Bush, Lester E., Jr., Prince, Gregory A., Rushforth, Brent N.
Gerontocracy and the Future of Mormonism
Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought
Of the major Western religious traditions in the US, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints retains the service-until death policy for its top leader. For more than a century following its founding in 1830, longevity was such that physical or mental incapacitation were not a significant issue. Medical science was not sufficiently advanced to be able to prolong life once a terminal illness began, and lifespan was not sufficiently long that age-related dementia was significant, if even present. However, advances in medicine have increased life span without concomitantly avoiding age-associated medical issues, most notably dementia. This has created a problem for Church leadership since policy holds that members of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency (together abbreviated Q15) serve for life and that upon the death of a sitting Church president his successor is the senior member of the Q15. Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was the exception among recent presidents of the LDS Church. Here, Prince et al examine the risk of gerontocracy on Church governance. He notes that the incapacitation of President Thomas S. Monson, the incumbent president, and the recent controversy over divisive anti-LGBT policies engender a discussion of reasons for current LDS governance, insights provided by medical science into future expectations, historical consequences of lengthy periods of presidential incapacitation, and options for alternative outcomes.