How [Not] to Motivate: “Opting In” and Lessons from Authoritarianism

by Abigail J., CES Employee

“Are you opting in or out?” Employees at all CES institutions have been discussing this question in careful conversations recently, since the Powers that Be announced a new policy not only requiring all new CES employees—including faculty and staff at the BYUs—to “hold and be worthy to hold” a current temple recommend as a condition of employment, but also asking current employees to “adopt this standard voluntarily.” Conversations have increased in urgency and angst as employees have received additional announcements, emails, and verbal reminders to declare their decision to opt in or not. [fn1] [fn2] [fn3]

Facing the decision, employees are wary and confused. They don’t know what to think of it. Will there be a list of those who opt out? Will deans and department chairs know who opted in and who opted out? What about bishops and other ecclesiastical leaders? Will there be unofficial, unwritten consequences for saying no? Which choice—in or out—would make someone more susceptible to losing their job? And what will happen if the current temple recommend questions change? Does opting in mean agreeing that anything that might ever be part of a temple-recommend interview is a legitimate condition of employment at BYU?

In the vacuum of information, speculation is rampant, and fear among employees is palpable. While some are acquiescent and accepting of the new standard, and some are even happy to signal their commitment to it, others are confused and uncertain what we should do. 

Now, let me be clear about something: every church-member CES employee I know, as far as I’m aware, is a current temple recommend holder, and the CES faculty I know support the current positions of the church in their teaching. That point only adds to the confusion. Why is this necessary? Hesitancy about the policy does not suggest an unwillingness to hold a temple recommend. Rather, it comes from not understanding the reasons for the new policy and the possible future consequences of opting in.

It’s not surprising employees are equivocating, hesitating, feeling suspicious. As John S. laid out a few weeks ago, there are a lot of red flags in a policy like this. Bishops and stake presidents interpret things differently, and the ecclesiastical processes involved have very few checks and balances. It is difficult to stake one’s academic career on a non-academic process with no effective appeal. And it is hard to know how much influence an unfriendly university administrator might wield with an ecclesiastical authority.

Now, confusion is not the same as an accusation. Maybe the new policy is not disingenuous. Maybe there’s nothing sneaky going on, no strategizing to make it easier to fire faculty. Maybe it’s not agenda-pushing, maybe the objective isn’t to (further) silence employees. Maybe the frequent reminders to employees to make the choice are not attempts at intimidating them into conformity. Maybe the lack of transparency is not part of a loyalty test but simply a giant miscommunication that will be remedied shortly with forthcoming info filtered down the ranks of the currently-mostly-clueless-to-this-policy hierarchy.

And maybe this new policy has no connection to a number of eyebrow-raising autocratic developments that have come in quick succession, such as Provo’s demonstration policy that any two or more persons deemed to be participating in a demonstration are required to be pre-approved or such persons are subject to arrest or university discipline, or the announcement that BYU’s speech-language clinic would no longer provide treatment to transgender members coming onto campus from the community.

So, let’s say the intentions of CES leadership are benign, and the policy really is intended to encourage employees to “engage fully in the spiritual mission” of CES. It’s still possible that the new policy is a really bad idea—and that it is a free-agency-depleting move from an authoritarianism playbook. [fn4] And it is very possible that nobody has really thought through the possible consequences of such a move. It is important to look at the ultimate goals of the policy and compare them and the incentive structure that it sets up.

If the goal is to increase spirituality among CES employees so that they, in turn, will enrich the spiritual lives of their students, then we have to assess the motivational value of threats to one’s employment. Most people who choose to work at CES universities come to their jobs with a high degree of commitment to the gospel, to the church, and to the support of their students’ discipleship. And many now report that their desire to engage in spiritually affirming activities has waned as their focus shifts to avoiding land mines that could get them fired—which is exactly what motivation research suggests. Punishments, and threats of punishment, even implicit ones, undermine pre-existing intrinsic motivation. [fn5] Now, such methods may improve compliance, at least initially. Thus, they are common strategies within autocracies that value loyalty above all else. But sticks are unlikely to grow inner spiritual commitment

For those who are able to gain advantage by climbing the university or ecclesiastical ladder, stating “I’m in” on the temple recommend standard has the potential to line up more reward criteria in the form of promotion. In such cases, the external advantage for membership in a sycophancy (real or perceived) can likewise undermine true spiritual growth. Motivation that already existed internally, sincerely, can be suffocated when promotions and praise and in-group belonging come to one’s attentional fore. [fn6] If we want sycophantic leader-pleaser ladder-climbers, then we’re on the right track.

Of course, a heavily external reward/punishment system has already existed for CES employees and students for decades, and its effects have likewise been felt. The current highly-publicized oft-reminded “refinement” more sharply focuses employees’ attention on it. And increased focus on extrinsic consequences increases their undermining effects on preexisting internal motivation. 

More broadly, the institutional church’s use of the temple recommend- and sacrament-withholding and -rewarding policies likewise may not be functioning as well-intended leaders may desire; in addition to the potential for exploitation and varied interpretation among ecclesiastical leaders, the reward/punishment system may lead to heightened compliance in the face of public shaming or social rejection (e.g. the threat of others seeing one passing the tray without partaking, or waiting outside the temple when a relative is sealed), but may undermine rather than enhance spirituality when the punishment is more salient than internal desire. A reward/punishment system may also heighten the potential for dishonesty rather than genuine penitence and reform. The temple recommend is now a long tradition, true. But, if we consider how it truly functions in the lives and hearts of members, it may be worth reconsidering. 

So… Will I opt in?

Likely not. Certainly not without further info. Doing so would make me dishonest—untrue to my sense of integrity; and I’d like to keep my temple recommend.



At BYU-Idaho, employees have received at least 4 emails stating the policy change and requesting an answer to the question whether they will opt in to the new policy. At BYU-Provo, employees have received at least one email invitation with directions how to opt in, and they have been told verbally at meetings and in writing [] that they will be invited to opt in during annual stewardship interviews.


