Natural Succession or the Prophetic Death Card?

July 27, 2006 | 63 comments
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Does God control who is Church President by ending life (using the “death card”)? Or does he control who is President by controlling the order in which Apostles are called? Of course, both can be true (or neither depending on your theological persuasion), but let’s examine these questions systematically.

When a man is called to the apostleship, call him a natural successor if he is younger in age than all other living apostles with more seniority in the Quorum. The idea is that if all men lived to the same age, then only natural successors would ever become Presidents. Continuing the logic, if only natural successors became Presidents, then we could say that God has controlled the Presidentship by the order in which he called apostles and not by ending life. On the other hand, if most Presidents are not natural successors, then we could say that God has used the death card to control the Presidentship.

What do we observe? I’ll spare you all the birth, calling, and death date information for all men called to the apostleship and instead list only Church Presidents, if natural successor (*), and approximate death age.

Joseph Smith, 39
Brigham Young, 76
John Taylor, 79
Wilford Woodruff, 91
Lorenzo Snow, 87
*Joseph F. Smith, 80
*Heber J. Grant, 89
George Albert Smith, 81
*David O. McKay, 97
*Joseph Fielding Smith, 96
*Harold B. Lee, 74
Spencer W. Kimball, 90
Ezra Taft Benson, 95
*Howard W. Hunter, 88
*Gordon B. Hinckley

What does this all mean?
1. The face-value interpretation would be that God tended to use the death card in the first half of the Church’s history but used natural succession in the second half.
2. One big exception to this trend is Lee’s early death (he was the youngest President to die since Joseph Smith!). This is consistent with the idea that Kimball was needed for the 1978 revelation.
3. One could also say that God is fairly hands off, and the trend of more recent natural successors is due to decreasing randomness in death ages due to medical advances.

Perhaps you can think of other interpretations. Of course, your personal theory will not likely be falsified by these data, so your belief should not be undermined no matter what it is. Moreover, the assumption that all men live to the same age is flawed. If, due to his knowledge of people’s genetics, etc., God knows the exact age at which each person will die, then someone I label not to be a natural successor might actually be a natural successor from God’s eyes. This possibility undermines the interpretation of results, but, hey, this is meant to be a fun blog post, not a rigorous scientific study.

And what about the future? If the trend of having natural successors continues, then our future Presidents will be, in order, Elders Monson, Oaks, Hales (briefly), Holland, and Bednar. What are the Vegas odds on this prediction?

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63 Responses to Natural Succession or the Prophetic Death Card?

  1. John Mansfield on July 27, 2006 at 7:41 am

    Look for an analysis of apostolic longevity next week at Millennial Star. The bottom line is that the apostles do live longer than other men. As a special bonus for Times and Seasons fans, comparison with U.S. Supreme Court justices will be included.

  2. A Turtle Named Mack on July 27, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Of course, the underlying assumption is that God will ALWAYS call the senior-most apostle to be the prophet. While this has been the pattern to this point, it would be folly to assume that it must always be the case, as God is free to call whomever he wants, regardless of their previous position.
    Another option (though perhaps heretical) is that God calls persons to the Apostleship confident that they will make fine leaders and then lets nature take it\’s course, watching them drop randomly, elevating whomever is next in line sufficiently to be the next prophet. Call this random succession.

  3. Connor Boyack on July 27, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Why does being the youngest of the bunch qualify you as a “natural” successor? Perhaps it’s a semantical issue, but I’m not understanding the reasoning behind your definition of this term.

  4. BrianJ on July 27, 2006 at 10:20 am

    Connor: “natural” meaning that death occured by natural causes, ie ripe old age, NOT by God imposing death. Note Michael’s stated assumption that all men would naturally live to the same age. IF everyone will live to be 95, AND one is Apostle is younger than all the others more senior than he, THEN he will live to be president.

  5. Frank McIntyre on July 27, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Interesting question. Here are a few quick thoughts:

    How many “natural succesors” never made it to being prophet? In other words, you’ve counted the ones that made it and ignored the ones that didn’t. If each new Apostles called was younger than the prior ones, for example, they would all be natural successors!

    It seems to me that, given the natural variance in deaths, it is probably more statistically likely that at least one President dies young than that all of them live to a ripe old age. Thus the early death of Harold B Lee may not be so surprising in the wider statistical context (although the actual event surely was).

    Heber J Grant was in his 20s when he was called, so he is probably a natural successor. Going from Lorenzo Snow and back, these were men called in the first days of the Church. Between early apostasy, the different regime of calling young men, and death being more variable, it does not seem surprising that the “natural successor” phenomenon would not hold. In fact, it would be rather surprising under those circumstances if it did hold.

  6. Starfoxy on July 27, 2006 at 11:18 am

    I always thought that they were called the way you describe, but that God still holds and reserves the right to use the death card in case of emergencies.

  7. Michael McBride on July 27, 2006 at 11:55 am

    Frank,

    You’re right about Grant. I forgot to put a * next to his name (let me fix that…).

