The Most Progressive Organization on Earth

By Steven Piersanti, Draft 5.1, December 28, 2012 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter, “the Church” or “LDS”) is often described in the media, by critics, and even by faithful Church members as being hierarchical, authoritarian, rigid, and highly conservative. This is the standard, virtually unquestioned narrative about the LDS Church. But this narrative does not offer an accurate or well-informed picture of the LDS Church. The thesis of this paper is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is actually one of the most progressive organizations on earth, when all dimensions of the Church are considered. I am not arguing that the LDS Church is perfectly progressive or that it would even like to be perfectly progressive. In some respects it is conservative. However, I believe that when all dimensions of the Church are compared to all dimensions of any other organization of substantial scale (with many locations and thousands of organizational members), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as progressive or more progressive than any other organization on earth. In this paper I am using “progressive” in reference to the organizational structure, practices, and functioning of the Church. By “progressive” I mean an organization that is (a) high in egalitarianism, broad leadership participation, contributions of all members, service focus, lifelong learning and education, compassion and caring for others, tolerance toward others, environmental responsibility, and what is called “abundant community” – and (b) low in inequality, hierarchy, privilege, class distinctions, resistance to new ideas and learning, self-centeredness, intolerance, separateness, and environmental disregard. I am not using “progressive” in a political sense, although toward the end of this paper I will comment on major misunderstandings about the political orientation of the Church. And I will spell out at the end of this paper a number of harmful political consequences and other consequences resulting from mistaken ideas about the nature of the Church. My focus in this paper is not the group of Church leaders headquartered in one building in Salt Lake City. Instead, my focus is on the nearly 30,000 congregations of the Church around the world. These congregations (“wards” and “branches” as they are called) are the essential units of the Church. They are where 99.99 percent of the members of the Church experience the Church, attend Church services, learn their religion, and practice their religion. It is just as much of a mistake to view one Salt Lake City building and the leaders in that building as “the Mormon Church” as it would be to view a few buildings in Washington, D.C. and the leaders in those buildings as “the United States.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the tens of thousands of congregations around the world and nearly fifteen million members of those congregations. 1

I am drawing on four primary sources of knowledge for this paper. First, during the five decades since I was baptized into the Church, I have attended LDS Church services in over sixty different congregations in twenty U.S. states and four other countries, and I have had deep knowledge of the functioning of many of those congregations. So I am drawing on my own observations of the Church in action in these congregations. Second, I have supplemented my personal observations with what many other people from around the world have shared with me about the LDS congregations that they have known. Third, for the past thirty years I have been an editor of books on leadership, management, organizational behavior, organization development, business, economics, diversity, inequality, poverty, power, service, community, social change, social responsibility, social and economic justice, environmentalism, sustainability, international development, education, training, lifelong learning, and similar topics. I have helped select, shape, develop, and edit hundreds of such books for publication – many by leading authorities in the world on these topics – and I have also reviewed thousands of manuscripts and book proposals on these topics that I elected not to pursue. Because of this work, I have gained a wide range of knowledge about many dimensions of the functioning of organizations. And during this time I have also been a leader myself at various organizational levels, including being the president of two well-respected book-publishing companies and holding various leadership positions in LDS congregations. Fourth, over the years I have read and studied a great deal of literature (besides the books and manuscripts mentioned above) on the topics of this paper in books, journals, newspapers, and the Internet. So here, then, are some of the dimensions on which I find the Church to be highly progressive. Continually Rotating Leadership. All of the leadership positions in every congregation in the Church are continually rotating. One week a man may be the bishop over a congregation, and the next week that man’s responsibility may have changed to be the teacher of a class of 11-year-olds, reporting to a woman half his age. Or, to use an example that just happened in the congregation I attend as I was drafting this paper, a woman received a new calling to work with a small group of teenage girls, after she had previously served for several years as “Relief Society” president – top leader of the hundreds of women in our congregation, member of the congregation’s overall leadership council, and overseer of compassionate service to meet food, shelter, health, and other needs of individuals and families in the congregation. And a woman who was serving as a part-time lay missionary and president of a Sunday School class – and who is an immigrant from China – became the new Relief Society president, the first time she had served in this role. 2

or youth holds in LDS congregations. By kindness. woman. the greater is the service expected of the leader rather than the privilege of the 3 . While there are hierarchical leadership roles. .” (Doctrine and Covenants 121: 41. And the proportion of members of the congregation who serve in leadership roles at some point in their lives is higher than that in any other organization of which I am aware. women. or administrators in LDS congregations are paid or receive any monetary compensation. they use persuasion. the object and reward of leadership is service (to other congregation members. gentleness. compassion. . 42. and without guile . discipline. and devotion). The greater the leadership responsibility that a man. combined with the lack of compulsion. and youth who are members of the congregation.This rotating leadership system gives every member of the congregation the opportunity to experience both leadership and followership roles throughout their lives. by longsuffering. coercion. meekness. No clergy. by gentleness and meekness. and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth. leadership in the LDS Church is really service to others rather than privilege or power over others. both men and women. Lay Clergy and Leadership. and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. Service Instead of Privilege. leadership. or anger to control others. lead without compulsion. Because of this lack of monetary or other tangible rewards. which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy. kindness. All of the clergy. branch presidents. “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves. and administrative positions in every LDS congregation are voluntary lay positions filled by men. leaders. to the surrounding community. All of the thirty-plus bishops. and pure knowledge. and to the Lord) and the development of the leader (growing in faith. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion. Instead. patience. Nor are there other perks or tangible rewards from leadership positions. and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion. the continual rotation of so many different congregation members in and out of those roles is one of the practices that makes the actual structure and culture of LDS congregations very nonhierarchical. Church founder Joseph Smith famously said. No Compulsion. and by love unfeigned. only by persuasion. 46) Leaders at every level in LDS congregations. and love. which is the heart of the LDS leadership approach: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood. and Relief Society presidents whom I have closely observed over the years have led in this gentle way rather than attempting to use force. Few other organizations have such a radically rotating leadership system where members are continuously rotating in and out of so many different leadership positions at all levels.” LDS scriptures give the following guidance. Instead.

