How much change can a leader make on the culture of an organization? Do leaders change the groups they lead or are they changed by the groups? Do the groups reflect the leader’s values or do their values reflect the group’s? Is an organization different, culturally, depending on who the leader is?
The rise of Trumpism in American politics has led to a lot of discussion around the concept of “cult of personality.” Some Trump supporters, for example, claim that they believe the 2020 election had to have been stolen because nobody is wearing Biden hats or attending Biden rallies. Those who voted for Biden have replied by saying that’s because they don’t belong to a “cult.” A cult of personality refers to a political party or organization that is built around a charismatic leader. That leader typically controls the narrative about him or herself, and no criticism of the leader is allowed by followers. The leader is a “genius,” the one who can solve all the problems, the only one who can represent the group. The leader re-makes the group in his or her image.
Historically, pretty much all Kings and Queens were like this. It was the norm. The American experiment was a sort of exception due to term limits and the competitive nature of a two-party system. Criticizing the King? You might get your head chopped off, unless you’re in Revolutionary France, in which case, you might just start chopping off others’ heads. But criticizing POTUS? That’s as American as apple pie (which is the least of the pies, IMO). And everyone’s heads, so far, remain intact.
But there have also been many pundits questioning whether Trump set the narrative or was just savvy at seeing where the base was and amplifying their grievances, usually while privately denigrating them. It’s probably a combination of both things. That’s probably a key ingredient to the secret sauce of a cult of personality.
Unlike Trump, Biden is not generally considered to be a charismatic figure. He hasn’t proven to be a great communicator in general. Like most Democrat leaders, he’s taking plenty of hits from “friendly fire.” The party isn’t even coalesced around a 2024 Biden run. It’s basically the opposite of a cult of personality. These differences in style aren’t directly tied to approval ratings, either, because both Biden and Trump had absolutely abysmal approval ratings. One just had a rabid base of supporters while the other was pilloried by friends and foes alike. The key difference, though, is that one wants to be a brand, an object of worship to followers, and the other does not see this as the role or a positive. The job doesn’t require cult status for the leader.
Is the Church set up to be a cult of personality? Yes and no. The majority of our leaders after the first two  have been decidedly un-charismatic. But, there’s an incredibly strong culture of leader worship (at its peak, possibly, based on Ziff’s analysis of the number of times our current leader is quoted within his own earshot). Church members have to literally affirm a belief that the top quorum is comprised of “prophets, seers, and revelators,” a claim even Brigham Young didn’t make when he was Church president.  If you are seen as disloyal or critical of Church leaders, you might get yanked into a Church court . This has actually ramped up significantly since E. Oak’s rise to the first presidency during which he has outlawed (checks Bingo card) disagreeing with policies and any criticism of leaders, even if correct and justified. Okey-dokey.
I say it’s ramped up, but let’s be honest. Joseph and Brigham were likewise not big on being criticized; running afoul of them could also land you on the outs with the Church. I mean, look at how many apostles were getting excommunicated back then. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those in close proximity to the leader were also the ones getting the hatchet. Loyalty was requisite.
But the Church became, over time anyway, quite bureaucratic. There was less focus on quoting the current top leader for various reasons: incapacity and personal preferences come to mind. For many of us, we lived decades under leaders who were not very focused on remaking the Church in their image and who mostly seemed egoless, another twig in the stream of the Church’s onward progression. President Monson, in particular, was unwell for many years, leaving leadership up to a mix of apostles with various personalities and agendas, but nobody with total power over the Church. That is no longer the case.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Pres. Nelson is leading the Church as a “cult of personality.” There do seem to be quite a few whose overt deference and praise of him lead me to believe that they view him this way. There are some members who have immediately adopted his priorities as their own, gleefully correcting others if they say “Mormon” or “home teaching” as if they caught them blaspheming. But there has also been significant grass roots pushback, particularly from the right, among the emboldened anti-maskers and anti-vaxers. It’s possible that some members view Pres. Nelson as worthy of their particular fealty, but it seems to me to be just as likely that it’s a combination of veneration of the office, a culture of quoting and obeying leaders as a way to gain social capital, and perhaps some alignment with his political views and his vision for the Church.
