Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Could Mormon leaders learn from Pope Francis?

Pope Francis“I have Pope Envy,” I confessed to a Catholic friend recently over breakfast.

She understood at once. The way Pope Francis has re-energized the Roman Catholic Church in just eight months is nothing short of astonishing, filling pews with lapsed Catholics and generating good will everywhere he goes. As the Archbishop of New York put it,

“If I had a dollar for every New Yorker, Catholic and not, who has told me how much he or she loves our current Holy Father, I’d pay off the big repair bill of St Patrick’s Cathedral!”

As a Mormon, I’ve delighted in seeing this beautiful revitalization of hope in the Catholic Church, but I’ve also felt twinges of (an admittedly un-Christian) envy.

What is so attractive about Pope Francis? This summer, a survey of global Catholics found a 96% approval rating for the pope, the highest since John Paul II. An Italian survey hinted at the characteristics Catholics most prize in their new leader. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the most popular values were these five:

  1. Spontaneity and language: 75 percent
  2. Simplicity: 71 percent
  3. Closeness to the people: 68 percent
  4. Attention to the weakest: 63 percent
  5. Sobriety: 52 percent

Looking at this list as a Mormon, I think I can disqualify the last one as being largely irrelevant to us; heck, my people practically wrote the book on sobriety. But how inspiring are our current leaders in the other four categories?

So in the spirit of a number of pieces in recent weeks on what various groups could learn from the pope’s example (such as this one on what the Republican Party might learn from Pope Francis), I’ve been thinking about Mormon leadership in the light of the Francis Lovefest.



[tweetable]When was the last time I saw President Monson? Why, at the pulpit of General Conference[/tweetable], of course. And at the pulpit of the Relief Society broadcast immediately before that. And at the pulpit of General Conference in April, and . . . you get the idea.

Even among LDS prophets, President Monson is unusual in his distance from the public, the media, and his own followers. His unexpected appearance at a temple groundbreaking in Connecticut in August was remarked upon for its very rarity. In a Google search of his appearances I found this charming brief video of him attending a Utah Jazz basketball game, and a few videos produced by the Church, and of course many Conference talks from his half century as an Apostle.

But there were no interviews from non-LDS reporters. Almost nothing was unscripted. He does not do press conferences, and seldom fields unexpected questions. This is in stark comparison to the open, easy relationship that President Monson’s predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley, had with the media, granting national interviews with Larry King, 60 Minutes, Time, Newsweek, PBS, CBS, and other news outlets.

[tweetable]I’d like to see the current Mormon prophet unplugged.[/tweetable] He is by all accounts a marvelous person. Why not let the world see him loosen up?



One of the new pope’s signature elements has been his decided emphasis on voluntary simplicity. He has eschewed the luxury of the Vatican’s papal residence in favor of unpretentious guest quarters. He has refused to have a household staff, tending to his own personal needs.

The guy sometimes rides the bus to work, for heaven’s sake, and his personal car is a used Renault with 190,000 miles on it.

Mormon leaders have also traditionally emphasized the importance of frugality and simplicity. Reporters who cover the LDS Church have commented on how modest the homes of General Authorities tend to be compared to, say, the multimillion-dollar spreads of televangelists. I don’t doubt that President Monson lives these values of frugality in his personal life — especially since he, unlike many other GAs, did not have a lucrative career before being called into full-time church service.

That’s why it was particularly surprising and unpleasant when, last year, President Monson and his two counselors threw themselves so wholeheartedly in the opening of the City Creek Center in Salt Lake City. Funded by a for-profit division of the LDS Church, [tweetable]the luxury shopping mall has certainly done much to revitalize the downtown area and has created approximately 2,000 jobs.[/tweetable] While I can see a positive side of the development issue, I could have gone my whole life without seeing the man Mormons regard as a prophet of God saying, “One, two, three . . .  let’s go shopping!” before cutting a gigantic red ribbon to open an opulent consumerist hub.

My faith took a hit that day. My church had spent somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion so that affluent people could have access to Tiffany’s and, ironically enough, an apparel store called “True Religion.”

To be sure, the Catholic Church has had more than its share of conspicuous sybaritism—a history of wealth and the consolidation of power. But in the spirit of the saint after whom he named his papacy, Francis is tightening the reins on such extravagance, not only in his personal example but also by reining in bureaucracy. I’d love to see my leaders get out in front by doing the same.


Closeness to the people

One of the ways that the Pope has energized his people—as well as many non-Catholics—is by simply being out among them on a regular basis.

  • This spring, he was criticized for washing the feet of two girls, one of whom was a Muslim, at a juvenile detention center. It was the first time a pope had ever washed the feet of a female or a non-Catholic.
  • He blessed a crowd of 35,000 motorcyclists.
  • He tweets (@pontifex) to more than three million followers, even graciously submitting to the world’s first-ever papal selfie.

One thing that strikes me about this list is how trans-Catholic it is, how global, how little-c catholic. [tweetable]The new pope has made a point of reaching out to people of other religions, and of no religion; he is for everyone.[/tweetable] He belongs to us all.

