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Report on Professor Ralph Hancock's Article on BYU, Higher Education, and the "Gospel Methodology"

During Thanksgiving break, BYU Professor Ralph Hancock published an article titled “BYU and Secular Higher Education: The Challenge of a ‘Gospel Methodology.’” After highlighting BYU’s ongoing problem to find the line between secular and spiritual, Hancock uses talks given by Elder Christofferson, Academic Vice President Shane Reese, and President Worthen to better define President Kimball’s urge to implement a “gospel methodology."

Hancock begins by acknowledging the intentions of past and present BYU administrators to realign the university with the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, he speaks on the lack of instruction on how to do so. Hancock writes:

“In the absence of a clear and substantive articulation and organizational incentivizing of the administration’s mandate to integrate religious faith and intellectual learning, the faculty as a whole will likely continue in their familiar professional grooves, and that many professors will continue to interpret gospel imperatives in ways that align conveniently with the humanistic religion, now largely driven by victimhood identity politics, that is prominent in the mainstream academy.”

As the definition of gospel methodology remains unclear, he talks about how professors fill the definitional void with philosophies that may negate moral, religious, and traditional values. Hancock proposes an alternative method, drawing most of the material from Elder Christofferson’s talk, The Aims of a BYU Education.

Hancock introduces Elder Christofferson’s talk by inviting the reader to read the talk “with a view to the question: just how is 'self-reliance' to be understood as an essential concept for gaining a fuller understanding of BYU’s mission?” Hancock notes Christofferson’s connection of BYU’s mission “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,” to self-reliance and service. When an individual is self-reliant, they have a greater capacity to serve others; this idea is termed by Christofferson as the “virtuous cycle." To fully help the student develop a well-functioning virtuous cycle, Hancock suggests BYU must first refine the student’s moral compass. Hancock explains:

"Core to the principle of 'self-reliance' is working from the 'inside out;' that is, prioritizing what our philosophical and theological traditions called the good of the soul. This attention to the substantial good of the soul, of the human person, understood as intimately bound up with 'moral discipline,' or moral agency and accountability, is what is almost wholly lacking in the contemporary social sciences and humanities."

Hancock explains that prioritizing the first great commandment to love God properly aligns a student’s moral compass; then, the second great commandment, to love your neighbor, can be applied correctly. Hancock reiterates Christofferson’s warning that reversing the prioritization of these commandments, putting the love of your neighbor before the love of God, is the cause of much confusion at BYU. Christofferson cautions:

"Ignoring the first commandment, or reversing the order of the first and second commandments, risks a loss of balance in life and destructive deviations from the path of happiness and truth…Compassion for our neighbor’s distress, for example, even when the suffering is brought about by his or her own transgression, is noble and good. But an unbridled compassion could lead us, like Alma’s son Corianton, to question God’s justice and misunderstand His mercy."

Hancock reminds the reader that BYU’s mission “cannot be reduced to the relief of the material or psychological suffering of passive human subjects or to their liberation from ‘oppression,'" but that BYU’s true love for its students must be aimed at their “whole souled improvement," which ultimately comes from the refinement of their moral character.

At the end of his essay, Hancock provided a small list of potential policies to improve BYU’s realization of its mission. First, Hancock suggests a zero-tolerance policy for opposition to gospel truths, including the Family Proclamation. Without protecting the fundamental revealed truths of the gospel, BYU “allows the institution to be undermined from within.” Second, Hancock proposes rewarding and expanding current “academic units, sub­disciplines, and individuals… that forthrightly call out evil ideologies and work deliberately and explicitly toward the articulation of 'gospel methodology.’” He says that prioritizing professors and departments that remain firm in gospel truths, BYU will set a standard of excellence for the entire faculty.

Lastly, Hancock proposed to recruit more “faithful and intellectually and morally courageous students” from BYU, noting the problem of BYU faculty being divided between “the Restored Gospel and the religion of compassionate liberation.” Hancock continued to criticize BYU in allowing the Black Menaces and various LGBT+ groups to dominate campus culture, while “more traditional, faithful, or conservative groups are restricted, presumably in the name of avoiding divisiveness and controversy.”

To learn more about Professor Hancock’s article, the Chronicle asked him his intentions for writing the essay. Hancock replied:

“I have been at BYU for 35 years and have heard many speeches given to the faculty of BYU. However, I have seen how many of these speeches have not done anything to organizationally improve BYU’s fulfillment of its mission. In the 1980’s, then university President Holland gave a remarkable speech titled “A School In Zion.” I have often used that talk as a touchstone for BYU to live up to its mission. Yet, as I said, we have often been disappointed. My hope was to provide a guide on how BYU could live up to its mission, as once explored in Elder Holland’s talk.”

The entirety of Professor Ralph Hancock’s article can be read and is published at Meridian Magazine as well as Square Two.

Written by: Jacob Christensen

Reporter at the Cougar Chronicle

The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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