Rock the Gerontocracy!

Hawkgrrrlcatholicism, christianity, church, Culture, death, General Authorities, Government, inter-faith, Leaders, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, President Monson, prophets, religion, theology 55 Comments

Larry King described the Mormon faith as a “gerontocracy” (Hello–Pot? Kettle here).  Being led by 15 men with a median age of 76 is a unique feature of our church. So, what are the side effects of being in a gerontocracy? How does it color our life experience and perspectives? How does it affect the image of the church?

A gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population.

Some examples of political gerontocracies:

  • In the Soviet Union, gerontocracy was the rule of thumb from the 1970s until March 1985, when a dynamic, young, ambitious leadership headed by Mikhail Gorbachev took power.
  • Iran and other theocracies often promote gerontocracy for their highest ruling offices, but parliamentary members must be under age 75 as a balance (keeping that youth vote?).
  • India’s Tamil Nadu state is ruled by an octogenarian oligarchy.
  • Within the U.S. Senate, the oldest senators are typically assigned to chair committees; some later run for president.
  • Catholicism.  Due to the high number of aging Cardinals, Pope Paul VI removed the right for Cardinals to vote for a new Pope once they reach the age of 80.
  • Wikipedia cites LDS as a Gerontocracy:  “On the other hand, gerontocracy may emerge in an institution not initially known for it.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., a 24-year-old man [sic], who in 1835 constituted the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles with members ranging in age from 23 to 35.”  You may recall these were not all winners. “Once it was established that succession to the church presidency derived from longest tenure in an office held for life, the hierarchy aged markedly, and with the growth of the church the age at which officials were named to the highest bodies continued to rise. Six church presidents have held office past the age of 90, and until his death in 2008 the church was actively led by Gordon B. Hinckley, a man who remembered the day his father replaced the family horse-wagon with a Ford Model T.

So, is Mormonism a Gerontocracy?  The tradition of promoting the longest-serving member of the Quorum goes back to 1847, when Brigham Young replaced Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr., as the prophet. Such a method predisposes the Mormon Church to continually select men who have already lived long lives, leading some critics (and Larry King who is sort of a fanboy) of the church to refer to its leadership as a “gerontocracy.” Monson is 80, and the next most senior apostle, Boyd K. Packer, is 83.

– Faust in the First Presidency
– GBH in the First Presidency during ETB’s era
– Bednar (in the 12) is 55 years old.  A mere kid.
– Alvin Dyer in the First Presidency (was never even a member of the 12)

So what are the potential drawbacks of a Gerontocracy?

  • Mental Deterioration.  The decreased faculties of the aged can potentially be a handicap in providing effective leadership.  Eventually, the mortal body shuts down, and occasionally the mind precedes it.
  • “Out of Touch.”  Church members may feel the leadership are out of touch with their viewpoints, experiences, and needs, thereby leading them to marginalize their counsel.
  • Resistance to Change.  The elderly may have a difficult time relating to a quickly changing world.  Some are not comfortable with technology.  Some have worldviews set in cultural standards of the past.
  • Living in the Past.  It seems that everyone finds a certain era in their life they feel comfortable with and they never leave it (or quit buying new clothes after a certain era).  This seems to be human nature.  Fortunately for my kids, I’ve been mostly able to shake off the 80s.
  • Ageism.  Gerontophobics will be scared off.  Ken Dychtwald identified seven assumptions of gerontophobia:
    • If young is good, then old is bad
    • If the young have it all, the old are losing it
    • If the young are creative, the old are dull
    • If the young are beautiful then the old are unattractive
    • If the young are stimulating, then the old are boring
    • If the young are full of passion, then the old are beyond caring
    • If the children are tomorrow, the old represent yesterday

Gerontocracy generally occurs as a phase in the development of an entity, rather than being part of it throughout its existence. Opposition to gerontocracy may cause weakening or elimination of this characteristic by instituting things like term limits or mandatory retirement ages (emeritus status).

And what are the positives of a Gerontocracy?

  • Stability.  Gerontocracy’s stability is seen as its strength, which can be more appropriate for institutions that teach principles that do not vary over time.
  • Resistance to Change.  Elderly leaders are more likely to allow change more slowly rather than reacting to the whims of time and trend.
  • Respect for Elders.  Psychologically, it’s much easier to unquestioningly follow the commands of someone older than you. So the strict seniority-based promotion scale serves a practical purpose.
  • Experience.  These leaders have got many more years of life experience than the rest of us.  With age, wisdom.
  • Credibility by Imitation.  For millions of people, the Pope is the representative of God on earth.  Having a similarly-aged leader lends an air of “me too” credibility for those who are most comfortable with this image.
  • God’s Really in Charge.  He can kill off potential leaders before their time, at least according to the “lower decks” scuttlebutt I have heard.  And God is the ultimate Geriatric!

So, what’s your opinion?  Is the church a Gerontocracy?  If so, why did it become one?  Will it always be one or is this a temporary condition?  How do others perceive this, both in and out of the church?  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?  Does the world really change all that much or is doctrinal stability more desirable?

