A professor at Brigham Young University’s religion department is under fire for labelling a gay student with a Mormon term associated with an anti-Christ.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Hank Smith, an assistant teaching professor, had been tweeting his thoughts on former parishioners being excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He was defending the church’s decision to oust Natasa Helfer, a sex therapist ousted after she publicly opposed church teachings on masturbation and pornography while supporting LGBT+ rights.
After Smith denounced several women who supported Helfer, Calvin Burke, an openly gay student at BYU and practising Mormon, jumped in to defend the women.
“On behalf of Mormonism, I apologize for Hank Smith,” he said.
In a now-deleted tweet from 23 April, Smith responded to a thread with Burke’s tweet by describing the LGBT+ student as “Korihor”.
In the Book of Mormon, Korihor is a false prophet and anti-Christ who claimed Christ did not exist. God punishes Korihor for his beliefs by making him mute, and a crowd tramples him to death.
Smith’s remarks sparked outcry which prompted him to delete the tweets and issue an apology. He wrote on Twitter: “I do need to apologise for calling Cal what I did. I deleted the reply. That was unjustified and unfair.
“My emotions got the better of me. I am very sorry.”
The Salt Lake City Tribune reported Burke has received public death threats and hate-filled messages after being targeted in Smith’s tweet. It reported Burke, who has since made his Twitter account private, posted that he wanted to “go to school in a place where I can feel safe”.
“And last night was confirmation, albeit brutal, that even with my testimony I am not safe or welcome here at BYU,” Burke wrote.
Carri Jenkins, a spokeswoman for BYU, told The Salt Lake City Tribune that the university has “processes to address personnel matters” but declined to comment on whether Smith’s actions were being reviewed through the process or if he would be punished. She said the incidents are “handled on a confidential basis”, and she “wouldn’t be able to comment on an individual situation”.
LGBT+ students have experienced a range of mistreatment by other students and faculty while attending BYU.
Students can be expelled for not adhering to the university’s honour code, and until last year, it specifically prohibited “homosexual behaviour”. But the university later confirmed its principles against same-sex relationship “remain the same”. The policy flip-flop was branded as “manipulative”, “cowardly”, “incredibly cruel” and one student wrote the university’s actions potentially put queer students in danger.
Last month, BYUtv, which is owned and operated by BYU, agreed to lift its “unwritten” ban on LGBT+ characters in TV shows after Canadian writers and producers publicly condemned the move.
PinkNews has contacted BYU for comment.