Gatekeepers and Keymasters

This is the 2nd part of a discussion regarding confession in the Church. Part I can be found here.

Prepare for the coming of BYU! All the prisoners will be released!

Put yourself in the shoes of a Church administrator that wants to hire some folks. You want to make sure that the people you hire are good Church people, that they won’t bring embarrassment upon the Church. You also don’t want to have to waste time interviewing people with these intrusive sorts of questions all the time. Why not use the shortcut of the temple recommend?

Though the recommend questions are not the definitive guide on how to be a good Mormon, they do represent the major shibboleths of Mormon worship and probably cover those aspects of LDS culture that an administrator would most care about. It is fairly good logic for a Church administrator to require employees to have and maintain a temple recommend as condition of employment. (some background on the recommend and the questions can be found in the footnotes [1])

Now, the ecclesiastical endorsement is not the same thing as a temple recommend, nor is it as old a practice, but it is another manifestation of ecclesiastical gatekeeping by local leaders in the Church. The Church has required letters of recommendation from local leaders for BYU students to be admitted as early as the 1940s. Though some of the same subject matter overlaps, the ecclesiastical endorsement is far, far broader than a temple recommend. The endorsement is far more recent than any recommend, with seeds sown by Ernest Wilkinson in the late 1960s and cemented by administrators afterwards (Bergera’s book on this topic is helpful, while not referring to as many primary sources as one could want). Finally, in 1983 a recurring endorsement was deemed a formal requirement of continuing status at all Church-operated universities.

What’s wrong with requiring a temple recommend or an ecclesiastical endorsement? Don’t we want to make sure that Church employees and students at Church-owned universities are living by the standards we expect? I believe that good intentions are at work here, and I have no problem with standards. Certainly the institutions have the legal right to do what they are doing, but more so I think it is a good idea to have honor codes and standards of conduct for Church employees and students. It tastes good to me.[4] But there are significant and harmful negative externalities with our approach. Dallin Oaks, then a newly-minted president of BYU, said in an address to students,

the administration of this university has no desire to use the coercive pressure of academic standing or continued enrollment as a club to force church attendance or activity.

This would be really nice. But good intentions of administrations notwithstanding, there is significant evidence that what Elder Oaks wants to avoid is in fact what happens: faculty and students alike are under constant threat of losing their jobs or their academic standing if they do not participate in Church to the extent required for an ecclesiastical endorsement. I personally experienced this pressure while attending BYU, being afraid to miss too much church or have the wrong length of shorts for fear of receiving a call from the Honor Code Office. [5] Similarly, I have heard from many students and faculty who are afraid of saying the wrong thing in a class, of being too outspoken in Gospel Doctrine or of participating in online forums because they believe that the administration would take action against them, something which it has actually done in the not-too-distant past. For academics, whose job prospects are terrible under ideal circumstances, there is no choice in the matter: you fake it until you make it. [6]

I believe that it is inherently problematic to tie ecclesiastical endorsements to non-ecclesiastical matters. When a person’s livelihood, educational opportunities or ability to provide for their family is conditioned upon religious practice and belief, we have immediately introduced a system of perverse incentives that cannot be easily overcome. For those without doubts or sins, ecclesiastical endorsements are admittedly probably not an issue, but for the sinner they present an insurmountable crisis. Repentance can mean public humiliation for Church members because of structural limitations in our confession system, as I wrote about previously. But for Church employees or BYU students or faculty, consulting with your bishop might mean getting booted out of the university (in addition to your personal life being destroyed).

Consider an example: suppose that you have a friend in his last year at BYU. He has been wrestling with pornography issues. If he reveals this struggle to his bishop, that bishop may report this to the BYU Honor Code Office. This is grounds for losing the ecclesiastical endorsement and for being denied graduation. Those years would be wasted. What would you advise your friend? [7]

Consider another example: a friend is employed by the Church (to make it easier, let’s say that it’s a non-ecclesiastical function, such as helping with some of the Church’s investment vehicles). There is no reason to suppose that your friend is otherwise unqualified to perform his job, but he has become offended by some of his local leaders and no longer attends regularly, preferring to take to the slopes. His temple recommend is about to expire. What would you advise your friend?

These are not farfetched examples by any stretch, but they highlight the dilemma placed upon people by demanding righteous worship as a condition to secular benefits. But keep in mind there are two equally harmful dynamics going on here: the first is the incentive for the sinner to conceal their sin, and the second is for the ecclesiastical leader to provide information regarding the sinner to the administration. The first is a natural reaction to potentially devastating results, but the second is a structure that we have deliberately established. We have purposefully set up bishops as judges in Israel, but the modern form of that judgment is now a sentence largely carried out with punishment outside chapel walls. The irony here is that the people most in need of a bishop’s counsel and spiritual intervention are those with the greatest incentives to never, ever trust their bishop with that information. What of the sinner at BYU? There is little hope for them.

Is there a way that BYU could preserve a form of ecclesiastical endorsement while not negatively affecting the ability of bishops to succor their congregations? If what we’re doing isn’t working, what should we do? I find myself drawn again and again to this oft-quoted saying:

“I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls–walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground–there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first!
-Karl G. Maeser, cited on the home page of the Honor Code Office

Obviously these things are not up to me, but personally I place a premium on personal salvation and would want sinners to feel able to talk to their bishops. The penitent should be provided a path to repentance without fear of reprisal by administrators. So, give bishops discretion in filling out these forms; boil the questions down from a litany of praxis towards questions more indicative of a general desire to serve Jesus Christ and to learn. [8] But let’s restore the ability of bishops to give succor to those who may work for the Church or study at the Y. Students, faculty and Church employees should not be coerced into Church activity.

