Church Governance: Guidance and Gaps in the Monson Era


M.C. Escher’s meditation on presence, absence, and negative space.

It is difficult to know how to write a remembrance of a leader whose tenure was marked much more by absence than by any clearly identifiable action or agenda. In their eulogy, NPR called Monson “The Private Prophet.” The Salt Lake Tribune writes that “[t]he Mormon president remained silent [as] the…battles raged on.”


An absence of fingerprints

However, it was not a “silent” time in terms of news for the church! The Tribune’s sprawling retrospective enumerates the major news stories during Monson’s presidency–and it is a formidable list of formidable events–but what is striking is that one would seek in vain to find public evidence of Monson’s own fingerprints on any of it. Many of the most significant events are things that happened to the church from the outside, or at least outside of official leadership: a Broadway musical, Romney and Huntsman presidential campaigns, the Ordain Women movement, Obergefell‘s legalization of same-sex marriage across the whole US, and much more. But even of the major changes undertaken by the church under Monson’s watch, one struggles to discern any direct connection to Monson personally. On such ground-shifting issues as the missionary age change, the November 2015 gay exclusion policy, high-profile excommunications, and even the very Monsonesque addition of “care for the poor and needy” as a fourth mission of the church, we can guess, gossip, and infer about the extent of Monson’s role, but the state of our knowledge ends there.

Was this, as NPR’s headline suggests, just the nature of a “private” personality in the role of president? Or was his lack of public leadership largely due to what the church eventually acknowledged were activity limitations due to progressive health infirmities (an recognition that itself was yet another big change for the church)? Or was this some kind of strategic leadership decision, born of who knows what motivation, anything from humility to plausible deniability? We not only don’t know the extent of Monson’s involvement in any given decision or change, we don’t even know enough to decide for certain among the various theories of the absence of fingerprints on those decisions!

Church Governance Structure and the Incapacitated President

Monson’s presidency is not the first time the church has relied on its governance structure in which apostles collectively act as a co-equal body to the president that can step in seamlessly should he be incapacitated. Presidents Benson, Hunter, and George Albert Smith had periods of health challenges that would have prevented full participation in day-to-day leadership tasks. The church’s recent strides towards openly acknowledging when this is the case and fostering a sense of “nothing to hide” about the role of the rest of “the 15” leaders in taking the reigns in such cases should be applauded.

That said, I think what we learn from the Monson era is that the “it’s ok the 12 just step in” model of incapacitated leader management is not as effective as we might have hoped. The bureaucracy continues its work apace and seamlessly, of that there is no doubt. But in an era like Monson’s, full of change and turmoil in and out of the church (and will we ever return to a time that isn’t?), the lack of a firm hand on the rudder has been painful to me personally, and I believe deeply painful to the body of Christ. A bureaucracy and a set of apostles that remain dearly devoted to their leader can keep the ship’s decks clean, the meals served on time, and the course steady ahead, but they can’t steer the ship. A committee structure is simply not well suited to the task of charting a new course or steering around newly arising obstacles. Inspiration may soften that reality around the edges and foster more unity of purpose and vision than might otherwise be, but a committee structure is still a committee structure. I think what we have seen in the Monson era is that the Twelve will be–with just a few exceptions, notably the gay exclusion policy–very hesitant to do anything other than maintain the status quo at the time the president stepped back.

A kind of apostolic version of “judicial restraint” is not a bad default impulse, and I can imagine they must feel incredible personal love and loyalty to the president leading to a desire to voluntarily reserve for the him the sole discretion to make a radical changes in direction. But these impulses can be disastrous in waters so full of icebergs as our current era. It’s not just progressives like me who feel deep wounds about lack of responsiveness on issues like women’s roles, LGBT acceptance, science, empowerment of racially diverse and worldwide perspectives, and so on. The brethren themselves have acknowledged generation-level dangers such as stalled growth, popular charismatic offshoots like Denver Snuffer, historical and other doubts spreading on the internet, and loss of activity among younger members.

Going Forward

I hope that the lessons of the Monson era can impel us to seek new approaches to our challenges and opportunities going forward. With the increasing age of our highest leadership, it may become more common than not that the currently serving president has a diminished physical or mental capacity to perform leadership tasks. Nelson, although by all appearances currently vigorous, is 93 years old. Those who would eventually follow are Oaks and Ballard, who are 85 and 89, respectively, and could be into their 90s by the time they ascend to the presidency.

