Sunday, October 08, 2006

Nielsen responds to BYU department chair

June 13, 2006

Daniel W. Graham, chair
Department of Philosophy
Brigham Young University

Dear Dan,

I regretfully read your letter of June 8 informing me that because of
my opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune of June 4, you have decided
not to rehire me to teach the philosophy courses I had already been
scheduled to teach through next year. I have only the utmost respect
and admiration for you and for the students, faculty, and staff in the
Philosophy Department at Brigham Young University. In my experience,
the students and faculty have always been engaged and lively
participants in the academic pursuit of truth. Now let me address some
of the issues you expressed in your letter.

Church leaders have consistently opposed same-sex attraction and gay
marriage. I have never agreed with this position believing that it was
based in misunderstanding and in a purely human bias of cultural place
and time and not reflective of divine will. Yet I have never publicly,
or in the classroom, opposed their policy. Yet when church leaders
take a political stand on a moral issue, then I am not only engaged as
a member of the church, but also as an American citizen. As an
American citizen, I publicly expressed an honest opinion contradicting
a political statement by our church leaders. I fear for the church and
the university if the time comes when the members of the church,
including faculty at BYU, are not allowed to disagree, either in
public or private, with political positions taken by the church. If
such conformity is required, then we deserve to be called neither a
church nor a university.

I also strongly disagree with the implications of your statement that
faithfulness and loyalty to the church and church leaders never
permits expressions of disagreement, or questioning of our church
leaders - especially in an academic setting. Unquestioning
acquiescence and blind loyalty to leaders in positions of power over
human beings have no place in any institution of higher learning that
values the pursuit of truth and search for justice. And in my mind,
what is philosophy but the quest for truth and justice. I believe that
there is great potential at BYU that will never be realized if the
faculty, in certain areas of study, are limited in their research and
work by the necessity of arriving at pre-approved answers given by
church leaders.

Finally, when it comes to the sustaining of church leaders, I will
always argue for the privilege of church members to examine, question,
and dialogue with each other and with their leaders in order to
genuinely sustain and support church doctrines and teachings. I do not
believe that sustaining leaders requires either silent acquiescence or
unquestioning conformity, but it does require active engagement with
one another and with our church leaders, regardless of our place or
position within church leadership hierarchies. If sustaining our
leaders is to be real and genuine - not a sham as are elections in
totalitarian governments - then members must be free to examine,
question and benevolently criticize. Ultimately, I strongly believe
that every person possesses the privilege to speak and the obligation
to listen.

Again, I have only respect and admiration for you. I have enjoyed our
association, and I also wish you the best.


Jeff Nielsen

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