Succession in the Presidency: A Feature, a Bug, or Both?

Most of you I’m sure are familiar with the 1844 succession crisis. When Joseph was killed in the Carthage jail, who would then lead the Church? If his brother Hyrum had survived, as Assistant President it surely would have been him. There is a good chance it would have been Joseph’s son Joseph III if he had been older, but at the time he was but a young boy. There were various claimants by special or secret appointment, such as James Strang, or by virtue of the Council of Fifty. At the time the main decision was between Sidney Rigdon (by virtue of being a counselor in the First Presidency), or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, represented by Brigham Young. Had this happened a decade earlier it likely would have been Sidney, but he had long been out of the loop and so the majority of the Saints in Nauvoo chose to follow the Apostles.

Why did the people choose the Twelve? A few possible reasons spring to mind:

  • The Apostles were probably the closest to Joseph’s then current theology, in particular including their work on the temple (and, not yet fully  understood by the people, their involvement in polygamy).
  • The Apostles were poised to provide capable, seasoned leadership, which the Saints would desperately need. They had spent time leading the Church in England and Europe without having Joseph right there to lean on, experiences which would serve them well in their new role.
  • I don’t know if the people fully appreciated this at the time, but in retrospect at least being led by a body instead of an individual only has the potential to act as a hedge against potential nutjobs. We see this in the history of fundamentalist sects; when a single individual manages to wrest control from a council, it never ends well.

So there are certainly good things about church governance residing in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve (hereafter loosely “Q15”). In such respects that kind of leadership may be said to be a feature of the faith.

In certain other respects, however, it might be said to be a bug. The following come to mind:

  • The Apostles were probably the closest to Joseph’s then current theology. The astute reader will note I already claimed this as a feature, but it is simultaneously a bug, as it meant the mountain Mormons would have to live and deal with polygamy and its cessation, which nearly tore the church apart. The prairie saints by going a different direction avoided the considerable trauma occasioned by the (now historical) practice of polygamy.
  • The Q15 continues to consist of very experienced and capable leaders. But almost by definition they are well past their prime and increasingly subject to the diseases of old age, such as dementia. We’ve developed mechanisms to deal with such physical infirmities (such as expanding the First Presidency), but these situations are never ideal. I would love to see some sort of a mandatory retirement age, but the only ones who can make that happen are the Q15 itself, and they’re so invested in the system as it stands I don’t see that ever happening (unless the Prophet himself were to pull a Pope Benedict).
  • The constitution of the Q15 by very old men is going to tend towards a very conservative world view. While some might see that as a feature; I personally do not. (For instance, the Q15 has struggled mightily to grasp and  deal with this new age of LGBT rights.)
  • The practice of doing everything by unanimous vote (or not at all) is portrayed as a feature of our system. It suggests agreement, solidarity, unity, all good things. But such a practice can also reflect dominance by one or two individuals, who run roughshod over the others. Such a procedure also gives enormous power to any single Apostle who is willing to use it, as each Apostle in effect has a veto and can derail items that the majority supports. There is a reason you don’t see corporations being run this way; it’s the opposite of nimble in a fast-changing world.
  • Somehow we have developed a culture of GA worship, which is focused particularly on the Q15. And we have middle managers who lead by trying to guess what their superiors in the Q15 would want. This is not healthy organizationally.
  • Our current system of leadership by the Q15 has the potential to be a wonderful engine for diversity in the Church. The tremendous respect we have for our leaders (that sometimes spills over into worship as recited in the previous bullet point) could be used as a force for good. Imagine if we named diverse candidates to the Twelve. Some Mormons might not like that at first, but given the great respect they have for the institution I imagine the vast majority of members would go along with it. We would then get to know those people over the years, as we have done with President Uchtdorf, as they teach us in General Conference. And then one day decades later the president of the Church might be a black man, or a latino, or an Asian, or a whatever. (Or a woman; oops, scratch that, let’s not get crazy!). And the people would accept it because they had gotten used to that leadership and grown to love that person over the years. (But of course, this only works if we actually bring some diversity to the Q15 in the first place, which hasn’t happened yet.)

My impression is that the succession crisis was so very traumatic that now that we have a predictable, workable system in place, it would be almost impossible to change it. There is much that is good about that system, but also some problematic areas, especially in terms of health issues and organizational dynamics.

If you were the President of the Church and still in relative vigor and had the opportunity to change the system (whether by tweak or wholesale), what changes would you like to see?


  1. Not a Cougar says:

    Emeritus status at age 80. And, as you indicated, this will never happen.