One model for addressing this situation has been modeled (very successfully) by the Catholic church’s Pope Benedict, who of his own volition decided it was time to go into an emeritus status, clearing the way for Pope Francis. I’m not convinced that a fixed age limit on apostolic service makes sense, given the wide variation in personal health and circumstance across individuals, but this kind of self-selecting, voluntary emeritus status would be an almost trivially small–but potentially hugely important–change to our current structure.


  1. I anticipate no significant changes with the new administration—either in church policies or in the leadership succession system that determines the leaders who make the policies—primarily because Pr. Nelson appears to be a staunch Mormon orthodox. I suspect he has been the de facto leader of the church for a while now, and the one most responsible for the policy on children of gay parents, which he so vigorously defended. His sermons usually have a tone that seems to say, “It’s really simple; just follow the commandments and choose the right and not the wrong. Black and white.”

    I’d be interested if anyone else shares my perception. Maybe I’m being too judgmental; maybe I should just wait and see what happens. Past leaders have changed upon becoming president of the church, and usually in the direction of becoming less dogmatic (e.g., Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson).

  2. Travis–on Nelson being the de facto leader of the church for a while and responsible for the Policy–

    said President Nelson:

    >We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration. And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson.

    So if Monson wasn’t the conduit of revelation, then Nelson is lying. And we wouldn’t want to call our new beloved prophet a liar.

  3. Thanks Lemuel. All of this speculation BCC has entered into lately about how much President Monson was involved in is quite annoying and is based entirely in rumor and often easily contradicted. But it is easier to attribute church policies we disagree with to a supposed vacuum of leadership than to prophetic revelation. So I understand where you all are coming from. I’m sure if I go to an alt-right mormon website (which unfortunately probably exists somewhere), I’ll find similar claims for different policies.

    Point being, we should probably spend more of our energy following what the prophets say (which, by the way includes the twelve) than searching for excuses to ignore what contradicts our own political preferences.

  4. You’re lucky I have my own platform and deleted the opinion I was about to inflict on you here.

  5. Travis, while I don’t have any way of measuring how much influence President Nelson has had on recent policies, I certainly agree that his history suggests his administration will be a very conservative\traditional one.

    In response to the post, I have come to a somewhat different conclusion about leadership. The past tumultuous decade and continuing tumult has led me to be more convinced than ever of the importance of engagement of all members (including the prophet). What if President Monson had been more involved and vocal, but in avid support of the traditional trajectory? Would we be relieved he was making a bold and clear stance, and fall into rank with relief? Perhaps some of us, perhaps many of us–but I would feel more distant from my religion than ever. I am actually much more comfortable with the council model of leadership, but only if it encourages and utilizes input from the masses. I am inclined to believe that, collectively, we have tremendous resources, experience, skills, and inspiration within the body of the church that–if used–would provide us with a much more spiritually satisfying direction. Why should the heavens tap the should of one (or even 15) men with inspiration that is attainable through cooperative discourse?

  6. Ardis, please inflict!

  7. Greg Prince’s recent Dialogue article about the increasing odds of dementia striking the most senior Apostles should be required reading, especially for the Apostles. The GBH years were unusual. President Monson’s mental state was evident 15 years ago to those who worked closely with him. The Church did much to hide it, but they couldn’t prevent information from leaking out. So, what do you do with a prophet who is no longer able to mentally navigate the present. It’s a serious dilemma that we’ve seen several times now. Who will be next?

  8. Bro. Jones says:

    CJ – I hear you, Regardless of where my individual opinion might fall on a given church policy, I have a clearer understanding of that policy’s standing if it’s presented by the Prophet in a formal announcement versus a Newsroom reaction piece.

  9. I don’t know if I’m the only one who wants to go here, but–where did we get the idea that apostolic\prophetic callings should be lifelong in the first place?

  10. I don’t see any problem with President Monson not having taken a “center stage” role, because it’s not about him, his wants, or his choices. It’s as much about the rest of the 1st Presidency, or the Quorum of the 12, or the 70, or any other leadership group within the Church—they’re meant to be united in upholding eternal doctrine & carrying out the Lord’s work.

    Changes in policy, projects, & some organizations within the Church do occur, of course—but the last thing we want is for it to seem like any of these changes are 1 man’s “agenda”. They’re all meant to be part of the progress of the Lord’s Church in the latter days, pursuant to the commandments & plans of the Lord.