Better still, let’s learn from Karl Maeser. What if we took his approach seriously? [9]

Lastly, this.


[1] The best stuff is always in the footnotes! Also, the references to footnotes 2 and 3 are in the footnotes. I did this on purpose. Anyways: bishops are more than just nice people you can talk to when you sin. They are also “judges in Israel,” which boils down to being arbiters of disputes as well as protectors of the flock. When our membership was primarily agrarian in nature, the bishop played a much more predominant role: collector of tithes, dispenser of consecrated goods from the storehouse, giver of community justice and much more. This is largely vestigial today in most parts of the world – we have effective secular justice systems, tithing is not paid-in-kind and the sole remnant of the consecration days is the tithing settlement. Nonetheless, the role of bishop as the local protector of the community of Saints is still alive and well. This is done mostly on an ad-hoc and informal basis, as the bishop replies to reports of unrest and intervenes as necessary (for example, by tapping the speaker on the shoulder when testimony meeting has clearly gone off the rails).

The Church has long depended on local recommendations as it sends its members into the world. The earliest examples are that of licensures for priests as they are called as missionaries – the local congregations can know that these are truly representatives of the Church as they possess letters of certification from other bishops or ecclesiastical leaders whose bona fides have already been established throughout the Church. Members also took with them letters from leadership as they moved from one ward to another. As the Church came under increased persecution, it became more and more necessary to be sure that visiting ministers were not apostates in reality, wolves in sheep’s clothing whose presence could very well cause local congregations to leave the larger church en masse. This practice continues today.

The practice of temple recommends is not quite as old as that of certificates for missionaries, but it is fairly well-established. While unnecessary during the Nauvoo period (where temple rites were initiated only to those known by the Church leadership to be members in good standing), as the Church expanded in Utah and multiple temples opened, the temple presidencies needed to know again who was really a good member and who was an intruder, threatening to make mockery of sacred things. Largely an offshoot of the Mormon Reformation, bishops interviewed members locally to determine their standing in the Church, inquiring as to whether they were murderers, cattle rustlers or so forth.[2] A fine early example of a recommend signed by Wilford Woodruff can be seen on display in the Manti temple [3]. Again, bishops served in gatekeeping roles, passing names up to the higher church leaders for admission to the highest ordinances our religion can offer.

[2] See, e.g., Aaron R.’s lovely article on the topic here. See also Ed Kimball’s article, “History of LDS Temple Admission Standards” in The Journal of Mormon History, Spring (1998): 135-175, available here.

[3] You’ll have to keep your eyes open for it. It’s about the same size as a current recommend. Apparently WW got so tired of signing them that he finally conferred that role to stake presidents in 1891 (see here)

[4] [insert TPJS reference here]

[5] BYU is not a place for jorts.

[6] Note that at BYU, even tenured faculty are not immune from the looming threat of ecclesiastical sanction. There is no tenure per se at BYU: as BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins has put it, “Continuing status grants the expectation that faculty members will have continuing employment at the
university, although it is not a guarantee. They still need to meet satisfactory performance levels for scholarship, citizenship and teaching.”

[7] Whether or not a bishop must report honor code violations is unclear. For at least some Church-owned colleges, it is up to the bishop. Neal Andersen read a statement in 1997 at BYU-H that says, in part:

Ecclesiastical leaders, of course, are responsible to work with students who have transgressed, counseling and encouraging them through the processes of repentance, including restitution to those whom the students have offended. The university recognizes this responsibility of ecclesiastical leaders, and it recognizes that there are several appropriate ways for the students to make restitution to the campus community. Therefore, in no instance, as ecclesiastical leaders work with students who have broken the university’s Honor Code, are they obligated to have these offending students report their misconduct to the Honor Code Office. But in those instances when they are impressed to have the students report to the Honor Code Office, both the students and their ecclesiastical leaders should understand that the Honor Code Office will consult and cooperate with the ecclesiastical leaders. At the same time, it will preserve the distinction between the university and the Church, making its decisions consistent with prior decisions and with its written policies.

Source here. This is the most hopeful and helpful thing I have read on the topic. But personal experience and anecdotes have told me that this independence is rare, particularly when the ecclesiastical leaders are employees of the university.

[8] The endorsement is where having local leaders is either a boon or a curse. Under the same set of facts you might have leaders with dramatically varying reactions. This is really scary and I don’t have a lot of answers, except to have faith that God will call good bishops.

[9] What is an ‘honor code’ if you’re so constantly monitored that no amount of trust is involved? Students give their word: we could consider trusting them. Of course people will break their word, but at least we won’t be spying and using our pastors to rat them out. My suspicion (and it’s just a suspicion) is that actual rates of honor code violations would decrease if students felt empowered and trusted by the administration. Not to mention the fact that some of the invented rationales for parts of the honor code boggle the mind. To paraphrase a friend: it makes students dumber if we lead them to believe dumb things — such as reasons for not having beards, or the lack of market demand for Diet Coke. There’s a danger here: either you must reject these notions or you must accept stupid rationales in order to go along with them. You ask them to loosen their epistemic baseline. You ask them to be just a little bit stupid.