    I also was going to list the natural successors that never made it, but thought that would make the post too long. Here they are for you (not counting those in the original 12): George A. Smith, Erastus Snow, Franklin D. Richards, George Q. Cannon, Moses Thatcher, John Henry Smith, George Teasdale, John Whittaker, Abraham H. Cannon, Abraham O. Woodruff, Stephen L. Richards, Mark E. Peterson, Richard L. Evans.

    Also, I should note that John Taylor deserves a question mark because of the Orson Pratt-John Taylor seniority controversy.

    You’re exactly right about HBL’s death being not that surprising in a wider statistical context. Too few data points. That’s one of the reasons why I said that you can’t falsify any theory here. That said, it certainly is an outlier.

  8. Michael McBride on July 27, 2006 at 11:59 am

    PS: Abraham O. Woodruff was the natural successor that would have been President and outlived George Albert Smith.

  9. Michael McBride on July 27, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    John Mansfield,

    You must be careful with your analysis. Men with health problems are probably not called to be apostles, so one of the reasons that apostles die at older ages is that only men with good health are called to be apostles.

    This is called a selection effect. In effect, maybe it’s not that men live longer because they are apostles. Instead, it’s that apostles live to high ages because only heathy men are called to be apostles. The same reasoning could apply for Supreme Court justices.

  10. Mike Parker on July 27, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Considering the Elder David Bednar, at 54, is eleven-and-a-half years younger than the next oldest apostle (Jeffrey Holland, 65), it seems virtually certain that — barring injury or illness — he will be President of the Church some day.

    I suspect he knows that is the case. I wonder what kind of emotional, mental, and spiritual weight that places on a man.

  11. John Mansfield on July 27, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    Selection effect is something I looked at. For apostles there isn’t much of one; for justices it’s a huge factor. Tune in next week for more; it will be good to get your critiques.

  12. Michael McBride on July 27, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    John M., There’s another LDS selection effect. The average LDS lives longer than the normal American population because of the WofW. And you can imagine that apostles do better on the WofW than the average LDS. So that’s another possible selection effect. You’ve probably considered this, too.

  13. bbell on July 27, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    I bet that Bednar knows and the weight is quite heavy on him. He looks quite a bit visibly younger when you see him in GC

    There is though somebody he can probably talk to. Elder Monson was also quite a bit younger then the rest when he was called in the 1960′s. Was he 40? Elder Monsons time is coming.

  14. Michael McBride on July 27, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    Monson was born in 1927 and ordained to the 12 in 1963, so he was about 36. Bednar was born in 1952 and ordained in 2004, so he was about 52.

    In line with what you’re suggesting, another way to build on the natural successor idea to predict who might become a President is to look at how many years older is the next most senior natural successor. For example, GBH is the natural successor immediately before Monson, and GBH is 17 years older than Monson. That means if all lived to the same age, then Monson would be President for 17 years. The larger this difference, the more likely the person will become President. (Of course, GBH is living a really long time!)

    Continuing down, Oaks is 5 years younger than Monson, Hales is only 12 days younger than Oaks, Holland is 8 years younger than Hales, and Bednar is 12 years younger than Holland. (FYI, Uchtdorf is only a month older than Holland.)

    Looks like Holland and Bednar have really good chances of being President, while Hales has a much smaller chance. Oaks has a moderate chance. And if Uchtdorf lives a long time (remember he’s got those good lungs!), then he could become President. How about that! A German President!

  15. Seth R. on July 27, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    What about that scripture in the D&C that provides a formal process by which the other GAs can rebuke a prophet? Where was that verse?

  16. manaen on July 27, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    A little off-thread: I’ve been pondering the past couple years how a call to the First Presidency or 12 is a death sentence. I know that their lives generally are prolonged, but for almost each of them comes a time at which he would live a few days/weeks/months longer if he would slow down but it doesn’t happen unless he’s debilitated. Each of them literally works himself to death at the end although it takes 40 or 60 years to happen. This has given me new appreciation for them as I listen to them speak in General Conference, watching them go about killing themselves to give their message to the world.

  17. greenfrog on July 27, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    A couple of asides:

    1. Why assume that there is a “natural” death date that doesn’t involve God? Why not assume that the death card was played in every case?

    2. In the analytical model, should extended functional incapacity (as in Pres. Benson’s case) constitute a “death card” of sorts?

    (completely unjustified derailing speculation: 3. What will the Qurorum of the 12 look like if medical science advances enough to add decades to life spans? Will Elder Bednar not only become prophet, but become the last prophet, ever?)

  18. Caroline on July 27, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    I’ll go out on a limb here and hypothesize that perhaps God used the death card on JS. His death is really the one that stands out to me when I look at that list.

    Of course, one can argue that the death card may have been pulled because the power was getting to JS’s head, Nauvoo polygamy was a big ol’ mess, etc. But one can also argue that the death card was dealt because it’s good for a new religion to have a young martyr, and that Brigham Young was the right person to organize the trek west and clean up the mess that was Nauvoo polygamy.