The text of one such email to an employee at BYU-Provo is as follows:

“Dear [employee],
“In January, the Church Educational System announced that all newly hired employees who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are now required to hold and be worthy to hold a current temple recommend.
“At that time, President Worthen also invited all members of the Church who currently teach and work at BYU to commit voluntarily to this same standard. In that invitation, he said: “While some may consider this a minor adjustment from our current standard, we believe it will further align us with our mission.”
“President Worthen continued: “Current employees who are members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ who voluntarily choose to accept this standard will be embracing an opportunity that President Russell M. Nelson referred to in the October 2021 General Conference: ‘Everything we believe and every promise God has made to His covenant people come together in the temple. . . . [The Lord] is providing opportunities for each of us to bolster our spiritual foundations more effectively by centering our lives on Him and on the ordinances and covenants of His temple.’”
“Some of you have mentioned that you’ve had trouble finding instructions on the process to opt in or cannot locate the link to the opt-in site. If you would like to commit voluntarily to the same standard that will apply to all new hires, you can do so by visiting this site. . . .”


The text of one such email to an employee at BYU-Idaho is as follows:

RESPONSE NEEDED: Opting into Refined CES Requirement

“On January 27, 2022, the Church Educational System (CES) announced that all new employees who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be required to hold and be worthy to hold a current temple recommend. Church members already working at CES institutions are invited to adopt this standard voluntarily. This adjustment applies to all faculty, staff, and administrative employees at each of the CES institutions.  

“The link at the bottom of this email will allow you, as a BYU-Idaho employee, to indicate your voluntary adoption of the refined CES employment standards. If you have any questions, you may call Human Resources at 208-496-1700.

“This policy update reflects the ideals of each employee, as we continue in our support of BYU-Idaho’s sacred mission. We are grateful for your committed service to the remarkable students in our trust.”


I find it strange that, by accepting this job, I unknowingly voluntarily subjected myself to this microcosmic authoritarian organization, while my brothers and sisters in other areas of the world are living under truly evil life-threatening dictatorships. I hope my words are not insensitive to their plight. I’m not bunking in a subway station with cluster bombs destroying homes and civilians above me. I feel admittedly guilty for mentioning such comparatively small issues, yet even in this little sphere I feel compelled to speak out against harms caused by unchecked (though perhaps benevolently-intended) power.


See, for example, Deci, Edward L., and Wayne F. Cascio. “Changes in Intrinsic Motivation as a Function of Negative Feedback and Threats.” Presented at the Eastern Psychological Association, Boston, MA, April 19, 1972 and Deci, Edward L. “The Effects of Contingent and Noncontingent Rewards and Controls on Intrinsic Motivation.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 8, no. 2 (October 1, 1972): 217–29.


See, for example, Deci, Edward L., Richard Koestner, and Richard M. Ryan. “A Meta-Analytic Review of Experiments Examining the Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation.” Psychological Bulletin 125, no. 6 (November 1999): 627–68.


  1. Current Temple Recommend Holder says:

    In a related development, below is a letter recently sent to bishops and branch presidents with new guidelines for ecclesiastical endorsements for CES employees. The criteria go considerably beyond what is required for a temple recommend.

    Dear Bishop/Branch President,

    Hiring the right person is the most important decision made by the institutions within the Church Educational System (CES).

    CES employees are expected to be worthy in every way of holding a temple recommend, and to believe, live, and teach in a way that is loyal to the teachings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ while being proficient in their employment. They agree to refrain from behavior, teaching, or expression (whether verbal, nonverbal, or written) that seriously and adversely affects the mission of the institution or the Church.

    We invite you to be open and thorough in your comments. If you feel you do not know a member well enough, please consider conducting an interview with him/her before you complete the endorsement.

    • Does this member reside in your unit?
    • Have you been this member’s unit leader for the last 6 months?
    • Is this member is related to you?
    • Does this member hold, or are they worthy to hold, a current temple recommend?
    • Does this member believe and support the teachings and leadership of the Church?
    • Does this member believe and support Church doctrine on marriage, family, and gender?
    • Does this member say or do anything that would lead others to doubt the doctrine or teachings of the Church?
    • Has this member used pornography during the last few years? If yes, how often was pornography used and when was the last time?
    • Please share any concerns you may have about recommending this member.
    • Please share your final thoughts about recommending this member.

  2. It’s this bad and worse. Colleges at BYU are already making new policies (on their own or by external pressure) stating that those who don’t opt in cannot be department chairs, associate deans, deans, or similar administrators at the university level. This is happening right now. Further, any faculty who does successfully become department chair, dean, etc., will have undergone and passed an additional general authority interview. These are not rumors either. Hundreds of faculty have already been notified about the new ceiling. You can contact an econ or sociology or history prof and ask them about it.

  3. I can confirm the accuracy of both of the first two comments.

    The astonishing aspect of this is the utter lack of trust in the faculty (and other CES employees) that the revised policy demonstrates. Faculty already need to have an endorsement by their local leaders to even qualify for an interview; get pre-screened by the administration (e.g. background checks, including social media accounts); go through numerous campus interviews; have a General Authority interview; and be approved by their department, college, university administration, and the Board to be hired. Moreover, even before this policy shift, there was an annual ecclesiastical endorsement in which the faculty member had to live in accordance with the temple recommend questions (although possessing a recommend was not technically required). Why add this requirement to the existing hurdles to being hired and continuing employment?

    I have spoken to dozens of current faculty. The only one who is opting in to the new policy was pressured to do so because of their current administrative position. The ridiculous thing is that TPTB think that threatening faculty with the inability to be chair, dean, etc. is an incentive–virtually nobody wants those jobs; the ones that do strive for those positions really should not have them.

    I agree with the original post–this is not about fealty to the Church and its teachings or belief in the gospel. The number of faculty who actively challenge LDS doctrine is miniscule. This is about control and enforcing orthodoxy. It links employment with leadership roulette, it provides a major disincentive for seeking pastoral care, and it creates an atmosphere of paranoia and anxiety that will undoubtedly and inevitably cost BYU good faculty. Indeed, I know of at least four people in my department who are actively looking for other jobs as a result of the way that faculty are treated in Provo.

  4. g.wesley says:

    It’s hard not to see this combo as a deliberate way for the board and top admin to sack whomever they want, remotely, for non-academic issues (e.g. support of LGBT), while doing so under the legal radar.

