When Mormon Apostles Grow Old
Elder David Bednar and several other general authorities from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently visited congregations in Eastern Europe. One event was a meeting for priesthood holders located in Riga Latvia which was broadcast to the area which stretched to Vladivostok, Russia. This was the first time when such an event was broadcast from one of the Baltic states and the first time in over five years since an apostle had visited one of the Baltic states.
In a hierarchal church like the LDS church, one might expect church leaders to offer instruction and correction when engaging with the periphery of the church. Surprising nothing of the sort happened. Elder Bednar and church leaders fielded questions and concerns and then met with local leaders on how to better address those concerns. Elder Bednar took the time to shake everyone's hand, look them in the eye, and personally greet them. Everyone left inspired and motivated to continue on in their church service.
For members of the Quorum of the 12, this was a typical event, as they regularly engage with members on these types of visits. For members in the periphery it was a once in a lifetime and potentially life changing experience. Members of the Quorum serve until death, meaning that many members' health does not permit such visits. While technology and video broadcasts have increased their reach and impact, technology cannot substitute for bad health or personal contact.
Since Church leaders serve until death the collective leadership has always been old, and the church is in a phase now where they are especially old. President Monson just turned 87, Elder Perry is 92, and Elder Nelsen and President Packer will soon be 90. This means that at a time when it is needed more than ever, fewer brethren are able to engage with local members. Elder Bednar noted that through video broadcasts they can meet with local leaders once every four years. It was not clear how long it would take for a member of the 12 to personally meet with local leaders. The growth of the church means that this number will unfortunately grow.
Given the emphasis on hastening the work and given the impact that these meetings can have on members, the church should consider options for increasing contact between members of the Quorum of the 12 apostles and local leaders and members.
One such option could be to create a second Quorum of the 12 apostles. There is theological room for this in the LDS church. While the 12 apostles were ministering in Jerusalem, Mormon theology teaches that Jesus appeared to a people on the American continent and called another Quorum of the 12 to lead followers there. This is the approach the church has taken with the quorums of the seventy, adding as many quorums as needed. While this option would increase the number of apostles it could also cause confusion among members or detract from the sacred nature of the calling making it an unlikely choice.
A second option would be to release members from the Quorum when their health begins to fail. This would ensure that only healthy members would be serving, enabling all 12 members to engage with local members worldwide. There are draw backs, though. Who would decide when a member is not healthy enough to serve? What happens if someone is sick but then recovers? The lack of clarity could open the door for unpleasant situations in the future.
A third option would be to implement an emeritus status for members of the Quorum of the 12. This is already in place for those serving in the quorums of the seventy, as they are usually released at age 70. Members of the Quorum of the 12 could be automatically released at age 85. Those 85 or older would still be apostles after their release; but they would no longer hold keys or be members of the quorum of the 12 apostles.
This would be beneficial for several reasons. First it would drastically improve the health and physical stamina of the Quorum of the 12. With members younger than 85, most would be able to travel and be physically able to engage with members and better fill other assignments. Second, it would create more stability for the presidency of the church. When the president of the church dies the senior member of the 12 is next in line. After President Monson, those in line are President Packer (soon to be 90), Elder Perry (92), and Elder Nelsen (soon to be 90). This means that in the near future there will be several church presidents with potential health problems who will only serve for a short period of time. While some measure of stability can come from their counselors, it would be beneficial to have a healthy president for a significant amount of time to ensure continuity in the implementation of strategy and revelation. President Hinckley (1995-2008) was a prime example of this. By having an emeritus member policy, the oldest a church president could be when beginning service would be 84. This would increase the length of service and increase the number of healthy years served.
There are some draw backs to this option as well. Some members are relatively healthy after age 85 such as Elder Perry and Nelson. Others have health problems before age 85 such as Elder Hales. Overall this would still be a good age to implement emeritus status. Reducing the age of the members of the quorum of the 12 would increase their ability to engage with the members of the church at a time when it is needed most. An emeritus status would also increase the stability of the presidency of the Church. As Elder Bednar noted in Latvia, it is the Lord who is hastening his work and it is up to us to keep up. We cannot continue to do things in the same manner as they have always been done and expect improved results. Designating members of the Quorum of the 12 over 85 as emeritus apostles could play a key role in that hastening.