Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

LDS Church Announces new First Presidency Counselors, takes questions on women and LGBT Mormons

LDS President Russell M. Nelson (center), with First Counselor Dallin H. Oaks (L) and Second Counselor Henry B. Eyring (R). Screen shot of LDS First Presidency News Conference, January 16, 2018.

Note: This post has been updated with a report on the First Presidency’s press conference and answers to questions about women in the Church, LGBT issues, and diversity among top leaders; scroll to the end for more on that.

It’s a new era for the LDS Church, which announced this morning that Russell M. Nelson, 93, has been set apart to be the president of the nearly sixteen-million-member denomination.

This change in leadership was completely expected, as Mormon tradition dictates that the most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve always assumes the mantle of the prophet. The former leader, Thomas S. Monson, passed away on January 2.

The news that everyone was waiting for was the identity of Nelson’s two chosen counselors in the LDS First Presidency. These counselors assist the president in running the church and can have a profound influence on its direction.

Those choices were not terribly surprising, either, but will be met with appreciation on the part of many Latter-day Saints. The First Counselor will be Dallin H. Oaks, 85, who like Pres. Nelson was ordained an apostle in 1984. Oaks is next in line to lead the denomination after the death of President Nelson.

The Second Counselor will be Henry B. Eyring, 84, who has served in the First Presidency twice before, most recently under President Monson.

So the announcement reflected both continuity and change: Eyring can offer continuity with past First Presidencies, while Oaks represents a bridge to the future.

What was most historic about the announcement, in fact, was not the choice of the counselors but the fact that it was broadcast live to the entire membership of the Church—a first in Mormon history when counselor selections have been decided—and that it took nearly two weeks for the new president to be set apart.

According to the Deseret News, that is the longest “apostolic interregnum” since 1889. During these two weeks, the Quorum of the Twelve has continued to run the Church, and incoming President Nelson has been signing all new mission calls so that prospective missionaries would not have to wait.

It was also interesting that Pres. Nelson chose to broadcast the announcement from the annex of the Salt Lake City temple, especially since his brief remarks to the faithful focused heavily on the importance of temples. “The ordinances of the temple and the covenants you made there are key to strengthening your life . . . and your ability to resist the attacks of the adversary,” he told his listeners.

He also indirectly addressed the issue of people who have chosen to leave the Church or otherwise drifted away from its teachings. “Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there’s a place for you,” he said. “Return to the covenant path.”

 

Updated Tuesday afternoon following the LDS press conference:

At the subsequent press conference, President Nelson fielded some pre-selected questions from journalists, and enjoyed acknolwedging the several reporters he knew personally. Their questions were not all softball ones, despite these existing relationships. For example, Tad Walch of the Deseret News asked what the Church is doing to speak to Millennials, a third of whom do not affiliate with a religious group.

In response, Nelson emphasized the fundamentals: “The best way I know is to help them to understand what it really means when we sing and say “’I am a child of God.’” Eyring, also responding to this question, acknowledged that while “you read a lot in the press” that Millennials as a generation are more doubting, that’s not what he sees when he meets with young LDS missionaries. “There’s a power in this generation, and greater faith than I can remember,” he said.

Oaks added that “this is a time to say a word for marriage,” since young men and women who marry “are a companionship that the Lord has ordained.” When they are together in that capacity, “many of the things the world cites as the problems with Millennials disappear.”

The fundamentals were also on display in response to another question, from Brady McCombs of the AP, who asked how the Church plans to address LGBT issues going forward.

Nelson’s immediate response was to advance the idea that ““God loves his children, and he wants them to have joy.” Oaks followed up on this by noting that there is a balance between “the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord,” and that God “has given us a plan” for how individuals can receive the highest blessings. The subtext of both men’s remarks, though not stated outright, seemed to be a reiteration of the Church’s position that homosexual behavior is in violation of God’s commandments, but that all people are loved.

Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune asked the men what they planned to do going forward to implement more diversity in the all-white, all-male leadership of the Church.