10. Leaders at every level in LDS congregations are continually sacrificing their time. the homeless. the elderly. families. 1986.leader or power over others. I estimate that over the past 40 years I have personally provided well over 25. here is an account by Eugene England of service he provided during the initial months after he became president of a small congregation in Minnesota: I traveled hundreds of miles and spent many hours: helping a couple who had hurt each other into absolute silence learn to talk to each other again. could provide similar lists of service rendered. To use my own case as an example. And. The result is that all congregation members experience the rewards of service. and often to the surrounding community outside the congregation. seeing a student through drug withdrawal. except that LDS congregation leaders provide this service without compensation. Bookcraft. single adults. as well as in most other congregations throughout the Church. handicapped people. youth. at a hospital at four in the morning. What is remarkable is that my case is the norm rather than the exception: numerous leaders and members in our congregation as well as in each other LDS congregation around the world have been just as actively providing service without compensation or privilege. comforting. as explained below. It cannot be stressed enough that in the LDS Church. p. These rewards are nicely described by Eugene England on pages 4 and 5 of his book cited above: 4 . who was weak in faith and frightened. to the congregation as a whole. teaching a somewhat domineering man to work cooperatively with his counselors in the Sunday School presidency.000 hours of service to others both inside and outside our Church (children. aided by its father. leadership is extraordinarily broadly spread among congregation members. Service and Sacrifice. including both women and men and both youth and adults. All active members of every congregation throughout the Church are invited every month to provide various types of service to other congregation members. (Eugene England. awards. or perks for this service. Service Rewards for All. leadership is service and sacrifice. nor have I had power or privilege over others. drug addicts. Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel. congregation leaders have an especially heavy service burden. They are like doctors who are always on call. As stated above. comfort. and energy to serve the needs of other congregation members in a myriad of ways. and many other groups) in fulfilling my Church leadership and membership responsibilities.) Many leaders at all levels in the congregation in which I serve. And during these 40 years I have never received any monetary compensation. parents whose son had just been killed by his brother driving drunk – and then helping the brother forgive himself. This turns on its head the traditional notion of leadership positions as offering power and privilege to the leaders. To give a glimpse of this service. alcoholics. blessing a terribly sick baby.

” “Primary” president. and the supporting officers to each of these presidents) in LDS congregations as measured by the scope and level of responsibility of these positions in relation to the overall weekly functioning of the congregations. and other programs in LDS congregations. given the fact documented by numerous studies that women are more typically religious than are men. social events. after all. and service roles between men and women? The obvious counterpoint is that men in the Church can hold the priesthood and women cannot hold the priesthood. Women deliver approximately half of all sermons. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital. and thus we learn to love them. Women hold approximately half of all teaching positions. writes in a December 17. and (c) the fact that women hold many of the highest responsibility leadership roles (including “Relief Society” president. and service responsibilities are divided so equally between men and women in LDS congregations. even when we are disappointed and exasperated. Inc. Egalitarian Responsibilities. article: “A mountain of Gallup survey data attests to the idea that women are more religious than men. . is the most important thing to learn in the gospel). the priesthood roles of men probably contribute to the egalitarianism and gender balance by encouraging men to be more religiously active than would otherwise be the case.There are constant opportunities for all to serve. teaching. especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve – or possibly even associate with – and thus there are opportunities to learn to love unconditionally (which. teaching. Women hold approximately half of all leadership positions in most LDS congregations. George Gallup Jr. (For example. with men and women being equal in their ability to provide service and receive the rewards of such service). . practice their faith more consistently. hold their beliefs more firmly. and work more vigorously for the congregation . and church membership figures indicate that it probably existed for many decades prior to the advent of survey research in the mid-1930s. speaking. service projects. . preaching. “Young Women” president. It stretches and challenges us.” 5 . 2002 Gallup. However. (b) the fact that the leadership.Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. And women lead approximately half of all educational programs. . in ways we would not otherwise choose to be stretched and challenged. How many other organizations can say the same in terms of such an even division of leadership. Thus it gives us a chance to be made better than we may have chosen to be – but need and ultimately want to be. . the physical and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (may even heartily dislike). The tendency toward higher religiosity among women has manifested over seven decades of scientific polling. . Indeed. this does not really change the egalitarian division of roles because of several factors: (a) the other egalitarian dimensions of LDS leadership described above (especially the service rather than privilege nature of all LDS leadership positions for both men and women..

