Category Archives: LDS Organization

Gordon B. Hinckley (1910 – 2008)

Gordon B. Hinckley

[For details on succession in LDS leadership, see this post.]

Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), passed away earlier today, at age 97.

No man ever came to office of LDS President more prepared than Pres. Hinckley. Long before he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1961, he traveled the world for the LDS Church, helping to establish missionary efforts in countries where the Church had little presence. In 1981, he was called as a counselor to the First Presidency and within a short time found himself as the only fully functional member of that Presidency, as old age and illness limited the activity and capacity of both Pres. Spencer W. Kimball and 1st Counselor Marion G. Romney. He encountered a similar situation as a counselor to Pres. Ezra Taft Benson. Through both periods, he showed the greatest respect, restraint, and deference to the President of the Church. Finally, upon the death of President Howard W. Hunter, he became the 15th President of the LDS Church — and unleashed an era of change and worldwide expansion that had not been seen since the administration of Pres. Kimball 20 years earlier.

There are many things for which Pres. Hinckley will be remembered, including his quick wit, his frank talks at General Priesthood Meeting, and his amazing global travels over the past 50 years. But a century from now, I believe he will most be remembered for the incredible expansion of LDS temples worldwide. When he came into office in March of 1995, the LDS Church had just 47 temples in operation worldwide. Today, just 13 years later, there are over 124 temples in operation, with another 12 announced or under construction.

If you’ve read Pres. Hinckley’s biography, you know that during the years his family was growing and growing up, he would constantly remodel and expand their family home as required, doing all the work himself. However, in his later years, he and his (late) wife Marjorie moved into an apartment in downtown Salt Lake City next to the Church Office Building. While Sandra and I lived back in Washington DC, we got to know a sister in our ward, Marion Hardy, whose late husband had been missionary companies with Pres. Hinckley in England many decades earlier. She told me about visiting Pres. and Sister Hinckley in Salt Lake City a few years earlier. Pres. Hinckley (or “Gordie” as she called him) was showing her around the apartment when he led her over to a closet. Smiling, he opened the door — and there, neatly organized, were the myriad of tools that he had used over the decades to remodel their old house and perform his other construction and repair chores. He had little need or use for them, but he could not bear to leave them behind when he and his wife moved downtown.

Another true story, for I was there. Either 20 or 30 years ago, while I was at BYU — I honestly don’t remember if it was when I was an undergraduate or when I was teaching there — Pres. Hinckley came down from Salt Lake City to speak at the BYU multi-stake fireside held ever Fast Sunday evening in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus. When he got up to speak, he noted that he had encountered some reckless and inconsiderate drivers on the freeway on the way down to Provo. He said that it reminded him of a story he had once heard:

A Quaker farmer went out one morning to milk his cow. After he had been milking for a few minutes, the cow pulled up its hind leg and kicked the farmer, sending him sprawling. The Quaker quietly got up, brushed the straw off, and continued to milk. A few minutes later, the cow again jerked its hind leg and knocked the farmer off his stool. Again, the Quaker got up, brushed off straw and dirt, sat down, and continued to milk. A few minutes later, the cow let loose with both feet, knocking over not just the farmer but the almost-full bucket of milk, which emptied out all over the floor. The Quaker slowly got up, brushed himself off, and walked around to the front of the cow. He looked the cow in the face and said, “I cannot curse thee, and I cannot strike thee — but I can sell thee to the Methodist down the road who will beat hell out of thee.”

There was a collective gasp as 23,000 BYU students and faculty members took in the fact that an Apostle of the Lord had just said that in a Church fireside on a Sunday evening — and then a roar of laughter that lasted for quite some time.

I will miss President Hinckley, but I cannot grieve too much for his passing. He served the Lord and His Church unfailingly and with great effort and sacrifice for over 70 years, and I’m sure he has missed his wife Marjorie since her death back in 2004. He deserves the rest and the sweet company of his beloved wife. May the Lord bless his children, friends, and colleagues and help all of us to live up to his example and goals.

Our prayers and thoughts are also with Pres. Thomas S. Monson, who as the senior living Apostle, will serve as the 16th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ..bruce..

NOTE: Peggy Fletcher Stack (at the Salt Lake Tribune) has a well-written, detailed and thoughtful obituary for Pres. Hinckley.

NOTE: This appears to be the origin (or, at least, an earlier version) of the joke that Pres. Hinckley told at the fireside.

