Shima Baughman: What’s More Powerful Than Public Policy?
Shima Baughman has worked for years to bring about policy reform, especially as it relates to incarceration. After immigrating to the United States from Iran as a child, Shima has become an attorney, a national expert on bail and pretrial prediction, and a professor of criminal law at the University of Utah. But while she is a believer in giving second chances through law, on this week’s episode she explains the most powerful type of reform isn't only through the justice system. Instead, she believes change truly occurs as people turn their hearts to Christ.
Changing policy is temporary, but changing a creature or a human is lasting and that's only done through Jesus Christ.
Shima’s TikTok Account: Closer to Jesus Christ
Quote by President Packer: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
President Nelson’s talk about identity
1:23- A Traumatic Fairy Tale of Sorts
10:29- A Rich Heritage
15:29- Becoming a Lawyer
18:07- Justice and Mercy
20:54- The Savior and The Incarcerated
26:09- Failure and the Transformative Power of Christ
34:01- A Career Change
38:13- Temple Attendance Tip
42:40- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones Pearson 0:00
President Boyd K. Packer has been quoted as saying "True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrine of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." Shima Baughman has devoted her professional career to seeking to create policy reforms related to incarceration. But she recently reached a conclusion that could change the rest of her legal career. She realized in looking at the work she has done, there is something that has a greater power to heal than any amount of policy reform: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Shima Baughman is a professor of criminal law at the University of Utah. She is a national expert on bail and pretrial prediction, and her current scholarship examines criminal law, criminal justice policy, prosecutors, drugs, search and seizure, international law and terrorism, as well as race and violent crime.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Pearson and I am so honored to have my friend Shima Baughman on the line with me today. Shima, welcome.
Shima Baughman 1:21
Morgan Jones Pearson 1:23
This is so fun for me and I have been looking forward to it. I have had the opportunity to interview Shima once before, and I just felt like I learned so much even despite the fact that we're friends Shima and I value your friendship. But I feel like it's different when you have the chance to talk in an interview type setting. And so I have tried to pick some questions this time that we'll dig into some different aspects of your life and I'm so excited to learn more about your experiences. So to start us off, you told me the text that you feel like your childhood, which was in Iran, or began in Iran, was magical in so many ways. I wondered if you wouldn't mind starting by telling people the fairy tale of sorts, which is your childhood and why it felt magical.
Shima Baughman 2:14
Yeah. I mean, I believe it was magical and miraculous. But I think my kids might call it more traumatic or depressing. But I'll let you judge for yourself. So I was born in Iran to my mother who was a political activist, and she wanted democracy and freedoms they didn't have in Iran, and work to oust the Shah at the time. It was Reza Shah, he was the king. She was Muslim and wanted to have the ability to practice her religion and wear hijab if she wanted to. And the Shah was trying to westernize Iran and had prohibited covering of hair for religious reasons. So she and the activists were successful in ousting the Shah in 1979. And then with a vacuum of power, the Ayatollah Khomeini came into power, and then went the opposite direction to force people to then veil or hijab and make converting from Islam a punishable crime by death. And so my mother continued to fight for democracy, she was imprisoned by the Islamic regime with a 10 year sentence. Meanwhile, my dad was a neurosurgeon performing surgeries on the frontline of the Iran-Iraq War, and in a miraculous event had the opportunity to treat politically connected Mullah—the religious leaders were called Mullahs—with an urgent medical issue and the treatment was successful. And my father was able to request a favor. And so my father asked him if he could help release my mother and his sister, who were both in political prison serving together at the time. And during the time, my mom was in prison, she had this dream that she was flying in this airplane above these beautiful fall colors. And somehow she knew she was in America. At the time, she just thought this was so crazy because she's in prison in year one of her 10 year sentence. She thought that she didn't know what to make of the dream. But shortly after my dad helped this Mullah, he was able to successfully get my mother and his sister out of prison in two and a half years, rather than 10. And shortly thereafter, an opportunity came up for him to do a research fellowship at UCLA, which was unheard of at this time, because it was during the war, and no one was getting out this time of Iran. So my parents jumped on the opportunity when I was seven, and then we ended up in America. And within six months of coming to America, this brave Persian convert who worked with my dad had this prompting to invite our family to her Christmas party. And she talked herself out of it a couple times, but the third time, she listened and I love that it took her the third time because it makes me feel better because often it takes me a couple of times to listen to a prompting. But anyway, at the party, my mom noticed this church pamphlet that she had on her shelf that talks