BYU university chaplain believes in power of love, respect, good food

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Walking into James “Jim” Slaughter’s office, students’ eyes are drawn to the walls covered with photos of his family, the outdoors, Native American art and the Raiders football team. The pictures on his walls give a glimpse of who Jim Slaughter, university chaplain of Brigham Young University, truly is.  

Jim Slaughter on their family donkey, Stanley. Slaughter spent a part of his childhood in Crow Agency, Montana and had many adventures (Jim Slaughter).

Growing up, Slaughter moved often and as a child lived in many different places such as northern California, Washington and Montana. In Montana, he and his family lived in Crow Agency, a small rural town on the Crow Reservation. There, he became friends with other children.

“I really enjoyed it, and the kids rode horses around like we’d ride bikes. I wasn’t too good at riding horses. A lot of the stuff you’d see on old TV are things we would do to have fun. We had a lot of adventures,” Slaughter said.

Moving around frequently allowed Slaughter to learn many valuable lessons, but one of the greatest lessons he said he learned came from his father about the value of human life.

“People are more important than things. We have to really remind ourselves of what we really value in our lives, people or stuff,” Slaughter said.

Before working at BYU, Slaughter did a semester at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) and served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England. When he returned to Idaho, he met and married his wife, Pam, and graduated from Ricks with an associate’s degree in men’s physical education. Slaughter then furthered his education at BYU, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in youth leadership.

Slaughter has been the BYU chaplain since December 2004, but he worked for BYU for nearly 10 years before his current appointment. For the years leading up to his time as chaplain, Slaughter worked for BYU in various roles, such as a building supervisor, working with the Multicultural Students Services Office, directing Campus Life Events and Services and more. In addition to his current role as university chaplain, Slaughter is an assistant dean for student life.

Jim Slaughter and his wife Pam dressed in Christmas attire in front of their home. Slaughter jokes he and his wife were the “original Jim and Pam” in reference to the television series, “The Office.” (Jim Slaughter)

Recounting the experience of being offered the job of university chaplain, Slaughter admitted he wasn’t initially sure why he was offered the position.

“I am not sure exactly why I was asked to be chaplain. I received a phone call over Christmas break and came in to talk and was asked to take on the role in addition to my other administrative responsibilities,” Slaughter said.

Unsure of what to expect or where this new position would take him, he knew it would be a great experience.

“It’s been a great experience. I love it,” Slaughter said. 

Currently, Slaughter serves all undergraduate, graduate and law students who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As university chaplain, Slaughter said he meets with students from different faith traditions, cultures and countries. He gives the second interview for the ecclesiastical endorsement required each year as a bishop or stake president would for a student who is a member of the Church. Slaughter also hosts events, provides students with resources and helps them connect with other students. By connecting students with each other, he aims to help students feel there is a place for them on campus.

Slaughter shared how each job he has had before holding his current position has helped him get to where he currently is.

“Each job built upon each other. Each one helped me gain the skills I needed to be where I am now,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter expressed he does not think he would have been as capable of doing his job if he had been immediately asked to fill the position when he first started working at BYU.

“A lot of times in life you get offered opportunities. You could always say no, or you could say yes, and I guess I’ve always been open to adventures and gaining experiences,” Slaughter said.

Fernanda Romero, a pre-marketing student from San Salvador, El Salvador, said she made one of her best friends on campus thanks to an interfaith activity Slaughter helped organize.

“I became friends with my best friend because Jim encouraged me to talk to him for a club activity,” Romero shared. “I could say that he really cares about students. He looks for ways to support them, even if it is someone to talk to, to connect to other resources or students. He shows a genuine interest, and he genuinely cares for you. He will find a way to help you.” 

Leah Marett, a graduate student from Lawrence, Kansas who works for Slaughter, expressed her appreciation for Slaughter as he fulfills his role of university chaplain.

“I can’t imagine anyone else doing the job he’s doing. He does it so well and has been doing it for so long that he’s really effective at it,” Marett said. “Having him there is really helpful for many students. I know a lot of non-LDS students who have gone to BYU are really thankful for his time and dedication to helping them with their experience.” 

With a passion for both his students and good food, Slaughter said he loves to create opportunities to bring people together and believes food is one great way to inspire unity.

Jim Slaughter flips burgers at an event hosted for the non-LDS students on campus. Slaughter has been the BYU Chaplain for the past 20 years. (Fernanda Romero)

“When you share food with someone, you share a part of yourself with them, especially if you prepared it yourself,” Slaughter said. “Whenever I get the chance, I like to prepare the food myself.”

Marett shared an experience she had with Slaughter and commented on his love for making burgers.

“One thing about Jim is he makes a lot of burgers for his students. We’ll have cookouts and stuff, and Jim is there flipping burgers. But the one thing he always needs is Johnny’s Seasonings. It’s very particular,” Marett shared.

When Slaughter is not on the grill, he is helping students feel heard and growing his perspective and understanding of how their faith is important to them. 

He mentioned that for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a history of their beliefs being disregarded or disrespected. He believes BYU, a community that is a majority member of the Church of Jesus Christ, must ensure those of other faiths who come to BYU are respected and valued.

“I think it’s important that we understand what is sacred and important to other people and respect those things. Because we can’t just expect respect if we’re not willing to give it,” Slaughter said. 

Both Marett and Romero agreed when they said, “We need more Jim Slaughter’s in the world.”

With his belief that the value of people is more important than things, Slaughter works every day to create a space where BYU students with a variety of faith traditions can feel safe and seen.  

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