400px-Thomas_S_MonsonI contrast this to the LDS First Presidency and come up short. Of course, Mormonism is a fraction of the size of Catholicism, and we do not enjoy anything approaching its longevity or brand recognition. So on the one hand, it’s not surprising that non-Mormons have never heard the names of Thomas Monson, Henry Eyring, or Dieter Uchtdorf. On the other hand, the LDS approach is oddly limited, appearing to pursue leadership of the Mormons, by the Mormons, and for the Mormons.

Consider, for example, the travel schedule of President Monson. He’s been traveling, on average, about half a dozen times a year, including short regional trips to places like Idaho and southern Utah, but also including major international trips to Ukraine, Italy, Brazil, and Germany.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. But if you look at those trips more closely, it’s clear that the vast majority of them were undertaken to dedicate temples, speak at LDS missionary and youth conferences, or appear at Mormon Tabernacle Choir concerts. Other than meeting privately with President Obama and receiving honorary degrees from two Mormon-dominated Utah universities, all of the listed events on President Monson’s schedule of activities are intra-Mormon.

A question, a vision: What would it mean for an LDS President to also be a leader outside of our narrow community?


Attention to the weakest

President Monson has made it a point in his Conference talks to always remember the poor and the weak. It’s one of the things I love most about him. In fact, he is the prophet who added “Care for the Poor” as the fourth mission of the Church in 2009. His life of Church service has been marked by a commitment to individual service; when he was a young bishop—called at age 22—he had 84 widows in his ward. He didn’t just care for them while he was their bishop. He looked out for their needs during the rest of their lives and spoke at all 84 of the women’s funerals.

We don’t see much of that personal guardianship now, either because of President Monson’s own advanced age (he is now 86) or a desire on his part to keep such deeds quiet and not call attention to his goodness.

Such modesty is admirable. However, there is something deeply inspiring about witnessing such acts of love and service—seeing a global leader willingly surrender the trappings of power to care for the least of these.

Some of the most moving shots of Pope Francis in the past few weeks have shown him blessing disabled people, including a man with a severely disfigured face Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square. Francis kissed and embraced the man, who told reporters later he “felt only love” from the encounter.

I don’t see this act as something manufactured for the cameras. Francis was out among the people in the square, with crowds who had sought his presence for a blessing. [tweetable]The pope intentionally put himself in a situation where desperate people would be.[/tweetable] Seeing a photo of Francis embracing a man that society had thrown away immediately made me want to be a better person: What can I be doing that I’m not doing to help the needy?

I felt inspired. Energized.

And I’d like to have those same feelings about the leaders of my own religious tradition. They—and we—are called beyond the confines of a single institution, and to go forth into the world and care—visibly, if necessary—for everyone in it.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • Wow, this piece was in short a waste of my reading time. On one hand you want to see the prophet as man and as an individual but when he opens a mall and say’s lets go shopping your faith takes a hit. Really? Are you sure you’re not just disappointed that he doesn’t do good publicity, So you can feel better about being Mormon? If you need this kind of stuff to feel good about your choice in a religion, it’s no wonder that you’re flunking sainthood. As you suggested maybe we should mount a camera on him so we can see all the work he does in a day, so we can know for sure that he doesn’t take a nap under his desk. I too want to see the more intimate moments of him caring for the weak and poor because knowing that he really does that stuff for the cameras will make it easier for me. CBS could do an interview with him and the people he visits to drum up ratings for the church. Let’s not stop there. T
    You may be flunking Sainthood but you’re acing the hypocritical overly sensitive worldly tests.

  • Jana, I’m glad to see that you have a lot of admiration for Pope Francis, and are not entirely critical. Sometimes, I suppose, a critique is called for, but I think the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its prophets, past and present get an unfair amount.

    For what it’s worth, I will respond with my opinions of President Monson, in each of the 5 categories:

    1. Spontaneity and language: To me, this has very little to do with going out in public among those not of our faith. It is more like the spontaneity of reaching out to a young boy at conference and shaking his hand. That was also at a worldwide broadcast. If people not of our faith didn’t see it, it was their decision not to tune in. This also includes his facial expressions, which I found to be both humorous and lovable.

    2. Simplicity: This is almost like sobriety, to me. No LDS prophet has ever had to make a conscious effort to move out of a Vatican-like residence, or to wear a simple suit and tie while going about church work.

    3. Closeness to the people: Here again, it has never been “breaking news” when the prophet attends his home Ward for Sacrament Meeting, or walks across the street in Salt Lake City, he might even get less attention walking across the street in Boston unless there was some associated danger present. I saw President Joseph Fielding Smith in the foyer of a chapel in SLC, when I was in the Ward that shared it with the Ward he resided in, and I crossed the street behind President Harold B. Lee, once. No big deal. No fuss.

    4. Attention to the weakest: I greatly admire President Monson for leaving Stake meetings at which he was officiating, to travel some distance to bless a child in Shreveport, Louisiana and many other such acts of kindness, albeit that may have been a long time ago. I don’t know how many of these things have happened recently, but I doubt those things ever get much press.