about families being together forever. And my mom wanted to learn more. And so we joined the Church and because of that decided to remain in America, which made us so happy as kids, even though it was a struggle for my parents to start all over again, my dad was 40 at the time, and, in a fulfillment of my mother's dream in prison, they ended up in Hudson Valley in New York, which has, you know, some of the prettiest fall colors of anywhere in the country. And so, you know, you ask, is this depressing? Or is there magic here? But for me, the magic was that we left a war torn country where Saddam Hussein was bombing, we had to hide in our basements with towels on our faces, in case they were chemical weapons. And at seven, I had to wear a hijab at school and cover my body and it was so hot. And you know, we're living during the war where there weren't supplies and maybe once a month, you can get a candy bar in a store. And then we came to America, fast forward, and we had freedom to make choices to wear what we wanted, we could worship and convert religions. I was giddy. I remember when I went to a supermarket for the first time and saw how many different types of Cheetos there were—not that there were Cheetos, but just all the different cheese puffs and chips. And it's miraculous. It really was for me at the time. And I loved going to church so much, even though I didn't understand a lot at first, but I loved singing the hymns like I remember these vivid memories as a kid thinking, America is so great. And it just reminded me as I was thinking of this, I looked at the scripture that's really always kind of impacted me and thought about our family is where Lehi says in 2 Nephi 1:5, he says, "Notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands, a land which the Lord God had covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord covenanted to this land unto me and to my children forever." And this is the part I love, "And also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord." I feel that I can't deny that our family was led out of Iran, just by pure miracle through the hand of the Lord. And we've always had this just reverence for that miracle.
Morgan Jones Pearson 7:07
I love that so much. And I want to make sure that I understand one part of your mom's political activism, because I think it can kind of set a stage for what we're going to talk about in the rest of this interview. But your mom, so basically, she was concerned about religious freedom on either side. So initially, she was wanting there to be the ability to practice religion, but then she didn't want people to be forced, is that right?
Shima Baughman 7:33
Exactly. They want she wanted a Western democracy like America, where people could choose to worship or not to worship. And then of course, you know, it went from one extreme to the to the other.
Morgan Jones Pearson 7:45
So interesting. You mentioned that there were some things that were really hard. And you specifically said a few of the things that were going on in Iran, that would make it traumatic. But I imagine that coming to the United States, there are a lot of things that would be hard as well, and assimilating to an entirely new culture. What was that like for you and your family?
Shima Baughman 8:06
Yeah, I'm so glad you asked that. I feel like we have these buttoned up versions of our stories that focus only on the the mercies and the miracles and kind of gloss over the pain and hardship. And I feel like it ignores this kind of heart wrenching middle part of our story. And, you know, kind of goes to the happily ever after, and ignores the parts that don't end happily. And I think while I love to personally focus on gratitude and blessings, and think about the positive, I think, in solidarity with people who struggle or who are struggling right now in different aspects of life, I think it's good to recognize some of that struggle in the hard, so along with the miraculous conversion, the faith that I saw, you know, I have seen racism and pain. You know, my mom was in prison two and a half years when I was really young and my dad was a war doctor and wasn't there so we were kind of passed around amongst family members, I faced racism growing up being a kid who didn't fit in. I wanted a different name growing up, I wanted to be called Kimberly and I wished I had blonde hair and white skin and, you know, went from being an awkward child who spoke two words, yes and no, and got them confused and felt like a burden to my teacher and, you know, was accused of having bombs, called a terrorist, beat up once because of my ethnicity. My parents had to work nights and weekends to create this brand new life for us. And so, you know, I've experienced nowhere near the worst of anything as far as assimilation or racism or any of those things, but but I think it's important to acknowledge those things as well that hard things happen to lots of people and there's a lot of struggle that people go through but I do need to add to that. I'm so filled with gratitude that we were able to be saved from the war that I found the Church of Jesus Christ and the best experiences we had integrating in the US and assembling I have to say were through members of the Church who were so generous with us. They invitef us to dinner, they mentored us, they brought us Christmas one year, they let us play with their kids. And I know my parents loved the Church because the love they felt from the people in it. And, you know, I just I think that's just something that we've all been grateful for, and also the freedoms that we've enjoyed here. And, you know, I think this land is a consecrated one. It's a land of liberty as Lehi prophesied and a real a real beacon to the world in so many ways I feel like.