Italy. and many times the role of instructor rotates from week-to-week among the members of a group. The role of the teacher is to facilitate discussions among class members to bring out the knowledge in the room. and I was helping congregation members two and three times older than me to deal with difficult challenges. The top leader of a congregation may be 20. not just from the instructor. and in each class member’s ability to receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit. administrative roles. 6 . All Are Teachers and All Are Learners.or 60. teaching in LDS congregations is also very progressive. most members of congregations have one or more callings as an instructor at some point during their At any given time. Mirroring the radically universal nature of leadership. training films. and individual mentoring. Participative Mode of Teaching. which all members of the congregation receive many times over the years. and all ages serve in leadership roles. the mode of teaching is that class members are learning from each This training includes frequent formal and informal leadership development presentations. Unparalleled Leadership Training. ongoing courses. and to help class members receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit. and the same is true of most positions in the congregation.aspx ). training exercises. Also. The foundational assumption is that the knowledge is already in the room among class members. In any congregation there are leaders of all ages. I am not aware of another organization that entrusts so much responsibility simultaneously to both the young and the old and in which there is so much acceptance among all age groups of the young leading the old and the old leading the young. This is true in multiple ways. training manuals.http://www. and the old lead the young – this is happening every day in every LDS congregation.or 40. Universal Leadership. The young lead the old. to help class members learn to use their books of scripture to enrich their learning. Furthermore. Leadership Spread among All Ages. No other organization provides as much ongoing leadership training to all members of the organization throughout their lives as is the universal practice in LDS congregations. At the age of 20 I was entrusted to be leader of a congregation in Palermo. a third or more of the active members of a congregation hold leadership roles. As noted above.or even 80-years-old. This congregation was experiencing enormous problems because of the mafia. Girls and boys start stepping into leadership positions at the age of twelve. individual coaching. or other service roles. Almost all members of the congregation will serve in multiple leadership roles during their lives. in the books of scripture that class members bring to class. All class members participate in helping themselves and everyone else learn together. Instructors of classes of both youth and adults are learning facilitators rather than lecturers or dispensers of knowledge. home of the mafia. and the rest hold teaching roles. and this continues their whole lives.

And this emphasis on learning is not only for religious learning but also for learning in history. literature. Here is a link to the classic. Givens. population the most educated people are the least religious.any and all congregation members – from teenagers to the oldest members – are asked from time to time to deliver sermons to the congregation.000 congregations around the world. and in peer groups. And whereas in the general U. inspiring. Month after month. through formal studies and informal searching – from when congregation members are small children until they pass away. No one is too young or too old to learn. the higher the level of religious observance among Latter-day Saints.S. Democratizing Access to Inspiration and Revelation. widely quoted study of these topics: http://tinyurl. and become acquainted with all good books. open. Few other organizations have a structure that offers more regular. without anyone being asked to speak and without anyone previewing or approving who will speak or what they will say.) 7 . experiences. Great value is placed on learning – individually. Inspiration and revelation from God are the domain of every LDS member. No one ever knows enough. and people” (Doctrine and Covenants 91:15). and personal sharing of what people find most important in their lives than the monthly LDS “Fast and Testimony Meeting. in 30. the result is authentic. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion. and learning with the whole Open Individual Expression. see Chapter 8 on “Dialogic Revelation” in Terryl L. (For a highly informative and authoritative exposition of the LDS belief that “revelation is the province of everyman” and how this “democratic. All congregation members are taught to seek their own personal dialogue with God through prayer to receive inspiration and personal revelation from God to help them deal with the challenges that they and their families face. and with languages. such as the following: “Study and learn. The underlying assumption is that every congregation member has something worthwhile to learn from other congregation members as well as something worthwhile to share with other congregation members. science. 2002.” in which all congregation members who wish to do so can spontaneously go to the microphone to share their beliefs. and powerful. in a self-organizing way. Lifelong Learning and Education. Oxford University Press. This is a reflection of the emphasis on learning and education that permeates LDS culture and is emphasized in LDS scriptures. tongues. just the opposite is true among Latter-day Saints: the greater their level of education. and many other fields – both through individual study and through educational institutions at all levels. in families. The sharing of people’s deepest beliefs and most precious experiences is done live. population as a whole. Given this emphasis on learning.S. it is not surprising that Latter-day Saints have a much higher level of college education than the U. not just clergy. rather than hierarchical application” of revelation permeates the Book of Mormon and LDS culture.