    5. Sobriety: True, as far as avoiding alcoholic beverages, of course. What about the broader meaning? I admire the prophets more for the fact that they can smile and laugh and not be as sober and grave in countenance as some people may expect a religious leader to be.

  • Good write-up, Jana. Part of me wonders whether Pope Francis is looking good now merely because previous pontiffs set the bar so low. But honestly I also suffer from holy envy. I think your points have a lot of validity and I’d love to see President Monson shake things up. I much of President Uchtdorf’s influence due to his sharing many of Pope Francis’s beloved attributes.

  • Let’s all give Jana a break. I doubt she deserves all the vitriol being doled out, simply bc Mormons are taught that any criticism whatsoever of leaders is unjust. Its still a free country, right? And we can have different opinions and still be respectful. P.S. I am sorry to say that my own research into the issues about apostles’ living quarters was as disappointing to me as was a giant shopping mall. If poor members all around the world give 10 percent, I would like to believe that the GAs don’t have more than one home apiece, and that they are modest (not million dollar, or even half million dollar) homes in swanky neighborhoods…unfortunately, that’s not what I have found. Not that anyone can ever know for sure… bc its all a big secret.

  • Jana,

    There could be a #6 — “Fulfilling His Job Description”

    The Wiki article detailing the Pope says “Currently, in addition to the expansion of the Christian faith and doctrine, the popes are ostensibly dedicated to ecumenism and interfaith dialog, charitable work, and the defense of human rights.”

    It sounds to me like Pope Francis is doing his job.

    The Church President’s job description is much simpler:

    “Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.” [Doctrine and Covenants 107:92].

    The fruits of a Seer are visions, revelation, translations, and prophecies. [Mosiah 8:17]
    The fruits of a Revelator are published revelations [D&C 72:20-21].
    The fruits of a Translator are translations.
    The fruits of a Prophet are messages about the future.

    My question is, what have been the fruits of his labors? What has he Seen, Prophesied, Translated and Revealed from God (as opposed to policy declarations)?

  • I live in New England which is very Catholic-dense. So I hear plenty about the pope and his reported activities. Your point about his attention to the weakest was interesting to me because Catholics view being able to speak with and touch the pope akin to touching Christ himself.

    I’ve been LDS my whole life (though I was a “lost sheep” for several years), and while meeting the Prophet is an honor, people don’t expect a touch or a blessing from him to be miraculous. So I think the comparison is a bit off as your average LDS member doesn’t seek out the Prophet the way Catholics (and even hopeful non-Catholics) seek out the pope.

    I think “Fern” (above) was fairly accurate in her reply. I’ve never spent much time in SLC or met a GA personally, but if I met President Monson in person, I would thank him for his service (and certainly share it on social media), but I wouldn’t expect that one interaction to change my life. I think Catholics feel differently about the pope regardless of who is filling that position.

  • I should add, I do like your articles. Your perspective is generally very interesting and thought-provoking. 🙂

  • The three rules for responding to critics in Jana’s previous post are still fresh on my mind. In my previous comment, I also tried to avoid being the critic, which might be a good Rule #4.

    Although I was not responding to criticism about myself, and did not 1- wait 24 hours before responding, nor 2- limit myself to 5 sentences, I actually did consider that Jana might be right–and yet, failed to see where the criticism of President Monson was in any way an encouragement for him to change his ways.

    Criticism is largely a result of judging; and judging people harshly, especially without any personal knowledge of them, is dangerous at best. Judging groups of people is simple prejudice.

    Essentially, I agree, let’s not criticize Jana for what she wrote; but also lets refrain from criticizing anyone, whether it be the Pope or the Prophet or the President, the Queen, the King, or the Dictator–I might have to work on some of those stipulations, myself.

  • You just gained a new follower to your blog Jana. This was a great read and you hit the nail on the head. Let the leaders themselves share and speak with all the available social media. How about a few less teleprompters?

  • FYI, I know that Pres. Uchdorf lives in a very nice, probably expensive home in an elite neighborhood, and probably saved enough money from his personal earnings throughout his life to afford it.

    I don’t know where Pres. Monson lives, or the size or cost of his home, but I don’t think it matters. It is probably one that he paid for himself.

    I know that other prophets have had modest homes, one, President Hinckley, I think, in an old apartment building near the church office building.

    I think this doesn’t really matter. Church tithes don’t pay for the living expenses of the General Authorities, at least, if they can afford to pay their own way. Maybe the “for profit arm” of the church pays them a small stipend for being on the board of directors. And the profits from the investments of the Church go to helping people everywhere.

    In my younger years I worked for the church and was paid a wage that was comparable to others in our area doing similar work, which came from tithing funds, I believe,

  • @Fern, you are very much misinformed about the inner workings of the church. General Authorities ARE heavily compensated. The million dollar homes that many of them live in were not purchased with their savings. Much invenstigation has been done into property records and such and it is easy to see where this is the case. In fact, the corporations of the church often buy and sell these homes. I always thought general authorities were unpaid too. I was appalled when finding out recently that was not the case. It does not stop there either. Mission Presidents, for example, are heavily compensated as well. I’m hoping my husband can be a MP someday since I found out they get housekeepers, cooks, landscapers, and even family birthday and holiday presents funded by the church. True story!

