Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Most Powerful Idea in the Universe (Part 4: Correlation)

Organizationally speaking, the Church is a hybrid: it is both an ecclesiastical community and a corporation.1 The wards and branches and stakes and districts of the ecclesiastical Church are presided over by lay priesthood holders. The auxiliaries and other local divisions of the larger organization are likewise staffed by volunteers who receive no pay for their service. In contrast to this ecclesiastical community, the Church also maintains a complex support structure that is not understood very well by most members, despite the fact that it is very large and very expensive. The corporate Church is composed of numerous departments, some of which are housed primarily in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, others of which are spread across the face of the earth. These departments consist of hundreds and thousands of employees, paid workers whose task it is to support the ecclesiastical organization and help the Church fulfill its manifold mission. To illustrate, I spent over seven years working as an editor for the Ensign and the Liahona. As such, I was an employee of the Curriculum Department. Virtually all Curriculum employees worked on the twenty-third and twenty-fourth floors of the Church Office Building. By contrast, the Church Educational System has teachers and administrators from one end of the United States to the other and in many foreign countries.
This particular brand of organizational dualism presents several challenges, not least of which is the tendency for corporate values and attitudes that may be inappropriate for even the employment side of the Church to infiltrate the organization’s ecclesiastical side. It is no great secret that this is happening. Organizational values are predictably prevalent in the corporate side, and they are present in varying degrees in the hierarchical, top-down structure of the ecclesiastical side.
When and how the organizational imperative became a dominant force in the Church is debatable. In some ways, it was already taking root in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. My own suspicion, however, based on several different historical accounts,2 is that the Church began to seriously adopt a bureaucratic structure, a corporate mind-set, and a suite of organizational values at the time it instituted the far-reaching Correlation program in the 1960s.

Correlation and the Adoption of Corporate Practices
Edward L. Kimball, in his 2005 biography of his father, President Spencer W. Kimball, identifies Correlation as half of a concerted plan to address the challenges of managing a rapidly growing worldwide church: “Administration-minded Harold B. Lee had begun addressing the problems with a two-pronged effort: first, implementing a correlation policy that simplified, streamlined, and subordinated a broad range of both headquarters and field operations; and second, applying management practices that were standard in the American business world.”3 Correlation was the restructuring aspect of the effort, while the adoption of corporate management practices could be considered a new direction in leadership methodology. It should be emphasized, however, that these were not separate initiatives; they were two parts of the same strategy aimed at reforming certain elements of the restored Church that had become unwieldy and difficult to administer. But the reorganization that occurred with Elder Lee’s Correlation program had a distinctive corporate flavor to it. President McKay, sensing the direction Lee’s committee was taking the Church, commented, “We cannot run the Church like a business.”4
The seeds of bureaucracy and administrative excess have probably existed within the Church since the 1830s, as they do within every hierarchical organization, but the establishment of Correlation and the adoption of modern management structures and practices appear to represent a deciding moment in Church history in terms of elevating the organizational imperative to prominence. With Correlation came a centralizing of authority; an organizational restructuring according to a corporate or bureaucratic model, including the more extensive hiring of professional managers and employees (who brought corporate values with them); a reining in of certain “charismatic” expressions of creativity, initiative, and individuality, particularly among the previously semi-autonomous auxiliaries; a degree of anxiety about certain events in the Church’s history and about its public image; and a concerted effort to monitor and mold the thinking, the behavior, and the cultural patterns of Church members. Conformity replaced intelligent and enlightened obedience as the ideal posture of the typical Latter-day Saint. And functional, organizational interaction began to jeopardize community. This was the practical beginning of the corporate Church, complete with a full complement of hired professionals, and ever since the 1960s, organizational values have been seeping from the corporate into the ecclesiastical side of the now hybrid organization.