  2. Sheri Carroll says:

    Update the garments for women. So long over due. Also, coffee is fine.

  3. Even the Standing Committee of the Politburo in both the USSR and China made members emeritus at 80.

    I fear that the Presidency of Gordon B. Hinckley will be the exception, and that a sizable portion of the Q15 will suffer from significant cognitive disability at any given time for the foreseeable future. This is going to become more and more of a problem.

  4. Kevin, I like how you outlined the pros and cons. That said, I think you are overstating the cons and I think the bloggernoccle puts more faith in the hypothesis “if we just had younger apostles it would fix (some)(most)(every)thing(s)”

    I see some problems with this theory:

    1- The mental/physical unfit critique- this critique always seems like a red hearing. A distraction from the real complaint (Q15 too conservative). We don’t need to cap service at 80 to solve this problem. All we need to do is have a system in which after being declared incapable by two physicians that a Q15 member is either physically or mentally no longer able to perform their duties they become emeritus. I actually think that this position has a much better chance of succeeding with the Q15 although I think they would be more likely to start with an apostle or a counselor rather than the president himself. Contrary to what has been suggested (President Hinckley is an outlier) there are many in the Q15 who were quite effective even into their 90’s. Look at Elder Perry and Elder Nelson who are/were both highly effective into their 90’s. Looking over the current crew the only people I am aware of that either mental or phyical ailment may be an issue are President Monson and Elder Hales. But I don’t think anyone honestly believes that Elder Oaks, President Eyring, Elder Nelson, or Elder Ballard are mentally and physically unfit. I think the bigger issue is they are fit, some just disagree with the decisions they make. (Ideology, not age is the issue. Bernie Sanders (an old guy) is the face and voice of many progressives and no one was asking “are you too old sir?” I’m unaware of any progressive bellyaching that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is unfit to be a judge.)

    I would add Mormon progressives should be careful what they wish for, because if your proposed plan was put in place today, sure we would get almost 4 years of Jeffery R. Holland, but it would guarantee that President Uchtdorf never becomes Prophet and it basically garuntees that Elder Bednar becomes prophet in 4 years and gets a nice long term. Is that really what everybody wants?

    2- Holding the quorum hostage with one dissenting vote- this critique has always been the most curious to me. Beginning in the late 60’s early 70’s the Q15 began its lurch rightward. I imagine most of the “aggressive changes” that have been stopped during that time have probably been right wing policy, not left wing. Again, I am sure there have been some exciting changes stopped that most reading this blog would like but I would hypothesize that the apostles veto has probably done more good than harm over this period of time.

    3- Old people=conservative people- Again, while I think the Q15 are old and conservative, I actually find the casualty that being old makes one conservative quite tenuous. See Bernie Sanders.

    So why is our Q15 both old and conservative? I would recommend the book American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell (who is LDS). The book chronicles how American has become more divided along religious lines between the early 60’s and today. For example, when President Monson was growing up Mormons would voting for both democrats and republicans. Frankly, President Monson’s generation was much more politically diverse than the church is today. Why is that not represented in the Q15 today?

    Putnam and Campbell chronicle how the sexual revolution and abortion became issues that the religious and the irreligious were divided on. During this period religions became more conservative and the non-religious people became more liberal. However, the book also explains how that will change (is already changing) in the next decade or two. Basically (and you should read the whole book since I won’t do the argument justice) people with high religiosity used to rally around anti-lgbt and pro-life positions and people with low religiosity would rally on the other side of that spectrum. However, recently something has been happening: religious people are becoming more open to LGBT rights (though at a slower rate than their non-religious counterparts) and those with low religiosity are becoming more pro-life. Slowly but surely religiosity is becoming less of a dividing line thought we are at the very beginning of that process (as the book details, the making of the religious right did not happen over night, and a nation less divided along religiosity lines is also not going to happen over night.)

    What I am saying is the Q15 is not reflective of the political makeup of the church in President Monson’s day, it is a reflection of the church’s political makeup in our day. But Jana Riess is finding that that is beginning to change. The next generation of Mormons will be more politically balanced and by extension so will the Q15. You don’t have to wait for millenials to be old enought to be an apostle. Again, if the political makeup of the apostle’s generation were represented there would be a lot more democrats and it would be GenXers that would be all of the conservatives (since they would have grown up during the time that the church was most conservative). The Q15 reflects the political makeup more or less of the church of its time. We are still a right of center people, so the Q15 is right of center. I imagine that the Q15 (though too far to the right for the bloggernoccle) is about where most LDS members are.

