Prophet Emeritus

At the end of President McKay’s life, two men in Church hierarchy had the same idea. Though intellectually sharp, McKay’s health had been up and down for at least a decade and was definitely failing him then (he died when he was 96). These two men, Ernest Wilkinson and Hugh Brown, talked about changing the policy of lifetime calling to be apostle or prophet. There were a few versions of their idea, because as you may know, they weren’t best friends and did not entertain this idea together. One was that once an apostle reached a certain age, he would be moved into emeritus status and not considered for prophet/president position if the time came. Another was that if incapacitated, he would be moved into emeritus status so the Church could be led by the next in line.

Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith both had failing health at the end of their presidencies and first counselor J. Rueben Clark became (though unofficially) the acting president of the Church. When McKay’s health started steadily going down hill, people wondered if an incapacitated president-prophet would be the future of the Church. Mormons are healthy people and, with medical and technological advances, men were getting older and older when then started their presidency, let alone ending it. Joseph Fielding Smith was in horrible health at the end of McKay’s presidency and as the longest serving apostle he was slated to be (and became as you all know) the next Prophet and President.

It was argued that presidential succession was policy, not revelation. After Brigham Young and John Taylor, there was apostolic rule before the president-prophet was named. With those two, the precedent was established that the apostle with the longest tenure would become the next Prophet. During the first century of the Church, no prophet lived to be unable to fulfill their presidential duties and I doubt they would have foreseen how common a problem it would become.

Lee hated the idea and McKay died before this was taken very seriously, Joseph Fielding Smith died a couple years after he became prophet and the young and healthy Harold B. Lee unexpectedly died a year and a half after taking office. Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson both had prolonged periods of failing health and President Hinckley had to pick up the reins. But this was very problematic (more for Hinckley than for Clark) because there were many things that only the prophet was supposed to decide, both in legal and ecclesiastical matters. Hinckley has said that those times were very lonely. He said that, “I tried to be very, very careful…and I resisted efforts to move on some things where I was urged at times to do so. I did not want to get ahead of the president” (Prince 399).

President Hinckley, though not young, is still mostly healthy and doing an excellent job as President, but it’s got to be wearing him out, and while I’m not for removing Hinckley, I think there is something to this idea of allowing age and incapacitation to move an apostle or prophet into an emeritus status. If they are still capable of input and inspiration, there is no reason not to use them as a resource but let the position be moved to someone able to do it. As an apostle, you are set apart as a prophet, seer and revelator, you have all the Priesthood keys, it is just the Prophet who has full use of all of those keys.

I am of the opinion that failing health should move a person to emeritus status because as in Hinckley’s case he’s done a lot of fantastic things in his old age. I also believe that God does not try and teach His Church something by having a Prophet who is too old and sick to function in his calling. How do you feel about this? Does it matter to you? Does it feel heretical to suggest this change? Why?

For what it’s worth, it seems that Wilkinson believed in this idea because he could no longer easily do his work or pursue his agendas without a healthy prophet. That has got to be paralyzing. Brown suggested that at 85 an apostle be moved into emeritus status. He was right on the precipice so maybe he was just tired. He also really believed in the new leadership coming into the hierarchy and felt safe to move on.


  1. Interesting question. I myself had thought about presidential succesion and the link to Prophet. Is it heretical? I believe it is a question most people have, yet are afraid to ask. “Why is so and so the Prophet and not so and so.”

    As an apostle, you are set apart as a prophet, seer and revelator, you have all the Priesthood keys, it is just the Prophet who has full use of all of those keys.

    I understand this idea but what seems diffucult is to equate called by revelation with tenure in the Apostolic calling. How does this delicate balance work? I’m not quite sure.

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    Perhaps the Prophet himself should pass the buck when he feels unable to perform his duties.

  3. It’s obvious. God kills off the apostles until he gets to the one he wants to be president next.

    Either that or it’s just the way we’ve always done it.

  4. I’d be interested in a more robustly cited version of this. There is no question that apostolic succession is fairly malleable. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some changes in my lifetime, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t (especially now with the centralized seventies).

  5. It really is remarkable that the problem has never really arisen in which the prophet dies and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is in a completely non-functioning mental state à la President Benson of the 1990s.

    I remember when President Benson died there was a bit of speculation that President Hunter was mentally non-functioning, but that turned out not to be the case.

    I would be OK with making an Apostle emiritus at a specified age, but I would want an exception for the current President of the Church–I don’t think anyone in that position should be made emeritus once they take up the position. There is no theoretical limit to the size of the First Presidency (Pres McKay had 4 counsellors at one point, and the position of Assistant President could always be revived)–and I think expanding it would be a better solution to retiring the president in his old age.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    In theory something like this could be done. But this is one that absolutely would have to come from the top down. Unless it is pushed by the then prophet, I don’t think it will happen.