    Hence the double speak and dual-facing language: on the on side, there’s the legalese fiction of the ‘opt-in’ for faculty; and on the other side there’s the reality of the inquisition-esque ecclesiastical endorsement, behind the scenes.

    Shame on them. For their abuse of power — while puppeteering local leaders. For their manipulation of faculty and staff. For their masquerading with the accreditation agency and the Department of Education. And for their continued refusal to treat students with basic respect much less compassion.

  5. Does CES have so many applicants knocking down their doors that they felt the need to add another filter?

  6. “If we want sycophantic leader-pleaser ladder-climbers, then we’re on the right track.”

    This wouldn’t be the first time LDS Church culture cultivated that sort of “leadership,” as evinced by every bishop who takes on General Conference-style speaking cadence…

  7. g.wesley says:

    jader3rd: The language does seem to be framed in terms of new hires, even though the ‘opt in’ and the latest directions for the ecclesiastical endorsement are actually for renewals (as well as new hires).

    My guess is that this reflects the way the board and top admin understand ‘tenure’ at the BYUs. No matter the academic rank of the faculty, each ecclesiastical endorsement is essentially a rehire (more or less done by a local church leader who probably has no official and administrative academic qualifications whatsoever in the college or department of the faculty or staff member).

    Another possibility is that the language is meant to suggest retroactively that the current policy has been in place from the beginning of each faculty or staff member’s employment. Smoke and mirrors.

  8. Wow. This OP and the CTRH’s first comment are sobering.

    Those questions… I don’t know anybody under 35 with a grad degree for who could honestly answer that they believe AND support the Church’s current doctrine on marriage, family, AND gender. Lumping them all together is an interesting move. I suppose the reader is meant to infer LGBTQ+ issues. But I know people with other issues: plural marriage as it continues to be practiced (living men able to be sealed to more than one woman if previous wives are dead); the whole question of men “presiding,” whatever that means, in their homes…and then yeah, the LGBTQ+ issues. I know not a single person under thirty who hasn’t got some serious reservations about the Church’s “doctrine” there. And the questions are so broadly worded that almost any kind of question or reservation about whatever the doctrine du jour is would justify a bishop saying “Don’t hire that troublemaker.”

    I’m a current temple recommend holder too who decided to discontinue an interview process with a CES institution that I won’t name a few years back. Sure I have a PhD, but I’m not a boat-rocker. I know my church history, warts and all, and I’m here anyway. I am happy to keep my uncorrelated opinions mostly to myself in church and lift up my queer siblings in other ways. This makes me feel, more forcefully than I’ve ever felt, that I am not wanted or needed, not just in CES, but in the institutional church as a whole.

  9. This policy would have been disastrous for me when I worked at BYU. I had an incredible bishop who moved away, and was replaced by the worst bishop I ever had. This story will sound wild, but it’s true, and I’m only going to give the bare bones details. The new bishop was cantankerous and divisive. During his first 6 months our ward saw the YM president resign from his calling, the YW president resign from her calling, and TWO different counselors in the bishopric resigned from their callings, not even at the same time. Attendance dropped by somewhere near 20%. But his overbearing micromanaging was the least of our problems. This bishop was arrested and jailed based on an outstanding warrant while serving as bishop. As it turns out, he’d committed fraud in St. George and fled to SLC to escape conviction. He’d admitted to his crimes in open court on the record. Why? Because he was a crackpot sovereign citizen and committed his crimes under the belief that he was exempt from following the law. All of this was brought to the attention of the Stake President who met with the bishop, but the SP believed him when he said it was all just a big misunderstanding. Several lawyers in the ward reviewed the public documents and briefed the SP, outlining exactly how the bishop had committed fraud and admitted to it, how he had skipped court dates, hired a crackpot attorney, and how he held bizarre anti-government beliefs and embraced ridiculous conspiracy theories. But the SP told us he believed he’d had a revelation to call that bishop and so refused to release him and insisted that ward members sustain him or risk having their temple recommends pulled. I scrambled to contact area authorities, never heard back from them, and after a few months they split the ward and gave him an honorable release. A few months after that the bishop fled Utah altogether, court cases still unresolved.

    Both the bishop and SP could have ruined my career, and they would’ve been the ones in the wrong. Even without this new stricter policy, I felt terribly unsafe as a church employee and it is one among several reasons I decided to leave BYU.

    This new policy is coercive, unnecessary, and leads to an even greater imbalance of power, undermining the safety and peace of mind of active, believing, faithful church members. And it’s going to get worse, I know.

  10. Your careful thinking about this new policy ought to reach the people who are making such egregiously bad decisions. In 1996 a new policy was announced at BYU requiring all faculty (as were students already) to receive an annual ecclesiastical endorsement. Each of your points echoes our arguments at the time, arguments that somehow never pierce the hierarchy that issues such policy. A chapter in my BCC Press book “Dwelling in the Promised Land as a Stranger: Personal Encounters with Mormon Institutions” is about consequences of the new policy.
    “Religion is being destroyed by the Inquisition, for to see a man burned because he believes he has acted rightly is painful to people, it exasperates them.” William of Orange

  11. stephenchardy says:

    The post stated this:

    “If the goal is to increase spirituality among CES employees so that they, in turn, will enrich the spiritual lives of their students, then we have to assess the motivational value of threats to one’s employment.”

    I don’t believe that concern about the employee’s spiritual state is the driving factor here. At least not directly. They are concerned about the faculty’s spirituality only because the faculty’s spirituality might be reflected in their teachings. They are not directly concerned about the faculty per se, but they are rather concerned about the church and university. When Elder Holland gave his “muskets” speech last summer he specifically raised the issue of parents feeling like the professors at BYU were not faithful enough and were leading students astray:

    From Elder Holland’s speech:

    “…Then, imagine the pain that comes with a memo like this one I recently received. These are just a half-dozen lines from a two-page document:

    ‘You should know,’ the writer says, ‘that some people in the extended community are feeling abandoned and betrayed by BYU. It seems that some professors (at least the vocal ones in the media) are supporting ideas that many of us feel are contradictory to gospel principles, making it appear to be about like any other university our sons and daughters could have attended. Several parents have said they no longer want to send their children here or donate to the school.