    My point is, replacing Elder Oaks with someone younger,or of a different race is not going to change this reality. As Armand Mauss pointed out the Salt Lake Trib on the issue of having a non-white apostle, the fact is whoever that person is, that person would probably be “correlated” for lack of a better term. Do we really think that Elder Bednar and Elder Christofferson are going to stack the Q15 with progressives? If anything, the emeritus at 80 position may make the situation worse! The new guys could all see things so similarly they all unanimously start agreeing on conservative changes that need to be made. At least our current system generally only appoints one or two guys at a time rather than 5 or 6.

    What would be more effective is 1- Make the issue solely about the lack of ideological diversity in the Q15 and attempt to create a culture that values people that tell us we are wrong. As we start to see value in people who tell us we are wrong, even when the church is majority conservative or progressive, the hope would be that the Q15 would always seek out at LEAST one or two people who represent the church’s minority. 2- Again I actually think waiting a decade will probably solve most of these problems. 3- To pitch my first idea, create an emeritus status by those who have been examined by a physician and have been found to be physically or mentally unable to do their jobs. It would be more effective and less ageist.

  5. 1. Public minutes like the Fed. Like the Fed, the Q15 acts in unanimity (with the Fed – almost always unanimous) but some sort of minutes, even sanitized or redacted might increase transparency. Never going to happen.
    2. Ability for a member to abstain or perhaps a super majority decision. As the author stated each Q15 has an effective veto and the default is status quo. So any change has to be a vote to change something vs. a unanimous decision framed to keep something as it is. Maybe happens in private but would never be admitted to publicly.
    3. Super cool club for emeritus Q15 would maybe provide incentives to implement a mandatory retirement age. Perhaps lifelong memberships to August National or free 50 yard line tickets to BYU football games.
    4. Required retirement or emeritus status could be implemented and forced for future leaders. Say a decision that starting with new GAs starting in say 2020 might make it palatable.
    5. Public and transparent financial statements. Accountability baby!

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Jason, thank you for the very thoughtful comment. While you’re right that some of my comments are grounded in my progressive world view, my favoring a mandatory retirement age is more grounded in my sense of empathy for these men. I don’t think it’s fair to them to expect them to work themselves right into their graves. If it were up to me I’d want to be able to retire at some point. And if I got sick in a way I wasn’t going to recover from, I would not want to be treated as still a public person; I would want to be able to retire in privacy and peace without breathless announcements about whether I made it into the office.

    Toad, I agree that some sort of grandfather transition would probably be necessary.

  7. Geoff - Aus says:

    In the new church museum, on temple square, they make quite a point of how exhausted the 14 year old JS was after the first vision. One of our big differences (selling points) is having a living prophet. I am 70 next year; if something is exhausting for my grandchildren I do not attempt it. An 80 or 90 year old may still be able to administer part or even full time, but if you have a system that requires the prophet to be 85 to 90 before taking office, will we ever recieve revelation again?

  8. I think that tender-hearted comment by Kevin is even more persuasive than any of the points in his original post. I don’t see how anyone’s needs are well served when we require people who are permanently incapacitated or severely diminished to maintain their positions. They deserve to be treated better than that.

  9. Instead of a mandatory retirement age, they could have a voluntary retirement age. After that age, they could choose to retire whenever they wanted, or keep on as long as they still feel capable.

  10. If I had the magic wand but were still working in the land of feasible, I’d change one thing, which is the presumption of strict succession within the Q12. If we considered the apostles (who are, not incidentally, already considered “prophet, seer, and revelator”) as the pool from which the next president is chosen, it would be easily understood, we would have a significant age and experience range to work with, I expect some members would choose emeritus status (already), and we might ameliorate some of the hierarchical behavior within the Q12 which I consider a (different category) bug rather than feature.
    The one time I had a bit of inside information was at the death of Harold B. Lee when Spencer Kimball, the presumptive next president, floated the idea (however gently I don’t know). SWK’s medical history was well known and made for a realistic test case. It didn’t fly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next ~6 very active and somewhat innovative years of the SWK presidency (before minor strokes in 1979 and a significant decline in 1981) didn’t solidify the idea of strict succession.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Niklas, I would be fine with a concept of voluntary retirement, as long as there was some way to signal that that was a truly acceptable option and the culture of the Q15 didn’t seriously frown on people accepting it.

    Christian, fascinating inside account! Thanks for sharing.

