“Hypocrisy is the Tribute Vice Pays to Virtue” —Francois de La Rochefoucauld

N.B.  The person who is the subject of this essay never saw or read its contents prior to its publication, had no foreknowledge of this essay, or my plans to write it. He is at liberty to repudiate it in its entirety. The views expressed below are mine and mine alone.

      Several years ago, Aaron Sherinian saved my life. Since then, he has become my closest—and, perhaps, my most intimate—friend, apart from my wife (and my dog). We counsel each other frequently, break bread together periodically, and engage in irreverent behavior constantly. He’s an exceptionally good listener, laughs at my jokes, and bathes regularly. In other words, he’s the perfect friend. 

      Aaron was recently named Director of Global Communications for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, “the Mormon Church”). As the managing director of the Church’s Communication Department, he will oversee Church interactions with the media, promote the Church’s humanitarian initiatives, coordinate major events (e.g., the reopening of the Salt Lake Temple), and, in consultation with Church leaders, communicate the Church’s message to the world. In other words, he’s a PR Guy.

      But some folks, it seems, don’t like this PR Guy. “The fox has been given the key to the henhouse,” they say, because some of his political views and social policy opinions do not align with the teachings of the Church. Among other things, they chastise him for his LGBTQ advocacy, his support of corporate DEI initiatives, his affiliation with the United Nations, and his climate activism. And they are especially troubled by his unvarnished support for same-sex marriage, which flies in the face of current Church doctrine.[1]

      Some high-profile members of the Church have rushed to Aaron’s defense. For example, Jim Bennett, a former Deseret News columnist, said that Aaron’s appointment “demonstrates … that you can be an LGBTQ ally, and still be a member in good standing.” He went on to describe Aaron as “a true disciple of Christ.”[2]

      While I share Bennett’s opinion of Aaron, I believe those who criticize the Church for hiring an unapologetic supporter of the LGBTQ movement, in general, and gay marriage, in particular, have every right to be upset. I say this even though I, too, support gay marriage. Allow me to explain.

      The Mormon Church is unalterably opposed to gay marriage. Those who enter into such arrangements have committed “a serious transgression,” according to Dallin Oaks, a member of the Church’s First Presidency;[3] consequently, they are not allowed to enter Church temples and will not be exalted in the afterlife.

      Recently, the Church began requiring those who work for its education system (“CES”)—including the faculty and staff at all Church universities—to pledge fealty to Church doctrine on marriage, family and gender. As Ernest Hemingway once described bankruptcy, this new “loyalty oath” was introduced “gradually, then suddenly.”  

      In the spring of 2022, all Brigham Young University campuses began requiring new hires to promise, in writing, to support LDS Church doctrine on marriage, family, and gender. They are also being asked whether they have used pornography in the past year, or said anything that would cause others to doubt the church’s doctrines and teachings. Further, the Mormon bishops who conduct these interviews are encouraged to probe further into the applicant’s personal life to determine his worthiness. Finally, the job seeker is required to sign a statement waiving his right to clergy confidentiality and authorizing the newly-formed Ecclesiastical Clearance Office (“ECO”) at church headquarters to contact his local leaders to discuss his moral character.[4]

      Established in 2020, the ECO independently “assesses historical and current activity [of the employee] in the Church …, religious behavior, and support for the teachings, practices, and leadership of the Church.” It can unilaterally fire any employee in the Church Educational System. The facts it considers when making those decisions are unknown, and its determinations are non-reviewable. The ECO is run by Clark Gilbert, a general authority and the Church’s Commissioner of Education.[5]

      In August 2022, identical changes were made to the questions bishops are required to ask existing faculty (including seminary and institute teachers) each year as part of the annual ecclesiastical endorsement process. In other words, all BYU faculty members have essentially been compelled to “opt in” to the new system since a copy of every faculty member’s annual endorsement is sent to the ECO for review and final approval.[6]

      Having put in place policies designed to detect even the slightest hint of heresy while giving the university added legal protections for removing faculty, purges soon followed. Shortly before the start of the fall semester in 2022, dozens of adjunct BYU faculty members were fired.[7] Their dismissals appear to have had three things in common: (1) they were not told why they were shown the door, (2) no one had objected to their professional conduct or teaching methods, and (3) in one form or another, they had expressed support for their students who were gay or encouraged tolerance for members of the LGBTQ community.

