Why Require a Temple Recommend for Church Employment?

Image result for temple recommendWhy does the church currently require that its employees have a current Temple Recommend? It’s a question I’ve often heard my friends who work for the church ask, and over my lifetime, we’ve continually ratcheted up the requirement for a Temple Recommend to callings and ordinances also, even when one has not been historically required. A recently leaked handbook document details the church’s reasons. Some of these were surprising to me, as a person with decades of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies.

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All work places have mission statements, values, and policies. But they are able to obtain buy in to those things without requiring a temple recommend. Employees choose to work there because they feel that the values and mission are things they can support, so those are already more or less a given. Things like dress code / appearance and work-related policies are more explicitly stated for employees as they are oriented to the company. They also don’t require a temple recommend to get compliance in any other workplace. The expectation (which is really just a hunch here, not a job requirement) that employees will seek divine inspiration is unique, but of course, people without a temple recommend may also do this, and people with a temple recommend may not.

Image result for employee inputTo boil down the stated reasons another way, you could say the 5 reasons are:

  • Temple Recommend is viewed as a heuristic for supporting the church’s mission.  As mentioned, this is kind of silly since workers usually support the company mission statement or they don’t work there. It’s not a common problem for workers to revolt against the mission statement of their workplace.
  • Church members in good standing spend enough time in church culture to speak the same lingo and have the same cultural normsThe second one seems a little odd to me; a workplace culture often forms around the type of work being done, the people hired, and the policies associated with the work done. Newsrooms feel a certain way, HR groups function another way, IT departments have a certain type of culture, etc. Substituting church culture (very bureaucratic, administrative, patriarchal, and hierarchical) for one that naturally emerges based on the workplace is a strange choice. It’s not like church culture is a universal ideal that should apply to every situation. 
  • Temple Recommend holders will do what they are toldGetting employees to support policies handed down is not always desirable. Policies should be created with input from those performing the tasks unless you want really terrible and inefficient policies. Policies should be flexible and adaptable. Leaders usually only have insight into a small percentage of the work-related problems that policies are designed to solve, which is why employee and consumer input is critical to their creation. Work processes aren’t for the benefit of leadership but to improve output and efficiency as well as customer experience.
  • They will present a uniform appearance to outsiders. This can be even more effectively addressed with a simple dress code (or behavior code) policy statement. Temple Recommend holders can dress and groom in many ways that might not be what the company desires for the role they hold. What is considered professional demeanor also varies based on type of work performed–janitors dress differently than journalists. This isn’t a very important reason to require a temple recommend.
  • They will take work problems to God to solveWhile this is a potentially valid reason, it’s also not a trait that is exclusively held by temple recommend holders, nor can one assume that holding a temple recommend means they will seek divine inspiration in work matters. Certainly anyone who sincerely seeks divine inspiration, temple recommend or not, should have access to it.

A more cynical view, or perhaps just looking at the underside of what these reasons signify, they could be restated another way:

  • Workers won’t expect to provide input or question how we achieve our aims.
  • They will do things the way they are done at church, not introducing pesky new ideas.
  • They will execute our plans without question.
  • Their appearance and mannerisms will be conservative and business-like.
  • They won’t expect leaders to help solve their work issues. They will internalize problems rather than criticizing the environment or leaders.

This approach to leadership is optimal only under the following conditions:

  1. In life or death situations when obeying orders quickly without input is important or lives will be lost, such as in military operations.
  2. If leaders are truly the only people with great ideas. If this is true, check your hiring practices.
  3. If the consumers of the products or services provided are neither important to the process nor at all diverse from the make-up of the leadership (the source of the ideas).
  4. If the products and services are perfect with no alterations needed or would be diminished by any improvement efforts.
  5. If employee engagement is a defect rather than a feature. This might be the case if the employees hired are doing such unskilled work that their input could be automated by robots, but then their work should be automated by robots rather than performed by people.

Image result for job interviewUltimately, the real problem with these stated reasons is that they assume that both the consumers of the goods and services and the workers are part of a one-way process only, not part of a competitive marketplace of consumers (a target audience, if you will) nor part of a work place of human beings that contribute to the output. I understand and agree with the concept that the gospel can be and often is diminished and diluted by human input (at all levels, not just the worker bees), but it isn’t as though the church is offering “the gospel” as its sole output / product through its various entities. For example, at BYU, the product is education (albeit an education compatible with gospel living). At Deseret News, the product is news. In the Church History Library, the product is historical research.

Does it matter? Is it just some dumb list with no repercussions? Maybe. I don’t work for the church, so I don’t have personal experience with how this approach is manifest in the work environment. After all, it’s likely impossible that a workplace’s policies and culture and output don’t in fact take into account the uniquely relevant work-processes, the input of workers or the evaluation of how effective the output is at reaching “consumers.”