Which brings me to my next thought. Among progressive Church members and ex-Mormons alike, there’s a lot of angst around Uchtdorf’s perceived “demotion” from the First Presidency, an act that simply made his leadership less prominent and less influential in the Church. Would Church culture be significantly different under an Uchtdorf presidency? I believe it would be. For one thing, it’s likely he would call a First Presidency more aligned with his interpretation of the gospel (as did Nelson), and that would be a pretty big shift from where we are today. I could see him calling Gong and Renlund into the First Presidency. I could see him focusing BYU more on academics and less on litmus tests for conservatism. I could see him inviting those who have left to come back. I could see more actual equality in the temple language rather than sneakily adding “preside” into the sealing. I could see a whole lot less racism and sexism as a result, and Democrats feeling as welcome as they once were.
- What do you think Church culture would be like with an Uchtdorf presidency? Who do you think would be in the First Presidency with him?
- Do you think the Church would lose fewer members under a leader like Uchtdorf?
- Would any who have left the Church return under such conditions?
 With the notable exception of David O. McKay’s luscious head of hair
 When he said we no longer had a “prophet,” but just “apostles.” Not that he wasn’t basically the Kim Jong Un of the Utah Territory. He just didn’t claim to be a prophet, a title he reserved for Joseph.
 Er, invited into a “Court of Love,” or whatever misleadingly pleasant euphemism we’re currently using.
 Thankfully we’ve mostly quit talking about that, at least until the next global pandemic.
I’ve heard from a friend who works in the Church Office Building that those employees who refer to President Nelson with the added qualifier “our beloved prophet” are seen as more devout. Which seems to be getting a little too cultish …
Yes, you might consider supporters of Trump as being cultish, but the simple fact is that for the first-time conservatives had a president that simply did what he promised he would do. Of course, there were reason to not like Trump, but he did deliver on the promised conservative goals.
I think that members of the church are every bit as cultish in their support of RMN. But that type of support has been baked into the LDS culture. They proclaim the president as a “prophet, seer and revelator.” without any evidence that such is the case. In fact, you can observe failed policies without affecting the adoration of the masses.
Cachemagic – I seem to recall something about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, which never came to pass, along with a number of other absurd promises. Regardless, cult-status is independent of what a leader actually does. As Trump famously said, he could shoot someone on Fifth avenue and not lose his supporters. In fact, the the more a cult leader fails to deliver, the more the loyal true believers tend to double down on their devotion and find excuses and scapegoats to blame. We certainly see this in religious cults.
Leader worship in our church is one of my biggest complaints. “Follow the prophet,” “our beloved prophet,” constant laudatory speeches about Nelson, other leaders constantly quoting his talks and sayings. One can’t help but draw parallels between the way our members treat the church president and how other cult-like leaders are treated by their followers – and it’s just gross. And because of this cult-like worship and making obedience the highest priority, members fail to develop their own sense of morality and ethics. When confronted with what should be an easy moral issue (e.g., attending a child’s gay wedding), they have to ask what the church or prophet says as opposed to what Jesus would do and how can I love and support my child. This is a huge failing in the church.
Nelson is not nearly charismatic enough to have a Cult of Personality centered on him. He is, however, a bigger narcissist than what the Church has seen in a long time, which helps to explain the extra leader worship we have seen during his presidency.
Another way to explain the recent rise in leader worship is the Church is just doubling down on “follow the prophet” as more members question the Church’s truth claims
Cachemagic, if keeping promises is what is determining who you support as president, then I would expect you to be a strong Obama supporter. Look at Politifact’s scorecard for Obama (https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/?ruling=true) with 47% of campaign promises kept vs. Trump’s scorecard (https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/trumpometer/) with only 23% of promises kept. Of course we all know that politifact is part of the “liberal media” and that whenever someone disagrees with a conservative statement with facts, well then that makes the conservative a victim.