    Whichever way, I tend to think that God was very willing to let JS die at the point in time he did. If we are assuming that JS remained righteous and in God’s favor at the end of the life, this is kind of scary. Doesn’t really (at least at a superficial reading) go in line with BoM assurances that the righteous will prosper, wicked will be destroyed.

  19. Silver on July 27, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    17 “Of course, one can argue that the death card may have been pulled because the power was getting to JS’s head, Nauvoo polygamy was a big ol’ mess, etc . . .”

    Someone has, for years, been stating that is just the case. A woman active on other forums has been sticking to that story for years. Plus, she believes (or at least used to believe–haven’t checked on her thoughts lately) that President Benson’s incapacity to serve was a “lightning strike” for his intense political views. I couldn’t agree since he considerably mellowed in that way as apostle and prophet, becoming known for urging a better relationship with the B of M. I also couldn’t agree with taking out JS for the reasons above, but certainly see validity in God being “willing to let JS die.”

    Prospering. Must a person be alive to prosper? Wicked destroyed? Innocents die, and die often, in the B of M, and in life in general.

  20. Silver on July 27, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    All other speculations about apostolic longevity can be cut short with one fatal heart attack, one plane crash . . .

    I don’t believe Elder Bednar has his possible future calling weighing heavily on his mind. Maybe because I’m more of a one-day-at-a-time person, I tend to think others are also. If you’re enjoying this day God has given, and taking no thought for the morrow, more peace in the heart is a most pleasing benefit!

  21. cinepro on July 27, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    If I were an apostle, I wouldn’t worry about God choosing me to be the Prophet. I would worry about God choosing the guy behind me to be the Prophet.

  22. Loyd on July 27, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Of course this is all based on the tradition that athe longest tenured member of the twelve is chosen as the president of the church. As Mike Quinn has shown, this is merely tradition and could change. If they wanted, the twelve could vote anyone to be the president of the church.

  23. Adam Greenwood on July 27, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    If I were an apostle, I would be worried that God called me to be an apostle. That would be a crisis in the ol’ faith.

  24. John Mansfield on July 27, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    The odds of a randomly selected 52-year-old U.S. white male dying after a randomly selected 64-year-old U.S. white male is 75%. The odds of the 52-year-old dying after two 64-year-olds is 64%.

  25. Dora on July 27, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    Interesting how “functional incapacity” allows counsellors in the first presidency exert influence even though they may be years from the post of president of the church. Reminds me of several instances from Prince’s bio of McKay.

  26. Wilfried on July 27, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Hmm hmm. Compare all this to what precedes Vatican’s white smoke. Our system definitely eliminates political games behind the closed door. Ours is all in humble serving and waiting.

  27. Loyd on July 27, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Hmm hmm. Compare all this to what precedes Vatican’s white smoke. Our system definitely eliminates political games behind the closed door. Ours is all in humble serving and waiting.

    Except for Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, and perhaps others. Because tenured-succession is merely a tradition, there has been some ‘political games’ going on behind the scenes. Even if one accepts the tenured-succession tradition, there is the politics behind who becomes a member of the twelve as well as who becomes a part of the presidency.

    To pull the ‘Catholics are so whatever and we are so much better card’ often demands quite a bit of historical myth-making.

  28. Michael McBride on July 27, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Manaen #16. I appreciate your thought, especially as it seems to apply to GBH.

    Greenfrog #17. You’re quite right that I don’t have to assume that there is a natural death date, but it does give us a place to start talking about it. And since we seem to be getting natural successors in office, it seems like not so bad a way to predict.

    I find the Benson case less convincing, as Silver #19 noted. And with regard to succession, the Benson case is not good at all because, first, he didn’t die immediately, and second, GBH was 1st counselor and running the 1st Presidency, not the would-be successor Howard W. Hunter. This is where Dora’s #25 point makes sense. There’s also an “incapacity card,” but it does not affect succession so much. Looks like God has a full deck!

    Well said, Cinepro!

    Loyd, I agree wholeheartedly with you point about the seniority succession being a tradition that could change. But let’s face it, it’s not likely to change. The Church leaders for years have been talking about how it is an inspired tradition.

    Adam, if you were called to be an apostle, that would be a crisis of my faith, too! :)

    Wilfried, I actually like the dramatic effect of the white smoke. It makes for really good television. But maybe we should release something else to be different. How about black crickets if no consensus is reached and white seagulls when the choice is made?

  29. queuno on July 27, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Re #4 – Let’s not forget that maybe one or two of these guys are destined to get gunned down in Jerusalem. That would seem to be an instance of death card being played.

    Re #7 – Pratt was excommunicated, then reinstated, and President Young determined that seniority was based on the most recent date — in their case, readmission. That’s a pretty weak “controversy”, really.

