Home / Testimonies / Marianne M. Jennings

I converted to Mormonism six days shy of my graduation from Brigham Young University. When I began my studies at BYU in 1971, I was one of the 499 non-members of the 25,000 students. I was a person of faith before I went to BYU, having been raised in a Baptist home by remarkable parents who were converts to that faith. I come from a long line of truth-seekers.

My decision to go to BYU was the result of one semester at another university. When I began my college education, the nation was at the height of the anti-Vietnam war protests, and the Baby Boomers who were protesting were all at the height of their drug use, something evidenced by the fact that they actually understood the Beatles’ White Album. I was spinning my wheels trying to be a serious student in an atmosphere where you inhaled each time you used the restroom, whether you wanted to or not, because the drug culture was so pervasive. Having been raised in a small coal-mining town in western Pennsylvania among God-fearing blue-collar workers, I was miserable among the stoners. When I talked with my Dad about the challenges, he worried. His worries percolated to the surface as he spoke with his friends at the office. He happened to have several Mormons working at the office and they offered their advice, “Send her to BYU!”

Dad came home and explained the Mormons and BYU as follows, “They’re an odd people, they are clannish, and some of their doctrine on Christ is heretical, but they have no anti-war protests and any drug use means you get the boot.” Within six weeks, I had an admission letter as well as a welcome from one “Sister Matthews,” my dorm mother. Sister Matthews? As I prepared to head to Utah, the doubts were creeping in, “What have I gotten myself into?” In the era of the mini-skirt, I had to lengthen all my skirts four inches. No jeans or pants to class. I was moving from a campus where officials were happy if students showed up class with clothing on to one where the standards that demanded professional dress. I was struck by the sheer chutzpah of these folks in the midst of a cultural revelation.

My father’s analysis and my preparations for BYU were not my first exposure to Mormonism. In the ninth grade, I had chosen “History and Nature of the Mormon Church,” as my topic for a paper and presentation in my history class. I had found them fascinating as I researched their tense quest for religious freedom in the years leading up to the Civil War. I was also taken by their “Articles of Faith,” a pithy 13-part summary of Mormon beliefs. I closed my oral presentation by reciting the 13th Article of Faith, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we 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, we seek after these things.” Any group still holding fast to chastity in the era of Woodstock, truth in the era of Watergate, hope in the era of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” and the strength and words of Paul was okay in my book. If their expressed beliefs in this short statement were odd, then I eschewed normal.

My arrival on campus brought the same reaction George Will had upon his visit to Provo – young men and women who are so polite and spiffy clean that it feels as if you have landed on another planet. It was inspirational to see them all walking to church early that first Sunday morning, all looking even spiffier than on weekdays. From the first time I set foot on the campus, I took on the role of an anthropologist. I felt like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who are these guys?”

To answer my anthropological question, I studied the Mormon culture, I researched my professors and their work and background, and I took the missionary lessons more times than I can remember. I complied with the two credit hours of required religion courses each semester. I enjoyed gloating when I got higher scores in my Book of Mormon courses than my life-member room-mates and friends. I watched them trot off faithfully to meetings twice each Sunday and a fireside on Sunday night. I had fancied myself a faithful church-goer, but I lacked their stamina. I hated it when Baptist church went longer than an hour. These people were putting in 5 hours on Sunday, more during the week, and those stats did not include their mandatory religion courses. Who are these people?

A former Baptist minister was my New Testament professor. He took passages from the New Testament that had always troubled me such as the Parable of the Ten Virgins. I wondered why, if we were indeed to show the pure love of Christ, the five prepared virgins didn’t just ante up some of their oil for the unprepared? (Matthew 25) And the father of the prodigal son had long been an irritant to me – why make the fuss over the rotten son? (Luke 15:11-32) Using Mormon doctrine, revealed through the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, Professor Ledbetter began to fill in the blanks I had long stewed and fretted over – the seeming gaps, inconsistencies, and inexplicables in my faith . From my other religion professors and even from my econ instructor, I found receptive ears, willing guides, and knowledgeable souls. They explored my questions with me. I gained insight and noticed constancy in Mormons, their faith, and their doctrine. I also saw a level of doctrinal knowledge among my own roomies that belied their tender age of 18. In addition, I saw a people who would come to help anyone, day or night. Their tender hearts gave service, money, and love in a way that convinced me it was in their DNA.

I was shaken by what my anthropological and religious studies were unveiling. I began to realize that I did not have the full gospel of Jesus Christ despite my steady Baptist faith and activity. There was substantive depth to the Mormon faith – a depth that found me asking, “How could we understand our Heavenly Father and his plans for us without the help of these additional scriptures and modern revelation?” These people were offering me enlightenment and insight – a doctrine of salvation that was remarkable in its clarity and benevolence. I was shaken to my very core because of all I had not understood before I came to Utah.