    Joseph Smith himself said “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” President Monson did a wonderful job of leading this way—kindly (& continually) pointing us down the right path, while presiding over the organizational structure of the Church without fanfare, without making it about him.

    People may disagree with certain policies, decisions, or ways of addressing them (or not addressing them), but ultimately it’s not just about 1 man. He may preside over the rest, but decisions have always been ultimately made by the entire 1st Presidency & Quorum of the Twelve—as the Lord has laid out for us.

  11. I agree with Doug here. Sometimes a good leader is defined by what he or she doesn’t do more than what they do do. My overall, speculative sense was that Monson was okay presiding over a variety of councils of both church leaders and technocrats. I wonder if that’s why we don’t see his “fingerprints,” is because he was humble enough to let the Church as an institution respond organically to the different issues it was faced with while presiding as its spiritual head. He didn’t feel like he had to prove himself or establish some name-branded, grand legacy project.

    The less discussed, but in my opinion, more important consequence of the Monson administration for the Church is the rise of the local expert. Whether it’s church history, investment, legal issues, or university administration, I think the days are now clearly gone when a church leader relies on his, or even his close circle’s, own individual experience to call all the shots or throw his weight around in areas where he doesn’t have any formal training.

    Of course maybe I’m totally wrong and he was a micromanager from day one, but with this question we’re all basically speculating.

  12. Troy Cline says:

    Lemuel – I agree with you that discussing what role Elder Nelson has had in church leadership and policy decisions is mere speculation but I would offer this: Do you not find it odd that Pres. Monson himself never directly spoke about this revelation that he supposedly received? I mean, if I was the leader of a religion and I felt that I had received a revelation from God, wouldn’t it be my responsibility to be the voice of that revelation to the believers? After all, when the missionary age was changed, Monson himself communicated that to the church, along with the background story of how that change came to be. Is it speculation and a bit of reading between the lines to suggest that Nelson (and I would add Oaks) is largely responsible for the Nov. 15 policy? Probably, but it is more than strange that this “revelation” was never spoken of nor defended by the man who apparently received it. Is Nelson lying? I wouldn’t say that. I think he truly believes that the policy is based in revelation and I think he believes the correct thing is being done. I happen to disagree wholeheartedly.

  13. CJ: Maybe it was from a belief during the early days of the restoration that the second coming was imminent?

  14. It would appear the OP isn’t as familiar with church governance as they profess. If the prophet is incapacitated, the Q12 doesn’t take over. I learned how this works as a teen way back in the ’70s. No secrets then. Back to the books for you!

  15. I think a couple of things are perfectly obvious. First, the church is run by a consensus of its senior councils. In sickness and in health, it has been that way for a very, very long time. Second, church leadership works differently when the president of the church is fully fit. A president who is vigorous, healthy, and engaged provides an energy and direction for the church that no quorum or council can replace.

    Our problem is that we want to pretend that the second of these observations isn’t really true. We want to believe that for purposes of church governance it doesn’t matter when the president is incapacitated, so we go on speaking as if the church is functioning the same as ever. But it’s not the same.

    Note carefully: when the prophet is unwell, the church still functions, and it’s still being led by inspired people who have a holy calling. But it’s not the same as when the prophet is at full strength.

    I think we would be better off if we shifted our way of talking and thinking about this just a bit. I don’t blame people for pretending that the prophet’s incapacity doesn’t matter. Thinking that way is an expression of faith, and it acknowledges the great ability of the other senior leaders of the church. But it’s not quite right, and it creates unrealistic expectations. There are surely better ways of dealing with this.

  16. Well said, Loursat.

    lemuel, I don’t mean to suggest Pr. Nelson lied. I’m speculating (admittedly) that they prayed about it, told Pr. Monson their recommendation, and got an OK, which Pr. Nelson took to mean the Lord had revealed his will to his prophet, but which could also be an ailing man without the strength for decisive engagement just deferring to recommendations.

    On the other hand, even if Pr. Nelson (or Nelson plus Eyring and Uchtdorf) has been the most influential leader for the past couple years, we’ve seen multiple changes during that time which have incrementally increased women’s roles and responsibilities. It’s possible Pr. Nelson is inclined to continue in that direction.