Utah.” This generosity also includes the donation of money. donated $650 annually to social causes through the church” (mostly in the form of “Fast Offerings” that support the poor and needy on a local level and in donations to the Church’s worldwide humanitarian aid efforts).” (“Mormons and Civic Life. But even the remaining 89. It’s not just an important part. physical. There is no special treatment or allowance for leaders or for anyone else who violates those rules – either in theory.” Furthermore. New Jersey. The study concludes that “active members of the LDS Church volunteer and donate significantly more than the average American and are even more generous in time 8 . . on average.9 hours of volunteer labor annually.” In addition. Nearly 80 percent of this volunteering meets the social.7 hours per year that the average active LDS member devotes to meeting social. The same rules of moral conduct apply to all congregation members. . it’s not just a nice thing to do. donates $1. .mormonnewsroom. a Latter-day Saint . Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life) A good description of how this emphasis on the welfare of others translates into action is contained in this article: http://www. The study found that active LDS members give. The same study found that the percentage of income that active LDS members give in the form of tithing to support the LDS Church “surpasses the level of charitable giving to all causes combined by all Americans and even by the most-religious Americans. “on average. no matter what position an individual holds in the congregation. A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that “nearly three-quarters of Mormons say that working to help the poor and needy is an essential part of what it means to be a good Mormon. 427. so far as I have been able to observe. Helping the poor is essential to what it means to being a good Mormon. on top of being the highest tithe payers.664 active LDS members in Pennsylvania. . and other needs of other LDS congregation members. and California.” March 15. Emphasis on Caring for the Poor and Needy. 2012. The University of Pennsylvania report concludes that “Latter-day Saints are the most committed volunteers in the USA. physical. “an average Latter-day Saint . which is more than ten times the national average for volunteering of all Generosity in Giving of Time and Money. men and women alike. . nor. . It is precisely those Mormons who are the most committed to the practice of their faith . and other needs in the community (outside of LDS congregations) is more than double the national average of all Americans for all forms of volunteering combined. who are most likely to say that providing assistance to the needy is an essential part of what it means to practice their faith. Michigan. in practice. .No Double Standard.171 annually to social causes outside the church. . A study released in March 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice surveyed 2. .

Curtis. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. (Eugene England’s book cited above. Just as the 9 . Daniel W. and tolerance for individuals’ limitations (such as those who may be ill. by Ram Cnaan. all of these properties are practiced with the capacities of kindness. and abundant community are all anchored in foundational LDS Church doctrines. The programs are all led and organized by congregation members on a nonpaid basis. educational. .) Programs for All. provides a good description of abundant community in the Church. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods. see the new book by bestselling authors John McKnight and Peter Block. frail. generosity. and social programs to benefit all members of the congregations. caring for the poor and needy. see especially pages 12 – 13. include the giving of gifts (recognizing the diverse capacities of every community member and enabling community members to use those capacities to enrich the community). forgiveness. Van Evans. Equality of All People. as defined by McKnight and Block. for which I served as one of the editors. developmentally disabled. men. they are very generous with their time and money. I don’t know of another organization that exhibits these properties and capacities more fully than what I have observed in the many LDS congregations I have known. as I write this. Regardless of where they live. McKnight and Block describe how. or suffering from addictions). in abundant communities.” For the fullest exposition of this topic. programs for all. These qualities are the essence of what goes on every week – both Sundays and throughout the week – in LDS congregations all over the world. rich association (community members voluntarily joining with other community members to aid each other and the whole). and older adults. Congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints each offer a rich array of spiritual. Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel. youth. generosity in giving time and money. LDS congregations all over the world are among the best examples of what is described in the community development literature as “abundant community. including children.and money than the upper quintile of religious people in America. I am still marveling about last Sunday’s worship service for our congregation and two other congregations that share our meetinghouse.” March 2012. Overall we found that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the most prosocial members of American society. and there is remarkably broad involvement of congregation members in most programs. University of Pennsylvania) Abundant Community. women.” (“Called to Serve: The Prosocial Behavior of Active Latter-day Saints. The focus on service to others. 2010. cooperation. . For example. and the compassion of hospitality (the welcoming of strangers). The properties of such abundant community. acknowledgment of mystery. . University of Pennsylvania. which featured an inspiring program on “Choosing the Right” put on by nearly fifty children (nearly all of whom had speaking parts and singing parts) with the help of about a dozen adult leaders.

and all are alike unto God. . here is one example from the Book of Mormon: “The Lord . and friendly relations with many diverse groups is consistent with what I have observed among LDS members in many places around the world and it is consistent with numerous anecdotes I have read and heard. But two non-LDS early readers of this paper convinced me that I needed to call attention in this paper to LDS doctrines about the equality of all people. and that no one is ever born into sin (contrary to the doctrine of “original sin. There are numerous LDS scriptures that emphasize the equality of all people. . both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi: 26:33.organizational practices. Environmental Responsibility. and he remembereth the heathen. we are all brothers and sisters in the same family. and who will ever live on earth is a child of God. Tolerance for All People. who currently lives on earth. For a topical current example. see this article about the positive and friendly attitudes that LDS members typically have toward Muslims. structure. LDS doctrines – and the many ways they are progressive – are a subject for a future paper rather than this paper. However. bond and free. what is preached and taught every week is that everyone who has ever lived on earth. and he denieth none that come unto him. and functioning of the LDS Church are exceptionally progressive. A non-LDS neighbor recently mentioned to me that a public school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area told him that LDS students have typically been the most helpful and courteous to other students of all the students in that teacher’s classes over the years. And I can say definitively that in five decades of attending LDS Church services in many diverse locations I have never heard preaching or teaching of hate toward any group or demonizing or ridiculing or putting down any group. LDS scriptures and doctrines support responsible stewardship of environmental resources.” which the LDS Church does not follow) because of either the fall of Adam (which Christ atoned for according to LDS teachings) or because of sins of their earthly parents. inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness. These doctrines flow from the LDS belief that everyone who has ever lived or will ever live on this earth and on all of the other many earths that God has created are literally children of God (who is the parent of their spirits while their earthly parents are the parents of their bodies). I can say definitively that such tolerance is the only behavior that would be consistent with LDS doctrines (such as the “equality of all people” mentioned above). Instead. and therefore I cannot establish this tolerance definitively. as have the teachings of many LDS leaders from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to the present. male and female. black and el%3A_more_gop_than_lds/ I know of no study that has measured LDS members’ tolerance for other people. This tolerance for other people. that all people are therefore literally brothers and sisters in the same human family.religiondispatches. Buddhists. and people of other religions: http://www. openness to people of differing beliefs and backgrounds. so too are LDS Church doctrines exceptionally progressive. (For the fullest treatment of 10 . emphasis added).

