

We had prepared for this part of labor: attended a class with a seasoned Coach. I remember well what she told us: "If you leave with nothing else, remember two things. It won't go as planned, and it'll be okay in the end- you'll take home a baby!"

The contractions continued, intensified. There's a certain reverence in being so close to life's two great milestones, Birth and Death. Despite all the understanding of science, all the progress of mankind: still they mystify us, defy our control.

Suddenly Birth decided it was time. The delivery doctor took station at the foot of the bed. "Push push pause. Push push pause," a cadence, and eventually, the head of our long anticipated Daughter, emerging. Michal cried; I squeezed her hand.

They placed her on mommy's chest right away. I marveled at her size and proportions, her curly black hair like her mother's, matted against her head, her skin flushed red with the heat of delivery. After a time it was my turn, and she felt right in my arms, like they had been waiting for her all along, like it was there she belonged.

We spent several hours with her, holding her, caressing her cheek and stroking her tiny fingers. I cradled her head delicately, supporting her, and felt pride in her heft, her fully developed form, this tiny human we had created together. “Is this what being a father feels like?” Then I placed her tenderly in the hospital cart, and watched as the nurse dutifully rolled her away.

Later came the perfunctory filling-out of forms, and eventually they released us to go home. I carried the car seat up the steps to our second-story apartment. I had envisioned this moment so many times over the last couple months: that first trip up the stairs to start our new life as a family! Halfway to our door, I was struck with a powerful feeling that something was terribly wrong. I paused, and looked down in the seat.

But the seat was empty.

For a few moments I just stared: then I closed my eyes and crumbled, sobbing. The knowledge from my head breached the last defenses and gushed into my heart, filling every crevice, and in that moment my whole soul finally knew: we would never take home our baby.

For us, it happened on a Monday.

I got the text from Michal at work. "I didn't feel the baby move as usual this morning, let’s go to the hospital now." I fumbled some words to my manager; she stopped me at baby. "Go. Run!" she said. Week 39: exactly seven days before the due date.

I picked her up and we rushed to the delivery wing, emotions high. First thing they did was an ultrasound, to confirm everything was okay. I'll never forget holding my breath, motionless, as the screen panned to the four-chambered heart. In the next moment the four chambered-heart filled the screen— and joined my motionless vigil. As the silent seconds ticked on, my mind reached an unexpected yet inescapable conclusion: our baby would never have a breath to hold.

The intense contractions began a few hours later. We had prepared for this part of labor: attended a class with a seasoned Coach. I remember well what she told us: "If you leave with nothing else, remember two things. It won't go as planned, and it'll be okay in the end- you'll take home a baby!"

The contractions continued, intensified. There's a certain reverence in being so close to life's two great milestones, Birth and Death. Despite all the understanding of science, all the progress of mankind: still they mystify us, defy our control.

Suddenly Birth decided it was time. The delivery doctor took station at the foot of the bed. "Push push pause. Push push pause," a cadence, and eventually, the head of our long anticipated Daughter, emerging. Michal cried; I squeezed her hand.

They placed her on mommy's chest right away. I marveled at her size and proportions, her curly black hair like her mother's, matted against her head, her skin flushed red with the heat of delivery. After a time it was my turn, and she felt right in my arms, like they had been waiting for her all along, like it was there she belonged.

We spent several hours with her, holding her, caressing her cheek and stroking her tiny fingers.  I cradled her head delicately, supporting her, and felt pride in her heft, her fully developed form, this tiny human we had created together. “Is this what being a father feels like?” Then I placed her tenderly in the hospital cart, and watched as the nurse dutifully rolled her away.

Later came the perfunctory filling-out of forms, and eventually they released us to go home. I carried the car seat up the steps to our second-story apartment. I had envisioned this moment so many times over the last couple months: that first trip up the stairs to start our new life as a family! Halfway to our door, I was struck with a powerful feeling that something was terribly wrong. I paused, and looked down in the seat.

But the seat was empty.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Deeper and deeper into homosexuality ideas": My BYU Honor Code File Revealed



I wrote and published a book entitled during my last six months at BYU Law (between October 2010 and April 2011) entitled Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student's Perspective. Without my knowledge, a friend of mine reported me to BYU's Honor Code Office (HCO) for "getting deeper and deeper into homosexuality ideas." As a consequence, the HCO investigated me.


The HCO assigned a staff member to review my personal blog and YouTube channel. This staff member scrutinized my blog posts and YouTube videos, as well as my book, and made comments about whether my religious beliefs and my writings sufficiently complied with LDS teachings. Comments included "notice he did not say he believed in latter day prophets" (a recognized indicator of religious fitness for a Mormon) and "Much of the book contradicts teachings from the First Presidency of the LDS Church."

In all its glory, here is my honor code file.

Update 28 June: Many people have commented on my file, and asked how they can get their own HCO files. Luckily for you, FreeBYU has a resource for that very purpose! ATHCOE: Accountability and Transparency in Honor Code Office Enforcement

 Gdoc version here


Search This Blog