Stewardship, accountability, and community response

[NOTE: I originally wrote this essay back in 1994 for Vigor, an LDS samizdat put out for several years in the 90s by Orson Scott Card. Given some of the discussions making the rounds in LDS blogs, I felt it’s still as timely now as it was back then. It is reproduced here — with just a few additions, all in brackets and italics — by permission.]

I’ve followed with interest and not a little dismay the increasingly strident discussions in various forums of how to deal with the imperfections of Church leaders. On one side are those who claim for Church leaders an infallibility and wisdom which they do not claim for themselves. On another side are those who feel that a “community response” — full-page newspaper ads, press conferences, public seminars and printed articles (often with scathing criticism) — is right and necessary. [I might add “LDS blogs” in here as well.]

When you have two (or more) sides of an argument going around and around without resolution, it’s usually due to conflicting unstated premises. The key issue, largely unvoiced, is this discussion: to whom is a person with a given stewardship accountable? Is it the people over whom he or she (“he” hereafter, just to save typing and since we’re mostly focusing on priesthood leaders) has a stewardship? Is it the person or group of people for whom he is a steward? Is it both, and if so, how does he resolve conflicts between the two demands?

My personal belief is that someone with a stewardship is accountable solely to the person or people for whom he is a steward. In some contexts, that may well be the people over whom he has a stewardship, for example, an elected official is accountable to those who elected him. In the context of the Gospel and the Church, that is rarely the case; none spring to mind, but I won’t flatly exclude the possibility. The bishop of my ward is responsible for the welfare of its members, but is not accountable to them (myself included). He is accountable to the one who gave him his stewardship, namely the Savior, and to any of Christ’s representatives who have stewardship over him, such as the stake president. That stewardship moves up the priesthood line authority to the general authorities, who are all directly or indirectly accountable to the First Presidency; the First President’ counselors are accountable to him, and the First President is accountable only to Christ.

Given my stated premise about stewardship, we can now look at the key issue: if I think someone with stewardship over me (or even not over me) is in error, how do I handle it?

If the bishop acts in a manner which I feel significantly conflicts with his stewardship, my first responsibility is to approach him directly and privately discuss it. If that doesn’t resolve things, I have the opportunity — and, in some cases, the responsibility — to inform the stake president. Likewise, if I judge my stake president to be in error, I can deal with him directly, and if that doesn’t resolve things, inform the general authorities of the Church; the exact channel may depend upon the issue. If I judge a general authority to be in error, I can address my concerns directly to him; lacking satisfaction, I can then go to the First Presidency. And if I think they’re messing up, I can take things right to God. (Actually, I can do that in any situation, but since He’s appointed earthly stewards at all other levels, I figure He expects me to use them when appropriate.)

In this context, it’s interesting to note that we have the Lord’s promise that He will never let the President of the Church lead us astray; we have no such promise for any other church leadership position, so obviously the Lord expects us to use these checks as needed

What is critical in this process is that it should be done with the same confidentiality, sensitivity, understanding, patience and forgiveness — in short, the same Christ-like behavior — with which we would desire our own imperfections and errors to be handled. The Savior taught that “if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.” (Matt 18:15) The Savior goes on to say that if that brings no results, we should inform the Church — which I would interpret as meaning the appropriate divinely-appointed stewards, not our circle of friends, the members of our ward, or the readership of Sunstone and Dialogue [not to mention the entire Internet]. We would probably be outraged, and rightly so, if we found that a church member — much less a church leader — was publicly criticizing our performance in our church duties; we’d even be upset over private criticism, if it was shared with those not involved in the situation. Yet all too often, we feel little compunction — and, worse yet, a great deal of self-righteous satisfaction — about doing the same, whether privately, over the net, in print, or even over the pulpit or lectern.

Given the above, the idea of a “community response” to the statements, decisions and actions of church leaders is as appalling and inappropriate as would be a “community response” — complete with private discussion and correspondence, newspaper ads, public lectures and published articles — as to how well any one of us is carrying out his or her stewardships within the Church and within his or her family. It ignores the dignity of the individual, and commandments toward charity, tolerance and forgiveness, and the channels which the Lord set up to deal with these issues. I suspect the Lord will not justify us in such a course, and that — whatever the errors of those we criticize — upon us will remain the greater condemnation.

Bruce F. Webster [Vigor, Issue 5, August 1994]

Coverage of the San Diego fires — LDS relief efforts

I run another blog (And Still I Persist) with a co-blogger, Bruce Henderson. I’m from San Diego, and BruceH has lived there for many years. So when the fires broke out a little over a week ago, BruceH started posting information on the blog, including photos, maps, and 3-D visualizations of the fires; I joined in as best I could (I currently live in Colorado, but have many family members, including children and grandchildren, in San Diego County).