Nelson indicated on the one hand that the Church’s leadership is not intended to be a representative democracy: “The Twelve and the Seventy are not a representative assembly of any kind.” That would be impossible, he said, given that the Church exists in 188 countries. “God’s ways are not man’s ways,” he emphasized.

On the other hand, he also said that “we’ll live to see the day when there will be other flavors in the mix,” referring to the diversity of the Church’s top leaders. He pointed out that there is greater racial and ethnic diversity among the Quorum of the Seventy than there is among the apostles.

“What about women?” Stack pressed on, since the gender part of her question had not been answered.

The leaders’ primary response to this question was to focus on the tremendous good that women accomplish as mothers. Nelson credited his first wife with raising their nine daughters to become women who are “strong in faith, strong in capacity.” He also stated that women’s voices are important in the councils of the Church. He did not address the issue of women’s ordination or other leadership roles, beyond them offering opinions in some of the Church’s council meetings.

Other questions focused on specific issues pertaining to the LDS Church in Mexico and Brazil, the rising tide of apostasy, and how Nelson plans to engage with young people, given his age.

“I think you were saying, in essence: how can the youth follow an old man?” Nelson joked after being asked how he would relate with them. He then replied that his age was a great advantage in giving him leadership experience in helping to direct the Church, and that “a well-educated person never stops learning.”

The mood of the press conference was upbeat on the part of the leaders, who seemed to enjoy taking questions. That in itself is a move forward, as this has not occurred much since the days of President Hinckley. However, it’s unlikely that the new First Presidency’s responses on questions about women, minorities, LGBT Saints, and disaffiliation among young adults will be very satisfactory to Mormons who have ongoing questions about those issues. These will be issues to watch in the months going forward, as the new First Presidency defines its mission and eventual legacy.

 


Related posts:

About the author

Jana Riess

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

37 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • I was at work so all I know is what is written here. What I always find interesting about the Church, is how little focus is actually given to Jesus Christ. Was he even brought up or just passed over?

  • Mike,

    The two broadcasts, one directly to the Church and one of the news conference, are both available online, e.g. at Mormonnewsroom.org.

    If you listen to these you will find a strong focus on God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, including heartfelt expressions of devotion to them and encouragement for Church members to follow their covenant commitments to the Savior. There was also discussion that this is the Lord’s Church and how the Church has a divine mandate to go to every nation, kindred, tongue and people to prepare the world for Christ’s Second Coming.

    Some coverage from the Deseret News:

    “ ‘This we will do with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,’ he [President Nelson] pledged, ‘knowing that He is in charge. This is His work and His Church. We are His servants.’ He [President Nelson] concluded by declaring his devotion to the Father and the Son. ‘I know Them, love Them and pledge to serve Them — and you — with every remaining breath of my life.’ ”

    See https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865695096/President-Russell-M-Nelson-gives-first-address-to-members-as-the-17th-President-of-the-Church.html

    This was not what most the press decided to focus on, so it is not surprising that you missed this.

    See also https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/36035_000_25_livingchrist.pdf, a proclamation to the world to which all the members of the current First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are signatories.

    If you missed this, you really haven’t been paying attention to what the Church really is about and what it is doing and proclaiming.

  • I watched the broadcast and read the articles on the Church newspaper. I saw some lip service and perfunctory comments on Christ but the focus was really on the new prophet and the apostles. This follows a pattern I have seen in the church for a very long time.

  • Then you must not have been paying attention for very long. Or perhaps you only here what you want to hear. The Father and Jesus are mentioned by their various names and titles in almost every single quote from the link to Deseret News that LB posted of the press conference. And if you read the addresses these men give at the Church’s General Conference you’ll find Jesus is the core of all that they teach.

  • Mike,

    Next time you pledge to do something until your dying breath, I wonder if people will say it is merely lip service. If you examine the lives and the many decades selfless Christian service of these men, taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, bearing strong testimony of His divinity, and ministering to those in need, it should be obvious that their devotion to the Savior is wholehearted and lifelong and not merely lip service.