    ‘Please don’t think I’m opposed to people thinking differently about policies and ideas,’ the writer continues. ‘I’m not. But I would hope that BYU professors would be bridging those gaps between faith and intellect and would be sending out students that are ready to do the same in loving, intelligent and articulate ways. Yet, I fear that some faculty are not supportive of the Church’s doctrines and policies and choose to criticize them publicly.'”

    I think that this is the real issue here. Our senior church leader are worried that our church colleges are becoming places of discontent; places where ideas that contradict church teachings or policies are not only presented but embraced. My belief is that this is a misplaced or misguided concern and that the vast portion of BYU faculty are highly compliant with church teachings.

    I am firmly against this new policy and believe that it will result in a decreased quality of experience for faculty and therefore for students as well. If there are problems with rouge professors, well they must be dealt with directly and carefully. As already stated: church faculty are almost uniformly deeply committed to the gospel and to the church. But again I think that this new policy is to assure church leaders and parents that the faculty are orthodox.

  12. I am so glad that my husband was able to retire recently from BYU. He is a believer, with a true, loving loyalty to the church. He has always been a safe person for his LGBTQ students to confide in. Because of his long and happy career teaching, he feels obligated to maintain activity and support in our ward post-retirement – even though as caretakers of my elderly immunocompromised parents and our immunocompromised son in current treatment for cancer, we cannot attend in-person church meetings.

    I respect my husband’s choices and his loyalty. I gave up being a temple-recommend holder when Kate Kelly was excommunicated for her advocacy. At that time the recommend requirement felt like a sword hanging over my head. I could lie and retain my recommend, or let it lapse and retain my integrity. Although my decision was reaffirmed by the POX debacle, I have grieved the loss of community with neighbors and transparency with family that our shared temple activity allowed. My employment was not threatened. I can’t imagine how the BYU employees I know – who are loving, intelligent, and committed to doing right and being good – will manage this choice.

  13. At some point are all of these new(ish) policies going to impact their accreditation?

  14. purple_flurp says:

    The overall trend here is frightening and distressing, it’s kind of worriesome even if you’re not invovlt with BYU.

    It seems they now distrust the faculty as much as they distrust the students. I’m wondering if this is somehow a response to the attrition of young adult membership in the Church. Supposedly lots more and more young adults are leaving the church than before. And rather than doing some self reflection on why that might be, they’ve given up on the current generation and have instead decided on making sure that the next generations of members (or rather the portion of members who go through CES schools who represent the pool from which Church leaders are recruited) are more orthodox.

    These concerns seem to have outweighed notions of agency and giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to individual members’ testimonies.

  15. This seems like a bad idea.

  16. byu professor says:

    I’ve long had the hunch that my status as a BYU employee cut me off from ever being able to confide in my bishop or receive pastoral care, but yikes, that first comment up above confirms it completely.

    Recently, in a meeting where this policy change came up, our dean told us that higher-ups had assured the dean’s council that the church is not trying to weed out trouble makers with this change, and that it would take a pattern of public criticism directed specifically at the church or its doctrines to be disciplined.

    But that email to bishops strongly implies that a bishop should yank your endorsement (and thus terminate your employment) if you have *privately* expressed any reservations to your bishop about church teachings, or if you have *privately* gone through the repentance process after viewing pornography.

    What bugs me most is that the email to bishops is not made known to BYU/CES employees. We ought to be told explicitly that we have no expectation of confidentiality if we confess or confide about any matter to our bishops. Instead, we are given the impression of confidentiality, but bishops are secretly being asked to report.

    I knew bishops were asked to give ecclesiastical endorsements from time to time, but I thought it was just confirming we were active and had a recommend. This is a whole different ball game.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    Though this particular matter is naturally a focus for those employed by the church, it feels to me like one more part of a perceived need to not give forces outside the church leverage to control the church. I was reviewing a couple days ago the handbook’s instruction on civil marriage, and it was restated there in several different ways that a church officer can only officiate weddings of members of his congregation or those of people who have scheduled baptism and will become members of the congregation. Instructions about use of our buildings have a similar flavor. It would be wonderful if bishops and church buildings were available to the community at large, more like in decades past, but I smell a not unfounded fear that the church senses it must mark out and separate itself to retain autonomy.

  18. stephenchardy: When Elder Holland gave his “muskets” speech last summer he specifically raised the issue of parents feeling like the professors at BYU were not faithful enough and were leading students astray:

    That’s my read as well. The problem is, I can point to plenty of people whose faith was damaged by “conservative” Religious Education professors like Brad Wilcox. So the concern about leading people astray is less about the overall health of a student’s spirituality and connection to our community and more about doctrinal conformity. To be more specific, say there is a student who disagrees with the church on LGBTQ issues but values their faith in many other compelling ways. Some leaders and professors would put pressure on the student to change their views on LGBTQ issues rather than allowing for space to differentiate while also emphasizing all the things on which we agree. In my experience, one of those approaches is much more damaging to faith than another.

  19. Fear and Trembling at the BYUs says:

    As a CES employee, I can state that since coming here, BYU has become an almost Kafkaesque place. Where unknown administrators and slippery masked lawyers hiding in the managerial shadows set up structures where faculty walk in a liminal place where nonsensical loyalty tests, like the opt-in shibboleth, are imposed without explanation. Here we literally walk in fear because a number of unstated rules muzzle and disrupt our efforts to do the good for the Church we came here to do. We are loyal. But that is unseen. So little transparency is allowed at BYU. One thing is clear, they do not trust their faculty or students. They see them as an enemy working to undo the agenda the church is promoting. They’ve set up an inquisition to hunt down anyone who is supportive of LGBTQ issues. This is clear in things like the recent refusal to allow trans individuals to seek treatment at BYU’s hearing centers. In the new policy about protests and the lighting of the Y (which they lied saying it was about the steepness of the slope–a danger to students—BYU LIED about the reasons, no one has been hurt. BYU LIED about the reasons. Think about that. Every student knows this was a lie and knows it was about stoping LGBTQ supporters from lighting up the large Y on the mountain. What do students learn about integrity in such falsifications?). Don’t forget the unexplained, inexplicable firing of Sue Bergin. Lastly this opt-in move seems nothing but taking the witch hunt to a higher level. The institutional talk about religious freedom here means one thing: the right to discriminate against our queer fellow saints. BYU reeks of Stasi-like methods of fear and intimidation. I feel it. Other faculty members I talk to feel it. The sense that something as gone very wrong at the BYUs is palpable and widespread.

