When our kids were young, we lived in an area of Salt Lake that I didn’t think had the best schools. They weren’t awful, but they weren’t great either. The principal recommended that to get our little geniuses into great schools we should either drive them across town every day to an open enrollment school that was a better fit, or that we get them into a magnet program. He said they didn’t have the funding for kids who needed more academic challenge, and if he had extra funding, he would use it for English as second language or for remedial programs, both of which were a greater need in his school district. We briefly toyed with going to a private school option, and one of the private schools in our area was a Mormon religious education format. It sounded mostly all right, but I was concerned about a few things: 1) how small the school was (limited social interaction), and 2) were our kids going to be surrounded by the children of religious fanatics who objected to “secular” education? We didn’t object to our school on secular grounds at all. Would a religious private education cause them to have a stilted education based on religious fears we didn’t share? We ultimately solved this problem by moving to Scottsdale and choosing to live near at A+ school.

When we moved to Singapore, all American curriculum schools were private schools with high tuitions (paid for by my excellent ex-pat gig), and we had to make a choice. SAS (Singapore American School) is an internationally acclaimed private school, one of the ten best globally, and was clearly our first choice. There was another option that was a “Christian” based education. When I looked more closely at it, I was very concerned that they would be teaching things like creationism and that Mormons aren’t Christian. I was very concerned that it would be a fundamentalist education. When we moved into our ward, only one ex-pat family had deliberately chosen that school, and the mother was definitely a young earth creationist. We made the right choice.

In Mary Ann’s excellent post earlier this week, she discussed the rising DezNat movement, and lightly touches on some of the actions at BYU right now with petitions to oppose what some students feel is an erosion of conservative values among the faculty. Some of my good friends have been identified as enemies by these people who seek to expose what they view as a threat to BYU’s vision. As an alum, I don’t agree. Both my sons have attended (albeit briefly) BYU and BYU-I respectively, and when I contrast their experiences with my own, the school is far more conservative now than it was when I attended in the late 80s and early 90s, but then again the country is far more polarized now. As a private institution, BYU is freer than a public university to make choices (hiring, curriculum, housing, religion requirements, ecclesiastical endorsements, HCO) that might raise an eyebrow in a more open environment, but on the whole, it has also maintained a firm commitment to remaining publicly accredited, to providing an education that will not be a disadvantage in the marketplace. This commitment hasn’t always been supported by the best ideas (see my list next to choices), but it has always been an important principle. This is not always the case with religious institutions.

There is a trend among conservative Evangelicals of disdain for public education, usually on the grounds that it is secular and teaches “liberal” values. When Trump put Betsy Devos in charge of Education, this was a strategic strike at the heart of public education on behalf of his Evangelical base, a way to gut the funding for public schools and give it to private, religious institutions that do not follow the same educational guidelines and standards. By threatening to pull federal funding if schools do not reopen (without providing schools the means to reopen safely), the concern is that the administration is positioning itself to be justified in diverting federal education money to private schools or individuals instead.

Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Additionally, Trump’s own education proposal aligns with this vision:

Trump’s signature education proposal calls for dedicating $20 billion in federal money to help families move away from what he has called our “failing government schools” and instead choose charter, private, or religious schools.

Several years ago, I listened to a podcast interviewing a former Evangelical. He said that when he went to college, after having received an Evangelical-based education through a mix of private religious and home-schooling, he found that he was totally unprepared for a real university with academic standards. He was very upset to find that he had so much misinformation and gaps in his education, and this led to his embarrassment and disillusionment with his Evangelical faith. Just what are these gaps? Why do they exist? Are there Mormon parallels or are these an example of different priorities between these closely aligned political allies? (I threw up a little in my mouth just typing that last one).

From the Orange Wave (episode 6: Sexless Ed, probably the best podcast title ever), podcaster Brad Onishi who teaches Religion at Skidmore University discusses the basis for Evangelical objection to public education using the acronym REBS:

  • Race
  • Evolution
  • Bible
  • Sex

Let’s take a closer look at each of these and how Evangelical priorities coincide with and diverge from mainstream Mormon thinking.

Before I do that, I think there are a few broad underlying differences in these religious groups that need to be understood. Politically, Mormonism is still very much a Utah-centric religion with aspirations toward being perceived as at least nationally relevant. Conservative Evangelicalism has a west coast (Orange County) political base with strong roots (due to migration) and ties (due to the GOP’s Southern Strategy) in the Deep South. Mormon leaders (Mormons are about 2% of the country) want to be seen as more politically neutral than they are, including among membership, possibly due to concerns about tax exempt status. Conservative Evangelicals (about 25% of the country) are fine with being seen as politically involved and closely aligned with the GOP.