    Succession in the presidency seems so easy and automatic to us today, but in the 19th century it was a very traumatic issue and threatened the very existence of the Church. So I don’t see anyone messing with the current system lightly.

    Personally, I would like to see some sort of an emeritus system.

  7. J., you footnote nerd.

    Interesting post Amri. I can imagine a policy of emeritizing apostles, but I suspect at this point there is too much tradition running contrary for it to change.

    Similarly, a lot of members place enormous weight on WW’s OD1 remark that “it is not in the programme” for leadership to lead us astray — so much so that the phrase essentially translates to “death is the Lord’s release” for those men. By the same token if an apostle got emeritized or (heaven forbid!) released, it would instantly be taken as a sign of sin or an attempt to lead us away from the oracles of God.

  8. “It was argued that presidential succession was policy, not revelation.”

    It’s always funny to me that folks make those two to be oppositional. Surely lots of things can be both revealed and be policy rather than some eternal law.

  9. I was under the impression (and was told, when I was not yet baptized) that the next president is by revelation and the whole quorum meets, votes and must agree collectively on the new president.

    Is this incorrect?

    There is a line of sucession? So the next prophet is a given?

    Amri- My apologies- I’m not trying to threadjack here- jsut trying to figure things out.

  10. Completely agree with Steve’s last comment. It would be like a Mission Pres releasing a ZL or AP and everyone wondering who the girl was that they made out with.

  11. #3 KyleM

    Funny stuff. It would be interesting to see how the masses (i.e. non-bloggers) would accept such a proposition. I know with those here, the idea is probably more accepted.

  12. Aaron Brown says:

    Ditto to what Clark said.

    Also, I think many members would find an automatic emeritus policy to violate their assumptions about how God is micromanaging the composition of the top leadership, and how He’s got it all worked out in advance as to who needs to be the Prophet, and when.

    Dump this assumption, however, and your proposal is far from radical.

    Aaron B

  13. You could reason that the line of sucession has been carefully planned by revelation kind of like a master chess player.

  14. Tracy, your impression is correct, but history has shown that the senior apostle is statistically likely to be the one picked after the meeting and vote.

  15. Tracy, it is not like papal election. There is no initial uncertainty. That said, the Quorum does unite in support of the designated successor. By the early twentieth-century[1], it had become reasonably official that the longest (continuously) serving apostle becomes prophet automatically. This is one of the more fascinating statements of the routinization of charisma and the whole Weber sect–>church transition.

    I agree with Steve[2] that for most this idea of God killing fallen prophets (how on earth that got perpetuated after Smith’s martyrdom still boggles[3] my mind) is likely to undergird[4] strong resistance to a change.
    Another problem though is the admission that mortal foibles can cloud the prophetic vision. So perhaps it is early dementia or inanition today, but what about dark moods or cultural prejudices tomorrow? I think people may fear something like a slippery slope. And what about an initially debilitating stroke, from which someone recovers 6 months[5] later?[6]

    [1] Hi, Stapley
    [2] Evans
    [3] Unfun parlor game
    [4] q.v. “loins”
    [5] lunar cycles
    [6]interrogatory punctuation mark

  16. Stevesie, are you certain? My memory says that it has been clarified into official policy.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    These days there is no question; the senior living apostle at the time of the president’s death WILL be the next president.

  18. SMB, Kev., it’s my understanding that it is not written anywhere who is to be the next prophet.

  19. It’s a fair question and topic for discussion, but the following sentence gives me pause:

    “I also believe that God does not try and teach His Church something by having a Prophet who is too old and sick to function in his calling.”

    First of all, I’m of the opinion that the Lord, the Master Teacher, is teaching us in everything He does. Second, who says it’s to teach us? Would President Hinckley be half the leader he is today if, when SWK and his counselors became incapacitated, they were moved out and ETB was moved in?

    I’d venture to say that power has never transitioned so smoothly in any organization in the world, (including the Church) than it has in the past 25 years of the Church. While some may look at the changes over the past 177 years of church government and see “Policy, not doctrine,” I see men learning as they counsel with the Lord and a system evolving to a better state. We all learn and progress, and I think that includes the church and church government. (Yes, I know that means that the system could change in the future.)

    But never mind all that, the biggest problem I’d see with it is who decides when they’re incapacitated? Mandatory age? That almost would have disqualified President Hinckley before he even started. The quorum of the twelve by vote?