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think Christian’s suggestion of considering the entire Q12 as the pool for potential succession would make the body more nimble, and effective. As a missionary, we were taught that the manor of succession in the Catholic Church was silly, because they would “vote” for the next Pope, whereas we have living Prophets and the next President was chosen through revelation. Of course, we all know who it’s going to be, and the presumptive President is announced with no suspense (although, public affairs will put something together to demonstrate how the Brethren were all individually inspired and that the unanimous outcome was the result of divine revelation). Would this lead to infighting and grandstanding among Apostles who are vying for the Presidency? Maybe. I’m not, however, convinced that would be a bad thing. It would force them to be a little political in their dealings with the other members, rather than simply knowing that, regardless of their “performance” as Apostles, the outcome is rigged (or, pre-ordained – if you prefer). At the end of the day, you’re still choosing among a group of 12 highly correlated and carefully selected men. It’s not like a progressive, or a women, is going to accidentally slip into the Quorum and potentially be the next President of the Church.

  13. >2. Ability for a member to abstain or perhaps a super majority decision.

    That does indeed happen. Public mention was made when Gordon B. Hinckley’s son was called as a Seventy. The comment was made from the pulpit in General Conference that GBH had recused himself from the matter, and later on, his son started a General Conference talk by stating that he might have been the only General Authority ever called who did -not- have a vote of confidence from the President of the Church.

  14. That’s correct. I remember when Pres. Hinckley commented about it in his talk in his loveable self-deprecating way: “Among those sustained, as you have noted, is my 63-year-old son. I make it clear that I did not advance his name. That was done by others whose right it was to do so. I feel extremely sensitive about the matter of nepotism. As the lawyers say, I recused myself from participating. However, I believe he is worthy and qualified in every respect. In the first place, he had a great and wonderful mother. I wish I could recommend his father.”

  15. James Stone says:

    Can the author give an example from the scriptures where a prophet of the Lord was allowed to retire because of age, sickness, or other disabilities.

  16. James Stone – perhaps this will be a new revelation. :)

    Re: treating the entire Q15 as a potential pool of candidates for president. There are benefits to that system. There’s also the possibility that they would start to “run for office.” I don’t really want hordes of reporters looking for smoke coming from Angel Moroni’s trumpet as an indication that they’ve chosen a new prophet.

  17. Angela C says:

    James Stone: One of the unique Mormon doctrines is that God retired them at 72 (“the age of a man”). Moses taken away in a whirlwind. Enoch translated. The Nephite 12 (well, 9).

  18. Alma retired as church president when he was getting too old. Why, then, do we have this notion that church presidents can’t retire?

  19. If I were the President of the Church and still in relative vigor and had the opportunity to change the system (whether by tweak or wholesale), what changes would I like to see?

    1. A replacement for the outdated, archaic KJV Bible. There are plenty of other versions and more recent translations made by biblical scholars that correct many errors and mistranslations in the KJV. Maybe something that incorporates the JST, NIV, NRSV, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Nephi’s translation of Isaiah.

    2. Remove the President of the Church as “corporate Sole” and remove the Q15 from their corporate/business assignments (which presumably occupy about 80% of their time) and have them focus solely on their. Divest the Q15 from those corporate assignments and place them entirely on ecclesiastical duty. In that respect, do not mix tithing, fast offerings, “donated funds” with money from the for profit businesses owned by the church.

    3. Make the minutes of the GA meetings public.

    4. Allow the entire Handbook to be accessible, and put it’s contents up for sustaining vote. (Kind of like the way the Lord said his Church should be administered).

    5. (I read this somewhere else, so I won’t take credit for it). Emeritus status for the Q15 at 90. I would make an exception for the person serving as the current Head of the Church; allow that position to be until death.

    6. No more “living stipend” for GA’s. Make it a flat per diem, or have them submit expenses and receipts for reimbursement. (Like everyday members have to do). Make these submissions public.

  20. “smoke coming from Angel Moroni’s trumpet . . .

    Don’t we already have a somewhat morbid death watch?

  21. Actually, now that I remember it, it seems silly and even a little inhumane to keep elderly men who may be in the twilight of their lives in a position when their faculties (physical, mental, emotional) no longer allow them to continue in that regard. I remember Marion G. Romney being the President of the Quorom of 12, but being so infirm and unable to fulfill his calling that they had to make Howard W. Hunter Acting President. Wouldn’t the compassionate, humane thing to do at that point be to place Pres. Romney on emeritus status and allow him to “retire?”

    Besides, can anyone, anywhere show us where it says in the scriptures Apostles are mandated to serve for life?

  22. John Mansfield says:

    “Besides, can anyone, anywhere show us where it says in the scriptures Apostles are mandated to serve for life?”