And LDS temples around the world are the ultimate example of such multiuse buildings. over 200 congregations. and energy used by two congregations with separate meetinghouses. the three congregations use the chapel and the adjoining rooms at different times during Sundays and at different times during the rest of the week. on average. and one Laotian-speaking congregation). the “Oakland Interstake Center” supports over 150 congregations by providing a large auditorium and other facilities for religious. in the San Francisco Bay Area. as each temple hosts special religious ceremonies that are not available in meetinghouses but that serve. Religious Studies Center. For example. For example. 2006. Among the stated objectives of this schedule change were to “reduce the amount of travel by Church members” and to “conserve energy 11 .edu/%5Bfield_status-raw%5D/stewardshipand-creation-lds-perspectives-environment . This consolidation cut energy use and travel costs for members by half. Brigham Young University.byu. The sharing of meetinghouses means that LDS congregations use far less natural resources than would be the case if each congregation had its own meetinghouse (as is common for many other religious organizations). This sharing of meetinghouses is done throughout the Church. the Church moved worldwide to a “consolidated meeting schedule” that grouped the principal congregation meetings together in one three-hour block on Sundays instead of the previous longstanding schedule whereby members traveled to their meetinghouse on Sunday morning for “Sunday School” and meetings of male and female members. then back to the meetinghouse for an afternoon worship service. most LDS meetinghouses are shared by multiple congregations – from two congregations to as many as four or more congregations. For example. The entire text can be accessed at this site: http://rsc. see Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment. thus allowing meetinghouses to be smaller and less-resource consuming than would be the case if each meetinghouse was self-contained. then home for lunch. These multiuse buildings provide services and functions not provided by meetinghouses. except where the number of members in a geographic region is so small that congregations are spread far apart and excessive travel would be needed for more than one congregation to use a meetinghouse. building materials. This environmental benefit is further amplified by multiuse buildings throughout the Church that serve the needs of from five to 200 or more congregations. Most importantly.) Many LDS Church practices advance environmental responsibility. each covering a different geographic area. In recent decades the Church has taken numerous further steps that support environmental responsibility.this topic. the meetinghouse I attend is shared by three congregations (two English-speaking congregations. In 1980. cultural. two congregations sharing a meetinghouse use only half the land. and other events that would be too large to fit into any single meetinghouse.

first. “The new meetinghouses are more economical to build. . . LDS meetinghouses have pioneered many other environmentally beneficial practices as well.” (“A New Generation of Meetinghouses. store it. The new building is designed with construction and energy costs in mind. 2010) and this “Timeline of Conservation Practices” http://www. Over the past twenty years water usage in landscaping around meetinghouses has been greatly reduced. While I am cleaning I often marvel at the extraordinary efficiency of the use of space in every single room and hallway of the building. the Church introduced a new standardized.” Ensign.epa. more energy efficient meetinghouses. In 2010 the Church introduced a pilot program of building new meetinghouses with the latest environmentally progressive construction methods.) It is worth noting that this LDS Church initiative was launched well before the green building movement became prominent in the 1990s in the U.mormonnewsroom. November 1981.htm ) The building where I currently attend church services is one of these smaller. March 1980. ( http://www. energy-efficient design for meetinghouses. Like many other members of our congregation. .resources and reduce the nonessential costs required for members to participate in Church activities. and generally smaller than most buildings now being used for Sunday worship services and other Church activities . landscaping and plumbing fixtures that cut water use by more than 50 percent.) In 1981. Beginning in 1990. I have gotten to know each nook and cranny of this building intimately because the members of LDS congregations take turns in groups in cleaning their meetinghouse each week. high efficiency heating and cooling systems to interface with the solar power equipment. Green Building Council in 1993. and the building will be fifteen to twenty percent more energy efficient than past designs. with a principal initial milestone being the founding of the U. and I have done so personally dozens of times. it is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the initial building expenses will be saved with the construction of each new meetinghouse. Starting in the 1950s LDS building designs around the world started using overhangs and verandas to reduce heat load.S. then use it for irrigation on landscaping. including roof-mounted solar panels to provide all of the building’s energy. and Low-E Solarban 12 .gov/greenbuilding/pubs/ website in “Church Has Enduring Track Record on Conservation Practices” (April 27.. more energy And the LDS Church is continuing its environmentally friendly innovations. and second. Also starting in the 1950s some LDS meetinghouses on islands of the Pacific set up cisterns to capture rain water. by installing drought tolerant plantings in landscapes.” Ensign.S. Numerous other conservation and energy efficiency practices are described on the LDS.” (“Church Consolidates Meeting Schedules. motion sensors were installed in restrooms in LDS meetinghouses throughout the world to automatically turn lights and fans off when rooms were no longer occupied. by using water sensors to detect moisture levels along with water system controls that adjust water flow according to weather conditions and landscaping needs.