Morgan Jones Pearson 10:29
Absolutely, I completely agree. And I love the way you put that. I wondered, I know that you were originally raised a Muslim, how would you say as a Latter-day Saint today that that foundation plays a role or influences your faith now?
Shima Baughman 10:51
Yeah, my parents both came from spiritual roots. So my dad's mother got married at the age of nine, in a small town on the border of Iran and Iraq to her cousin who was 30, which was totally acceptable at the time, they had eight children. But the coolest thing is she taught herself how to read from the Quran, and taught her kids the principles of the Quran and really the principles of the Quran, a lot of it parallels Old Testament and even recognizes Jesus is a prophet. So my dad had this upbringing. And they strongly believed in education, my dad was the eldest son, and because they couldn't afford to send everybody to school, they sent him and then he was able to educate his sisters, which really good gave them this great start. And I think this importance of family was really instilled in him, as well as my mom. So she came from these deep spiritual roots, her mom had an unfortunate divorce because her husband left her for a woman that was the age of her second daughter, and, but yet she remained faithful her entire life. And I think this deep faith in God that came to both of my parents, and this deep commitment to family, in the Muslim faith is what made my mother so attracted to the Church. I mean, the first principle that resonated with her is that families can be together forever, because she really cared so much about that foundation. I think that's something that Muslims and people from The Church of Jesus Christ share today is that real kind of preeminence that we put on the family. And I think it's a really profound principle, that for people that have lost loved ones, and I think sometimes we take it for granted. But I was talking to a friend recently who's from Rwanda. And she's lost almost every single person in her family due to the genocide, except for maybe one that's in Norway. And she recently joined the church. And it was this amazing feeling to be able to talk to her about the temple and talk to her about the fact that she can be sealed to her family and be with them forever. And it's I think, sometimes we forget how profound that is, and it is something that other faiths would enjoy. I think that's why my mom was so drawn to the church, and how can I be with my family forever? I think one other thing I would mention about the Islamic faith that's been so interesting is that the consequences you think of the Islamic theocracy that took over, as I mentioned, it's 79. It's been in place since then. And people don't have the chance to choose their religion based on their conscience. And so they have to worship Islam, they can't convert. And this has been really damaging for the for people's face. And I think what the lesson was when I've gone back a few times, is that the consequences in Iran of the lack of faith are the same as what would have happened if the plan of Satan were to come into effect, right? That there's a lack of true faith and a rejection of religion, and God with politics. So I don't like my political leaders, I don't like God. And it's really become this, this horrible thing where the younger generation connects faith and government, they don't want to have anything to do with God, because they don't like the pressure of their government. And so I think we see the lack of free agency in action, and the consequences are dire, and Christ's way is the only way that would have ever worked. And so we know that theoretically, in the gospel, but I think having seen it in Iran and seeing it now, I mean, we all can see it. It's a true, you know, it's a truth that Christ ways the only way we need free agency, otherwise we won't have the faith that we have.
Morgan Jones Pearson 14:17
I think that's such an excellent point. And it's interesting to think about, I love that you highlighted the fact that you are a convert to the church. But even for you, it was cool to hear. Another more recent convert, reminds you of like the joy of learning about aspects of the Gospel for the first time. I just recently was interviewing somebody and I said, they were telling me how they always felt like they could pray. But there was never the idea that God might respond that you could you could actually receive revelation for yourself and whoever it was that I was interviewing said You know, when that when you've never been taught that idea is like revolutionary. And I had never thought of it that way. And so I think it's so cool to recognize like these things that sometimes, even as people that maybe have joined the church, it has always been a part of their lives. But you know, we grow accustomed to the things that we believe in, and it's easy to take those things for granted. I also love the point that you made about agency and how important that aspect is of our Heavenly Father's plan. I wonder Shima so you now are an attorney and a law professor, I wonder how did your experiences growing up shaped what you wanted to do professionally? Obviously, your mom's experiences have to have played a role. And at what point did you did you know, you wanted to be an attorney?
Shima Baughman 15:49
Yeah. You know, honestly, law school was something I happened upon after I kind of failed to succeed at picking one of the acceptable career choices for my immigrant parents. I mean, I decided no on medicine, no on dentistry is the last minute I said, I settled on taking the LSAT, in February, my senior year at BYU thinking that, you know, maybe I can just last minute make this happen. And I walked across the street to BYU law school from BYU. And you know, they let me in for the next fall. So I was lucky. But I remember vividly, this will give you a good example of what I'm dealing with here. When I told my parents that I decided to attend law school, and how excited I was because I received a full ride scholarship. And I thought they'll be so excited. They don't have to pay for this. And, you know, as I mentioned, my dad was a neurosurgeon and Iran, he was also a neurologist in the US. And so from a young age, he made it very clear that we are all expected to become doctors.