But there are some caveats to that observation:

  • Why make a temple recommend required when it’s not directly relevant to the work being performed unless you want to reduce diversity of input? Input (from both employees and consumers) improves internal processes as well as consumer experience and products.
  • Why have a workforce that deliberately doesn’t match your target audience? This approach only makes sense if your entire target market is temple recommend holders with the same demographic as your reduced workforce pool. Even then it doesn’t make perfect sense.
  • Why do anything to limit or discourage input and engagement in setting policies and devising procedures from employees? The more involved they are, the more the policies and procedures will be effective. As Al Kelly, one of my former Amex leaders (now CEO at Visa) once said, strong leadership means making decisions at the lowest level possible in the organization.

Image result for hiring diverse thinkingAs a leader, you should only make the decisions you have to because they affect the direction of the company. You should empower people at every level to make the decisions that are directly related to the work they do and remove obstacles and bureaucracy that slows down their ability to service customers or create and provide better products. If you don’t do that, you create a bureaucratic behemoth so locked in by bad policy, dead end feedback loops, and self-sustaining toadyism that you provide a sub-par product or experience to your consumers, and soon you are out of business.

And frankly, the gospel (as well as products and services provided by other church owned businesses) is supposed to be a growth industry, constantly improving how it is delivered, reaching new converts, and making it easier to come unto Christ. Isn’t that our stewardship?

When you are offering a product or service, having employees who understand the target market is valuable. For example, f you are selling products to women and you only hire men, you will probably be less successful than if you had some women on board. If we want to grow the church, having employees who are converts and non-members will provide insights that can’t be obtained by only hiring those who have “drunk the kool-aid.” Preaching to the converted only gets you so far. Understanding how outsiders see things is critical to any growth effort. You want to have a mix of perspectives, ideally.

Lastly, another concern about inserting the Temple Recommend into any job requirements is that it also inserts a subjective evaluation from a non-employee into the employment process. Although they are instructed to stick to the questions and answers, local leaders can and sometimes do exercise subjective discretion in refusing to provide a temple recommend. Obviously, one would hope they would not abuse their privilege, but should they do so, they are in a position to inflict serious economic harm to a church member who happens to work for the church. At minimum, this conflict of interest renders local leaders largely useless at providing pastoral care to ward members who are employed by the church. Losing your job over a local leader’s subjective view of your worthiness has to weigh on the minds of any church employee renewing a recommend or simply wishing to discuss confidential matters with their bishop. It’s hardly a recipe for trust.

The church is comprised of flawed human beings, trying to overcome their petty jealousies, their envy and spite, their gossiping and back-biting, their criticism and flattery, their “natural man.” We have already seen ample evidence of the tattle tale culture at places like BYU and as reported in many local wards to know that where human beings congregate, spiritual brinksmanship rears its ugly head, and in a case where employment is conditioned on a current temple recommend, we’ve put people’s livelihoods at risk based on their fellow members’ human frailty.

What do you think? For those who do work at the church, is it valuable to require a temple recommend? Are these the right reasons to do so, in your view? If not, why not? Do you find that employee and consumer input is sought and valued sufficiently even with this requirement or does it tip the scales too far?




  1. On a personal level the TR requirement is a bridge too far, one of the reasons I determined I would never work for the Church (for money) what seems like a generation ago.
    On an institutional level the TR requirement makes sense to me if (and only if) Church Worker is defined appropriately. If you view the work of the Church as ecclesiastical and primarily performed by a lay ministry supported by an allowance in only a relatively small number of full time positions (including GAs, but also missionaries and mission presidents), then paid Church Worker is a category of limited responsibility and authority, a necessary service critical to the mission of the Church but never a leadership role. One we’re never quite comfortable with but can’t avoid completely. And there a TR seems appropriate.
    On the other hand, for-profit businesses, whether owned by the Church or not, have no business requiring a temple recommend and all the criticisms of the OP apply.
    For me, the maximal tension arises with the several BYUs. Are they seminaries? Or do they operate in the environment of and in competition with colleges and universities generally? I would take the latter course, which would take most or all BYU employment out of the Church Worker category.
    In short, if one takes the for-profit businesses and the BYUs out of the picture (and probably some limited number of exceptional cases I’m not thinking of), then a TR requirement seems defensible and often correct.

  2. I couldn’t work for an organization which required, as condition of employment, that I ‘voluntarily’ and ‘charitably’ donated ten percent of my wages back to that organization.

  3. A Happy Hubby says:

    As I was reading I was thinking about the negative effects from a management perspective. That issue is throughout the church, not just those employees by the church. You covered the negative aspects of this.

    I don’t see how a janitor has to have a TR, but just like in a big corporation, you sign an NDA and/or a non-compete agreement and pee in a cup before you can start. And in some industries you have random drug tests. But as you point out, a TR is generally the person stating that they are worthy of a TR. But then on the other side the bishop/SP can withhold if he even suspects you are not answering what they thing is honest.