) The Most Progressive Organization on Earth What is most striking and noteworthy is that the characteristics I have described above are present not just in many or most LDS congregations. To begin with. 2010.” LDS. The strongest objection that I have received to early drafts of this paper is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a highly political institution with a sharply conservative political agenda. “’It’s about creating a place of worship that works in harmony with the environment. Some people even group the LDS Church with the Religious Right.’” (“Solar-Powered Construction Design Gets ‘Green’ Light from Church Leaders. Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. it is necessary to compare the LDS Church to other real organizations.” which states: 13 . and responsible for the physical facilities of the Church. David and politicians the Church’s statement of “Political Neutrality. for decades the Church has widely disseminated to Church members. April 27. Instead they are the norm in virtually all of the nearly 30. This view of the Church is entirely mistaken. the progressive characteristics must be generalized in virtually all of the units of the organization rather than just in some of the units. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the most nonpolitical churches in the U.000 LDS congregations around the world because they are built into the very nature and structure of the LDS Church rather than being a special program pushed by particular leaders or congregations. media. ‘For decades we have looked for innovative ways to use natural resources in our meetinghouses that reflect our commitment as wise stewards of God’s creations. As I stated at the beginning of this paper. In fact. not to a hypothetical perfectly progressive organization that does not exist. In order to contest the thesis of this paper. this is not to say that the LDS Church is progressive in every respect. Politics While the focus of this paper is not on politics. a mistaken view of the political stance of the Church is so pervasive that it gets in the way of people being able to consider the points in this paper and overshadows other considerations.S. and perhaps the world. But there are no perfectly progressive organizations on earth.70 windows that block 78 percent of the sun’s heat energy.’ said H. Some of the early readers of this paper have objected to my thesis by pointing out one dimension or another on which the LDS Church is not progressive. This sets a very high bar for any other organization that might be put forward as equally or more progressive than the LDS Church.

I have never seen an LDS Church building used for a political fundraising event or for a rally for a political candidate. Church leaders have welcomed visits from both Democratic and Republican U. not to elect politicians.mormonnewsroom. or platforms.The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. even posting on the Church website a video animation that graphically explains and emphasizes the Church’s position: http://tinyurl. or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes. The Church does not: Endorse. membership lists.” Perhaps because of the attention generated by Mitt Romney’s campaign for president. here is a link to a Church press release about LDS Church President 14 . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. presidents. or oppose political parties. but each time someone pointed out to the instructor in the class or after the class that such comments were out-of-line. To further drive home the message of political neutrality. Here is a link to view the full “Political Neutrality” policy. Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. candidates. In my five decades of Church membership. Allow its church buildings. promote. and Church leaders show respect to both Democratic and Republican political leaders. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. the LDS Church has gone to extra lengths this year to reiterate the political neutrality of the Church. and the instructor apologized. On a small number of occasions I have heard a classroom instructor (not one of the congregation leaders) violate this policy by expressing her or his personal political views in the class. which is read each election year in all LDS congregations: http://www. I do not recall ever hearing any Church leader in any LDS Church meeting endorse any political party or candidate or tell congregation members which candidate or party they should vote for. such behavior is jarring because it is so rare. I have never seen a political candidate or political party endorsed in any LDS Church publication.S. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is This policy is followed with great Please note that this policy of political neutrality “applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For example.

I am aware of only four such positions that the Church has taken on national political issues over the past thirty years. in those few occasions when the LDS Church has expressed a Church position on a political issue. 15 . Monson and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid presenting President Barak Obama with his family history: http://tinyurl. Consequences of Mistaken Views of the Church There are a number of harmful consequences of mistaken views of the LDS Church as a monolithically “conservative institution. many people who are highly critical of the “religious right” political movement in the United States mistakenly lump The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in with this conservative movement. Members have been encouraged but not forced to support the Church position. these four positions have been balanced between the progressive and conservative sides of the political spectrum. and over the past three years Church representatives and publications have made several statements supporting a more compassionate and progressive approach to immigration legislation. contrary to what is popularly believed. even though the LDS Church is more progressive than conservative in its structure. so it is not easy to characterize it as either progressive or conservative. practices. in a nonpartisan way. (The Church has also taken positions on some local Salt Lake City and Utah political issues during this period.) Furthermore. there has been no requirement that Church members take the same position and no enforcement mechanism to compel Church members to support the position. the Church rarely takes such a position. Some sectors of society have a more negative view of the Church than would be the case if they had a more accurate understanding of its progressive nature.” 1. The Church states that it reserves “the right as an institution to address. The fourth such national stance over the past thirty years is that several times the Church has issued statements opposing the legalization of gambling and Where the LDS Church has earned a reputation for being politically active is on the rare occasions when the Church has taken a position on a political issue it considers to have great moral consequence. the Church came out in 1982 against the MX ballistic missile system. On the progressive side. the LDS Church goes to extraordinary lengths to maintain strict political neutrality throughout the Church toward all political candidates and parties. as is well known because of the California Proposition 8 battle. issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church. but this stance cuts across progressive and conservative positions. For example.” However. On the conservative side. the Church has opposed legalizing same-sex marriage. Moreover.Thomas S. and functioning and even though. as described above.

