Boggs-Doniphan Non-Mormon of the Year 2014: Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets President Eyring at the Vatican.

Pope Francis greets President Eyring at the Vatican in November of 2014.

Since his ascendance as Pope, Francis has provided a bold new vision of engaged, bridge-building religious leadership in the 21st century. From brokering a detente between the United States and Cuba, to perhaps suggesting animals can also attain heaven, to taking a strong religious stance on preserving creation by stemming global warming, Pope Francis has successfully caught and held the attention of a world that had seemed to be slipping inexorably to secularism.

This has even left some Mormons, especially more liberal-minded Mormons, thinking aloud about a growing Holy Envy (or maybe just envy) of the Holy See. What could LDS leadership or LDS people learn from the Pope? 

One cautionary lesson to be gleaned is that all the Pope’s radical activity has not been without cost among the flock. Many conservative Catholics are uncomfortable with the new direction:

“The conservatives had it all their way for about 30 years, and now the shoe might be on the other foot,” says the Rev. Paul Sullins, a priest who teaches sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “Now they feel on the outside a little bit, which is exactly how the progressives used to feel.”

Are phrases like “turnabout is fair play” the makings of a cohesive Zion? Joking aside, I don’t know many liberal members who actually want conservatives to feel the alienation they have felt.

As we ponder how to thread that needle, we will continue to have Pope Francis as an intriguing window into what could be. Congratulations, Pope Francis, the Boggs-Doniphan Non-Mormon of the Year for 2014.

The Boggs-Doniphan Gentile (Non-Mormon) of the Year Award has been bestowed annually since 2008. It honors the non-Mormon who had the greatest impact on Mormonism, for good or ill, during the year. (See that other blog for Mormon of the Year.) The previous winners are Judge Robert ShelbyJohn Turner, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, Judge Vaughn Walker, Stephen Colbert, and Mike Huckabee.


  1. Let’s just get this comment out of the way, shall we: “What, no Kate Kelly! How could you not select Kate Kelly?” There. Done. Now we please can move on to more important topics? By which I mean, “why does this award category come off as even whiter than the Oscars?”

  2. Oh, good point, Dave K. Even whiter and even more male, alas.

  3. Excellent choice. He truly fits the bill for the Doniphan award and is an excellent example of using his moral authority to address the most pressing issues of the day — most recently speaking directly to the dire circumstances of street children who suffer unimaginable deprivation, abuse, and exploitation in the Philippines.

    As to the hypocritical, “conservative” criticism that some American pundits are dishing out on the Pope, I think that is very telling (see Damon Linker’s summary). So much for abject deference to religious authority for its own sake as an anchor to society and a “bulwark” against “the world” and “secularism” as a guiding conservative principle (which is normally what these same pundits and those who share their views frequently write about). These pundits incessantly accuse “liberals” or anyone they view as intolerably “secular” of ostensibly destroying civil society for identifying and holding as a universal moral principle the idea that each person can and must determine for him or herself his or her purpose in life and what the meaning of life is. Of course, such a principle is not, in fact, inconsistent at all with adhering to and upholding the world’s oldest and most venerable religions, though such columnists invariably cast it as a rejection of religion and religious authority.

    I should note that, in my view, Pope Francis is not making changes to Catholic theology or thought or being particularly “liberal”. It’s almost purely a matter of style. And it’s about applying age-old teachings in a way that more explicitly bites the privileged classes. Both JPII and Benedict did this too but much more benignly and subtly, with the effect that this demographic didn’t feel particularly targeted as violating God’s will in their handling of their financial affairs and their directing of American politics. They seem to be equal opportunity sinners in Pope Francis’s ministry, and that rubs the wrong way!

  4. John Mansfield says:

    Considerably more oblique than choices of previous years. That is to say, no noteworthy direct interactions with the Latter-day Saints of the sort that all previous Gentiles of the Year had engaged in (despite the attempts to hype Eyring’s Vatican visit). Instead, a religious leader out there with qualities that the award givers would like to experience more of within the LDS Church. Perhaps that is why the honoree is now being designated Non-Mormon of the Year instead of Gentile of the Year as in previous years.

  5. I think Pope Francis is a great choice. I find him very inspiring.

  6. I like this choice overall. I do admire Pope Francis.

    For what it’s worth, he’s also done this, which will hit home for Mormons:

  7. I’m not saying I agree with the pope excommunicating that priest, just posted it because I found it interesting in light of recent, similar LDS events.

  8. Mansfield, it’s true this year is very much a departure from previous years in the degree to which the honoree had conscious or direct impact on Mormonism. Honestly, I just didn’t feel there were any notable potential nominees in that category. Someone suggested the Memphis Tigers, so they were probably the runners-up. :-)

  9. I envy the Holy See’s art. It’s a lot better than anything we’re ever going to find on Temple Square.

  10. rameumptom says:

    So, does he get the Doniphan or Boggs portion of the award? :)

  11. We never tell, Ram. We never tell.

  12. Wahoo Fleer says:

    So his impact is that he’s given some Mormons a case of holy envy? I love Pope Francis and I love this write-up but I’m confused about what it all has to do with the annual award. Can I request a redo so BCC can consider someone with some discernible impact? (Or at least post an explanation of the Pope’s impact.)

  13. Wahoo, feel free to make “honorable mention” nominations in the comments.

  14. Wahoo Fleer says:

    Off the top of my head I would consider the religion writers and others at the New York Times who elevated mormon issues on a national and international level (including the more or less off hand comment in their article on the BYU beard ban protest that directly lead to BYU reinstating the religious exemption).