  • Dallin gave a talk at last conference about the family proclamation which is not even a revelation if you know the back ground how that came about. It clearly was anti LGBT and Christ was mentioned but was not the focus of the talk.Russell gave a talk on the Book of Mormon. Again, he mentioned Christ but it was really about a book and he honestly said some misleading things.Henry gave a talk on how the Lord leads his church but the main focus was the same old line we have heard for a long time about following the apostles and prophet because we get to the Lord by going through them. That is a cautionary teaching. It is easy to put eyes on a man instead of a God. Christ is used in many conference talks and sacrament talks as a tool to make a point about following the prophet,paying tithing,missionary work,and so on, but He is often not the real focus.

  • How would you do it differently Mike? How would you speak about God and Christ and not have it appear to be mere lip service? Please give us in a couple of paragraphs what this would look like.

  • And the old white Mormon males continue to the con with tithing and degrading women to second class citizens! How disturbing that such a con still exists in the 21st century.

  • It was the media’s behavior which revealed a lot more than anything else. A new First Presidency, and what’s the first thing the media starts hammering on? ‘Daaaaah, when is you going to change da scriptures so being gay ain’t a sin no more?’ ‘Daaah, come on prophet! Change dem commandments so’s we can be gay and not have to worry about it no more!’

    The prophets called to lead the church have made it clear they are on the side of God, Christ, and his church. The media has made it clear they have chosen this mortal life and it’s vulgar pleasures – that they have chosen against God and his commandments.

    ‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.’

  • Pay no need to ill-mannered gripers like “Mike”. He’s probably one of those weisenheimers who sneaks into the Tabernacle during conferences, just so he can stand up in opposition to sustaining the Prophet.

    “I don’t think (Mike) is a well bred person. I doubt even God himself would entirely meet with (his) approval.” – Anne of Green Gables

  • ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’
    ‘This is the love of God – that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not grievous.’ – 1John 5: 3

    If the gay community ‘loved God’ half as much as they’re pretending to, they wouldn’t whine and murmur when God tells them that they’re sinning. When sexual sinners try to excuse their whoredoms by hiding behind the verses about the woman taken in adultery? They love citing, ‘Neither do I condemn thee’ and hiding behind her skirts. But they willfully ignore what Christ said next – ‘Go thy way and sin no more.’ He did not ‘forgive’ her of her sin – he simply did not condemn her at that time. But the ultimate salvation of that woman would have been, and still is, entirely dependent on whether or not she repented of her adulteries and kept the commandments of God afterwards.

    The promise of salvation is extended to all and is free for all, just as Christ said. But only when we repent and obey. When we try to be all cute and see what we can get away with? Then we place ourselves in the grasp of justice. Gay people know that what they’re doing is against the will of God, every bit as much as a thief knows that stealing from someone else is against the will of God. God will forgive, and extend the promise of salvation to both. If they repent and forsake.

    And lost in the bickering about gay sex? Is the fact that ALL sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. It’s called ‘fornication’, and if you check your topical guides? There’s no mistaking that it is heavily condemned in both the old and new testaments, and very specific warnings are given to anyone who does it, and very specific orders from God saying ‘THOU SHALT NOT’. That means any and all pre-marital sex is a huge no-no. Whether gay or straight. Anybody who fools around before marriage is a sinner under the laws of God and under condemnation. That includes pre-marital sex, adultery, prostitution, whoredoms, pornography – all of it. God is clear in his commandments – you do not have ANY sex at all until your wedding night. And after your wedding night, you do not have sex with anybody but your spouse.

