Home / Testimonies / Warner P. Woodworth

I appreciate the invitation to participate in this “Scholars Testify” project. For me a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior’s atonement, and the restoration of God’s true Church on earth is above and beyond a witness of the Holy Spirit. Nor is it simply an inner feeling or confirmation of a set of truths, knowledge and facts. It’s more than rituals such as genealogy and temple work. It’s different than just a social movement, although Mormonism is greater than any in world history. It’s not simply attendance at Church and Sabbath rules, or adherence to the Word of Wisdom. Nor does it only signify that we are willing to sacrifice our time in local Church programs, pay tithing, or go on missions.

For me, my faith centers in the Savior Jesus Christ, His mission and great atonement for all people, the reality of His resurrection, and the promise we each have of eternal life. Another part of my testimony is the sure knowledge that Joseph Smith was the Prophet of the restoration and that the Church today is God’s kingdom on earth. No one can ever be more certain about these convictions than I am.

Born and raised in Utah, I was the son of an Ohio Protestant father who converted to the LDS Church, and a Mormon mother whose ancestors crossed the plains as early pioneers. Most of my youth was spent growing up in Salt Lake City. I was baptized under the historic Tabernacle on Temple Square, and when I was in high school my bishop and stake president sought to have me called as a missionary for the Church at age 16. I sat at the feet of a number of Church apostles in my youth as they would come to my ward, seminary class, or fireside, as well as when I would visit their offices at Church headquarters.

I read the scriptures voraciously, memorizing some 400 verses before becoming a missionary. I also continually sought Gospel books. I would scrounge used bookstores where I found, purchased, and read hundreds of hard-to-find volumes back in those days like Discourses of Brigham Young, the entire set of the Journal of Discourses, Parley P. Pratt’s Autobiography and Writings of Parley P. Pratt, George Q. Cannon’s Gospel Truths, John Taylor’s The Mediation and Atonement, Joseph Smith’s various volumes known as History of the Church and Lectures on Faith, Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, Sterling McMurrin’s The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, most of John A. Widtsoe’s dozen volumes, including A Rational Theology, Heber J. Grant’s Gospel Standards, Orson Pratt’s The Seer, and B.H. Roberts’ multiple volumes in his Seventies Courses in Theology, and other intellectual treatises. I think I read over a hundred books when including old as well as contemporary (1950s-60s) volumes by Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, Leonard Arrington, Hugh Nibley, Lowell Bennion, and other favorites.

I added notes from these books to my scriptures, and was always delving into the wide-ranging doctrines of the Gospel. Over the years I have read and pondered greatly the truths of the Book of Mormon, a volume written by ancient prophets which is the word of God. I came to appreciate what Joseph Smith meant, that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.” I came to understand what the Doctrine and Covenants means when we are instructed to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).

These intellectual and doctrinal expositions helped ground me in deep Mormonism, not just the stuff of Sunday School classes. But they were not sufficient. My soul longed for spiritual confirmation as to the veracity of my growing beliefs. Over the years, my faith solidified through daily prayer, much fasting, and meditation. How well I recall praying alone, not only in my boyhood room as I grew up, but also in the wilderness. In my mid-teens I worked each summer at a Scout Camp where I learned how to pray more intensely. Later, employed by the U.S. Forest Service up in Wyoming for a summer, I felt the sweet Spirit even more, including several times experiencing a burning in my bosom that not only erased all doubt, but confirmed the witness of Mormonism’s truth. On Sundays when I couldn’t get into a town, I would hold my own religious service while sitting along the rushing waters of a mountain stream, or a quiet beaver pond. I would read the scriptures aloud, and then call upon the same God who appeared to Moses and Joseph Smith. Such experiences are too sacred to discuss in public, but they were very real.

They fortified me as I served a two and a half year mission to Brazil, and through years of academic study at BYU, the University of Utah, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I learned to drink fully of the teachings of the Church and my numerous experiences in sacred places like the temples, as well as in chapels and at home, all served to strengthen my convictions. Over the years, I have been empowered through the priesthood to literally be a part of many miracles—whether healing the sick, blessing others with counsel from the Lord, lifting up the hearts of those who suffer, or similar things. I’ve been privileged to see blessings pour down upon the heads of those who repent and draw unto God. He reaches out to all His children if we only seek His blessings.

The greatest blessings in my life are the love and support I enjoy from ten children and especially from my wonderful wife, Kaye. Beyond our triplets, our adopted kids, and those born to us are others who lived in our home while going to college. We consider them each part of our family, as well as our growing tribe of grandchildren. Through many ups and downs over the decades, our eternal sealing in the holy temple has grounded our marriage and family in the rich soil of Mormonism. Years of early morning devotionals in our home, daily family prayer, weekly home evenings, temple attendance, opportunities to serve in the Church and make a difference have all made my life meaningful. We live in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, surrounded by wonderful friends with whom we experience a genuine sense of community.