    A few passages come immediately to mind pointing in that direction, but they would come to the mind of anyone considering the question, so would there be any point in explicitly citing them?

  23. There have been periods when there were extra counselors to the First Presidency. I think that one could do something similar to enable emeritus apostles yet call enough apostles to do all the work they need. Thorpe B. Isaacson did something similar. He was never a formal apostle but functioned in both the quorum as well as the First Presidency. So there’s precedence for this.

    It’s a pretty big job and like Kevin my worry is primarily for the people who have to do this. We have the quorums of the Seventy who have taken over some of the tasks the apostles used to have to do. But honestly they seem very overworked. Throw in those who are often in ill health due to the place of technology today that prolongs life and it’s a kind of different situation than even 60 years ago. We can live longer and often surprisingly well. But we also don’t die as quickly typically as in the past.

  24. Tiberius says:

    Minor side factoid that may be useful: mortality has been declining at older ages, but so has morbidity (or incapacitation due to ill health). That’s not to say that some people won’t be mentally incapacitated, but the perception that we’ll be a world of 110+-year old zombies drooling in nursing homes isn’t accurate. People are living longer but they are living better at older ages, so increases in life expectancy won’t aggravate the problems people have noted above, and we may very well have the first prophet that makes it to 110 be spry up until his death.

  25. “I think Christian’s suggestion of considering the entire Q12 as the pool for potential succession would make the body more nimble, and effective.”

    This is already a thing. Ostensibly, as long as it was the Q12 doing the choosing, they could pick someone outside the Q12 if they wanted to. That Q12 seniority wins is a matter of custom (and maybe policy), not doctrine. And if Michael Quinn is to be believed, we were past Wilford Woodruff before it became a custom, the latter’s election slightly disputed since some were skeptical of his leading the church through the polygamy crisis.

    Of course, none of this matters, since what is and what could be are always two different things.

  26. I take it back. Not Quinn, but Van Waggoner.

  27. John Mansfield says:

    Where does the idea come from that the apostles are overworked? Particularly, the aged apostles? I assumed that the oldest, weakest ones don’t do much more than attend weekly quorum meetings, and preside a near-by stake conference if they’re up to it. I recall LeGrand Richards not showing up for a conference of my stake that he was scheduled to preside, because he wasn’t up to it. Elder Haight said some things in his last few conference talks that made it sound like he had retired to a cabin in Idaho.

  28. El gaucho says:

    With all of the above comments, I do not see much room for the will of the Lord in all of this. Legend has it that men are called of God as was Aaron. Would He not also “call them home” when it was the ríght time regardless of age?

  29. Clark Goble says:

    Tiberius, I wasn’t so much thinking of incapacity such as the rumored dementia that Pres. Monson might be suffering. Rather I was more thinking of living 25 years past the time when one could effectively do the same job one was doing in ones 50’s and 60’s. Clearly some are surprisingly active for their ages. Elder Oaks comes to mind. And of course Pres. Hinkley. But my impression, perhaps wrong, was that people tended to die suddenly. There were people who were ill for a long time like McKay or Kimball but that most deteriorated fairly swiftly.

    El Gaucho, I assume everyone assumes any change would have to come by revelation.

  30. RockiesGma says:

    My concern is that there’s kind of a form of clone-like calling and training of apostles. I see some good in that for continuity’s sake, but I also think fresh, new, younger ideas breathe fresh air and life into families and churches alike. And I think Kevin’s points about allowing ill leaders to be able retire from their calling is a good idea, even though I get very attached to them and hate to give them up. But for their sake, I think it would be kind to let them go. Maybe as emeritus apostles they could consult from time to time. I’m not sure what would be a better way to choose the next prophet….I’ve thought about it from time to time, but most other ideas have some real concerns.

    I secretly wish the Lord would send a clear message to ordain women and that it would lead to quorums of seventy and twelve female apostles to work with the traditional twelve. And I’d like to see many more people of various races and cultures in all quorums, especially the “Q27”. I hope and pray such will be the norm during the millennium as I have no hope for it before then.

    ***Wouldn’t it be nice if one Sunday a month, say Fast Sunday, Sacrament meeting would be all music to worship the Lord? Choir music, instrumentals, small trios, children, solos, youth, men’s chorus, women’s chorus, LDS music videos and plenty of congregational singing–the options are many. How uplifting our devotions to the Lord through music! I think it might become a favorite as many would find a special spirit of healing, love, and peace there. There is great power in music as we lift our voices in praise. –Just an old fresh idea.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    RockiesGma, I love your musical meeting idea.