With the Apostles, the big questions are how long they will live and how their health will be if they make it to the senior spot. President Nelson will be turning 98 in September. It appears he will live well past 100, but you never know. He has good genes (both parents lived to an advanced age) and has probably taken exceptionally good care of his body (he was a heart surgeon, after all).
Next in line is President Oaks, who will be 90 in August. He also appears to be in great health and might be president for a few years with relatively good health of both mind and body. After Oaks is President Ballard, who will turn 94 in October. He appears to be failing physically, so I don’t anticipate he will outlive President Oaks, or even President Nelson. After Ballard is Elder Holland. He and Elder Uchtdorf are turning 82 in December and November, respectively. Elder Holland’s health, however, appears to be declining, so I would expect Elder Uchtdorf to outlive him. Between them in seniority, however, is President Eyring, who recently turned 89. I don’t anticipate Eyring outliving either Oaks or Nelson, but you never know.
Because of his apparent good health and relative youth, Elder Uchtdorf could become president while still quite vigorous. If so, he might shake things up a bit. But you just never know. Lots of members were worried (or hopeful) that President Benson would move the Church in extreme political directions. It didn’t happen. I suspect that any influence a President Uchtdorf might exert on the Church would be subtle and not far different from its general direction over the past couple of decades. The one prophet in the past century who really did shake things up, in almost every way imaginable, was President Kimball, and nobody saw that coming.
Here’s my take on Trump and Biden: Biden has demonstrated that he is physically and mentally unfit for the most important job in the world. And Trump has demonstrated that he is emotionally, physiologically, and ethically unfit for the job. So if the choice in 2024 is between those two, I won’t be voting for the 3rd consecutive time (Hillary was unfit ethically in 2016).
Here’s my take on the impact of individual prophets: There’s nothing wrong with an individual prophet having a unique personality and for that personality to have an influence on the Church. For example, didn’t President Monson influence you to want to reach out to single members in your ward due to his great stories? But unfortunately, it goes way beyond that. Most of us know the history behind RMN’s obsession with the Church’s name. It goes back to a Conference talk in 1990 (I believe) and this issue is obviously one of his pet projects. Is that how the Church should be run? And we all know that the next prophet (Oaks) is obsessed with the homosexuality and gender.
It seems to me that individual and unique personalities is one thing. Personal agendas another thing. Members of the Church shouldn’t assume that more progressive Q15 members like Uchtdorf will move the Church in a different direction than someone like Oaks but the reason members feel this way is because we’ve seen it in the past. It’s a man-made corporate organization built on expected unanimity at the top. I don’t see the Lord directing any of it.
I think if Uchtdorf becomes President, he might call Ballard into the FP, to balance (with experience reputation and connections) Gong or Renlund. Upon his passing (which is a terribly sad thought), the other youngster could join the FP (Gong or Renlund). But, unless there’s a “King Ralph” catastrophe in SLC, I think Tom is correct, Elder Ballard won’t live long enough.
Like 45 stacking the courts, Monson and Nelson have been able to hand-pick most of the Q15. The brethren are now solidly conservative, and even if a more progressive prophet became prophet, he wouldn’t have the time to name apostles, let alone as many as have been names by Monson/Nelson. So, ultimately, I predict that Uchtdorf, Gong and Renlund (the lone progressives- or less conservatives) will be minority voices that are NOT replaced. They represent a dying breed
I don’t think Uchtdorf would continue with the “covenant path”, but instead focus on grace and applied faith, continuing to correct cultural falsities. But, I say that apprehensively as. I have no confidence in my hypotheses anymore. I thought Monson would focus on dignity in aging, respecting elders/ gerontology and widows.