I knew that we disappointed that I wasn't gonna become a doctor. But I figured they'd be understanding and thrilled that graduate school is now getting paid for and they don't have to worry about it. And after I told them, there's a few moments of silence, and finally, my dad says in Farsi, something every daughter yearns to hear from her dad after making this career defining decision, "Shima, you are lazy. So this will give you a lot of insight into my family and how that decision went.
Morgan Jones Pearson 17:20
That is amazing. That's so funny. So So talk to me a little bit about how you feel like, once you kind of got into your legal career, how maybe your experiences shaped kind of where your interests ended up landing as far as law goes,
Shima Baughman 17:39
Yeah, I mean, I entered law school with this desire to serve. And I thought I wanted to kind of do something with this opportunity I've had to come to the United States, I have this huge blessing, this huge miracle. And so I wanted to kind of give back. And so that's where the desire to eventually end up doing criminal justice ended up. So I knew with law, there's enough social justice I could do and, and then I ended up being really interested after law school and criminal law.
Morgan Jones Pearson 18:05
So interesting. Okay, so during your Fulbright, you had an experience that led you, you said to kind of grapple with justice and criminal defense. Tell me a little bit about that.
Shima Baughman 18:11
Yeah, I had an experience living in Malawi that really tested my convictions about the right of each person to have excellent legal advocate and about mercy and justice. So, so due process and the rule of law, and you learn in law school are best preserved when each person has the best representation. and especially the defendant has vigorous defense. So I went to Malawi in 2008 to defend some of the poorest defendants in felony cases. And in Malawi, only people charged with murder are able to get a free attorney. So those with any other felonies basically go unrepresented. And so I was able to represent them because I went to law school in a common law country. So I kind of did that. And one weekend, I was in the northern part of the country. And with the help of legal aid staff, we filed 50 bail applications to get people out of jail pretrial in this period where they were languishing just waiting for charges and nothing had been filed. And these individuals had been charged with various felonies right, you name them—burglary, arson, you know robbery, assault, rape all these things. So I come back very excited about all the work I've done, but my house had been burglarized. And my guard who was standing guard of the house had been assaulted really badly for these guys to get in and get our stuff, a large amount of cash was stolen, that was locked away to buy a car. So then, you know, all of the sudden the money that we had saved to buy a car was gone. It was devastating. And it made me really grappled with my beliefs in justice and why I was there to serve right. I had been helping people to get out of jail who had allegedly burglarized homes just like mine. So people who had cut people just like my dear guard that we loved and did I believe in these principles of justice and vigorous representation, and you know, Christlike service when it came to helping people charged with the crimes I was affected by. And it just was really difficult. And I honestly wanted to hang my head up and say, let's just go back to America because this stuff doesn't happen as often here. But I stuck it out and it ended up really solidifying my belief in the need for mercy for the accused in a real way, where despite the harm I had suffered personally, I understood that No, overall, this is right. People deserve mercy and justice and the rule of law should still prevail, despite hard things happening even to me. And it really just kind of solidified my 'okay, I really do believe this, because I'm still gonna keep defending these people who did harm to me' so it was rough.
Morgan Jones Pearson 20:54
Fascinating. So in the years since, not only you but also your sister, have been very involved in legal reform, you in particular have fought to create reform for those who are incarcerated. I wonder how does the fact that your mom was once incarcerated influence the work that you've done and the compassion that you have for those who are in that situation?