Comments 55

  1. Dear hawkgrrl:

    Doctrinal stability? Please!

    Anyway, I touched on this thread slightly in the “Finding the truth” thread.

    Now I’m going to try to go away, because the mental gymnastics here are just too much for me. (I tried once before, but let myself get back involved even after I realized continuing here was fruitless.)

    I am glad it works for you (and others) but I have always been taught that this is a “simple gospel” and it seems that it is anything but that. To be happy in the church seems to require blind obedience (listed as a positive on your list above) or complex “double think.” Neither works for me.

    I wish you much happiness. (You can tell Ray I wish him happiness too.) I understand that you (and Ray and others) were doing the best you can, and I hope you understand that I was also doing the best I can.

  2. The LDS Church is unquestionably a gerontocracy. But in contrast to US Senate, Iran, Catholicism, and the former Soviet Union, the LDS Church is a far less dynamic gerontocracy.

    Although the Senate (a word derived from the Latin senex “old man”) was designed to be a council of wise, old men who would temper democracy’s potential for rashness, its traditions are flexible enough to allow a relatively young and dynamic leader like Nancy Pelosi to be majority leader instead of avoid being stuck with the doddering Robert Byrd. As you mention, Catholic cardinals become effectively emeritus at 80, and they are fully capable of electing someone who is 50 or younger to be the next pope. Even the Soviet Union, when facing self-induced collapse, was able to reach into the Politburo and give the reins of state to one of its younger, more dynamic members: Mikhail Gorbachev (then 54, having only been in the Politburo 4 years).

    That dynamism is lacking the LDS succession system, which always falls upon the most senior of 15 old men. Thomas Monson was appointed an apostle at age 36 — two years younger than I am now. And yet by the time he outlived his 14 seniors he was 80, and thus unusually young for an LDS President — younger than any since the 1970s.

  3. I’m not particularly “up in arms” about LDS gerentocracy at the highest levels of the hierarchy. The biggest complaint seems to be that their age makes them “out of touch” with the modern world, but this danger can also be a benefit. After all, I’m the guy who keeps complaining that these leaders are busily flushing the old teachings and views of Mormonism, so how can I rationally make a blanket accusation that they’re resistant to change? In some respects, I wish they were more resistant to change–or at least to the changes that I don’t like. 🙂

    What I find more disconcerting is that when virtually all of the senior leadership (pun intended) is octagenarian, that can impact who is considered for other callings, even on levels of far less responsibility. In my last ward, for example, nobody was ever called to teach gospel doctrine, who wasn’t male and at least 60 years old. To complicate the matter further, our ward contributed a substantial majority of the stake leadership (many of whom were also seniors). Therefore, the gospel doctrine leaders were chosen from a very limited pool. The resulting lessons were maddening–filled with constant factual errors and completely out-of-context scriptural passages. The apparent value of “age and wisdom” trumped the apparent value of “someone who knew what they were talking about.”

  4. I think the current system of leadership has served the church very well and would not want it to change. Establishing an emeritus status for the seventy has given many more an opportunity to serve and was a realistic approach to leadership and age in a growing church. I think seniority in the Twelve for succession has produced some remarkable leaders but given the Church’s failure to deal with Pres. Benson’s dementia was a huge problem. If that could have been dealt with honestly and publicly, it would have saved a lot of trouble, not the least of which would be having to listen to Steve Benson’s constant rantings and ravings.

    As to policy and direction it’s my understanding that that’s done by the bureaucracy with position papers prepared and then discussed by the FP and the 12. I would guess it’s all much more corporate for good or ill. Most of our exposure to the Brethren is in their speaking and I for one appreciate their advice and counsel. I may have lost over the years faith in the core doctrines but I have never doubted that the senior leadership are good decent men that have given their lives for something they believe and are just trying to do the best they can.

  5. Arthur, I really wish we didn’t butt heads so much, but my parsing nature probably is the reason. 🙂

    This post never said “doctrinal stability”. It said “stability” – and then proceeded to mention “principles”. That’s a HUGE difference.

    Laying that aside, I love the fact that we are led by a gerontocracy. Of course, there are issues that would disappear with younger leaders, but overall I much prefer the careful wisdom of the old to the rash impetuousness of youth.

    Nick, our stake tends to have the opposite effect on the local congrations. Most of the stake leadership is relatively old (40-65) [which makes me relatively old – yikes, I can’t believe I just admitted that], so most of the Gospel Doctrine and Gospel Essentials teachers and Ward Mission Leaders and Relief Society Presidents are relatively young (25-50). Our ward’s current GD teacher is female, 30-35, with 4 young children – a wonderful teacher.

  6. I know there is a precedent that once you are the prophet, you carry that title until you die, but does it have to be that way? Can’t someone in essence retire like most other callings?

    I have seen the physical breakdown due to the old age of the church leaders, but I have often wondered what if the prophet really lost his marbles due to old age and started saying some kookie things. How would the church respond? Say a prophet had a good 10 years left physically but mentally was completely off his rocker.