Scott B. would like me to remind the world that in these posts I am mostly just mowing his lawn. Fair enough.


  1. Steve, at least concerning BYU faculty, I’ll have to disagree. The current system does have problems, but the alternative would be much worse. Faculty members need to model how to be faithful church members and simultaneously be active participants in their academic fields. If they’ve stopped attending church to go skiing, they’re actively damaging that part of the university’s mission. How long do you think the church would continue to fund BYU if faculty members were drifting out of alignment with church teachings? Church members complain enough about funding BYU as it is. How is the church supposed to justify paying people to teach there who won’t abide by church standards?

    I’ve taught at BYUI and I understand your concerns, but even while I was teaching there, I would have preferred that the university fire me, if I stopped living the standards I was supposed to represent to students, than to work at a place where the standards were optional for faculty.

    So, yes, this means that faculty members might lose their jobs. If they no longer fit the mission of BYU, they should find jobs where the fit is better. That’s how it works for most people in most situations.

  2. As a current BYU professor, I’d like to applaud this post and emphasize how difficult it is to have any kind of problem or sensitive issue (not necessarily transgression!) about which one might wish to be able to counsel with a local leader and feel that path cut off because of the potential consequences for employment and for the family that relies upon that employment. At BYU, agency is replaced by externally imposed spiritual performance, a condition that invites and even promotes hypocrisy. Not one soul will be lost: I thought I voted against that plan.

  3. The Loyal Sons of Denmark cannot let a single misspelling of Elder Andersen’s good Danish name pass uncorrected. It’s like protecting a trademark–if someone doesn’t stand up against the flood of infidels with infringement on their minds, “Andersen” will be next year’s kleenex or escalator.

  4. Mark, as ever a salient and vital point.

  5. Jonathan–I think the point of the post is NOT that there’s a problem with expecting faculty to uphold standards, but there is a problem with outsourcing the judgment of whether or not they are living the standards to ecclesiastical leaders. Conflating temple recommend status with a performance review diminishes the value of the TR interview for both the interviewee and the interviewer, because it introduces for both of them a set of pressures which distract from the spiritual purpose of the interview, AND it gives the employer an inconsistent set of data about how its employees are behaving, because the temple recommend questions are inconsistently interpreted by bishops and SP’cy members.

  6. Meldrum the Less says:

    What is the mission of BYU?
    Having never attended BYU, it appears to me to be two fold.
    1. Academic excellence in education.
    2. Building religious commitment to the LDS faith.
    Are the two connected? Do we have any evidence that high achievement in academics is or is not more commonly associated with or even causatively connected with religious zeal to the LDS faith? Is one more important that the other?
    If we look outside of BYU at other religious institutions, we find that BYU is walking a tight rope. On one hand we have institutions like Emory University with its massive theology library and its indisputable excellence in many academic fields, but it has strayed far from its conservative Methodist roots. On the other hand we have institutions like Oral Roberts University that is so religiously devoted that it resembles a seminary and its academics is dubious at best, definitely not breaking much ground scientifically.
    I think BYU will not be able to sustain this balance indefinitely. It will slide one direction or the other.
    Judging from only a few of the experiences of the peers of my college-age children I think the slide has already begun. Many of the youth who excel academically are only mildly tempted to consider BYU when they have better local options (Emory or GA Tech) or a few have gone to Stanford or Harvard. Many who did go to BYU found it unacceptable. One young lady describes BYU as like “wearing a straight jacket” and thinks she is getting a better education at a local state university. Another somewhat under-achiever says she liked the academic material at BYU but could not stomach the self-righteous social setting. She dropped out of school and works at a drug store.
    The fact that we are even having this discussion and not one about the seemingly outrageous actions of BYU students is telling. If I was a youngish professor, I would think hard about taking a position at BYU unless I was going to be about as satisfied with teaching seminary as with participating fully in my academic field. BYU is nowhere near Oral Roberts, yet. But heading in that direction.

  7. Yeah, JG, I’m not sure that you have read the post correctly. Nowhere do I recommend abandoning standards nor do I suggest making them optional. Perhaps you have a different post in mind?

  8. I wonder, in light of President Uchdorf’s recent encouragement for those to return to the Church, “that there is yet place for you here”, why that same degree of tolerance for church employees should not be applied. And the suggestion that this system encourages concealment and hypocrisy rings true. Having graduated from the U, I was given plenty of grief from my fellow BYU friends about the lack of morality on campus. Yet, many spoke of the enormous pressure to be spiritual. You line up bear your testimony, only to learn later that your spouse has a secret porn habit.
    Speaking of, I had heard that bishops of single’s wards were being instructed to show more latitude to those struggling with pornography. Because if we kicked everyone out that was having issues with pornography, we may not have many left.

  9. Tying an ecclesiastical function (assisting the penitent) to employment or education is problematic to say the least. The law has long recognized that a different set of incentives exist when employment issues are at play. For instance, as explained in a case I recently read, owners of property owe to an invitee the duty to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition or to warn of hidden dangers. This duty does not extend to dangers known to the visitor. There is an exception to the open and obvious danger defense when the injured party encounters a known danger while acting in the course of employment. The rationale for the exception is that an employee is faced with an economic compulsion, i.e., possible loss of employment, which implicitly encourages the employee to encounter the danger or hazard notwithstanding that he or she perceives the risk.

