Thoughts on gerontocracy, from an article having nothing to do with the Church. At the Atlantic, on the ascension of King Charles III at the age of 73: “King Charles Should Get Ready to Abdicate.” Why, you ask? “To counter a global trend toward gerontocracy, Britain’s new monarch should retire at 75.” That’s the age that British judges must retire, according to the article. The article provides some perspective on the LDS church governance regime whereby apostles, the Big 15, serve until death, regardless of declining health or mental capacity.
The United States doesn’t have a head of state who serves until death, but faces similar problems. “How imprudent for a great power such as the United States to have presidential elections in which septuagenarians vie for the presidency while the public watches debates for signs of dementia. Seven U.S. senators are in their 80s.“
Some sort of mandatory retirement age makes sense. It’s an easy argument to make. The details can be tricky, of course. At what age would an apostle or president retire? 80? 75? Should apostles then be called younger, in their fifties, which would provide for roughly twenty years of service with a retirement age of 75?
The counter argument is that it is valuable to retain the wisdom, experience, and prudence of older heads of state or (in the LDS case) apostles. Some people do just fine into their eighties and even nineties. Queen Elizabeth II and President Nelson are good examples. So there really are two sides to the argument.
What caused this problem? Blame modern medicine. “Charles III is taking the throne at an age when most of his predecessors were dead. If he goes on to rule long enough to put Prince William in that same position, history may remember this as the era when modern medicine transformed the British monarchy—but not for the better.” It would seem modern medicine has transformed the LDS leadership system as well.
If the present LDS system remains in place, a likely succession in coming years would be Oaks, Uchtdorf, Bednar. Get ready for conservative-progressive-conservative whiplash if that happens. If it’s Oaks, Holland, Bednar it will be more like conservative, passionately conservative, then inordinately conservative. Any proposal to change the LDS succession program is also a proposal to change the leaders who are eligible and likely to become President. That alone makes it very tricky to implement or even officially discuss.
Given how much we hear about modern revelation in Conference and lessons (so God can direct actual decisions), I find it ironic that it is the Catholics who convene senior leaders and actually work as a group to *choose* the next Pope, while senior LDS leaders merely convene to execute a pre-ordained program of elevating the longest serving apostle.
I know this topic gets discussed from time to time. The ascension of King Charles III and the discussion in the linked article maybe give us some food for thought. The Queen is dead. Long live the King.