Non-LDS BYU students want their religion class back

The Daily Herald, Utah/December 20, 2006
By Kate McNeil

Dolly Chang came to Brigham Young University to play tennis. A practicing Buddhist from Taiwan, Chang struggled with her Doctrine and Covenants course this year.

"Salvation, celestial kingdom, I'm not familiar with these words like the other students," she said.

Chang is waiting to take the two required Book of Mormon courses until she finds a good teacher.

"Even the Mormons say Book of Mormon is hard," she said.

Approximately 98 percent of Brigham Young University students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the remaining 2 percent representing more than 20 other faiths.

Yet, regardless of faith, all students are required to take 14 credits of religion courses to graduate -- four credits of Book of Mormon, two each of Doctrine and Covenants and New Testament and six of religion electives.

BYU offered one non-member section of the Book of Mormon class, designed to introduce the challenging text in a simpler format for non-members, until the end of the winter 2005 semester. The class, taught by Paul Warner, was canceled when Warner retired in July 2005.

"We just went through the book in a basic way so they could ask questions and not feel threatened by returned missionaries, seminary graduates or long-term members in class," Warner said.

Warner, BYU's first chaplain, was a quasi-bishop for non-LDS students. As chaplain, he would complete non-members' ecclesiastical endorsements, a document assuring a student's moral standing and adherence to the Honor Code.

"When Warner retired, the administration thought it would be a good time to discontinue (the class)," said BYU spokesman Michael Smart.

"I think they felt like kids need to mingle in with the LDS kids because they would eventually anyway," Warner said.

Smart said there are no plans to offer the course again. Instead, the religion department believes Religion 100: Introduction to Mormonism is a sufficient preface to LDS doctrine, Smart said. Religion 100 can replace one of the four core religion requirements, but at least one Book of Mormon class is still inevitable.

"Religion instructors encourage enrollment in that course," he said. "They carefully monitor the demand for the class. Their perception was that the reaction (of the cancellation) had died down."

A year later, non-member students are still complaining about the decision. Last week, Chang and three of her friends wrote a letter to the editor of the campus newspaper titled "Voice Fallen on Deaf Ears." The four women said the cancellation of the non-member section of Book of Mormon classes "came about without a seemingly legitimate reason."

"I don't want to cause trouble or anything, but I think the class was a very positive thing," Warner said. "I felt it was valuable for them to meet together with other non-LDS kids."

The letter to the editor requested an explanation for the decision, separate tests for non-members in regular religion courses and TAs specifically for non-members.

Two days later, a student responded in the opinion section: "TAs are here. They are called missionaries."

"We don't want missionaries persuading us. We have our own religion," said U-nice Chan, a Singapore student on the swim team. "It's not that we don't want to learn about Mormons, we just don't want to be graded on the same curve."

Adisti Regar, an Indonesian film major, said she received an e-mail survey sent by BYU's Student Advisory Council, asking the opinions of non-members on campus about religion courses.

"Quite a few people responded with valid reasons, which included ease of learning, interaction with other non-members and simple fairness," Regar said.

After a long wait, Regar said the SAC e-mailed again, saying the ancient scripture department has motivations to not offer the section again, without explaining what these "motivations" are.

"What's the point in sending out the survey then?" she said.

Chang, Chan and Regar have all taken the Introduction to Mormonism class, but say the simple intro isn't enough for in-depth scripture study.

"For non-members to willingly accept the removal of the section, we need to know the reasons behind it," Regar said.

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