Harvard's Clayton Christensen: Mitt Romney's LDS faith may give nation unique economic perspective
Cheryl Senter, file, Associated Press
The idea of a Mormon in the White House may bother some voters, but should Mitt Romney end up as president, he'll bring more than just scriptures to the table.
In fact, the LDS faith offers several principles that may prove beneficial to the country as a whole, says Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School and a member of the LDS Church.
Christensen was asked by the Washington Post to share how Romney, a Mormon, might approach the economy.
Members of the LDS church are encouraged to innovate and creatively solve problems, yet they also sustain their leaders and follow official church counsel, he said.
This harmonious duality of thought regarding innovation can be seen through adjustments to church programs that come about thanks to ideas from individual innovative congregations.
"As our prophet and apostles have then learned of these innovations and their effectiveness, they have asked every congregation in the world to adopt the innovations — and almost everyone does," Christensen wrote. "Our systems of welfare, teaching our children, missionary program, and our ability to help the unemployed to find work, are examples of this. Responsibility for innovation is dispersed and bottom-up. When a better way is discovered, top-down direction drives broad and uniform adoption."
That should not be confused with the fact that only the prophet is allowed to speak for the entire church.
While this process of innovation is almost natural in the Mormon church, it's not as easy as it looks, Christensen said. Education would benefit greatly from such innovation, as seen through massively successful programs like KIPP Schools, yet far too many administrators and even teachers "don't view innovation as their job."
The second principle that Christensen detailed was Mormons' propensity for disruptive innovation — one of the types of innovation that affects employment, a critical issue facing the country.
Unlike efficiency innovations, which often lead to fewer jobs and streamlined processes, disruptive innovations break a real or perceived hierarchal structure and offer a good or service to more people at a lower cost.
That, in turn, brings "higher standards of living to the bottom of the market," Christensen said.
That phenomenon can be seen in the unpaid clerical structure of the LDS church, where men and women are called to serve without regard to their professional background.
Romney, a businessman, was formerly a stake president in Boston, though church leaders can be anything from doctors or lawyers, to farmers and night-shift UPS truck drivers.
"Membership in the Mormon Church helps you build an instinct, based upon love and service, for disruption — enabling those at the low-income end of the market to move up."
If those principles, or anything else about Mormonism bothers people, that's their choice, says Robert Slayton, a history professor at Chapman University.
While Slayton says he wouldn't vote for Romney, it's only because Romney's position on taxes, immigration and the role of government are directly opposite his own.
"One factor that gives me no qualms, however, is his Mormon religion," he wrote. "I could care less. That's not the case, however, for many Republicans."
"To oppose any candidate solely on the basis of which God he worships, which church he goes to, is blind, evil bigotry," he continued. "It is not the path of Americans. It is, instead, the practice of the Klan."
Perhaps some of the opposition to Mormonism comes from misunderstood facts and mistaken interpretations of doctrine, like the article in the most recent Harper's Magazine, "How Mormon economics shape the G.O.P." in which author Chris Lehmann insinuated Mormons are driven by a love of money and gold yet was shown to have failed to mention scriptural as well as pastoral admonitions to the contrary.
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