    For the most part, they appear to be sharp minded, even when their physical health deteriorates. But what if the opposite occurred? I am sure they all have their “senior moments” but what if they got to a point of complete disorientation and reverted back to their childhood like many do?

    My question is what would the church’s response be in this situation?

  7. Zelph – I’m not an expert, but here are my two cents on your question “How would the church respond? Say a prophet had a good 10 years left physically but mentally was completely off his rocker.” I think they would squirrel him away in the church office building or wherever, and the apostles would de facto run the church with little coming directly from the president, including statements in the Ensign. He would not speak at GC, just sit on the stand quietly or be absent. That’s just what I think would happen, since the 12 are all “prophets, seers, and revelators” anyway. It’s really an oligarchy more than a prophetocracy (I made that word up).

  8. John Hamer,

    Nancy Pelosi is in the House of Representatives, Harry Reid is Senate Majority leader. At 68 he is starting to get old. In any case Nancy Pelosi is also 68, so she also has passed the retirement age. If she appears young and dynamic, thank the botox.

  9. It is absolutely a gerontocracy. I don’t think there’s another way to see it or to say it.

    I think you highlight the downside nicely even if you’ve soft pedaled the issue of competence. I’d add that when everyone is the same age, gender, nationality and race there’s also a narrowness of vision and experience that is actually a severe limitation to universality to have to overcome.

    As for the upside, I don’t see resistance to change as a positive in the least. I don’t. I think anyone above the age of 30 or 40 probably has enough life experience to have come to respect elders by that point in their lives. Of course, elders are not the only ones to be considered. There has to be respect for all of the LDS AND people in general as I think HF would respect all his children. Similarly, in respect to experience, middle aged people have it and in many respects they have experience relevant to the times we live in where technology and culture are evolving very rapidly. The value of earlier experiences is also important but as long as there are older Authorities to offer their counsel I see no reason for more contemporary experiences weighing in in a church governed by continuing revelation. Credibility by imitation strikes me as as invalid as the 14 year old mantra of “everyone else is doing it”. I think it’s that simple. Finally, when God is really in charge, we’re in good hands. If our leaders are inspired they can be inspired at 40 or 50 and it’s possible at least part of the body of GAs could recognize inspiration a little faster if it didn’t have to compete with so much habitual behavior or resistance to change.

  10. What is the process for making a GA an emeritus GA? What are the criteria, is it voluntary, is it determined by a committee, the prophet himself or what? I know it is with trepidation that some Bishops approach ward members to be released from their callings. If one of the twelve was being “emeritized” how would that process go? Majority rules or a decision of the First Presidency? Would someone go willingly or would they put up a fight? What was behind David B. Haight’s waving to the congregation in General Conference?

    Re: “I think seniority in the Twelve for succession has produced some remarkable leaders but given the Church’s failure to deal with Pres. Benson’s dementia was a huge problem. If that could have been dealt with honestly and publicly, it would have saved a lot of trouble, not the least of which would be having to listen to Steve Benson’s constant rantings and ravings.”

    Amen to that.

  11. alice – “when everyone is the same age, gender, nationality and race there’s also a narrowness of vision and experience that is actually a severe limitation to universality to have to overcome” I totally agree. It’s easy to fall into this trap whenever a group is so similar. Every small step toward more diversity in the 12 is lauded – Bednar (the youngster), Uchtdorf (the foreigner), etc. But on the whole, there is not much diversity in that group.

    It seems like there could be a happy medium on the age thing as alice suggests. JS seemed to be a fairly bad judge of character in choosing members of the 12, etc., and they were mostly young (30s and 40s).

    I do think that resistance to change has some positives as well as negatives, though. It goes to the question of whether you view the world as constantly changing and evolving (requiring dynamic counsel) or that life is a test pretty much the same for everyone who ever came to the earth (requiring reinforcement and repetition of the same principles of salvation). I think both worldviews have merit. The truth is probably a mix of the two, which is why I like the idea of more diversity in the 12 with less emphasis on tenure and more on being representative of the entire world and understanding different perspectives.

  12. Rigel,

    When emeritus status was introduced in the late 70s, you had a bunch of really old Seventies, like Elder Joseph Anderson, who was emeritized at 102, I believe. So the initial retirement wave hit people who were well above retirement age and who often had some significant health issue as well.

    In the 80s and 90s, this routinized to retiring Seventies at about age, yep, you guessed it, seventy. In the last ten years, this rule has been softened, so that you get Elder Earl Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy still serving at 76, but Seventies like Gene Cook and Monte Brough emeritized last year in their mid-sixties, probably because of their health issues.

    There is a General Authority Assignments Committee which develops recommendations for service, including which individual Seventies will serve abroad in Area Presidencies for a number of years or whether they will live in the Salt Lake City area and serve as directors of church departments. Their recommendations are then “blessed” or overturned by the First Presidency, who will extend the notice of emeritus status. Remember that unlike on the ward level, most of these men are given immediate assignments to serve meaningfully elsewhere, especially as temple presidents and managers of Church initiatives like humanitarian service, the Perpetual Education Fund, etc. The current Church Commissioner of Education, Rolfe Kerr, is an emeritus Seventy.