  20. From that worried parent letter Holland (and stephen) quoted: ‘Please don’t think I’m opposed to people thinking differently about policies and ideas,’ the writer continues. ‘I’m not. But I would hope that BYU professors would be bridging those gaps between faith and intellect and would be sending out students that are ready to do the same in loving, intelligent and articulate ways. Yet, I fear that some faculty are not supportive of the Church’s doctrines and policies and choose to criticize them publicly.’”

    The letter writer says they’re not against “people” thinking differently, but they are very much against professors thinking differently. Also, the perception of criticizing church policies or ideas can vary widely! Consider a student from rural Idaho whose understanding of the church is completely tied up in right-wing American politics. Were they to encounter a professor from another country who speaks positively of democratic socialism they might understandably be alarmed and think the professor is contravening core gospel principles.

    Instead of focusing on how to help a student like this develop critical thinking skills as they nurture their faith, BYU’s approach is to identify “subversive” ideas or people in positions of influence and to eliminate those, as though that’s the best way to protect the faith of a student. But not in all cases. Brad Wilcox, for example, has damaged the faith of students. But he’s also bolstered other students’ connection to the church enough to get a pass for that.

    Wouldn’t it be healthier to demonstrate that a person of faith can have some different views, but also share so many other views in common and be working positively to build Zion regardless of differences? But time and time again we see the church rejecting that approach.

  21. Opt-In Policy: My understanding (as a CES employee) is that the current policy for current employees is that you must be “temple worthy.” Whereas the new policy requires new hires (and those current employees who opt in) to be both “temple worthy” AND “hold a current temple recommend.” A nuanced change, but a change nonetheless.

    The Sacrament and Temple Weddings: I appreciate the article and sentiments in the comments following the article. I would just like to point out that two illustrations (withholding the sacrament an excluding people from attending temple weddings) are a bit antiquated as the Church has recognized the potential for shame and marginalization of those two policies and have since changed them. Leaders would be hard-pressed to find a reason to withhold the sacrament from someone now based on current handbook language and civil marriages outside the temple with a temple sealing to immediately follow when it is convenient for the husband and wife are written into the handbook. What now needs to change is the culture of the church. (Yes, some leaders still withhold the sacrament and most families still find it blasphemous to marry outside the temple simply to accommodate those family members and friends not allowed in the temple.) But, institutional policy changes have occurred for those two issues and I think we should acknowledge those changes and stop using old policies as examples to be frustrated by the church. There are probably plenty of currently-on-the-books policies to be frustrated by, let alone old ones that no longer exist.

    Great conversation! :-)

  22. The statistics from Jana Reiss and others about retention and activity rates with the younger generation in the Church probably factors into the policy as well…but by shifting the “blame” to the faculty based on a handful of letters from donors or others with connections at 50 North Temple. It must be the fault of the faculty–not the decisions of the students/graduates themselves–that attrition rates have increased dramatically. I am reminded of sports teams who fire the coach since they cannot fire the players for poor performance…even if the coach is doing everything they can within their power to succeed.

    As for accreditation, Elder Holland’s talk made it clear that TPTB were not concerned about the potential loss of external approval–and, indeed, would be willing to accept the loss of professional imprimatur, so long as BYU could be held up as a safe place for LDS orthodoxy to thrive.

    I tell my students at the beginning of every semester that their university experience should make them uncomfortable at least once a week, and that it should make them refine and better understand what they believe and why as they are exposed to new ideas, a broader world, and people with different backgrounds and experiences. The problem with the way that BYU has evolved, however, is that it has very nearly become the antithesis of the agency and learning experience on which our theology is based. Unfortunately, this trend has a long arc, as Scott Abbott notes above, and does not look likely to change for the better any time soon.

  23. For me, these developments confirm the end of BYU as a serious academic institution. I grieve the loss, even as I keep praying that I am wrong about this.

    Serious academic work will continue at BYU for quite a while because of the enormous resources of money and human commitment that went into its academic mission. As long as there are serious academics at BYU, they will do serious work. Inertia is powerful; it takes time to stifle good work. However, the gears are grinding, unmistakably. The decline toward academic irrelevance is accelerating to the point that it is hard to imagine how it can be reversed.

    The underlying process here is about defining the school’s mission. During the past fifty years, there have been two competing models in the Church Educational System. One model was developed in Provo, where the ambition was to develop faithful scholarship of the highest caliber. The other model was developed in Rexburg, where administrators applied the methods and purposes of the seminary and institute program to the entire student/faculty experience. At Ricks College, and now BYU-Idaho, conformity is highly regimented. Scholarship is secondary and is even demeaned wherever it might make conformity more complicated.

    The Rexburg model has prevailed because the value of BYU as a place for indoctrination far outweighs the value of scholarship, from the point of view of senior church leaders. They have spent vast fortunes to build BYU as the single most important institution for training future generations of the church. They have decided that it can’t be both that and a place for scholarship. So, in the long run, we will have Ricks College-Provo.

  24. anon obvs says:

    Why do mission presidents get a pass? If young people are disaffiliating in droves, why do BYU faculty get the blame and not mission presidents, whose purview is explicitly the spiritual development of their charges? Have those making the decisions asked which experience is more likely to damage faith and cause disaffiliation–BYU or mission service? Or why not bishops and branch presidents? Their retention track record is dismal and everybody knows this. I mean, the MTC leadership should have been fired ages ago and not a single Institute teacher or bishop or branch president in Europe should ever show their face again.

    It is lunacy that BYU faculty are held to higher standards–written and unwritten–than the bishops who must sign off on their ecclesiastical endorsements.

    How upside down is this witch hunt? You can become a bishop by stake president decision but to become chair of the geology department, you need to have an additional GA interview with a 70 on top of the GA interview with a 70 that you got when you were hired. If you can’t understand how ludicrous this is, I don’t think I can help you.