Shima Baughman 21:21
Absolutely. It's had a profound impact, because I know that some people are incarcerated unfairly. And I have empathy for people and families of those who are incarcerated, regardless of why, because I know it takes a toll. And with my mother's example of fighting for policy change, and this profound pressure of feeling that God miraculously saved us and brought us to this land of opportunity, I really felt that I needed to show Heavenly Father that I recognized His hand in bringing us to this land, and I didn't want to waste my opportunity in America to give back to try to contribute in this small way, after all the blessings I'd received. And so I decided I wanted to work in criminal justice policy and help those that were the kind of bottom of the social hierarchy that might feel shame or that feel forgotten. And I remember my first case, you'll love this because it's ties back to my mom. But my first big case after my clerkship was with a prisoner. And he was a Jewish rabbi, it was in 2006. And he was prohibited from the Bureau of Prisons, he served in federal prison from praying at the right times in a clean place. So he was stuck praying in the cell, but because the prison cells have toilets in them, they're unclean, according to Jewish law. And so he wasn't able to pray. And I just remember feeling the Spirit so strongly, you know when you're doing something, you're just like, 'I know, this is right, I felt that every time I went to that prison and saw him I was like, this feels right, I should be here. And you know, helping this man of faith to try to get an accommodation to be able to practice his religion' because, again, it took me full circle to my mom's own experience with trying to fight for religious freedom. And, you know, one more thing I'll mention too, I feel like becoming a Christian, I think that was a huge piece of it with my mom converting and then then us converting his children and being a good disciple of Christ. It really kind of gave us more compassion for those that were incarcerated. And the Savior specifically mentioned visiting people in prison, right of all the things there's not a ton that we have the the Savior said, But he mentioned that, and Isaiah talking about the Lord says that he will open the prison for those who are bound. In Psalms it says that the Lord will set prisoners free. I just I don't believe that Christ's will only liberate those spiritually in prison. I think sometimes we talked about those terms, I do think that He will also liberate those who are physically imprisoned, and who want to follow Him. And I think, you know, we all need His grace to forgive us and, and I just think sometimes that the harsh treatment that we have of those who have committed crimes, might have something to do with our inability to see sins in ourselves. And so anyway, those thoughts and thinking about Christ right and He Himself was convicted of crime and convicted, sentenced to die and so many great prophets were. You think of Paul right, David, Abinadi,, Nephi and Lehi in the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger, Amulek. Joseph Smith, so many great people have been incarcerated. Moses, Moses killed a man right? Then repented, saw God, became one of the greatest prophets and and was able to help Joseph Smith restore the gospel. So I just think there's a real tie with becoming a Christian and this and people that are incarcerated, the least among us, I've felt that pull to help those people.
Morgan Jones Pearson 24:47
Well, hopefully people get a sense Shima, I love listening to you talk about this because you're so passionate about it, that it like you can feel it when you're talking. But also it makes me think, so my dad is a lawyer in North Carolina. And you know, my whole life I've heard people make jokes about lawyers and attorneys, and my dad just kind of like takes it, you know, doesn't really say anything. But a few years ago, I asked him, I was supposed to be giving a devotional for something about the name of Christ, the name that Christ is referred to as advocate. And I asked him, I was like, 'You're much more qualified to speak to this having been people's advocate than I am so I wonder if you could share your thoughts on why people deserve an advocate.' And my dad talked about how just believing if we understand and believe that everyone is a child of God, and then we think about the fact that Christ was called an advocate, then in an effort to be a disciple of him, we should advocate for others, and he did a much better job of explaining it than I am. But I think it's really cool when you can take what you do professionally, and put it into a gospel context and I think that adds greater passion to the work that we do.
Shima Baughman 26:06
I love that so much. I think that's so true.
Morgan Jones Pearson 26:09
Shima, you are now making a big career transition to focusing on how the gospel can heal society and reform individuals better than policy. So after all, this time working to policy reform, you're kind of shifting your focus, how did you reach this conclusion? Tell people a little bit about the work that you're going to be doing moving forward? And why do you believe that it's true that the gospel can heal society and reform individuals better than policy?
