Home / Testimonies / J. Bonner Ritchie

In 1956 I was serving as a missionary in the Eastern States Mission. On a train ride from Pittsburgh to New York City to attend a mission conference I decided to do something productive (in addition to catching up on sleep) by memorizing scriptures. For some reason I chose the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Although I was taking a break from my engineering studies at the University of California, I had always been a little curious about organizations and leadership. Also, while on my mission I was intrigued as I observed the strict conformity to or deviance from mission rules by different missionaries. I remember wondering about the impact of leadership on the behavior of individuals in the church and in other organizations. Of course, this section was an ideal text to address my questions and to provoke further inquiry.

As I reflect now, many decades later, I can still feel the power of those words as they literally defined my professional career. Let me quote at length the key verses from that section that, after a professional lifetime of leadership study, still provide the best description of leadership I have ever encountered.

34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

As I walked from Penn Station up Fifth Avenue to the Mission Home between 78th and 79th Streets (I was too cheap to take a taxi, or even the subway) I wondered how many leaders in all those corporations in New York City skyscrapers would satisfy the criteria stated in the Doctrine and Covenants. While the instructions and warnings are specifically directed at priesthood leaders in church callings, the larger issues of an attitude of loving service and the frequency and destructive effect of unrighteous dominion, have universal application. While it took a few years to translate that perspective into graduate studies in organizational behavior, I decided while in graduate school, and have maintained the commitment throughout my life, to teach and help people to protect themselves from organizational abuse. A more common focus for colleagues teaching in schools of management is to make managers more effective; while I do share that objective, it is secondary to my commitment to help all organizational members create a more moral and ethical organization.

A second important example of church influence on my career was my invitation to move to Jerusalem in 1989. President Howard W. Hunter (then serving as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prior to his call as president of the Church) invited me to go to Jerusalem as a visiting scholar at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies in order “to build bridges to the Palestinians.” This was an unexpected opportunity initiated by the Academic Vice President of BYU and reinforced by President Hunter. Like the message of the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, this assignment resulted in a major paradigm shift for me. President Hunter said that Arabs were also heirs to the covenant of Abraham and that we should work to build constructive relationships with them. (See Howard W. Hunter, “All are Alike unto God,” Ensign, June 1979, 72-74.) As a result of this experience I have had the opportunity to spend many years in the Middle East training leaders and trying to facilitate peacemaking.

These examples are an illustration of the symbiotic relationship between my religious and professional world. There are many other examples, and while the influence goes both ways, clearly the dominant impact is the effect of gospel principles on my academic perspectives.

I have never felt that any of my professional decisions or activities constituted a religious assignment or calling (although the invitation from President Hunter might come close); rather it was a gradual process of my understanding of gospel principles and my experience in church organization that along with my academic studies influenced my theoretical and value frameworks.

Actually, this influence and integration of gospel principles in everyday life was not a new experience for me. I had grown up in a home where theological discussion and debate, along with committed church activity, was the prevailing reality. I had an interesting mix of theory and application from my father and mother. Mother’s emphasis was as the theologian; scripture memorization, spirited discussions, and doctrinal debate were frequent evening activities for me. I distinctly remember staying up most of the night as a teenager arguing with my mother as to whether God’s absolute knowledge infringed on my free agency. On the other hand, my father was the quintessential loving “servant leader.” Whether as my deacon’s quorum advisor or my bishop or stake president, his primary concern was always the wellbeing of each individual. On more than one occasion I remember being awakened at night to accompany my father on a visit to a hospital, home, or police station to respond to an individual in need. However, it was important that, even with this high level of church commitment, discriminating or demeaning behavior toward others not of our faith was unacceptable. Part of this learning experience resulted from growing up in San Francisco where few of my friends were LDS and I worked hard to make sure that the practice of my faith was not offensive to them.

A strong questioning attitude has continued throughout my life. I recall one of my students commenting to another faculty member that “there was no question that Bonner Ritchie dare not ask.” (This was in contrast to comments about another faculty member that “there was no question he dare not answer.”) I have always felt that, to paraphrase Socrates, if “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then the unexamined faith is not worth believing. And, I feel strongly that the richness of Mormon theology and the brilliance and sophistication of the church organization provide a very compelling and satisfying subject of inquiry. While I acknowledge that a large number of my questions await further resolution, the questions that are asked and the answers that are given by the restored church ring true for me and are validated by experience, by logic, and by spiritual affirmation.

A special point of emphasis for me is the church organizational framework (a natural focus since my field is organizational behavior) and attention to the needs of each individual. While many leaders and members do not truly implement the spirit of the program, the concept and design are uniquely impressive. The balance of centralized organization and decentralized implementation provide for a strong level of organizational identity, shared doctrine, and worship, and, at the local level of the ward congregation, a community of support and attention to particular individual needs. My wife and I have been the recipient of this community help as we have gone through a series of health challenges. The physical (transportation, food, house cleaning, and yard work), emotional, and spiritual support from our ward members, and others, has sustained and inspired us.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the essence of my religious values and principles is the divine articulation of a quality criterion for each of the following relationships:

  1. The relationship between the individual and deity. The first commandment is to love God and the principles of the gospel define the behavior that demonstrates that love. Included in this criterion would be an understanding and appreciation for the life and atonement of the Savior.
  2. The relationship between the individual and all of God’s children. The second commandment is to love your neighbor. The criterion for treating all people with respect, understanding, and love implies that many of us need to modify our attitudes and behavior toward those who are different from us.
  3. The relationship between the individual and the family. The importance of this principle in God’s eternal plan is central to our living the gospel. The two aspects of this principle are the relationships between men and women and between parents and children. The sacredness of these relationships means that any abuse or unrighteous dominion or violation of divine laws will have temporal and eternal consequences. My relationship with my wife, four children, and eight grandchildren is clearly my most important earthly responsibility and, also, the best opportunity for growth, service, and happiness.
  4. The relationship between the individual and knowledge. We are told that the “glory of God is intelligence.” We have a responsibility to develop ourselves—to learn both by faith and study. In the final analysis, the only things we take with us to heaven are our relationships and our knowledge.
  5. The relationship between the individual and the environment. Appreciation of the beauty and importance of God’s creations and our responsibility to be good stewards is an essential part of the divine plan.
  6. The relationship between the individual and work. It is our responsibility to make a contribution to the world and be engaged in good causes.

These principles are for me the defining values of the restored gospel. My analysis of them and my experience in trying to achieve the standards they teach convinces me that they are true. I have tested them and am convinced they offer the best hope for happiness in this life and eternal life hereafter.

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J. Bonner Ritchie is Professor Emeritus of Organizational Behavior at the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Management and a Scholar in Residence at Utah Valley University.

After completing his B.S. and Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Ritchie was on the faculty of the University of Michigan from 1967-1973. He was a faculty member at the BYU Marriott School from 1973 until retirement in 2000. He has also had visiting appointments at Stanford University, the University of California, St. Mary’s College, Birzeit University (Palestine), the University of Jordan, the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy, and the International University of Monaco, and was a visiting scholar at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center. During 2001-2002 he served as Interim Dean of the Utah Valley University Business School.

Teaching, research, and consulting activities have been in the areas of leadership development, organizational change, conflict resolution and peacemaking, organizational philosophy, and ethics. Professor Ritchie has conducted management development programs at multiple universities, public and private organizations. His recent efforts have focused on peacemaking, leadership development, and change in the Arab world. Publications include a popular textbook and over eighty book chapters and professional articles.

Bonner and his wife, Lois, have four children and eight grandchildren, and reside in Provo, Utah.

Posted October 2011