Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

OD Values and Mormonism: Creating Adaptive Systems

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

OD Values and Mormonism: Creating Adaptive Systems

Article excerpt


Our central thesis is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nicknamed "Mormons", has created a culture which is not only friendly to but which also encourages change. This culture grows out of doctrinal preferences which recognize the importance of change to processes of personal and institutional growth, and which has therefore been receptive to administrative practices which encourage the same behaviors, albeit under a different nomenclature, that OD theory, practice, and interventions support.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a history of adapting to change. It was, in fact, created with the idea of change in mind, and structured accordingly. Church founder Joseph Smith compiled, for instance, a group of revelations in a book of scripture called The Doctrine and Covenants, which is divided into 138 sections, or chapters. In writing the preface to this book, as well as in what until recently was the final section, missionary work was the principal emphasis. This mandate to grow, or change, is at the foundation of everything the Church does, and a great deal of administrative experimentation has shaped successive missionary approaches over the years. Nothing has focused Church attention more directly on institutional and individual change processes more than missionary work, and it has all had the effect of creating a very adaptive system.

Based on our life-time experience with the Church, we suggest changes within the Church seem most probably to be facilitated by: 1) an underlying belief that it is the destiny of the Church to grow, and that it therefore must be adaptive. A central Church mission, if not the central mission, is growth. 2) The doctrine that God continues to speak, by revelation, to Apostles and Prophets in this day. A God who continues to talk is one who wants people to change. Otherwise He would be silent. 3) An underlying doctrinal theme that men and women are agents of Deity, responsible to Him for the conduct of earthly affairs within His Church, and accountable to find the most effective ways to get things done. This too implies the need to change constantly.

Because the Church shares common goals and purposes with so many other organizations, it is not surprising that common elements of culture are also shared. This creates somewhat of a curiosity. On the one hand, we choose to think we are unique, individual, and therefore different from all others; on the other hand, we share much in common with many, creating what Joann Martin (1983), in another context, has called a "uniqueness paradox"-we think we are unique, but paradoxically, we are vastly similar. Our identity is found in both the similarities and the differences. In the world of religious and spiritual preferences, for example, who is to be surprised that the Protestant community shares much in common with the Catholic community from which it broke, or that both Protestant and Catholic orthodoxies hold much in common with the earlier Judeao-Christian ethic from which they both descend? The Catholic Mass, for example, is the child of the Jewish Synagogue service, and carries therefore some of the values and preferences of the parent.

One unique expression of religious values is that expressed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called by the nickname "Mormon Church" (hereafter called "the Church"), because of the belief that The Book of Mormon is sacred scripture, in exactly the same sense that the Bible is scripture. In the 1820's and 1830's Joseph Smith announced that in answer to his search for religious truth, he received a number of visions and revelations, through which the knowledge of God, once preached by Jesus and His apostles, but lost through generations of apostasy, was restored. In making this announcement, Joseph charted a unique course in the Christian community: 1) he announced that he was a prophet, not in some social "do-good" sense of helping solve social problems, but in the sense that he received revelations from God in harmony with which men and women might be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven; 2) that the same revelations which he had received others might receive as well, and thus come to know independently of his prophetic station, and 3) that the church he established was a "restored" church-not "reformed," as the Protestant community asserts, nor a continuation of an ancient inheritance, as the Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic communities assert, but a return to ancient but eternal truths, as the word "restore" implies. …

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