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BYU, other Latter-day Saint schools will require temple recommends for new Latter-day Saint hires

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Brigham Young University’s campus in Provo, Utah, is shown in this 2018 photo.

Brigham Young University’s campus in Provo, Utah, is shown in this 2018 photo.

Nate Edwards, BYU

Starting Thursday, all Latter-day Saints hired to work at BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, Ensign College and BYU-Pathway Worldwide will need “to hold and be worthy to hold a current temple recommend.”

The requirement is not retroactive and does not apply to current employees, though they will be invited to opt in to the policy beginning next week, according to information released Thursday by BYU and the sponsor of all five institutions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The updated policy aligns the church universities and colleges with other church employees and applies to all seminary and institute employees in the Church Educational System. The schools still can hire people who are not church members who agree to follow the honor code.

“The CES institutions are unique among educational institutions. Central to the effort of CES is our mission to develop disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, in the Church of Jesus Christ, and in their communities,” said the Church Commissioner of Education, Elder Clark G. Gilbert. “No institutional decision is more important to us than the selection of employees, including faculty, as it has the greatest potential to impact our students.”

With the move, BYU and its sister schools again reiterated their faith-based roots long after other universities and colleges have moved away from their founding by churches and other religious groups or organizations.

New policy codifies long practice

Still, much of the social media and campus water cooler talk about the temple recommend requirement on Thursday centered on one question: “Wasn’t that the rule all along?”

That’s what accounting professor David Wood heard from most of his colleagues inside BYU’s Marriott School of Business. He said he’s never been asked to show his temple recommend, but he knew part of the hiring process for Latter-day Saints was to contact ecclesiastical leaders.

“Most of the interviewing was focused on the mission of BYU and, ‘How would you fit?’ and ‘What could you do to help build the university?’” said Wood, who was hired 14 years ago after earning a Ph.D. at Indiana University. “Obviously, the university has that dual mission of imparting secular knowledge and spiritual knowledge and one question was, ‘How will you help do that?’”

BYU stopped contacting bishops who lead the Latter-day Saint congregations of its employees in 2020, when the church launched an office to process ecclesiastical clearances centrally, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told the Deseret News.

“Before this time, BYU did check directly with bishops on temple recommend status,” she said. “If someone didn’t have a recommend, BYU would verify the ‘conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges’ employment standard.”

Latter-day Saints found worthy to hold a temple recommend, and thereby enter the faith’s temples, affirm to church leaders that they believe in God the Father and Jesus Christ and sustain the prophet and apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ. They also actively attend church, pay tithing and live the Word of Wisdom, which proscribes alcohol and coffee.

A temple recommend remains in force for two years. BYU released a FAQ that said the conjunction “and be worthy to hold a temple recommend” referred to maintaining temple worthiness throughout the two years between interviews.

Does the policy affect BYU’s accreditation or the Department of Education investigation?

The policy comes three months after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) launched an investigation of BYU’s policies related to LGBTQ students.

BYU’s Jenkins dismissed social media chatter that the temple recommend policy was prompted by the OCR investigation.

“This update to the employment standard has been planned and discussed by the presidents of the CES institutions for the past 18 months,” she said.

“The claim that this adjustment was a result of the OCR complaint is false,” she told the Deseret News. “BYU did not even know that the OCR complaint had been filed until three months ago when the Office for Civil Rights gave notice to BYU that the case was being opened. Until then, we had no knowledge a complaint had been filed.”

The temple recommend policy comes three months before BYU’s accreditation review with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, but that too is unrelated, Jenkins said.

The new policy is not expected to affect BYU’s accreditation, higher education experts said.

“We have at least hundreds of distinctively religious colleges and universities across the country with accreditation from their regional bodies,” Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said.

Wheaton College, an evangelical school based in Wheaton, Illinois, with a motto of “Christ and His Kingdom,” requires faculty and students to adhere to a Community Covenant that affirms Biblical standards and outlines a standard of Christian living. BYU and Wheaton often finish first and second on the Princeton Review’s Stone-cold Sober list.

Such religious-based standards are noncontroversial in accreditation, Ryken said.

“The point of accreditation is not to tell colleges and universities what their mission should be, but to make sure that whatever mission they advertise and what they say about their mission, that the college credibly is delivering on that mission,” he added. “So the accreditation standards are really clear about that, that it’s not the accrediting body’s responsibility to say that your mission should be secular or your mission should be religious, but actually that what you are representing to the public about the kind of education you provide, including its academic quality, is what you actually do deliver.”

Accreditation standards for hiring require that the colleges and universities provide fair and advance notice of hiring policies. Thursday’s announcement serves as that advance notice for the CES schools.