fewer members would identify themselves as politically conservative and more members would identify themselves as politically progressive. 4. And individual LDS thinkers and leaders who already identify themselves as progressive often feel excluded from progressive circles unless they either stay silent about their LDS Church membership or criticize one or another particular stance of the Church. Identity in Democracy. these media and groups reinforce this conservative image every day without digging deeper to get a more accurate understanding of the LDS Church.2. The Bottom Line One purpose of this paper is to encourage progressives both inside and outside the LDS Church to focus on the many progressive dimensions of the Church instead of just on a few issues on which the Church is perceived to not be progressive. In turn. 3.) If members of the Church had a more accurate perception of the progressive nature of the Church. this endlessly repeated conservative image of the Church influences many members of the Church to self-identify themselves as politically conservative because they view themselves as belonging to a conservative rather than a progressive organization. (b) LDS ideas and practices. I believe that the LDS Church as an organizational model. (For an extensively-researched and thoroughly-referenced examination of how people identify themselves and how this identity influences their political views. and individual LDS members all have a great deal to contribute to 16 . endlessly repeated. see Any Gutmann. and (c) individual LDS thinkers and leaders don’t even belong in the room or at the table with other progressive approaches and groups. distinctive LDS ideas and practices. Progressives often rail against one-issue tyranny by others (such as portions of the electorate who base their entire vote on opposing gun control). The result is an unquestioned. The conservative image of the Church has led to a rush to judgment about the Church in the media. incomplete. among political and intellectual groups. What I find to be especially pernicious is the concept that to a large extent underlies these exclusions: one-issue tyranny. 2004. Another consequence is that the potential LDS contributions to progressive ideas and behavior are greatly underappreciated and underutilized. In a vicious circle. and false information and that gravely distorts the LDS Church. and among other influential groups in society. constantly reinforced conservative narrative that is based on superficial. There is a tendency to define who is progressive and who is not very narrowly: how institutions or individuals stand in relation to one or two current issues. Princeton University Press. yet they fall into this trap themselves when they insist on complete purity on one or two issues while giving much less weight to dozens of other progressive dimensions. Instead of seeking and learning from LDS approaches to progressive ideas and action. the common view among many media as well as progressive groups is that (a) the LDS Church as an institution. Our politics often reflect our vision of ourselves.

take a deeper look at the actual nature of the Church. which is skewed to the conservative side. I hope that progressives who are not members of the Church will be more open to and welcoming of LDS ideas. not in spite of it” ( http://www.S. the politics of a greater number of LDS members in the ). while realizing that one reason why Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney comes across to conservatives. practices. In my view. I hope that many more Latter-day Saints will run for office on a progressive platform. would move from conservative to progressive. If progressives both inside and outside the Church would instead recognize and tout the progressive dimensions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Another purpose of this paper is to encourage a political balance that better reflects the progressive nature of the LDS Church than the current balance of political affiliations of LDS members in the United States. and institutions. I hope that Church members who view themselves as progressive will be more open and vocal in expressing those views in many types of public forums without feeling a need to simultaneously criticize some aspect of the Church.advancing progressive ideas. I hope that those who read this paper will reconsider their preconceptions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. and act with courage and conviction in response to new understanding and insights that they gain. ideas. I hope that this paper encourages progressives both inside and outside of the LDS Church to include LDS members. approaches. practices. I hope that Church members who view themselves as conservative will take a close look at the many progressive dimensions of their Church and consider whether their personal beliefs are actually more progressive than conservative. progressives both inside and outside the Church have substantially contributed toward pushing LDS Church members to the conservative side of the political spectrum by perpetuating and broadcasting the myth that the LDS Church is a conservative institution. and the public at large as “inauthentic” is because he has turned away from progressive aspects of his religion in pursuit of conservative votes. 17 .utahcountydems. progressives. the media. and members in advancing progressive movements. thus yielding a political balance more consistent with the nature of the Church. and practices in the rooms and at the tables where progressives gather. joining Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in saying “I’m a Democrat because I am a Mormon.