  30. mormon fool on July 27, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    I did a study on conditional life expectancies, calculating the number of years lived after becoming prophet. In parenthesis are whether they beat the conditional expectancy or not. On average (besides Joseph Smith) the prophets beat the expectancy by 1 year, which isn’t statistically significant. A drawback is that I am using 2006 conditional expectancies, when they have probably gone up over time. I think to answer the thread’s question I would have to go off the date of call to the apostleship. I am guessing that prophets have to beat conditional expectations because they have to, on average, outlive 4-5 apostles to become prophet.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith, 1830-1844 24/38 (-35)
    President Brigham Young, 1847-1877 46/76 (0)
    President John Taylor, 1880-1887 72/79 (-4)
    President Wilford Woodruff, 1889-1898 82/91 (3)
    President Lorenzo Snow, 1898-1901 84/87 (-3)
    President Joseph F. Smith, 1901-1918 63/80 (1)
    President Heber J. Grant, 1918-1945 62/89 (12)
    President George Albert Smith, 1945-1951 75/81 (-3)
    President David O. McKay, 1951-1970 78/97 (11)
    President Joseph Fielding Smith, 1970-1972 94/96 (-1)
    President Harold B. Lee, 1972-1973 73/74 (-9)
    President Spencer W. Kimball, 1973-1985 78/90 (4)
    President Ezra Taft Benson, 1985-1994 86/95 (4)
    President Howard W. Hunter, 1994-1995 87/87 (-5)
    President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1995-Present 85/95+ (5+)

    Life expectancy facts

    1901 47
    2002 77

    LDS Prophets 82.9 w/o JS 86.3 w/GBH 86.9

  31. Kevin Barney on July 27, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    Although in theory the succession by the senior apostle could change, I would be absolutely stunned if it ever did. Yes, it’s “only” a tradition. But remember that the succession crisis in the first place was absolutely huge, and this tradition has prevented similar crises throughout the history of the Church. I don’t expect the apostles to open the door to political gamesmanship (the historical examples mentioned above notwithstanding) by selecting a different selection method anytime soon.

  32. Mark Butler on July 27, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    I think a problem of this type of analysis is it tends to over estimate the influence of the President of the Church compared to the influence of the Quorum of the Twelve. According to D&C 107, the authority of the First Presidency and the authority of the Quorum of the Twelve, and the authority of the First Quorum of the Seventy, when unanimous, are technically equal.

    That means hypothetically speaking the Q12 + Q70, acting in unanimity, could override anything coming out of the FP, so far as Church governance is concerned.

    Likewise, the unanimous statement of both the FP and Q12 is sufficient to settle all controversies, so far as Church governance is concerned. The unanimous statement of the FP alone, let alone just the President, does not have equal authority to an FP + Q12, an FP + Q70, or a Q12 + Q70 statement, so far as Church government is concerned.

    That doesn’t mean that a disputed statement of the President is wrong or uninspired of course, it just means that it is not of full ecclesiastical authority without the unanimous sustaining vote of two of the three presiding quorums of the Church.

  33. Johnna Cornett on July 27, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    Is it really so heretical to believe that God calls apostles with enough care that he doesn’t need to do any shuffling to get the right prophet, any one of them will do?

  34. Caroline on July 27, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    Johanna,
    Certainly it’s not heretical to believe that. You’d be in good company. But personally I think there are times when God does indeed need certain people at certain times, and may have to do some shuffling. Take the Harold B. Lee instance. He was absolutely determined that blacks would never get the priesthood. It was extremely fortuitous, IMO, that he died so young (as compared with other later presidents.) That way, Kimball was able to successfully create an environment in which the priesthood revelation could occur.

  35. Mark Butler on July 28, 2006 at 12:44 am

    I have no idea what the Lord had in mind, or whether he interfered at all in that case. It certainly acts as a cautionary tale, however, of what might occur to anyone dead set on having his way, instead of finding out and implementing what the Lord has in mind. Humility is the most valuable trait in any priesthood leader.

  36. Clair on July 28, 2006 at 1:13 am

    This question is based on an assumption that the Lord cares which apostle becomes the next President before the change is made. It reminds me of the cultural differences in marriage. In western culture, we fancy that we fall in love with someone special that we have chosen and and then we marry. In other cultures, they marry and then they fall in love. It can work either way.

    Perhaps the Lord can make a decent President out of any of the twelve.

  37. Michael McBride on July 28, 2006 at 3:01 am

    Mormon Fool # 30. I like the conditional life expectancies idea. However, I agree with your concern about using only recent data on conditional life expectancies. Seems to me that if people lived fewer years, then you’d be underestimating the difference between the realized and the expected for the Presidents who lived more in the past.

    Mark Butler #32. I agree with the scriptural passages you quote but not your statement that the analysis overestimate’s the influence of the Church President. Perhaps everyday LDS overestimate the influence of the Church President when they claim God has a direct hand in controling who holds that office. But the analysis in this post is about assessing that claim, not whether the claim is overestimated.