The Southern Strategy in the GOP was a tactic to increase the conservative base by flipping Southerners from Democrats to Conservatives. This was done by winking at segregationalism. Southern whites in particular were very concerned about their own power, influence and privilege being eroded by being forced to give equal opportunities to black people, former slaves. They were afraid of personal economic erosion if the pool was expanded to include all. Segregation was a way for them to pretend to create equality without actually having to allow direct competition for resources like schools, jobs, public transportation and other public goods and services. If there were problems in black communities, they could congratulate themselves on having a superior, separate white society.

Due to the Evangelical home-schooling movement, textbooks designed for Evangelicals even downplayed slavery, referring to it inexplicably as “the African migration.” That’s some racist wishful thinking. Some Evangelicals also opposed any historical education that accurately portrayed figures like Columbus and the founding Fathers as less than heroic, eliding references to slavery, smallpox infection, and genocide.

There was also a religious-fueled fear of miscegenation or mixing of the races. Evangelical doctrine, like Mormon doctrine at the time, was tied to a white supremacist belief (not to be confused with hate groups like the KKK, but instead an assumption that “white” was better than other races, that dark skin was a curse) that marrying between races would lead to negative outcomes. This is a belief that was included in Mormon youth manuals as recently as 2012 (as my son pointed out to me when I said how awful the Church “used to be” on race, but what a long way we’d come–that didn’t go as well as I had hoped); youth were still at that time being discouraged from dating or marrying people of “other races,” theoretically on the grounds of cultural incompatibility. [1]

Religious universities and other private schools were being opened by Evangelicals in part to avoid social diversity that could lead to the “mixing of the races” through interracial marriage. Was this a concern for Mormon leaders in creating BYU and in migrating to Utah? As Joanna Brooks points out repeatedly in her book Mormonism and White Supremacy, nearly all of the buildings at BYU (not to mention the school itself) are named for leaders with racist, white supremacist views. These were baked into Mormon doctrine probably from the beginning partly through the Book of Mormon, and also due to the racist views Protestant convert Brigham Young brought into the Church and enforced. While Joseph Smith wasn’t perfect on race, he was at least a nominal abolitionist, certainly more inclusive than his successor.

Right up until 1978, Church leaders were defending the racist Priesthood ban with statements that had to be subsequently disavowed as human misunderstanding. Although these beliefs were officially dropped, they doubtless persist among some Church members as reported by current Black student at Church-owned schools. Current racial diversity at BYU is still mostly white:

  • 81.9% white
  • 5.9% Latinx
  • 4.0% “two or more races”
  • 1.9% Asian
  • 0.7% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • 0.5% Black or African American
  • 0.3% American Indian or Alaska Native

Additionally, BYU faculty is possibly even less racially diverse with 24 of 39 departments having only white faculty and a Geography department with zero women and zero BIPOC). Within Evangelicalism, a political priority is to uphold and/or restore a white, cishetero patriarchal order. It would seem that when it comes to BYU, they have a similar goal (or at least have recently enough that it will take quite a while to change it).

While I personally doubt that BYU was created to limit social interaction between races, I am less confident that this wasn’t a goal of Brigham Young’s in founding the state of Utah, and it was certainly behind the priesthood and temple ban. Given the Church’s emphasis on temple marriage and priesthood in the home, who would voluntarily marry someone who was barred by their skin color from a temple marriage or a man who was unable to be ordained to the priesthood?

One of the benefits to my daughter being rejected by BYU has been knowing that she will be getting a much more diverse education (still 47.9% white, though). Conservatives don’t want to acknowledge that the systems are stacked against women and non-whites being in a position of authority, but demographic stats don’t lie.


This is a key point for Evangelical families who believe in young earth Creationism. Although this is not all Evangelicals, it is a widespread view among Evangelicals and dates back to the Scopes Trial. If you haven’t seen Inherit the Wind, go watch it. I’ll wait. Did you catch that sly winking Gene Kelly at the end, eating an apple like Adam (or maybe the Serpent)? Not to mention a fantastic pre-Bewitched Dick York, the only true Derwood. The ironic thing about the Scopes Trial is that while schools won the evolution argument, the trial whipped up enough religious fervor that there was an Evangelical backlash under the brilliant orator William Jennings Bryant (who looks totally nutballs by the end of the movie), and basically they’ve never gotten over it.

I posted brilliantly on the topic of Creationism vs. Evolution previously. There are conflicting statements from Church leaders on this topic, and it requires a bit of drilling down into what is meant by “evolution” and what is meant by “creationism.” Evangelicals who are Biblical literalists believe that the simplistic Creation Story is factually accurate as written, meant to be taken literally, and cannot be contradicted by science. There is often a misunderstanding of evolution among creationists who may be wary of science in general and the Bible doesn’t usually hold up well (or at least whatever the human interpretation of it within conservative circles is) in comparison to newly emerging scientific theories. There will always be a gap between a literal interpretation of the Bible (based on older scientific knowledge) and new scientific knowledge.