Early in my studies at the University of Utah and at Brigham Young University, I focused on many academic and religious fields. Philosophy, sociology, religion, political science, and psychology were my primary interests.

Later, in pursuing a master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, I moved into whole new arenas of higher education that included management and business, ethics, organizational behavior, and other interests. I learned what the Church teaches, that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36). As I interacted with others of various backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and cultures I came to understand how inclusive our religion actually was.

Over the years I have labored long-term in the U.S. with Jewish rabbis, radical pastors in inner-city Detroit, Black Muslim leaders in Cleveland, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests in Hawaii, and evangelical pastors. Years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I served on the interfaith community council where we sought to learn of and appreciate our spiritual traditions. In more recent years, I have represented the LDS Church on the Utah Valley Ministerial Association board, working to build bridges of mutual understanding and respect. The same openness may be said about my ongoing relationships with leaders of various political and social ideologies, whether their values emphasized communism, socialism, capitalism, Americanism, conservatism, libertarianism, or liberalism. I am at home with Latin American advocates of Liberation Theology, as well as Hutterite religious leaders in rural Canada. The same is true of my collaboration with Palestinians and/or Israeli kibbutzniks.

Thus, I am something of an ecumenical or inclusive Mormon who literally believes what the Prophet Joseph Smith argued: “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199). Further, he declared that we don’t ask those of different faiths to throw away the good they have, but to simply add our truths to theirs. Thus, I have been blessed to interact, learn from, and pray with countless individuals of other religious persuasions, and have done so comfortably. Whether they were disciples of Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, or Islam, it didn’t matter. We were and are brothers and sisters.

For some thirty-four years now I have been blessed to be a professor at BYU, where I have had the privilege of building communities of learning and faith with wonderful students from around the globe. I’m a Professor of Organizational Behavior (OB) at Brigham Young University where I teach Consulting and Organizational Change, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, Third World Development, Social Entrepreneurship, and Introductory OB for both MBAs and undergraduate students.

I carry out academic research designing and conducting studies, particularly doing action research, carrying out analyses, and writing/publishing them in appropriate journals. So far I have authored or co-authored ten books, over a hundred published articles, and some two-hundred-plus conference papers. In much of such work I have sought to integrate the spiritual and the secular, trying to figure out for myself and my students how a holistic education can be achieved. I have always sought to make my students critical thinkers, as well as, at the same time, become more grounded in Mormonism’s beliefs. Thus, I have pursued the ideal of which Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke, that of becoming a “disciple-scholar.”

One of my great passions as a teacher is mentoring students in change projects, advising them on doctoral, master’s, and honors theses, and providing career counseling. A goal each year is to prepare and assist students to go on to graduate studies at top universities. Much of this is done by offering to sponsor students and collaborate in research and the production of papers for conferences and journals. This greatly facilitates their acceptance over other bright students from other schools who haven’t had the experience of actually designing research, collecting data, and getting to a finished product. Many of my students become partners in reaching out to civic engagement projects as we seek to improve the quality of life for those around us. Additionally, I provide pro bono citizenship services to various groups within BYU, and in national academic associations, and serve as a board member for various companies, community non-profits, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working throughout the world.

My approach to scholarship is that of action research, not passive theories and number crunching. I have more to do than just conceptualize, which explains why I spend way too many hours at work each day. I have a lot more on my plate than simply teaching students in a classroom or drafting articles. But it has been very edifying to see my student colleagues grow and develop intellectually, as well as spiritually. Many of them have found their own academic success, having begun careers at Harvard, MIT, Ohio State, Dartmouth, Michigan, Pitt, UCLA, Cornell, and a hundred schools elsewhere.

A core element of our action learning is to build the best models of organizational behavior we can. This involves envisioning how firms and nonprofits may be more effective, more efficient, and more ethical—enterprises in which people feel their work has meaning and significance beyond a paycheck. Criteria include an emphasis on organizational virtue, quality of working life for all members, and democratic values present in organizational culture. Too many jobs have merely become eight-hour rat races instead of a means by which employees may discover their true potential. Our goal in the discipline of OB is to liberate the human spirit at work.