    As far as the Twelve go, I think emeritus status is the kind option for them too. I was shouted down when I offered that opinion in a post on this site called “An Honorable Release.”

  13. It is a matter of debate whether the US Supreme Court is a political gerontocracy, but it is a gerontocracy nonetheless. I think the Court shares much, structurally and in operation, with the leadership of the Church. While the Justices are old (and perhaps wise), much of the work is done by intelligent law clerks in their 20s. As one poster mentioned, while the FP and 12 retain ultimate decisionmaking authority (with God’s inspiration, in my opinion), they are assisted by many others who are much younger and perhaps from a more diverse background.

    I do think more senior members of the Church (and Court) leadership do provide a vital connection to the past, and a valuable brake on impulsive changes. Wisdom does not always accompany age (see, e.g., Don Rumsfeld), but I think most of us do become wiser with age, because wisdom often is a side effect of experience, particularly bad experience. I think the Bush 43 Administration would have been better served had it heeded more voices of experience, including voices of “wise people” outside the Administration like Brent Scowcroft.

  14. Elder Hinckley effectively “ran” the Church for a few years as the 3rd Counselor – due to the mental health of Pres. Benson and the physical health of the counselors at the time. The other counselors still functioned as counselors in every way but physical activity, but Elder Hinckley was the legs of the Presidency. “Squirreling them away” sounds odd, but that essentially was what was done. I could support emeritus status among the apostles for mental issues, like Pres. Benson’s last few years, but not for physical issues.

  15. “Every small step toward more diversity in the 12 is lauded – Bednar (the youngster)…”

    Having a token ‘young’ guy is good in that it brings in a little diversity. Its also a little tricky–any young guy in the bunch is on a highly probable route to be the eventual prophet.

  16. So, taking the example of Pres. Benson; if a prophet is deemed unable to realistically serve due to a mental issue and the same is publicly acknowledged, then there are some options:

    1. ‘Release’ or ‘Emeritize’ the Prophet, as came up in John’s “An Honorable” release post with a succession following.
    2. The First Counselor run’s the church until the Prophet passes or regains the mental ability to serve.
    3. The Prophet retains the title, but the First Presidency is suspended and the Senior Apostle in the Quorum of the 12 run’s the church.

    Which option would best accomplish the goals of maintaining the most correct structure of authority and keeping the affairs of the church running smoothly?

  17. Concerning Apostleship: I just read through every reference to “apostle” or “Twelve” in the D&C, and nowhere does it mention that apostleship is a lifetime appointment. Perhaps it is assumed because Jesus’ apostles all served until the end of their lives, but tradition has them all (excepting John, of course) martyred, lives cut short. I’m not sure that prophetic authority and keys need be until the end of a mortal life, although I didn’t check every reference to the term “prophet” in the D&C to be sure. If the keys of administration over congregations such as stakes, regions, and general jurisdictions like those given to the Seventy can be given and later remitted or emeritized, couldn’t keys to the apostleship or first presidency also be emeritized?

    On an interesting side note (possible threadjack coming), I came upon an interesting scripture, D&C 102:12:
    “Whenever a high council of the church of Christ is regularly organized, according to the foregoing pattern, it shall be the duty of the twelve councilors to cast lots by numbers, and thereby ascertain who of the twelve shall speak first, commencing with number one and so in succession to number twelve.” Does anyone know if this “lot-casting” occurs in meetings of high councils, including meetings of the apostles? I assume the lot-casting is designed to either 1) ensure that the most vocal members of the quorum don’t do all the talking all the time, so as to prevent one from dominating and inordinately influencing the direction of the decisions made in council, and 2) to provide some sort of divination in directing the meeting, presuming God could influence the results of the dice. The apostles cast lots in Acts 1 in choosing a successor to Judas. Anyway, just curious.

  18. ” Its also a little tricky–any young guy in the bunch is on a highly probable route to be the eventual prophet.”

    Possibly. But I think it would make a world of difference if he (or hopefully one day, she) could be younger than 75 when it happens. ;>

  19. Another one that didn’t make the lists – I don’t know whether to put it under the positives or the negatives. There’s a correlation between how old they are when they are called and how long they are an apostle. The older someone is when they become an apostle, the less time we will have to get to know them, understand them, and feel like we recognize their unique personality before they die. The younger they are when they are called, the more opportunities we will have to interact (probably through the television) with them before they die.

    I don’t mind them being old, but if they are too old by the time they get the call, they’ll be dead before I will even begin remembering their names.

  20. SteveS: When I was on a high council we only did this casting of lots by numbers when we were having a church court. The rest of the time and at all other meetings we sat in our assigned seats.

    You’ll notice the first part of the next verse, after the one you quoted reads:

    “Whenever this council convenes to act upon any case”

    I think the assumption where I was and maybe generally is that the “case” in question is a case before a church court, as in an excommunication.

