A common belief in pop Salt Lake City Vaticanology is that Elder Uchtdorf is one of the more progressive members of the Quorum of the 12. This may be true, but for being such conventional wisdom there is very little hard data to back it up, which is the case for most speculations about the inner-workings of the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency. While the mid-level Church Office Building leaks like a colander at times, very little verifiable information about the inner workings and personalities of the Quorum of the 12 and the First Presidency makes it to the public. They run a pretty tight ship.
This means speculation is based on tea leaves more than anything else. As far as I can tell, the belief that he’s more progressive is based on the data points of:
- He’s Western European. This seems to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Americans sometimes have this image of Europe as like us but all Coastal Democrat, when that’s not the case at all. In some ways Europe is more “conservative” than Rupert Murdoch’s wildest dreams. Cases in point: while the draft tore American society apart, many European countries with no discernible external security threats still required service in the military until fairly recently, various European governments pay religions directly out of tax money, and if I’m remembering correctly Iceland had some real legislative momentum towards banning pornography recently. Of course, what’s “conservative” and “liberal” is always in a state of flux, but which policies cluster with which ideologies is very different across the ocean, and extrapolating his mere European-ness onto current hot American issues in 2023 or, say, female ordination is a bit of a stretch.
- He doesn’t talk about culture war issues. While this is true, neither do most of his colleagues. There are 3-4 other Apostles that occasionally address them, but even then it’s a small portion of their total corpus, even if the howling that inevitably occurs when they do makes it seem like a bigger piece than it is.
- He or a family member of his donated to Democrats. This is one of the few hard pieces of meaningful data. Still, given the fact that at the time the Democrats were running against a man WHO TRIED TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT (and no, I’m not exaggerating, and I mean every cap), I’m not going to take this as super predictive of his views on, say, MTF transgender athletes.
- He mentioned in General Conference that Church leaders have sometimes gotten things wrong. This is in concert with other official materials that have been released with the Church’s imprimatur, but it at least shows that he’s not super uncomfortable saying the quiet part out loud.
I might have missed something, but taking these data points together I think we can reasonably conjecture that he’s not a Heartlander, John Bircher, and/or MAGA type. Anything much beyond that in regards to particulars is highly speculative, and I don’t get the sense that he’s much different from his colleagues. I suspect he’s pretty traditional and TBM in terms of beliefs; that comes both from his direct and clear testimonies as well as my priors about the highest councils of the Church (that in terms of the basics the theological Overton window is pretty narrow in those spaces).