Sue Bergin in front of her home in Orem, Utah

     Sue Bergin had spent 28 years teaching at BYU as a writing instructor. Both her students and her supervisor had consistently given her top marks on her evaluations, and she was slated to be promoted to Director of the Writing Center for the business school. Then she was fired. And she doesn’t know why. Nor does her supervisor, who told her: “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s going on.” The decision to let her go appears to have been made by an administrator, not a department chair, and the school has refused to tell her why her contract was not renewed. But she thinks she knows why.[8]

      She always wore a rainbow pin on the first day of class to let her students know she is someone they can talk to. Two of her brothers are gay, a fact she sometimes shares with her students. Outside the classroom, she has been a member of the LGBTQ support group “Mormons Building Bridges” for almost ten years and she has volunteered at the Provo Pride festival. “I feel that my religion has taught me that I’m required to do these things, … that the marginalized are the ones Jesus wrapped his arms around first,” she said.[9]

Lindsay Call with daughter

      Lindsay Call, an online instructor-manager and teacher of a course on family studies for ten years, at the BYU campus in Rexburg, Idaho, was also told her teaching contract would not be renewed. The caller from the university said he had received a list of names from the ECO in Salt Lake who had failed to obtain ecclesiastical clearance. And she was on it.[10] Call’s modest salary as an adjunct faculty member accounted for a third of her family’s income.[11]

      Like Sue Bergin, the only apparent explanation for Call’s dismissal were concerns she had raised in faculty meetings about how the curriculum treated LGBTQ issues. On one occasion, for example, she objected to a video that theorized maternal behavior contributed to same-sex attraction in their children, a position at odds with the church’s position and that of much of the scientific community.[12]

      The dismissal of Call had a profound negative impact on the morale of her colleagues, many of whom took this as a cue to leave before the axe swung their way. After seeing what happened to Call, Melissa Davis, an adjunct writing instructor who had taught at the Idaho campus for ten years, promptly jumped ship. “If she’s [Call’s] not safe,” Davis said, “no one is.

      Call, who has struggled for many years with the Church’s position on gay marriage and other spiritual matters and who had counseled students with similar doubts and questions to not give up on the church, wondered if she had made a mistake. “Am I not welcome here anymore?”[13]

      At the one-year anniversary of “the phone call” from BYU-I came and went in September 2023, Call, who I befriended after she was thrown to the curb by the university, received a text from one of her former colleagues. Lindsay shared with me the substance of the message she received, which I have edited out of respect for the privacy of certain individuals.

[My colleague] and her husband had been terminated with no explanation. They lean progressive in their politics so she had told me even a year ago that she was worried they would be next—and yet, still she was so devastated. Even walking through it with me couldn’t prepare them. Those who fought so hard for me when I was dismissed, took up the fight for the latest round of instructors terminated without warning or kindness. I love these loyal friends for continuing to try, though I have little hope that CES will change course.

      So, I ask, how in God’s name—and I do mean, “in God’s name”—can Jim Bennett claim that “MAGA Mormons are losing their minds”[14] when they attack Aaron Sherinian for his open support of gay marriage while Mr. Bennett turns a blind eye to the Church’s appalling and inexcusable treatment of faithful and loyal BYU faculty members—all of which was chronicled in detail by the media and never refuted by the Church? Why wasn’t Aaron, like the employees of the Church Education System, required to “pledge fealty to Church doctrine on marriage, family and gender?” If Sue Bergin and Lindsay Call got the axe for showing compassion and understanding towards the gay students in their orbit, how can the Church’s defenders justify the institution’s decision to hire “an LGBTQ ally” to lead its Global Communications Department?!?

      Don’t get me wrong. While I do not share some of Aaron’s political views, I believe—no, I know—God was the driving force behind the Church’s decision to make him Director of its Global Communications. The Church needs him far more than he needs this job. I know this because of something he said to me a few days ago when we were commiserating about the attacks on his character. “It is possible to be disappointed in folks,” he said, “while loving the Gospel.” Then he added, “There is a divine spark in each one of God’s children.”

      The Church’s hypocrisy in firing numerous BYU faculty members because of their loving acceptance of the “unclean” while concurrently hiring someone to be its Global Communications Director who has done likewise, is its tribute to virtue. Perhaps it will use a more righteous medium of exchange when making future offerings. For God really does love the outcasts.