  32. RockiesGma,

    As someone who has served in more music callings than I can count (ward music chairman, choir director, ward chorister in four different wards) as much as I love the idea of an all music meeting, my experience has been that good music at church doesn’t come together without a lot of preparation and effort.

    My concern would be that if we had an all music meeting once a month, unless there was a lot of enthusiasm in a particular ward, the quality would soon deteriorate. Remember when someone (Pres. Kimball?) thought it was a good idea for the ward choir to sing once a month? Remember how bad, I mean off the scale bad, some of those ward choirs were? How torturous and painful to the ears? Now imagine an entire meeting of that . So maybe every six months? But we kind of already do that with our Primary presentations and Christmas.

    As far as congregational singing goes though, I’m with you. We should sing more and with enthusiasm and everyone should sing.

  33. And RockiesGma, I would also love to see a female quorum of the Twelve, but I don’t think I ever will. I would settle for any female input in decision making at the top. Heavy sigh.

  34. Bro. Jones says:

    RockiesGma: one ward I was in had a “singing testimony meeting” where each person went to the spirit, bore a quick testimony and chose a hymn for us to sing the first stanza of. It was one of the most spiritual meetings I’ve ever attended. Reportedly word came from the top afterwards that we should never do it again. :(

  35. Bro. Jones says:

    Oops, I meant “went to the pulpit.”

  36. RockiesGma, Bro. Jones, In some places area authorities have discouraged sacrament meetings in which members of the congregation have made brief statements about hymns they chose and its meaning to them before congregational singing. I do know where the “top” reported by Bro. Jones was, but please don’t spread the negativism to other areas. We do such meetings maybe twice a year (not on fast Sundays). We have people of almost all ages participate who will not get up in testimony meeting and will not accept speaking assignments. The congregational singing brings more worshipful and community feeling into the meeting than it does on most non-“singing Sundays”. Perhaps this is partly because their attention has been drawn explicitly to the meaning of what they sing. It takes an organist willing and able to play anything in the hymnal. Where possible, it is well worth doing. May all negative area aithorities soon retire.

  37. corrections: s/b “I do not know where” – “authorities”

  38. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Bro. Jones and JR-
    That’s the precise style of worship in Shaker services. Maybe that’s why it was nixed. But, I have found those Shaker services so much more meaningful than what we get each week.

  39. Scott J says:

    RockiesGma, Bro Jones.
    In support of JR. our ward does the same thing. once or twice a year, have done it for the last 5 years or so. Always a hit. Best Sacrament Sunday of the year.
    Don’t know about any push back from area authorities. Never heard anything about that.

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    You guys are very lucky. I’ve only been to one meeting like that. It was one of the best sacrament services I’ve attended in my entire life. But it was never repeated; I don’t have any inside knowledge, but I assume there was some direction from above to not do that again. I wrote about it here:

  41. Jason B says, “The next generation of Mormons will be more politically balanced and by extension so will the Q15.” Unfortunately there’s no guarantee this will be the case. Because the current leaders select new apostles, it is perhaps more likely that they will continue to select men who are politically conservative. If the MormonLeaks are authentic, following the infamous November 5 anti-LGBT policy, it was suggested that a man’s support for the policy be used as a litmus test for choosing new leaders. While this is the attitude of the institution, without moderate men moving up the ranks of the hierarchy, I don’t see how it moves towards moderation.

    Of all the suggestions in the comments, I think public disclosure of meeting minutes is my favorite. I agree there’s no way it’ll happen, but lack of transparency is one of the biggest problems plaguing the Church these days. The secrecy shrouding Church leadership gives oxygen to organizations like MormonLeaks.

    As long as we’re making suggestions of innovation that are likely dead on arrival, here are a few harebrained ideas:

    1.) When there’s a vacancy in the Q15, instead of selecting the man to fill it, the General Authorities could select a slate of qualified candidates. Make the slate public a month before the General Conference where the new apostle will be selected. Tell members to fast and pray and seek the will of the Lord. Then let the saints vote on the new apostle the week before General Conference.

    2.) When selecting a new Stake Presidency, allow all members of the Stake to seek the will of the Lord and then submit names of possible candidates.

    3.) Have local leaders selected by a committee of active members, good men and women who seek to know the will of the Lord in selecting a new leader. The committee should be made up of a variety of members that approximates the demographic composition of the unit needing a leader. The committee must not include anyone currently in leadership positions. The committee could nominate a committee chair, a sort of jury foreperson. Then just like in a jury perhaps unanimity should be required. The name could then be presented to leadership for proper vetting, including criminal background checks for those in Bishoprics.