  10. Cathy, the official CHI instructions explicitly state that issues with pornography should not be the basis of excommunication or official church punishment.

    It’s interesting to watch more traditional, hardline local leaders come to grips with being the ones who struggle to accept things from the global leadership – in more ways than this particular issue.

  11. Excellent summary of the issue, Steve.

    The standard articulated in the last part of D&C 121 is my guide in situations like this, which means I agree with your concerns.

  12. Thanks Ray.

  13. Ray: yes, you’re right. I should have used a better term that “kicking out”. Was trying to echo a sentiment illustrated in Part 1 of this article, that often it is this transgression and the issues surrounding the confession thereof that can cause one to isolate himself from the church.

  14. An historical tidbit. While Luther rebelled against much Catholic practice, he continued many of their practices unless he viewed them as forbidden by the Bible. Thus, he continued the practice of the confessional and that a person go to confession before taking communion because he did not read the Bible as forbidding. Calvin was more hardlined, and because he did not read the confessional as something required by the Bible, he ended the confessional. But even Calvin was not comfortable with just anyone taking communion, so he required everyone who wanted to take communion to have a chat with him first (a quality control mechanism like BYU has). Soon, he replaced this with sending elders to visit the homes of everyone in Geneva to interview them four times a year, before communion day (communion was offered four times a year). Those elders would determine if the persons could take communion. In the Church of Scotland, certification of such worthiness to take communion was evidenced by a metal or paper token, which the person turned in at the communion table. The person did not get to keep the token. It needed to be sought each time the communion was offered. Thus, the concepts of “gatekeeping” via paper token “recommend” as a quality control mechanism may be traced back to Calvinism, as may some early versions of home teaching (home visitation continues as a practice in some Presbyterian churches today.) So when people say Mormons are Calvinistic (or Puritan-istic), there is some truth to the matter. End of detour.

  15. A good and thoughtful post. I have certainly felt much freer in my writings now that I’m not trying to get into the BYU/CES system. I don’t think I could write my Genesis book the way I am if I were worried about ultraconservative doctrinal watchdogs. The funny thing is, I’m not exactly some kind of unorthodox liberal…

    Also, “Loyal Sons of Denmark” = Orthographic Danites. /g

  16. A worthy detour, David. Thanks.

  17. Anon for this says:

    Thanks for this, Steve. This is a huge concern for me. Since I started working for the church, I’ve learned a lot more about how the modern church operates and gained some insider access to details in church history, about past and present church leaders, about past and present church policies and decision making, etc. And some of them are very difficult to understand and deal with as they seem to go against things I had previously believed and been taught to believe. I feel a great deal of cognitive dissonance that I don’t know how to overcome, but I can’t talk to my bishop about my concerns, questions, issues, etc. Because if I tell him I’m not sure I believe A, B, and C, he might take away my temple recommend and then I’d lose my job, my home, my security, etc.

    Sometimes I think a break from church might help me–like maybe I could see things more clearly if I had a little distance and if it didn’t feel so forced on me–but that’s not even an option. If I don’t show up enough to still be considered active (and who knows exactly how often that is), I could also lose my temple recommend and with it my job. And then I feel like a hypocrite when I do attend church because I don’t really want to be there and I feel so differently about so many things now that being there can actually be quite painful. I often go home after church and just cry. I don’t go to the temple anymore, which is some relief, but I still have to get my temple recommend renewed. And when they ask me if I have faith in certain things that I’m no longer sure about, what do I say? It’s impossible to be honest because I simply can’t take the risk that I won’t lose my job if I’m not a solid yes or no in all the right places.

    And what’s so hurtful about all of this is that I wasn’t reading anti-mormon literature or taking extended vacations to Babylon. My confusion and concerns weren’t the result of personal sin. They came from working for the church itself, seeing things up close, and asking genuine questions in a search for truth and understanding. But even though being part of the church corporation brought about these struggles, there is no help for me through official church channels. It weighs on me so much, feeling like I can’t be authentically me or share my concerns with anyone who might be able to help me handle them. So I keep it inside mostly and only talk to a handful of trusted friends. But I always feel like I’m just one more straw away from my breaking point.

  18. Chris Kimball says:

    My “elevator pitch” description of this post is “turning bishops into BYU police damages the bishops’ role in counseling and spiritual intervention”. I agree 100%. But what in it’s place? However appealing a pure honor system, it is hard to picture BYU or the Church as employer making such a big change. I believe that any correction or adjustment will involve some kind of external control and policing.
    Also, as a footnote item, may I add that the possibility–even likelihood–that temple recommend questions will change in the relevant period (during a typical term of employment, even during a 4-year student enrollment) is somehow offensive. From the Church or BYU’s point of view it’s only asking what’s right. But from an employer/employee point of view changing the rules mid-stream can look and feel like termination without cause.

