One of the clearest signals of being one of the Mormon people is our unique experience of the passing of the head of our church. At least for me, this is not the experience of the death of a family member—though similarly poignant. Nor is it the experience of the death of a political leader—though it feels similarly, collectively momentous. Significantly, as the Deseret News pointed out, this particular passage marks another point of change in the history of the church, with another remove now in place between us and the founding of the Restoration: “He was the final prophet to have served in the Twelve with church leaders who had known men who knew the first, Joseph Smith.”
I love that his final General Conference talk focused on studying (not merely reading) the Book of Mormon. My posts on Nephi are in part inspired by similar prophetic calls for us to take our scripture seriously. And I appreciate the attention that this has received. I am even more moved, however, by the other talk he gave last April, succinctly exhorting us to kindness, charity, and love:
Let us examine our lives and determine to follow the Savior’s example by being kind, loving, and charitable. And as we do so, we will be in a better position to call down the powers of heaven for ourselves, for our families, and for our fellow travelers in this sometimes difficult journey back to our heavenly home.
Calling down the powers of heaven in this manner is surely what we are about as God’s covenant people.
With you, I mourn his passing, while expressing gratitude for the system of transmission set up by the prophet Joseph Smith that allows the keys of this dispensation to continue in the quorum that Thomas S. Monson has now departed. May we as a people continue the work for which those keys were originally bestowed and stand ready to return them when our Lord comes again.
Please share any moments or words from his life that you keep with you.
The following is a list of major news sources covering his passing. I also encourage you to list any additionally worthwhile coverage below.
The gap in date of ordination between Pres. Monson (1963) and Elder Nelson (1984) is indicative that this change in leadership is a major generational one. While the two are not so far apart in birth dates, the Church culture at the time they rose to the rank of apostle is clearly very different.
I will miss Pres. Monson’s wisdom and prophetic counsel, and am curious to see where the Lord leads Pres. Nelson
Is there any comparison between how we mourn the passing of the prophet as Mormons and Catholics mourn the passing of the Pope?
Yes. Mormons don’t care about the color of the smoke. (IOW, so much less drama with succession, except the first time around)
Perhaps for those in the LDS church the passing of one prophet, while we mourn, is not a leadership vacuum. We understand the Quorum of the Twelve lead the church at all times, with a president and councilors when chosen. This pattern followed wherever the Christ visited after his advent, from Judea to the Americas and inferentially beyond.
Interesting thoughts. Do Catholics feel a vacuum even though they have the College of Cardinals?
Other Clark, I’d mentioned on Twitter yesterday how this transition is significant. Monson is the last of the generation of young apostles without extensive career. I’d actually said academic ties as well, however Monson did some graduate work at the University of Utah and taught shortly there. After he was an apostle the Church actually allowed him to get an MBA at BYU, which I was surprised to discover. But even if the academic transition isn’t quite as pronounced as I originally thought, there is a big difference between Monson and the oldest of the rest of the apostles. Nelson was called relatively late in his life, he was a respected heart surgeon. Elder Oaks was a well known attorney with a very academic like thrust to his work as well as being a justice and president of BYU. While previous authorities often had some major achievements in careers, such as Pres. Benson’s cabinet position in the Eisenhower administration, that academic thrust does seem different. And most particularly they are being called as authorities later in their life.
Now in a certain sense one big change that hasn’t happened yet is the shift from a baby boomer generation. Both Pres. Nelson and Elder Oaks were born before WWII commenced and so aren’t even boomers. It’s not until we get to Elder Bednar that we have a baby boomer. (He was born in 1952) What’s somewhat surprising, given the age of the calls of Monson’s generation of apostles, is that we don’t have anyone called to the quorum who was even born in the 1960’s – almost 60 years ago.
I also suspect Pres. Uchtdorf is a Hinkley like figure. Hinkley was counselor for Pres. Kimball but also represented that first generation of more educated, more media savvy, and perhaps more cosmopolitan apostle. He also had an outsized influence as both Pres. Kimball and Pres. Benson had many years where they were extremely ill and incapacitated with Hinkley taking a heavy part of their leadership burden. With Uchtdorf we have the first major non-American (here counting Pres. Tanner as American – just from the 51st state LOL) but also the first major figure born in the post-war era. (Elder Eyring, while from a very scientific background, was born in 1933)
Yes, in today’s church, there seems to be a clear, common path to the apostleship, leading through the positions of stake president, mission president, and seventy. While there are exceptions (Bednar, Oaks), the path is overwhelmingly common. Pres. Monson hailed from an older, less predictable path, where everyone from N. Eldon Tanner and David O. McKay to Boyd K Packer and Gordon B. Hinckley were called to the apostleship without the decades of general church leadership that is now a prerequisite for the calling.
But the change goes deeper than that. As noted in the Deseret News, Monson was an apostolic colleague with those who grew up with Church-sanctioned polygamy (notably J.F.Smith Jr). He was the last of those present when the 1978 revelation on the priesthood came. He was, in fact, the last of those with insider knowledge of anything that happened in the quorum between 1963 and 1984. He was the last remaining apostle conspicuous in his lifelong support of scouting. The Hinckley/Monson duo in the first presidency has been a fixture pretty much my entire life (since 1985), and now they’re both gone.
