President Monson wins the prize

October 22, 2009 | 21 comments
By
President Thomas S. Monson

President Monson

So Slate keeps track of who it considers the most powerful octogenarians and President Monson tops the list.  If ever there was a list where Mormons could shine that did not have to do with singing and dancing I guess it makes sense that it would be “powerful old men”.  To loosely paraphrase President Hinckley, isn’t it wonderful to have somebody in there with decades of experience who is not moved about by every wind of doctrine?

And I thought the correction at the bottom was delightful:

The original version of the gallery of honorees inadvertently showed a photograph of Mormon Apostle Neil Andersen in place of church President Thomas S. Monson.

I mean who can really tell all those Mormon guys apart anyway?

P.S. if you’re a somewhat discontented type thinking this is an opportunity to gripe about the church being led by old men, it really really isn’t.

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21 Responses to President Monson wins the prize

  1. observer on October 22, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Sure, as long as he’s not dotty. /s

  2. S. G. on October 22, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Hey this is really kind of cool…

    …Just a small simple tidbit of attention towards the Church that is not negative, and is relatively un-controversial (meaning not about some doctrine that is strange to the world, or the gay marriage issue, etc.)

  3. Nick Literski on October 22, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Actually, S.G., it is about “the gay marriage issue.” If you click on Monson’s picture in the website, the popup has a few short paragraphs on why they consider him powerful. First, they say that LDS consider him a prophet. Second, they say that he was the center of controversy due to LDS promotion of Proposition 8.

  4. Wm Morris on October 22, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Did you read the full citation S. G.? It’s very much about gay marriage. And the fact that Slate got the photo wrong in the first place and then took as long as they did to fix it (because they heard about it early on both in the Fray, and on Twitter) suggests that there’s nothing more than a cursory knowledge of Mormonism going on at Slate. Not that it’s not an understandable mistake. It totally is. And it suggests more that their editorial process for monitoring this sort of thing (my Twitter remarks made it very easy to find the right photo) has some major gaps.

    And yet: every time the Slate writers approach Mormonism, things tend to get weird or skewed. I don’t quite get it.

  5. Observer on October 22, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Wm Morris: Just to touch on your comments about Slate Mormo-knowledge, as you say, the photo mix-up is an understandable mistake–European-descendant white men of age all look alike. And with most media websites, the thing to do to suggest a factual correction is not tweet, write in the Fray, or pray for David Plotz or Jacob Weisberg to get revelation on the subject. You should write to corrections@slate.com. Most legit news websites have e-mail addresses dedicated to receiving factual corrections and don’t scour the comments for corrections. I wrote to Slate about 8:30 a.m., and got an almost instant response. When you write like this, always best to keep it gracious and pithy and give a trustworthy link (lds newsroom, not wikipedia). When they misspelled Elder Neil Andersen’s surname in the Correction Footnote, I wrote about that too, and they corrected it instantly (Easier to correct simple text footnote than it is to correct a more complicated interactive photo-text feature). By the way, at least one perma-blogger here has mistyped Elder Andsersen’s name with the more common -son ending; I hope that typos and a photo mix-up aren’t always taken as evidence that a multi-person institution with several inarguably bright and thoughtful people has “nothing more than a cursory knowledge of Mormonism.”

    And yet: If you don’t get that the majority of the world that intereacts with Mormonism interprets its beliefs and practices differently than most Mormons, you should spend some more time listening. You and I are hold the minority viewpoint.

  6. Mike on October 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    My father (born 1923) is about the same age as President Monson. Here is a gross summary of his history:

    1940′s high school athlete, WWII vet in Pacific, professional boxer

    1950′s college and factory worker, married & had kids

    1960′s production foreman1970-85 production manager

    1985-95 started his own factory, retired and then consultant

    1995- worked in cold fusion company with old buddies (as a joke)

    late 1990s- 2007 took care of mom with Alzheimers

    My dad is one of those kick-ass kind of people. It was no wonder that he was the only one in his platoon to survive the war. He was the first in his family to go to college. He boot-strapped his way up from the factory floor to middle management and designed his own production lines. He invented new equipment and could build or fix practically anything. He was the neighborhood car, appliance, and home repairman, giving of his labor and advice for free for many decades. He managed to keep mom in the home until she died, a momument to his stubbornness and ability to get others to help him.

    Today, in his mid 80′s, he remains in excellent health and is on no medications. When people ask his age he replies “past 70.” But he is not the same man he was even 10 years ago. My sister doesn’t trust him to change her oil in her car anymore and my brother confiscated his collection of ladders. He could no more manage a factory, let alone set one up than fly to the moon. He still likes to fix and build things but it takes him forever to complete a simple project and he often screws it up. He mixes things up and has crazy ideas. His memory is intact but it takes him time to recall things. I respect my father, but I acknowledge the time is past for his children to rely on him to fix our cars, remodel our homes and everything else he always loved to do for us.