  4. And trust me, the for-profit arms of the Church manage to police this just as effectively as the ecclesiastical arms. The policy might not be official, but the climate is undeniable. If you speak Mormon, you understand it.

  5. John Mansfield says:

    On the usajobs.gov site, the first job opening currently listed for a mechanical engineer is a position with NIST in Boulder, Colorado. The duties are: “Perform world-class physisorption measurements (Brunauer-Emmet-Teller, Barrett-Joyner-Halenda, de Boer t-plot) on sorbents for forensic applications. Assess the viability of carbon strips on polymer supports for readsorption of solutes for sample archiving.” etc. The first key requirement is “You must be a U.S. citizen,” even though the stated duties have nothing to do with citizenship.

    Looking at the first job opening with the City of Chicago, it’s for a bridge operator, whose first Essential Duty is “Operates an assigned bridge, or travels from bridge to bridge, in order to raise and lower electrically operated drawbridges to permit passage of waterway traffic.” There is a residency requirement “All employees of the City of Chicago must be actual residents of the City as outlined in 2-152-050 of the City Chicago Municipal Code. Proof of residency will be required.”

    There’s a world of employment practices that doesn’t have much to do with the trends of the Fortune 500.

  6. The temple recommend line can be a protection. I applied for a church-affiliated job once and was worried that my employability would be hurt by their discussion with my uber-conservative bishop. We were relieved to find out that the only thing taken into account in those discussions is whether I had a temple recommend. Maybe it’s reductionist, but it obviates a lot of the potential damage from leadership roulette. (Weberian Bureaucratization is a double-edged sword, hedging against arbitrariness while not allowing for customization when it might be necessary).

    Of course some may argue that there shouldn’t be any kind of litmus test for Church employment, but it’s not as if the Church is simply making widgets, and it seems reasonable to do some sort of verification to see if they are basically on board, not that the TR method is perfect for verifying that, but it’s better than the immediately apparent alternatives. Of course there may be some reasonable exceptions I can think of; for example, if somebody is honestly trying to overcome a prescription pill addiction, they should be given help and space to try to overcome it instead of adding unemployment to their list of stresses.

    In regards to BYU, the whole point of the BYU project is the idea of the gospel-framed education. In order to construct that, you do need some boundaries and lines, otherwise it’s just another university, which is fine in itself, but that’s not the point of BYU. The TR is a policy trigger available to (relatively consistently) construct those boundaries. I work at a non-LDS religious school that has an honor code lite, and it’s rather chaotic as it basically comes down to each department chair’s personal decision. I’ll take TR standardization any day.

    Also, a lot of the contractors that Church uses don’t have the TR rule; a relative has worked on temple construction sites where he was the only member.

  7. Among all the bitching and moaning in certain circles about the Church acting like a corporation, it’s either refreshing (or ironic, I haven’t decided yet) to read a post that suggests that the Church really should start acting more like one.

  8. John M, your examples are apples vs. oranges.
    Membership in the church seems to me to be equivalent to the citizenship and residency requirements you cite. TR seems to me to be equivalent to holding a security clearance. Eb

  9. Maybe it’s changed, but the Church’s IT organization at one point had significant issues recruiting staff members because of the active temple recommend requirement (coupled with the fact that IT salaries were only competitive when you got hired, but not 5 years on, coupled with the fact that they had reductive flex-time and work-from-home policies). I know they use external contractors now for various functions.

  10. I bet the church has to find work-arounds to this pretty regularly when they can’t find qualified TR holders for more unusual open positions. And I bet the loophole is to hire long-term contractors. Which err… rather makes all the reasoning for why employees must have a TR somewhat silly.

    Either way, after hearing the stories of family members who do work for the church, I know I couldn’t handle it. Which is fine because I also can’t handle the pressure of a TR recommend, so it kind of works out.

  11. Queno: Limiting the hiring pool for so many positions is problematic unless you are willing to pay top dollar, something the church has not normally done. It’s similar to the problems created by limiting those eligible for certain callings to priesthood holders only, even when there are no ordinances being performed (e.g. clerks, Sunday School presidency). So, you can simply pay higher for niche roles you have a hard time filling–and still struggle to get the right talent for them–or you can find a reason to broaden the hiring pool, making TR holder a “nice to have” but not necessary. I remember two of my best BYU professors were non-LDS visiting faculty.

    But even if you can fill the positions, then you have to find ways to use the brain power you’ve acquired. Stifling input and initiative don’t seem like a good strategy.

  12. I think it’s reasonable for the Church to require some baseline of religious commitment among its employees. I have two comments about how the Church does that in practice.