    I also wonder whether a Pr. Monson in better health might’ve opposed the change on Scouting, as he was always a very avid Scouter. Maybe he would’ve. Maybe he did. We just don’t know.

    One positive change I think we can count on: Church members will finally stop saying “Russell M. Ballard” and “M. Russell Nelson.”

  17. Just so, Loursat. It is precisely because they work by consensus on councils that having someone with the broad deep respect that is unique to the Presidency is necessary to move changes through with any kind of speed. It takes energy and active engagement to have persuasiveness necessary to herd a council towards consensus, rope in those last couple holdouts on one side or another. As I said in the post, I’m sure the spirit can do some of the heavy lifting there, but I think observed experience here–across many presidencies–shows that individuals in leadership matter in the process.

  18. @Troy Cline:

    Why didn’t Monson say he had a revelation himself, instead of Nelson saying it? I suppose Monson was lucid for long enough to receive revelation but maybe he forgot he ever had it later on?

    Or perhaps a J. Golden Kimball story is an appropriate analogy. JGK said he once heard President Heber J. Grant swear. JGK said to Grant, “It’s hot as hell out today.” and Grant replied, “Yes it is.”

    Maybe, after much discussion, Nelson said to Monson “Do you agree with us that it is God’s will that children of gay parents shouldn’t be baptized until 18?” And Monson said, “ok”.

    If we take Nelson’s words:
    >We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration. And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson.

    and pair them with his 2014 conference talk where he clarifies that unanimity among 15 = revelation:
    >The calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous. Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity? These 15 men have varied educational and professional backgrounds, with differing opinions about many things. Trust me! These 15 men—prophets, seers, and revelators—know what the will of the Lord is when unanimity is reached!

    –then the moment when Monson agreed with the other 14 was the exact moment that God’s will was known.

    So you see, nothing to worry about. For further reading, I suggest Nibley’s long essay, “The Way of the Church.” He lays it out better than I could.

  19. The suggestion that the apostles, each a well-educated man with years of professional and public experience and each one set apart and sustained as a “prophet, seer and revelator,” would quietly fall into line behind one leader’s idea for the sake of the appearance of unanimity on a vital issue which affects the church they love and deeply affects their friends and even family members… well, it absolutely boggles my mind.

  20. Thanks for the Nibley link lemuel…I started it and don’t want to put it down.

  21. Geoff - Aus says:

    agree Loursat, and add that the vigour of a 65 year old is greater by a large extent than the most capable 90 year old. I am 69 and my father is 92. I am not as able to work a whole day as I was 10 years ago, my father is mentally with it but does not have the energy to defend a position.
    Unless the succession system changes we will have leaders over 85 for the forseeable future. In the new film about the first vision it says Joseph was exhausted by the experience, would a 90 year old survive a revelation, if he was willing to request one?

    I have trouble believing revelation is possible for people of this age, is it credible for our young people? I don’t mean inspiration, I mean the communication with God required to be more powerfull than your prejudices/ political views/ traditions. The article, and I agree, says there is little evidence of leadership from the Prophet. We claim to be lead by a Prophet – is that believable?

  22. Left Field says:

    I’ve never found the “dementia/leadership vacuum” people to have made a very convincing case that President Monson was incapacitated to the extent they claim. Obviously, he declined in later years as everyone does in one way or another. He started slurring his speech a few years ago. But dementia is a medical condition. And no matter how many people repeatedly asserted it on the internet, it’s still just gossip. Tell me who made the diagnosis, what their qualifications are, and how we reliably came by the information, and then we’ll talk. Don’t get me wrong. Maybe he WAS worse off than he appeared in conference. I don’t know. But the internet rumor mill doesn’t know either. People claimed he could read words off the teleprompter, but couldn’t do much else. But I didn’t see someone who was just reading words. I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis either, but his cadences and facial expressions looked to me like someone who was well in control of his speech. He never lost his comic timing.

    I disagree that the church “eventually acknowledged” President Monson’s condition. What seems more likely to me is that President Monson’s condition progressively deteriorated to a point approaching the condition that some were claiming about him many years ago.

  23. I talked with Thomas Monson just over five years ago. We discussed events from 40 years before that date (he was friends with my grandparents) and his memory was sharp that day. He cracked jokes for the benefit of my youngest son. His wife’s health was poor and she passed away a short time after our conversation. I seriously doubt anyone who claims he was declining mentally before that date.

