BYU Baseball Player Expelled for Not Attending Enough Church?

John Dehlinathletics, baseball, BYU, Culture, LDS, mormon, Mormons, sports 55 Comments

[Updated — More on the story here.]

Apparently BYU (and the LDS church) have expelled BYU’s best baseball player for (allegedly) not attending church enough. Some questions for discussion….

  • What do we NOT know about the story that the church is not able to tell us? (we should always remember that possibility)
  • What do you think about this statement, “They said he didn’t participate in the ward enough, hadn’t been to church enough and hadn’t gone in and asked for a calling,”
  • What do you think about this statement, “All the stake president would say was, ‘I hope you don’t hurt your son by making a big issue out of this.’ “
  • What exactly does this mean?: “Documents viewed by The Tribune show the issue has pitted university officials and the athletic department – who back Walton, by almost every account – against the very church that runs it.”
  • Is it possible that the church and/or BYU are trying to make an example out of him?
  • Do non-members at BYU (let’s say Catholics or Evangelicals) who have signed their ecclesiastical endorsements have to attend church weekly, and hold callings in the church?

I worked as a tutor (American Heritage) to BYU athletes for 2 years while I lived there. I can tell you one thing — few of the BYU athletes I tutored lived up to the BYU Honor Code. I knew players who lived with their girlfriends. I knew many, many players who were sexually active. I knew many, many players who partied hard. And I knew many, many, many players who didn’t go to church at all….anywhere.

So this one does befuddle me a bit. What is behind this specific case? Why him? Why now?

Any thoughts?

Comments 55

  1. People lie to their ecclesiatical leadres all the time-thus why BYU players who don’t keep the honor code remain at BYU. He may have also had a crusading stake president–time to teach the lesson about being valiant. We’ll have to wait and see as the events and facts flesh themselves out.

  2. This is pure speculation based on stereotypes of athletes and BYU employees but you have asked for ideas. Here is my best guess based on the limited information we have.

    Kent is a gifted and pampered athlete who is headed for the big leagues. He is used to being cut lots of slack and has gotten used to getting away with things other don’t. His father is quoted in the Tribune saying “This is a soul, not a nobody. It’s a sad, sad situation that somebody is trying to make an example out of my son.” Kent, by virtue of his exalted athlete status is a somebody, and is used to being treated as such. He is going to play pro ball after all.

    Step in the Bishop. The Bishop has a thing against athletes generally and Kent in particular. Kent has not show deference to him. The Bishop has justified has hard line because the gospel is more important than sports and he has seen too many athletes get away with too much. He is sick of it. Kent has been warned by the Bishop but has not taken it seriously. In fact, Kent, who is used living his life the way he wants, is blown away by what has happened. Kent’s failure to fall in line with the Bishop or even realize what is at stake has angered the Bishop and he has decided that Kent and others like him need to be taught a lesson.

    Enter the Stake President. He is a bit taken back by the Bishop’s harsh measures but he can either put that hammer down on a privileged (as he sees it) athlete or he can alienate his bishop who is a dutiful if somewhat small minded soldier. He decides to back his Bishop (although now he is beginning to think it was a bad idea – especially with the press getting involved).

  3. “They said he didn’t participate in the ward enough, hadn’t been to church enough and hadn’t gone in and asked for a calling.”

    I don’t know of a ward where you’re supposed to “go in” and “ask for a calling.” Seems that the leaders are supposed to call you, hence the word calling. Are we missing something here?

  4. “His roommate and teammate, Jake Wortham, said he witnessed Walton attend church “a bunch of times” in BYU’s 49th ward, especially after Law told the three players who share a condominium off-campus just before Thanksgiving that their bishop wanted to see them become more active.”

    To me that says that he did not attend church. That the father talked about the calling is not saying that the wished he would ask for one. In my mind BYU does not usually do thing just because. Especially this high profile.

    It might be a shot across the bow of the Atheletics department who (may not) care about eclessiatical standing. But that is pure speculation.

  5. My guess is that this is a cover story for some bigger issue, and this is just being fed to the press so those involved can save face.

    A few years back in a BYU student government election, a team was disqualified for “going over budget” according to campaign rules when in fact they actually didn’t.