    It just seems to me that it’s hard to have this discussion without the implication that the Lord isn’t in complete control. Now, I know that doesn’t mean he controls everything. I’m not saying he made DOM sick and incapacitated to teach someone a lesson. I’m saying if DOM’s incapaciation was a problem, the Lord could easily fix it. And so by the fact that he didn’t, I take that to mean it was ok. The brethren learned. They gained experience.

    Please don’t mistake my comments as dismissing your remarks. It’s an interesting question. I guess I just fall on the other side of it.

  20. #16, 17, 18, there are several general conference talks where they’ve said that it’s the senior member. They’ve said that D&C 43:7 “Gate” = “Senior Apostle”.

    SWK said: (Sorry, I have the quote on my computer, not the source)
    “The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church. All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program.”

  21. Here you go Steve, you were mistaken. Sam MB: Best. Comment. Ever.

  22. I recall that MoDoc uses even more dramatic language to emphasize the point.

  23. Joe B., you’re mistaken. Please provide links to those talks. “They” have NOT said that about D&C 43:7. Sorry to be harsh, but I just don’t believe your assertion that the procedure has been immutably established.

  24. It should be notes that the FAIR site has a series of Ensign articles on the topic, quoting SWK’s piece as well as other references. It clearly lays out the plan that the senior apostle becomes the next president of the Church, but nowhere is this set forth as official Church policy.

  25. I don’t remember hearing that Joseph Fielding Smith was in poor health at the time Pres. McKay died.

    But he was old–about 3 years younger than Pres. McKay, or about 93. Despite his age, though, he was active and capable for the 18 months of his presidency.

  26. It should be said that automatic transition to Senior Apostle started with Lorenzo Snow’s vision of the Savior in the Temple and His telling Snow to put the Presidency together without waiting.

  27. Steve, by “they” I mean general authorities speaking in general conference. I know that doesn’t make it “official doctrine,” especially per the recent thread on what “official doctrine” is.

    I’ll be happy to research the talks. We just had a Priesthood leadership training and one of the topics was the consensus among many members (just regular members, not scholars…I’m not citing a study, just experience) that when a prophet dies, the quorum gets together and nominates anyone, and that it could be anyone, it just coincidentally has always been the senior member. The presentation included a handout citing about half a dozen conference talks saying it’s seniority (the same thing of my SWK quote.” I’ll be happy to look for the paper when I get some time this evening.

    Like I said, I know this doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but it seems silly to me to take a position of “just because SWK, BRM, BKP said it, it doesn’t have to be true, so I’ll take the opposite position.” I’m fine standing with them. And if their wrong, then I’m wrong too and I apologize for steering anyone in this direction.

  28. [21]

    21. Thanks.

    Could someone dredge up the MoDoc reference? I remember enjoying it.

  29. The Institute manual, Teachings of the Living Prophets, has a section on succession here. “The leadership change is automatic and instantaneous. A special revelation is not necessary.” (Although it has not always been as smooth. See Steven Heath’s Dialogue article, for example, here.)

    In principle, I would be fine with the idea. I would worry a little about unforseen difficulties.

  30. Just for the record, if the 12 and 1st Presidency submitted such a proposal at General Conference in April I think everyone would immediately accept it and think it evidence of continuing revelation and the Lord watching over the Church. So the idea that it would be difficult for people is, I think, rather doubtful.

    I’m not saying it ought happen, mind you. Especially not an automatic retirement at a certain age. I tend to be troubled by such a notion – especially as medical care improves and perhaps even most causes of dementia get cures.

  31. Voila, here is your MoDoc:

    Every apostle who is set apart as a member of the Council or Quorum of the Twelve is given the keys of the kingdom. (D&C 112:14-32; Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 71-77.) Since keys are the right of presidency and the kingdom of God on earth is the Church, it follows that each apostle so set apart receives the inherent power and authority to preside over the Church and direct all of its affairs. The fulness of these keys can be exercised only in the event an apostle becomes the senior apostle of God on earth, for unless he does there will always be someone above him to direct his labors. The senior apostle is always chosen and set apart as the President of the Church, and through this system of apostolic succession, the Lord has made provision for the continuation and preservation of his kingdom on earth. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, pp. 144-159.)

    It goes on some more about the duties of Apostles and succession in ancient Church.

  32. Steve. Sorry, I know you said not to be harsh, and I feel my last sentence may have been. I didn’t mean it to be.

    Back to the original topic, it just seems to me an emeritus status seems like an inferior system of succession. Let’s say you don’t include the prophet, only the 12. But the comments in that FAIR link you gave, (which 1996 ensign article appears to be the source of the presentation I heard) seem to indicate that the Senior member of the 12 is the next prophet. So by having emeritus 12, you’re essentially changing who the prophet could be.

