Nepotism is the most natural of vices and needs to constantly be proactively guarded against, or else it will almost certainly creep into any large institution. In the early Church there just weren’t a lot of options to choose from because it was so small, but as the Church becomes larger and more diverse it becomes increasingly unlikely that the best suited person for a high status calling happens to be the close relative of somebody else in a high status calling. (As an aside, one silver lining to having apostles with children who are very publicly not in the Church is that it helps ameliorate the otherization of people who aren’t in blue blood families).
In today’s Church, I suspect that family connections, when they do happen, are less a matter of somebody trying to build a dynasty and more a matter of people appointing people that they know, but in these cases stronger efforts to expand the circle of seriously considered candidates might be helpful.
Michael Quinn goes through the history of Church within-family promotions in the early Church in fine-grained detail (and some of the negative consequences), so we won’t rehash that here, but there is some residue of this today.
- President Monson’s daughter was in the Young Women’s General Presidency.
- President Nelson’s son-in-law is a General Authority 70 (I have heard this second hand and haven’t confirmed, feel free to correct).
- Elder Holland’s son was appointed to be President of UVU with no educational administration experience.
- President Eyring’s son is President of BYU-Idaho.
- President Hinckley’s son was called as a General Authority 70.
- There is a McConkie General Authority 70 now, and one that was in the YW General Presidency recently (I’m not sure about their relations, but I’d put offer pretty good odds that they are related to the McConkie).
In any individual case of a relation being called I’m open to the idea that that particular calling was the right one. In the case of Elder Holland’s son, for example, I’ve only heard good things about his administration even though his initial appointment clearly had something to do with who is father was (also, as an appointee of a state-run school that wasn’t a case of Church nepotism per se). I also appreciated President Hinckley’s disclaimer when his son was called as a member of the 70. Still, suggesting the boss’ son for a high position is ladder climbing 101, and extremely strong normative guardrails against nepotism should also guard against its more subtle forms.
Also, people notice, even the orthodox who only speak about this in whispers to certain people. A BYU-Idaho professor (not in my field) quipped to me that “BYU-Idaho takes nepotism very seriously…except at the top.” I don’t know enough about the BYU-Idaho situation to judge that particular case one way or another, but regardless the rank and file do notice, and that has implications.
I suspect that, since only a fraction of sons of apostles are general authorities, there is an anti-nepotism norm operating at the highest level of the Church, but those guardrails need to be constantly refurbished since violating them is the most natural thing in the world, and within-family appointments, no matter how sincere, start to poke holes in that dam. Again, any individual within-family appointment might be the correct one, but they should be done cautiously and with full awareness of what the costs to naturally tenuous anti-nepotism institutional norms might be.