    I think I know what President Monson is going through because I believe it is similar to what I see in my father. I think we do ourselves a huge disfavor as a church collectively when we act like our leaders are more than they really are and deny the normal divine-ordained process of aging and pretend that it doesn’t happen to our highest leaders. At the very least, when we are called upon to take care of our own aging parents, it becomes frustrating if we think that somehow the same process is not going on with our church leaders.

    I think, realistically, the burdens of managing the church, which must be far more complex than one factory, fall heavily on the shoulders of the younger apostles and others who are still in their 60′s and 70′s. I wish to honor the senior apostles and prophets, but I am not foolish enough to think they are that much different than normal people, like my father. I’m alittle bit uncomfortable with the idea that they are so powerful, when they really are just representatives of Someone far more powerful than any of us and they have to rely heavily on those around them.

  7. Observer on October 22, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Mike, your Dad sounds terrific, both now and in his heyday.

    You are probably right on some issues: I wouldn’t want President Monson on a ladder for his own safety, and he might not be the best fix it man. But I think what is asked of aging prophets is substantively somewhat different. I won’t go on, to honor Frank’s intent here.

  8. Wm Morris on October 22, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Observer:

    Oh, no doubt. I work in PR — I know how you get a correction if you really want one. I just didn’t care enough to go through the established route. It was more of a test to see how committed they are to their Twitter account and customer service via social media. It’s not like I was outraged or anything — more bemused. But good for you for doing the right thing. I’m sure they appreciated it much more than my outburst of hilarity on Twitter.

    In regards to this:

    “If you don’t get that the majority of the world that intereacts with Mormonism interprets its beliefs and practices differently than most Mormons, you should spend some more time listening. You and I are hold the minority viewpoint.”

    I get it. I’ve actually interacted with Slate about it. And I spend a lot of time listening in a variety of ways. And I’ve read Slate since it’s launched — I’m very well aware of its tendencies and proclivities (and also understand that it’s not a monolith and different writers and editors have different even differing viewpoints). I am a devoted reader.

    On the other hand, it’s a two-way street, and some interpretations are lazier than others.

  9. Steve on October 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I think Slate exaggerated President Monson’s “power.” The way they put it, you’d think he could give the word and have a 13-million-strong rebel army at his command.

    In reality, such an army would total less than a million.

  10. John Mansfield on October 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I thought that the piece was mildly interesting until I got to Cloris Leachman. If a list of the “80 most powerful people” in a group includes Cloris Leachman, then there are not 80 powerful people in that group. Mostly I came away with a melancholy, akin to what Mike told us about his father in comment #5. Past 80, our best days will be behind us for good.

  11. Ryan on October 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Mike,

    That’s an interesting perspective because most material I have read from those who have worked with the prophets up until their last days are very clear about:

    1. How lucid these men tend to be until very close to their passing

    2. How it is usually made pretty clear to the general membership when the prophets counselors finally do “take over” (and that it is not some begrudging relinquishing of power, but rather, a delegation of duty from one humble servant to another)

    I think the collective church isn’t really guilty of acting as though these men are more/b> than they are. My research indicates that you seem to be guilty of acting as though these men are less than they normally are :)

    I guess the eyewitnesses could be lying, but the burden of proof would be on the accuser.

  12. Ryan on October 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    hmm.. my html skillz are lame

  13. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Some interesting studies on people who remain mentally acute into late life and how it depends on interaction, support and respect. My grandfather ran an active archeology site (Mycenae) into his late 90s.

    I’ve had some long talks with my brother about it, because the solution appears to be becoming a general authority. Which solves the decline problem for a de minimus proportion of the population …

  14. John Mansfield on October 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Perhaps, Thomas Monson topped that list because he is the only one on it known to the world at large soley for what he has done in his old age.

  15. Velska on October 23, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Mike @5:

    I read about your dad, and I started missing mine, whose life story was the same, except he was taken by a heart attack when he was 81. He was born the same year as your old man.

    But also, when I read what you said about your dad’s memory, I felt a twinge of panic. My memory is going and I can’t even say I’m past 50!

  16. Wm Jas on October 23, 2009 at 4:08 am

    My first reaction was “Wait, Monson outranks the pope?” — but then I clicked the link and saw that it’s limited to American octogenarians.

  17. Tatiana on October 23, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Steve: “In reality, such an army would total less than a million.”

    ROFL! So true.

  18. Mike on October 23, 2009 at 8:36 am

    It is a fault of mine to ignore numerous positive responses and hone in on the one slightly critcal comment in #10. I acknowledge Ryan’s assessment that I have been acting as if these men (our leaders) are less than what we are told, even though I don’t exactly agree.

    As part of my repentance, I will share a humorous story about my elderly parent for the amusement of all. Keep in mind that President Monson has a sense of humor, but I will not go so far as to suggest he would respond like this, but you never know.