Shima Baughman 26:41
Yeah, I mean, the COVID pandemic, and the storms, earthquakes, civil unrest, were all a real poignant reminder to me that life on earth is fragile, and that we're in perilous times like it talks about in 2 Timothy, and it reminded me that my primary purpose on this earth is to build the kingdom of God and to become the best disciple of Christ I can. And I think God kind of taught me this lesson through my scholarship, although, I'll have to mention, if I had listened to my mother, I would have figured this out a little bit sooner. But I've been working since 2008 to reduce mass incarceration through public policy, and a lot of it's through scholarship. But, you know, starting in 2010, I was full of enthusiasm trying to help solve mass incarceration and I wanted to make the system more just so I argued in 2010, for the first time publicly in this New York Times op ed, that we needed to let people out of prison on bail. And this was kind of a new concept at the time. But since then, so many scholars have written about really neat scholarship, talking about risk assessments and increasing pretrial supervision, and in reducing money bail, and all these important things. And what has happened over the last 12 years is hundreds of pending bills. 500 bills passed, it's been called the third generation of bail reform. So huge change in this area and many jurisdictions changing it's not an exaggeration to say that every single state has done something on bail reform, so it's been a huge thing. But what's the result, and this is the thing that kind of led to my existential crisis is that it's all been a failure. So in the last 15 years, the increase in pretrial detention accounts for 99% of the jail growth, and despite, you know, record decreases in arrest and crime, pretrial detention is still getting worse in America. And there's been a 433% increase in detention since 1970. And so basically, it's failed, right? All of these policy efforts have failed, because my goal of ending mass incarceration, or even reducing it through bail reform has not worked. And so I started to really realize this. And then I thought, you know, if I never whispered a word about bail reform, would things have actually gotten better because crime rates have been going down? And maybe the bail reform has just caused more antagonism, and it's gotten worse anyway. But really, what it caused me to do was pray and this existential crisis of like, what am I doing with my career, am I making things worse, really made me think about what are the real answers? What are lasting answers, and when I came to is that incarceration is a symptom of a larger problem, and the larger problems are all solved through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so this greater lesson is something my mom taught me growing up. And I remember growing up, we were so proud of all of this advocacy my mom did, this policy work to obtain freedoms and what a powerful woman and great example, and she is, and I'm still amazed by her. But what she's always said about that experience of serving that we ignored as kids and I ignored basically growing up, I think, is that she attempted to change policy and politics. But she's always said that the only true change that you see comes from changing people's hearts and souls, and she will say the way Christ did, and so she has chosen the rest of her life to have spiritual change rather than policy change. And so I just kind of understand now at this better level that policy is fickle, and it's changeable by people. But changes of the heart, right from a conversion to the gospel is the only lasting change. And so changing policy is temporary, but changing a creature or a human is lasting. And that's only done through Jesus Christ. And so that's why I'm really excited about this next move.
Morgan Jones Pearson 30:27
Okay, so tell tell us a little bit about what the future looks like, at least hopefully, for you.
Shima Baughman 30:35
Yeah. So you know, I've recently accepted a position at the Wheatley Institute at BYU starting summer of 2023, to help run a center that looks at what the benefits of religion are to society and how religion can help solve social problems, and also kind of teach criminal law at BYU law school, I'm going to continue to do empirical work, because I do love data. And I think it's so important to make important decisions but I'm really most excited to use my faith and the principles of the gospel, to help transform society, because I know that's where the magic will happen. And, you know, for example, I thought about cool things, intersections of my bail work with this stuff. But then you think about how ministering to people before trial? Like could that reduce crime? I really think, based on previous studies that it can, and what if we set up every inmate who was released with the church if they were interested for mentoring, and they ministered to those people. And I just think that the principles of Christ can transform criminal justice. And I have, you know, one beautiful example of that, that I found in my time studying bail is, there was a woman who lost her son, and she attended the trial, the young man who killed her son, and in her grief, she told the boy, 'I'm gonna kill you.' After sentencing, then she finds out what prison he went to, and she visited him regularly for years. And towards the end of this his stay, she said, 'do you have a place to go?' And he said, 'No, I don't.' And she said, 'I would like you to live with me.' And she said, 'When I told you I would kill you, I wanted to kill the person who killed my son, you're no longer that person. And now I want you to be my son. And I want to take care of you from now on.' And so, I mean, there's just so much good that can be done by this transformation of person and done through Christ. I got a letter from another inmate this week, who has no idea I'm doing this new work. But it was very profound. He just said, he thought that the justice system was aimed to make society better. But instead, it creates this downward spiral of defendants. That's his words. And he says that see no way towards redemption. And he said, allowing for redemption and mercy would grant the defendant opportunity to show an acknowledgement of mistakes, and a path towards righting the wrongs committed. And I just love that point, right? I mean, if we don't love and forgive people, they'll never improve, and we'll never be able to leave that hate in our heart. And so I just, I think there's so much room in the future for marrying these criminal justice, and mercy and forgiveness principles. And you think of all the principles of the gospel that can help criminal justice.
Morgan Jones Pearson 33:18
Well everything that you were just saying, which I agree with, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Ezra Taft Benson, which I'm sure you're familiar with this quote, but where he says, 'The Lord works from the inside out, the world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums, Christ would take the slums out of the people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment, Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.' And I think that that is just so so true. And so I love that this is where you've landed and where you're putting your focus. I know because we talked through this process, Shima, that you really sought a lot of personal revelation in making this decision and it has big implications for your career moving forward. What does that process you said you prayed a lot, but what else does that process of seeking personal revelation look like for you?
