Mormon Studies scholar Kirk Caudle started the summer as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as an religion instructor at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
Last week, that all changed as Caudle resigned from the Church.
I was shocked to hear of this news. This past Spring, Kirk was my roommate at the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities conference.
In our conversations together at the conference, Caudle was very open about his devotion to The Book of Mormon as inspired scripture and his admiration for the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The things is…none of that has changed.
This past Sunday, in an interview with Approaching Justice, Caudle re-affirmed his love of the Book of Mormon and his admiration for the prophet Joseph Smith.
“I believe in The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith,” Caudle told me from his home in the Portland, Oregon area.
“I have had interactions, both from study and prayer, where the Holy Ghost has moved upon me in relation to The Book of Mormon,” Caudle told me. He went on to explain to me that his relationship with The Book of Mormon was more “Mormon” than academic. It is a relationship of faith, one which he said was “even irrational” from a philosophical or academic perspective. However, it is a spiritual relationship that he continues to have.
“I really have a great love and testimony of Joseph,” added Caudle. But that testimony does not extend to Brigham Young, Caudle noted, and by extension to the current LDS leadership.
For Caudle, revelations have been replaced by press releases, amicus briefs, and political posturing.
The Breaking Point
While Caudle insists that he did not leave because he was offended, two interactions with Church leadership led directly to his resignation.
At the local level, Caudle told me that he has long been shunned by local leadership. They refused to allow him to teach (his life’s passion) or to really hold any callings at all. Years of being treated like an outsider led Caudle to wonder if the outside is where he belonged.
A year ago, Caudle was excited to get the opportunity to teach online religion classes for Brigham Young University-Idaho. Teaching religion is what he is trained to do and it is something that he loves doing.
Caudle has a BA in Biblical Studies and Religious History from Cascade College and an MA in Spiritual Traditions and Ethics from Marylhurst University.
In many ways, Caudle was an anomaly amongst religion teachers at BYU-Idaho, both amongst online instructors and full-time on-campus instructors, because he actually had a graduate degree in an area related to religious studies.
“I loved the students,” Caudle told me. He specifically enjoyed the interaction he had with them. After all, his favorite activity is discussing the scriptures.
Caudle enjoyed contributing to the blog Feast upon the Word because it focused on the scriptures and helping people teach from the scriptures. Other blogs often focus on social and political controversies, but those were not the things that interested Caudle. Caudle is a teacher of scripture and not an activist.
Online courses at BYU-Idaho, for the most part, come as a ready-to-go product that is completely created and designed well before the instructors are involved with them. The instructors mostly grade assignments and respond to students messages and emails as needed.
Caudle went above and beyond by creating and sharing videos containing mini-lectures related to the course topic.
He also held a virtual hour-long office hour where he would answer questions from students and have discussions based on questions and topic raised in online discussions during the previous week.
Caudle had done many of these sessions without any complaints. They were voluntary sessions. Students could join in if they were interested in additional discussion and interaction.
During one particular session that touched on the succession of Church leadership from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young, 30 students joined the session. During the discussion, Caudle mentioned that the account of Brigham Young being transfigured to appear like Joseph Smith is not “entirely historical.”
One student complained to some local leaders about the session. This was the only complaint about his classes that Caudle ever heard about. It would be the last.
Following the complaint, Caudle had a 45 minute meeting with Dale Sturm, the chair of the BYU-Idaho Religion Department, and Rod Stewart, the head of Online Learning at BYU-Idaho.
Caudle was told that they did not have a problem with the content of his teaching, but they did not like his tone. If it is not in the student manual or a recent general conference it should not be taught, they added.
Sturm and Stewart threatened to terminate Caudle on the spot, but they instead allowed him to finish the course with the restriction that he have not direct contact with students. They also threatened to report him to his local Church leaders.
When Caudle pointed out that students enjoyed his classes, he was told, “We don’t care what the students think. We just want you to teach the curriculum.”
Rejection and Exile
“The Gospel is for everyone, but the Church isn’t,” Caudle said near the end of my interview with him.
When BYU-Idaho refused to renew his contract, Caudle felt rejected by the Church. It did not want him at the local level or at the institutional level.
“The Church won’t have me,” Caudle told me.
“At the heart of Mormonism, Mormonism is communal,” Caudle said. And he does not feel welcome within the LDS Church community.
Caudle still attends church, but he decided to resign because he was “tired of tip-toeing.”
He was also sick of questions such as “”How can you be a member and say XYZ.”
Now he is not a member. There is now no question. He only speaks for himself.