    The spin given by BYU was that they got their flyers printed for cheap, but *if they had* gotten the same service from kinkos at kinko’s prices, they *would have* gone over budget. The team stepped down without a fight.

    I was fortunate enough to get in on some insider information, and it turns out that was a cover story for disqualification over some voter fraud that had gone on. I think that BYU, in an effort to save face for the candidates and to protect its reputation of having “wholesome” students, came up with the cover story instead. If I remember right, there was a faculty member who was fired after he refused to accept hush-money from the BYU administration over the incident.

  6. I don’t know the circumstances, but even with this brief information, my heart aches. I ask how Jesus Christ would treat the situation? We’ve been told in Samuel, “that the Lord looketh on the heart.” How is it that this young man is judged by outward signs and not what’s in his heart? Again, there may be more to the situation than we know. And very well he knew going to BYU what was required, but I’m not sure that compassion is being shown here. Every chance should be given. His father’s words should carry weight. His son should not be made an example.

  7. I suspect there is more to the story than meets the eye. Also, the story is in the Trib, not exactly a friend to the church. Either way, it is a shame.

    The real problem is that schools such as BYU and most other big name colleges worship their athletic programs. they let their athletes do as they please so long as they perform. BYU is just a guilty as any other school. my former Bishop was a Hometeacher to one of Jim MacMahon’s roommates and said there was always a bathtub full of beer and usually a girl in the apartment.

  8. Shame, isn’t it.

    From the info available I would agree that it seems, at least, that this Bishop is throwing his weight around against athletes, the athletes that don’t lie about living with their girlfriends. This sums it up:

    #3 “Step in the Bishop. The Bishop has a thing against athletes generally and Kent in particular. Kent has not show deference to him. The Bishop has justified has hard line because the gospel is more important than sports and he has seen too many athletes get away with too much. He is sick of it. Kent has been warned by the Bishop but has not taken it seriously.”

    Problem is that Bishop’s are such powerful figures in the church that they can do this and get away with it. If the stake president thinks a Bishop is wrong all he can do is send in a recommendation for release which can take 2 months to go through, thats if SLC agrees to release him.

    Its the system that is wrong; the organizational setup that has no checks and balances at all because its this Kingdom and not a company or government.

  9. Two significant facts here: Wayne Childs, the bishop, is a BYU employee. He’s the Assessment and Planning Director in the Admissions and Advising area of the university. That may give him added incentive to make an example of someone, if someone further up the food chain is responsible for this, as he’s on the payroll and is subject to “pressure”.

    The other is that Kent and his father are drawing attention to themselves by speaking with the press, which militates against there being anything else unsavory Kent Walton is really guilty of. When this kind of thing has happened before, there is a generic statement put out about Honor Code violations. My best guess, having been a student at the Y, is some administrator or member of the Board of Trustees wants to put the fear of God into the entire student body about Church attendance (which at BYU if often far from stellar) by sacrificing one of the protected class, the athletes. Wayne Childs being an employee is the real tipoff as to the source of this. How many other students did he deny endorsements to is the real test.

  10. Compulsory church attendance was never part of the church I was raised in. I also have a hard time reconciling the policy with a Christ-like concern for individuals. Is not the whole agency thing about choosing to come to Christ because it is what we desire? Not because we will be kicked out of school if we don’t? This is wrong on so many levels my head is spinning.

    The Ecclesiastical Endorsement has evolved into a horrible tool of control and needs to be abandoned. The students at BYU will not behave like adults until you start treating them as such.

  11. John,
    One guy that’s pretty good is Jeremy Guthrie who had a pretty good season as a starting pitcher for the Orioles last year.

  12. I am currently attending BYU. In the past few years there have been scandals among athletes that not only embarrassed BYU but the Church as well. Like it or not, athletes who play for BYU represent the Church and when they screw up, it can be really bad. I am thinking of the sex scandal where a number of football players were accused of gang raping a girl at an off campus party. Though the girl later changed her story, admitting that the sex was consensual, the damage was already done. Sports Illustrated ran a story, and BYU’s reputation was tarnished. I suspect after that the administration said enough is enough and have delivered ultimatums to hold athletes accountable for what they do off the field, which I don’t believe is a bad thing at all.

  13. I’m not sure you headline makes sense still John. I thought BYU expelled the student from school because he didn’t get the required ecclesiastical endorsement. Why are you saying the LDS church expelled him? The headline seems to me to be a little, how do I say it… slimy.

