This is the 2nd part of a discussion regarding confession in the Church. Part I can be found here.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 )
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. 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.  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. 
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? 
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.  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? 
 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. A fine early example of a recommend signed by Wilford Woodruff can be seen on display in the Manti temple . Again, bishops served in gatekeeping roles, passing names up to the higher church leaders for admission to the highest ordinances our religion can offer.
 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.
 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)
 [insert TPJS reference here]
 BYU is not a place for jorts.
 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.”
 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.
 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.
 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.