As is typical with such disasters, LDS relief efforts started almost immediately and have continued through the course of the fire. Most people outside the LDS Church don’t realize the global reach of LDS relief and humanitarian efforts, most of which goes to people who are not members of the LDS Church. In the past 22 years, that aid has totaled nearly $1 billion — all given without consideration of creed, national origin, or ethnic background, and almost all of which comes from the pockets and donated labor of the Latter-day Saints members themselves.

But, of course, we’re not Christian. 😉 ..bruce..

Succession in LDS Leadership (part II)

The 177th Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has started, and it began with Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley presenting the general authorities and officers for sustaining. The two biggest changes:

  • Elder Henry B. Eyring was presented and sustained as 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency, replacing Pres. James E. Faust, who died earlier this year.
  • Elder Quentin L. Cook was presented and sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; he had previously been serving as a member of the First Presidency of the Seventy.

Even as I type this, Pres. Boyd K. Packer is talking about how LDS ministry and leadership differs from other churches. ..bruce..

Someone who gets it

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my sources of both frustration and amusement during my 40 years as a Latter-day Saint has been the sheer number of people who either misunderstand or deliberately misrepresent LDS history, beliefs and practices. So it is always a delight to run across a well-written article by someone outside the LDS Church who not only under understands LDS culture and doctrine, but who provides new insights.

Such an article is “A Mormon President? The LDS Difference“, written by Laurie Maffly-Kipp and published in The Christian Century. Maffly-Kipp is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and one of her areas of specialty is Mormonism. She clearly has done her homework; I’ve never seen someone outside the LDS Church (or few within it) so clearly articulate the balance of authority and independence within the Church:

Yes, the prophet can receive revelation. But this power is couched within a set of concentric circles of revelation and authority: the prophet receives revelation for the church, bishops receive revelation pertaining to their wards (local churches), and fathers and mothers receive revelation relating to their families. Most important, Mormons—like Protestants—attach great importance to the agency of the individual believer, who is expected to pray and receive guidance for herself. This set of interconnected responsibilities makes for clear lines of authority, to be sure—few agencies are as efficient as a local Mormon ward in action—but it also means that leaders cannot, in theory, overstep the bounds of the authority bestowed on them by virtue of their office.

In practice, then, LDS religious authority is diffused and regulated in quite orderly ways; indeed, one might say that this flow is both more controlled than in many Protestant churches and more democratically distributed than in Roman Catholicism. Mormons are taught from a very young age that their purpose in life is to exercise their own spiritual agency and to maintain a right relationship with God. The church hierarchy, of course, has a major role in facilitating that growth, but not the only role. Higher education is valued for both men and women, regardless of one’s career path. Healthy living and moral values are extolled not simply as exercises in discipline, but as keys to individual progress. Considerable emphasis, in other words, is placed on the individual cultivation of personal agency, a fact that may help explain the resounding business success of someone like Mitt Romney.

Nor do LDS Church members in good standing bow to church officials at every point; the authority of many church teachings is, in fact, somewhat ambiguous. There are a number of incontrovertible teachings, of course (such as: Joseph Smith was a prophet; sex before marriage is forbidden), but these are surprisingly few in number. Many other decisions are left to the dictates of individual conscience. One need only ask 10 church members about whether Mormons are allowed to drink caffeinated soft drinks to encounter a wide range of interpretations.

I strongly recommend the article, and I plan to keep a look out for other articles and books by Maffly-Kipp. ..bruce..

Succession in LDS Leadership

[UPDATED 01/27/08 2125 MST]

This entry is suddenly getting a lot of hits, due undoubtedly to the death earlier today of Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley. With the death of Pres. Hinckley, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been dissolved; Pres. Thomas S. Monson and Pres. Henry B. Eyring return to the Council of the Twelve Apostles (which now actually has 14 apostles in it); and Pres. Monson resumes his role as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, taking over from Pres. Boyd K. Packer, who has been serving as Acting President of the Twelve.

The Quorum of the Twelve, under the leadership of Pres. Monson, now leads the LDS Church. At some point, most likely within the next week or two, the Quorum of the Twelve will move to reorganize the First Presidency, with Pres. Thomas S. Monson as President of the Church, along with two counselors of his choosing. There’s a good chance (based on tradition) that Pres. Monson will retain Elder Eyring as one of his counselors, but that’s Pres. Monson’s choice, not a requirement.

