On the sidelines for BYU

Some seemed genuinely shocked that Brigham Young University would suspend a basketball player for violating its honor code. Even more surprising, perhaps, was Brandon Davies’ appearance on the bench after his suspension.

A recent New York Times story looks at why the player would remain in the spotlight after hurting the team’s chances in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Most players who run afoul of a team’s rules are shuttled out of sight, out of mind, to minimize the distraction. Initially, B.Y.U. curtly announced that Davies “would not represent the university” for the rest of the season.

…And with every struggle B.Y.U. faces on the court, starting with its first game in the N.C.A.A. tournament on Thursday, the question will come back: who is this 19-year-old whose absence seems to have altered the tournament, but whose presence is so welcomed by B.Y.U. and its fans?

The story follows with fluffy quotes about how the teammates love him, but offers little substance on the religion front. The reporter writes that Davies considered going on a two-year mission trip, suggesting he was raised Mormon but not explicitly saying how religious he is now.

Also, the article start and ends with a similar idea:

“His sins are private. His face is public.”
“The sins are private. Repentance and forgiveness are public.”

Given that sex could impregnate a woman or possibly spread STDs, sex is probably not always deemed private. Further, do Mormons view sex as a private action? Maybe they do, but the repetition without attribution seems a bit odd.

Then again, an alumn argues anonymously on Deadspin that the school made the decision for public relations purposes. It might be interesting to interview students and alumni about whether there are different levels of honor code enforcement; for instance, if a student is caught for drinking alcohol, does it carry the same weight as having premarital sex?

Like all B.Y.U. students, members of the church or not, Davies signed the honor code, an agreement to abide by the lifestyle tenets of the Mormon faith. The rules include abstaining from alcohol, coffee or tea; using clean language; observing dress and grooming standards; and abstaining from premarital sex.

There was no reason to think Davies, familiar with the code, would struggle to obey it. On the basketball team, Davies was a reserve post player as a freshman, averaging 5.4 points and 3 rebounds. As a student last year, he received a team academic excellence award.

I’m not sure the reporter can compare academic and athletic excellence with the school’s honor code, since they seem like comparing apples and oranges in some ways. For instance, did his friends think he was particularly devoted to Mormonism? That might shed more light on his view of the honor code than his points scored and grades achieved.

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  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    BYU had every right to do what they did. And the young man will ahve to accept the consequences of his actions.

    When I was his age I did much, much worse. Sometimes we are unable to do what’s right. But we live and learn, often the hard way.

  • http://coltakashi.livejournal.com Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Having sex out of wedlock is a much more serious sin in Mormon belief than just drinking alcohol, especially, as you pointed out, sex can have permanent consequences. And there are degrees even of sexual transgression. If he had been married and had an adulterous affair, the sanctions would have been even more severe, probably including expulsion from the university. Similarly, if he was discovered to have been living in a conjugal relationship without marriage.

    The expressions of love and support for the student are meant to encourage him in his efforts to repent and avoid future sin. Mormons are serious about the seriousness of sin, but also about the injunction of Christ to forgive the truly penitent. They truly believe that Christ’s forgiveness can restore us to a state of justification before God, but they also believe that true repentance, including rejection of sin and humble submission to God and embrace of Christ as our Lord and Savior are necessary to qualify us for (not the same as “earn” or “buy”) that gift of grace.

  • Cicero

    As pointed out above, the nature of the offense does effect the severity. Adultery for example is pretty much a expulsion without any exception. Violating grooming standards with two day stubble is only going to maybe get you a lecture and scolding- at least as long as you aren’t flaunting it. While those inside the culture can readily identify the relative severity of different offenses, there is no established hard rule about these things. The belief is that the Honor Code Office should approach the issue with the following goals:

    1: Ensure the reputation of the school remains untarnished. This reputation is essential for maintaining the campus culture that does not accept many of the things that are common on other campuses. (For example, the grooming standards aren’t because Mormons think that God hates beards, it’s because when the standards were formed, beards were strongly associated with the hippy and free love movement, and BYU wanted to make sure it’s campus was advertised as not being a part of that). This is not about making it appear that everyone at BYU is perfect, but rather making sure that people understand that BYU upholds the rules and regulations that it publicly promotes. No “special treatment” for certain people. No hypocrisy or concealment of sin. There are penalties for breaking the rules.