How unique are BYU’s hiring standards?

“Denominational institutions like the Lutherans, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, they all have a certain set of standards and confessions and beliefs,” said Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, which has 140 member schools in the United States.

“We have about 50% denominational schools, so maybe a little more than 70 that are connected to a denomination, and all of them, if you want tenure or to get hired, you would need a pastor’s recommendation and people would ask you about your church attendance. And if you’re a general Baptist, they would have general Baptist sort of polity. If you’re Nazarene, they’ve got certain things, the Assemblies of God, they’ve got certain things, the reformed people the same. It’s pretty common.”

Hoogstra said about 1,000 of the nation’s approximately 4,000 institutions of higher learning are faith-related.

BYU is unique because of its size — BYU’s enrollment is more than 10 times larger than Wheaton’s 2,900 students — and its high profile within American college sports. Last month, the NCAA moved its Division I national women’s soccer championship game from Sunday to Monday to accommodate BYU’s policy of not playing on the Sabbath.

What prompted the new temple recommend policy?

BYU President Kevin Worthen indicated that CES and university leaders considered church President Russell M. Nelson’s recent teachings about temple worthiness when they decided to align their employees with the church’s.

In a letter to current BYU employees, Worthen invited them to opt-in to the updated standard.

“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.’”

President Nelson has been emphasizing temple worthiness for all church members since the start of his administration four years ago. In October 2019, he announced updated questions for temple recommend interviews.

“It is critical that each employee represent the mission, values and goals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Elder Gilbert said. “These updates reflect the expectations we have for each employee to continue to engage fully in the spiritual mission that is central to each CES institution. We are grateful to have such remarkable and committed employees.”

Gilbert is scheduled to deliver a devotional at BYU on Feb. 8.

Worthen’s letter to BYU employees said all previously hired members of the faculty, administration and staff will be invited to opt in to the policy next week. He referred to late church President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1975 “Second Century Address” about BYU’s future.

“I am grateful every day to be a part of the prophetic development of this university and am confident that as we follow that prophetic path, we will, as President Kimball promised, ‘become the fully anointed university of the Lord about which so much has been spoken in the past.’”

Will the new policy affect employees or athletic coaches who are not Latter-day Saints?

Until now, BYU has required that all employees comply with the CES honor code and BYU’s 1993 Academic Freedom Statement. That standard will remain in place for new hires who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The university will continue to hire faculty, staff, administrators and coaches who are not church members.

The updated policy does not apply to students unless they work at the Provo Missionary Training Center or in the church’s FSY (For Strength of Youth) programs. All students will continue to need annual ecclesiastical endorsements that show their commitment to the honor code.

Church and BYU leaders long have promoted the university’s dual commitments to academics and faith which offer a unique academic freedom.

Ryken said that is true for Wheaton and other faith-based schools as well.

Can religious universities provide broader academic freedom?

“Because we do not bracket out religious conviction but actually include those religious convictions in every aspect of our community life, for our faculty, staff and students there is greater freedom to be authentically the people they are called to be in a way that they wouldn’t experience in a different kind of academic community,” he said.

Wood, the professor who earned his doctorate at Indiana, said that is true for him at BYU.

“On the spiritual side, it’s much easier to be my authentic self here at BYU because I can talk about my faith and share my spiritual feelings and what I believe, where I was not allowed to do that at Indiana,” he said. “So I actually think I have more freedom here at BYU than I did it at Indiana.”

Wood he is grateful for BYU’s standards and that people of other faiths still will be encouraged to apply to work at BYU.

“I don’t think this will change much in the day-to-day campus environment,” he said, “at least in the short run. Often teachers pray before class; I think that will continue. I think you’ll still have different opinions of what should happen secularly and even some different spiritual opinions. I think that will persist.”

At Wheaton, Ryken said the overriding purpose of campus standards tied to deity is to fashion a culture of unity.

“We are a Christ-centered liberal arts college that places a very high value on living, learning, worshiping, playing together,” he said. “Nearly 100% of our undergraduates are residential on campus. We’re trying to live what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘the life together.’ A key part of that is how we care for one another, how we treat one another in our campus community, and we think that’s so important that we make promises to one another and promises to God about how we’re going to try to do that.”