  24. The advanced age of top leadership will soon become an intolerable handicap, impairing decision-making and flexibility in increasingly dynamic national and international environments. The loss of members, particularly young members, after the disastrous ham-handed response to SSM is but a precursor of losses to come.

  25. JKC: Thanks, that’s an interesting and entirely plausible explanation.

  26. The mature faith, long experience, and perspective of lived history of our divinely called leadership is of inestimable value in decision making and in resisting liquid modernity in an uncentered and unstable world and in a culture increasingly hostile to religion. Every church that has acquiesced to the siren song of the world, the secular mind set, moralistic therapeutic deism, and theo-sentimentalism, and has accordingly embraced SSM (the redefinition of marriage) has seen disastrous and irreversible losses in membership, often including schism. A vain search for secular relevance and worldly popularity at the expense of God’s word leads not only to numerical decline, but also God’s condemnation. See James 4:4.

  27. I can recall decades worth of Sunday School lessons about how the world is always going to be changing standards, swirling about, and shifting with the winds, but the church is going to be a solid rock. Then the lesson might go into how the church will change, but only slowly and under revelation and on the Lords time. So hearing a complaint that the church isn’t getting with the times, sounds exactly like how the church self identifies itself for decades (if not centuries).

  28. Leo & Jader, you will recall that after the SSM “revelation” there was an “update”- and even after that there were problems /loopholes to the extent that members w/access to upper leadership are frequently granted workarounds, especially in the matter of baptising children. I’ve seen this in my own ward. Meanwhile the exodus continues. All due respect, but replacing an incapacitated 90 year old President with the 93 year-old author of this trainwreck is not an improvement, regardless of what orthodoxy demands.

  29. P, The real exodus is from liberal churches, and it is on a massive scale. See
    I invite you to consider the statistics for the Episcopal Church at

  30. Leo–that’s not fake news, exactly, but it is both biased and dated.

  31. Leo: I readily agree that any attempt at achieving complete cohesion between Divine morality/direction with secularism is both impossible and misguided, but simply achieving and maintaining separateness does not, in my opinion, equate to a virtuous or enlightened position. I’m not suggesting you are saying anything of the kind necessarily, but I squirm when I hear reasoning that appears to built upon the assumption that, “When I act /think really differently than the ‘world,’ I’m on to something; the more distance there is between my position and ‘theirs’ the more on track I am.” I certainly believe following the path of Christ requires walking in directions that sometimes diverge from worldly paths, but simply turning left because the world turns right seems overly simplistic and potentially morally hazardous​.

  32. Leo: I worked as a journalist for BYU-Idaho’s newspaper, the Scroll, on the Faith & Freedom section, and frequented websites like in order to find stories. However, we were always counseled to find back up statistics from neutral and even more liberal sources to balance out our conservative sources.

    Point being, if you can find me an article from something like NPR, BBC, or Pew Research Center, I might be more inclined to believe your claim that “the real exodus is from liberal churches.” From what I’ve seen of the article you linked, it is full of generalizations, unsubstantiated claims, and loaded statements, all of which constitute poor journalism.

  33. Is there lazier catch-all put-down terminology on this planet than “liberal”? Suggestion for a (late) New Year’s resolution: before you use a word in conversation, be reasonably sure it means what you think it does. For an individual enjoying the rights & privileges inherent in a western liberal democracy to reflexively attempt to utilize “liberal” pejoratively is astonishing and sad.

  34. Only sharing this becase people have requested (and offered) anecdotes above: my family was at a funeral more than six years ago where President Monson spoke. Maybe it was just not a great day for him, but it was eye-opening to see him off Teleprompter. Nothing alarming, just classic elderly-grandparent-towards-the-end stuff: rambling, repeating the same stories without seeming to notice, etc.

    Just one data point. I love and miss President Monson, but I was more relieved than grief-stricken to hear about his passing.

  35. @p – Do you mind if I quote you on that last comment? XD

  36. Perhaps we should come to some understanding of how the Church is governed with the varying circumstances of the top leadership. We need to perceive some kind of “constitution” that orders things. Church government could be of the main European government compared to the American government – something of a stretch. Or maybe a kind of supreme court of the Q-15. I think the best analogy might be the British cabinet system. It is flexible where there could be a strong prime minister at one time and a different “primus inter pares” (first among equals) kind at another time.