  19. I’m currently a BYU professor. When I was interviewing with the Academic Vice President, I expressed some concern about this very topic. I was told that keeping my job at BYU would be (or should be) the least of my worries if the time came when I did not qualify for a temple recommend, that the job was insignificant in comparison. I was stunned.
    I would also like to say that Meldrum is wrong about the direction BYU is going. They are not becoming like Oral Roberts. I’m sure the culture and priorities vary with each Department or College administration, but based on publications and research funding, we are managing to participate fully in our academic fields.

  20. Steve, here’s what you wrote: “The penitent should be provided a path to repentance without fear of reprisal by administrators. So, give bishops discretion in filling out these forms; boil the questions down from a litany of praxis towards questions more indicative of a general desire to serve Jesus Christ and to learn.”

    What you’re asking for, in effect, is that people should be able to ignore behavioral expectations (“litany of praxis”) but continue to draw a paycheck from the church and teach LDS students (“without fear of reprisal by administrators”), as long as they have a “general desire to serve Jesus Christ and to learn.” Or in other words, that not following church standards should have no real-world consequences.

    This could never work in practice, because paying people who don’t follow church standards to teach at BYU is absolutely corrosive to the university’s mission and support for the institution among church members and leaders. I acknowledged all the problems you brought up. What I’m telling you is that the alternative is worse. What’s a ward to think if Brother Smith, who had a falling out with the EQ president and hasn’t been to church in months, is being paid by the church to teach chemistry to the ward’s high school graduates? That kind of situation doesn’t stay private and can’t be allowed to continue indefinitely. That puts Brother Smith in the awkward position of having to choose between losing his job, or coming to church even if he doesn’t want to. If nothing changes, it’s best for everyone if Brother Smith finds a new job sooner or later.

    That’s how it works outside of BYU, by the way. If a professor violates institutional standards of behavior by committing flagrant plagiarism, for example, there’s no way to undo that, to “repent” only with respect to the academic discipline, and expect there to be no consequences for employment. If you act in ways egregiously contrary to the mission of an employer, your employment will end. Having a “general desire” to be a good teacher and scholar isn’t enough to change that.

    And, now that I’ve kind of been one myself, I want church standards to have consequences for BYU faculty. If someone can’t manage to attend church consistently, I don’t want him or her trying to play the role of a good Mormon and a good chemist. BYU students need someone who can do both. I’ve seen the ecclesiastical endorsement process for faculty in the latest BYUI handbook, and I thought it struck a good balance between individual circumstances and institutional needs.

  21. JG, since bishops already possess discretion as to what they convey to the honor code office, your worst nightmares have already been realized.

  22. JG – I’d hope that the education institution would interested in employing the best *chemistry* teacher for job in the first place. I send my children to school to learn the particular subjects they teach there. I want them to have the best teachers for those subjects. At some point in their lives my kids have to learn to be *in* the world, if not *of* it. But that’s probably why I’ve never found BYU to be an even remotely attractive proposition.

  23. Re: Anon for this. A practical aid for attending Sunday meetings and enduring is an ipad or smartphone with wifi or your own 4g/LTE et al. You can sit in a sunday school class where all kinds of nonsense (cultural stuff) is being taught with your head in the ipad/smartphone enjoying something more interesting and uplifting like the scriptures, BCC, ESPN, etc.

    As to your lack of temple attendance, and I don’t mean to cause any more anxiety, but there are multiple reasons why the temple recommends are scanned and those scans are logged as is the absence of temple recommend swipes. I suspect it is pretty easy (possibly routine) for a SP or people in the Church Office Building to find out who at least had their temple recommends swiped at the front desk of a temple right down to the temple, date and time as well as who didn’t have their recommend swiped with something as simple as a few keystrokes. If part of your job hinges on temple attendance you may want to consider that. Doesn’t mean you have to do a session, only have your card swiped at the front desk. Again, apologies if that adds to your well put concerns.

  24. Alsoanon, I’ve never heard of a position that mandated temple attendance.

  25. “a position that mandated temple attendance”

    Surely the temple recorder would have to show up at the temple in order to keep his job.

  26. Lol

  27. I think it is clear that people who sin are already ignoring behavior expectations. What Steve is talking about is what should happen when an individual wants to stop ignoring those expectations and engage in the repentance process. Put simply, should repentance be linked with your ability to continue in your employment? I don’t know why Mormons as a people are so keen that the penitent be required to feel “real-world consequences” since judgment and punishment belongs to God but I recognize the feeling is deep seated. Our culture is quick to insist on perfection and cast out those who fail to achieve it. As for the alleged corrosive effects that allowing someone privately engaged in the repentance process to continue their church employment, that again seems to be the antithesis of Christ’s teachings. The current system is deeply corrosive in that it discourages would-be penitents from seeking out help from their priesthood leaders and perverts the teachings of Christ who admonished the woman taken in adultery “to go thy way and sin no more”.

  28. Well said, Mat, though I don’t deny these institutions the right to impose rules as they see fit.

  29. I didn’t read anon’s job description as mandating temple attendance, but temple attendance for Church and BYU employees can be so easily tracked that I would not be surprised to learn that is it in fact tracked for those employees. A person who lives in Utah, works for the Church and/or BYU and does not attend a temple for a long period of time may raise eyebrows of those who have access to and review such data. That temple attendance data right there in front of the gatekeepers and keymasters and too easily accessibile for the curious.