    2: Do what is best for helping the offending student get back on track and succeed in both life, and if possible at the university. Keeping the Honor Code is an essential part of this. The parts of the code that tend to be treated as more essential (for example chastity, or honesty) are the ones that Mormon culture and religion identifies as essential morals for a virtuous and happy life, (this is why grooming, while enforced, is done at a much lower level of punishment). This goal often is what leads to the differences in how the school handles various offenses.

    Because of this, even more important then the nature of the offense is the attitude of the sinner. The fact that Davis confessed himself to the Honor Code office is a strong mark in his favor, and probably explains why he has not been suspended from the school.

    There are those that conceal the sin but are remorseful when caught. Followed by those who are rebellious and insist that they should not be punished and that they don’t have to follow the honor code. Not much you can do for the last group, as you have to wonder why they signed an Honor Code that they had no intention of keeping.

    For example, I know of three instances at BYU around the same offense that demonstrates the difference in responses depending on the attitude of the person.

    A person was referred to the Honor Code Office for being in possession of pornography. He admitted to it, and explained that he felt out of control. He was sent to counseling, and he also submitted to having his RA search his computer for pornography each month- why? Because the student felt that this level of supervision would help him break free from pornography, which is what he wanted to do. He was not put on probation, or given any substantial penalties. The goal was merely to help him do what he already wanted to do- keep the honor code. Why bother punishing someone who is already willing to accept your help in obeying the honor code?

    Compare this with a different student who was not as co-operative and refused counseling. He was given a warning, but no further action was taken as he verbally committed to obey the honor code in the future.

    Yet another student was referred for the same issue, but not only was he using pornography himself, but he also was distributing it to others, and he argued that it was harmless and shouldn’t be against the honor code. He urged others not to obey this portion of the honor code. He was given probation, and eventually expelled. Even though pornography usually would not be an expelling offense. Why? Because he gave repeated evidence that he had no intention of even trying to keep the honor code, and there really wasn’t anything the school could do to help him keep the code if he wasn’t willing to even try.

  • John Pack Lambert

    mission-trip is the wrong term. The term is a two year mission. It is not about traveling, but sharing the gospel. The term “mission-trip” is not a term used by Mormons and it is just plain grating to read it.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I can emphatically state that Mormons do not view sex as a private action in the sense the NYT argues. Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the quorum of the 12 and former president of BYU, in an address to the General Conference a few years back preached that our bodies are not our own, but bought by Jesus Christ, and thus sexual sins are violations of bodies that our not ours. “Know you not that ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.”

    On the other hand the Church does not practice public confession of sexual sins.

    On the issue of Davies religious standing, while non-Latter-day Saints can attend BYU, Latter-day Saints who attend need to be in good ecclesiastical standing. Students who do not regularly attend their church meetings can end up being removed from the University. All students also have to take religion classes which are largely devotional in nature.

    To be admitted to BYU LDS students need to meet with both their bishop (who is over the local congregation, or ward) and a member of the stake presidency (a group of three men who preside over about 10 congregations, give or take 5).

    I have read things that suggest Davies is from Provo. I am not sure if he still has his membership records in the ward he grew up in or in a BYU student ward, but he might be in a student ward. This means there is at least one bishop he has met with personally lately. Each year students have to meet with a member of the bishopric (the bishop and his two counselors) to get their eccelsiastical endorsement renewed. Non-LDS students can either have their ecclesiastical endorsement from a religious leader of their choice or from the local LDS bishop, but in either case they agree to abide by the rules against alchol, tobacco, coffe, drug and tea use and the rule against pre- or extra-marital sex as well as various dress, grooming and academic honesty rules.

    It would possibly be hard to find a religious leader of Davies, especially one who would be willing to talk to the media, even in most general terms about him, but the BYU honor code is published and there are various LDS people, including full-time teachers at Institutes of Religion adjacent to the campus of many major US universities, who could give deep insight into the specific questions of what the LDS view on these issues are.

    However, the private public diachotomy seems to be an expression of the NYT view on the matter, and it seems to me this is used as a chance to advance their own views on morality instead of reporting on the views of others.