    A good example of the latter is described in the book Dreadnought by Robert K.Massey where he does an analysis of the main European governments just before WW-1. Of one British administration he observes when Lord Salisbury ran it,
    “The Prime Minister, he believed, was primus inter pares; ministers were members of a Cabinet, not henchmen for the Prime Minister. At the Foreign Office Salisbury’s power was well nigh absolute. Combining the positions of Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, only vaguely responsible to his colleagues in the Cabinet, he was able for many years to conduct the foreign policy of England by himself. This policy, as he saw and conducted it, was simple and clearly defined. . . . He described it as ‘Splendid Isolation’ . . . ‘British foreign policy,’ he once said, ‘is to drift lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a boathook to avoid a collision’ – but in fact he served with a dedication rarely seen at the Foreign Office.”

  37. “…only if it encourages and utilizes input from the masses. I am inclined to believe that, collectively, we have tremendous resources, experience, skills, and inspiration within the body of the church that–if used–would provide us with a much more spiritually satisfying direction. Why should the heavens tap the should of one (or even 15) men with inspiration that is attainable through cooperative discourse?”

    The leadership of the Church is constantly traveling to stakes and missions around the world, which is as it should be. I am sure they hear to issues and concerns on each trip, allowing them access to that local insight. Local inspiration is available in every ward and stake council every Sunday.

    It is not possible for a 16 million member church to function like a New England town meeting, and if the Church functioned like a modern electorate, we would soon split into parties and factions. Other churches have synods of bishops and other forms of organization, but I prefer the way outlined in the D&C.

    One also has to be careful of what one wishes for. The masses might well turn out to be a good deal more conservative than BCC might prefer.

  38. “Other churches have synods of bishops and other forms of organization, but I prefer the way outlined in the D&C.”

    I don’t think anything about the organization described in the D&C is inconsistent with church leaders counseling with church members to get inspiration. If we take seriously what the apostles have been pushing about counsels in talks and in the handbook itself, then we know that top-down leadership often doesn’t work as well as bottom-up leadership in getting revelation.

  39. Sorry about that last comment.The third sentence of the first paragraph should read, “Church government could be compared to the American government – something of a stretch.”

    But to continue along the lines of the post. Pres. Monson was around a long time, yet he was a low profile Apostle and later proved to be a low profile President. So what? Everyone is different.

  40. Serena, that quote is yours if you want it, full rights.

  41. KJC,

    I fully agree that counseling with councils is the right thing to do, and the General Authorities use councils and foster councils. In councils everyone should be allowed to speak candidly and decisions should ideally be unanimous. The blogosphere, however, is not a Church council, and I don’t find any support in the D&C, the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Book of Mormon for “bottom up leadership [!],” and a good deal up support in the scriptures for prophetic and apostolic leadership. See D&C 28: 1-7 or 1 Cor. 12:29, for example. And at some point, continuing dissent from the words of the prophets goes against the counsel expressed in Jacob 4:10 and in the April 2016 Conference address by Elder Dallin H. Oaks.

    As for synods as an alternative, a synod was historically a council of bishops. The term still means that in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In Anglicanism, synods are elected by laity and clergy. Given that bishop is an office of the Aaronic priesthood, it is very hard to see the D&C using a synod as a governing council for the whole church in spiritual matters.

    The Church does have councils of bishops. A stake’s bishops council functions, as is appropriate for the Aaronic priesthood, as a council in temporal welfare, e.g. for distributions from stake, area, or region storehouses. See the April 1977 Conference talk by Elder L. Tom Perry.

    Early Latter-day Saints would have been familiar with episcopal church government from their episcopal neighbors and would have clearly understood that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not organized as their episcopal, congregational, or presbyterian neighbor’s churches were. Congregational churches arguably do have a bottom up leadership paradigm. The congregation, for example, typically selects its pastor, and each congregation is autonomous.

  42. In the comments I was summarily accused (unfairly in my opinion, of course) of bias and inaccuracy bordering on fakery. I replied with specific documentation including recent additional statistical support, duly referenced to credible sources with links, but my comment was in moderation for two days and then not posted. This seems inconsistent with BCC’s claim of wanting to listen, foster open inquiry, and discover historical and contemporary truths. From my standpoint as a mere commenter, at the bottom of the pecking order, it appears that the leadership of BCC is top down in managing comments not bottom up seeking dialog. This does not strike me as an open and inclusive community. I imagine the moderation of my comments was due to my use of links to support the accuracy and timeliness of my position, but how else am I to defend myself when I am challenged to produce evidence from sources that my critics would deem credible (BBC, NPR, WaPo, official TEC reports, etc.)?