    When the revelation on the 70 came, I think SWK said that now the church was in a position to govern, no matter how large the church would grow. Seventies don’t have the keys. They have an age limit. There is no limit to the number of 70’s. It seems they are to be the “work horses” of the church leadership. The twelve, with their keys and principles of succession, fill a different role.

    I guess I just see many more complications and problems creating emeritus apostles than any possible benefit.

  33. Steve Evans says:

    J., Doctrines of Salvation as official Church doctrine? hmm.

    But to be clear — I fully recognize this as the current practice, and one that is undertaken with some regularity and done prayerfully. But I really need, in this instance, to have something pretty solid from the top in an official capacity for me to consider this process as something more than a policy with the weight of precedent.

  34. Steve Evans says:

    Joe B., lots of people have had the pleasure of being wrong along with the authorities you cite, so you’re in good company :)

  35. No, no, I don’t, Steve. MoDoc, is antiquated and not a suitable source for current doctrine.

  36. Ok, indulge a newbie here- I was under the impression it would be likely TSM as the next Prophet- but there are several guys on the 12 who are older than he is- so that means he’ll be skipped over until he’s the longest serving??

  37. Word. Sorry. I was getting kicked out of the library as I was about to post this. No footnotes. I read Prince and Wright’s McKay and Modern Mormonism. They talk about it a few times and then more extensively in the Epilogue.

    I’m with y’all that said this would have to come from the Prophet. It’s a complicated issue rooted deeply in tradition so clearly he would have to be the driving force.

    #3 My younger bro is convinced that God “took out” Pres Lee so that Kimball could come in and give blacks the Priesthood. My problem with that is then if God was in a hurry and let Lee come home, then why didn’t he just urge McKay forward when it would have been more timely? And like Sam MB said it’s odd that we believe that a prophet will be removed (by death) if he goes astray since Joseph Smith was removed.

    #8 I’m not sure why policy and revelation are regarded so differently except that it gets cited as the best reason in a million different issues. Except when McKay was considering blacks and the Priesthood, he said it was policy but it had to be changed by revelation. The differentiation probably is a security blanket to those who believe that the Church will in some way or another be different than it currently is.

    #12 Don’t you think it would be awkward for awhile and then people would be able to see God micromanaging the emeritus status? Give us time, we can see God in everything.

    #15 It seems to me that God should be in the choosing and preparation of all the leadership/apostles. If one has a stroke and recovers and another moves in shouldn’t they be well-qualified to serve? Time doesn’t necessarily mean good leadership skills, so we have to believe that God is making leaders out of these men. I’m sure the Church can find important things for that person to do if that case were to occur.

    #19 I think the First Presidency and the Twelve would have to agree on the limitations (age or incapacitation etc)
    Maybe this is a repeat, but I don’t think that even the Prophet believes that God manages all the little details of the Church. We’re not just conduits, we’re free agents who problem solve and makes choices, not just right vs. wrong choices but a good one of many good options. I think those having to lead the Church under an incapacitated President is very very difficult and the Church is required to stagnate on some things because decisions cannot be made.

    More later.

  38. The senior apostle is always chosen and set apart as the President of the Church

    On a slight tangent, I am fascinated with the choice of ‘set apart’ rather than ‘ordained’ here. According to Quinn, McKay was the first president ordained to that office; apparently, BRM either didn’t know or thought that event was a deviation from the norm. (Assuming he thought about this; though, frankly, I can’t imagine him not being terribly pedantic about his grocery lists.)

  39. darn, MoDoc is not what I was remembering. It was likely from the triumvirate and had this language about pneumatic transfer of authority that was quite dramatic. The next breath of the senior apostle blew into the lungs of the Prophet or some such.

    Steve, I think you’re pushing for a fairly superficial dichotomy in this case. If it were revealed policy it could change (by revelation), and if it were simple precedent it could fail to change as well.

  40. Tracy, Monson is the senior apostle. That’s why he’d be the next prophet.

    Clark-these miracles in modern medicine also lengthen our lives without giving capacity to go with it. That’s why during the first 100 years of the Church, we didn’t face this problem, they all died, without medicine to lengthen their lives. I’m not anti-medicine, I’m just saying sometimes it helps live a long time but that’s not necessarily high quality life.

  41. Tracy, seniority goes by whoever was brought into the twelve the earliest. So after Hinkley, it is President Monson.

    I think we get hung up on the ordain/set apart thing. The first couple of General Relief Society Presidents were ordained. Not any more.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    Sam, I am a lawyer; superficial dichotomies are all I have. Don’t begrudge me.

  43. So does the heirarchy continue on down then, in age? Does that mean when President Monson is prophet, he will need (be required?) to have the next oldest as his first counselor? And is that then Pres. Faust? Or can he choose his counsellors at his own discretion?