  21. Counting Bednar, six members of the FP/Q12 were in their early 50’s or younger when they were called to be apostles:

    Monson – 36
    Packer – 45
    Perry – 51
    Oaks – 51
    Holland – 53
    Bednar – 51

    That’s over 1/3 of the current membership, and includes the next two in line for succession – both of whom are now old men by any reckoning. All the oohing and aaaahing over David Bednar’s youth upon his appointment was an eye-rolling experience for me because a) only among the Mormons is age 52 “young,” and b) because it’s not an unusual occurrence.

    Alice, there are two ways to have somebody become president of the church before the age of 75 any time soon: If Monson, Packer, Perry and Nelson all die before August 12th (Dallin Oaks’s 75th birthday), or if the top nine members of the FP/Q12 (by seniority) die before late June of 2015, when Holland will reach that magic age.

    On another note: we are all young for a time, and even as we get older, we don’t feel older. Inside, I still feel 22, even though I’m 48. That doesn’t MAKE me young, or in touch with young people. I don’t “get” current music, for example – I’m stuck in 1985. It’s probably easy as we get older to think of ourselves as open to good new ideas and in touch with modern thinking. But it’s also probably self-delusion.

    On yet another note: President Hinkley thought that the gerontocracy was a fine thing that gave the church stability in turbulent times.

  22. We are long overdue for a retirement tradition with apostles. The lack of one is the root cause of most of our difficulties and why church growth has stopped. It seems were doomed to always be three generations behind the times. On a side note, it amazes me that GBH, after dealing with SWK and ETB’s dementia, didn’t put some reforms in place to prevent recurrence. Our poor missionaries wasting their time bike riding in 1920s period clothing, like anyone in 2008 would talk to geekish dorks like that. I could go on and on.

  23. “The lack of one is the root cause of most of our difficulties and why church growth has stopped.”

    Slight hyperbole, methinks.

  24. SingleSpeed – “Another one that didn’t make the lists – I don’t know whether to put it under the positives or the negatives. There’s a correlation between how old they are when they are called and how long they are an apostle.” I might consider this more of a negative. The longer they are in the calling of apostle the more removed from mainstream experience they are. Perhaps that’s a misperception on my part, but it seems that they are further from the time they were in a normal workforce (church office building doesn’t qualify), and further from the world in which we all live.

  25. “Inside, I still feel 22, even though I’m 48. That doesn’t MAKE me young, or in touch with young people. I don’t “get” current music, for example – I’m stuck in 1985. It’s probably easy as we get older to think of ourselves as open to good new ideas and in touch with modern thinking. But it’s also probably self-delusion.”

    Ann- With 67 years to your 48 I feel the same way. Except — and this is an important “except” — it’s not whether we can relate to contemporary music but how rapidly technology changes the way we have to think about entirely new paradigms.

    Which 70 something ever thought they’d have to answer moral questions about cloned lifeforms or surrogate pregnancies or the priesthood for women (as though JS didn’t grant it in his time). I can tell you when I was younger I certainly couldn’t envision it. And yet these things are coming up as compelling questions that have substance and impact we may not previously have guessed at. Furthermore, the people who will have to live with the enduring consequences (at least temporal consequences) are the younger generation rather than the (theoretical, I don’t want to make personal statements about current Authorities) deciding/inspired ones who have 1 or possibly 2 decades to live out and who, in fact, live in insulated circumstances removed from the day to day fray.

  26. Fwiw, I don’t believe they are as isolated as we might think. They meet with more different people on a regular basis than most of us ever will; they travel to more countries and see more disparate conditions than most of us ever will; they meet with political leaders of every stripe more than most of us ever will; etc.

    “Insulated” in some ways, sure; “insulated” from the day to day fray of MY life, perhaps; “insulated” from the fray of the entire world generally, not as much as I am.

  27. Steve EM, it’s awesome to see you around again.

    I think your observation about missionary attire is an interesting one (though I probably wouldn’t have worded it in your inimitable assertive way). I think some of the unwillingness to change is based on “I had to do it, so you do, too.” Sort of like the incredibly long shifts hospital residents have to work, even though it’s been pretty well documented that they make poor decisions and the patients are not as safe as when residents work more normal hours. The training doctors had to do it, so they think it’s incumbent on the “rising generation” to do it, too.

    (Steve, I still think of your idea of jewelry as an alternative to garments as one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever heard.)

    Alice, another example along the lines you mention is the internet. The church was WAY behind the curve on that. There was a time when members had all kinds of personal web spaces, and the church had them take them all down. Nick, didn’t that happen to your temple pages? So there were all these positive web sites (not all as nice as Nick’s, but still) and the church asked the owners to take them down because they wanted a uniform presentation.

    Then Google came along, and the boom in disaffected Mormon sites, and the whole first page of hits on Google was criticism of the church. I think a lot of members’ Googling led them to church information they’d never heard before, like “peepstones” and “Kinderhook plates,” and I’m sure that hurt missionary work and retention.

    It’s only been within the last year that the church has actively encouraged faithful members to share their stories on the internet. All that time lost, because eight years ago they told members to take their sites down. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if the gerontocracy was more hip to the information age – that information wants to be free!

