Monday, February 19, 2018




Mormon church appoints 93-year-old ex-surgeon as president

By BRADY McCOMBS
Jan. 19, 2018 at 11:49 p.m.

President Russell M. Nelson, center, receives a handshake from his counselor Dallin H. Oaks, left, while fellow counselor Henry B. Eyring, right, looks on following a news conference Tuesday announcing his new leadership in the wake of the death of President Thomas S. Monson in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The 93-year-old former heart surgeon named Tuesday as the new president of the Mormon Church signaled his intention to make few changes in policy regarding the role of women and LGBT issues — two topics that the faith has grappled with in recent years.

Russell M. Nelson's remarks to reporters after he was officially chosen to become the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed an expectation that he will likely uphold traditional church teachings.

Speaking about his approach to LGBT issues, Nelson said he understands there are "challenges with the commandments of God, challenges to be worthy."

"God loves his children and we love them and there's a place for everyone," Nelson said. "Regardless of his challenges."

The church at times has expressed empathy and told members to be welcoming to LGBT people while also strictly defending opposition to same-sex marriage and all homosexual relationships.

Dallin H. Oaks, one of two men Nelson chose to be his counselors, added that leaders have the responsibility to teach love but also God's commandments.

"We've got the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord," said Oaks, a member of church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles leadership body.

Nelson called doing so a "balance."

Nelson succeeds Thomas S. Monson, who died Jan. 2 after leading the religion for nearly a decade. Church presidents serve until they die. He took the post following a longstanding succession plan that aims to keep the faith on course with a minimum of upheaval.

Nelson is now considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by Mormons. He is second-oldest man to assume leadership of the 16-million member LDS church.

He will share responsibility for the faith's religious and business interests with his two top counselors and members of the Quorum.

Nelson did not mention changing any roles for women, instead emphasizing their importance within the current church structure that includes an all-male priesthood. "We need their voices, we need their input and we love their participation," Nelson said.

That echoed sentiments he made during an October 2015 speech that came during a period of intense discussion about the role of women.

The church faces some pressure to diversify leadership to add women, non-whites and people from countries outside the United States. All the Quorum members are white and were born in the U.S., except for Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was born in Czechoslovakia and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Nelson said the "Lord is in charge" of picking top church leaders and acknowledged that its highest leadership councils are not a "representative assembly."

"We'll live to see the day when there will be other flavors in the mix, but we respond because we've been called by the Lord," Nelson said.

Tuesday's announcement came two days after Nelson was anointed during a private meeting in the Salt Lake City temple, per church tradition that makes the longest-tenured member of the Quorum the new president.

Nelson's selection of Oaks, 85, and Henry B. Eyring, 84, as his counselors means Uchtdorf, 77, goes back to the being a regular member of the Quorum after he served as one of Monson's counselors.

Eyring was also a counselor for Monson, while this marks the first time Oaks will serve as a counselor to a church president. Oaks is the next-longest tenured member of the Quorum, making him next-in-line to become the next president.

Nelson's selections could be due to his familiarity with Oaks and Eyring, but it underscores the expectation that his presidency won't include major reform since Oaks and Eyring share Nelson's "traditionalist strain" while Uchtdorf was considered a bit more centrist, said Patrick Mason, a Mormon scholar and associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

"The reality is that this presidency will be more conservative than the previous one," Mason said.

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