I don’t claim to know where the Church goes from here, but it is certainly the end of an era.
It’s worth noting that Monson also was the last of those who had direct ties to the issue of polygamy when he was part of the group deciding whether to give blessings back to Richard Roswell Lyman. Lyman was the last apostle excommunicated and had been in a polygamist relationship in secret for years while an apostle. Interestingly his wife (not the polygamist relationship) was at the time of the discovery the Relief Society President to the Church.
Of course there have been various groups in apostate breakoff since tied to polygamy. The best known was the Manti group in the 1990’s. However that visceral tie to the schism over polygamy within leadership was real for Monson in a way it isn’t for any of the current generation of apostles. And, as you noted, he was an apostle while other apostles (and community members) had grown up with polygamy. Almost certainly when he was young there were legitimate authorized polygamists in his community. Honestly that’s likely true for many of those current apostles born before WWII as well – but they didn’t serve in leadership with those directly tied to polygamy. It’d be interesting to know if that shaped how Monson reacted to LGBT issues.
Clark, could you expand on Richard Lyman? My understanding is that he was excommunicated in the 1940s, which would have been too early for Elder Monson to have had any direct participation or knowledge. I also thought he was excommunicated for adultery, not polygamy, with rebaptism and restoration of blessings (but not restoration to his apostleship) in the mid 1950s. Various stories have circulated informally for years about that matter, but this is the first time I’ve heard that it involved polygamy, though one can imagine it as an attempted justification.
(I don’t want to highjack your thread; you’re welcome to start another, or to respond to me directly.)
Lyman was rebaptized but didn’t receive his other work prior to his death. In 1970 the brethren met to decide whether or not to restore his priesthood blessings. Monson was part of that discussion. So polygamy as an living apostate concern was an issue for him that I don’t think it is for most of us. When we hear of the occasional person going off to join the Allreads (or these days the Snuffers) it’s not really a big deal. We tend to think it’s weird, but it honestly isn’t much more of an issue than someone becoming Catholic or Muslim. For Monson that’s not true. He was dealing with an actual apostle who’d broken off.
Again this is not a minor issue. In the late 1940’s there were very real concerns that the Lymans may join one of the main apostate groups. So you had an Apostle and the general Relief Society President potentially tied to apostate groups or at least apostasy. Monson came of age leadership-wise during that time and it’s worth asking how it affects his perceptions of LGBT issues or Ordain Women issues.
Clark, that’s helpful. I didn’t realize that his blessings were not restored after his rebaptism; then-Elder Monson would of course have had personal knowledge of all that. I also didn’t realize that Lyman claimed a polygamous marriage.
Thanks for mentioning this.
Bergera’s JMH article on Lyman can be found at “https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1067&context=mormonhistory”. IMO, Lyman doesn’t come across very sympathetically in it. The polygamy angle is made worse by the fact that the woman he was accused of committing adultery with was someone he had previously been assigned to help get out of a polygamous relationship and back into the Church.
Above, Clark says that there was concern that the “Lymans” (plural) were going to join the Fundamentalists. I see no indication that there was any such concern about Sister Lyman, just about Brother Lyman.
Neil Andersen has been an apostle for nine years and basically had 20 years of full-time Church service prior to that, starting as a mission president at the young age of 37. Todd Christofferson is slightly older but followed a similar path.
I point to Andersen as an example of someone called to the work at a fairly young age. On a different note, today a work colleague asked me how the new prophet was chosen and I explained and then said the real intrigue lies in the naming of the new Q12 members.
Chet, but being called as an Apostle at 35 is somewhat different from being called as a Mission President. That’s particularly significant due to the increased workload of the brethren due to the church size and then the extended life due to medicine which really doesn’t address cognitive decline starting in ones sixties. Also while Anderson is a solid indication of bringing younger people into leadership, compare it to Hinkley who was working full time for the Church from shortly after the end of his mission. Also Anderson is pretty unusual in that path, although it might suggest a return to the practices from earlier in the 20th century.
Christofferson seems more than slightly older. It’s more than a decade older before entering Church service. He was my age when called to be a GA in 1993. And significantly he was 63 upon being called as an Apostle. Before that he’d been involved in the Watergate hearings, was General Counsel for a major bank and was a successful attorney for years.
“Hijack” warning – this is partly not on the point of the OP, but does include a briefly requested sharing.