To answer the questions above, I suspect that an Uchtdorf presidency would not be revolutionary, just a sigh of relief that would probably only last as long as he did. However, I have heard a rumor that he’s actually not great on women’s issues. I’m not sure the evidence for that, and I don’t know what any Church president could or would do about the role of women in the Church without completely changing fundamentals. He doesn’t strike me as that kind of guy. He does strike me as politically more palatable and much more focused on Christ than grinding his political axe and going after his pet peeves. He also doesn’t strike me as the kind of narcissist Nelson clearly is, so I assume we’d get a big improvement on the leader worship garbage that is killing the Church.
Speaking of leader worship, I just watched Stay Sweet, Pray & Obey, the docu-series about the FLDS, and wow, there’s a cautionary tale with leader worship. I highly recommend watching it just from an informational standpoint and to see the courage of those who left this abusive religion that appears to be a pretty straight line from what Brigham Young wanted to today. It is far far more similar to what polygamous 1800s Mormonism was than the current Church is, but with some amping up of the most abusive elements of those practices, including rape circles in their temple (a temple which bore more than a passing architectural resemblance to our own, minus the “bed/altar” abomination where very young girls were raped while their “sister wives” watched). I think what that showed was that when the stuff that’s out in the open is really bad, there’s always something even worse being done in secret. In Joseph Smith’s time, it was polygamy that was being done in secret. Once you bring that into the open as a feature of the religion, then more extreme versions of that *might* be occuring within elite circles. (I don’t mean this as a spoiler–the temple bed thing was in the news at the time, so I assume people know about it).
I do think the Church would lose fewer members under an Uchtdorf because I don’t think he would be pushing loyalty and leader worship, which would signal to local leaders to cut the crap and quit applying political loyalty tests to their flocks. But it would also depend somewhat on what’s happening politically in the country at the time. Those who are ideologically aligned with the right who belong to that political cult will still recklessly attack others who don’t belong to their cult, and will be emboldened by a political majoritarian position, even if the signals from current church leaders contradict. There’s plenty of precedent for them to claim their views are supported.
Lastly, I don’t really think most who have left would return under a better presidency. I think it’s a one way street. Part of that is because they may feel that the Church has failed them as a spiritual guide and support, and therefore, they will seek other avenues for these needs (usually outside of religion), and perhaps more importantly, it’s really hard to want to be part of a community that has done what ours continues to do. It’s not just the leaders. It’s definitely the members, particularly those not bothered by today’s status quo.
FYI, the latest euphemism for an LDS church court is “membership council.”
Yes, I believe Uchtdorf would slow the exit of progressive or liberal Mormons – or at a minimum they would feel marginally more comfortable. My perception is that even Eyring has been more traditional and conservative in his general conference talks.
To share my own, somewhat unique, example. I was bishop from 2014-2019 and have been a stake high councilor since. I’m vocal about including women and minorities more, etc, often being the only dissenting voice in stake or ward level decisions. Last week I pointed out to Stake Council that you can be pro choice and be a member in good standing, which caused a minor uproar. Since RMN I find myself fantasizing about leaving the church – before then my thinking was that I could influence the church for positive change in my own little sphere. However now I find myself wondering if it’s a vain pursuit to try to influence the church locally.
I’d like to think that an Uchtdorf presidency would be more focused on acceptance, love, and a “come and see” attitude rather than the sad-heaven, the first great commandment means we can be homophobic, and our religious freedom is more important than anything else rhetoric that seems to be increasing.
The only way I see us stop losing members is for the restoration to continue in a massive way. Not just the over-celebrated smaller changes that have occurred during Nelson’s administration (a new logo, correlated home based curriculum, and adjustment to time spent at church) but actual change that impacts the marginalization of all members- to start- ordaining women and offering full acceptance of LGBTQ saints including acknowledging and celebrating their marriages. Could that happen during an Uchtdorf presidency, maybe?
Also, what is with the addition of preside in sealings? It had been a long time since I’d seen a sealing and I was excited to not have to watch my niece be given to her husband (especially creepy after watching Stay Sweet), only to be kicked in the face with the whole preside garbage. I know it’s not new but it was still shocking.
