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BYU Acting on Self-Interest



As the nation has been discussing Brandon Davies’ recent dismissal from the BYU basketball team, value judgments have been made by many observers: “BYU did the right thing/wrong thing,” “this is best for Brandon,” “this is terrible for Brandon and his girlfriend ...”

I don’t disagree with any of these statements. Maybe I’ve always been the bratty sort who asks the question: “Why?” … and I find myself doing that now.

Why did Davies sign on to the team and agree to live by BYU’s (much stricter than other colleges’) honor code? Because at the time, he was not in the heat of passion and felt he could honor it. I would venture to say that over 50 percent of other BYU students approach the code the same way and eventually break parts of it, too.

Why did BYU choose to suspend Davies from the team, despite the national accolades they were getting with a No. 3 ranking in the polls, and a real possibility of getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament? The kicker question here is, why did they suspend Davies when they oftentimes do not suspend others who come clean with their sexual indiscretions?

There is a psychology term called cognitive dissonance, which is “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.” Many of us former Mormons talk about our cognitive-dissonance experiences in the church regularly. We observe it today, reminding us of how we once thought. We remember the teachings of unconditional love and the importance of the family, while observing the rejection of members who are gay, or don’t look or act the way Mormons are supposed to.

Well, I am observing the cognitive dissonance happening right now with Brandon Davies. While the church members, the media and fans are praising BYU for sticking to its morals, I see them as being inconsistent once again. For those of us who attended the Y, we know how these guidelines are enforced without consistency or logic. Let me take that back ... there is consistency and logic; the consistency is the church, and BYU, acting according to what is best for them. They need to look good in the eyes of the public because, contrary to what most might think, the church is not an institution of integrity and honesty. It has a history of covering up much of its dark history (à la Mountain Meadows Massacre, Joseph Smith’s multiple wives, etc.).

It is a corporation that wields power regularly in government affairs and business, dishing out miniscule charitable offerings around the world—just enough to be viewed as a “religious institution,” one that receives significant (tax deductible) donations from members and protection from paying taxes and public scrutiny of its books. It is a controlling force in Utah, and has significant power in national politics as well. In order to maintain this position, it needs continued membership growth and revenues ... and in this day of decreasing religious participation, it must look good to the public to maintain its power.

What was really the best thing for Davies? Probably to keep this incident private and between those involved. The church, however, needs to display its adherence to its professed honor-code guidelines by publicly suspending him from the team. Looks good, right?

Cognitive dissonance: when an institution that professes to have integrity publicly humiliates one person for an action, but looks the other way for the same behavior in another person that is not in the public eye. Is this process best for the individual ... or the church? Is there any question?

Rick Robison
Salt Lake City