Retrenchment and Respectability
Interestingly, however, if we take a step back and look at the broader historical context, this two-pronged program described above can be seen as a central element in the larger “retrenchment” effort identified by LDS sociologist Armand Mauss in his 1994 book The Angel and the Beehive. This widespread retrenchment purportedly had its roots in the early 1940s when J. Reuben Clark was the influential First Counselor to an incapacitated President Heber J. Grant, and it blossomed later under three of the Apostles who were called during this time and came to be known in some circles as “Clark men”: Elders Harold B. Lee, Mark E. Petersen, and Ezra Taft Benson. (Of course Correlation, as a vehicle for organizational change, was driven primarily by Elder Lee.) According to Mauss, after roughly a half century of seeking assimilation in and accommodation to the surrounding American society, the Church began promoting a substantial reversal in this attitude of rapprochement. “It seems clear in retrospect that at some point during the past three or four decades at least some segment of the church leadership began to become more concerned with the consequences of a muted Mormon identity, an ambiguous peculiarity, than with maintaining or enhancing a position of comfortable respectability. That segment of church leadership, furthermore, seems increasingly to have gained ascendancy during the most recent generation of Mormons.”5
Mauss suggests “that the three above-mentioned conservative apostles shared President Clark’s preferences for a church leadership style that was more formal, bureaucratic, and centralized than had been the case earlier.”6 The combination of this preference with the perceived need to return Mormonism to a greater sense of institutional and individual peculiarity led to a subtle but steady reform movement that promoted, among other things, unquestioning obedience to Church leaders, indoctrination instead of inquiry in religious education, the standardizing and routinizing of missionary work, and a greater emphasis on traditional family life. This retrenchment effort paints a historical backdrop for Correlation and the centralization of power we now see in Church administration and for the resultant uniformity of thought and behavior that characterizes most active Church members.
While Mauss’s conclusions merit serious consideration, the Church’s shift in focus in the latter half of the twentieth century—which moved the membership toward fundamentalism,7 conservatism, and corporatism—can also be viewed as a continuation of the quest for respectability (that began with the discontinuing of polygamy, communitarian economics, and theocracy) rather than a desertion of this quest. For even though the headline-grabbing movements of the 1960s and 1970s were liberal or even radical in nature, they were largely diversions, leaves blown upstream by a brief puff of wind. The deeper current, that turbulent era’s most real and certainly most significant development, which began in earnest at the end of World War II and flowed forward with stolid, unsentimental, and unstoppable momentum, was the rapid expansion and entrenchment of corporate capitalism. When the free-love, rock-and-roll, new-morality, drug-experimentation, radical-feminist, and civil-rights movements of the sixties and seventies had spent their energy, we Americans awoke one gray morning to discover that in the meantime all of us—hippies included—had been quietly absorbed into a global economy dominated by multinational corporations, organizational values, and professional managers. In light of this development, the Church wasn’t moving away from American society but with it, and by the turn of the millennium, Mormons had actually come to define mainstream corporate respectability.
We take pride in being a “peculiar people,” not in the scriptural sense, but in the sense that we are different, somehow better than those around us. And yet compared with the Brigham-day Saints we’re as normal as blueberry pie. Our peculiarity today consists of simply being more respectable than the average American. We don’t smoke or drink or swear (very often); we are generous tithe-payers; we are largely clean shaven, neatly dressed, and well educated; and we keep the Sabbath day more or less holy—all admirable and socially acceptable practices. Compared to our forebears’ polygamous marriages, communitarian economics, millenarian proclamations, blood atonement teachings, long beards, and theocratic politics, we are not peculiar at all. Indeed, in many significant ways we are the antithesis of the Saints of the nineteenth century. We are the truest, bluest devotees of right-wing economics. We are good corporate citizens, in the workplace and in our worship. We have shouted our orthodox Christianity from the rooftops while de-emphasizing some of our more controversial doctrines. We hardly ever talk about the Second Coming as if it were actually coming. We are circumspect about our faith healings and no longer speak in tongues or cast out evil spirits. We are strict and chaste monogamists—in fact, we are family values incarnate. Ironically, though, most Americans still don’t trust us (as Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacies confirmed); they recognize, even when we don’t, that our collective past has left an indelible stamp on us. But we are determined to prove them wrong. With our vast wealth, our staid demeanor, and our conservative politics, we have come to embody corporate respectability. So, in this context, Correlation, the adoption of a bureaucratic structure for the Church, the implementation of modern management techniques, and the emphasis on a muted Mormon peculiarity didn’t really constitute a rebellion against American societal trends, as Mauss would claim; on a more fundamental level, this retrenchment effort could be seen as simply a carefully executed program of going with the flow.

