I’m a Mormon. Mormons love musical theater.
I also go to BYU. Mormons love BYU – one of the reasons Mormons love BYU is that its honor code, which bans alcohol, drugs, coffee, plagiarism, and premarital sex, keeps us in a safe environment where we can comfortably live our religion and follow its guidelines. All fine so far. All things I have appreciated myself for the past three years.
But with the honor code comes a series of . . . issues. I’m all about keeping the standards included in the document I sign every year. It’s honestly never been a huge problem for me. But you know what? Not everyone is like that. BYU is made up of a diverse group of individuals from wildly-varying backgrounds, all of whom have their own insecurities, addictions, and weaknesses. None of us are perfect – some happen to be imperfect in ways that affect their standing at BYU. Some of them are even expelled without access to their hard-earned credits after being reported to the honor code office, even if they’ve expressed a desire to repent. This is sad to me.
Why, might you ask, am I saddened by people being harshly punished for not keeping the honor code that I’ve chosen to uphold?
(Now back to musical theater!)
It’s because I’m not this guy:
If you’re not familiar, this is Russel Crowe. But, ya know, I’m not actually talking about Russel Crowe – I’m talking about Victor Hugo’s infamous Javert, the stickler-to-the-end that everybody loves to hate.
Just a brief recap: Jean Valjean is a petty criminal. He steals bread and breaks a window pane (which, yes, is definitely against the law, even in Revolutionary France), and gets sentenced to 19 years in prison (“Four years for what he did, the rest because he tried to run, YES 24601!” according to our buddy Javert). After Valjean gets released and breaks his parole because everyone is hardcore judging him, Javert devotes his entire life to catching Valjean because he cares that much about justice.
Let’s doubly-recap this for a moment: Javert is a guy who keeps all the rules PERFECTLY. Breaking the law is not a problem he has. He also happens to get really upset when people aren’t as good at following the law as he is, even though Valjean only stole bread to feed his sister’s son. This doesn’t hurt Javert personally; he’s just obsessed with punishment, because his personal belief is that people within a society are bound to the laws that keep said society going, and if they don’t follow those laws, they pretty much deserve to rot in prison.
And just because I can, I’m going to compare some choice excerpts from Javert’s main number, “Stars,” with common attitudes regarding the honor code.
There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from God
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
Till we come face to face
“That girl drank a beer last night. Why does she even go to BYU? She’s obviously a hopeless sinner who doesn’t even care about the gospel.”
He knows his way in the dark
Mine is the way of the Lord
Those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall as Lucifer fell
“I would never wear a skirt that short. Did she even read the honor code? I would never dress immodestly, and I’m blessed because of it.”
In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night
“I always silently stay up through the night to make sure my roommate’s boyfriend is out of the apartment by midnight. I wouldn’t want an honor code violation under my own roof!”
And so it must be; For so it is written
On the doorway to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price!
“When you sign the honor code, you agree to follow its rules. We all know that if we slip up, there’s a chance we might get expelled. It’s just how things work!”
Lord let me find him
That I may see him
Safe behind bars
I will never rest
Till then, this I swear
This I swear by the stars!
“That girl who got raped was willingly dropping acid!?!?!?!? GET HER OUT OF HERE!”
Okay. I think I’ve made my point. There is nothing wrong with the honor code. I like it! Just like I like anti-theft laws! But if someone stole a loaf of bread from my window – or, even more relevant, a completely unrelated stranger’s window – why the hell would I want to see them to go to prison for nineteen years??? This is how Javert and I are different.
If someone I know at BYU doesn’t know how to dress modestly, I’m not going to wish them gone or otherwise more-clothed. I wouldn’t even bring it up! I’d simply be a good example and dress modestly, like I always have. Would this change the immodestly-dressed person’s habits? Probably not, but I don’t care: targeting this person would be inappropriate, in my opinion.
If someone gets drunk and reported to the honor code office, I understand. They did sign the same contract that I did. But do I want to see them on academic probation, or expelled? Absolutely not! I would want to seem the counselled on how to prevent the same mistake again. I’d want to see them referred to AA if alcoholism is a problem for them. I want them to know the honor code can help them, and that mistakes happen. I wouldn’t obtain pleasure from seeing them shamed. I would want them to be able to leave BYU with all their credits if they don’t want to change their behavior.
If one of my BYU classmates is caught with chastity issues, I want to see them treated sensitively, with a Christlike approach. I want to see them encouraged to repent, not exiled for having a human moment of weakness that broke a contract they signed. The atonement is real! Let us remember that.
Most importantly this week in particular, if a girl comes forward after being raped, I don’t want the honor code office involved, period. She shouldn’t be asked what she was wearing, what she was drinking, or what room of her apartment she was in. There’s only one question anyone should be asking her, and it’s “How can we help you heal?”
Don’t be Javert. Don’t be so obsessed with rules and justice that you forget about Christ’s atonement and his expectation that we love our fellow man, even the mega-sinners: murderers, adulterers, and acid-droppers included. Be the bishop who catches Valjean in the very act of stealing from him, and sends the thief away with even more valuables than he took in the first place. That’s a good dude. And you know what? It was his love and compassion that lead Valjean to a life of Christlike charity and kindness; not Javert’s judgmental, unsympathetic justice-obsession.
One of the reasons we love Les Miserables is this message of forgiveness. It’s time we take it to heart in our own lives. These are the things that really matter; not hem lengths, curfews, or substance abuse.
If in doubt, remember this, always: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Or, if we want to quote Jesus himself, here’s a passage from John 8:
1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
I don’t know about you, but I happen to agree with Jesus on this one. I hope BYU and my fellow schoolmates can learn to follow his example of love and support as they move forward with the Honor Code policy.
P.S. If you’re interested in supporting sexual assault victims on BYU’s campus, please take the time to sign this petition ( http://www.thepetitionsite.com/503/967/285/byu-stop-punishing-victims-of-sexual-assault/?taf_id=24140919&cid=fb_na# ) requesting honor-code immunity for students reporting abuse. The difference it could make in our community would mean so much to those caught in difficult situations, and I think we all know supporting those in their greatest time of need is the most Christlike, compassionate thing we can be doing at this time. Thank you.