Nathan, Thanks for the link. Apart from the report in the linked article of very human messy behavior by many people, I was interested to see Richard Lyman portray himself in 1929 in a way that makes him something of a proto-liberal/progressive Mormon apostle :) :
“ ‘Perhaps the most important matter discussed [at a [particular?] meeting of the Twelve],” [Richard Lyman] recorded in early 1929, ‘was my appeal for greater charity toward our church members whose views are not strictly orthodox. I say if 100 of the most successful, most ambitious, most prosperous, most studious, and most successful church members … are being pushed out of ward activity if not out of the church, then there may be something wrong with the leadership somewhere.’ “ Quoted by Gary Bergera in Journal of Mormon History at https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1067&context=mormonhistory citing Richard R. Lyman, Diary, January 7, 1929, holograph, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
But, Lyman’s secretary noted (perhaps an understatement) that “[a]lthough a ‘brilliant man,… he lacked common sense and … he got himself into situations that he shouldn’t.’ “ (also quoted by Bergera from an interview by Sillito).
In my own “progressive” moods, I’m not sure I’d want to claim Lyman. I don’t care for his way of limiting the characteristics of those perceived to be a loss to the church, but I appreciate the appeal for greater charity toward those whose views are not “strictly orthodox” whatever that latter term means. (And it is not entirely clear to me whether any such comment to the others of the Q12 was self-justification in advance of being found out.)
Yes, Richard Lyman does not come off very well in the linked article. Neither does Amy, nor other family members, nor Joseph Fielding Smith nor Harold B. Lee in their pressing what appears to be a gross violation of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution in order to collect evidence.
Clark, I don’t understand Monson to be “last of those who had direct ties to the issue of polygamy” but maybe I read too much into your comment. Others, including at least Nelson and Oaks, have direct ties to [eternal] polygamy through their multiple sealings. It is not clear to me that Monson shared the same views as his predecessors or other apostles with whom he served, as sometimes alleged and possibly implied by the “end of an era” rhetoric.
E.g., Long before the Church dropped its overt support of reparative therapy and acknowledged ignorance of the origin of homosexuality, on request by a friend of mine for a blessing to make that friend become heterosexual, Monson advised that my friend would most likely have to live with being gay for the rest of his life. Elder Monson was reported to me to have been kind, non-judgmental, and generous in that encounter and in the blessing he gave. Though my friend will not publicly share that moment from his and Monson’s life, he has no objection to my doing so in this way. I prefer to remember Monson for that insight and kindness (and others) rather than Prop 8 or the November 2015 policy which happened under his administration, but not necessarily at his instigation.
James, thank you for your kindly and carefully written post inviting us to “share any moments or words from [President Monson’s] life that [we] keep with [us].”
JR, I was just talking about the schism over polygamy at the time of the second manifesto up through Lyman.
I also read the Bergera article Nathan linked (excellent, thank you), which confirmed my original understanding that Elder Lyman’s transgression was an adulterous affair for which polygamy was offered as a lame excuse which nobody, including Lyman, really believed. While it was certainly reasonable for church leaders in the 1940s to fear that Lyman might somehow align himself with one of the many polygamist break-offs, it seems quite doubtful that this would have persisted as an issue in the 1970 discussion over the restoration of his blessings; Bergera’s exhaustively researched account, at any rate, indicates that such concerns played no part.
So, Clark’s assessment in the OP that Pres Monson had direct ties with polygamy as an apostle is clearly correct for the reasons he relates in the second paragraph, but I would respectfully dissent from his suggestion in the first paragraph that then-Elder Monson’s participation in Lyman’s restoration of blessings was one of those ties.
Please I request that we defer the Lyman discussion. You may know only part of the story. Some of the points made so far are disputable. It was far far messier than you image and has no place on this threat dedicated to a memorial of Thomas S Monson.
If I were to iterate my view of the Lyman affair, based on what my grandparents knew who were their personal friends and partially supported it with sources, I would probably get kicked off this site. Really it was a terrible, complex, mess with tentacles far beyond the simplistic white/black version. If you want the dirt it ain’t gonna be found here because it smells too bad.
I agree the point is valid that apostles called in the 1960’s had to deal with some problems no longer on the table in the 1980’s and the Lyman affair was one of them and leave it at that.
My point was just that these set as an important context when looking at Monson’s actions on LGBT issues the past few years. I don’t want in the least to be reductive and say that they determine them. I had a bit more written, but in hopes of keeping things focused on Monson I deleted them.
I certainly agree with CC and hope that Monson not be primarily remembered relative to the LGBT issues. (As the NYT presented him) Rather his focus was on practical Christian service which he exemplified. I loved McKay Coppin’s article at the Atlantic on Monson today. It’s probably among the best things he’s written and certainly the best thing I’ve read on Pres. Monson.
That said, I think historians looking back will see LGBT issues and the trajectories set under Monson as a key transition point. Under Monson we had outreach to gay members as well as a strong move towards accepting it as not open to simple change. We had the move towards recognizing civil unions and attempts at finding middle ground. Yet simultaneously we had the divisiveness both within and without the Church over Prop-8 and the later treating homosexually married couples as equivalent to polygamous couples in terms of apostasy and how children are treated. While we, as members might look first to Monson as an exemplar of practical Christianity, in terms of the broader strokes of history, I suspect it’ll be LGBT issues and the changes towards openness on history and doctrine that will be his most lasting legacy.