Joseph F. Smith, not exactly the most progressive Church president we’ve ever had, even gave up on trying to make this work when he said:

“In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussions in our Church schools we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false. The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world.”

There are four facets to evolution that need to be understood to assess the Mormon Church’s stance:

  1. Genetic adaptation. Species (over time) will develop to genetically adapt to their environments.
  2. Natural selection. Species not suited to their environments will become extinct, aka survival of the fittest.
  3. Common descent. All organisms on earth evolved from a common ancestor.
  4. Origin of life. This is related to the theory of common descent, that all life originated from the first single-celled organism in the “primordial ooze” and developed from there. Darwin did not rule out the role of a creator, or as he said in Origin of Species: “Life with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.” This one’s certainly a problem for ex nihilists like Catholics, but not for Mormons as we’ve always maintained that God organized existing elements to create life.

Among Church leaders, Boyd K. Packer was probably the most critical of the theory of evolution, specifically disagreeing that genetic adaptation was possible across species. In his 1984 talk, The Pattern of Parentage, he outlined his views. These views have, however, been debunked by science.

If you’d like to know where the Church sits on evolution, I can’t think of a better example than BYU, both having and eating its cake with two conflicting departments’ teachings in courses that the university requires. The CES-run religion department is reported to take swipes at godless evolution, calling it a secular theory, and preferring to take the Creation Story as literal creationism. I have to think #notallBYUreligionteachers, but they’ve been in hot water on race in the not-too-distant past, as well. The Biology department (Life Sciences) begins its Bio 101 class with the clear instruction to students that evolution will be taught, and if they are there to argue about evolution, they are in the wrong place. What’s the difference between these two views? The Biology department takes science seriously because it’s their professional field, their entire subject, what they got their degree in, and they have to abide by academic standards that allow the university to remain accredited. The Religion department is not accredited, most of its professors have not received any accredited degree in Religion, and most Religion classes you take at BYU are not recognized at other schools if you transfer.

This “one foot on land and one on sea” approach is probably one reason so many Church members think evolution contradicts Mormon doctrine when it does not. There are definitely opponents to evolution among historical Church leaders, who made statements that it opposed scripture (Joseph Field Smith, Bruce R. McConkie) and those who felt it was not in opposition to scripture (B.H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, and John A Widtsoe–whose namesake building is one of the few BYU buildings not named for a racist, go figure).


Evangelicals believe that the “born again” experience is central to a Christian life, that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity and contains everything humans need to know to make decisions in their lives, and they believe in spreading the Christian message to others. To Evangelicals, the Bible is the authoritative written word of God, meant to be taken completely seriously as such. The Bible’s position for Evangelicals is different than for other conservative faiths.

For an evangelical Christian, the Bible can correct any other authority. . . So the mark of an evangelical is not whether someone claims to have a high view of the Bible, but whether they are prepared to let the Bible challenge and correct their church tradition, their own understanding of what is good or just, their cultural norms, and any other basis they might have for belief or action.

If Mormons were to state our relationship status with the Bible on Facebook, I suspect it would say: “It’s complicated.” We believe that it “many plain and precious teachings” were lost from it. We believe it to be correct but only as it is “translated correctly.” [2] If we consider what carries “supreme authority” in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s not the Bible. It’s not the Book of Mormon, despite having been called “the most correct book.” It would have to be current doctrinal statements made by living Church leaders that have officially been classified as “revelation.” This puts us more in the Catholic camp as described in the linked article above, and yet precious few of our leaders’ statements merit the official term “revelation.” There is a strong reluctance among Church leaders to use this classification, probably because we’ve been burned before. Even when such classification is used, individual exemptions are understood to trump Church dictates as expressed by Pres. Oaks:

“As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions… I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work out individually between you and the Lord.”

That’s a key distinction between Evangelical thinking and Mormon teaching.

Rather than thinking of this pillar of opposition as strictly about pursuing a curriculum that does not contradict the Bible, we could consider this as a more general interest in keeping religion infused into the school day through things like the Pledge of Allegiance, classroom prayer, and Bible verses on walls. Evangelicals don’t want any competition to their Biblical literalism, and Mormons want the freedom for our young people to live a devout, yet private life. Both movements are concerned about their views being disrespected in public schools, but only a religious majority would benefit from requiring students to pray as a class (as my 3rd grade class in Evangelical Texas did, which made me feel like a fish out of water since their prayers sounded different from those I was used to hearing).