Shima Baughman 34:22
Yeah, I mean, something my husband Ryan I joke about is that he's a very slow, methodical thinker and decision maker, and I'm the kind of rash decision maker. I dive in headfirst. I make decisions very quickly, you know, I decided to marry him after a month, I decided to go to law school in two weeks. I just kind of do that. But with this, it was so different. And I think God really gave me the gift of patience and deliberation, which I'm not usually blessed with when BYU called me to interview and go back to teach there and the fact that I even gave it a chance I'm like, I live in Salt Lake right by the University of Utah. Why would I do that? But they got me in this vulnerable state right before conference where my heart was soft, I was praying how I could build the kingdom better. And then BYU calls. And I think, Okay, well, let me let me think about this. But it was a lot of back and forth. And it took me from Octoberwhen I got the first call to June to decide that I was going to BYU. And I've honestly never deliberated that way, with that level of openness to a decision where I was like, I'm just gonna wait and see what the Lord has, not kind of like I'm leaning one direction, and I'm going to kind of push it that way, right? And so, my process again, we talked about prayer, but I read the Book of Mormon every day that helped a lot because of the reminders of Christ, I went to the temple every week, which I have to say, is a lot easier than going once a month. And mostly, I was just open to God's will completely, which is not typically how I pray. And so typically, I pray with my agenda in mind, and I want God to kind of check off his approval to my decisions. But this time, I really felt like I gave him a blank canvas. And I just told them, I was willing to go and do and then let him make of it, what he will, and waited and listened. And there was a lot of silence and a lot of waiting. But I was just very blessed with patience. And he put incredible people on my path that led me to different pieces that you know all the details about, we don't need to recount all that here. And then at the at the end of it, I had no choice but to go to BYU, it was just clear. And so it just really taught me that I really need to do a better job of letting God have this blank canvas and letting him work. And it was interesting, because I learned later so God wasn't really trying to make me wait to teach me patience, although it did teach me patience. That position I was looking for—this religion and society building position wasn't even available. So actually, I learned later, you know, President Oaks and Elder Clark Gilbert, were actually working on it at the time. So between, say like November, December, to later in the Spring is when they had worked on it. So he wasn't just making me to be patient just to learn that, but I learned it wasn't even available. And so, gladly for me, I'd never rejected the offer. And I waited until the right position came up. But it really was a great lesson to me of giving God a more of a blank canvas on everything. It shouldn't just be the big decisions. But why? Why am I always guiding my own path? Like let Him guide right? Isn't that what we're supposed to do?
Yeah, well, I think there's so many good things that you said in there and principles that we can pull out. One thing my husband and I were just talking recently about how it is interesting, that different times, we may feel that we're making decisions in different ways. So like, sometimes we are just seeking confirmation. Other times we're seeking direction. And so how we come to the Lord in those instances may look different. But I love that in this instance, it's like, 'I'm coming to you with a blank canvas, and I want to do what you want me to do.' And I think for some of us, like that can come easier than for others. And so I love that you recognize, you know, a need to develop that. I also love and I want to touch on this. So you kind of glossed over this. But you said that you feel like going to the temple every week is easier than going once a month. I heard you say this recently on something else. Tell people what you mean by that?
Well, I just think it's once a month feels hard. And I think once a week is something that is more present. It's kind of top of mind. If you think okay, I have to do this every week. I don't know it's been it's a good weekly habit. I think it's harder for me to keep things as a monthly habit. I love the blessings. So by the next week, I'm ready to go.
Morgan Jones Pearson 38:47
Yeah, no, I love that. And I wanted to make sure people caught that. And then I also love because we're in the month leading up to General Conference, I think it's an important reminder that when we are seeking answers to questions like we can come with soft hearts, like you said, a willingness to be taught and receive answers to even professional questions and receive guidance. I think sometimes when we experience professional success, or even when we've been through really formative experiences associated with different parts of our identity, there's layers on layers of what we use to identify ourselves. I think sometimes when we've had those experiences, it can be really easy to define ourselves primarily by what we do professionally, or these other aspects of our identity. But I've been really impressed Shima since I met you to see how much you define yourself as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I wonder why is that so important to you? How do you keep that in check? How do you keep your identity as a child of God and a disciple of Christ at the forefront or at the core of who you are?
