On Cruises, Cash, and BYU Religious Education

Guest post from a friend of the blog. I should also point out that the behavior criticized by the author is not illegal nor even necessarily disingenuous:

It is no secret that a remunerative relationship exists between BYU Religious Education faculty and various LDS publishing houses, most notably Deseret Book. This is categorically different than your average professor writing a textbook and trade book. The physics prof doesn’t make the rounds speaking at EFY, Women’s Conference, Education Week, Time Out for Women, etc. They are not invited to speak at various local church functions (ward, stake, seminary, institute). I doubt many of these Rel Ed profs are openly hawking their publications at the latter venues, but you can see how opportunity presents itself to mention one’s latest book during one’s talk. It’s a bit of a gray area when it comes to Mormon concepts of priestcraft (see 2 Ne 26:29).

This brings me to something I have only recently noticed: BYU Religious Education faculty and cruises. There is a Utah County business called Cruise Lady that offers LDS themed cruises and tours (e.g. Alaska, Europe, “The Book of Mormon Lands”) headlined by local LDS celebrities (e.g. Michael Ballam, Michael McLean, some Osmonds). But a little under half of the sixty or so headlining celebrities are or have been professors or have taught in BYU’s College of Religious Education. This feels unseemly. If it does not to you, consider this standard Headliner Bio:

“Alonzo L. Gaskill is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, where his primary teaching focus is World Religions. Brother Gaskill converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–from Greek Orthodoxy–in November of 1984. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the temple, symbolism, and world religions. He and his wife, Lori, are the parents of five children.”

It’s all there. BYU Religious Education cred? Check. Appearance of legit academic chops? Check. Interesting back story? Check. LDS cred (i.e. large family)? Check. But Gaskill is not the most egregious case of trading on one’s official and unofficial standing in the LDS community for free cruises and extra income. There are current and former deans of BYU Religious Education headlining these junkets. Current Dean Brent Top, former Dean Terry Ball, and former Dean Robert Millet all offer tours. Associate Deans (Kent Jackson), department chairs (Camille Fronk Olson), and directors of BYU’s Ancient Near Eastern Studies program (Eric Huntsman) are also featured. It is one thing to write and profit from books for the Rel Ed/Deseret Book/Ed Week nexus. At least that has some sheen of respectability for egalitarian spreading of the good news. But cruises and cash? I’m sure they figure it’s no different than business profs doing some consulting on the side. But of course, rather than advice on strategic planning or marketing, the Rel Ed Deans and profs are providing gospel tidbits for the entertainment of wealthy Latter-day Saints. This is no longer a gray area.

But maybe you still feel OK about this. What do you say to former BYU Rel Ed professor George Durrant? Here is his Headliner Bio in full:

“Current sealer at the Mt. Timpanogos Temple; author of more than 50 books including the popular Love at Home—Starring Father and Don’t Forget the Star; has taught religion at BYU; worked in many capacities for the Church Education System; and also served as director of Priesthood Genealogy. He served as president of the Kentucky Tennessee Mission, president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT and recently in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.”

If that does not strike you as disagreeable or well past the gray area, you can reserve an Ocean View room for you and your spouse to hear Prof Durrant and Prof Susan Easton Black co-headline a cruise to Hawaii this September for $2,878.50, not including airfare, excursions, gratuities, and, of course, drinks. The Junior Suite will run you a hair under $5,000.00.

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