Progressive politician Jacinda Ardern, a former Latter-day Saint who won global acclaim for her committed and compassionate response to mass shootings at two mosques and personal praise from church President Russell Nelson for her peacemaking and leadership abilities, is exiting as New Zealand’s prime minister.
The 42-year-old Ardern, who has seen some of her liberal luster fade amid economic stumbles, has decided not to seek reelection after leading her island country for 5½ years.
She said she looks forward to spending more time with her partner, TV personality Clarke Gayford, and their 5-year-old daughter, Neve, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
“To Neve: Mum is looking forward to being there when you start school this year,” she said in remarks announcing her departure from office next month. “And to Clarke — let’s finally get married.”
Nelson visited Ardern during a seven-nation Pacific tour in 2019, calling her a “real leader.”
“It’s an unlikely scenario; a young mother leading a great nation, a peacemaker, a policymaker, consensus giver,” the church president said at the time. “We’re very impressed with her. She’ll have a great future.”
Ardern has said that she left the Utah-based church in her 20s over the faith’s stance on LGBTQ issues. She told The New Zealand Herald in 2017 that she used to live in an apartment with three gay friends while she still was attending Sunday services “every so often.”
“I just remember thinking ‘this is really inconsistent — I’m either doing a disservice to the church or my friends,’” she recalled. “Because how could I subscribe to a religion that just didn’t account for them?”
She also felt uneasy about the faith’s tithing requirement.
“I’m sad that Jacinda Ardern could not remain a Latter-day Saint,” Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess wrote soon after the prime minister’s 2019 encounter with Nelson. “It’s our loss when a woman so smart, so driven and so absolutely awesome … feels there’s no place for her in Mormonism.”
New Zealand is home to about 109,000 Latter-day Saints, more than 200 congregations and three existing or planned temples.