    With crazy comments like former BYUI Prof/Instructor and now defender JG who is afraid of an inactive Mormon teaching something as spiritually anodyne as chemistry at BYU (the horror!), one does not have to reach black helicopter levels of conspiracy to wonder how temple attendance is added into the mix of gatekeeping and keymastering for those subject to such strictures.

    It would be unfortunate for someone like anon who is working to do the right thing only to be inadvertently ratted out by his own lack of temple attendance. I suppose for some that abilityt to track is a feature not a bug.

  30. alsoanon, it’s not tracked as a policy or general rule, if ever, at the local level. I know of nobody who was fired or disciplined for not attending the temple enough.

  31. Just to add to my last comment, how often someone attends the temple should not be part of any temple recommend interview or ecclesiastical endorsement – although I am positive there are local leaders who would ask, which is part of the issue addressed in this post.

  32. The greater assurance of compliance would be review by the University of tithing records, which President Wilkinson instituted for a time. John Calvin would have backed that too.

    I agree with BenS. For better or for worse, I too feel more free about what I say and what I write because I have no plans to try to teach at a church university or CES. I know and admire many BYU faculty who feel very free and uninhibited in what they do and say.

    As to the Anon church employee, I don’t think my “testimony” is “strong enough” to withstand working for the church. I know enough church employees to agree that it can be very disillusioning. To paraphrase, those who love sausage, laws, or LDS teachings and practices should avoid getting too close to seeing how they are made.

    I am among those who think that the universities should be spun off, like the hospitals were. That there should be a group of schools like SVU. I am not sure what type of monitoring goes on there–as far as TR requirements and the like.

  33. Ray, when we lived in the Washington DC temple district the late 1980s there was tracking of individual attendance–we filled out slips with our names, ward and stake when we attended and they were assembled and sent to our home wards and stakes. As an elders quorum president, I received reports on which members of the quorum attended and how often. I don’t recall exactly when the practice ended.

  34. DavidH, I would be interested to see if something like that still happens.

    Also, fwiw, I also lived in that temple district in the late 1980s. Long, long bus rides from Boston.

  35. Ray, I doubt it still happens anywhere. I think it finally ended when Franklyn D. Richards, a general authority, became temple president of the Washington temple. Part of why I think it may have been adopted in the Washington DC temple was because bureaucracy was a way of life for most people in the area, and that kind of reporting might have seemed natural. I think temple practices are much more tightly controlled from SLC than they were then, so I am pretty sure no temple would be able to institute such a reporting policy without its being shut down pretty quickly.

  36. I would be mildly surprised if someone were let go from COB or BYU for lack of temple attendance. But for Anon, if his or her supervisor were to take note and ask if there was a reason why he or she did not take more advantage of the abundant temples in Utah it could open a can of worms or put the person in an awkward position or, to some I suppose, hasten repentance. It is a potential marker or red flag, not at all dispositive in the creepy surveillance state for COB and BYU employees. Call it an easily rebuttable presumption for an employee who does not attend the temple when temple attendance is at least logistically simple. That’s all. Just something Anon should consider as he or she works out his or her challenges. Anon deserves all the space necessary to privately sort things out. As an aside, sometimes just sitting in the temple w/o going through the motions of an actual session can be rewarding. So swipe away and enjoy the setting.

  37. U. Professor says:

    I am a BYU graduate and a professor at the U. On paper, I have exactly the sort of profile for someone who would like to return to teach at BYU — and whom BYU would like to see return. My professional and church bona fides are all in order. In fact, recently an administrator at the Y even told his or her counterpart at the U that the Y was going to try to pick me off in a few years (which is another story entirely). I’m certainly not orthodox, but neither are the majority of the professors I know well in this particular department. However, I’ve always been orthoprax and would have no problems living the honor code or keeping a temple recommend, etc., in theory.

    Nevertheless, I am terrified of leadership and administrator roulette. When one considers living in Utah County for the next several decades of one’s life, the likelihood of getting a rogue bishop at some point who is capable of pulling a temple recommend for whatever fits his personal definition of apostasy are odds I am not willing to bet on. (Easy example: supporting gay marriage.) I don’t know if there is an appeals process, etc., for Y professors who find themselves in this kind of trouble (for legitimate reasons or not), but I can’t say I have a lot of faith in a church-based system to handle them fairly. There are too many administrators (usually the higher-ups) with attitudes like the one “Anon today” describes above. Moreover, let’s not forget that — in some fields — professors BYU decides to drop are unemployable elsewhere. A misunderstanding with a bishop or SP doesn’t just lead to finding another job, but another career.

    There are many things I love about BYU. However, at the end of the day, I just feel that, for the sake of my faith (such that it is), I should never work there. I abhor the thought of the church exercising complete control over my life. I would always resent the idea that I couldn’t give up on the church if I wanted to. I likely never will, but I have to feel that it’s my choice and not something I’m forced into in order to maintain my livelihood. I know I would just end up feeling trapped and bitter. I wonder how many Y professors silently feel this way. My guess is that it is not an insignificant percentage.

    Furthermore, as others have said, I love the freedom I feel in my current job. I can say and write whatever I want, be it in a professional journal or on Facebook. Also, working at the U (where I am the only Mormon in my department) is an oasis that counterbalances the craziness I encounter in my ward on a weekly basis, keeping me from hating living in Utah.

    Yet, you’ll notice I still posted this anonymously. Old habits die hard and I don’t want to burn any bridges.

