A college professor explains why she is no longer a Mormon

22 Aug

Professor Lynn Wilder, a former Mormon and professor for many years at Brigham Young University, explains in a tell-all book the inner-workings of Mormon cultural and religious life.  She also find all that she was missing in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as he is offered to her in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Here’s her book.

Here’s a short testimony from her pen:

In order to become full time professorial faculty at Brigham Young University, one must be interviewed and receive the approval of a General Authority. My interview took place in May of 1999. As I sat in the exquisitely carved wood environment in the old church office building, I was closely watched by starched security men who followed me even to the restroom and stood outside to await my return. I was mildly amused. During the interview, the General Authority said something curious. He said, “I’ve been interviewing faculty for BYU for many years and I’ve never come upon someone like you.” “How’s that?” I asked. He replied, “You’ve never lived in Utah, you’ve never attended BYU, and you’re a pure convert.”

“Wow,” I thought, “among my professional colleagues, there will be few if any converts to the LDS Church, few who came from outside of Utah, and few scholars schooled somewhere other than BYU?” I deduced that since I was different, Heavenly Father must have a unique work for me to do there. Back then I thought it was about me and my works. The LDS instruction that the glory of God is intelligence (D&C 93:36) can cultivate some vast egos; it did mine. Mormons quote from 1 Nephi 19:23 in the Book of Mormon, “liken all scripture unto us.” The implication is it’s all about me—my journey to exaltation and godhood, my performance, my appearance, my callings, my works, my intelligence—my worthiness. What a burden to bear. That’s the Mormon mindset: “focus on yourself – good works get you to the Celestial Kingdom” and I now know it’s a pile of, well, non-truth.

To be honest, I’m grateful for the 8 plus years that I was at BYU. My colleagues and students were intelligent, hard working, sincere, religious and they gave me exemplary support for professional development. However, I like to say I went into the heart of Mormonism to learn the heart of Mormonism. Given my experience with marginalized students (homeless, juvenile delinquents, special education students, English language learners, dropouts, ethnically diverse students, etc.), I was assigned to teach multiculturalism.

It was my BYU students who taught me about the inanity called “the curse of Cain” with its racist implications. For students who were convinced it was scriptural (see LDS scriptures: Abraham Chapter 1 and Moses Chapter 7 in the Pearl of Great Price and references to “cursing” and “a skin of blackness” in 1, 2, and 3 Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and Mormon in the Book of Mormon), an open-minded discussion about race could seem pointless. I considered teaching this course as a challenge to change hearts, and I did see BYU students occasionally burst into tears as they realized the full import of their negative beliefs and actions on real people. I have made a habit of sending students into a cultural environment different than their own for sufficient time for them to get attached to individuals from another culture and to rethink personal biases. However, when students thought racist ideas were defensible by LDS scripture and statements of past Prophets, making headway with them seemed nearly impossible. In fairness, I will say that current LDS General Authorities have spoken against racism, many BYU students did not express racist ideas, and some of my current students, who are not LDS, do. Nevertheless, numerous racist scriptures still exist in official LDS sources as noted. For me the existence of racist ideas in LDS scripture is a conundrum of mammoth proportions.

Thus, seemingly on cue, our college was placed on probation by our accrediting agency for not meeting standards for diversity. The college diversity committee of which I was a member created occasions for both faculty and students to have crucial conversations about and to implement culturally responsive behavior. Colleagues and I wrote a grant, subsequently funded by the federal government, to provide scholarships that brought ethnically diverse, bilingual, and/or individuals with disabilities into a dual certification program to become teachers. As director of that program and mentor for diverse students, I was wholly engaged in and loved the work of helping diverse students acclimate to BYU and the sometimes greater challenge of BYU acclimating to them. But, doubts about the truth of Mormonism were surfacing.

Typically several times a year in my role as faculty, I present research at professional national/international conferences. If it hadn’t been for a Native American gentleman who stood up at such a convention and heckled me while I, representing BYU, was presenting collaborative research on a multicultural topic, I would not have known that Blacks had not been allowed to attend BYU in the 1960’s. I’d like to personally thank him. Later when I returned to BYU and inquired about it, I was handed the book The Church and the Negro. It contained some shocking truth about the racist words and policies of leaders in the Mormon Church in fairly recent history regarding Blacks, and it stirred up still more doubts.

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