Awesome post. I do believe that Uchtdorf would align the church more positively with the good which is in Mormonism. But my wife’s apple pie is #1. Many others are inferior and I’m sad you have experienced those.
An organization in denial will pick leaders who are unwilling or unable to deal with real problems in an open and straightforward way, because, well, the organization is in denial. The reason Uchtdorf has not done more is because he is Uchtdorf–he was chosen because he is not the type of person who would mostly keep silent. He is kind towards individuals and has warmth, a real joy to be around, but he is still the type of person the organization wants and his presidency would not change much.
Correction: he was chosen because he is the time of person who would mostly keep silent.
Speaking of leader worship (or even prophet idolatry), Pres. Nelson could easily tamp that down if he instructed his subordinate general authorities to stop quoting him and referring to him in their talks, so that they could direct members’ attention to Christ instead. But sadly, Pres. Nelson seems to love the adulation. He strikes me as someone who is emotionally stunted and insecure.
Angela, I totally agree that Uchtdorf would likely just be “a sigh of relief that would probably last only as long as he did.” Even if he weren’t some amazing progressive leader who would ordain women and institute gay marriage in the temple, he would be so dramatically different in that he would just be less likely to do awful things:
* He is so much more self-effacing than Nelson, or other Q15 members more generally that I can’t imagine he’d stand for the Nelson norm of having virtually every speaker in conference quote him at least once.
* He’s shown no love for the FamProc, and he would likely de-emphasize it by simply never referring to it.
* Ditto for divine gender roles, tithing, fertility and birth control, and missions, to name some of the gospel hobbies of his colleagues (cough*Andersen*cough). He wouldn’t change policy on them, but he would change the feel of the Church just by not hammering on them.
I wrote a post years ago where I looked at whether he was likely to reach the top spot. The conclusion was that half of his job was outliving Holland, and the other half was outliving all the others senior to Holland. If it’s true that Holland is in worse health, then it seems likely that it could happen.
A couple of the commenters have accused RMN of being a narcissist and seeker of adulation. I agree that the level of hero worship has increased and I’ve seen posts about general conference data that bear that out; but I’m curious whether you all see evidence that RMN is behind it. He certainly tolerates it, but is he causing it somehow?
Jesse, at least from my point of view, if he wanted to stop it or discourage it, he would just need to say the word to his fellow GAs. After all, he said the word on “Mormon” being a victory for Satan, and they all got in line, even those who previously hadn’t seemed to have a problem with it. Therefore, it seems clear given that it’s ongoing and perhaps even getting worse, that he’s enjoying it.
Jesse, before Covid, we attended a special fireside at State Farm Stadium in Arizona. Sister and President Oaks spoke and then Sister Nelson and President Nelson spoke. Sister Nelson recounted how special it was in the mornings when the spirit told her to get out of bed to do genealogy work in another room so that Pres Nelson could receive revelation in the bedroom without her there. The entire talk was about how amazing he was as a prophet. In addition, her recent comments about how when the prophet speaks we should put an exclamation point behind it and when anyone else does, we should put a question mark there demonstrate that he’s not discouraging his own wife from publicly praising him.
Our area got the same talk from sister Nelson a couple of months ago. Clearly, pres. Nelson is okay with it.
“It is so very important that you do not let praise and adulation go to your head. Adulation is poison. You better never lose sight of the fact that the Lord put you where you are according to His design, which you don’t understand.” GBH
Some years ago GBH became the prophet ( even though he was the “behind the scene” prophet for many years at the end of SWK’s tenure, and the entire tenure of ETB), he said he did not like “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet” when he entered the room being sung. He thought that was for JS only. But people did it anyway. Beyond that, if you read the words to the song carefully, it only mentions “The Prophet” in the first line. The rest of a song is a praise to our Heavenly Father for the restored Gospel. We feel it a pleasure to serve thee and love to obey thy command—The Lord, not the Prophet. Yet I think many people think the whole song is about “the prophet”. Whichever one.
Great post and good questions, @hawkgrrrl!