  44. Steve Evans says:

    Tracy, counselors are at the President’s discretion.

  45. And then does that pretty much earmark someone like Elder Bednar to likely one day be in the first presidency- since he was brought in so very young??

  46. Tracy
    It doesn’t have to do with age, but longest time spent in the Twelve. Monson was called when he was 35 or something crazy young. He’s be serving the longest. He can call anyone he wants as his counselors. Boyd Packer has the next longest tenure after Monson. Then it’s basically in order as the Twelve is seated at Conference (or their pix are presented in the Conference Ensign) except Faust I think is #5 or 6 or something. Does that make sense? The longer you serve + the longer you live means it’s more probable you’d be prophet.

  47. Thanks Amri sorry for the threadjack.

  48. There’s a story in BRM’s biography by his son Joseph about when BRM was ordained a Seventy. It goes something along the lines of a couple of the other seventies were in the room during the ordination. When the prayer was finished they said when they were called, they were set apart, not ordained (I could have this backwards, but whatever they said to BRM, the other seventies had experienced opposite). Anyway, it led to a big discussion and the end result was “the Lord knows what we meant.”

    Not the best confidence builder in the minute details of Priesthood Government. Line upon line, I guess.

  49. Tracy,

    That’s one of the reasons they go out of the way to always call BKP the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve. He fills the responsibilities while Monson is in the First Presidency, but he is not the senior apostle. Monson is the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, as was said.

  50. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Not to be over simplified here, but God calls a prophet to the office and I’d say it’s His call when to release him.

  51. #31 said

    So by having emeritus 12, you’re essentially changing who the prophet could be.

    There has already been a precedent for church policies changing the succession order. Orson Hyde/Orson Pratt both would have been church president had BY not added the “continuous” membership requirement Sam MB mentions. BY Jr. would had been president had succession not been clarified to time served in the quorum but rather based on time in the apostleship (the other possibility).

    These are just the fun historical examples, I won’t mention the calling of the 94 apostles in this dispensation also determining who would be prophet.

  52. Don’t you think it would be awkward for awhile and then people would be able to see God micromanaging the emeritus status? Give us time, we can see God in everything.

    Absolutely true. The current system is the best system because the 1P and 12 endorse it right now. When and if it changes then that will be the best system even if it wasn’t when someone not in that group was saying it before it became policy.

    Good post, interesting idea. I don’t have the knee jerk reaction against it that some might but I don’t know that it is a better system necessarily. This system still works if members of the 1P and 12 don’t agree with each other or like each other, apparently much less a problem today but has been a small problem in the past.

    I also think it wise for some policy to remain in place until revelation comes to remove it. Having caution is a good policy.

  53. Mike Parker says:

    Christopher Smith #2: Perhaps the Prophet himself should pass the buck when he feels unable to perform his duties.

    Having watched my grandfather stubbornly refuse to give up driving long after he was danger to public safety, I believe this would not be possible.

    Matt B. #37: I am fascinated with the choice of ’set apart’ rather than ‘ordained’ here.

    The president of the Church serves in his capacity as an ordained high priest (as do his counselors — D&C 107:22), so he would be set apart as president of the Church, not ordained.

    But I freely admit the linguistic distinction between “set apart” and “ordained” has only been an issue within the last generation or so. Earlier on, they were used more interchangeably.

  54. #40, #47, #52 I remind myself that the distinction between “ordain” and “set apart” is a recent phenomenon since original D&C had Emma “ordained”.

  55. Just because it was brought up earlier I wikipedia’d to find both ordination to the apostleship and birth year.

    I remember as a kid 20 years ago thinking that President Monson was going to be prophet forever because of how young he was. But he’s turning 80 this year, so its hard to tell how long his tenure might be, or if it even gets started.

    David Bednar is 12 years younger then the next youngest member, so the speculation can probably begin now for him.

    Gordon B. Hinckley (o1961) b1910
    Thomas S. Monson (o1963) b1927
    Boyd K. Packer (o1970) b1924
    L. Tom Perry (o1974) b1922
    James E. Faust (o1978) b1920
    Russell M. Nelson (o1984) b1924
    Dallin H. Oaks (o1984) b1932
    M. Russell Ballard (o1985) b1928
    Joseph B. Wirthlin (o1986) b1917
    Richard G. Scott (o1988) b1928
    Robert D. Hales (o1994) b1932
    Jeffrey R. Holland (o1994) b1940
    Henry B. Eyring (o1995) b1933
    Deiter F. Uchtdorf (o2004) b1940
    David A. Bednar (o2004) b1952

  56. See, I’m not so sure that it’s the distinction between the two phrases that has changed as much as it is the whys and wherefores by which we perform each ritual.