  15. I’m happy with your choice, but I recommend for runner up radio host Doug Fabrizio who backed Church PR spokeswoman Ally Isom into a corner and got her to admit that nowhere is it written in church doctrine that women cannot be ordained.

  16. I think this is a fitting choice. Not all influence needs to be direct. As a Mormon I can honestly say that the non-Mormon I have been watching and thinking about most closely is Pope Francis. I think that could be true of many religious-minded people who don’t share the Pope’s religion. It is also a positive choice. If there are many readers here who have payed little attention to the Pope and his actions this year, it may be a nudge to start. We are all invested in good religious leadership, or should be.

  17. Honorable mention to Benedict XVI whose resignation/emeritus status allowed the emergence of Pope Francis. Whether or not his example has any influence on the LDS church remains to be seen.

  18. Moss–this award is for non-Mormons; otherwise that would be a great suggestion!

  19. Excellent point, Bill. Critical. That may be the single most important takeaway for us.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    Whether or not his example has any influence on the LDS church remains to be seen.

    No, it doesn’t – you and I both know full well that there will be no change in the succession procedures of the church.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    tubes, I’m not so sure about that. I think that a non-functioning senior member of the Q12 at the time of death of a Church President might cause some serious introspection. That scenario is becoming more and more likely.

  22. I see no reason at all that it could not be changed if that were God’s will as discerned and disseminated by Church leaders. Policies with regard to Church leadership have changed in the past, for instance having members of the First Presidency who were not Apostles (or who had not served as either a stake president or bishop previously, such as J. Reuben Clark, Jr.) — to my knowledge that is more or less permanently a thing of the past and would not happen anymore.

  23. John Mansfield says:

    The four most senior church leaders are 87 (Monson), 90 (Packer), 92 (Perry), and 90 (Nelson). The next four are 82, 86, 85, and 82. The President of the Church has usually become a very old man, but I doubt the senior half of the Quorum of the Twelve has ever been close to as old as it is now. Eight years ago, Gordon Hinckley read to us from his journal about a time of turnover in church leadership from 1950 to 1953. Over a span of eight General Conferences, the church sustained six new members of the Quorum of the Twelve. I thought President Hinckley was preparing the church for a similar turnover to come, but it didn’t happen. Only three apostles have been called since Hinckley’s talk, the most recent one five years ago. There has been a lot of age building up, so the chances of periods over the next decade with an incapacitated church president, like we experienced with the last portions of Kimball and Benson’s service, are high. So far the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve has never been incapacitated at the time of the church president’s death, but looking at those ages (87, 90, 92, 90, 82, 86, 85, 82), that situation could very well be coming up.

  24. It might. But you never know. When David O. McKay died in 1970, Joseph Fielding Smith was already 93, and there was some speculation in the press that he might be skipped over in favor of Harold B. Lee, who was a mere lad of 70. That didn’t happen, Pres. Smith served for a vigorous 30 months and then Brother Lee became the president of the church–and served until his death only 18 months later.

  25. No one can know what will happen in terms of succession — who will live and who will not live as long as previously speculated.

    In any event, I found Benedict XVI’s actions to have been honorable and morally just in choosing to go emeritus, against an immense mountain of precedent. A Pope had not done so in more than 500 years.

  26. it's a series of tubes says:

    I’m not saying it “couldn’t” happen – just that I’ll eat my hat if it does.

  27. “I’ll eat my hat”

    We’ll live-blog it ;)

  28. it's a series of tubes says:

    “He appears to be making good progress through the brim… what’s that black stuff? Hmmm, some crow – down it goes!”

  29. Christian J says:

    Mansfield, thankfully Pres. Monson is going to live to 100 and hand it over to some young buck who hasn’t been called yet.

  30. Love.

  31. There’s no question Pope Francis is having a significant global impact, I just fail to see much of a Mormon impact. Is the Boggs/Doniphan Non-Mormon of the Year just going to be the Time Person of the year before? I guess next year we’ll have the Ebola Fighters to look forward to.

  32. Cynthia admitted it was a bit of a stretch. But I think it works. My guess is that next year it will be someone with a much clearer direct connection to Mormonism.

  33. Joel, I think Francis as an example of religious leadership isn’t as distant from Mormonism as “oh there’s a different church’s leader who is doing something interesting.” He may not have set out to impact Mormonism, true. But the parallels (and potential parallels) with Mormonism on especially salient dimensions are what make the comparison so intriguing and give the envy (for some) more immediacy. Both denominations have a top-down, male-only formal priesthood structure headed by an elderly male who has traditionally served until death. Both denominations are grappling with similar tensions between globalization, secularization, and feminism on the one hand, and top-down-driven conservative stances on social issues on the other. The possibility of a church leader going emeritus rather than remaining in place until death is an especially interesting area of potential parallel.

  34. I hope that Pope Francis’s example is being noted in the COB. We could certainly learn a lot from him.

  35. Maybe this selection is more hopeful than anything else. I hope for a day when the leaders of our church could be so extemporaneous and seemingly lead by the Spirit in their everyday interactions. The Pontiff’s interactions with the young girls in the Philippines, that had formerly been living in the streets and asked about how God could allow child trafficking, was something that I envied. So I hope that GAs are watching and listening to this Pope and observing him receive speak words Catholics need to hear that our GAs, may do the same for members of our church in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

    It is interesting to think what might happen if when President Monson passes, if the senior member might be incapacitated and likewise when whomever that is passes for the next and the next in succession. It’s a real possibility. Would the leading quorum vote to sustain the senior member if they were of completely incapacitated at the time the order of things as they have been done would pass it to them, even if they could not in any practical way serve or even in their infirmity comprehend with the mortal brain the mantle descended.

%d bloggers like this: