Old Age and an International Church

April 5, 2004 | 11 comments

We worry that a church formed and led by provincial American ethnics can hardly do well internationally. We want either a more varied leadership or a more decentralized church. We hope that these changes will allow the gospel to go in its pure form without any of its cultural baggage. Let us stipulate that there’s something to the complaint. I, for one, would like to think that my near-complete failure as a missionary and our near-complete failure as a mission wasn’t my fault or the Spaniard’s fault.

In any case, I think we’re forgetting that the past is also a foreign country. Listening to the prophets and apostles this conference, I was struck by the number who talked about their formative years in the Great Depression or in WWII, when everyone was poor and no one knew it, and disease was rampant (smallpox! I mean, really.) The thought came to me (and to my wife too, oddly) that the aged leadership of the Church in many ways has as much in common with the members in developing nations as they do with the us. Maybe there’s a providence in their age.


11 Responses to Old Age and an International Church

  1. Jim F. on April 5, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Insightful comment. But one needn’t be in one’s 90s to have lived in a very different world. I helped install my grandmother’s first indoor plumbing the year I left graduate school, 1975. Though I didn’t grow up without them, growing up I had a number of relatives, all rural, who didn’t have indoor plumbing or electric lights. The first telephone that my wife and I had (1970) was a “party line” phone. Antiobiotics as we know them were not in common use until well after World War II. (Penicillin was tried first on a human subject in 1941.) As a child (and though I’m older than the average person on this blog, I’m still only in my mid-50s), measle’s were common childhood diseases, as were mumps, rubella, and chicken pox.

  2. Julie in Austin on April 5, 2004 at 4:26 pm

    Don’t wanna threadjack, but will anyway . . . (sigh. I miss being a guest blogger.)

    I’ve been thinking lately about *why* succession in the presidency works the way it does, with the apparent disadvantage that we are virtually assured times when the prophet (and, actually, members of the quorum of the Twelve) can’t fulfill their duties because of poor health.

    One thought I had, from reading Pres. Kimball’s biography, is that virtually all (if not all) of the apostles were successful in their professions. They have learned from their careers how not to abuse power. But, maybe what they haven’t learned is some of the dependency, feelings of helplessness, and sometimes outright depression (mentioned in Pres. Kimball’s biography) that come from the physical limitations of age. Perhaps these are essential experiences in molding someone before they hold that highest position.

    But, Adam, you might have answered my question with your very good observation they probably relate better to third world saints. Aren’t they still using crystal radios in parts of Africa?

  3. clarkgoble on April 5, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    My own opinion from both the faithful histories and the more controversial ones such as Quinn, is that the current scheme *really* prevents a lot of political activism and infighting. We already know that apostles sometimes get heated with each other, or at least see things askew. Imagine if they were all rabble rousers in their 20′s or 30′s. I suspect that would be magnified that much more whereas those in their sixties and then typically seventies for senior apostles, don’t quite have that sort of energy.

    If we need that kind of charismatic energy, I suspect things could change fairly quickly. (Say during *real* turmoil) But I think age gives one a much longer term view and perhaps some objectivity that those of us in our youth lack. I know that myself, in just the last 10 years have noted that in myself. While there is something for energy and activism, and I love those periods of my life, there is also a time for big pictures, caution, and careful consideration.

  4. Julie in Austin on April 5, 2004 at 9:05 pm

    Point taken, Clark, but my real question isn’t “why are apostles 70 instead of 30″ but “why do they never become emeritus.” Note that I don’t have a problem with current practice, I am just considering what wisdom there is in it in the face of some of the obvious problems that occur when the highest church leaders are very, very old.

  5. Clark Goble on April 5, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    I can see that. I actually suspect that with the demands of the growing church that apostles will be made emiritus. Possibly within this decade. I think that we have just been fortunate to have not been in a state where half of the apostles are incapacitated. On the other hand they may do what they’ve done in the past and simply call assistants who are full apostles but technically not in the quorum. That way they’d not have formal emiritus but have a de facto emeritus status.

    The big question is concerning the President. But lets be honest, the church has run fairly well without functioning Presidents. Brigham Young ran it for a while without being President. The church ran fine during the end of Kimball’s and Benson’s incapacities. Admittedly the late 60′s / early 70′s had some problems due to too much chapel building and the infamous baseball baptisms. Quinn lists a few other periods as well.

    I suspect that until there is a real serious problem though, there simply would be no incentive to make a change.

  6. Mike on April 5, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    I have also wondered why apostles do not become emeritus. It seems as though part of the reason the 12 do not, but the 70 do is a difference in calling.

    The seventy are called to a specific service.
    The 12 more than anything else (at least docrinally) are called to be special witnesses. Whether or not that is what the bulk of being a member of the 12 entails is up for argument, but being unable to do as much doesn’t change their position as a special witness. I thought about that as Elder Haight spoke- the power of his testimony and the feeling of the spirit is still there- even if the deep level of instruction or the administrative abilities no longer are.

    I think the most likely way to deal with incapacity in the presidency or in the 12 as a whole would be to call more counselors to the presidency. Thus, more people are called as official apostles and can fulfill that role.

  7. Adam Greenwood on April 6, 2004 at 9:52 am

    Very insightful, Mike. You may be on to something. Can one cease to be a witness?

  8. paul on April 6, 2004 at 12:28 pm


    All G.A.’s are also called to be special witnesses. D&C 107:25.

  9. greenfrog on April 6, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    One tangent that is interesting to consider is what would happen to a leadership succession arrangement such as ours if/when biological and medical sciences are able to make substantial progress in extending lifespans.

    If there is a noticeable difference between generations today, imagine if, instead of a 94-year old prophet, we had a 150-year old prophet.

  10. John David Payne on April 8, 2004 at 10:15 pm

    Speaking of generation gaps, Pres. Hinckley is the only latter-day prophet not born in the nineteenth century. Considering the medical advances mentioned in the previous post, I wonder how long before there will be a president of the church born in the twenty-first century?

  11. Craig on January 26, 2005 at 11:31 am

    President Hunter is also a latter-day prophet not born in the nineteenth century.


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