    Mike – I haven’t gone back and checked his sources, but I just checked his footnotes, and Quinn’s case that presidents before McKay were simply set apart, as you say, seems quite credible. Additionally, it’s quite clear that McKay was indeed ordained president, as was Gordon B. Hinckley.

    Jose – it would not surprise me at all to hear that Joseph ordained Emma, even given the existence of the distinction you posit.

  57. Ebenezer Robinson says:

    #52: I believe the apostleship is an office in the priesthood and requires an ordination, so the apostles don’t serve as high priests, but as apostles. Quibble aside, I agree with your main point here.

    HJG has been quoted as answering the question about how a man becomes president of the church: “Get ordained an apostile and outlive 14 other men.” Simple enough even for a lawyer, I’d think.

  58. #14 (Tracy and Steve), simply saying that seniority has been a statistical fact and not a determinitive one is not borne out by the numerous comments of various prophets and apostles. For a few of these, one can look to Top and Flake’s “’The Kingdom of God Will Roll On’: Succession in the Presidency”. For example: “The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church…[a]ll the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program.” (Spencer W. Kimball).

  59. Left Field says:

    When Ezra Taft Benson became president, the next senior apostle was Marion G. Romney. Brother Romney had been in the First Presidency, but had been too ill to function for a year or two.

    On President Kimball’s death, President Romney returned to the twelve and was set apart as its president. However, “due to President Romney’s illness incident to old age,” Howard W. Hunter was called as Acting President. This was the only time in church history that an acting president was called because of the illness of the president. (All other acting presidents served because the president was called to the First Presidency.)

    This situation continued for a few years until President Romney’s death, and Howard W. Hunter became senior apostle and President of the quorum.

    I always wondered what would have happened if President Benson died before Pres. Romney. They had already officially said he’s not well enough to serve. If he’s not well enough to serve as president of the twelve, how can he be well enough to be president of the church?

    One can speculate on various possibilities involving such things a president emeritus, an assistant president, an extended apostolic administration, or ordaining a de jure president with counselors who serve de facto. It’s hard to imagine they didn’t consider the issue when they called the acting president. What (if anything) they might have decided is anybody’s guess.

  60. cj douglass says:

    I think if a Pres. is unable to properly perform his duties, he should be given emeritus status but I don’t see age as a very acurate measuring stick. Can you imagine a Pres. being automatically relieved of his duties with a sharp mind and able body(GBH comes to mind)just because he turned a certain age? I think that’s called age discrimination.

  61. Kevin Barney says:

    Anyone interested in this topic should read an excellent article:

    Todd M. Compton, “John Willard Young, Brigham Young, and the Development of Presidential Succession in the LDS Church,” Dialogue 35/4 (Winter 2002).

  62. Steve Evans says:

    BigD, I’m aware of Flake and of the SWK quote (as my prior comments indicate). There’s a point at which statistics can have enough precedential weight that they become determinative, and it’s an open question as to whether that has already occured in our religion with respect to succession. I hope it hasn’t, but it’s possible. In any event, saying that repetition of a given event has become determinative of outcome is not the same thing, I don’t think, as saying that this protocol has been adopted as doctrinal or canonical in any way. It’s just the way things are done.

  63. Amri,

    I don’t actually believe that God makes a habit of killing off any group of people, even apostles. I think most apostles die because their bodies can’t support life anymore. I’m sorry. I sometimes make points I don’t believe in to make a lame attempt at humor. Evidently Ben is the only person with as poor a sense of humor as me.

    Now that the record is straight, just because God kills off an apostle doesn’t mean they went astray. Just because an apostle goes astray doesn’t mean they will be killed off. Death and spiritual direction aren’t mutually inclusive, even if sometimes they coincide.

    The question I would ask your brother is “Then what took SWK so long to make the change?”

  64. #56

    While it appears that Presidents of the Church are now ordained and set apart, I believe that the ordaining part is technically a mistake. Today, you are only “ordained” to a priesthood office. The only priesthood offices are:

    High Priest

    Where is the authority for President of the Church being a separate office in the priesthood, apart from the current practice of ordaining to that office?

  65. Rather courageous, perhaps, to be so willing to steady the ark.

  66. Does anyone know whether they have these discussions in Catholic circles. I seem to remember that they do. Wasn’t JPII determined to stay ’til the bitter end?

    It’s well documented that Wilkinson and Brown thought about this, so I think some idle speculation and conversation on the topic is fair game.

  67. Back to the original post:

    This must have been about the only thing that Pres. Brown (of sainted memory) and Dirty Uncle Ernie (not!) ever agreed upon.