  25. Confidentiality says:

    The first comment is terrifying to me. While not an employee of BYU, I am a church employee and have been for years. It has always been required of me to possess a temple recommend. I cannot believe that a bishop is required to disclose personal information, such as confessions about and information on pornography use, as part of the endorsement. As has been said in past posts about this topic, I no longer have access to pastoral care because there is no veil of confidentiality for me. This contradicts information found in the handbook of instructions:

    Bishops, stake presidents, and their counselors have a sacred duty to protect all confidential information shared with them. This information may come in interviews, counseling, and confessions. The same duty of confidentiality applies to all who take part in membership councils. Confidentiality is essential because members may not confess sins or seek guidance if what they share will not be kept confidential. Breaching confidence betrays members’ trust and causes them to lose confidence in their leaders.

    Consistent with their duty of confidentiality, a bishop, stake president, or their counselors may share such information only as follows:

    They need to confer with the member’s stake president, mission president, or bishop about holding a membership council or related matters. The stake president may also confer with his assigned Area Seventy. If needed, the Area Seventy refers the stake president to the Area Presidency. Only the stake president decides if a council should be held or its outcome.

    The person moves to a new ward (or the priesthood leader is released) while membership action or other serious concerns are pending. In these cases, the leader notifies the new bishop or stake president about the concerns or pending action (see 32.14.7). He also informs the leader if the member may pose a threat to others.

    A bishop or stake president learns that a Church member who lives outside the ward or stake may have been involved in a serious sin. In that instance, he confidentially contacts that member’s bishop.

    It is necessary to disclose information during a membership council. All information gathered and shared as part of a membership council is confidential.

    A member chooses to give permission for the leader to share information with specific persons. These may include parents, Church leaders, or others who may provide support. The leader does not share information beyond the permission the member has given.

    It may be necessary to share limited information about the decision of a membership council (see 32.12.2).

    In all other situations, the leader should refer to 32.4.5. These cases include when the law may require that a crime, such as child abuse, be reported to government authorities.

  26. “…not a single Institute teacher or bishop or branch president in Europe should ever show their face again.”


  27. anon obvs says:


    The comment is sarcasm. I meant, ironically, that European activity rates are so low that everyone in church leadership and education on the Continent should be under suspicion and blamed, like BYU faculty. Again, sarcasm.

  28. My mistake, sorry. Read that one too quickly

  29. heterodoxcl says:

    I recently retired from a faculty position at BYU-Provo, after several decades there, and it looks like it was just in the nick of time. Two thoughts:

    1. How convenient that the temple recommend interview doesn’t actually ask anything about whether we are trying to be kind, or to act in a Christlike way towards others. If it did, I know that my dean (had he been honest) would have never been found worthy of a temple recommend. Perhaps the most duplicitous, abusive person I have had contact with in the last 10-15 years.

    2. Assuming the following question is correct:
    — Does this member believe and support Church doctrine on marriage, family, and gender?
    then this is a ridiculous question. Nobody even knows what the church’s “doctrine” is on these issues. Regarding LGBTQ+ issues, are we supposed to support the “doctrine” of September 2015, or that of January 2018, or that of March 2022? It seems like a bad interview with O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984, in which Winston Smith has to state whether or not he is in favor of the war with Eastasia, without knowing for sure who the current allies are.

    So very, very glad that I was able to retire in time to maintain my sense of integrity.

  30. At the library no one is being pressured to opt-in. I heard from some lawyer friends that the new policy would give administrators religious grounds for firing someone without a recommend.

  31. Angela C says:

    The author of the OP points out the most grave danger: that “opting in” means you will agree to this in perpetuity, regardless what questions the Church chooses to change in future interviews (such as the sneaky addition of the one in the first comment about LGBT allyship–so much for the lie that the Church doesn’t object to individual members who support gay marriage). This is agreeing to a standard that hasn’t even been set yet, and that is in a constant state of flux. Not too different from agreeing to things you don’t yet know about in the temple ceremony, so I guess that’s par for the course.

    All these recent actions seem very clearly designed to oust anyone who feels anything like compassion or sympathy for LGBT students or members of the community, which is unfortunately consistent with the Church’s long-term relationship with the World Congress of Families (designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center). Elisa did a great starter article explaining this relationship at Wheat & Tares today with two more posts to follow soon. While this isn’t “news” in that it’s not new, it is consistent with these changes and priorities:

    It’s a dark day for BYU, and where BYU goes, so goes the Church. And I could not agree more with BHodges about the fact that replacing compassionate, listening professors with a nuanced view of these issues with an army of loyal Dolores Umbridges and Brad Wilcoxes is going to cause far more member attrition than they can imagine. Where are the pragmatists among leadership? They appear to be squelched in this quest to ruin the lives of LGBT people.

  32. it's a series of tubes says:

    the Church’s long-term relationship with the World Congress of Families (designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

    SPLC’s list of what constitutes a “hate group” hits the mark much of the time, but they cast a pretty wide net on the margins, particularly around gender issues.

  33. Kristine says:

    Tubes, go have a look at what the World Congress of Families is into. It’s bad.

  34. it's a series of tubes says:

    I read the W&T post as well as followed the links. I’m not advocating for WCF. I’m stating again (and I stand by it) that SPLC uses the term “hate group” exceptionally liberally and unfortunately, sometimes inaccurately.

    SPLC is not, in any form, some authoritative moral arbiter.

  35. Angela C says:

    Tubes: WCF advocates for the death penalty in Africa if someone is homosexual and has specificially worked with governments in Africa to make this a reality. They have also worked tirelessly to increase intolerance of homosexuality in Russia, which was already high at 68%, but through propoganda, they were able to move that to 78%. You are free to draw your own conclusions about what constitutes a hate group, but IMO, SPLC is spot on with this one.

    Whether you want to believe that the Church knowingly supports and agrees with these actions of a group they have a long-standing deep relationship with is up to you. So far, they haven’t quit their involvement with them or denounced their actions in any way. They have instead been quite proud of the association, claiming it openly, while not discussing the overseas anti-LGBT and anti-women’s reproductive rights agenda that would never fly in the US.

    While this feels like a digression from the excellent points in the post, I’m not sure it is given the underlying issues that are behind this new “opt-in” for professors. The Church is terrified of friendly fire in its fight to erase the LGBT people among us, particularly at the BYUs, as revealed through the consistency of recent actions. Any pearl-clutching Idaho parent who thinks there might be critical thinking happening at BYU is seen as valid parental panic that needs to be addressed. The real plight of actual gay students (and black students and women) is seen as apostasy.