    Joanna #32 and Clair #36. I agree with the claim that any of the apostles would make–or be made into–would be a fine Church President. “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” is the phrase I’ve often heard and agree with.

    But don’t we like to think that they are chosen to be President during a particular time because of particular skills and talents that will serve the Church? Are you proposing that this idea is just wishful thinking? I think Caroline’s reference to SWK is a good case to mention here.

  38. Toby on July 28, 2006 at 9:02 am

    Did Harold B. Lee die an untimely death due to medical malpractice, as rumor has had it for years? What if he had not died and Spencer W. Kimball not succeeded to the presidency when he did? Would we still have had the 1978 priesthood revelation?

  39. Clair on July 28, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Yes, Michael, I do like to think a President is chosen during a particular time for his particular skills and talents. Part of that might be wishful thinking, but part not. I think it happens at least some of the time. I have known of bishops who, in retrospect, were called for the one big thing that only they could accomplish in a ward. One bishop worked with law enforcement to eliminate a long-standing drug market in his community. Another restored his ward finances to stability and got a church house built. That was their special calling, although no one could foresee it when they were called.

  40. Mark Butler on July 28, 2006 at 11:27 am

    Michael, I should have phrased my objection better. It is not with the analysis itself, it is with the unwarranted implication in the minds of many that the President of the Church runs the latter pretty much single handedly. D&C 107 teaches the proper pattern, and the pattern has been followed increasingly as the years go by. The unheralded story of the past century or so has been the rise of the Quorum of the Twelve to its proper position of balance with the First Presidency in matters of ecclesiastical administration.

  41. Matt Thurston on July 28, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    manean (#16):

    I appreciate the sentiments expressed in your post. Like you, I’m impressed and grateful for all of the work the leaders of the Church perform up to the end of their lives. But aren’t phrases like “death sentance”, “working themselves to death”, and “killing themselves to give their message to the world” a little melodramatic? Do we have to resort to such sensational or theatrical expressions to appreciate all they do? And isn’t life in general a death sentance? Don’t we all work ourselves to death whether we’re general authorities, butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers?

    I would actually argue that being called to be a GA *extends* one’s life. Such a calling more-than-likely takes one away from a more stressful job (i.e. lawyer, doctor, business manager, etc.) and places one in a calling with psychic or spiritual rewards that translate into definite physical benefits. For example, I’d rather be a General Authority than a Bishop or Stake President who must maintain a career AND a nearly fulltime church calling. Furthermore, the average Bishop or Stake President is more probably still raising his family (with all of its attendant responsibilities) than the average General Authority, whose children are more likely to have already grown up and left home.

    Again, I appreciate their hard work, but when I see a GA in General Conference I’m not thinking, “Man, that guy is just killing himself!” I’m actually thinking, “Man, if only I were righteous enough to get a cushy job like that!” (Understand that when I say “cushy”, I mean no disrespect, nor do I mean to undermine all of their hard work… I just mean who wouldn’t want to serve God 24/7, travel all over the world, meet new and interesting people, feel like you are making a difference on a grand scale, be “in the middle” of everything, accept [unwillingly and humbly, of course!] the respect, praise, and even, dare I say, adulation that comes with such a high profile calling, etc.)

  42. Michael McBride on July 28, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Toby #38. I can’t confirm any rumors about malpractice in HBL’s death. The death was a surprise. Although he’d had lung problems, nobody knew he had heart problems, and he died of an unexpected heart attack.

    Mark #40. The unheralded story of the past century or so has been the rise of the Quorum of the Twelve to its proper position of balance with the First Presidency in matters of ecclesiastical administration.

    I think the rise of the Twelve has been more in the last half of the 20th century rather than saying the entire century. The correlation program brought that about, so that now the Twelve control much of the day-to-day operations of the Church.

    So in a sense, the Twelve have risen to their place next to the First Presidency, but do you really think this is what D&C 107 was talking about? I don’t think JS could have imagined today’s Church.

  43. Mark Butler on July 28, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Yes, I think that is exactly what D&C 107 is talking about. Present day leaders have said that they refer to it explicitly all the time to decide critical matters of Church governance. Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk on the subject at BYU during the time that President Benson was incapacitated. The change in the scope of the calling of seventies was changed based on a close reading of the D&C, by Elder Packer in particular.

    As I understand it, there was a delay after the death of Brigham Young before the Quorum sustained John Taylor, because they felt that the former had exceeded his prerogatives, and they wanted to make sure there was more of a balance. Of course John Taylor himself felt that way, for the same reason.

    I agree that this process was a long time in coming, but I see the modern process set in motion in 1877 after a partially justified hiatus into more ‘kingly’ style control during the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo and into the Utah Period. Everything about Joseph Smith’s last years indicated that he realized the need to set up more egalitarian institutions, like the Council of Fifty and the Anointed Quorum, and less running the Church and Kingdom of God out of the office of the First Presidency. Of course legislative egalitarianism only works well if all members are comparably sanctified.