Since the the close of WWII, the church (“the church” meaning Q15) has increasingly promoted prophet worship, become less transparent with each passing year, taken power and authority away from general auxiliaries (they used to have the largest budgets in the church at the general level), and killed the autonomy of gospel curriculum development at the local church level.
(As an observation, I’m always struck when I realize that 50-years-ago+ being a stake Sunday school president really meant something–it was a prestigious calling. Stake Sunday school presidents held an extraordinary level of influence and respect. Being a part of the stake Sunday school board meant developing and codifying Sunday school curriculum that would be used in all wards of the stake for the coming year. In fact, Sunday school was so important in the church we even took the sacrament during Sunday school opening exercises prior to the consolidated church meeting block. We now live in a post modern, correlated church.)
Over the past 70 years, the church has consolidated power and budget control to the Q15, exclusively. The local church exercises very little decision making authority. You can see a positive correlation between the rise of prophet worship and calls to obedience, and a negative correlation with the idea of free agency and local autonomy. The church becomes more authoritarian as it seeks to further dumb down its members. I hold a bleak view of the church’s future, probably because I’m completely uninterested in becoming an evangelical. Today, most sacrament meetings, gospel doctrine classes and EQ lessons are, for lack of a better word, insipid, and bereft of any meaningful theology. The devotional model is given to one objective: obedience and loyalty to The Prophet.
What do you think Church culture would be like with an Uchtdorf presidency? Max Weber, I think, would say RMN and any other church leader–including Uchtdorf–is given Charisma (capital ‘C’) by virtue of the way followers see them as being endowed with supernatural power. In this sense, Charisma follows. If we use the term charisma (little ‘c’) in the broader, more modern sense, I don’t think RMN qualifies as having charisma. As a church, we create the cult of personality by virtue of our view of The Prophet, no matter how droll the individual holding the calling may be. I have a lot of respect for Howard W. Hunter, but he wasn’t exactly full of personality. Are any of you old enough to remember when they showed the clip in general conference of Ezra Taft Benson singing “I am a Mormon Boy”? I think it was an attempt to show his “soft” side. I was in attendance at the Tabernacle (1988 or 89, I think?) during that session. Everyone coming out was talking about how touching his singing was, to a group of little boys no less. I said that was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen at general conference, this aged man singing some odd, old pioneer song with no pitch. In that regard, if I remember how Weber used the term, it’s the members who endow the church’s president with Charisma. Benson always came off as extremely hard-edged, paranoid and embittered; he seemed to me to be the antithesis of being charismatic. The fact is very few of our church presidents have charisma even if the church’s membership endows The Prophet with Charisma.
By comparison, Uchtdorf–like Hinkley– is full of radiant personality, with charisma. Even though several of Hinkley’s teachings and positions haven’t aged well, I think members generally (and this was pre internet age) really admired and liked him and his quick wit and light heartedness. The church seemed to flourish during his tenure. I think an Uchtdorf presidency would be marked by compassion and openness and would feel like an updated version of the Hinkley era, as imperfect as it was. I’m not sure how radical Uchtdorf’s policy changes could be simply because he may not have a majority support him across the Q15. Still, he may be able to usher in an era of progressiveness and any changes he makes could stick if ROI were clearly demonstrated. For example, if Uchtdorf’s leadership style and policies resulted in greater membership retention, an improved domestic and international church reputation, and increased converts, none of the apostles who follow him would dare change anything. And, unlike Holland, whom I think is often mistaken for being more open and progressive (Holland is none of those things), Uchtdorf would be more pragmatic towards changing the missionary program and would promote a theology more reflective of mainline Protestantism compared to RMN’s brand of Mormon evangelism. Uchtdorf may even be able to pull us over some thorny historical paradoxes by simply denouncing them and honestly acknowledging them for what they are (e.g., the priesthood exclusion was simply a product of bigotry, period, etc.)