  38. U. Professor says:

    Incidentally, Jonathan Green, what is the current policy for faculty who want to repent of [whatever]? Is there some kind of probationary period during which they can work to regain their recommend and / or find other employment? Aside from felonies and the like (which would get you fired immediately anywhere), it would have to be 12-18 months minimum. Anything less would be unnecessarily cruel given the job market.

    Barring that (and it’s not what I consider ideal, merely a minimum amount of compassion and understanding), we’re setting up a system that is guaranteed to be populated with way too many miserable people.

  39. The practice of requiring a TR for church employment is just another oddity in a long line of oddities that may have started out well intentioned enough but over time has warped out of adequately addressing the very issue it is purported to address.

    Get the local endorsement from your bishop and leave the particulars of ones faith journey where it should be – out of bounds.

  40. @DavidH – have you noticed the new little barcodes on the TR’s and the practice of scanning them on entrance? Yeah – you bet your last tithing dollar that ones attendance at temples is tracked and recorded and those little 1’s and 0’s are saved for eternity in the mountain vault. That is at least one data point which can be counted on to be accurate. I’m sure those aggregated temple attendance numbers are passed around, sliced and diced, debated, worried over, and more at the highest levels of the church governance.

  41. SVU expects its employees to live by the Honor Code, but does not ask if employees hold a current recommend. There are several nonmember employees also, who of course would not have recommends. The problem of course is that SVU is located in a very small town, so essentially everyone knows everyone else’s business. Those employed by the university mostly attend one of three family wards, so it would be very difficult have sketchy church attendance go unnoticed. There must be a lack of demand for diet coke on SVU’s campus also, as none can be found in the cafeteria or vending machines. Some members have looked at me as if I am a criminal when drinking a Doctor Pepper at a public school event with my kids. FYI, I am not employed by nor attend SVU. I am just intimatly acquainted with those who do.

    I have appreciated reading this series.

  42. U. Professor, the last draft of the BYUI faculty handbook that I saw specified that a faculty member who doesn’t receive an ecclesiastical clearance but who indicates a desire to do so has 90 days to work things out with his or her bishop; if they can’t get things in order by that time, or if they have no intention of changing, they face dismissal in two weeks. It doesn’t seem to happen frequently, if nothing else because 1) the university doesn’t actually want to lose good faculty members based on an oddball bishop’s whim, and 2) few if any bishops want to force a stably employed ward member into unemployment. There are appeals processes.

    Steve, ironically, I was going to point out that bishops already have discretion, so your wish has already been granted. But I think I’m done here.

  43. U. Professor says:

    But when the oddball bishop is also a high-ranking university administrator, all bets are off, I’m sure…

  44. Ray wrote: “. . . the official CHI instructions explicitly state that issues with pornography should not be the basis of excommunication or official church punishment.”

    Yes, but a bishop could potentially revoke your temple recommend if you confess a porn issue. For example, Elder Oaks said in April 2005 conference that “Some have suggested that pornography should be a separate question in the temple recommend interview. It is already. At least five different questions should elicit a confession and discussion on this subject if the person being interviewed has the spiritual sensitivity and honesty we expect of those who worship in the house of the Lord.”

    So while porn isn’t supposed to put your membership at risk, but it can put your job at risk if you’re a church employee.

  45. David H wrote: “I am among those who think that the universities should be spun off, like the hospitals were.”

    That makes an interesting comparison. Suppose the church still owned and operated hospitals in SLC. Does anyone think it would be desirable to require all LDS employees of the hospital to maintain a current temple recommend? If not, why is that scenario different than a church-owned university?

  46. U. Professor says:

    Also, color me unimpressed with that policy, Jonathan. Three months? Your career is over. More reasonable people may make up the difference sometimes, but I’ve seen way too many decidedly unreasonable ones in upper administration to trust in that.

  47. U. Professor says:

    Spinning off BYU would be a great way to close the gap between what it is and what it thinks it is.

  48. Jonathan Green wrote (paraphrasing) that it’s desirable to require church and BYU employees to maintain certain standards.

    I agree completely. But the issue is: what do we do with employees who fall short of those standards (as we all do from time to time)? If someone tries to repent of their sins or resolve their doubts by talking to priesthood leaders, colleagues, or others with connections to their workplace, they are putting their job at risk. So they have a disincentive to seek guidance or help with their problems. I don’t think we should punish people who are trying to work through sins or doubts – we should give them space to let the Atonement work for them.

  49. Are you saying I should wear this orange dress to my next TR interview?

  50. Nooooooooooo

  51. Yes. But you’re going to need a Shade t-shirt under it.

  52. jlouielucero says:

    I feel bad for anyone who has compulsion to hide their doubts and weaknesses for any reason. I feel very badly for anon who works for the church. My own faith struggles could never have been resolved and turned to strength with the feeling of control and without having been able to openly question and search. I hope he or she is able to find a forum to be open and feel freedom that I think is necessary to remember and feel the things which are true and great about the gospel and church. The pressure of control and a lack of freedom would stifle me and make me very sad.