  44. Michael McBride on July 28, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    I, too, have heard GBH and others refer to D&C 107 when discussing basic principles of Church hierarchy, but I think it’s a stretch to say that D&C 107 exactly refers to our modern Church correlation program. The Twelve’s focus was orginally much more missionary work then, just as D&C 107 says their main job is to be. Apostles today spend most of their time administrating over more general Church activities than just missionary work. Also, the term “equal in authority and power” is a bit vague. I think it’s more accurate to say that the modern hierarchical structure is based on some ideals in D&C 107 but is really an inspired adaptation designed to deal with an international Church. The ecclessiastical structure will continue to adapt, and principles from D&C 107 will always be used as guidelines.

  45. Matt Thurston on July 28, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    Caroline (#34) said: “Take the Harold B. Lee instance. He was absolutely determined that blacks would never get the priesthood. It was extremely fortuitous, IMO, that he died so young (as compared with other later presidents.) That way, Kimball was able to successfully create an environment in which the priesthood revelation could occur.”

    I’m not picking on Caroline here… I’m just responding to an opinion she articulates that I’ve heard voiced time and time again…

    I think it’s a little to convenient and speculative for us to go too far with the God-killed-HBL-so-SWK-could-usher-in-Blacks/Priesthood assumption. Part of the problem is that it makes the dual, and contradictory or inconsistent (IMO), assumption that God is an active and passive God at the same time. On the one hand we’ve got God calling new members into the Q12 and killing off old members (active); on the other hand God appears to be leaving the affairs of the Church up to those he called (passive), so passive in fact that God couldn’t convince or impress upon a suppossedly obstinate HBL that Blacks needed the Priesthood. I’m not saying God can’t sometimes be passive and other times active, I’m just saying that we humans seem to credit God with certain accomplishments, be they active or passive, in capricious and inconsistent ways.

    I also think such a view sells HBL a little short. Most of the FP/Q12 (including, probably SWK) held racist views (by today’s standards) at some point in their lives. BRM was evidently able to do a 180 on the issue; why wouldn’t HBL? And dying at age 72 is not so young or so bizarre that we have to invent cosmic or divine reasons for such an untimely death.

    Such a view also seems to assume there was something magical about the timing of the Blacks/Priesthood revelation, something important about the year 1978, a year God evidently had to have all of his ducks, or GA’s, in a row. If Blacks getting the Priesthood was important to God, he would have called someone into the Q12/FP who would have done it (the passive & active approach) prior to 1978; or, like He did time and time again in the Old Testament, the B.O.M., and even with Joseph Smith, simply asked the current prophet to reverse the ban (the active approach). (Or he might never have allowed the Priesthood ban to happen in the first place.) The faithful response to such a suggestion is that we don’t know the ways of God. Fine. But such advice applies equally to speculation regarding prophetic succession.

  46. manaen on July 29, 2006 at 3:25 am

    41.
    Matt,

    I wrote, I know that their lives generally are prolonged, but for almost each of them comes a time at which he would live a few days/weeks/months longer if he would slow down but it doesn’t happen unless he’s debilitated. Each of them literally works himself to death at the end although it takes 40 or 60 years to happen.

    This acknowledges that their lives are prolonged but also makes the point that near the end of their prolonged lives, the GA’s-for-life are different from other professions because normally people in the other professions back off so they will *not* work themselves to death but the GA’s typically sprint at the end, resulting in shorter life than if they would slow down like other people would.

    Phrases like “working themselves to death” and “killing themselves to give their message to the world” are not melodramatic (exaggeratedly emotional, histrionic, false pathos) because they are exactly the realiziation that I find so remarkable. This is what these men are doing.

    I question your typification of GA’s calling as cushy because of praise and adulation they receive. Given the pro-/anti-LDS ratios in the world, I believe this calling makes them, in net, high-profile targets for mockery and vilification.

    As for your question, “who wouldn’t want to serve God 24/7, travel all over the world, meet new and interesting people, feel like you are making a difference on a grand scale, be “in the middleâ€? of everything,” consider all the GA-age people and all the financially independent people in the Church, remove those few who actually are serving full-time missions, and the rest of them are my answer.

    I meant to end my #16 above with the observation that these men who eventually give their lives to save the rest of us are in that very thing — Christlike.

  47. JWL on July 29, 2006 at 11:38 am

    I apologize if this is a threadjack, but does anyone think that ever increasing life expectancies will lead to the adoption of an emeritus status at an advanced but fixed age for apostles so that every president of the Church for the rest of this dispensation isn’t in his nineties?

  48. Mark Butler on July 29, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    JWL,

    The way I understand it is the Q12 feels completely capable of governing the Church effectively even when the most senior apostle, the President of the Church, is incapacitated, and so a change is unlikely.