  68. #64 – Good question. I hereby speculate that this is something of an attempt to solve the apostolic interregnum problem – to reassert some of the charismatic authority that came from having a prophet in Joseph whose authority came from his spiritual gifts rather than position in a hierarchy.

    Ordaining someone president, I’m guessing, is an attempt to separate them a bit from the authority of the Quorum.

  69. Left Field,

    I took the setting apart of Marion G. Romney as president of the 12 and Howard W. Hunter as acting president of the 12 to mean that is what would happen if President Romney had become the senior apostle–that he would be the president of the church, but the next most senior would be the acting president.

  70. About Prophets stepping down due to old age:

    The responsibilities of the Presiding President of the Church (ie head CEO) are much more of a concern in this thread than the spiritual leadership duties of a Prophet, aren’t they?

    Since we believe in prophetic messages being delivered in myriads of circumstances, it isn’t a big leap to think that words from an aged/sick/dying/ prophet, would have meaning. However, what about leading a multi-billion dollar world-wide organization? Isn’t that the hang-up?

    Entrez Bednar and Uchtdorf.

  71. When I was a young pup during the end of President McKay’s life, a friend of our family was one of Pres McKay’s bodyguards. According to him, Pres McKay believed he could be released/given emeritus status, something along the Book of Mormon precedent of King Benjamin, who turned his job over to Mosiah. Obviously, that wasn’t in the cards at the time.

  72. #66 Ronan: I don’t have time to pull all the cites, but papal abdication was a big issue just a short while back. We had a big discussion about it in my Catholic Social Teachings class last week. JPII was pretty vehement about not stepping down.

  73. Maria,
    Pull the cites! Pull the cites! (This is the Blog von Stapley, after all.)

  74. Mike Parker says:

    I tend to agree with Grimace #64 regarding the specific priesthood offices to which one can be ordained.

    But the procedure for setting apart/ordaining a Church president is not defined in scripture, so it’s no wonder to me that the exact process and wording has fluctuated over time.

    The same thing can be said for the significance of “keys.” Only recently has it been a big deal to bestow keys only when ordaining presidents of priesthood quorums. I remember when I was young that a lot of people — men and women — were given keys when they were set apart to various callings.

  75. Sorry Ronan–still no time to find the cites but what Wiki says is a basic summary of our class discussion:

    “In the years leading up to his death in 2005, many suggested that John Paul II ought to have abdicated due to his failing health. Vatican officials repeatedly quelled rumors of that possibility.

    Abdication is considered dangerous by some Catholic thinkers, as it leaves open the possibility that those who dislike the new Pope will claim that there was a conspiracy to oust the old one and that the new Pope might therefore be an antipope. Also, as the Pope is believed to be the hand of God on Earth, resignation due to ill health could appear to be an affront to God, who has chosen not to take the person from the Earth as yet. Politically speaking, abdication presents the problem of ‘two Popes’ living at the same time, with the danger of dividing popular loyalties, especially if the abdicated ex-Pope were to ever publicly express dissent.”

  76. So most of what we discussed isn’t available online, but I did find one of the articles, “Don’t Expect a Resignation”:

  77. Is it outside the realms of possibility that after GBH death that the FP could dissolve and during the discussions in the SLC temple that someone other then Monson be called by inspiration?

    I am not advocating abandoning the seniority system just honestly wondering.

  78. My understanding is that is not technically outside the realm of possibility but practically speaking we can be all but certain that it will not happen.

  79. Re #64 and 68 – My dad and I have discussed this a couple of times.
    The wording of D&C 107:22 is interesting in that we don’t ordinarily consider the office of the 1st Presidency to be a separate office of the priesthood from Apostle.

    But it does use the words “ordained to that office” (that office = First Presidency) it makes one wonder if the list in #64 could be appended to include First Presidency.

    I know that there are many instances where authorities have not included First Presidency as a specific office of the priesthood. I just chalk it up as one of those very small things that I wonder about.

  80. Lonny Mower says:

    There is emeritus status now, except that it’s described differently. Everybody knows when a euphenism is being thrown around. “Oh, I’m so sorry, when did he pass away?” When you read any of the following or the like: 4 or more counselors, attending conference via TV in his Hotel Utah suite, he’s decided to extend his out of state visit with close family members, it really means they’re horizontal but still breathing, with or without a tube, but likely the former. Joseph Wirthlin was my Stake President 30 years ago, and he was barely able to maintain a vertical position then. You think a 90 year old gets to the office today before 1, even on a good day?

    How many breathing named, old fogey partners in a law firm really show up, but still draw a check. It’s called ROADy, Retired On Active Duty. Same thing here with emeritezed 12 and FP.