Also note that this means that a new member of the Quorum of the Twelve will be called, though possibly not until the LDS General Conference in April.

[UPDATED 10/06/07 1034 MDT – Elder Henry B. Eyring has been called and sustained as 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency, while Elder Quentin L. Cook has been called to the Quorum of the Twelve. See here.]

==================== [ORIGINAL POST] ==============================

Peggy Fletcher Stack over in the Salt Lake Tribune writes about the “wild speculation” (her phrase, not mine) regarding whom Pres. Hinckley will call to replace Pres. Faust as 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency. First, in my own experience, the speculation tends to be tame rather than wild, though (in fairness) it’s probably a bit more of a topic of discussion within Utah than outside of it. Second, Stack gives no substantive basis for the specific candidates she mentions; one could as easily list all of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve instead of the few she picks out. Stack does correctly note that counselors have on occasion been chosen from outside of the Quorum of the Twelve, though it’s been roughly half a century since that happened. However, she incorrectly states that the calling as a counselor in the First Presidency is a “lifetime calling”; when the President of the Church dies, his counselors are automatically released and revert back to their positions in (or outside of) the Quorum of the Twelve, and the new President of the Church is free to select whomever he wants as counselors. (I sent Peggy a note on this, and she replied that she inadvertently left out a conditional phrase; easy enough to do with deadlines.)

Those minor quibbles aside, Stack’s article clearly lays out the principles underlying succession at the highest level of the LDS Church. Once you are called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, you are on a very slow-moving track toward being President of the Church — but only if you live long enough (i.e., longer than those called before you). This has always struck me as a very elegant and corruption-free process. There is no voting, no jockeying for position, no way to leapfrog ahead of those called to the Quorum before you. It is, quite literally, in God’s hands.

Continue reading Succession in LDS Leadership

Pres. James E. Faust (1920-2007)

One of my most distinct LDS General Conference memories over the past 40 years surrounds Pres. Faust being called as a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After having been sustained as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve earlier in the conference, he got up to speak briefly. He opened his first-ever talk in General Conference by saying, “For 22 years, until last Thursday morning, I have been a lawyer. And since then I have been trying to repent.” Laughter rumbled through the Tabernacle.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

That was in October 1972,  just five years after I had joined the Church and while I was in the Language Training Mission, learning Spanish for my two years down in Central America. For the last 35 years, I have always enjoyed, listened carefully to, and learned from Pres. Faust’s remarks in General Conference and elsewhere. As a former Democratic state legislator and a former member of Pres. Kennedy’s Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, he has served as a role model for those of us in the Church who believe that there are — or at least were — core principles within the Democratic Party worth defending and promoting.

I will miss his warm voice and unmistakable cadence, which I have listened to for nearly two-thirds of my entire life. My prayers are with his family and friends.  ..bruce..

Upcoming posts: Mormon perspectives on life, the universe, and, well, everything

As a response to both on-going silly postings on the net and the PBS broadcast “The Mormons”, I’ve wanted to write about several subjects, including:

  • LDS cosmology (the nature of the universe)
  • LDS ontology (the nature of reality, including God and humanity)
  • LDS epistemology (the nature of truth and ways of knowing it)
  • the organization and functioning of the LDS Church

The challenge is that they are all interrelated, which is why you get so many goofy and misinformed postings about the LDS Church and its doctrine (as a parallel example, try to write intelligently on the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary without reference to original sin, St. Augustine, or the Fall). I’m not quite sure yet how I’m going to tackle all this — except that I may just pick an arbitrary starting point and go from there.  ..bruce..

Mormons, education, and intellect

In a previous post, I stated my objections to the portrayal of LDS Church disciplinary councils and procedures in the PBS show, “The Mormons”. I felt the same segment (about the excommunication of the “September Six”) left some misleading impressions regarding the role of education and intellect in the LDS Church — in particular, that the LDS Church somehow devalues, denigrates, or is afraid of education and intellect, or that Mormons who pursue the intellect end up leaving the LDS Church.

Actually, just the opposite is true.

Continue reading Mormons, education, and intellect

LDS disciplinary councils (PBS show “The Mormons”)

The PBS show “The Mormons” discussed the excommunication back in 1994 of several so-called “Mormon intellectuals”. While I think the incident itself was a fair one to raise, I thought the segment was both far too long and very unbalanced for a number of reasons, which, of course, I’ll now discuss at length.

Continue reading LDS disciplinary councils (PBS show “The Mormons”)