You may remember that in June 2006, Brigham Young University decided not to renew the teaching contract of Jeff Nielsen, who had been teaching philosophy there. Nielsen was apparently let go in retaliation for an opinion piece he had published in the Salt Lake Tribune in which he expressed his opposition to statements made by some church leaders on a political matter--a ballot initiative in California concerning marriage. I blogged about it at the time, as did John Dehlin at Mormon Stories. At the time, some faithful members of the church argued that it was a non-story--after all, Nielsen apparently suffered no ecclesiastical discipline for expressing his opinion; he simply lost his job at a private university where he lacked tenure. (See comments to the blog post at Mormon Stories for examples of these arguments).
But now there comes news of additional fallout from the Nielsen opinion piece. It appears that an ordinary member (indeed, a temple-recommend-holding member of the Orchestra at Temple Square) wrote a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune expressing displeasure at the way Nielsen was treated. For daring to speak his mind in public on a political matter in which he disagreed with the Brethren, this faithful man was basically harassed by church leadership right out of the church. The jaw-dropping story from the wife of the man who wrote the letter (originally posted at Post-Mormon.org and used with permission here) after the jump:
Last week my DH and I resigned and moved from our small Utah town. I decided to resign largely because I have been living with terrible fear that if I talked about what has happened to my family over the past year and a half I would be disciplined. (My SP told my DH he would be).
I was BIC, BYU grad, RM, married in the temple, Molly Mormon as they come. I believed this was Jesus Christ's church and since his example was everything to me I did everything they told me to. My husband and I are both musicians. We played in the Orchestra at Temple Square since it began in 1999. We gave hours of time to OTS. Some weeks we had rehearsals or performances every day but Monday. This was not easy with my husband in grad school and very small children, but we loved it and felt we were serving God.
My husband is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and when Jeffrey Nielsen was fired from BYU for speaking against the marriage ammendment he was furious. My DH's father lost his employment with the church years ago when he was falsely accused of stealing a journal the church was hiding. The story is incredible. He could have sued the church and been a rich man, but he was faithful. Anyway, my DH has very strong feelings about how people lose their jobs in this church.
My DH wrote a letter to the SL Tribune decrying the firing of Jeffrey Nielsen. As a result he was suspended from the orchestra. He was told he was "in direct opposition to the brethren" and on "the road to apostasy" . He was told the office of the First Presidency asked that he be suspended and that the OTS leadership were to see "if an enemy had infiltrated the orchestra". My DH tried to work things out, but they wouldn't even answer our e-mails. This after 7 years of service.
Our SP and BP were involved in a meeting where OTS turned the matter over to them. I felt like no one could hear anything my DH tried to say. They all knew he was an apostate and that was that. The meeting went for 2 hours and I sobbed through most of it. No one even said a kind word of consolation. None of the priesthood leaders said they wished us well, hoped the matter could be quickly resolved, or anything.
I never expressed any opinion about my husband's letter, just tried to help them understand his thinking and just for that I was made unwelcome.
From there my BP met with DH and asked what he thought about homosexuality. DH said it was innate and it was not generally reversible. BP said he was "picking science over God". He was told that this opinion made him unworthy of a temple recommend. When DH had not changed his mind about this by the next week, the BP threatened to turn him over to the SP for church discipline. This did not end up happening, but we spent several days fearful that it would.
My husband kept trying to work things out. (Mostly for my sake). He became very depressed. When I tried to tell the SP this he said "If he would repent he would not feel depressed."
To make a long story short I eventually wrote to my area authority asking for help. (Things had gotten very bad by this point). I got a form letter back telling me to trust local leaders. I also asked if someone could contact my father in law and briefly express concern for the pain he carries to this day. (I was so naive). This request was ignored. However, another family member wrote and also asked that this very old wound be healed. The response to this was my inlaws were called in by their SP and told that Elder Bateman had called and asked the SP to find out why they were causing trouble. It was extremely humiliating for them. (They didn't even know this family member had written a letter).
There are lots of details but I won't ramble forever. It feels good to tell my story. I went into this experience so naive. I thought the church was about Christianity. It is not. I thought the GA's cared. They do not. I don't want to spend my life screaming about the church because I have better things to do, but I had to resign so that I could speak when the opportunity arose without fear. I think the church gets away with this garbage because many people are so afraid to speak.