    Also, think about the perks the emeritized would relinquish: Luxury condo, 24 hour security and private hospital room, 24 hour room service, limo, plane. Assuming all emeritus 12 and FP members plus spouses retain the their perks when emeritized, it would be an expensive proposition. Come to think of it, the Church is building a lot of expensive condos downtown, and money has never been a problem. You know, I think emeritization will work after all. It’s in the works.

  81. Lonny, it would seem you have some issues to work out.

  82. The idea of an emeritus status for apostles and church presidents has merit beyond addressing the problem of senior leaders with reduced capacities.

    Our popular LDS focus on the “Prophet” obscures the real nature of how the Church is led. The Church’s leadership structure is actually highly collegial. This collegiaity is mandated by the scriptural requirement that all decisions by the 1st Pres and 12 be unanimous (D&C 107:27). This can have its drawbacks — for example one of the reasons it took so long to lift the priesthood restrictions on black men was the refusal of a few apostles to approve despite the urging of the Church President. Overall though it has strong advantages, assuring that decisions incorporate the collective wisdom and spirtual insight of 15 men rather than just one. Much if not most of what the Church does arises from the collective decision of the presiding quorums, not the sole initiative of the Church president. In business terms, one might say that the Church president is really more of a Chairman of the Board and public spokesman than a CEO.

    Given this reality, it is not as important who the President of the Church is as most LDS probably think. The advantage of having the senior apostle occupy this position is not that the Lord acts like some divine godfather, knocking off the guys He doesn’t want as a means of picking the Prophet, but rather that his longevity gives him the most authority with his colleagues to chair and guide the collective governance exercised by the apostolic colleges.

    Establishing an emeritus system whereby every apostle, including the presiding apostle, retired at a fixed age (Hugh B. Brown’s 85 is as good a number as any) would make it clearer to the LDS how this system really works. Further it would have the salutory effect of teaching everyone else in the Church the importance of using councils and acting collegially in every level of Church governance.

  83. “one of the reasons it took so long to lift the priesthood restrictions on black men was the refusal of a few apostles to approve despite the urging of the Church President”

    I don’t think that’s quite accurate. To be sure, there were some brethren who were “against it”, and some prophets before SWK considered lifting the ban, but those prophets would always receive the answer from the Lord that the time was not right yet. A Prophet never went to the 12 and said, “I think we should lift the P-hood ban”, only to have one or two Apostles veto it. It was always the prophet who said–No, not yet.

  84. And incidentally, if you think the 12 are informed of every decision by Pres Hinckley before it is announced, you’re a little naive. President Hinckley announced the elimination of area presidencies in N America at a meeting of the 12 and all Seventies, and NO ONE had been told about the change beforehand, not even Hinckley’s counselors. Same as his announcement of 100 operating temples before 2000–everyone in council had agreed to 75, then at conference he upped the number to 100, taking everyone by surprise.

  85. Grimace —

    I guess I don’t have inside information on the deliberations (or lack thereof) of the Church’s leading quorums like you do. I just naively assume that the Church is governed in conformance with the revealed procedures established by the Lord as set forth in the Doctrine & Covenants.


  86. This “inside information” was told to me by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy when they were visiting my house at a visit last year. The member of the Twelve said that no one should doubt that it’s President Hinckley that leads the Church, because he often comes out with stuff like this.

    If that shatters your naïveté, so be it.

  87. Grimace —

    I am very impressed that you have personal contact with high Church leaders. However, these little anecdotes do not detract from the larger issue. You are not suggesting that President Hinckley would flout the requirements of D&C 107:27 on any issue of major significance, are you? The proposal that initiated this thread assumes that the senior non-emeritus apostle would still be the president of the Church and that he would be accorded great deference. My comment was simply to point out that the Lord set up a conciliar system for the government of His Church, and that an emeritus program for apostles would only enhance that.

  88. I understand, and no–I am not suggesting that President Hinckley would flout DC 107:27 on an issue of major significance, that is–a doctrinal change. Changes in policy are another matter.

    I was merely pointing out that there are many decisions or changes in policy announced by the Church that are not vetted through that prescribed process of getting unanimous approval of the two quorums. To believe that everything works according to how it’s spelled out in revelation is, I still maintain, naive and a fairly romanticized vision of how the Church operates.

  89. it really matters not who is called to be the Prophet, the Lord will function His Church using Elder Bednar if He chooses. It is the Lord who chooses His Prophet and if the next in line is not the man He has in mind, then strange things happen until the right man is in line. What really concerns me is how a man is called to be an Apostle in the first place. I hope beyond hope that a man is selected by prayer and fasting instead of just being in the right place or situation at the right time or need.

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