    However certainly other regimes are plausible, including regimes where apostles with particularly severe health problems are encouraged to to become apostles emeritus, as well as a mode of presidential selection where we go without a president of the Church until the identity of who should be the next president is manifest by the spirit unto the unanimous witness of all the apostles as to the Lord would have that be, the same way that the ancient prophets recognized the selection of Elijah, for example – basically the mantle of the spirit of the Lord rested upon him, and they were all witnesses of that fact.

  49. Michael McBride on July 29, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    I, too, would be very surprised to see the current process altered. Although having a vigorous President is great, and we’ve been blessed in that regard with GBH for so long, the 12 have functioned effectively enough in the past with Church Presidents or Apostles not at full capacity.

    Besides, the time it would have happened could very well have been when JFS became President in 1972 at 93 years old. People talked about bypassing him with a much younger and energetic HBL, and Hugh B. Brown even raised the possibility behind closed doors. The possibility of Apostalic emertus status was also raised by HBB. Again, no action was taken.

    Of course, the consensus of the 12 may change on the matter, and perhaps having six or more at limited capacity could make the issue more relevant. Or if the surviving senior member was functioning at a low ability. But it seems like they are operating at pretty good paces even at their high ages.

  50. Michael McBride on July 29, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    Matt #45. I think it’s a little to convenient and speculative for us to go too far with the God-killed-HBL-so-SWK-could-usher-in-Blacks/Priesthood assumption. Part of the problem is that it makes the dual, and contradictory or inconsistent (IMO), assumption that God is an active and passive God at the same time.

    You make some very good points, and I agree that we often apply interpret our history inconsistently. But I’m not sure your argument is strong enough to persuade everybody.

    First of all, BRM is a bad example. He wasn’t the Church Pres, and SWK, unlike HBL, exerted tremendous effort that no other Church Pres to date was willing to make (yes, I know DOM made efforts, too, but SWK’s were more intense). Moreover, you don’t have to assume that there’s anything magical about 1978. It’s easier to assume that SWK had a limited clock and the Lord knew he was the man to do the job.

    In the end, I’m afraid we’re dealing with non-falsifiable claims about how God works. A core idea behind LDS thinking is that God intervenes in the world (like the First Vision). But when we see things we don’t like, we interpret it as God being hands off. We’re always interpreting history inconsistently.

    I’m not saying God can’t sometimes be passive and other times active, I’m just saying that we humans seem to credit God with certain accomplishments, be they active or passive, in capricious and inconsistent ways.

    It seems to me that if you allow for God to be active at times and passive at other times, then your interpretation of history will always be inconsistent because from our limited understanding God is being inconsistent.

  51. Mark Butler on July 31, 2006 at 3:40 am

    Such an interpretation would not be inconsistent if there was any sort of rational theory for why, when, and how much God should intervene. I see God as a rational actor with free will very much like the ones we are familar with, except far excelling us in ability and character, to the degree that he is able to subdue all things, unify all the forces of righteousness, and repel all threats to the commonwealth of all good.

    Now suppose that God’s capacity was increasing in time. Would it not be morally incumbent upon him to set the plan of salvation in motion as soon as his capacity was such that its success could be guaranteed? In other words necessary divine power, rather than absolute divine power, a concept so arbitrary that it has compromised or wrecked every theological system that has taken it literally.

  52. Michael McBride on July 31, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Mark #51. “Such an interpretation would not be inconsistent if there was any sort of rational theory for why, when, and how much God should intervene.” Absolutely. I totally agree. The problem is that we don’t have enough knowledge to understand the consistency, so we’re left with inconsistent interpretations.

    “Would it not be morally incumbent upon him to set the plan of salvation in motion as soon as his capacity was such that its success could be guaranteed? In other words necessary divine power, rather than absolute divine power…” This is an intriguing idea. It might be morally incumbent to NOT start the plan before His capacity was sufficient, but I’m not sure it’s morally incumbent to do it as soon as His power is sufficient. It would only be morally incumbent if there was some reason why starting sooner is better than starting later, and even then it might not be a moral imperative. Suppose God was sufficiently capable, but that His skills could still improve so that He became even more effective. Shouldn’t His own effectiveness matter? We don’t want someone to drive a car as soon as s/he is able to. We want them to be get the license only after they can drive it really well.

  53. YL on August 22, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    A few people have WRONGLY implied that President Harold B. Lee had to die for the blacks to receive the priesthood. Read what Official Declaration 2 says:

    “Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.”

    Notice the words “promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us.” Thus, these words imply that all of the church presidents wanted the priesthood to be given to all worthy men, but it wasn’t time yet. President Kimball happened to be the prophet when it was time. Why I don’t know? My experience is that however different the Lord’s timing is from mine (or anybody else’s), the Lord’s timing is correct.

  54. Kaimi Wenger on August 22, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    YL,

    You’ve now made a half dozen comments on blog, and without exception they’ve been condescending or rude to other commenters. Calm down and lay off the caps lock key, it’s a better way to participate in the discussion.