    4.) When revising the Handbook, present all changes for a sustaining vote.

    5.) Allow brass and guitars in our worship services. I realize this has nothing to do with the original post, but would help move Mormonism towards more moderation.

  42. MTodd, We already allow brass and guitars in sacrament meetings. While the use of instruments with “less worshipful” sounds such as “most brass” (sometimes understood to means “most high school and middle school brass players”) is discouraged, the handbook gives the discretion to the bishop (not the stake president or area or general authorities) for ward sacrament meetings. I have encountered a good number of stake, area and general authorities who have not read the handbook on the subject and don’t know what it says. Where I have seen guitars used, they were acoustic and not electric guitars. So, I guess we’re already moving toward more moderation (though the relevant handbook changes were decades ago!). Snails in my backyard move faster.

  43. JR, good point. I’ll rephrase. We should stop discouraging brass and guitars. We should encourage guitars (at least acoustic guitars). And I’d be good with banjos and harmonicas, but I have a thing for good old revival style music.

  44. MTodd, I’d be happy with banjos and harmonicas to avoid boredom, even if I’m not personally, spiritually moved by blue grass revival music. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet succeeded in getting my banjo playing bishop to play even at a ward party.

  45. east of the mississippi says:

    It doesn’t outright say no guitars but good luck seeing that ever happen… and it does put the smack down on brass. I’d be all for some rock ‘n’ worship…

    “Organs and pianos, or their electronic equivalents, are the standard instruments used in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.”

  46. Yes, well, I’ve had such good luck with use of guitars, brass, and percussion in sacrament meeting. There is no reason those instruments need to be associated with rock. The key is getting the bishop to trust you and to be willing to exercise his handbook discretion rather than take the easy way out by just saying “no.”

  47. RockiesGma says:

    Reading some of the comments regarding musical meetings (I sure do envy those who’ve had them) I think a lot of things get vetoed that would be inspirational and uplifting to most members in case these things might rock the Good Ship Zion. I kinda feel like autonomy is a big no-no even though we value talent and agency. We don’t want the ship to get carried away with every wind of melody.

    We used to be able to use visual aids during talks that helped capture everyone’s attention and put some zip into talks. That went the way of all the earth.

    We used to be able to have videos in Sacrament meeting. That went the way of all the earth too.

    We used to be able to stand during the rest hymn between talks, but it’s been 4 wards since I’ve seen that done. I guess that went the way of all the earth too.

    We used to be able to have musical numbers that were from various LDS composers and then word came down that we could only use the hymn book.

    I’ve heard/read that some of the reasons for these things are:

    We don’t want to appear to be like other churches’ cultures
    We don’t want visual aids to rob the sacred nature of the meeting.
    We don’t want to promote private musical artists/composers, nor pirate their work.
    Standing during the rest hymn may be difficult for some and we don’t want to embarrass them.
    And one of my favorites: Church isn’t supposed to be entertaining or fun!

    Glory…..we truly are a peculiar people.

    Back to Kevin’s succession ideas—in light of just the musical clamp downs I kinda sorta wish in the back of my heart that the Lord would come and release all the existing leaders and put the women in to set policies for a generation or so. Or maybe just let them write the handbook. Most women are quite nurturing and creative. We surely could use some feminization to our hardcore policies. Not that I don’t love our leaders cause I truly do. It’s just that everything is so….well…..guy-like. Logical, pragmatic, orderly, stuffy, worried about circus acts, worried about appearances—there’s little imagination allowed. We’re supposed to become as little children but policies today strip the childlike joi de vive right out of our meetings. In my cranky opinion we are way too hung up on rules, regulations, and obedience! Whatever happened to “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves”? ((Sorry for the long rant.))

  48. RockiesGma, The folklore about using only hymns is local; NOT the word come down from the top. That folklore had spread sufficiently that the First Presidency addressed it in a November 7, 2002 letter to “General Authorities; Area Authority Seventies; Stake, Mission, and District Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents” instructing them: “We remind stake presidencies and bishoprics that they may consider both the hymns and other appropriate music when planning meetings. … in addition to the hymns, other appropriate selections may be used for prelude and postlude music, and special musical selections.” I have a copy. I cannot use it with just any local leader, e.g. my stake president’s current policy limits stake conference music for the choir, prelude and postlude to hymns sung and played from the hymnal — no hymn arrangements even. I believe the purpose is not to inspire, but to prevent his having to consider whether something is appropriate. I’ve had a series of bishops with a very different approach to music in sacrament meetings. BTW, I consider my stake president’s policy an improvement over the past practice of failing to inform musicians what is wanted and chastising them after the fact for their guessing incorrectly (or even being inspired differently than the stake president, etc. That past practice was also an abdication of responsibility.