Shima Baughman 40:03
That's kind of you to say, President Nelson's revelatory devotional to the youth in the world was really transformative to me, I think, especially as someone who's felt so much like an outsider everywhere, like I felt like I don't quite fit in the US. For most of my life, I felt like an imposter saying, I'm an American, even though I'm an American citizen, I love America more than anyone. I've just felt like, do I really fit in? And when I've been back in Iran, I don't quite fit in there because I have an accent. And so I've had to grapple with how to unpack this. But, you know, what is my prevailing identity? Is it an Iranian American? Is it a woman of color, I mean, neither of these identities have brought me joy or completeness, and or unity with my brothers and sisters. And so I prefer to focus on my identity as a child of God, a covenant-keeping disciple of Christ. It's so empowering for me to remember that I come from Heavenly Parents, and recognizing that only through living the gospel can we heal these deep wounds of her and division that we have individually for me, or societally, you know, for others. And I think Christ just recognizes all of our pains, including racism, He suffered all of it, so that, you know, we can overcome because He's overcome. And I was just so profoundly touched this last year, it's really kind of transformed my identity hearing from Brother Ahmad Corbitt of the young men's presidency, he spoke to some Salt Lake stakes. And he said that healing racism and unity can only come through recognizing that we're all divine, and treating each other as brothers and sisters. And I love that because studying race and dealing with criminal justice, I've been to a lot of things discussing racial bias, and racial unity. And I think that is really the answer, it resonates as such truth if we can recognize our divinity and treat each other as such, that will really heal all of the divisions of our day.
Morgan Jones Pearson 40:11
Absolutely. And one thing I always think about, and I think this is why President Nelson's talk to the youth was so important, is everything in this crazy world that we live in, makes more sense when we view it through that lens of, I am a child of God, and everyone around me as a child of God, and then we operate from there moving forward. And I think that changes, has the ability to change, everything. Shima, thank you so much. This has been amazing, you are so so great. And I am grateful for the chance to learn from you and to share your goodness with a lot of people that will listen to this episode. And my last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Shima Baughman 42:46
Well, you know, I'm a super fan of you and this podcast. And I've said this to you privately. And I'm going to say to you publicly, but I believe that you are the Oprah of The Church of Jesus Christ. And I'm so grateful for your thoughtful questions, and you just bring so much light to the world. And I wanted to say that before I answered, because I know that you can't edit it out.
Morgan Jones Pearson 43:07
For the record, Shima, I think you're ridiculous in saying that, but I do take it as a compliment so thank you. You may proceed.
Shima Baughman 43:16
Okay, for me, to be all in on the gospel of Jesus Christ is to recognize not at an ethereal level, but on a daily practical level, that the greatest single act that's ever taken place on this earth is the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, that I need to recognize that because my Savior suffered and died for me, that I'm filled with His grace and love, and never ending abundance, despite my mistakes that I've made and will make and that I'm not asked as well to judge anyone else's actions. So I need to love my neighbors and my enemies. And as President Nelson said, spend a fair share of my time with Him and His service, and that I can change my thoughts to more loving ones, and that I must forgive those who harm me. I must focus on the massive beams in my eyes, rather than the tiny moats in other people's eyes that I need to understand that I need God's grace, just like a person convicted of a crime, and maybe I need it even more, and that I might allow Christ's Atonement to work through me daily, and to continue to progress and have joy and improve incrementally each day and also with gratitude, that when I do make the same mistakes over and over, that Christ is my greatest cheerleader, and that He will continue to forgive me, as long as I continue to try to follow Him.
Morgan Jones Pearson 44:41
So well said Shima thank you so much. I appreciate this. And I know that so many will appreciate the chance to hear your words. So thank you.
Shima Baughman 44:52
Thank you, you're the best.
Morgan Jones Pearson 44:54
Following our interview. Shima told me she thought a lot more about the temple and why going consistently has made a significant difference in her life. I loved what she said and asked if she would be willing to share it in a voice memo.
Shima Baughman 45:08
Aside from the fact that it's easier on a scheduling or habitual basis, we live in a fallen world. So going to spend a little time in the house of God, or the divine realm can feel foreign. But the more often we go, the more we remember that we are divine, and that our eternal destiny is with God. So we feel a sense of belonging there. We also allow God to nudge us in the ways we need to change, to feel even closer to Him, and provide Him the proximity to pour love and blessings on us and to compound our joy so that we can better face the world when we leave.
Morgan Jones Pearson 45:46
We are so grateful to Shima Baughman for joining us on today's episode. Big thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six Studios for his help with this episode. And thank you so much for listening. We'll look forward to being with you again next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai