by John English:
I've been talking about this for a while, but I thought I'd do an actual post on it. As President Monson's health has forced him to slow down his schedule, there's this growing sense that we don't know how much longer he'll be able to lead the church. Not that he's on death's door or anything, but there's been growing speculation he's suffering from dementia and needs more help whereever he goes. The most recent General Conference felt like a real tribute to him, where those who've served beside him for decades were seeing the beginning of the end, and they wanted him to know how much they and we love him.
It isn't unusual for the Prophet's health to hinder his ability to lead. Ezra Taft Benson, Spencer W. Kimball, David O. McKay, and Heber J. Grant were rarely seen in public or able to speak in Conference their last few years. Pres. Benson was president of the church for nine years, but really only was able to lead the first four.
Age in leadership is becoming an issue for the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and it may be time to implement a policy change to reflect this. Medical advancements means the average person lives longer, and right now if the Prophet dies, the most senior Apostle assumes the mantle. But by using this "divine right of kings" style of succession since the days of Brigham Young means that as long as this system continues, the next Prophet will never be younger than his mid-80's when he starts the job. Keep in mind, the average age of the Brethren is right now the highest it's ever been.
My proposal for Apostles would be similar to what they do for the Seventy. In the Quorum of the Seventy, when they hit age 70, they get released and designated emeritus. For Apostles, I'd recommend they have a system where we can have emeritus Apostles, say at age 90.
The first century or two, this system worked because Apostles would resign or be excommunicated or die young. It's also good that this happened, because there seemed to be numerous attempts to stack the deck in the Quorum of the Twelve with relatives. Joseph Smith insisted his brother William be an Apostle when the Three Witnesses, whom Joseph has commissioned to select the original Twelve, were all against it. Brigham Young selected three of his sons to be Apostles (though two of them never actually joined the Q12). John Taylor called one of his sons; Wilford Woodruff called one of his sons; Joseph F. Smith called two of his sons, one of whom (Joseph Fielding Smith) eventually became the Prophet. There are also numerous examples of sons or grandsons of Apostles also becoming Apostles (see Smith, Richards, Lyman, Cannon, Grant, Whitney, Merrill, Cowley, Kimball, and Ballard).
It's been over 70 years since an Apostle resigned or was excommunicated, so the only other way of getting new blood in the Quorum is due to illness or natural causes affecting a current member. Age has therefore been a factor in governance of the church, most famously when Gordon B. Hinckley was made Third Counselor in the First Presidency because Pres. Kimball and his two counselors were too infirm to do their jobs.
Right now of the 15 Brethren, two are in their 60's, four are in their 70's, and the other nine are in their 80's or 90's. Not to be morbid, but Elder Packer is to the point where each General Conference feels like his last, but the next two in line are in their 90's and they both seem like they have a few years to go.
The current leadership seniority ladder is thus, including what year he was called and which prophet called him:
1963-(DOM)-Thomas S. Monson - 8/21/1927 - 87
1995-(GBH)-Henry B. Eyring - 5/31/1933 - 81
2004-(GBH)-Dieter F. Uchtdorf - 11/6/1940 - 74
Quorum of Twelve
1970-(JFS)-Boyd K. Packer - 9/10/1924 - 90
1974-(SWK)-L. Tom Perry - 8/5/1922 - 92
1984-(SWK)-Russell M. Nelson - 9/9/1924 - 90
1984-(SWK)-Dallin H. Oaks - 8/12/1932 - 82
1985-(SWK)-M. Russell Ballard - 10/8/1928 - 86
1988-(ETB)-Richard G. Scott - 11/7/1928 - 86
1994-(ETB)-Robert D. Hales - 8/24/1932 - 82
1994-(HWH)-Jeffrey R. Holland - 12/3/1940 - 74
2004-(GBH)-David A. Bednar - 6/15/1952 - 62
2007-(GBH)-Quentin L. Cook - 9/8/1940 - 74
2008-(TSM)-D. Todd Christofferson - 1/24/1945 - 70
2009-(TSM)-Neil L. Andersen - 8/9/1951 - 63
Now say they decided to implement this policy this April. Elders Packer, Perry and Nelson would be designated emeritus with a vote of thanks, and there would be three new Apostles. Let's say their ages are 60, 53 and 50, and two of them are non-American. Elder Oaks would become President of the Q12.
Let's now say that Pres. Monson lives five more years. April 2020, Oaks would become the new Prophet at age 87. Elders Ballard and Scott will have been made emeritus already, and so two younger Apostles would have been called before Pres. Oaks makes his first calling. Elder Hales would be President of the Q12, and then 12 of the 15 Brethren would be in their 70's or younger.
There are many advantages to this. One, we know that the Brethren will never give anything other than a united front. There are many issues they aren't addressing right now, because they don't all agree on how to answer it. With more turnover, they may have an easier time getting to conclusions on more things. We sustain them as prophets, seers and revelators, and on some things, there may be a Doubting Thomas in the Quorum that's halting some prophecies, sights, or revelations. I think back to the issue of Blacks and the Priesthood. Hugh B. Brown really wanted to reverse this policy in the 1960's. It should have been reversed in the 1960's if not sooner. (It never should have been a policy, but that's another post.) Harold B. Lee was against it, and so the ban stayed. (And it's been my theory that maybe the Lord called Lee home a little early so that the ban could be lifted.)
Another advantage is the constant fluctuation of cultural differences in Quorum. Sometimes it seems like there aren't enough delineations over what is doctrine, what is policy, and what is just cultural, which is to say we've made certain policies because of cultural bias.
It feels like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is due for some big things in the 21st century, and this would be a significant policy change that could help the leadership lead on those very things.
John English is a technical project manager living in Utah. He was born in California and also lived in Texas, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming as a kid. He served his mission in Washington Seattle and graduated from Utah Valley University. In his 18+ years of blissful marriage, he's begat five children, adopted six more, and fostered still more beyond that. He's also a movie buff, political junkie, and Utah Jazz fan. Twitter: @jermsguy. Blog: jerlsguy.blogspot.com.