  14. Geoff,

    Not at all trying to be slimy. He was expelled by his bishop and stake president, no? They both work for BYU — and knew the full implications of their decisions, no?

    It’s pretty clear (from the article at least) that the BYU honor code office didn’t expel him, nor did the athletic department. It sounds like it’s the Bishop/Stake President (church leaders) against BYU staff/administration, actually.

    Let me know where I’ve got it wrong. I’ve changed the headline. Is that better?

  15. Should we expect more BYU athletes to be expelled? I would hate to think the church is more concerned about “setting examples” than about truly being concerned for the welfare of the souls of those who accepted Christ and the covenants at baptism.

  16. The real problem here isn’t necessarily the bishop’s view of athletes or his withdrawal of an ecclesiastical endorsement if the terms of that endorsement were, in fact, not met.

    Rather, the real problem is if Wayne Childs is being an overzealous and overbearing bishop with the consequence of damaging people under his stewardship. That is, from the Tribune’s coverage, it sounds like Wayne Childs is adding all kinds of requirements into the concept of an eccelesiastical endorsement, including that ward members must ask for a calling to maintain an ecclesiastical endorsement. That really is ridiculous, Mr. Childs. I am not aware that ward members must ask for callings to be considered orthodox, enthusiastic Latter-day Saints.

    Also, the Tribune’s coverage makes it sound like Kent did indeed attend Church regularly although missed attending in his “home” BYU ward a number of times because he was visiting friends and attended Church in their wards. If this is sufficient to cause someone to lose their ecclesiastical endorsement then hundreds if not thousands of BYU students are in real trouble since, despite the fact that they are fully active, orthodox, and enthusiastic members of the Church, they often find themselves attending Church in wards other than their BYU ward because of travel and regular social interactions.

    Thankfully I had exemplary bishops at BYU, none of whom would have ever dreamed of making extra requirements in the ecclesiastical endorsement process, and all of whom would have appreciated and supported my presence in the ward whenever I could make it, and would have greeted me with the hand of fellowship on those occasions and expressed their gratitude that I was in attendance. It is too bad not all bishops are capable of extending that same hand of fellowship to their ward members.

    The other real problem here is stake president James Kearl’s statement to Kent’s father upon his investigation of this situation that “I hope you don’t hurt your son by making a big issue out of this”. This type of a threat is unacceptable and Professor Kearl should know better. What a blunder that was, Professor Kearl.

    My heart sank when this story broke over the weekend. I loved my experience at BYU and feel bad that this has happened to a BYU student.

    If, however, this is some partying jock who hardly ever attended church and was violating the honor code on other issues as well (including e.g. cheating), then I have far less sympathy but still must say that even in that case I think that all can agree that James Kearl’s statement is the real problem with this story.

  17. Studying at BYU is oppresive. The whole point of university is to challenge authority and current methods of thought. I found the BYU Honor code, though I could keep it, crosses the line for me in terms of free agency.

    Academia and learning should not be conditioned by one’s lifestyle choices nor on their wealth.

    Though I understand that all behaviour at BYU reflects on the church I still find this “anathema” of the expelled baseball player to be an anathema for secularists.

  18. JohnF,

    I also had a wonderful BYU experience — and had super cool bishops. That’s the good news in all this — this is clearly an exception.

    I love and am proud of BYU. This aberration does not accurately represent BYU or the church. Perhaps that’s the tragedy of it all.

  19. John F, Kearl has a reputation around BYU as being… a little bit arrogant. That kind of statement from him doesn’t surprise me at all, unfortunatly.

  20. The whole point of university is to challenge authority and current methods of thought.

    By that logic, UC Berkeley should be a hotbed of conservative students…

  21. Did Kent go on a mission? I don’t see any mention of it,but wondered if that factored in to this too. (Not that I think that BYU should kick kids out for not going on a mission, but just wondered what was going on.)

  22. DPC…lol I understand what you are trying to say but I think your semantics surrouding the term “conservative” are off. It is impossible to be conservative but constantly challenge the norm. If challenging the norm BECOMES the norm then …then that is non sequitar.

    It was rather humorous though..which is what I think you intended it to be. And I see what you are trying to say.

