Latest from Mormon Land: Why future top church leaders may remain conservative

Also: Pre-General Conference coverage, a gay athlete suits up for BYU, and apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf recalls his refugee roots.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) General authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cast their sustaining votes during the 191st Semiannual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. As church membership ages, a data scientists expect top church leadership to do the same and remain conservative.

Are you a Mormon Land patron? Support us on Patreon and get exclusive access to Salt Lake Tribune subscriber-only religion content, extended newsletters, podcast transcripts and more.

How an older membership might change the church

It’s hardly a secret that folks are living longer and, thanks to medical advances, healthier lives.

What might that mean for the church as it too ages?

Data scientist Stephen Cranney dusted off his crystal ball on that question and here’s what he saw:

• More senior missionaries. “I suspect the additional years of life will outpace increases in the retirement age,” he wrote recently in a Times and Seasons blog post.

• A continued “conservative” church. “The norms and values of the older generations will be more represented than the values and norms of the younger generations,” Cranney stated. “However, society as a whole will go through a similar dynamic as it ages so this isn’t saying that the church will necessarily shift relative to society.”

• A conservative top church leadership. “If older people tend to be more conservative, and the leadership of the church is determined by seniority, which is correlated to age,” he noted, “then the top leadership … will tend to be more conservative.”

Cranney foresees more apostles over age 90 (there are two now) and wonders if “centenarian” prophets may become common.

In a matter of days, 97-year-old Russell M. Nelson is poised to stand as the church’s oldest-ever president, surpassing Gordon B. Hinckley.

Gay athlete finds a home at BYU

As a collegiate high jumper, Ty Wright is used to catapulting himself into the air to clear what seems to most people like an impossibly high bar.

But perhaps the biggest leap he took was choosing to enroll at Brigham Young University.

Wright is openly gay, SB Nation Outsports reports, and BYU isn’t seen as the most LGBTQ-friendly campus. But the Idaho native says he’s doing fine at the Provo school.

“Everybody has been so supportive and not afraid to ask questions and be a part of my life,” Wright said on “The Queer Athlete” podcast. “It’s made me feel more accepted and loved and supported.”

BYU deems that “same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.”

“You can still have a good experience at BYU despite the Honor Code,” Wright said. “You can choose your friends, your attitude on how positive you want to be.”

Pre-General Conference exclusives

As members prepare for General Conference, The Salt Lake Tribune again brought our readers special coverage on a host of topics by exploring:

• The powerful presidency of Jean Bingham, Sharon Eubank and Reyna Aburto as they near the expected end of a remarkable, even “radical,” five-year Relief Society run.

• Dallin Oaks’ edict that the church doesn’t apologize. While his statement has taken on the appearance of official policy for the faith, is it — and should it be?

• The Heartlander movement, whose adherents remain convinced that Book of Mormon events took place in what is now the United States, even as scholars have disproved most of their evidence.

• Why recent warnings from apostles not to pray to Heavenly Mother and to beware of speculating about her haven’t stopped women and men alike from discussing this cherished but shrouded doctrine of her existence.

• How the church’s investment arm shuns, unsurprisingly, alcohol, tobacco, coffee and gambling stocks, en route to building a $52 billion account, while also dodging soft drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo even though, contrary to continuing cultural canards, such caffeinated beverages don’t violate the Word of Wisdom health code.

• A new book by Ordain Women’s Kate Kelly, who highlights the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and famous feminists throughout history, ranging from Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley and Crystal Eastman to Martha Wright Griffiths, Barbara Jordan and Sonia Johnson.

In addition, Tribune sports columnist Gordon Monson follows up his 20 things he’d like to change about the church with 20 things he likes about it. He also discusses those positives on this week’s “Mormon Land” podcast. Listen here.

• The church has doubled to $8 million the amount it has donated to aid agencies to assist Ukrainians who have fled or remained in their war-shattered nation.

• Support among Latter-day Saints for LGBTQ rights has shot up to 84%, according to a recent survey, surpassing the national average of 79%. While the backing of same-sex marriage is growing among members (now up to 46%), it remains far behind the 68% found across the U.S.

Uchtdorf recalls his refugee roots

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks at General Conference on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. The church leader was a refugee twice during his childhood.

As Ukrainian refugees flee the fighting in their homeland, at least one top church leader knows firsthand how they might feel.

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf was a refugee twice — once while leaving Czechoslovakia, where he was born, and again when journeying from then-East Germany to West Germany.

“I was only 4 years old when my father was drafted into the German army to fight on the western front. Due to the dangerous conditions surrounding us, my mother decided to move our family out of Czechoslovakia in search of safety,” the 81-year-old Uchtdorf wrote in a recent social media post. “Only seven years later, we had to leave our country again and start afresh. Despite my young age, I can still remember this time of fear and hunger. It is not something one easily forgets.”

A “heartbroken” Uchtdorf lamented the “terrible and frightening conditions” endured by today’s war refugees and urged readers to “find an opportunity to help those in need — even if all you can do is pray and fast in behalf of those who struggle. Small acts of kindness mean everything to those who have lost so much.”

Women’s leader discusses emotional resilience

When the going gets tough, the tough get … help.

That’s essentially the message from general Relief Society President Jean Bingham in a newly released video.

“We can often feel overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, depression, grief and other emotional challenges,” she says. “...Resources like therapists, counselors, treatment from qualified doctors and psychiatrists and trusted family and friends are all ways in which the Lord is stretching forth his hand to help you.”

Bingham also touted a new church course titled “Finding Strength in the Lord: Emotional Resilience.”

“A lot of us are silent strugglers,” Ann-Marie Tate, a participant from Jamaica, said in a news release. “This course helps us work on the many areas of our lives that sometimes we don’t realize we need help in. I encourage anyone anywhere to partake of this course because it will help you to become the better version of you.”

Want more?

Subscribe here to get these and additional newsletter items free in your inbox each week.