  • Mike,

    Thank you for mentioning the Book of Mormon, and President Nelson’s attention to it. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ (https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/the-book-of-mormon-testifies-of-christ?lang=eng). In a talk about the Book of Mormon, also known as Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Elder Nelson said, “When you read the Book of Mormon, concentrate on the principal figure in the book—from its first chapter to the last—the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.” See https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/10/a-testimony-of-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

    See also https://www.lds.org/ensign/1994/03/another-testament-of-jesus-christ?lang=eng) by President Oaks and https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2011-10-64-president-eyring-on-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng with President Eyring.

    As for Elder Nelson’s most recent conference talk, here are some quotations: “I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal and living Son of our living God. He is our Savior, our Redeemer, our great Exemplar, and our Advocate with the Father. He was the promised Messiah, the mortal Messiah, and will be the millennial Messiah. I testify with my whole soul that in a most miraculous and singular way, the Book of Mormon teaches us of Jesus Christ and His gospel.” “It [ the Book of Mormon] is another testament of Jesus Christ. It is a companion scripture to the Holy Bible.” “My dear brothers and sisters, I testify that the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God. It contains the answers to life’s most compelling questions. It teaches the doctrine of Christ.” See https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/the-book-of-mormon-what-would-your-life-be-like-without-it?lang=eng

  • You have made it clear you’ve never met a gay person in your life. In what universe do they sound like Uncle Remus?

  • The media enclown themselves by making it clear that they think hammering the issue of gay marriage is their primary weapon in their war against religion. It’s laughably childish. Trying to threaten and bully churches and church leaders into changing scripture and church doctrine, or they’re ‘not enlightened’. By whose standards? Theirs?

  • “The subtext of both men’s remarks, though not stated outright, seemed to be a reiteration of the Church’s position that homosexual behavior is in violation of God’s commandments, but that all people are loved.”

    People need to muster up the courage to question the words claimed by ancient men as the commandments of a legendary god. Even if people believe those words, they should have the courage to question the rationality of specific commandments, and if they cannot be determined to be rational, then that god is not qualified to be worshiped.

    Unlike religion, homosexuality has never ever caused any harm whatsoever to anyone, so there cannot be any legitimate objection to people living in accordance with that innate orientation.

    Actually, the earth and humanity would benefit from more homosexuality and less heterosexuality because 1) it would reduce the vast number of unwanted/unintended pregnancies, and 2) it would provide more adoptive parents to care for the unwanted/unintended children still being produced. Therefore, the Bible should be ignored on the issue of homosexuality because the assertions contained in it have no basis in rational thinking and evidence.

    And furthermore, advocating the full social acceptance of gay people strengthens family bonds, and thus it is the authentic pro-family position. It is the anti-gay crowd who are actually anti-family by doing everything they can to tear families apart.

  • The personal attacks against me prove my point. There is an unhealthy emphasis on leadership. It borders on worship. Maybe this is one example of what the scriptures refer to as idol worship.

  • You state that “homosexuality has never, ever caused any harm whatsoever to anyone…” Would you please explain how the thousands of deaths, illness, suffering and pain caused by HIV-AIDS do not fall under the definition of “harm?”

  • How typical. An internet keyboard jockey starts with the sniping and the attacks, and then when people respond, they start whining about ‘being attacked’. Quit hiding your obvious trolling behind a facade of ‘oh woe is ME I’m being attacked’. If you’re going to put your personal opinions and prejudices out there in the ether, then you don’t get to decide who answers them.

    Christ was the leader of the church and still is, and he was persecuted a lot more than you were. The Sanhedren and Pharisees used the exact same trickery that you are hiding behind to denounce the followers of Christ. They thought he was a rabble-rouser too. That’s why they had him crucified.

  • Michael, if you had lived prior to the advent of modern medical science, I assume you would have wanted to dissuade everyone from engaging in heterosexual sex, because it was deadly. And, if you had been “successful,” the human species would not exist today.

    “The thousands of deaths, illness, suffering and pain caused by HIV-AIDS” is not harm caused by homosexuality, but is caused by a medical issue that didn’t surface until the early 1980s, and thanks to medical science, it is moving toward being fully resolved.