    First, I wonder whether the TR is a good marker to use for that baseline. The bureaucracy likes to have a convenient, uniform standard, and that’s not necessarily bad. Tiberius pointed out above that using the TR gives some protection against personal whims in the employment process. On the other hand, I’m concerned about the larger trend over the last couple of generations to make the TR a baseline standard as a measure of social position. The TR is no longer a private, personal standard; it has become a kind of class marker within the Church. I fear that we are less inclusive because of this trend. Using the TR as a minimum requirement for Church employment cements this attitude in place.

    Second, I agree with those who have said that the TR requirement should be limited to church workers and that “church workers” should be narrowly defined. I used to work at BYU-Provo. The problems that Angela lists in her post are obvious there. At a university with a religious mission, there will always be tension between orthodoxy and creativity. Good management should embrace that and constantly look for ways to get the best out of both sides of the tension. Unfortunately, BYU is not doing that right now, instead constructing a cultural bubble around itself. The TR requirement insinuates itself in all kinds of academic places where it doesn’t belong. When BYU decides to engage more fully with the world again, abandoning the TR requirement would help a lot.

    Queuno’s comment about Church IT is really interesting. Sometime in the last eight years or so, the Church’s IT operations suddenly became bigger and much more reliable than they had been before. I’ve wondered how they got that done.

  13. Honesty in the TR interview can affect real change in a person’s life if they are willing. The last person a repentant church worker would talk to would be his or her Bishop due to the economic impact on their family that might result. Its sad that the individual that could help a repentant person the most, doesn’t get the opportunity due to this rule.

    We also see it with students at church schools. An honor code violation will get them kicked out of school, so they can’t talk to their Bishop about it. Instead they lie and the mighty change of heart may never come about.

    Another place we see this is with Seminary Graduation. If High School students are planning to attend a church school, they have to have graduated from seminary. In recent years Bishops are now required to interview all seminary students for worthiness for seminary graduation (or even the year’s certificate of completion) as if it were an ordinance.

    Its time to take the double jeopardy away by decoupling a Bishop’s endorsement from these 3 areas. At the very least, let’s stop the yes/no worthiness bar and recognize there are some people working on very private issues that may take some time. At the very least allow a Bishop to say someone is not worthy, but still able to endorse that person on the grounds that they are repentant. Why do we allow Justice to rob Mercy in these instances?

    I can’t do anything about the first 2 situations, but in the 3rd case my pleas/complaints to my Stake President this year granted me a softer position to still provide that endorsement as long as they were repentant and meeting with me.

  14. Former employee says:

    I worked for the church in a blue collar profession for a few years. The TR requirement caused some internal conflict and anxiety for me. It feels weird to have your livelihood dependent upon holding a recommend. I worked for the church while simultaneously having doubts about the truth of it. If I talked more openly with my bishop would I lose my job? The bishops post above makes a lot of sense. Anyway, I ended up leaving for a few reasons. But the tension I felt with the recommend/doubt issues was probably the main one. It felt so uncomfortable, I’m glad I’m not there anymore!

  15. Bishop: Thanks for your comments! I know the issue of pastoral care is a real one for students, and honestly, the conflict created by the need for an annual ecclesiastical endorsement feels like a vote of no confidence to me, as if the only way to keep people in the church is to hold these temporal things over their heads. I know that’s not the intention, but it sure can feel like that for those who are in those situations, whether they had doubts to start with or whether the mingling of economic pressure and ecclesiastic oversight caused that epiphany. It’s a very uncomfortable mix.

  16. First, I think that Loursat at 11:43 am, had some very astute and articulate thoughts. In general that characterizes the comments so far.

    My comment is that the “church” has little, if any, astute and well-thought out thinking in this regard. As with political issues, labeling Democrats as unrighteous, thoroughly conflating doctrine/religion with culture/tradition…etc, the policy on TR’s for all church employees is not due to intelligent, well-reasoned thinking. It is an aspect/artifact/symptom of the ongoing, decades-old attempt to further control members’ behavior as the “world” (in their 80+ year-old minds) gets more wicked.

  17. I see the TR requirement as a problem in another way – conflict of interest. A member of the Church with a TR has covenanted to not speak ill of the Lord’s anointed. How can they possibly uphold professional fiduciary responsibilities? If a GA recommends a dumb, ill considered, or potentially illegal course of action would a member with a TR oppose it? Is telling a GA in your professional opinion this is a bad idea violating that covenant? I don’t think so, I suspect I am in the minority.

    I would think for chief fiduciary roles like head accountant, chief counsel, head of public relations, etc. you would want honest men and women who were friends of the Church but not members. They would be someone willing and able to provide professional advice based on their professional expertise and responsibility to the Church and it’s leaders.

    It’s not like this is a really radical idea. The council of fifty provides a precedent of having non-members in leadership roles building up Zion.

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