  43. Leo,
    I agree that the church’s size makes it difficult to have a “New England town meeting” feel to the decision making process, and also that leaders make an effort to gather information and concerns from the localities they visit, but I’m not convinced that members have an adequate voice. If we can’t even get the authorities to change minor things like the YW’s motto wording of “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father” to “We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents” (let alone Heavenly Mother specifically), then I fear the process is not as effective as it could be. I believe that optimally functioning councils invite ideas and concerns, and that bottom up leadership is an essential compliment to top down leadership. I really like Todd Compton’s “Counter-hierarchical Revelation” article in Sunstone, but I’m too technologically inept to offer a working link:

    He offers examples of bottom up revelation in our modern era, as well as ones from the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. Unfortunately, when the church makes announcements about changes and\or revelations, it doesn’t include the backstories…or at least doesn’t display them prominently…so even in cases when a person at the “bottom” has played a central role, most people will never know. I think this is terribly unfortunate. Take, for example, the origin of Relief Society: Nearly every statement describing the organization’s beginnings focus on Joseph Smith’s wonderful revelation to organize the sisters. But, after some digging, a more exciting and dynamic story unfolds–Joseph Smith was approached by a woman at the “bottom” who wanted to organize the women to address needs of the Saints, particularly in regard to building the temple. Joseph Smith then supported and expanded her ideas. I’m happy to believe that Smith did receive revelation, but I think the fact that the woman prompted it is significant. I imagine there are lots of other examples which are not documented.

  44. Ah! The link appears to work after all.

  45. CJ,

    Re “If we can’t even get the authorities to change minor things…” The authorities change minor things all the time and some major things from time to time, e.g. mission age. I am afraid what you really mean is “If we can’t even get the authorities to change minor things to the way I (or BCC or Sunstone) want them.” You might find that the general membership of the Church or very large portions of it disagrees with or is not ready for the changes you might want.

    I enjoyed reading the Compton paper. Thanks for the link. In the epilog he admits several of the examples are cases where the disagreement came from a counsellor or equivalent, whose calling included the right, perhaps a duty, to present to the leader an independent viewpoint. In none of the LDS cases did the dissenter effectively lead a revolt, create a faction, start an opposition party, or encourage group or Church disunity. (Hans Kueng might be an exception, but he is Catholic not LDS). Levi Savage did not lead a separation of the handcart company. Nephi did not split Lehi’s camp. Orson Pratt did not found a polemical journal critical of the Church hierarchy. Nor does Compton make much effort to distinguish between a good idea or a good suggestion (by definition good things) and a divine revelation, particularly one that pretends to be a revelation for the whole Church. Many (most?) of the revelations in the D&C came from the Prophet considering a problem or a question that had been brought to his attention by someone else. That fact did not set up an inverted hierarchy.

    Paul in his epistles is very much concerned with preserving Church unity and defending his apostolic authority. Paul does not claim infallibility in his every opinion, but he brooks no dissent when his authority is challenged. One wonders about the backstory of D&C 64:8, what might have been Peter’s view of the incident at Antioch, and the relation of that incident to the Council of Jerusalem.

    Since we are studying the Old Testament this year, it is instructive that murmuring against the leadership of Moses or of Moses and Aaron was very serious, perhaps second only to idolatry in seriousness. See, of example, Numbers chapters 12 and 16.

    On a personal note, I have found an appeal to a higher level in the Church when I have a serious difference with a local leader has always been given a very sympathetic ear. The Church makes no claim to infallible leadership, but I have always found wisdom in the Church, particularly at higher levels. I have found aligning with the leadership rather than leading a dissent or following a dissenter has always worked out, perhaps not immediately, but it has always worked out for the best in the end.

  46. Leo,

    Thanks for your thorough response. I agree that I want quite specific things to happen, and that many do not share my opinions. I also concede that Compton did not provide examples of “inverted hierarchy.” The point, I think, is that the individuals expressed their concerns–even publicly in some cases–when they felt their integrity required it. I’m glad you have received sympathy from authorities and experience wisdom and peace as a result of your adherence to their council. I think our personal experiences have a significant impact on they way we perceive everything, including the role of authority.

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