  23. Stephen: I should have put a smiley face after my comment to make it less ambiguous, sorry. But while I agree that university is definitely a place where they should teach you to critically analyze issues and not to accept something just because it’s the accepted norm, I get the feeling that you average student who goes to BYU does not want to do this, as far as church doctrine and teachings are concerned. I also think that BYU allows all manner of questioning as long as the church itself does not get critically analyzed. It’s the church’s ball so I guess they get to set the ground rules. Although I admit to being tempted to attend BYU because of the scholarship they offered me, I went to an underfunded, second-rate (but otherwise, wonderfully awesome) public university for my undergraduate degree that allowed me to question anything and everything.

    Reading the subtext, I get the feeling that the baseball player never went to the ward and did not participate in it at all. My question would be: If you don’t want to go to church, why would you want to go to BYU in the first place? There are plenty of good schools that have no similar requirements. Was it parental pressure? Peer pressure? A better scholarship offer?

  24. “Also, the story is in the Trib, not exactly a friend to the church.”

    I would edit this to say “Also, the story is in the Trib, not exactly a shill for the church.”

  25. DPC, I thought the article noted a 60% figure for home BYU ward church attendance (6 out of 10 or 11 opportunities) plus various visits to other wards and General Conference in addition to that 60% figure.

    Also, the Tribune article notes that Kent said he passed up other opportunities to attend BYU “because of its church affiliation and the ‘chance to be around people who share my beliefs.'”

    Wayne Childs and James Kearl have likely changed his perspective a bit on that, unfortunately.

    It is possible, however, that Kent was a partying jock who went one step too far in such behavior. That would require Kent and his father to be lying to the Tribune, which seems very unlikely.

  26. If I am not mistaken, there is an appeal process if an ecclesiastical endorsement is revoked. If there is an injustice here, he should take it up with the university and plead his case. I suspect that if the bishop and SP are in the wrong, the University will take steps to correct what has happened.

  27. I’m curious if he has been involved in the appeal process. That would make an excellent story all in itself.

    I’ve seen a lot of people jumping out in public when they’ve gotten in trouble and the public story often has significant gaps in it.

    On the other hand, some times it is true.

  28. john f:

    I get the feeling he was what is commonly referred to as a “ward hopper”, i.e. someone who goes to their ‘home’ ward a few times, doesn’t feel like they fit in and then goes to other wards. Doesn’t make him an evil person, but maybe his bishop didn’t like that kind of behavior. If he wasn’t given a warning or any other kind of notice, it makes the bishop and stake president look very officious.

    Articles like this make me think: Not much going on in Salt Lake City if a freshman baseball player’s expulsion from a university in a neighboring county is considered newsworthy.

  29. #25: The exact reasons I went to the University of Utah. But then, I grew up in Utah. Being surrounded by Mormons was something I was used to, so BYU wouldn’t have provided much of a growth opportunity for me. I live in Ohio now, and I totally understand people here wanting to become zoobies – it’s a new experience for them – though I still think there is a better option available . . .

    What is it with Provo and baseball players? This is ridiculous. Remember the U of U baseball team – like 5 years ago – who were taken to court for lugging paint all the way up to the Y and painting it a bit? RIDICULOUS. What does Provo have against America’s Pastime?

    And this story is just embarrassing.

  30. My dad used to serve as a BYU Bishop. He was a pretty by-the-book sort of bishop (meaning the handbook of instructions). He used to lament how a very large number of his student ward members would simply not attend their geographically designated ward. Whether they were just inactive, or attending a ward with their friends (and you’d better believe a few of the inactive members would lie and give this as an excuse), he didn’t really know, because he never saw them.

    Then they’d come in for their BYU endorsements and expect him to sign off on what swell kids they were.

    Do you see the problem this puts the BYU Bishop in?

    He’s supposed to sign his name and vouch for a kid he’s never seen before in his life and doesn’t know from Adam. The boy could be lighting hobos on fire on his weekends for all he knows. How can an honorable man sign his name to such an endorsement?

    Occasionally, the kids get all pissy and run home crying to their home ward bishop. But then, grown-up behavior on US college campuses is not exactly a widespread trend. If I miss a court deadline – tough for me. Doesn’t matter if it’s fair. Doesn’t matter if my client is hurt. Doesn’t matter if I’m a swell guy. I missed the deadline. Case dismissed. The end. Hopefully my malpractice insurance will cover it. But somehow these kids don’t think the rules they agree to mean anything.