  53. Meldrum the Less says:

    Reply to Anon at 12:46
    First, I admit I have very flimsy peep-hole information about BYU. Mostly I interact with a small stream of BYU graduates who flow through my ward seeking further education at the excellent schools here or who begin their career in our recession resistant economy. And second that I might be making the logical flaw of discounting the middle…..
    But read the 50 or so responses. BYU is most certainly losing some if not many of its potential best professors and making it distracting or difficult for some of those there to do their best work. It is not appealing to our best and brightest students. Those trapped there because they have to hide their various struggles and live unauthentic lives are not having their devotion to the LDS faith strengthened. BYU has walked the tight rope for many decades. Perhaps it can continue to do so for a few more years. That would be nice.
    But it is clearly not moving in the direction of a modern liberal college like, say Emory. Not even close. Most of these comments reflect a tipping in the other direction. The feeling you describe of full academic participation is not common among the graduates here and it has a definite selection bias. Those who don’t feel fully participatory either leave or do something about it that gets them booted or change their criteria for satisfying participation. What I read in these comments and hear at my ward doesn’t square with your assertion. Again, I could be wrong.
    The LDS church has the right to make whatever requirements it wishes for its private institutions. But it is not exempt from the consequences of those requirements. Professors are proven and then awarded tenure for good reason. When we give bishops unchecked veto power over tenure we jeopardize the entire process to a degree. Whether it is worth it or not is another question. Hard shell religious colleges where devotion soundly trumps academics have their place, if that is what our leaders want. But they won’t have it both ways indefinitely.

  54. Steve, you’ve created another moral dilemma with this thread: As an Aggie, should I be pleased life at BYU sucks for so many because it confirms by beliefs about that place, or should I just be content with the general all-around suckiness of the institution itself and extend succor to those who have exhibited remarkably poor judgment by attending/working for/living by Pharisee U.?

  55. Tough question, Brian. It’s so hard to answer since you have an essentially worthless degree from a loser clown college. But I would advise you to extend the hand of friendship to your zoobie friends, after all they will probably be your managers for the rest of your life.

  56. Well said, U professor “. . .we’re setting up a system that is guaranteed to be populated with way too many miserable people.” So much for the great plan of happiness.

  57. Ooooooo, burn, Steve.

  58. Confession: not sure whether Brian went to Texas A&M or what.

  59. As a bishop I have always felt uncomfortable with this question on the ecclesiastical endorsement form: “If LDS, is the applicant currently in full fellowship, (without disfellowshipment or excommunication from, or voluntary disaffiliation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) or probationary status?” At first I would always leave that question blank since I firmly believe that what a member confesses to their bishop should generally stay there but that would always result in a call from the BYUs asking me to answer the question.

  60. “This could never work in practice, because paying people who don’t follow church standards to teach at BYU is absolutely corrosive to the university’s mission and support for the institution among church members and leaders.”

    All sinners are equal. Some sinners are just more equal than others.

  61. Meldrum the Less, I had to laugh at the young woman who describes BYU as like “wearing a straight jacket” and thinks she is getting a better education at a local state university. I hope the incorrect spelling of “straitjacket” is your error, otherwise, she may be inadvertently disproving her thesis. :)
    Seriously, though, we can all think of egregious examples where we wouldn’t want the clearly-inactive or disaffected or openly-opposed members to continue their careers in institutional Mormondom. But for folks whose questions or issues are more subtle, or whose reputations are damaged by public discipline of the kind outlined in Part I, a black and white policy of “no recommmend, no job” does nothing to help students, faculty, or the institutional mission and does nothing to facilitate and encourage individual repentance and conversion.
    Worse, an inconsistent policy, where a hard-nosed by-the-book bishop and a more nuanced, understanding bishop could see things and do things different ways, and your career hinges on whoever your stake presidency has tapped for the calling at the time (with the potential for a complete reversal of fortune every five years or so) is not a recipe for harmony and stability.

  62. I’ve heard many bishops, including my father, complain about the ecclesiastical endorsement process. Question for “A bishop” at 8:13 or any other bishops out there, if you just declined to participate in the process, would they release you? I think that is what I’d do.

  63. Chris Kimball says:

    Re ecclesiastical endorsement — it’s a 20-year-old memory (so everything might be different now) that I declined to participate at first only to learn that there were no repercussions on the bishop (me) but all the trouble fell on the student-to-be who had no choice in the matter. There was no option for the student to skip the ecclesiastical endorsement, except to choose another school.

  64. I thought the first rule of Orthographic Danites was You do not talk about Orthographic Danites.

    Oh. I see I’ve said too mu

  65. Clearly your experience with Scott B. slants your opinion of Aggies!

  66. The Other Clark says:

    I’m latet to he discussion, but i’m surprised that no one has mentioned the elephant in the room: Non-members teach at BYU all the time, and their “endoresement” from their religious leader is far less stringent than temple recommend standards, to say the least.

    My home teacher in Utah County, for instance, was working at the Y in a non-teaching capacity (IT/computer networking, I think). Several others in the department were non-mormons. For whatever reason, he quit paying his tithing–something hard to hide from the bishop–who revoked his temple recommend and by extension his employment. He was understandably VERY upset as he was, in his opinion, living a far higher standard than his co-workers, but still lost his job. In theory, he could have renounced his membership, re-applied for his professional position, and gotten it, as his non-denominational leader wouldn’t have cared about tithing. So much for the blessings of Church membership.

    The church needs to either go All-LDS-Temple Worthy across the board, or drop the membership requirement entirely. The current double standard is untenable.