Nope, not that rookie. Let’s talk about quarterbacks. It’s tough to be a rookie quarterback in the NFL. In the Thursday Night Football game a couple of weeks ago, unheralded and almost unknown Nick Mullens, who spent all of the 2017 season on the 49ers practice squad and had never played in a regular season NFL game, was the 49ers starting quarterback against the Raiders. The result: 16 of 22 passing, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a passer rating of 151.9 (the highest rating for a quarterback’s first start with at least 20 passing attempts since 1970). To say he was impressive is an enormous understatement. Teammates report he practiced hard and prepared zealously for every single game, despite not being on the active roster until this month. Newsflash: preparation pays off, sooner or later. I’m no 49ers fan, but it was a thrill to watch a rookie make the very most of his chance to get on the field.
Now let’s talk about prophets. It’s tough to be a rookie President of the Church. You don’t get your chance to lead in your prime, like quarterbacks do, but in your sunset years. Russell M. Nelson assumed office on January 14, 2018, at the age of 93. Nevertheless, the result: a surge of administrative changes to LDS practice, including two-hour church, a consolidated high elders quorum in all local units, and a commitment to end the LDS use of Scouting as its youth program as of 2020. He has traveled to Europe, Africa, and the Far East since taking office. He named an Asian-American and a Brazilian to the Twelve at his first General Conference. For the last few decades, change, even obvious and badly needed change, happened at a glacial pace within the LDS Church. Suddenly change is the order of the day. You may not like all of the changes, fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but at least someone is driving the bus again.
Perhaps the pace of change for the Nelson-Oaks team seems so rushed only because the Hinckley-Monson team ran the Church for so many years (1995-2018, with Pres. Hinckley basically running the Church as a counselor as early as 1984) and pretty much sailed straight and steady at standard speed for most of two generations. “All is well in Zion” might have been their motto, whereas “buckle your seatbelts” is the new one.
There is no “prophet rating” that we can use to compare first-year performance of LDS Presidents, but I’ll at least offer a few quick observations:
- Preparation pays off: Pres. Nelson obviously had a lot of changes he wanted to make, a game plan if you will, and moved forward with little hesitation upon taking office.
- Change at the top: This isn’t the first time a change in who occupies the office of President has led to big changes. Three years after taking office, Wilford Woodruff announced the end of the practice of polygamy in 1890, which John Taylor (d. 1887) showed no indication of being willing to do. Five years after taking office in 1973, Spencer Kimball ended the priesthood and temple ban that had been in place since the 1850s, which his precessor Harold B. Lee would not have been inclined to consider, much less enact.
- Can anyone argue with two-hour church? After fiddling around with pilot programs for decades, Pres. Nelson stopped the fiddling and just made it happen.
- Retrenchment: It’s too early to make a definitive pronouncement, but it sure looks like Retrenchment 2.0. That sort of tempers my enthusiasm and may give some readers pause when the changes move from administrative changes to doctrinal changes. But Nixon went to China. Maybe Pres. Nelson will too.