This brings me to the Church as an organization. It was never intended to be a slick model of efficiency, but rather, a mechanism for building community. With congregations in size from 200-300 members, the “ward” is usually full of people who know each other by name, who band together to serve one another, to lift each other’s burdens. As such, the organization becomes a laboratory for connecting individuals into a single community, a fellowship “having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). Mormons aren’t just passive attendees at church, but active participants who collectively build the kind of social entity they want and need. The emphasis is not upon rituals and ceremonies, but the creation of covenant communities which serve to counter modern alienation.

The Church’s emphasis on the pragmatic, on action, not just doctrine or ideology, is a core value I greatly appreciate. We are taught to do the will of God, not just profess it. Many years ago, I shifted my life’s focus from simply reading, teaching, and writing about Mormonism to applying it in my personal life. I moved from preaching to practicing the Gospel. Ever since then, my life has been filled with amazing spiritual experiences among some thirty-four nations where human suffering and poverty were a way of life and early death. I have labored high in the Andes among the poor in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, where we built schools and other structures for impoverished villagers. More recently, I worked with an NGO implementing a Family Preservation Program among ten villages in Mozambique. My students and I have been privileged to assist in the recovery of Honduras after Hurricane Mitch destroyed the country in 1998, helped to rebuild three villages in Khao Lak, Thailand, following the terrible devastation of the Asian tsunami in 2004, and most recently raised funds, mobilized, trained, and took many young LDS volunteers to Haiti after the horrendous catastrophe of the 2010 earthquake.

These attempts to actually live our religion, rather than just cite its teachings, have given great meaning to my testimony. Thus, my professional career as an academician is given significance far beyond narrow conceptual and theoretical treatises read by a few scholars in an obscure journal. I have been privileged to speak to thousands of people annually, all over the planet, about how to change the world. A blessing to me has been the chance to improve society and witness lives getting better, children healthier, families becoming more self-reliant and sustainable through literacy programs we offer, microenterprise training, schools we build, economic development through tiny loans (microcredit), clean drinking water, family gardens, and so forth.

In the process, we have raised millions of dollars, trained hundreds of thousands of the poor, and now have over seven million clients receiving loans through microfinance. And we’re just getting started as many groups of Mormons and their neighbors are establishing their own action groups or family foundations to bless the global poor. Some two hundred NGOs have been launched by Latter-day Saints who seek to have personal impact among those who suffer, above and beyond what the institutional Church can offer. Such individuals heed the declaration to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 56: 27).

The highest level of Mormonism is that of Stewardship and Consecration, meaning we are called to practice what we preach. While some Mormons feel that such practices are reserved for some future date when the Church announces we should begin building consecrated lives, many of us understand on deeper levels that the time to do so is here and now. The bulk of my adult and family life has centered on offering all I have to God and His children. Related principles are equality, simplicity, sacrifice, pure motives, cooperation, and other United Order values which inspire us to serve the poor and needy. As saints of the latter days we are told to give of our time, money, and skills to building Zion, a condition in which there is no poverty, no tears, no sorrow.

While some U.S. Mormons seek successful careers, huge mansions, and designer clothing, many of the humble in our Church live simply, sharing their surplus with those in need. This becomes a conscious choice. The words of the Prophet Joseph have been the mission of my entire adult life. He declared: “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (History of the Church, 4:227).

If I have done any good in the world, I must humbly acknowledge the hand of God, according to the spiritual values and principles of the Mormon tradition. All I have ever sought to do is serve a greater purpose, find and carry-out my own calling in life, and use my time, skills, and resources to bless those in need. Being prompted throughout my years by the Holy Spirit, I hope that the world is a tiny bit better.

My testimony is a matter of practice, a way of living. My life is my witness. Service to others is Warner Woodworth’s testimony.

In conclusion, let me affirm my commitment to the practices of the LDS Church. It is an article of my faith that I believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all. I believe all things, I hope all things, I have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, I seek after these things.


Warner P. Woodworth (Ph.D., University of Michigan) teaches and carries out research at BYU in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Strategy within the Marriott School of Management. He is an author or co-author of a variety of books including Working Toward Zion, Small Really is Beautiful, Industrial Democracy, and Managing by the Numbers, among others. Founder of dozens of NGOs, he advises governments, corporations, and nonprofits in the social sector around the world. Although based at BYU in Provo, he has had a number of visiting scholar appointments which have enabled him to take his family so they could learn of other cultures, religions, and lifestyles—including back to Ann Arbor as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, the University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Vilnius University in Lithuania, the International Labor Office in Geneva, Switzerland, Hawaii, and most recently, as the first Peter Drucker Centennial Scholar at the Drucker School of Management, Claremont University in Southern California. He is joyously married to Kaye Colvin Woodworth, they are parents of 10 children and 16 grandchildren (so far). For more details, see http://marriottschool.byu.edu/emp/WPW.

Posted September 2010