Who do you think would be in the First Presidency with him? Christofferson and Gong. Both men are compassionate and specialized. Christofferson legal, and Gong international relations and finance. Not Holland. I have some well placed sources that suggest Holland, despite his displays of emotion and at times beautiful prose, is more narcissistic and self absorbed than RMN is.
Do you think the Church would lose fewer members under a leader like Uchtdorf? I think Uchtdorf is inspiring to orthodox members and fundamentally understands and is partially aligned with progressive thinkers within the church. I believe he would appeal to a broader base of members than any of the other senior apostles.
Would any who have left the Church return under such conditions? If Uchtdorf made radical changes, maybe? Even then, I think the process of leaving the church is so traumatic for most that it makes it impossible to want to return. I’m still in, but hanging by a thread. As I become more honest with those around me about the church’s claims I don’t believe and the elements of our culture I feel are harmful and dishonest, I can already feel the negative consequences that come from bruising and offending the tribe. Most members aren’t as concerned about your spiritual welfare or faith as much as they care about your loyalty. Breach standards of loyalty and you’ve become the enemy. A change in leadership in SLC, no matter who it is, will change that dynamic.
“Would any who have left the Church return under such conditions?“
I can only speak for myself, but I would love it if I felt like I could return. I miss the community, the built-in support system, the ability to quickly make friends, and the weekly/daily calls to personal improvement. However, I can’t support an organization that unapologetically discriminates the way the church does and I have a real hard time sitting through lessons all based on, shall we say, alternative facts. So I guess these are my conditions for returning:
– Ordain women (or unordain men)
– Full embrace of LGBTQ+ marriage and trans rights
– A church culture that celebrates varying kinds/degrees of belief—including humanism
Now that doesn’t sound like the current COJCOLDS at all so it would be quite a feat for Uchtdorf to pull that off. He would basically have to remake Mormonism. It’s like saying, “I’d vote for Trump if he had some sort of Scrooge-like transformation, repented of his sins with weeping and wailing, and adopted the platform of AOC.” It would be a cold day in hell.
I imagine others who have left have a less stringent list of dealbreakers for coming back, if they have interest at all. But I also agree with others here who’ve said Uchtdorf isn’t as much of an iconoclast as some of us would like him to be.
I agree that the level of leadership worship has accelerated since RMN became president. I doubt I will ever go back no matter who is leading the church. There’s too much bad history, $100b, recycled GC talks, polygamy history, embrace of Trumpism and let’s not forget the white nationalist problem.
One thing I’ll add is I’ve a friend who worked for a time at COB. This was in the last 5-6 years. She told me that there are posters all over the building that depict a silhouette of a man raising his right hand to the square. Underneath it says Follow the Prophet. That is borderline cult like for me.
It is not true that Brigham Young did not have the title of prophet, seer, and revelator. Every conference I checked in the 1850s, 60s, and 70s sustained Brother Brigham and his counselors as prophets, seers and revelators. You can search the Deseret News for that era on newspapers(dot)com. There is the occasional quotation of Brigham Young saying he shouldn’t be called a prophet. But whatever he meant in context, that was not the general practice, and it didn’t prevent him from being sustained as prophet in every conference.
There’s a weird claim accepted without question in some circles that after Joseph, nobody was called a prophet, or sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator until David O. McKay. I don’t know why people think it’s so important, but it’s just not true. You can look it up in the general conference reports. Conference speakers often used “the prophet” to refer to Joseph Smith, but it’s not hard to find instances referring to the incumbent. The First Presidency and the 12 are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators pretty much throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The presiding patriarch is also sustained as PS&R starting about the turn of the century until he was made emeritus in the 1970s.
Really good post and comments.
-Would Uchtdorf make a difference? I think similar to Hinckley, he’d be positive for the culture of the Church – making things friendlier. But (like Hinckley …) he doesn’t seem particularly progressive on women’s and LGBTQ issues.