  28. Ray,

    It’s not hyperbole when our church is stuck on stupid and shrinking. From not reversing BY’s bigotry and lifting the priesthood ban before or during the civil rights era rather than long after, to the present loss of most of the upcoming generation, to a pathetic outdated missionary program that uses up young people like cannon fodder, our leaders are asleep at the switch, with age being the root cause. That said, I pray everyday for the health of Pres Monson.

  29. “Bednar (in the 12) is 55 years old” at that age one would expect him to be near the top, almost CEO but he’s one of the junior apostles.

    They could off course grant emeritus status to the apostles, especially men like Haight and Hales who probably don’t travel much these days. But they never will since its all about power…they run the show and want to keep running it even if they are weak and hospitalized.

    And off course they are out of touch, proof? Elder Ballard talk that he had trouble working out how to use an ipod, and then saying ‘use new media’ to defend the church -to YSA because he’ll never know how to do it. Also Elder Oaks telling a YSA fireside that he tried to buy an ‘electric typewriter’ but the 20 year old clerk looked back at him bewildered. The man still wants to use electric typewriters almost 3 decades after wordperfect! They are definitely out of touch, not maliciously so just due to their age.

    “God’s Really in Charge. He can kill off potential leaders before their time” Brilliant!

  30. “to a pathetic outdated missionary program that uses up young people like cannon fodder, our leaders are asleep at the switch, with age being the root cause”

    I have to agree Steve EM…….one only needs to see what the evangelicals do with youth development, as well as the catholics with their World Youth Day event and the amount of youth they draw in to see how outdated both our missionary program is and the YM/YW programs (which are really based on the scouting movement of the early 1900’s). We aren’t even allowed to run activities at the Area wide level, only three or four neighboring stakes can take part.

  31. Steve EM – Ann says: “(Steve, I still think of your idea of jewelry as an alternative to garments as one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever heard.)” What is your idea about jewelry instead of garments? Loving the sound of that one! Added bonus: less laundry (that’s a big motivator). Would it be like pips on your collar from Star Trek: NG (the more pips, the higher your rank?)

    I’ve got mixed feelings on the comment about the missionary program. I agree that more changes are due and will come in time (sooner would be better). But I also feel that some of the changes since I served, while not a total overhaul, are important steps in the right direction, especially localized training centers in the countries they will serve, more focus on volunteerism in local communities, equal monthly cost regardless of location, and changes to the discussion format which have come a long way in terms of flexibility. Missions don’t serve the same purpose as youth outreach programs in the Catholic or Evangelical churches, and IME the b’nacle is not representative of the RM population at large.

  32. Ann,
    Yeah, glad to be back; hope you are well. I took a transfer to Houston last year, am still learning a new business, etc. I’ve kind of mentally moved beyond Mormonism and am just going through the motions at church for now to keep peace at home. So my interest in the Nacle dropped too for a time. G-d bless.

    Here’s the link regarding Gs:

    Here’s a link regarding some past thoughts I had about the missionary program and old apostles:

    Think of me as an LDS Martin Luther, nailing needed reforms to the temple door but lacking Luther’s energy. Like Luther, I have no interest in starting another church, just encouraging reform. I believe in grace, hence the EM (Evangelical Mormon).

  33. #35 – “the b’nacle is not representative of the RM population at large.” AMEN!

    I don’t want to threadjack this discussion too much, but this is what I just posted on another blog that has an active mission thread about an individual’s struggles to resolve the very real and extreme difficulties of his mission:

    “I already mentioned that I think this post is profound and moving, but I need to add one thing:

    Up to the end of my mission, it really was the best two years of my life – spiritually, but in other ways, as well. It was incredibly difficult, but it was wonderful – and not just in hindsight. I extended for an extra month, even though I was officially engaged, because I recognized the growth of the previous 24 months and wanted the extra growth that month would give me. I grew on my mission in a way that I don’t think I could have done in any other way – and it happened then and consciously.

    I truly respect greatly the way that (the author) has come to terms with his mission and the way that he has articulated it here, as well as the others who have experienced similar retrospective understanding – but that is not the universal experience of all missionaries. The experience of each missionary is as varied as the missionaries who serve, and (the author’s) should not stand here as the “norm” that is presented to those preparing to serve – or in the minds of those reflecting back on their own past – or those who read this post but don’t comment.

    Neither should mine.”

  34. Steve EM – thanks for your links. Interesting ideas. I like the jewelry idea, but by the same token, while it’s hotter than hell where I live, it’s hot with or without clothes, and I’m usually in AC regulated buildings. Do I love the look of G’s? No. But they do seem to serve the purpose they are intended to serve. I wouldn’t be opposed to jewelry instead (with the modesty guidelines still in place), but I think it’s unlikely. There have been several advances in the women’s styles in the last 5-10 years, so it’s getting better at least.

