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Mormons expect more of the same with a new church leader

A gold-leaf statue depicting the ancient Mormon prophet, Moroni, is prepared for placement on one of the spires of the new Mormon temple in Rome on March 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Claudio Falanga/Intellectual Reserve Inc.

(RNS) — With the recent death of its prophet and president Thomas S. Monson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will name a new “prophet, seer and revelator.”

But scholars and church members don’t expect a new direction for the church with a new president — universally expected to be Russell M. Nelson, most senior member of the church’s leadership council, called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

That’s the “temperament” of the 16 million-member church, popularly known as the Mormons, according to Max Perry Mueller, author of “Race and the Making of the Mormon People” and an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“We can expect much more continuity than change,” Mueller said.

The tremors felt in the Roman Catholic Church when Pope Francis succeeded Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI just aren’t familiar to Mormons in their anticipation of a new prophet.

For their church, “stability and continuity are the order of the day,” said Steve Evans, a blogger for popular Mormon website By Common Consent.

Mormons believe their leaders are chosen by revelation to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, according to Kathleen Flake, a professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia.

Doctrinally, that means they can choose anyone to be president, Flake said. Traditionally, it’s always been the head of that Quorum.

“Whatever the Mormons may lose in charisma and dynamism in the appointment of new leadership, they gain in stability,” she said.

For Al Carraway, a popular Mormon blogger and author of “More Than the Tattooed Mormon,” this is the first transition in church leadership since she joined as an adult.

“I can’t imagine at all anything crazy happening with the switch of a new prophet, just like there hasn’t been in the past. Though we definitely all expect it to be President Russell Nelson, there is a chance it could be someone else,” Carraway said.

Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, looks on before the start of the two-day Mormon church conference in Salt Lake City on Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Nelson, the longest-serving member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is expected to become president of the church sometime after the funeral for Monson, set for Jan. 12, in Salt Lake City, according to the church website.

Monson, who was 90 when he died, and Nelson, who is 93, come from the same generation, Flake noted.

In fact, all in the Quorum are older white men from North America, with the exception of Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was born in Czechoslovakia and lived in Germany until he became an apostle, according to the church website. They are “men who grew up in a church that was politically and socially very conservative and especially around questions of gender,” Mueller said.

And that Quorum traditionally has worked hard to reach genuine consensus, Flake said.

Nelson, a surgeon, was spokesman for a while on the church’s largely anti-abortion views. He has also strongly backed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and espoused “nothing that would mark him as a crusader in any standout respect,” according to Evans, of By Common Consent.

But change still may come, even if not from the president.

What will be more interesting to watch than the leadership transition, historian Mueller said, is who Nelson will name as his counselors and who will take his place in the Quorum: Will the church bring in someone younger? Someone more representative of the growing global population of the church?

What Evans hopes to see moving forward is a “hard look at the questions of our day: wealth inequality among the membership, climate change, the rise of nationalism, and loving without conditions.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

16 Comments

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  • Am I reading this correctly? — The 90 year old leader Thomas Monson, who just died…is being replaced by a sprite, young 93 year old Russell Nelson?

    Really !! Don’t you think Mormons might have someone a bit older and more mature…maybe a bit past 100 years old. Last thing you want is these young leaders in their 90’s reconsidering gay-marriage and women’s ordination — or something modern…just can’t have it.

  • Well, as of now, that’s how the succession rules work; the most senior apostle, who is known as the “President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles”, is the presumptive next church president. Nelson has the most experience as a member of the Quorum of Twelve, being an apostle since 1984 (Monson was an apostle since 1963), so he’s generally considered the next in line to be prophet, and the presumptive next prophet/president.

    The funny thing is, your criticism about that would have been fixed by Monson, who was made an apostle at age 36… the problem was that everyone ahead of him was extremely long-lived, so he wasn’t the most senior apostle for decades.

  • The funny thing is that research done by others who studied sermons given by “younger” Apostles indicate that they were, to some degree, more conservative than the older Apostles. So the idea that getting younger people in leadership positions will liberalize the Church is a fantasy based on agism expectations.

  • If promotion within an organisation is in the gift of a group of like-minded leaders the most likely route to joining that group is through adopting those same views – a little more rigorously.

    That’s reality whether in a commercial, religious, legal, criminal (I repeat myself) etc. population. Dissent to the degree of tokenism may be tolerated at lower levels but it’s a rare leader who feels secure enough to permit alternative views at high level.

  • Our women do not want the priesthood, and ours homosexuals, if they stay alone will be part of us

  • Really, Not one single Mormon women wants to be in the priesthood. And that homosexuals “stay alone” standard should apply to everybody or nobody.

  • Actually, the last two times that the Mormon Church changed policies and directions (ending polygamy and giving Blacks the Priesthood) was because their leaders feared the consequences of not changing more. That’s what it will take for them to be less barbaric to LGBTQ

  • You liberals are so sensitive….hahahahaha. It is a normal expresion in my culture, and remeber you are tolerants….

  • I know that it is your wet dream, but it is a very diferent subjet. one wife or a lot of them, make no diference, normal sex. Priesthood and black people, from Brigham, the prophets were waiting for and pray for a change. To me barbaric is to have sex, where normal people defecat.

  • Funny how the social bigots always go to the gutter to make their arguments as “Good Christians.” If they were what they claim to be, the gutter would not be so very attractive to them. But gutters are the baptismal fonts of fake Christians the world wide.

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