A Brigham Young University professor has apologized after calling a gay student a Book of Mormon term associated with an anti-Christ.
Hank Smith, a prominent assistant teaching professor in BYU’s Department of Religious Education, made the comment on Twitter last month after voicing his opinions about sex therapist Natashe Helfer and other women excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the university.
Helfer was excommunicated over her positive opinions on masturbation and same-sex relationships.
Things became heated after Smith tweeted that those who left the faith were “leaving the doctrine as well.” He received criticism from a number of women, which led Smith to brand them nonbelievers and encouraged his followers to do the same.
Vocal gay BYU student Calvin Burke, a practicing Mormon, responded by tweeting an apology for Smith’s comments.
“On behalf of Mormonism, I apologize for Hank Smith,” Burke wrote.
Smith responded by calling Burke “Korihor,” a term from the Book of Mormon associated with the anti-Christ. In the book, he is punished by God, who renders him mute, and a crowd kills him by trampling him to death.
The backlash was immediate, and Smith deleted the tweet and issued an apology.
“I do need to apologize for calling Cal what I did,” Smith tweeted. “I deleted the reply. That was unjustified and unfair. My emotions got the better of me. I am very sorry.”
Students at BYU urged the school to condemn Smith’s remarks, with Carolyn Gassert, incoming president of BYU’s unofficial LGBTQ student club, saying Smith’s tweet was “terrifying for other students who are gay.”
An online petition was started demanding Smith’s ouster as professor.
“Professor Smith should be terminated. He apparently does not understand that Korihor had no theology; he did not believe in God. Professor Smith destroyed the trust bond that is crucial when attempting to build relationships with students and the community. He marginalized a committed, faithful, and independent-minded Latter-Day Saint. Professor Smith is not capable of leading religion courses at Brigham Young University,” the petition read.
Gassert said by not speaking out against it, BYU was setting a precedent “that professors could attack students for being gay and not face any repercussions.”
No BYU professor has ever faced disciplinary action for harassment of an LGBTQ student. The school has a long history, however, of punishing or terminating faculty that defend LGBTQ students.
The school administration said it “wouldn’t be able to comment on an individual situation,” but a BYU spokesperson told reporters that the school has “processes in place to address personnel matters. These are handled on a confidential basis.”
Burke says he has begun receiving death threats over the exchange. Korihor is also a term used by the alt-right DezNat movement, a group of fundamentalist Mormons that oppose rights for women and frequently target the LGBTQ community for harassment. Members of the group began targeting Burke after Smith’s use of the term. Burke has since made his Twitter account private and declined to comment to reporters.
Earlier this year, LGBTQ students at BYU illuminated a giant school sign in the colors of the Pride flag in protest over guidance issued to students instructing them that homosexuality was incompatible with its teachings.
In February 2020, BYU removed a passage banning “all physical intimacy that give[s] expression to homosexual feelings” from the school’s Honor Code in February 2020.
Its removal led to multiple LGBTQ students coming out or openly sharing affection with one another on campus, believing the school finally accepted them.
However, on March 4, 2020, BYU reiterated that, while it had removed the anti-gay passage from its Honor Code, same-sex intimacy is still considered “not compatible” with the university’s “principles.”