With the death of its prophet and president, Thomas S. Monson, the LDS Church will name a new “prophet, seer and revelator.”
But scholars and church members don’t expect a new direction for the church with a new president — universally expected to be Russell M. Nelson, most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
That’s the “temperament” of the 16 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to Max Perry Mueller, author of “Race and the Making of the Mormon People” and an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We can expect much more continuity than change,” Mueller said.
The tremors felt in the Roman Catholic Church when Pope Francis succeeded Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI just aren’t familiar to Mormons in their anticipation of a new prophet.
For their church, “stability and continuity are the order of the day,” said Steve Evans, a blogger for a popular Mormon website, By Common Consent.
Mormons believe their leaders are chosen by revelation to the apostles, according to Kathleen Flake, a professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia.
Doctrinally, that means they can choose anyone to be president, Flake said. Traditionally, it’s always been the longest-tenured apostle.
“Whatever the Mormons may lose in charisma and dynamism in the appointment of new leadership,” she said, “they gain in stability.”
For Al Carraway, a popular Mormon blogger and author of “More Than the Tattooed Mormon,” this is the first transition in LDS leadership since she joined as an adult.
“I can’t imagine at all anything crazy happening with the switch of a new prophet, just like there hasn’t been in the past,” Carraway said. “Though we definitely all expect it to be President Russell Nelson, there is a chance it could be someone else.”
Nelson, the longest-serving member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is expected to become president of the church sometime after the Jan. 12 funeral for Monson in Salt Lake City, according to the church website.
Monson, who was 90 when he died, and Nelson, who is 93, come from the same generation, Flake noted.
In fact, all in the quorum are older white men from North America, with the exception of Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was born in Czechoslovakia and lived in Germany until he became an apostle. They are “men who grew up in a church that was politically and socially very conservative and especially around questions of gender,” Mueller said.
And that quorum traditionally has worked hard to reach genuine consensus, Flake said.
Nelson, a heart surgeon, was spokesman for a while on the church’s largely anti-abortion views. He also has strongly backed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and espoused “nothing that would mark him as a crusader in any standout respect,” according to Evans.
But change still may come, even if not from the president.
What will be more interesting to watch than the leadership transition, historian Mueller said, is whom Nelson will name as his counselors and who will take his place in the quorum: Will the church bring in someone younger? Someone more representative of the diverse, growing global population of the church?
Henry B. Eyring and Uchtdorf served as Monson’s counselors in the governing First Presidency. New LDS prophets usually keep those advisers in place, but they don’t have to, and there is precedent — albeit decades old — for shuffling those lineups.
With the death last October of apostle Robert D. Hales as well as Nelson’s expected ascendency, two openings exist in the Quorum of the Twelve.
What Evans hopes to see moving forward is a “hard look at the questions of our day: wealth inequality among the membership, climate change, the rise of nationalism, and loving without conditions.”
The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this story.