  36. anon obvs says:

    Tubes: your instinct is to defend against every criticism. You’ve been doing it for years. That’s your right. But you are out of your league here and on the other recent post. Call it a day.

  37. Abigail J. says:

    Further thoughts upon further ‘info’

    As questions and ‘answers’ have flown around meetings and up and down various chains in both Provo and Rexburg the last two days, a few things can be confirmed, and a few other things seem clear:

    Confirmed: any administrative positions such as deans and chairs (usually drawn from the faculty of the department and college) will be considered a new job, and interviews for such will include general authority interviews and the TR requirement. It’s not quite clear to me whether ‘opting in’ will be required to even be considered, or if it will be required at some point in the interview process. (And for many of us, this is certainly a disincentive for opting in!)

    The rationale for the “refinement” keeps shifting and being spun. Sometimes it’s spun as ‘oh employees at all the other church entities have had this standard and we’re just aligning with that standard. It’s just a clerical thing’ but —PRESS RELEASE— this is happening, world! (Or whoever their intended public audience is.) And be sure to get it done and have you responded? and you’ll be reminded later too. And we have delayed the endorsement process this year to be sure this becomes part of it and we’re behind that’s why it’s urgent you respond ASAP. And no there won’t be a list, and yes we need to make two lists of current employees because the endorsement process will be different for the two (which answers part of the question as to who will know). Instead of just rolling the option in to the next contract and endorsement process, they delayed the usually-over-by-now process to make this happen immediately for everyone.

    It also seems apparent, as many of us already suspected, and esp from the (horrifying) tip CTRH provided, that this is yet another move to make CES as inhospitable a place as possible for LGBTQ students and allies.

    Scott Abbott, I’m glad you mentioned your book; it is growing more pertinent by the moment.

    byu professor, I agree; we are not told what bishops see in those annual endorsement questions. Seems like maybe we have a right to know what the terms of our employment are.

    BHodges. I’m so sorry. I’m so glad you managed to escape; though I’m quite confident it’s not the same without you.

    Fear and Trembling, the lack of integrity running through the institution is among its greatest malignancies.
    Confidentiality presents exhibit U, V, and W

    heterodoxcl, I had the same response to CTRH – exactly what -is- the current position of the church on marriage, family, gender?

    Thanks all. Solidarity.
    Feeling less confusion.
    (More terror.)
    (And, yes, that seems to be the objective.)

  38. Okay, I’m a bishop and I can’t find a copy of the letter in the first comment anywhere. And I’ve looked. Is there a link? Where would this be found? Maybe the problem is on my end, but I am trying to find out the accuracy on the letter.

  39. Diff Bish says:


    Is anyone in your ward in the process of being hired by the BYUs? Or have you been asked to confirm the ecclesiastical endorsement of an employee of those schools? That’s when you’ll receive the email prompt.

  40. I searched online for a few of the phrases mentioned in the first comment. The only results on the web are this page, there doesn’t seem to be any corroborating sources for this letter. I’d like to see some more evidence of its existence.

  41. Diff bishop:

    Yes, process of being hired by CES. Which is leading to my confusion.

  42. Diff Bish:

    Did you see it on your end?

  43. Diff Bish says:

    Yes, on my end, very recently. Maybe it’s rolling out slowly. But I’ve had confirmation from someone else too. Maybe this is as recent as the new opt-in thing which is still only a few weeks old. Strange times.

  44. As a faculty member at BYU, I just had an endorsement interview with my (only on the job for four months) bishop–first time in 20 years, but he is new and just wanted to be sure he was doing things correctly. The list of questions he asked were EXACTLY those from the first comment–he even said, jokingly, “we’re not related, right?”

    All of this reminds me of a statement from Machiavelli: “It is better to be feared than loved.” That basically sums up the situation on campus for many faculty/staff right now.

  45. Concerned CES Employee says:

    Can you provide the link to or citation for the letter to bishops with the new interview questions? It isn’t in the official church communications site available to leaders.

  46. Crazy if you think I'd tell you ;) says:

    Wondering if that list of questions goes out ONLY to ecclesiastical leaders who are asked to assess new candidates for hire, NOT continuing CES employees… Anybody have any information on this?

  47. Crazy if you think I'd tell you ;) says:

    Follow up to Doc… I’m a faculty member as well. But it looks to me like those questions are supposed to be asked only of new hires. Maybe your new bishop was confused?

  48. My guess–and this is just based on supposition, with no actual evidence–is that these questions would be used for anyone who has not opted-in for the new TR requirement, as well as new hires. It would be pretty easy to have these questions pushed out to those who have not yet followed the true path and opted-in….but that could just be my cynicism talking.

    Could my bishop be confused? Conceivably, but he did take a while looking over the form, so I would like to think that he might have noticed the form was for new hires.

  49. Really sorry for all my friends at BYU as faculty or staff, and students. I really (used to) love BYU and this direction is beyond troubling. I almost took a job there six or seven years ago and I am ever so glad I didn’t. As someone who hires a lot of BYU grads I can see that declining over time because I don’t think BYU students are going to be getting a true “education” (which is so much broader than just classes you take and also includes exposure to different ideas and groups of people).

    @loursat, the comparison to BYU-I / Rexburg is astute. Even though BYU-I’s reputation has improved considerably over the last decades, it is still not taken seriously by many and that is in some ways because it is viewed as extremely insular. I had expected it to become more like BYU-P over time but the opposite is happening which is insanity.

    @angela c the Dolores Umbridge comparison is way, way too accurate.

    @series of tubes, I don’t think anybody claimed anywhere that SPLC is the arbiter of morality (and you’ll notice that in the post I did, I hardly even cited their materials, trying to go to primary sources instead). But who is your moral arbiter? Because I certainly don’t think the Church is doing a good job at that either, and you seem quite deferential and defensive of it anyway. I like to think I’m my own moral arbiter. The Church wants to take that ability away from everyone is can.

  50. Roger Hansen says:

    I’m so old I didn’t know who Dolores Umbridge is (was). I had to look it up.