    So dad has trouble sleeping and he often gets up at night and patrols the neighborhood. He has interrupted a couple of burglaries which only encourages him more. Dad notices a police car parked behind this bank late every night for a few hours and upon closer investigation, he discovers that this police officer is copulating with a young woman in the back seat. He can not just let this pass.

    So he calls the polce department. But he doesn’t just report what he saw. No, he claims that he is a bank robber and he has been trying to knock that bank over for several weeks. And we bank robbers have our rights, and it is a violation of them for the police to be parked behind the same bank every night, especially since he is getting older and it is too hard for him to knock off another bank further away and escape on foot. He doesn’t care that the policeman is making out with a woman, heck they need the company like everyone else.

    So the police just can’t ignore a crank call like that. About 5 minutes later, a couple of uniformed officers are ringing his doorbell and want to talk to him. He invites them in, pretends to be deaf and barely able to walk (we call it the wounded sparrow act) and asks if he can go to the bathroom. He hobbles slowly across the room, climbs out his bathroom window, hops the 6 foot back fence and is around the block and sitting on the front porch of the neighbor lady across the street in about 2 minutes. He takes off his sweater and she loans him a straw hat and sunglasses. These two old geezers, now with binoculars, are laughing themselves silly, as a second patrol car pulls up and they begin to search the house and the neighborhood. Then dad goes over and volunteers to help search for himself. They say they don’t think they need his help.

    Eventually, they call my brother on the phone (who works at another bank) to tell him that dad is missing and he tells the police that dad is not deaf, actually in quite good shape for his age and could be miles away by that time. But more than likely he is probably sitting across the street with one of his neighbors laughing at them. He does tell the police that dad is slightly demented so that they don’t arrest him. The police car behind the bank at night is not seen again and dad gets a stiff lecture from my sister, the family field marshal.

  19. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 23, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Mike (#17): You have solved the problem of why we sometimes get such slow response on 911 calls. My son-in-law’s dad noticed an apparent burglar breaking into a neighbor’s house, but when he called 911, he was told it would be at least 30 minutes before they could respond. When he then told them that he was going to go shoot the burglar, they responded in 5 minutes.

    Being myself almost 60, I am well aware of the toll that time takes on our physical and mental capacities, including some of our general authorities in their advanced old age. On the other hand, this varies tremendously by individual. For example, President Kimball was plagued by all sorts of health problems, both major and minor, from boils to throat cancer, and had open heart surgery at the insistence of President Joseph Fielding Smith. It was during that surgery that surgeon Russell M. Nelson heard the Spirit whisper that Kimball would survive to be President one day. And he survived a much younger Harold B. Lee and during the first half of his term re-energized international missionary work and put iincredible energy into receiving and then promulgating the revelation on extending priesthood ordination to Africans.

    President Hinckley, unlike President Kimball, had very little chronic illness despite his advanced age, and demonstrated mental and verbal acuity right up to the end of his 96 years.

    I have seen no evidence that President Monson is any less intelligent or articulate now than he was 10 years ago. He is the same age as my father, who passed away last Spring as his heart and kidneys gradually deteriorated and he lost the ability to be engaged in many of the physical activities he had been engaged in up until he was about 75, working at the Jordan River Temple and supporting the Salt Lake Letter Carriers Band (the de facto official marching and concert band for Salt Lake County that played for the 1997 pioneer re-enactors entering the valley and for the 1996 centennial of Utah). President Monson is clearly in better health than my Dad was, so I see no reason to think that his mental acuity is determined solely by his age.

    One of the just released 70s, Elder Lynn Mickelson, reached age 70 a few years ago, and he bought a home in my ward in Idaho Falls in anticipation of emeritus status. However, the Presidency kept him on, working on the Spanish Bible project and as president of the Mexico Area. He visited my High Priests Group several times a year, and was manifestly as intelligent and perceptive as any of us, discussing with us many of the issues that he wrestled with as a 70.

    The mental productivity of someone who works with his or her mind is not measured in just how fast he can solve a puzzle, but how efficiently he can solve a problem or answer a question. When someone like President Monson has decades of experience in church leadership, he has addressed all sorts of issues before, and can draw on those prior deliberations and the lessons of the outcomes. So I would feel confident that, even if he were not as physically spry as he once was, his judgment about an issue would be more reliable, and just as quick, as that of someone who had far less practical experience and would have to deduce his way to a conclusion.

    Besides, the frailties of men are the reason we have church leadership by councils, not by individuals. President Eyring has spoken about how, when he was first called as a Seventy, he realized, as an expert on organizational behavior, how efficient the Church leadership actually was in exercising good judgment about issues, drawing on the diversity of experience and skills of the First Presidency and Twelve. Even when individuals have suffered from grievous illness, such as Bruce McConkie or Neal Maxwell, we have benefited from their insight and wisdom.

  20. jjackson on October 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

    What happens to a guy who has been in a position of unassailable power for this long?

  21. Don on October 25, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I really appreciated Elder McConkie’s insight and wisdom–especially his clear, concise explanations about how black people were the inferior race and the Sons of Cain.

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