– Kimball Fisher And here are comments from Dave Ulrich. They are the most knowledgeable because they have devoted their lives to studying organizational I appreciate the many people who are sharing this paper with others as well as voicing support for its messages.And I hope that through all of these actions the progressive dimensions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be more widely appreciated and embraced as a wonderful potential model and force for good in the world. and organization change: 18 . And I welcome questions about the content. and organizational behavior and is co-founder of The Fisher Group: Thanks so much for sending me Steve's paper.000 views. who is an internationally acknowledged authority on leadership. I am pleased that especially strong support for the paper is coming from the group that is most knowledgeable about the subject matter of the paper: LDS professionals in the organizational behavior and organization development fields. Sharing This Paper with Others I encourage people to share this paper with others through every means that they would like to do so. teams. My intent is to update and improve the paper from time to time as I receive useful feedback. I found it entirely consistent with my experience as an LDS progressive and have taken the liberty of copying him on my reply to you (as an expression of gratitude for his work and also to offer some [unsolicited] feedback). without needing to receive permission from me. co-founder of the RBL Group. I would ask to learn where this paper is being distributed. and innovation while at the same time being personally and intimately knowledgeable about the functioning of the LDS Church. who is a professor of business at the University of Michigan. I hope it gets published everywhere! The New York Times has been doing a lot of these pieces lately because of the Romney campaign. For example. Please contact me at the following email address: spiersanti53@gmail. and his excellent detailing of our progressive organizational practices. and I think that compared to those articles Steve's paper presents a fresh and important take on our culture and widely mischaracterized beliefs. well written. and suggestions for improving the paper. disagreements about particular points. and enlightening piece of work. here are comments from Kimball Fisher. and one of the top ranked experts in the world on human resource management. as long as they do not edit or change the content of the paper. I really loved his points about the Church being much more than a building of leaders in Salt Lake. It is a brilliant. change. It has already received nearly 10. organizational performance. in line with the Creative Commons license stated below.

Often any discussion of “Mormonism” turns to a discussion of arcane doctrine. one is not allowed to invest one’s ego in Church positions (roles) or activities. Except for some limited exceptions. my real-world encounters with Mormon friends tells me otherwise. 19 . It is a progressive organization. This essay does a wonderful job discussing the organization and governance processes of the LDS Church and how these unique processes embody the characteristics of innovative organizations. with progressive leaders. Many years ago I lectured on the “social inventions” in the Church. wrote: “While I am certainly aware of the prevailing narrative that the Mormon Church is conservative and hierarchical. the historicity of the Book of Mormon.” And a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church reported the following: I am a member of my Unitarian Universalist Church choir and we now hold our practice sessions at the local LDS Church – an extremely nice facility. For example. Some of my points were similar to yours. And people seem to be having a good time and are always welcoming of us. who is executive editor at a major training company. When we learned that – we were jumping up and down. it definitely discourages it. In my work. Some of these observations have already made it into versions of this paper. Leaders brought up in these organizational practices are acculturated to innovative thinking and acting. as we were struggling to figure out how to pay for a practice space.This essay raises great points. Finally. Martha Lawrence. I have identified 10 emerging or evolutionary characteristics of high-performing organizations. The only other notion I feel like mentioning to you is this: The Church is virtually an ego-free organization. I am pleased that many people who are not members of the LDS Church are sharing their own experiences that support the conclusions of this paper. I’ll be happy to send it on to a variety of people. The LDS Church exemplifies the current/future thinking on almost every dimension. I’ve been impressed that at every practice session – it’s on Wednesday nights – there is something going on at the church besides us. which the LDS folks have offered to let us use for free as a service to the community. an emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University who is one of the top scholars in the world on the culture of the LDS Church. and other areas of LDS studies: I enjoyed this paper very much and agree virtually 100% with what you have said. The ethos of the Church generally not only does not allow that. here are comments by John Sorenson. – Dave Ulrich I’m also pleased that many people are sharing their own observations and experiences that augment and enhance the points in this paper. while others will make it into future drafts. For example. since our choir had outgrown the office space where we had been practicing.

published. Nonprofit Management Series. Thomas Stewart of Fortune Magazine. and he helped develop the Health Series. and Fred Smith of FedEx. In 2003 Steve received the “Champion of Workplace Learning and Performance Award” from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). 20 . The five previous annual recipients were Jack Welch of General Electric. Robert Galvin of Motorola. with a bachelor’s degree in University Studies. editor. which became the company’s largest and most profitable publishing program. While at BYU. Publishers in San Francisco in 1977 as a promotional copywriter and then served as marketing director. and business and management. He graduated with Highest Honors from Brigham Young University in 1977. organizational. and executive vice president before becoming president and CEO in 1989. and societal. He believes that the progressive dimensions of the Church that are described in this paper are divinely inspired. personal growth. Steve began his career at Jossey-Bass. Inc. He founded the Jossey-Bass Management Series.. in San Francisco. he founded. and Public Administration Series. commercial and non-commercial.. Inc. In 1992 Steve founded Berrett-Koehler Publishers. with credit to Steven Piersanti. John Chambers of Cisco. Steve continues to serve as president of Berrett-Koehler as well as one of its book editors. which has become a leading independent publisher of progressive books on current affairs. editorial director. and edited a university student scholarly journal.Creative Commons License: Attribution-NoDerivs 
 CC BY-ND This license allows for redistribution. as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole. About the Author Steven Piersanti has been both a staunch progressive (mainly supporting Democratic Party and Green Party political candidates and causes) and a continuously faithful and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ever since he returned in 1974 from his LDS Church mission to Italy. Berrett-Koehler pursues its mission of “Creating a World That Works for All” by publishing groundbreaking books that promote positive change at all levels – individual.

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