  • I do know the exact location of Thomas Monson’s home. It is an older, quite modest home, not at all pretentious.

    Don’t know what is an apartment in the heart of the city is like, but I’m sure it is very nice and I don’t begrudge him that.

    However, these are not especially important points.

  • The general problem with the leadership of the LDS church continues to be an overabundance of retired CEO’s, CPAs, MBAs, marketers and attorneys. After gleefully counting tithing receipts every Monday morning, a goodly portion of the LDS management effort bogs down running a multi-national real estate development corporation–“what shall we buy next, what shall we build next.”

    It’s hard to imagine for many of us that the Orator of the New Testament’s messianic message has somehow climbed the corporate ladder from carpenter to free market capitalist specializing in real estate development. With all of His disdain for wealth, riches and money, how is it that Christ now relishes building shopping malls and resorts along with orchestrating massive land grabs over spending every penny of profit and tithe on the meek, poor, diseased and hungry?

  • @Alicia,

    You say “heavily compensated.” Can you share exact numbers? My parents are Mission Presidents so I know how much they are “compensated” by the church and the word “heavily” does not apply. I also know several General Authorities who are similarly not “heavily” compensated. They leave their jobs and dedicate their time completely to serving in the church. They receive a living stipend to cover their living costs.

    I’m assuming your comments spring from trying to accurately represent how the Mormon church works. I’d love some of that information. Of course, I don’t think any of this discussion ultimately matters to evaluating the truth of Mormonism or the truth of any religion or philosophy. I’d be happy to talk to you more about this by email.

  • It seems that this is all about form over substance. We all wish that Mormon leaders better understood how important style is. Instead, most of them seem more interested in the substance of Christ’s gospel than current pop or style. Tom Monson understands it is not about him. He has his own agenda–expanding the missionary program, for example, so that more young men and young women can be touched by the miracle of service in their own lives instead of somebody else’s. The world has a pope and does not need Monson trying to be another one. Let him be the prophet he is called to be in the way he feels called to do the job. In a world obsessed with symbolism more than substance Tom Monson is a refreshing difference as a leader.

  • Jana, I appreciate your comments. I do believe that too many people in the church are too over-protective of our leaders to the point of not realizing that even they are human beings who need to be more humble. Some people don’t understand that how we perceive our leaders also has an impact on how we live our lives. I consider them honorable men who try to do their best, but I also seem them–as I do myself–as people who constantly need to fight against the ways of the world. Added to the Mall situation, I would add the incredibly overdone birthday parties that started with those who wanted to honor President Hinckley. The reality is that sometimes we Latter-day Saints define extravagance or concern with money according to how our prophets and apostles act. Since most have forgotten Brigham Young’s admonition to “beware of the riches of the world” and some of our leaders are “successful” business people we think that is the model to follow. But the reality is simpler. Extravagance is unbecoming even if you are rich. The fact that you have made a lot of money–and worse that you keep it for so long–does not mean that you are not called upon to give to the poor as the widow did. There is no reason for a general authority to continue to be a millionaire since the church will take care of them. Like the young man that came to Christ, they should sell all that they have and do the work. I know this will offend those who have this notion that money is sacred and what they earned is theirs. Style does matter when you are in the kingdom because it often flows from your substance. I’ve never met a truly humble rich person though there are many who are good people. But humility ends when they choose their fancy homes, cars and their clothing. I knew a wonderful billionaire couple who gave a lot but whose clothing and car alone were enough to cover the wages of most of the ward’s leadership council. That was not humility. Humility is not about “acting humble” it is about being humble and humility is never concerned with making lost of money and keeping it so your children will be born with an silver spoon. Money does have an impact on us. Just look at where even good people that have money hang around, who comes to their homes, what politics do they practice, and you will see people who do not feel comfortable with the poor, whose friends are mostly rich, and whose politics is usually about cutting taxes, eliminating “welfare” and distrusting those who have less. If you think that Christ would live in the avenues then you haven’t read your scriptures. No one says they should live in the ghetto but only that many of them could be a bit more humble in their ways.

  • Stephen, you might do well to read Abe Lincoln’s advice on responding to critics, paying particular attention to #3. But perhaps the ostrich approach has been working for you……..for now. (Pity your children — either blind followers [which Pres. Kimball begged us not to be] so they can have your acceptance, or thoughtful thinkers who leave the Church.)

  • Jana, I don’t think your “envy” is un-Christian because I don’t think it’s actually envy, but something more righteous. I feel like you see something that could benefit all people rather than simply a selfish benefit. I feel that same way sometimes when I see organizations in the community doing great things and I wonder why we don’t do those things. Speaking only from a local level, because I have no idea what happens at the higher levels, I feel like we get too wrapped up in ADministration and forget about ministration.

  • “So in the spirit of a number of pieces in recent weeks on what various groups could learn from the pope’s example (such as this one on what the Republican Party might learn from Pope Francis), I’ve been thinking about Mormon leadership in the light of the Francis Lovefest.”