When you have been brought up in another faith and its tenets are challenged by the doctrine and behavior of the faithful of another sect, you become defensive. You want to find fault. You want to zero in on that one hypocrite and conclude, “See, you’re not so great, now are you?” As hard as I tried to find fault, my combined sense of fairness and respect for truth would not allow me to reach any conclusion other than this, “These are remarkable people who have something special.” The odd thing was that they never acted as if they were remarkable. They were possessed of a humility that required my anthropological mode. Their strength and insight are obvious through their conduct and example. Boasting is antithetical to their Mormon faith and culture. I knew who these people were. In fact, I realized over my three years as an undergraduate that I was one of them.

I took formal action on April 13, 1974, and changed my informal status as anthropologist-in-residence to formal membership. The decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints found my family disappointed and my friends stunned. Despite the loss of friends and the understandable sadness of my parents, I have never wavered in my commitment to the Church.

A Christian academic has a tough row to hoe. The academy does not suffer the faithful well. A Mormon academic has a steeper hill to climb to acceptance. Not all Christians have the same positions on the hot-button issues of our time. But, the characteristic constancy of the Mormon faith means that your colleagues know your views on all social issues. Initially, there is resentment of a Mormon colleague in the academy as an embarrassment for holding archaic views on social issues. But I allow my colleagues the opportunity to act as anthropologists – if they are good researchers who pursue truth without bias and inquiry with zeal, they will find what I discovered so many years ago.

Field studies of Mormons in academia are limited because we are dealing with a small set. That we Mormon academics are so small continues to surprise me because our faith demands daily study and requires ongoing intellectual challenge and inquiry. Nothing in my studies or research has challenged me as much as the daunting task of learning the depths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I studied full time for the next 20 years, I could still pick up any of the standard works of the Church or an Ensign article, read one small passage, and find myself saying, “I never thought of that.” For the intellectually curious, the restored gospel is a treasure. For all of us, the restored gospel is redemption. We have the blessings of peace and joy that come from its moral clarity and eternal constancy. I know who these people are, and I am one of them and with them.

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Professor Marianne Jennings is a member of the Department of Management in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and is a professor of legal and ethical studies in business. At ASU she teaches graduate courses in the MBA program in business ethics and the legal environment of business. She served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. From 2006-2007, she served as the faculty director for the MBA Executive Program. Professor Jennings earned her undergraduate degree in finance and her J. D. from Brigham Young University. Her internships were with the Federal Public Defender and U.S. Attorney in Nevada, and she has done consulting work for law firms, businesses and professional groups including AES, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Arizona Auditor General, the Cities of Phoenix, Mesa, and Tucson, the Institute of Internal Auditors, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Mattel, Pepsi, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD.

Professor Jennings has authored hundreds of articles in academic, professional and trade journals. Currently she has six textbooks and monographs in circulation. The seventh edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, and the ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment were published in January 2011. Her first textbook, Real Estate Law, had its ninth edition published in January 2010. She was added as a co-author to Anderson’s Business and the Legal Environment in 1997, a text whose 21st edition was published in January 2010. Her book, Business Strategy for the Political Arena, was selected in 1985 by Library Journal as one of its recommended books in business/government relations. A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Professor Jennings’ book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006. Her books have been translated into five languages.

Her columns have been syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader’s Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She was given an Arizona Press Club award in 1994 for her work as a feature columnist. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio.

She has conducted more than 300 workshops and seminars in the areas of business, personal, government, legal, academic and professional ethics. She has been named professor of the year in the College of Business in 1981, 1987, 2000, and 2010 and was the recipient of a Burlington Northern teaching excellence award in 1985. In 1999, she was given best article awards by the Academy of Legal Studies in Business and the Association for Government Accountants. She was given best article awards by the institute of Internal Auditors and Association of Government Accountants in 2001 and 2004. She has been a Dean’s Council of 100 Distinguished Scholar since 1995. In 2000, the Association of Government Accountants inducted her into its Speakers Hall of Fame. In 2005, she was named an All-Star Speaker by the Institute of Internal Auditors. In 2006, her article, “Ethics and Investment Management: True Reform,” was selected by the United Kingdom’s Emerald Management Review from 15,000 articles in 400 journals as one of the top 50 articles in 2005. She was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America in 2010.

She is a contributing editor for the Real Estate Law Journal, New Perspectives, The Smart Manager, and the Corporate Finance Review. She was appointed to the Board of Editors for the Financial Analysts Journal in 2007. She served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Legal Studies Education during 2003-2004. During 1984-85, she served as then-Governor Bruce Babbitt’s appointee to the Arizona Corporation Commission. In 1999 she was appointed by Governor Jane Dee Hull to the Arizona Commission on Character. During 1986-1988, she served as Associate Dean in the College of Business. From 1986-87, she served as ASU’s faculty athletic representative to the NCAA and PAC-10. From 1999-2009 she served as president of the Arizona Association of Scholars.

She is a member of twelve professional organizations, including the State Bar of Arizona, and has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (now Pinnacle West Capital) (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She served as chair of the Bonneville International Advisory Board for KHTC/KIDR from 1994-1997 and was a weekly commentator on KGLE during 1998. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News.

Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.

Posted June 2011