    The current situation at BYU shows a lack of understanding of what a university should be. Education should teach critical thinking, not blind obedience. How can the BYU attract quality staff with these types of poorly defined restrictions on personal thoughts and beliefs. BYU has given up the goal of being the Harvard of the West. It now wants to be the Bob Jones University of the West. This is particularly sad since at least 3 GA’s are past university presidents.

    Where is Prez Eyring in all this? His father was a brilliant scientist. Eyring the younger was raised in an academic environment. Instead of giving meaningless talks in GC, he needs to speak up on relevant issues related to the aims of education.

  51. Abigail J. says:

    Bishop, Diff bish, CTRH, Doc, anyone – do you know what the ‘original’ endorsement questions are/were? Can anybody paste those in here, if you feel comfortable? I don’t remember being told what bishops are asked. (Anyone?) Unless you actually -are- a bishop or have access to one who will tell you.

    Would be interesting to see how those compare. (As is the evolution of the temple recommend questions over each iteration)

  52. Was reading this again and the questions from the first comment are very troubling.

    “ • Does this member believe and support Church doctrine on marriage, family, and gender?”

    Setting aside the ambiguity – I find it troubling that we are constantly audited about our “beliefs.” So long as I do not speak out against Church teachings on gay marriage, who cares what I believe? If I teach calculus does it really matter what in my heart of hearts I believe, so long as I don’t teach students anything contrary to Church teachings?!?

    I have very unorthodox views but I am also a grownup who knows what’s appropriate to share and in what contexts. I’ve had teaching callings for the better part of the last 15 years and I never in an official capacity speak against the Church or its doctrine. I don’t think that’s appropriate and if a lesson called for a topic I didn’t believe in I would find a way to teach that was both faithful to the Church and preserved my integrity. Nor did I share contrary personal views when adjuncting at BYU (which I stopped doing last year because of time constraints, but at this point would have stopped over this). The Church simply does not trust either teachers or students to be mature adults.

    • Does this member say or do anything that would lead others to doubt the doctrine or teachings of the Church?

    Agree with comments above that this is a totally ambiguous question. Brad Wilcox and all the apologists over at FAIR or whatever it’s called now have done a lot to cause people to doubt the doctrine or teachings of the Church. Pres Nelson caused me to doubt the doctrine and teachings of the Church when he gave his BYU devotional about the POX flip-flop. Elder Holland caused me to doubt the doctrine and teachings of the Church in his musket speech. The Gospel Topics essays have done much to cause people to doubt the doctrine or teachings of the Church.

    But I’m quite sure none of them would be disciplined.

    I’ve got a lot of BYU Professor friends. I fear many of them will leave. For those who don’t, I fear negative impacts to our friendship if the price of their staying is this.

  53. it's a series of tubes says:

    Tubes: your instinct is to defend against every criticism. You’ve been doing it for years. That’s your right. But you are out of your league here and on the other recent post. Call it a day.

    I love responses like these that both (i) couldn’t be farther from the truth, particularly with respect to “instincts”, and (ii) fail to address the point but resort instead to ad hominem.

    I’ll say it one final time: SPLC. Is. Not. A. Moral. Arbiter. When you appeal to authority, be careful what authority you appeal to. You want to be bedfellows with Morris Dees? Be my guest.

    Feel free to look into the reporting from the NYT, NPR, or various other mainstream outlets regarding what has been uncovered in the last few years.

  54. @series of tubes, do you want to argue that WCF isn’t a hate group? Go for it. Everyone who mentioned SPLC’s designation also gave facts supporting that classification, which you haven’t addressed. The designation by SPLC (and HRC) is just a data point in those sets of facts. Anyway, sorry to the OP to be off topic, I just don’t understand why you’re pushing back hard on that.

    If you think Morris Dees is enough to taint all of the work that SPLC does, then you can read more about WCF’s sponsorship of and by pro-Putin, homophobic fascists. If you’re so concerned about bedfellows, you should be very concerned about the LDS Church’s bedfellows.

    Then again, back to the OP, the LDS Church’s behavior at BYU is frightening enough independent of any of that.

  55. it's a series of tubes says:

    @series of tubes, do you want to argue that WCF isn’t a hate group?

    I already addressed that question above. No, I don’t. But more broadly, I hate that the church has been and continues to be yanked around by other groups who see us as useful idiots. Prop 8 was the peak of that, in my view.

    I’m no fan of the current changes. I’ve never said otherwise! I dealt with misplaced endorsement challenges as a BYU student (you can find my old comments on the honor code office for details). I have a kid in Brad Wilcox’s class right now. I’ll have another student there next year. I’d like their experience to reflect the best parts of what I had, and I’m concerned the institution is moving away from that.

  56. BYU-Idaho adjunct instructors are NOT being given the choice to opt in or out. I suspect it is the same for adjunct instructors across the system. Your choice is to either accept the requirement, or not accept your contract for next semester.

    An email went out in late January saying the following:

    “The policy at BYU-Idaho has been that all employees are required to be worthy to hold a temple recommend. As of CES’s announcement today, current BYU-Idaho employees who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ may volunteer to the new standard of “hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend,” as it will apply to all new hires.

    All current employees are invited to opt-in to the new standard. In the near future, an email will be sent that will include step-by-step instructions using Workday to opt-in to the new CES-wide standard.”

    No email was ever sent detailing step by step instructions to opt in. Instead, adjunct instructors got this note when Spring Semester contracts were sent out:

    “As an adjunct instructor, your employment period is from contract to contract. Therefore, the updated standard, which requires that employees hold and be worthy to hold a current temple recommend, will go into effect for all online instructors beginning in Spring Semester 2022. … All future contracts will contain language indicating that you will agree to abide by this standard. We encourage all instructors to carefully review their contracts and take any needed action to ensure they can meet the new expectations.”

  57. If we’re going to start specifying quasi-creedal statements that church employees must accept, why not start with the Great Commandments, which supposedly trump everything else?

  58. To E commenting at 1:59, I like your comment. I have been commenting for years as “E”, would you mind using a different name?

  59. retired byu professor says:

    The enforcement of this new policy will create many more problems than it can ever solve. I feel so bad for my colleagues who have been subjected to this kind of treatment. My heart goes out to them.

  60. My apologies to E.

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