When a 49-year renewable land lease for Brigham Young University's Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was signed last May, university officials gave a great sigh of relief.
As BYU Pres. Jeffrey R. Holland said, "We are very pleased to sign this lease with the Jerusalem District Lands Office. This ends eight years of constant attention, effort, tension and anxiety."With the signing, BYU was given the green light to conduct a comprehensive slate of academic programs at the newly completed center. But a lease addendum contains several conditions that BYU and the Church agreed to in order to guarantee that the center and its programs will not be used for missionary activity.
"We have stated in the agreement that the center's faculty, staff and students will not, in any way, conduct or participate in missionary or proselyting activities in Israel," Pres. Holland said.
This issue is so important that BYU counsels its faculty and students not to answer questions about the Church when approached by information seekers.
"While these conditions apply directly to our people at the center, we ask the cooperation of all Church members who may have occasion to visit Israel to help us abide by the conditions of the lease addendum," Pres. Holland said.
Opposition arose in 1985 when certain factions in Israel claimed that BYU was building the facility for missionary purposes. At that time, BYU officials and the Church gave written guarantees to the Israeli government, stating that no proselyting or missionizing would take place in connection with the center, its people or its programs.
Participants in BYU study abroad programs in Israel were and still are required to follow a policy formulated by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, which states that students will refrain from any form of proselyting activity in any country where proselyting is not sanctioned by the host government.
Anyone not abiding by this agreement is subject to dismissal from the program and to being sent home.
"We want to be welcome as guests and good neighbors in Israel and therefore must be sensitive to the feelings of those who oppose proselyting activities there," Pres. Holland said.
"For these reasons," he added, "we ask all members of the Church who have the opportunity to visit Israel to help us honor the commitments BYU and the Church have made."