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Foe of LDS stance loses his job at BYU

Nielsen wrote letter backing gay marriage

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 2:04 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Brigham Young University will not rehire an adjunct professor who opposed the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on gay marriage in a guest editorial published by a Salt Lake newspaper.
Jeffrey Nielsen said Tuesday evening that despite being worried about money, he has no regrets about the letter published in the Salt Lake Tribune on June 4.
"I love teaching at BYU," he said. "I have only respect and admiration for people at BYU and no hard feelings at all. Sometimes, there are moments (when) you must stand up."
Nielsen has taught philosophy at BYU on a term-by-term basis for at least five years, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. He will finish teaching a spring-term class next week and was scheduled to teach an introductory reasoning and writing class during summer term, which begins June 26.
Daniel Graham, chairman of the philosophy department, informed Nielsen of the decision to rescind the offer of adjunct faculty employment in a June 9 letter. Jenkins said the decision was made by the department, not the administration.
"The department made the decision because a recent opinion piece written by Jeffrey Nielsen publicly contradicted and opposed an official statement by the First Presidency," Jenkins said. "Such contradiction is in violation of university policy."
Nielsen responded to the Graham's letter with one of his own that he sent Tuesday.
In the letter to Graham, Nielsen said that faithfulness and loyalty to the church and its leaders can allow for disagreement "especially in an academic setting."
"Unquestioning acquiescence and blind loyalty to leaders in positions of power over human beings have no place in any institution of higher learning that values the pursuit of truth and search for justice," the letter stated. "And in my mind, what is philosophy but the quest for truth and justice."
Nielsen said he does not have any family members who are gay. He doesn't really know any gay people, except for people who in the past few days have contacted him to express support.
On June 7, the U.S. Senate voted on a measure to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But the Senate did not get the required two-thirds majority for the constitutional amendment.
The LDS Church supported the proposal and urged church members to speak with their senators.
"I would not have spoken against the brethren on a philosophical issue, but when it becomes political," it is necessary to speak out, Nielsen said.
Nielsen said he always felt that people were gay because of biology, and not by choice, but kept his beliefs out of the BYU classrooms until the church's recent stance on the issue.
Among Nielsen's declarations in the editorial: "Legalizing gay marriage reinforces the importance of committed relationships and would strengthen the institution of marriage."
Nielsen wonders whether he would have been able to save his job had he not affiliated himself with BYU.
"Maybe I shouldn't have done that," he said. "Maybe I knew that identifying myself with that institution might start some dialogue."
Nielsen is a part-time business consultant and author of the book, "The Myth of Leadership: Creating Leaderless Organizations."
Nielsen's book was featured in BYU's newsletter, the Y News, and in Brigham Young Magazine.
Since he's been let go from BYU, Nielsen said he'll have to find more consulting work. He relied on his BYU teaching job for income.
Nielsen's wife disagrees with his position and actions, too, he said.
"Obviously, there is stress and nerves," he said. "But you know, it'll work out. I'm an optimist. And I have faith."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com; lhancock@desnews.com

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