    On your mission reform thoughts – in general, I agree with some of the commenters on the link you sent: mission reform should be grass roots vs. top-down. The apostles should retain the vision/strategy for opening countries, etc., but as for the program, from what I’ve seen the young guys in HQ are the ones driving the reforms we’ve seen. IME, mission presidents also had a LOT of latitude to run the program however they saw fit. Like Ghandi said, you have to be the change you seek. As an RM mother of three, I’m making sure my kids are aware of other cultures and open-minded. I’m helping them to understand what’s most important about your mission (loving the people and keeping the spirit). I’m generally in favor of the Raising the Bar. Kids who are on the fence are going to be less likely to throw it all away in a moment of weakness if there are more dire consequences. I met lots of kids at the Y when I was a freshman who were open to experimenting sexually and repenting later. Obviously, that’s not a great way to spend your mission prep years. What if instead they had spent that time more wisely rather than pursuing fleeting pleasures? There were plenty of missionaries on my mission who had their own personal problems to deal with; that can really weigh down a companionship. While we were the highest baptizing mission in Europe, retention was very poor. Perhaps that is a contributing factor.

  35. I for one support the ‘gerontocracy’ approach to the Quorum of the Twelve for this simple reason: it completely short-circuits any politics with regards to the Church Presidency. I think that vastly outweighs the occasional complications with the health and mental acuity of the Church President. All the various suggestions for emeritus status in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve throw that doorway into politics, schism, and even forced removal of a Church president or apostle wide open.

    As for Steve EM’s claim that this gerontocracy and a “cannon fodder” missionary approach has somehow inhibited church growth, I’d simply point out that the church has managed to grow — with that gerontocracy and that approach — from 3.2 million members when I left as one of those “cannon fodder” missionaries in 1972 to over 13 million members today. My mission — Central America (Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama) — had at that time (1972-74) a grand total of five districts, maybe 25-30 branches, and 10,000 members (of which perhaps a few thousand were active). Today, those same four countries have over 250,000 members, 40 stakes, 247 wards, 30 districts, 220 branches and 5 missions, with one temple in operation and two more announced. I think that Steve EM’s perspective is just a bit too parochial, both in time and geography.

    There has been a slowdown in convert baptisms in the past decade, but that’s a slowdown from an average of around 4-5%/year to 2.5%/year. I don’t think that’s been a bad thing; remember that Elders Oaks and Holland were dispatched a few years ago to the Philippines and South America, respectively, due to growth problems, not problems with “shrinkage”. Likewise, there are indications that the Church has deliberately slowed down growth in Africa in order to ensure stability and quality in local leadership.

    Your mileage, as always, may vary. ..bruce..

  36. First time here, I’m new to the discussion. I’m chiming in on Mission Reform. While some of your ideas, (Steve EM and hawkgrrrl, Ray), are brainstorming, I appreciate your intent as there is a serious need to give these 19-23 yr old men and women something significant to build and reflect upon through their lives. Missions are tough; everything is new: new people, new land, often new language, new use of time, and doing it all day, and moreover, doing it in ‘ole fashioned, 1920s clothes, (as you said.) These missionaries need successes to build their lives upon and serve later in church, family and community. Age 20 is life’s tipping point, and success is paramount for mental esteem, now and later life. I suggest that missions focus more on general community service, meeting people for the sheer fun and interest of it. There is plenty to do of real value, too many to list: A blend between AmeriCorp, 4-H, gumshoe journalism, lawn-mowing, car-washing, park BBQs, No-To-Drugs campaigns. We need homebuilding, inside and out a.k.a. Habitat-For-Humanity then transition to life discussions around a campfire, for example. And a name change may be in order; instead of missionary, perhaps simply Ambassador. Or, if the Church’s name is required, say, MSA for Mormon Service Agent. We need to go to the local media in every town and ask to be interviewed on local radio, get the word out that LDS are good people, that we are not there to scare people, that such matters as Missourian mobs are bygones. In total, there may be as many gospel discussion as we now have, equal or more baptisms, and likely more true conversions. And the added upside is the wide variety of true life stories from “returning missionaries”, now MSAs.

    Corporate America constantly reinvents itself, and so can Mormons. And frankly, we can keep much, just need to tweak here and there, revamp this and that. In school, there is often little margin between a passing grade and an A.

    All comments welcome.

  37. Didn’t I leave a comment here last night? Did it get (gasp!) purged somehow, or did I just in my senility forget to hit the ‘Submit’ button? ..bruce..

  38. now that this topic has been completely threadjacked, I’ll ask. Hawkgrrrl, where did you serve? I thought I was in one of the highest baptizing missions in Europe (Switzerland Geneva).

  39. SteveS – I’m probably just older than you. It was the highest baptizing when I was there, although I know for a fact that it is now very low (I heard something like 5 in one year). I was ’89-90 Spain Las Palmas (Canary Islands); our high month was 218 baptisms. It has since been sucked back into a mainland Spain mission.

    Sounds like there is call for a mission reform post. I will make sure we get one out there soon and really crank out some ideas.

