Image result for temple recommend interviewWhy 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. One of the recently leaked handbook documents detailed the church’s reasons. Some of these were surprising to me, as a person with decades of corporate leadership experience.

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.

To paraphrase the stated reasons:

  • 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.

Image result for temple recommend interviewA 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.

Ultimately, 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.

Image result for religion & workplaceDoes 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.

As 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. If 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?


*This post was originally discussed at By Common Consent in December 2016.