    One thing that could be learned by the Pope and the Mormon leadership is to preach the truth. Helping the needy is a good thing, but it is an atrocity to teach people a different gospel than the one the Apostle Paul preached and lead them to their destruction.

  • You are so close. Almost there. I invite you to become Catholic. I am and can you to jump in. The water of the Tiber is fine!

  • We spent enough money to end hunger in an African nation on a mall and you are cool with that? I think you may not have the right to cast the first stone here.

  • Ah Dave,
    I love how you started as if you had really considered the article and thought about it. Then you casually flipped it around to show that you don’t care about Mormons or Catholics. They’re both evil and you hate them. Then you tactfully pointed us to your stupid blog. Good for you Dave, very subtle.

  • I don’t think I have Pope envy: I do envy his media coverage. Our LDS Church leaders are all those things. When they visit an area, they often shake every hand, etc. They love us. They lead by example. They are disciples of Christ, just as this Pope seems to be.

  • I met President Monson when he performed the sealing of my sister-in-law. There were probably 40 people in the sealing room. You would expect a mass greeting or the greetings to be very “assembly line” like. Hi how ya doing, Hi how ya doing, Hi how ya doing. It was nothing like that.President Monson shook the hand of every person in the room and greeted every one of us in a personal manner. Hello how are you today. Its so nice of you to be here today. Hello I am so glad you could be here for this wonderful day. Hello isn’t this a great day for these 2 and so on.

    As for the blog posts here I always hope to find a new and/or unique insight into the gospel. I come away asking myself these questions: Do the posts inspire me to be a more Christlike? Is my faith strengthened? Do I feel closer to the Saviour after reading them? The answer is always seems to be no.

  • In regard to the City Creek re-vitalizing effort it is much less about making money than in stopping the downward spiral that all inner cities have, just a few blocks away at Pioneer park and the Rio Grande… it is located across the street from the Temple and visitors should feel safe and a desire to linger so developing the area in an attractive and desirable way is the only way to maintain the missionary magnetism of Temple Square.

  • Looks like my comment has appeared in reply to Alicia, sorry didn’t mean for that. I was just making a general comment.

  • “Pope Francis has re-energized the Catholic Church.” Really? Was it de-energized? Please don’t believe in all the hand-me-down wish-fulfillment filler-language you read; just because someone got all gooey-mushy reading something about Pope Francis and then wrote something gooey-mushy himself doesn’t mean that X number of Catholics are suddenly dancing in the aisles. Let us deal with Truth – including the duties of a bishop – not with emotionalism that would embarrass an adolescent. 1968 is over; the Church lives.

  • Dave, I suppose you aren’t familiar with the adage about giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day, and teaching a man to fish that he can feed himself for a lifetime.

    The assets of the church are designed to cover the long-term ongoing needs of the church’s operations through times of feast and fallow. The fact of the matter is that the funds can’t just be deposited into a bank, nor would it be wise to sink it all into treasury notes.

    Frankly, if the rest of the world’s churches were equally adept at securing financial sacrifices from their membership rolls and then engaged in comparable charitable activities, nobody would even be having a conversation about the needs of the poor.

  • Wait, Katie. So have you indeed found evidence of extravagant lifestyles among the LDS prophets and apostles as you claim, or is it something that people cannot ever know for sure because of secrecy???

  • Mission presidents are “heavily compensated,” Alicia? Do tell! I’ve known several of them in addition to the two I served under, and none could be rationally described as being heavily compensated.

  • I’m reminded of Jacob 2:17-19:

    17 Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

    18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.

    19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

    So seeking for riches is not of itself a sin, provided that one’s intent is to do good. None of the LDS leaders mentioned thus far have anywhere near the financial holdings of last year’s GOP presidential nominee. Surely there are many who have criticized his wealth and take issue with his fine homes and possessions. But rarely do the critics give him and his wife credit for the mass amount of charitable endeavors they engage in, including the many quiet personal kindnesses which had to be outright dragged out of them by others because of their personal discomfort with tooting their own horns.

    At the end of the day, each of us should concern ourselves primarily with how we’re managing our OWN gifts from God, and stop obsessing over how others deal with theirs.

  • Any Mormon who was paying attention knows that the lectern of the 22,000 seat Conference Center was crafted from a tree from President Hinckley’s house, which he planted himself next to the home he largely built himself.

    I ran into President Monson one morning as he was leaving the Dee’s restaurant on 7th East and 21st South. It is a modest establishment that serves very ordinary people very non-trendy cuisine. He waved st my son, who knows him from visits to nursing homes Monson whee my son has worked.

    Jana’s problem is that Salt Lake des not have paparazzi who can make a living following Tom Monson as he does mundane things like having breakfast with the plebians and.visiting friends. Jana has forgotten that President Monson’s wife had been ill until her recent death,and so he has been spending much of his time with her and close family rather than creating photo ops for the media.

  • I attended college with the son of a General Authority. He was a chemistry professor. One day he was offered a job by General Electric that would double his salary. He was then offered a job with another company to tripke his salary. The LDS church then called him to a position that cut his salary in half.