  40. Didn’t I leave a comment here last night?

    Never mind. 🙂

    Let’s get back to the “mission reform” issue, which I think is quite valid. The core question is: what is the purpose of the missionary program? Is it to make impressive numbers of baptisms? Or is it so that — in the Savior’s word — “this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked” (JS-Matthew 1:31)? Or both? That could have a big influence on how things are ‘reformed’. ..bruce..

  41. bfwebster – sorry for the delay in freeing up your comment (the links got it stuck)! my bad.

    I will tackle the mission reform issue in another post, just because there seems to be interest, and I don’t think it’s 100% tied to gerontocracy. FWIW, I think the key problem is tracking (just like at work usually). How do you track success on such an intangible? Baptisms are just an easy thing to track (in Mormonism, not in other churches where 1) baptism isn’t always required, 2) you can sometimes ‘transfer’ your baptism from one sect to another, 3) there is no ‘centralized’ tracking database, or 4) there’s no missionary effort in the first place!).

  42. SteveS,
    Merde alors! It’s not a treadjack! The root cause of long overdue reforms not taking place is our need for a retirement tradition for apostles! A mission program suck on stupid is one of the symptoms and hence part of the discussion!

    Amen brother!

  43. “A mission program suck on stupid is one of the symptoms and hence part of the discussion!”

    One of the biggest reasons that so many missionaries struggle is that they are forced to find people through ineffective and difficult ways – because the members aren’t bringing people to church with them. It’s not the program that is stuck on stupid; it’s largely the membership that is stuck on lazy.

  44. . stuck on complacent with regard to sharing the Gospel probably is better. Mormons generally are anything but lazy.

    I have to disagree here – I don’t think it’s complacency – I think it is very real discomfort with trying to do missionary work – there is a ton of negative publicity out there about Mormonism right now (between Romney, RLDS, anti websites, etc.), plus people in general just aren’t that interested in religion at least in the USA anymore, so draggin it up in casual conversations is harder – and noone wants to make their next door neighbor a project. We have had tons of discussions about this in RS – and people just aren’t comfortable with every member a missionary, despite how hard that has been pushed.

  45. #49 – fwiw, I have a HUGE problem with the way that the phrase “every member a missionary” has been applied over the years. The official plan for many years has been for the members to ask people if they are interested and then let the full-time missionaries teach them (ideally, with those members present during the lessons). The problem is that we have internalized that phrase as requiring us to feel comfortable teaching our friends, instead of simply asking them to come to church with us and listen to the missionaries at some point.

    The Spanish-speaking branch in our stake is flourishing largely because they GET this. Nearly all of them are recent converts, so they know they can’t “teach the Gospel”. Instead, they just invite their friends to worship and play with them. A little over a year ago, the branch averaged about 40 people in sacrament meeting each week; now they average 110-130 – often with as many as 15-20 investigators. Recently, they had an activity where there were OVER 300 in attendance. That same attitude has been the one consistency in every quickly growing unit I have observed over the years.

    That’s “sharing the Gospel” in the truest sense – and what I meant by being complacent. If we stopped worrying about PREACHING and started focusing more on SHARING . . .

  46. I did introduce a friend at work to the church a few years ago, but he came to me asking questions which lead to conversion later. In other words, I didn’t do anything. I’m not lazy! How can I share the gospel with enthusiasm before the church reforms into something I’d be proud to share? I can’t be alone. The salesperson must be sold on the product first. Introducing people to a church in 2008 run by 15 old white guys who don’t even look like the church at large is an embarrassment I prefer not to deal with.

  47. . . . and INVITING. Stop talking about CHALLENGING, and start INVITING in simple, humble, easy terms. “Would you like to come to church with me next week?” “Will you come to a dinner with me next Saturday?” etc.

    If we could bring in the missionaries only after those we are bringing to church with us are ready to listen to them, and if we were bringing people to church with us on a regular basis, the missionaries would be so busy they wouldn’t have to tract for hours each day.

    That’s my opinion, anyway, and it’s the OFFICIAL program of the gerontocracy. I don’t blame the leadership at the top when the problem is that those lower than them aren’t following their directions.

  48. “How can I share the gospel with enthusiasm before the church reforms into something I’d be proud to share?”

    That is a good individual question, for sure. If you aren’t proud to share it, don’t.

  49. So, looks like the following reforms are called for: the church either needs to become more progressive or regress back to the 1830-1844 time frame; the missionary program needs to experience casual Fridays; less testifying or teaching by the spirit and more European history and architecture in the MTC; we should either keep the bar high or just go to the bar and pick up chicks to prepare for a mission; all apostles over age 65 should be sent out on ice floes (until global warming renders that impractical). Does that about cover it? 🙂

    Good thing JS clarified that revelation only goes downward in the hierarchy or this would be mighty confusing. I’m all for brainstorming ways to improve the missionary program, but I’d rather stand on the shoulders of (aging) giants than reinvent the wheel. Anyone object to the missionary program as revealed in the NT as a starting point?

  50. Hawkgrrrl,

    Getting sent to Germany without purse or scrip would probably mean deportation, or ending up living with an LDS family, who would have to send their teen daughters to boarding school for the duration, but yeah, the New Testament is a great model for missionary work!

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