    Now, if you want to criticize the viability of the geographic ward scheme, or whether there ought to be an ecclesiastical endorsement in the first place, fine by me. But it seems to me that the bishop here is the least at fault in this whole issue.

  31. That may very well be true Seth but James Kearl’s statement is still beyong the bar. The Church would be a better place without stake presidents who make such threats against those in their stewardships.

  32. Huh…

    I’ll admit John, I totally missed that reading of the stake president’s remark.

    My original read was the SP was simply saying “don’t damage your son’s testimony or spiritual relationship with the church by turning this into a family grudge.”

    But now that you mention it, yeah… it could totally be read as a threat – not knowing the context, voice tone, or facial expression…


  33. I went to BYU for 4 years and I mean this: If my daughter wants to go to BYU, I will be devastated. I know it’s a church institution and the church can do whatever it wants but… is it right? Is it normal to have more rules in college than in a typical Mormon home while in high school? I found BYU so incredibly paternalistic (where students should be stretching their wings, living their own lives, and finding their own way in the world) and big-brother. The ideal that tattling on your fellow students is rampant (and disturbing). It created this whole “I’m so much better than you because I am so ‘churchy'” that I found utterly disgusting. I was a mostly active Mormon girl until I went to BYU and the whole experience was horrible. I was called into BYU standards, handed a football program, and asked to point out any football players that had been to a party I was at. I completely refused, which got me placed on probation. Then my neighbors called the Standards office to tell on us that we had boys in our house past midnight and they wanted us kicked out. It was a horrible experience. This case is disgusting and disturbing indeed. I’m sure the poor b-ball player can’t wait to get out of Zoobie land. This is totally newsworthy because it’s totally ubsurd.

  34. To me this is an issue of a lame kid. . .not a lame school. . .or a lame policy of endorsements. When one goes to BYU they commit to the honor code and church attendance policies. If one doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain- then I don’t want my tithing to support them there anyway. I know a lot of great kids who aren’t accepted to BYU who would give anything to go there. Then we give scholarships to these athletes who can’t keep the rules. It’s sad. I was able to participate on the Honor Code Violations while attending BYU and I can tell you that there is likely more to this story than can be revealed. It is very possible that this baseball player sinned and that the Bishop knows about it. The Bishop may not have felt that the baseball player deserved an endorsement. Now the player isn’t going to say anything about that. And the Bishop can’t because of confidentiality. Maybe the Stake President knew about that and was gently (or not so gently :)) counseling the father to be careful in how much he pushes this issue. It’s not noted as an honor code violation when it is a sin issue that was between a person and the Bishop. Read this paragraph from regarding their ecc. endorsement policy.. .

    –Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement Interviews–
    Bishops of student wards should be directed by their stake presidents to interview each student at least once each academic year to verify that the student continues to be worthy to be enrolled at a Church school. The bishop should refer to the Honor Code, including the Dress and Grooming Standards and Residential Living Standards, in the interview. The continuing student endorsement will help ensure that students who are active Church members are not excluded through enrollment ceilings while inactive members enjoy the blessings of attending Church schools. Bishops should consider faithful attendance at Church meetings as one factor in the endorsement process even though no required percentage of attendance has been specified. Bishops should include the following question in endorsement interviews: “Have you done and will you continue to do your duty in the Church, attend your meetings, and abide by the rules and standards of the Church?” Students who have not been endorsed may not register for university or college classes for the next academic year.

    When the bishop finds a major transgression, he should encourage repentance. Circumstances may be serious enough that the bishop could counsel the student to withdraw from school and return home as part of Church disciplinary action short of a Church Disciplinary Council or as part of a Church Disciplinary Council probation. If the student resists this counsel and is an unusually serious threat to others in the school community, the bishop should notify school officials, in accordance with the existing Confidential Communications policy described in this electronic manual.