The “Mounting Wave” of Bureaucracy
One of the most visible results of Correlation and the ensuing corporate structure of the Church was the necessity of erecting a modern office building large enough to house the expanding bureaucracy. And this building, by the Church’s own definition and edict, is filled to overflowing with human resources clothed in respectable corporate attire. The corporate Church and its organizational values are now very much entrenched, so much so that it is doubtful the ecclesiastical Church could survive long without it. (On the other side of the coin, one purpose of this post is also to question whether the ecclesiastical Church can survive in this regimented environment without being simply assimilated into the corporate web.)
This burgeoning bureaucracy is of course extremely expensive, and its influence is felt in every ward and branch and household of the Church, much of it serving no other purpose than to maintain firm central control and establish a uniform culture in the growing worldwide organization. But it has all the trappings of a large corporation, including the values Scott and Hart identified. Indeed, Kirk Hart told me one day that even though he wrote Organizational Values in America about organizations in general, he wrote it with the Church in the back of his mind because it fit the pattern so well. “Institutionalism in the Church,” wrote Warner Woodworth, a professor at BYU’s Marriott School of Management, “has led to a strict adherence to worldly corporate norms—from the creation of positions like ward executive secretary to correlation programs, business-attire dress, and top ecclesiastical leaders going through management training programs carried out by expensive corporate consultants.”8
Of course many of the measures enacted in the implementation of Correlation were needed. The Church was becoming an international entity. Growth presented difficult challenges. The auxiliaries were operating almost as separate, independent organizations, sometimes competing with each other, certainly not coordinating their gospel teaching activities. Some sort of organizational revision was needed. But the corporate model that Correlation introduced brought with it most of the troubles we recognize today in both the employment side and the volunteer side of the organization, including the “mounting wave” of bureaucracy President Hinckley so abhorred.9 President McKay must have had some premonition that the Correlation program, as it was being pursued by Elder Lee and his committee, was taking the Church in some debatable directions.
I inquired if the counselors know what the Correlation Committee is doing, and said that it is a matter that should be handled very carefully or it will get out of hand; that at present it is too indefinite for the Church as a whole. President [N. Eldon] Tanner commented that he thinks he knows what they are trying to do, but that he had some fear that we are organizing to a point where it would be somewhat in the nature of regimentation, and he thinks the program should be very carefully checked before we go forward. I agreed implicitly, and said that the Correlation Program must be carefully checked before we go any further. We agreed that the Correlation people should submit to the First Presidency briefly, but fully the program of the Committee, and that the First Presidency would go over it to get it clearly in their minds before it is given out to the Church.10
But President McKay loathed confrontation, and the Correlation Program wasn’t adequately checked. It did get out of hand. It expanded its scope well beyond its original charge, which had been to coordinate, or correlate, the curriculum of the various auxiliaries and organizational divisions within the Church. Over the years the auxiliaries had perhaps become bloated bureaucracies in their own right with many duplications of both curricula and resources, but the restructuring and regimenting that Correlation instituted paved the way for the bureaucratizing of the entire Church. After the committee had completed its work, the Church was in very many ways a modern corporation, complete with a set of organizational values that can cause inner turmoil when members come in contact with them.
The organizational imperative is an incredibly invasive and yet almost invisible parasite. But when its target is the Church, fundamental gospel principles get turned on their heads. A corporate culture comes to exist, a regimented program of religiosity is established, and people are in danger of being viewed as functions, mere factors to control in implementing the mission of the Church, rather than as the very reason the organization exists in the first place. The institution, instead of the people, becomes the focus. In this corporate atmosphere, controlling outward appearances and tabulating numerical indicators of success can distract us from the more important objectives of serving and saving individual souls or expanding admittedly uncontrollable spiritual gifts.
1. Legally speaking, the Church itself is not incorporated, but all tangible properties of the Church, as well as its monetary assets, are held by one of two corporations: either the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church. The intellectual property is held by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. As a Church employee, I received my paycheck from the Corporation of the President, so we might well conclude that the employment side of the Church not only behaves like a corporation but actually is a corporation. While my ward itself may not be part of either Church corporation, the meetinghouse where we worship is owned by one of them, likely the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, and all donations gathered from Church members are deposited into bank accounts controlled by this same corporation. In essence, for all intents and purposes, the Church is a corporation.
2. See, for instance, Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 139–58; Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple's Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002, 318–29, 424–34; Jill Mulvay Derr and C. Brooklyn Derr, “Outside the Hierarchy: Alternative Aspects of Institutional Power,” Dialogue 15, no. 2 (1982): 21–43; Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 77–101, 163–67.
3. Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 249, emphasis added.
4. Prince and Wright, David O. McKay, 150.
5. Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 79.
6. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive, 81.
7. Fundamentalism, here, refers not to the narrow definition of Mormon fundamentalism that involves primarily polygamy, but to a broader definition that includes a literal interpretation of scripture, a strict reading of moral codes, an emphasis on uniformity of thought, and a culture that welcomes centralized organizational control.
8. Warner P. Woodworth, “Brave New Bureaucracy,” Dialogue 20, no. 3 (1987): 34.
9. Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 408: “As thrilling as [Church] growth was, he abhorred bureaucracy and at times felt himself swimming helplessly against a mounting tide.”
10. David O. McKay Diary, September 8, 1964, in Prince and Wright, David O. McKay, 154–55.


  1. "much of it serving no other purpose than to maintain firm central control and establish a uniform culture in the growing worldwide organization." Do you have something specific in mind?