  55. YL on August 22, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    Kaimi,

    Thanks for the feedback. I do think, however, that it is “condescending or rude” [your words] to criticize a church president [Harold B. Lee] – especially when the subsequent prophet [Spencer W. Kimball] knew Harold B. Lee quite well, served with him for dozens of years, and made a doctrinal statement [Official Declaration 2 in D & C] contradicting the criticism: “promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us.â€?

    Regarding nearly all of my other “half dozen comments,” those comments were about someone, DKL, who has abused the purpose of LDS blogs and who has been the epitome of being “condescending or rude.”

    Notice that I did “lay off the caps lock key” except when typing the usually capitalized “DKL” & “LDS.”

  56. annegb on August 22, 2006 at 11:51 pm

    YL, give it time. Two years ago, people were accusing DKL of a lot more than that. I myself told him off a time or two. But he’s a great guy, really. As are you, I’m sure. As is Kaimi. As is the whole world. I’m just a barrel of love tonight.

  57. YL on August 23, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    annegb 56: YL, give it time. Two years ago, people were accusing DKL of a lot more than that. I myself told him off a time or two. But he’s a great guy, really. As are you, I’m sure. As is Kaimi. As is the whole world. I’m just a barrel of love tonight.

    Thank you for the reply. I’m NOT [oops, I used CAPS] surprised that “Two years ago, people were accusing DKL of a lot more than that.” LDS blogs [and church, for that matter] are an opportunity for LDS people to relate with Latter-day Saints all over the world in friendly ways. One reason that prophets emphasize the concept of Zion is that: in this world prophets often feel lonely and thus enjoy associating with people of their own values: Zion. LDS blogs are that same opportunity to LDS people feeling lonely in this world. But DKL’s comments remind me of the frequent cruelty of some high IQ teenagers who think they’re smarter than everyone else – and who delight in belittling others and mocking sacred things. And heaven help you if you’re offended by his mockery and cruelty because – he says – that means you have no sense of humor or you take yourself or sacred things too seriously. You have broken his first commandment: Don’t be stupid but be clever and witty. We excuse such cruelty in thoughtless and immature teenagers; we figure they’ll outgrow it. But DKL is no longer a teenager. Since DKL has identified himself as a father of children, that means he’s been doing this cruelty since his teenage years. My guess is that he never went on a misson because of his cleverness and wit and argumentative attitude.

  58. annegb on August 24, 2006 at 10:24 am

    YL, you’re wrong about him. I was, too. He did go on a mission and he has a nice family. He’s simply a strong writer who doesn’t suffer fools. He grows on ya :). Blogging, as I said, is not for the faint of heart. I’ve threatened to beat up a lot of people and called people names and been yelled at. We’ve all bickered one time or another–well, except for Wilfried. I’ve behaved quite outrageously, to my immortal shame. It’s the nature of the beast.

    Give yourself some time, you’ll see that we are all good people. We have in common that rather stubborn clinging to our point. It’s problematic. In time, you could be one of “ours” as well. It took me a long time to make friends.

  59. YL on August 24, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    annegb 58: YL, you’re wrong about him. I was, too. He did go on a mission and he has a nice family. He’s simply a strong writer who doesn’t suffer fools. He grows on ya . Blogging, as I said, is not for the faint of heart.

    You yourself said it in your comment 56: “Two years ago, people were accusing DKL of a lot more than that.” Thus, DKL has been doing his “LOOK AT ME, I’M SMARTER THAN YOU ARE” act for YEARS – and doing it at the expense and even serious hurt of others. As I said in my previous comment 57, DKL resembles the cruel teenager who never outgrew it. If I were a betting man, I would bet you that DKL did NOT go on a mission. DKL’s kind of irreverent, mocking, argumentative, even cruel attitude could not have hidden itself from priesthood leaders; DKL is the kind who wouldn’t have wanted to hide it but would have displayed it in his efforts to appear smarter than everyone else. If I’m wrong about DKL, then let him say that he went on a mission, or let him say that it wasn’t his argumentative attitude that prevented him from going on a mission.

    As far as DKL’s having a nice family, I’m sure he does. Having been in leadership positions, I’ve seen lots of families in which one person in the family does not live up to the standards of the rest of the family. Haven’t we all seen this? You don’t have to go very far into the Book of Mormon to learn this: 1 Nephi teaches us that 2 good parents like Lehi and Sariah can have a Laman and a Lemuel as well as a Nephi and a Jacob.

    Shouldn’t we be far more willing “to suffer fools” than to suffer cruelty?

  60. annegb on August 31, 2006 at 10:05 am

    YL, I’ll probably be defending you against some fool in a few years.

  61. TNMB on August 18, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    There should be an asterik by Benson’s name. He was 4 months younger than HBL

  62. TNMB on August 18, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    George Teasdale was 17 years older than John Henry Smith so he wasn’t a “natural successor.” Also, you left off John Whittaker’s last name (Talyor)

  63. TNMB on August 18, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Talyor is supposed to be Taylor. Posted way too soon!