‘Mormon Land’: Apostle vacancy spurs questions about men who run the church — for life

The system for picking leaders in the hierarchy has been “regularized,” but the advancing ages have some asking whether it’s time for more changes.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at General Conference in October 2022.

With senior apostle M. Russell Ballard’s death, church President Russell Nelson’s back injury and apostle Jeffrey Holland’s recent illnesses, the focus has fallen once again on the top men who lead the 17 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Years, even decades, of policy, practice and precedent have established how the hierarchy is ordered — a governing First Presidency, usually made up of the faith’s president and two counselors, at the pinnacle, followed by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presidency of the Seventy and general authority Seventies.

But with all the members of the First Presidency in their 90s and increasingly aged apostles, questions are reemerging about a gerontocracy among these men, who must serve for life and are charged with guiding a global religion. Is emeritus status for these leaders an option? Should it be?

And what about the general women’s leaders? Does their service, capped at five years, prevent them from having more influence in the church?

[For more on how Latter-day Saint apostles are selected, read this story and view this video.]

Historian Matthew Bowman, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, addresses these questions and more on this week’s podcast.

Matthew Bowman is Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

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