    1. In "Small Is Beautiful," E. F. Schumacher talks about centralization and decentralization and suggests that the primary difference is that centralization is more concerned with control, while decentralization is more committed to creative freedom. You can look at this also through the lens of the organizational imperative and the question, which is more important, the individual or the institution? Centralization would be an indication that the organization is viewed as more important and that central control is necessary. Decentralization indicates that the individual is viewed as more important.

      I find it fascinating that even as the Church as an organization moves toward greater centralized control and uniformity, certain General Authorities express concern over the regimentation that has resulted and how this impedes the operation of the spirit (creative freedom, as it were). Recent changes to the Handbook were announced as ways to give more local autonomy, so it is obvious that this is a concern, but bureaucracy is so hard to unwind once it is in place.

      For a specific example of central control and uniformity, curriculum comes to mind. We are told to "teach by the spirit" but also not to deviate from the manual. This is changing, albeit very slowly.

  2. I think that one reason we are told to teach by the spirit but preach from the manual is because we want truth to be preached.

    Often with busy lives what they are, and competition from TV, it is a choice of preaching from the manual or preaching hearsay - which is often too close to heresy :-)

    If the only truth the teacher has is from the manual, then let it be from the manual. On the other hand, a teacher who treasures up the word of God can teach truth without contradicting the manual or needing to refer much to it.

    I think the new Youth manuals do very well at balancing this necessary contradiction.

    1. I teach Primary. There is nowhere near enough material in the manual to fill 50 minutes. But that's okay because 7-year-olds have an attention span that allows for a "gospel" lesson of about 5 minutes. (The same could be said for high priests, though.) Quite a dilemma. I've not yet figured out how to "teach by the Spirit" with a class of 2nd graders. It's more "prepare a lot of activities and hope the 5 minutes of gospel message somehow sinks in." My hope is that they have fun and enjoy coming to church.

      Now, adult curriculum . . . that's a whole different can of worms. I won't get into it here. Maybe sometime in the future.

  3. Excellent posts on the bureaucratic institutionalization of the Church. (Stupid internet, I had things to do, but have spent the last 45 minutes reading this!)

    I agree, and frankly this has been on my mind lately. The Church is Correlated. And members are Correlated. An excellent example of this is the notion, that I have heard in at least three wards that I have attended, that the manuals are akin to scripture. Along with this obscene view is the idea that the lesson should faithfully follow the manual with little deviation. This is conformity on steroids, and it is seeping into the Mormon culture with which I am familiar.

    And it is also dangerous. The manuals turn out to be good only inasmuch as they are general outlines for teachers to use as they prepare their material from personal study. If the the teacher is following the manual to the letter, as if it were scripture, she is not teaching by the Spirit, but by the correlated bureaucracy. And the bureaucracy, no matter its talent in promoting the sing-song kumbaya approach to the gospel, is still a bureaucracy. There is little room for spiritual growth in ideological conformity.

    The counterfeit of conversion is conformity; and culturally, conformity has transcended conversion to the point of supersaturation. This will have consequences, as it is not spiritually nourishing, and can only result in three unhealthy states: ambivalence, fundamentalism, or just leaving.

    1. Fortunately, you're not alone in your concern. In a 2004 presentation to a worldwide audience of ward and stake leaders, Elder Richard G. Scott quoted a 1940 memorandum from the First Presidency in which they expressed concern about the regimentation that can occur in the Church if leaders are too directive or programs too prescriptive. This observation, aimed at the auxiliaries, certainly has relevance for teaching in the Church: “The work of the Church, in all fields, is standing in grave danger of being regimented down to the minutest detail. The result of that will be that not only will all initiative be crushed out but that all opportunity for the working of the spirit will be eliminated. The Church has not been built on that principle. In all their work, the Auxiliaries must not only give opportunity for initiative, but . . . must encourage it.” So, the concern has been present since at least 1940. The new approach with the youth curriculum is probably a result of this concern. I have no experience with this new curriculum, though, so I really have no opinion on its effectiveness.

  4. I teach the 15/16 year olds and the new curriculum works inasmuch as it allows the teacher a free exploration of ideas; this because the manual is extremely minimalist. This approach is great when dealing with youth.

    The adult manuals are also very light on content. This is why it surprises me that so many people seem to want to teach it literally and tenaciously, as opposed to using it as an outline for themes only as background for one's own study. I was in one stake where some poor GD teacher went off on a tangent and condemned everyone who was on anti-depressants. Stupid, to be sure, but the reaction was the Stake leadership directing all Sunday School teachers to follow only the manual literally. That is, we were instructed not even to use scripture references outside of what was in the particular lesson for the week! Suddenly, I found myself on anti-depressants.