Any way you slice it, though, if you fear contradiction from non-religious sources, whether you rely on the Bible or Church leaders to be the authoritative voice, you may prefer a religious school on these grounds. This is one area, though, where it appears to me that our tiny minority Church has taken a more reasonable stance in allowing for private, pluralistic devotion in public schools rather than fighting for religious preference in these spaces as was the trend a few decades ago (prayer in school).

Within its private schools, the Church does require religious devotion, church attendance, ongoing belief and practice, and mandatory religious education throughout one’s tenure. In public universities, the Church provides easy access to Institute programs that provide religious instruction and social opportunities for Mormons students who may be a tiny minority among the larger student body.


Let’s talk about sex, baby, or more accurately, let’s deliberately avoid talking about sex. One of the key objections Evangelicals have had to public education is a belief, based mostly on lies, fears, and hyperbole, that public schools will provide alarmingly young students with information about sex that will lead to promiscuity and perverse sexual discrimination. Opponents of public schooling spread rumors that elementary school children were being given homework assignments to experiment with sexual positions. Apparently fearful, sexually-repressed Evangelical parents are pretty gullible. Unfortunately, I’ve met a few of their Mormon counterparts.

When I was in High School, our sex ed class included a childbirth film from BYU that caused one of my friends to pass out and hit her head on the radiator. We also discussed prophylactics and other forms of birth control in my school. My assumption was that the Church didn’t oppose sex education since its university was creating and selling sex ed films. I was surprised when I later lived in Utah to discover that the Church wasn’t great on this topic after all, and I encountered many fellow BYU students who literally did not understand the mechanics of sex at all. [3]

Evangelicals state that they prefer that sex education come from parents (which let’s be honest, means it really comes from the school yard). They also seek to bar any teaching that is not “abstinence only” which unfortunately statistically correlates with higher teen pregnancy. Evangelicals also have a very patriarchal view of female sexuality, that girls owe their purity to their fathers until their fathers hand them over to a husband who then owns their sexuality. This is why Evangelical congregations host purity balls and why teenage girls wear purity rings to symbolize this chastity commitment to their fathers before their husbands take over. Gross.

This is different from Mormon teachings on sexuality, although there are certainly parallels. We don’t have the Trump-Ivanka vibe going on, for one. We do require chastity for both sexes outside of marriage, and the Church opposes homosexual behavior, but not orientation (good luck with that one). We rely on scaring the crap out of teens with routine “worthiness” interviews that require confession [4] to a bishop for sexual transgression. Honestly, that seems to be working all right for us, until they graduate and realize that they don’t want to do that anymore. If they go to a Church school, they still have to go through routine worthiness interviews, and if they hope to marry in the temple, there’s one final drain trap to keep them from getting through.

As to opposing public education on grounds of abstinence-only education, it appears that the Mormon Church mainly deals with this within the state of Utah where they have and are willing to misuse their power, despite what the stats say about how ineffective this type of sex education is.


That’s a lot of information to consider about why Evangelicals oppose public education (when they do), favoring diverting federal funding to private (religious) options, charter schools and home-schooling. When Trump recently threatened to pull federal funding for schools that didn’t open despite the pandemic, this was an opening salvo to divert this money away from what Evangelicals value less (secular public education) toward what they value more (religious-based education, either at private schools or in homes). As a tax-paying citizen concerned about the already under-funded public education system and the deliberate gaps in religious education (that also seeks the freedom to teach whatever it wants without adhering to academic standards) I consider this to be a serious breach of public trust.

My two cents: religious freedom for students should be preserved within the public school system, but not funded by the government, and private schools (at all levels) should be very limited in what government funding is available to them, if any. My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying to teach creationism, sexism, and denial of slavery. What kind of citizens are we hoping will emerge from that type of educational training? Tax-funded education is an investment in the socio-economic stability of our pluralistic society.

  • Do you think private schools and homeschooling parents should have access to tax payer funding if they don’t adhere to rigorous academic guidelines? If so, why?
  • Are you concerned about the secularization of education or the infusing of religion into education? Which concerns you more and what do you recommend be done about it?
  • Do you think BYU is doing a good job at providing an education that is both academically sound and religiously beneficial? Does it err on one side or the other?
  • Do you think Mormons are aligned with this Evangelical political priority or do our interests lie elsewhere?


[1] Since we know that all of us are part of the same race, the human race, it’s pretty easy to abide by this guideline. I have never dated an extraterrestrial.

[2] Usually a swipe at celibate medieval clerks (prolly incels and pedos) who deliberately inserted their own opinions in and twisted the plain and precious truths to their own views.

[3] My favorite was a roommate on the verge of getting married who said she was worried sex would hurt because sometimes when she went to the bathroom it hurt her “doo-doo hole.” That still cracks me up while also irretrievably undermining my faith in my fellow Mormons.

[4] or lying