    If the student resists the counsel to withdraw from school, but the bishop does not consider the student an unusually serious threat, the bishop may still elect to withdraw his endorsement of continued enrollment. This is done by notifying school officials that the endorsement has been withdrawn. No other information need be given if the bishop’s information was obtained confidentially. School officials will then notify the student and give an opportunity for a hearing in accordance with existing Student Life hearing procedures. The appropriate school officials will then determine whether the student’s enrollment may continue through that term, taking into consideration the bishop’s recommendation. The student would generally not be allowed to enroll for another term until he or she again receives an ecclesiastical endorsement.

  35. Who are you kidding! I bet he doesn’t get drafted… fact I would put money on it. BYU has bigger problems than this in there baseball program. BYU Coug Fans should be totally ashamed at the way the assistant coaches have prepped the team. In spite of this players unfortunate problems and distractions, the other issues compound the problem. Vance Law is a super individual and Manager, but his assistants should be fired for not preparing the the team….holding the players accountable…. from pitching, base running, and fielding, this has got to be one of the worst BYU teams ever. Unless the player goes to jail, they fire coaches, not players for this kind of performance. Vance trusted you guys to do your job and nope it didn’t happen. Talk is cheap and you guys are out of excuses. Bring back the winning days…if SUU sweeps you and you passed on some of those guys that are worthy, than get out of the way and lets hold the baseball team to same standard as the other teams at BYU. So rise and shout, assistant coaches get out.

  36. I think it was wise to note that there are other possible reasons we don’t know about. Second, when it comes to talking about Jim Kearl, or anyone, let’s be cautious in not slandering. Jim Kearl is a brilliant Economist, and is one of the best minds at BYU. He’s arrogant when he teaches his intro to Econ class to 700 students. It’s entertaining. But from time to time, he talks to the students about what matters, and he is down to earth, humble, and cares about what is most important.

    I would hope that if I were not attending church, I would be treated the same way that this talented star was treated. I hope, also, that people realize that the church has the right to do as it sees fit. I think that’s appropriate. I think that while there are some good athletes that are not living the honor code, many things have changed in the athletic department of late. Since that time, they have raised the bar–and kudos to them. For a long time it was the athletes who were to blame for the bad examples. Now, it is not the case.

    It’s easy to say it was a vindictive bishop. Was it? Again, let’s be careful. Chances are good that he is a good bishop, like most, who prayed, and did the best he could with the situation.

    As for BYU itself, I love the place. I always have, and always will. There are miserable, horrible people here. I’m over it. There are bad bishops everywhere. I’m over that too. There are cocky “I’m churchier than you” people too. There are also good, decent people, who want to make the world a better place. Let’s look for the good from time to time, and not just the bad.

  37. I do not know the specifics of this case, but can say that it surprises me.

    I am glad that the rules have finally been extended to an athlete. While attending a LDS-sponsored school I served in a bishopric and helped to identify and contact members who where in danger of losing their endorsement because they did not go to church.

    The talk of targeting this player is absurd. The church sponsored schools are exclusive and a privilege to go to. One of the requirements for a member is to attend church. This is the least one could do for the supplement they receive from the church for tuition. An athlete is attending, usually, for free and should be held to a higher standard not a lower one.

    It sounds to me that the player did not attend church often enough and, like other students, was punished accordingly.

  38. Wow! I’ve read most of the comments posted and I am now very inspired by the testimonies given. Has anybody here attended a church school? I’m not sure but when you exercised your free agency by signing up you agreed to abide by the rules of the institution. Those rules include so many credits of religion as well as regular church attendance. The question simply comes down to what is regular???? When I fill out the quarterly reports for my ward we use very specific set of rules of what constitutes attendance. Anyone who has any background in the church knows that Bishops and Stake Presidents aren’t out go get anybody.

    Now as a coach of over 20 years I’d like to ask one question??????? How hard is it to show up for services on Sunday Morning????????? Thanks for thinking of the team on that one pal!

  39. Regarding Professor Kearl: I had him for Econ. 110, and, while he was a great professor, he definitely was a bit arrogant in the classroom. However, he also was my wife’s stake president while we were engaged, and when we did our temple recommend interview, I was completely blown away by the contrast. He was incredibly kind and supportive, was interested in our spiritual welfare, and could not have been a better ecclesiastical leader. This is the only exposure I ever had to him in a Church setting (he was my wife’s stake president, not mine), but I came away impressed. The comment allegedly attributed to him is disturbing, if he in fact said it, but I wouldn’t rely on heresay in making a judgment about his character.

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