President Kevin Worthen’s letter to BYU employees

In 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball described his vision that BYU would become an educational Everest, a place where things would be done in a way and at a level unlike anywhere else in the world. He described it as a place that would provide an education for eternity, and a place where faculty and students would help roll back the frontiers of knowledge while still being grounded in the vital and revealed truths that have been sent to us from heaven. President Kimball emphasized that [w]e cannot do these things except we continue, in the second century, to be concerned about the spiritual qualities and abilities of all those who work here. Today the Church Educational System is announcing that all new hires at CES institutions who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend effective immediately. This standard encompasses faith, testimony, sustaining the leaders of the restored Church of Jesus Christ and conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges. More information about this adjustment can be found in this news release (Hyperlink to Church/CES news release.) and at this Q&A for BYU faculty, staff and administrative employees. I invite all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who currently teach and work at BYU to commit voluntarily to this same standard of hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend that will apply to all new hires. While some may consider this a minor adjustment from our current standard, we believe it will further align us with our mission. 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. I am grateful every day to be a part of the prophetic development of this university and am confident that as we follow that prophetic path, we will, as President Kimball promised, become the fully anointed university of the Lord about which so much has been spoken in the past.

BYU’s FAQs on the new policy

Recently 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 will be invited to adopt this standard voluntarily. More information about this adjustment can be found in this news release (Hyperlink to Church/CES news release.) and in this message from President Kevin J Worthen. Enclosed below are responses to questions employees may have about this updated employment standard. 1. How does this employment standard relate to and advance BYU’s mission? Elder Clark G. Gilbert, Church Commissioner of Education, said, It is critical that each employee represent the mission, values and goals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The mission of BYU is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. In his fall 2021 devotional address, BYU President Kevin J Worthen, quoting BYU’s mission statement, explained that to succeed in this mission the university must provide an environment enlightened by living prophets and sustained by those moral virtues which characterize the life and teachings of the Son of God. The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, has emphasized the importance of temple ordinances and revelation received in temples. BYU can better preserve its commitment to its mission by aligning employment standards with temple worthiness. All new hires who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be required to hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend; all who currently teach and work at BYU will be invited and encouraged to voluntarily adopt this same standard. 2. Why is the Church Educational System (CES) making this adjustment to its employment criteria? By requiring new faculty, staff and administrative employees to hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend, CES schools remain true to their mission statements and anchored to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. At BYU, the university’s identity and operating structure flow from its faith-based mission, aims and objectives, as affirmed by its Board of Trustees and sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU is a faith-based community and always has been. The temple-recommend requirement strengthens the spiritual foundation for employees—individually and collectively—that better enables them to provide a spiritually strengthening experience for BYU’s students. 3. I thought this was the policy all along. What is the difference between the former standard that stated conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges and the updated standard that states hold and be worthy to hold a temple recommend? For most employees who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ, BYU anticipates this will not represent a change because they already hold and are worthy to hold temple recommends. BYU’s employees are known for their commitment to the university’s mission, their devotion to Jesus Christ and their dedicated service in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Holding and being worthy to hold a temple recommend signifies that a person believes in and adheres to Church doctrine, principles and practices and is worthy to enter the temple. https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/october-2019-general-conference-temple-recommend 4. Why is the conjunction and used in the new standard: Hold and be worthy to hold? Church members have the opportunity every two years to interview with ecclesiastical leaders and affirm their belief in and adherence to Church doctrine, principles and practices. A temple recommend becomes effective when the member and the ecclesiastical leaders all sign it. Use of the word and emphasizes the fact that employees need to renew their temple recommends every two years and also maintain their worthiness to hold the temple recommend at all times. 5. What is the process for existing faculty, staff and administrative personnel to adopt the new requirement? Employees will receive an email the week of January 31, 2022, with a link to a website where they can voluntarily opt in. Employees will also receive personal invitations to adopt the new requirement at annual faculty stewardship interviews and annual performance interviews for administrative and staff personnel. 6. Will a current faculty member or employee be terminated if they choose not to adopt the employment standard of holding and being worthy to hold a temple recommend? No. Current faculty and personnel will be invited to adopt the new standard, but it will be their choice. BYU’s existing employment standards, including the requirement that employees who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ accept as a condition of employment the standards of conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges, will continue to apply to employees who decline to adopt the temple-recommend standard. https://policy.byu.edu/view/personnel-conduct-policy 7. Does this standard also apply to part-time personnel and adjunct faculty? Yes. Each employee at BYU has an important role to play in accomplishing the university’s mission 8. Do student employees fall under this category? The standard will apply to student employees who work at the Missionary Training Center and who work at the Church of Jesus Christ’s FSY programs. All other student employees will not fall under this standard. All students will continue to need an annual ecclesiastical endorsement.

Clarification: The initial headline on this story read “BYU, other Latter-day Saint schools will require temple recommends for new hires.” The requirement is only for new Latter-day Saint hires.