    We have long since become a church of audiences and not congregations. E.g. We will stand in reverence for the US flag when singing the Star Spangled Banner (which is not a hymn) in church, but generally not in reverence for God when singing hymns of praise. If you want to participate in congregational worship, go to a Lutheran church. I can ignore false doctrine there just as easily as I can ignore it in our LDS church! Incidentally, most of the Protestant churches for whom I substitute as organist invite standing for all hymns and include in their bulletins “please stand if you are able”. No one not standing appears embarrassed. The LDS “reasons” you’ve cited for turning us into a bored, lethargic audience rather than a congregation of worshipers are all nonsense.

  49. “I can ignore false doctrine there just as easily as I can ignore it in our LDS church!” Ha! So true.

  50. In the past 6 months, I’ve seen/heard the guitar played twice in sacrament meeting in the last 6 months.

    That said, we are correlated to a pulp.

  51. jaxjensen says:

    What changes would I like to see?

    Any actual attempt to build Zion rather than just an effort to help people feel comfortable living in the criminally corrupt/commercialized culture we currently participate in.

  52. RockiesGma says:

    Yep JR……I’ve often experienced that almost always one person’s reality is nonsense to another.

  53. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I would like to know how any 0f those men that are being considered for emeritus status feel. They may all want to die with their boots on, so to speak. No one knows how they would really look at a situation once they are called to such a position as an apostle or as the president/prophet at the head of the church. They only know what their opinions are without the responsibility that goes with such a position.

    If the Second Coming has not happened in a hundred years, I doubt that the makeup of the Q15 will vary significantly from where it is now as to LGBT issues etc. because of the revelations that have been received by the Q15 up to this time. I do not know about the priesthood for women. I believe that issue is still open to revelation, although I do not know what form it would take.

    In other words, I still believe that the church is run by inspiration and revelation, not desperation and ideology, and that it will still be run that way into the next dispensation.


  54. ‘not by desperation and ideology’

    Thanks Glenn for giving a perfect description about how I suspect it is being run most the time though I would reverse the order. Sigh.

  55. throwawayaddy says:

    The OP looks like he’s advocating worship at the altar of the world (i.e. “what’s most important in church leadership is: youth, ideology for current trends, ‘diversity’ [in skin color], and whatever political positions *I want*”). Proclaiming a sense of empathy for church leadership is a thin disguise, indeed.

    Maybe we ought to worship at the altar of the Living God –Who communicates how, what, and to whom He sees fit.

  56. R.B Scott has a great story about when he worked at Deseret News years ago and the paper was instructed to prepare two different first pages announcing two different new Church presidents, pending final word from the Q12 whether they would in fact change the traditional practice, as they were considering. It was mid-morning at least before the morning paper could be printed. Kind of like watching for white smoke from the Sistine chapel.

  57. Kevin Barney says:

    Wow, cool story, JR! Interesting to learn they were seriously thinking about the process.

    We have plenty of experience limping along when the prophet is incapacitated. What we’ve never really faced yet is what happens when the senior apostle is incapacitated already at the time he’s supposed to move up into the top seat. Being incapacitated ab initio like that would be all kinds of awkward. I guess they would move him as prophet into the 1P but he wouldn’t actually act as such, and the balance of the 1P would run the Church until a new prophet would be needed.

  58. John Mansfield says:

    My guess is that in the case of an incapacitated senior apostle and a dead president of the church, none of the apostles would propose reorganizing the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve would preside until the death of the incapacitated senior apostle.

  59. “Q12 would preside until the death . . .”
    I suspect that’s right. It would be my best guess as well. But it seems like a backwards way to run things.
    My sense of the history is that we first bumbled our way into a strict priority senior-apostle-becomes-president pattern, without doctrine or announced revelation and without even a clear declaration that it must be so, and then some of us have backfilled with a rationalization that God’s will is exercised in the order of the calls and the order of the deaths. In a ghoulish sense, God micromanages life and death to get the right person in those seats. (So does that mean God failed in His responsibility, in the case of an incapacitated senior apostle?!?) It doesn’t sit right with me.
    Far better that some group, be it the Quorum or the General Authorities or the Stake Presidents or the body of the Church by common consent, be inspired and led to a choice.

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