-Would Uchtdorf mean people will come back? Some, maybe, but I think most I know who’ve left wouldn’t come back. Fundamentally, a lot of people I know who’ve left simply don’t think the Church is what the Church purports to be, or that Church leaders are who they purport to be. So I agree with Toad – not only would the Church need to make big changes when it comes to women’s equality & queer inclusion (full inclusion), it would ALSO need to be welcoming of pretty extreme differences on fundamental beliefs (like a belief in an anthropomorphic God, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, etc.). That’s a major, major shift.
Oh yeah meant to add … the data on ages is something I’ve been thinking about. My grandpa is 98. The thought that people his age are running the Church is kinda … insane. I get that some 100 yr olds are healthier and more with-it than others, but he’s been pretty high-functioning for a long time but ALSO absolutely, totally unwilling to change his mind on ANYTHING. I don’t object to having elders with wisdom in leadership, but it needs to be balanced and representative and not authoritarian.
I agree Uchtdorf would probably be similar to Hinckley. He would smile, tell jokes, self-deprecate and demure from time to time, and generally remind us to be positive. The only people that would really be bothered by Uchtdorf would be the prepper movement since he probably wouldn’t talk about end times too much.
To Elisa’s point about her grandfather, it’s not just the church. Look at the last two US presidents. We’ve gone from Bill Clinton being elected in his 40’s to our last two presidents being in their 70’s. Donald Bren, one of the most discussed and influential household names in my community, is 90! When my older two kids ask when things will get better I want to respond “when the boomers retire and get out of the way and let us take a whack at things” but instead I have to respond “when the boomers die and get out of the way and let us take a whack at things.”
Church members think that it is wonderful that our leaders are old and in such good health. Our leaders won the DNA lottery. They are there because they outlived everybody else. If you believe that God preserved them for that calling, then you also have to accept that God did not want Packer, Ashton, McConkie Perry, Maxwell, Faust or Scott to be Prophet. What must it feel like for their families?
A side note, it’s fascinating that we have chosen a leadership system in which an 82-year-old can be described as having “relative youth.”
Uchtdorf might have moved things on womens ordination, and LGBTI inclusion when he was 65, now past his prime. Perhaps he could introduce a retirement age of 72 for Apostles and prophets? Though that should be done at the same time as womens ordination so half the new apostles are women Perhaps a gay woman.
“ … you also have to accept that God did not want Packer, Ashton, McConkie Perry, Maxwell, Faust or Scott to be Prophet.”
Or incapacitated versions of any former Prophet (Benson).
I’ve often wondered what method the God would use to satisfy the latter part of this oft-quoted passage from W. Woodruff:
“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. … If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place …”
SoCalGal, I was horrified by that story so I checked with a friend who’s worked in the COB for years. While he said it’s possible that certain departments have their own decor, he’s never seen the Orwellian poster you described and said the decor is the correlated stuff we see in chapels.
Two quick thoughts: 1) I spoke twice a year in stake conference over a period of about 6 years. President Uchtdorf (he was in the FP during that time) was the only general authority I quoted in all of those years. I loved his perspectives and the things he emphasized. What a tragedy that RMN wanted to silence that voice. And 2) we had an apostle visit one year for our stake conference. Right before the Sunday morning session, our stake presidency met with the apostle and area authority to review the meeting etc. All five of us walked into the chapel from that meeting together (about 1o minutes before the session was to begin). Place was packed. Some visitors not from our stake located in pews near the front all stood up as we entered. No one else in our stake stood. That made me very happy that we just were not that kind of stake to worship our leaders in ways that I think that Jesus Christ would never have tolerated. That liberal stake presidency is long gone and I’m sure any efforts we tried to make from within a were gone as quickly as the waves smooth the sand .
Jesse, as others have pointed out, I don’t think he’s “behind it” so much as encouraging it at every turn. People have quoted and will continue to quote the prophet ad nauseam in general conference–it’s not like Nelson has some kind of quotation quota he’s trying to get everyone to meet. If a prophet (I use the term loosely) wanted to put a stop to this, they would have to explicitly call it out.
The birthday parties seem excessive, to say the least.