  • Jana, have you read the recent biography of Tom Monson, To the Rescue? You seem to be ready to judge and criticize someone about whom you have done little research. Perhaps you could make a trip to Salt Lake and visit with people who know him well before rating him on your “Francis Scale”.

    As to the City Creek development, I am glad that you acknowledge it employs 2,000 people, rather than give them handouts. It also employed hundreds of people in its construction, in the midst of the recent recession. Precisely because it is a revenue generating investment, it does not “give away” anything to the rich, but it earns revenue for the Church that can be used to help sustain its operations even when economic conditions reduce income and tithing resources. It does not enrich individual Church leaders. It pays to sustain the land that the Church will need in a few decades as its membership grows worldwide and more offices are needed for its employees.

    The largest Church investments in land are for food producing operations that directly support the Bishop’s Storehouses that feed the needy and victims of disasters. And a new metinghouse has to be built every day to hold worship services as membership grows. The Church is wisely managing its assets to sustainably perform its missions.

  • I think we have a definite double standard for them vs. for us. Apostles should be more devoted to Christ than us, therefore if they are successful in the business world, they should give away most of their money and buy a house in a cheap neighborhood.

    However me? If my husband makes a lot of money, you know what I’m going to do? Buy a nice, spacious house for me to raise my children in and have more than enough room to have children come to visit with their families when they live out of state. Go on trips to Europe and Israel because I want to go again and again. Buy a new car so I don’t have to worry about the one I have breaking down. So yeah, I guess if we rate devotion to Christ equivalent to eschewing modern comforts, I guess we are all failing in our devotion except the Pope.

  • I first learned about the City Creek center when researching urban renewal and design in the aftermath of the 2008 flood that wiped out the whole of downtown Cedar Rapids. As someone who has seen what can happen when the city center is not properly cared for I wish the Church was able to do more things like it.

  • This issue of the multi-billion-dollar mall is an interesting one. Of course, many churches have endowments built-up, although not of that size.
    My conjugation is struggling with this issue, what to do with a (small) endowment.
    We think Matthew 25:14, the parable of the talents, is important. The point of that parable is to criticize the servant who didn’t use the masters money to serve the master.

    I don’t have an answer, but here are some questions we’ve been asking ourselves:

    -How much is enough? At some point, do we have more than we’re reasonably going to need? When that happens, and we keep socking it away, are we using God’s money to serve God? Or is our money mostly serving the cause of making more money? Is our excess caution causing us to bury God’s money in the ground?
    -Is our money serving the Lord ? (by feeding the poor, binding-up the hurt, or to aid preaching the Gospel) Or, is the money serving the cause of making more money? If we lost it all, would anyone care, other than our investment managers? Is anyone but our investment managers benefitting?
    – If we have this much sitting in the bank, is it ethical to hit-up people who are financially struggling, for even more money?

    Maybe the mall is a hot-button issue because malls are the temple of one of our 21st century idols, consumerism, using the lure of the trap of debt.
    Maybe this is a case where openness about where the money came from and where its going would help the LDS Church?
    We don’t have this particular conflicts in my denomination (we have plenty of other conflicts though!) because our financials are completely open and public, and audited. Any member can find out exactly how its congregation, or the denomination, spent its money (anyone can internet search for “PCUSA 2012 annual report”). This gives people confidence that God’s money is going where God would want it.

  • I would disagree. I believe that Ephesians 4:11-14 shows that the church should be led by apostles, prophets, etc. as long as necessary until a unity of doctrine is established (ie. 2nd coming of Christ). I also would argue that the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are supported by the Bible and help provider further witness of it’s truth. I’m sure your ministry is doing lots of good, for which I thank you and I respect your opinions even if I don’t agree with them.

  • I believe the Mormon Church feels favorably toward Pope Francis. Anyone who does good is worthy of our praise. Remember that Joseph Smith said that “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

    May I add that President Monson and the other general authorities have personal ministries to the needy. They do so quietly so that the media and many members are unaware of it. It is as Jesus said “But when thou doeth alms (serve the poor and the needy) let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth.” (Matthew 6:3)

  • Pope Francis and President Monson are both honorable, good men. From what I have observed, they are also humble men whose lives have been devoted to Jesus Christ. I’m guessing that neither of them would be comfortable with a discussion comparing them. I think they would both greatly value the work of the other without critiquing perceived weaknesses and shortcomings.

  • Absolutely agree. I think the LDS church, in general, avoids seeking out too much publicity aside from the LDS Newsroom which reports on various church-related activities (both service-oriented and more “worldly” efforts). And our GAs most certainly (in my opinion) seem to avoid too much of the limelight.

  • The doctrines of the LDS church aren’t supported by the Bible. Take for instance the doctrine of salvation, or the Gospel. Paul says there is only one Gospel. He also says that salvation is by grace alone, “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works, if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Mormonism teaches a gospel that is by grace, legalism, temple ordinances, etc. Paul said if anyone preached a gospel different than the one he preached (even an angel), then that person was accursed. It is important, regardless of the differences people may have, regardless of trying to understand another person’s faith, God will accept people only by what they did with the Gospel that Paul preached. Those who have trusted that Gospel will be saved from judgement. Those who have rejected that Gospel will be condemned.