    Maybe cars and trucks should be banned because accidents kill about 35,000 people in the US each year, and cause serious injuries to many thousands of other people.

    If you really wanted to make an impact on a major health issue, you should be campaigning to reverse the obesity epidemic in the US that has been spiraling out of control for years causing a number of serious chronic health consequences, and increasing health insurance costs for everyone.

    And, if you are so concerned about STDs among gay people, you should be campaigning to encourage safer sex precautions, and more same-sex marriage.

  • I’m not concerned about “STD’s among gay people” because you reap what you sow. My comment above and now to you, is to stop advocating a corrupt and sinful lifestyle that causes HARM and offends GOD.

  • They dumped the only truly approachable counselor (Uchtdorf) in favor of a retrenchist hardliner like Oaks. Don’t think that isn’t a big and deliberate middle finger to a large segment of the church membership and others at large. It’s also a message to Uchtdorf. Hey Dieter, your kind isn’t apprecated here.

    Oaks’ bloviating about “the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord”, just so hard to take. As if he actually speaks for God. Oaks has never seen Jesus. None of the so-called apostles have ever seen Jesus. Yet they willingly allow the members to think they have, a knowing deceit. Or they gaslight by humble-bragging that the experience was so sacred it cannot be retold. As one wit noticed, it’s amazing how often God agrees with the person speaking in his name.

    Good thing the brethren have been so constant, otherwise we would have abandoned polygamy, given blacks the priesthood, changed tithing percentages at various times, changed the endowment, changed wording in the inspired Book of Mormon, changed the Word of Wisdom from a suggestion to a commandment…oh, wait. But rest assured, the church’s position on LGBT issues will neeeever change. (Said mimicking Jon Lovitz’s Tommy Flanagan pathological liar voice)

    I can’t believe I squandered 50+ years of service for this demonstrable pap.

  • I’m so glad to see all of the theocrats focusing on the LGBTQ. Never mind that he said eff racial diversiy and basically said god only wants white people to rule.
    But, hey, most of you theocrats are just one step away from white supremacists anyway.

  • I watched both broadcasts and wasn’t too surprised that some of the pointed questions were sidestepped a bit. On one hand, these men don’t have a ton of experience of late in press conferences and were not likely going to address policy nuances or possible changes in this setting. On the other hand, I felt that these questions could have been anticipated and perhaps a direct response crafted ahead of time to prevent what appeared to be rambling in their answers.

    I also found it interesting how closely Nelson and Oaks interact and expect that we’ll see Dallin Oaks’ influence increase in the days leading up to his own ascension to being named president, should he outlive Nelson.

  • Yeah, this gay issue is ridiculous. It’s not like the church is saying that a race of people are inferior than another and that one shouldn’t receive all the blessings of the gospel and exaltation. That would just be moronic. Church wouldn’t change its doctrine just to be inclusive.

  • It all comes down to the fact that there are plenty of people out there who think they’re more righteous than God is, and don’t have faith in him. An activist person thinks if God exists and has all this power, that he should come down like the biggest super-hero in the galaxy and wave his hand to end all injustice, put an end to hunger and disease, end war, turn weeds into hamburgers and gravel into diamonds so that everyone has plenty of food and plenty of money. The activist thinks if THEY had that power, they would use it. So since God does have this power, and isn’t using it, that must mean that God is ‘evil’. And since the activist WOULD use that power, if they had it, then they are ‘better people’ than God. But of course, the activists don’t really believe in God anyway so it’s all academic to them.

    ‘I don’t think Mrs. Barry is entirely well bred. I doubt that God himself would meet with her approval.’ – Anne of Green Gables

  • He’s the Captain Stubing of the good ship SS Mortanic. All is well. No need to panic. I know we are taking on water. But just listen to the choir as we sink.

  • The BoM testifies of a non existent people made up from a rock in a hat by a paedophile wanna be con man who liked to lie about Trumping other men’s wives and 14 year old girls. Not exactly reliable.

ADVERTISEMENTs