[1] Erin Alberty, “Mormon church hire triggers conservative backlash,” Axios, January 18, 2024, last accessed on January 19, 2024: https://www.axios.com/local/salt-lake-city/2024/01/19/mormon-church-communications-director-conservative-backlash

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sarah Jane Weaver, “Policy Changes Announced for Members in Gay Marriages, Children of LGBT Parents,” Church News, April 4, 2019, last accessed on January 19, 2024: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/policy-changes-announced-for-members-in-gay-marriages-children-of-lgbt-parents?lang=eng

[4] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “New employment policy raises ‘loyalty’ oath concerns at BYU,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 10, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2022: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/03/10/new-employment-policy/

[5] “Ecclesiastical Clearance and University Standards Compliance and Verification Policy,” BYU-Hawaii Policies, February 7, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://policies.byuh.edu/ecclesiastical-endorsement-for-university-employees

[6] “How to beat an autocrat: Fear not—i.e. don’t cave, friends,” By Common Consent (blog), September 2, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://bycommonconsent.com/2022/09/02/how-to-beat-an-autocrat-fear-not-i-e-dont-cave-friends/

[7] Ibid.

[8] Courtney Tanner, “A BYU professor says she was fired after LBGTQ advocacy. Are more faculty at risk?” Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2022: https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2022/02/14/byu-professor-says-she/

[9] Ibid.

[10] Colleen Flaherty, “New church office cutting faculty members at Brigham Young,” Inside Higher Education, December 1, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/12/01/new-church-office-cutting-faculty-members-brigham-young

[11] Tamarra Kemsley, “BYU-I Instructors fired for failing ‘ecclesiastical clearance.’ They can’t find out why.” Salt Lake Tribune, November 28, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/11/28/byu-i-instructors-fired-failing/

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Mormon church hire triggers conservative backlash,” supra.

5 thoughts on ““Hypocrisy is the Tribute Vice Pays to Virtue” —Francois de La Rochefoucauld”

  1. Nice essay; thx for posting. If I understand you correctly, you align w Mr Sherinian’s views regarding acceptance of gender issues, and you are disappointed in the current LDS administration’s treatment of its education-related employees. And you say that those [apparent MAGA type] LDS members who oppose Sherinian’s appointment by the LDS administration are “right to be disappointed” . . Your position seems to be a non sequitur; would you please amplify your position? TIA

  2. Sure, Raymond.

    First, “the MAGA type LDS members” are not my words, but Jim Bennett’s (minor point). Second, the conservative members who are critical of Aaron Sherinian have a “right to be disappointed” by his appointment since they were also the ones who presumably endorsed the Church’s harsh treatment of BYU faculty who showed similar compassion towards LGBTQ individuals (in their case, students).

    In other words, they have a legitimate gripe: “Would you guys (i.e., Church leaders) please make up your friggin’ mind?!? Why are you treating Brother Sherinian differently than the BYU faculty? Why would you fire the faculty members for doing the same thing that you apparently find commendable in Brother Sherinian?” This, in my opinion, is the Church’s hypocrisy. And I hope (though I’m not holding my breath) Aaron Sherinian’s elevation to the position of Global Communications Director of the Church means that it will stop purging BYU faculty for their acceptance of gay students.

    Hope this answers your question. Obviously, I should have done a better job in connecting the dots for my readers. So I’m glad you brought this up. And thanks for reading my stuff.

  3. Again Eric you have forcefully addressed a deeply troubling issue with facts and a degree of clarity. Aaron is one of the best most spiritual Christ like people I know. All I can do is hope his appointment will lead to more tolerance and love which is really the spirit of a Christ Like life.
    The Church Education system has gone way overboard and I am appalled that they fire people or refuse to hire people previously approved without offering any explanation. The staff in the Church schools contains many wonderful spiritual intelligent people who are feeling threatened by a running wild administration that seems more interested in Satan’s plan to forced compliance than Christ’s plan of free agency. Mixing people’s relationship with their religious leaders and their employment is abhorrent unless their behavior (such as child abuse) is harmful to others. This is truly a frightening time when a number of members of the Church are turning to Satan’s plan. Everyone should re-read
    1st Nephi again regarding Nephi’s dream and the “great and abominable Church.”

  4. “The Church needs him far more than he needs this job” rings true. Aaron’s appointment gives me hope of a return to Christlike love of all and recognition of free agency instead of enforced loyalty and arbitrary punishment

  5. This reminds me of the similar hypocrisy/dual messages of telling young woman to put nothing before being a stay-at-home and than showcasing and promoting women with careers in church magazines, callings, etc. I almost wonder if its a way have “having it all” – so no matter what anyone from any view point says you can point and say “look! see how we align!”

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