  • Yes, Kris, I agree COMPLETELY: these leaders would find the comparison between them to be unproductive and inappropriate (even abhorrent!). Nevertheless, It’s hard not to make comparisons in so very many areas of our world, and it’s hard not to notice Pope Francis mingling with people, genuinely, lovingly holding and kissing the face of a grotesquely disfigured man — while Pres. Monson announces, “Let’s go shopping!” after he approved spending billions on a commercial mall…….while truly NEVER mingling with REAL people (just those hand-picked to meet him). And, yes, I agree he doesn’t want to be in the spotlight but, let’s face it: that’s part of his job! (being in the spotlight)

  • Similar criticisms have been made about the wealth of both the Catholic and Mormon churches. Both churches do much good and are lead by Christlike men. An interesting read is “The New Anti-Catholicism – The Last Acceptable Prejudice” by Philip Jenkins. The Catholic Church has been subject to much criticism in the media and Jenkins shines a light on many of the inaccuracies. Many of the criticisms aren’t unlike those the Mormon church has received.

  • So are you saying that what Paul taught on the gospel is more important than what Christ or the other apostles taught? You keep talking about the gospel taught by Paul, so I just want to clarify whether that is what you’re getting at. Mormons believe we are saved by grace 100%. We believe there are things that God has asked us to do. One example of this is baptism. There are various Biblical verses that say that baptism is necessary. Nonetheless by doing those things we are not earning salvation, but rather obeying God. If Christ had not atoned for us, no baptism or other ordinance could save anyone. Also I would assert that your interpretation of the Bible may or may not be the best one. Just because our beliefs don’t jive with your interpretation does not mean they are a different gospel than Paul taught. For example, does the Bible not say, “Faith without works is dead?” But that’s an old argument is it not?

  • The LDS Church ACTIVITY rate is now 36% (according to out-going General Bishop Burton). Could we in the LDS church not benefit from some revitalizing?

  • I have more righteous envy after reading this today: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security…I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures…More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.'” I really like that.

  • Oh puhleeze, Kathy! To minimize President Monson’s LIFETIME of personal, compassionate ministering by suggesting that “Let’s go shopping!” is somehow his apostolic legacy is profoundly intellectually dishonest. And to claim that he doesn’t mingle with “REAL people” isn’t just dishonest, it is pathetic.

  • I’ve responded to several other people’s comments thus far, but now wish to take a moment to tackle the actual column from Jana.

    First of all, there’s no question that Pope Francis is an endearing man. His propensity for shunning some of the benefits of his office and identifying with regular people is absolutely admirable. I don’t think there can be any question that his initial impression on the world has been a great positive.

    Of all the comments which have been made in the discussion following the column, however, I think that Kris best captured the essence of both Pope Francis and Thomas S. Monson: “Pope Francis and President Monson are both honorable, good men. From what I have observed, they are also humble men whose lives have been devoted to Jesus Christ. I’m guessing that neither of them would be comfortable with a discussion comparing them. I think they would both greatly value the work of the other without critiquing perceived weaknesses and shortcomings.”

    In this spirit, I will not compare the two men. But I will offer a defense of the dear man I revere as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

    1. Spontaneity – While most of the world probably only sees President Monson in the form of global broadcasts, this really has no bearing on his personal spontaneity whatsoever. In fact, those familiar with Monson’s talks are well aware of his lifetime track record of following the Spirit and acting on promptings. As far as ministries go, I can’t think of any form of spontaneity more important than disciplining oneself to be sensitive to the whisperings of the Spirit and acting accordingly. In the April 2005 General Conference, Monson said: “Do not postpone a prompting; rather, act on it, and the Lord will open the way.” He has given this counsel repeatedly over the years, and it is one of the most important things I have ever learned from him. Often while sitting in councils with my brothers and sisters, a thought will come to my mind which I feel may be of value in our discussion, and it is the counsel of President Monson which has opened my mouth whether the item be big or small, and it has made an impact on our direction as a council. I don’t think there is any doubt that President Monson expresses himself “unplugged” on any number of occasions, even if it’s not captured in the spotlight. And considering his classic expressions and sense of humor, I can’t even imagine why anyone would think to suggest he could stand to “loosen up.” I think he’s just fine!

    2. Simplicity – Jana properly notes her belief that President Monson does not live a life of personal extravagance. As such, I wonder why it is even remotely necessary to take issue with an extremely rare situation in which Monson would cut the ribbon on a church economic development project. If one prefers the church quietly buy another cattle ranch to help feed hamburgers to the poor rather than cut the ribbon on a mall – the proceeds of which for all intents and purposes will also be used to further the church’s mission to help others – there’s no sin in holding such an opinion. But it’s also nothing to wound one’s faith over either. Anyone familiar with the history of the LDS church knows that there were great financial struggles throughout the 19th century. It was only after the membership of the church embraced the doctrine of tithing that it became free of debt and started down the path of saving for future emergencies and being able to increase its charitable endeavors. As much as some critics would express dismay at the holdings of the church, the reality is that a widespread economic collapse would shrink those assets in a heartbeat. We still need to be self-sufficient on our own.

    3. Closeness to the people – Jana lists some examples of the new pontiff reaching out to the commonfolk, but I don’t see these as anything particularly different from anything President Monson has already been doing for the past 60 years, with the exception of things which really don’t go with the territory for LDS priesthood. I’m awestruck that it is considered a big deal that Pope Francis washed the feet of a female and a non-Catholic, whereas it is completely commonplace for LDS leaders from the First Presidency down to the local Home Teacher to administer to both males and females, LDS and non. I know of one occasion when my oldest brother was living in Germany that he had the opportunity to join President Monson in administering to a man in dire health. The man was healed of his affliction. It wasn’t anything for the newspapers. There was no skywriting. But is was a quiet, humble act as part of a lifetime of ministering with “closeness to the people.” Personally I attended a leadership meeting in Oakland where he spoke while serving as First Counselor to President Hinckley. We had a Polynesian choir performing at the service, and President Monson took the time to greet each member of the VERY large choir individually. As for the mass blessing of 35,000 motorcyclists, it’s not really the kind of thing Mormons typically do when exercising the priesthood. And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Monson posted a “selfie” at some point or another while he remains among us! There is no question that he is a leader to all, but one cannot force the “all” to accept him as such.

    4. Attention to the weakest – While I revere all 16 men who have ever been called of God to serve as prophet in the restored church, it would be challenging to find one whose credentials in this area are more solid than Thomas Monson. In LDS circles, one of the first words to come to people’s minds when they hear his name is “widow.” President Monson is now 86 years old. I think he shows remarkable vigor for his age. If a Latter-day Saint REALLY wants to harbor a measure of “holy envy” for the more youthful leaders of other denominations (the pope is a spry 76!) who are better equipped to mix and mingle, so be it. Though I am reminded of a quote from another sage individual: “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not, hmm?”

    At the end of the day, I am grateful beyond words for a living prophet to guide us in these latter days. And when I think of the current officeholder, I really don’t find anything wanting. For in the end, what matters is the actuality of what the prophet really is: God’s mouthpiece to all the world. I have nothing to envy.

  • One of my roommates in college was the son of a church-employed attorney whose salary, though respectable, was relatively low compared to law firm attorneys with similar qualifications. When my roomate’s father was called to be a full-time general authority, his salary went DOWN. My roommate’s parents told him that because of their lower income, he would have to start paying for more of his college expenses. That is just one anecdote, but I don’t think it is unusual.

  • There is one aspect of this article which I would like to comment on. The part where the author states:
    “On the other hand, the LDS approach is oddly limited, appearing to pursue leadership of the Mormons, by the Mormons, and for the Mormons.”
    This resonated with me because really this seems to be the case with not just the President, but most of the church. Of course the missionaries go out into the world (I can hear that argument already) but really that is in pursuit of more Mormons. I am not discounting what charity work the church does do either. I guess I feel like as the President of the/a church it is okay to do most things in the interest of your church and its members. However when you make the claim that you are the only living Prophet of God- I guess I feel like that gives you the responsibility to reach out to everyone- regardless of whether they are members or interested in missionary discussions.

  • Hi, Mormons currently claim about 13 million members but this is merely an estimate of the number of people currently alive (inactives assumed to live to 110 years!) who have been baptised into the LDS. There are estimated to be less than 5 million practicing LDS. This is not a bad % but if this is a ‘restoration’ then it has failed spectacularly since the early Church (Catholic) probably did better in its first 150 years without modern means of travel and without modern means of communication. Do you think that this is a restoration? The Early Church Fathers (some of whom were taught by the Apostles) wrote much about their beliefs and practices – doesn’t look much like a restored LDS, I promise.

  • One thing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is particularly good at is keeping records. Yes, everyone is assumed to be alive in the absence of a death record for 110 years, but efforts are made to be aware of death records of members, usually obituaries in the US, Neighbors, home teachers and visiting teachers also report it when they know someone has died, or no longer living at a certain address. I doubt the early Church was able to track memberships nearly as well in the early centuries of the Christian era, even after the severe persecution stopped.

  • Matthew 7:14 says, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” This makes me believe that the majority is not necessarily always correct. I would also argue that the Catholic church wasn’t formed until about 300 AD. I do believe in a restoration of what was lost, but I don’t believe truth is determined by popular vote. I think truth is independent of whether people believe it or not. The knowledge of Christ is already covering the world as prophesied. Much of that is thanks to the Catholic church for which I am grateful. However, I find that many teachings of the Catholic church are not compatible with what I find in the Bible.

  • its the pope to learn from president monson,here in africa we love his confrence talks they a really insipiring and life touching so we learn from him also.

  • As you can see the good things that the LDS members do are not publicized.. because we believed that “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. We do not broadcast it to all the world.. We generally help people and we are trying to live a simple and humble lives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a living prophet by the name of Thomas S. Monson which Heavenly Father appointed to be the mouthpiece of this world. THomas S. Monson like our Heavenly Father is no respecter of persons.. Meaning all are equal to him.. He loves all the people in this world and share the gospel to all