Gordon Hinckley, the prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints died Sunday at his home in Salt Lake City. News of his death was carried on most media outlets. I thought most media outlets did a great job conveying Hinckley’s importance to the church.
For example, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has been covering the LDS quite a bit in the last year. Her write-up was informative, briefly touching on every major challenge and opportunity Hinckley oversaw:
In a faith that is relatively young, founded in 1830, Mr. Hinckley’s impact was formative. He traveled to 60 countries and dedicated 95 of the church’s 124 temples, some on sites that he himself had surveyed and selected. Wherever he went, he drew large crowds of church members waving white handkerchiefs, a sign of affection that began in Chile and spread.
With his buoyant personality and affinity for public relations, Mr. Hinckley made Mormonism more familiar to the public and more accepted in the Christian fold. He gave news conferences and was the first church president to sit for interviews on “60 Minutes” and “Larry King Live.” When the Winter Olympics went to Salt Lake City in 2002, the church’s home base, he guided the church outreach campaign.
To emphasize its commonality with other churches, he changed the church’s logo, making the words “Jesus Christ” in the church’s name much larger than “Latter-day Saints.” He arranged to make the church’s huge library of genealogical records publicly available on the Internet.
The Los Angeles Times‘ William Lobdell also had an informative and thorough analysis of Hinckley’s impact on the church. I thought this bit was quite interesting:
Hinckley was involved in most of the major decisions that have shaped Mormonism for more than three decades. On June 1, 1978, he was among the small group of church leaders gathered together when then-President Kimball received what Mormons consider a revelation that the church could drop its ban on allowing blacks into its priesthood.
In a high-profile controversy, Hinckley and other leaders in 1993 approved the excommunication of five prominent church members and severe discipline for another who publicly questioned portions of Mormon history and the legitimacy of an all-male priesthood, among other issues.
“Every individual in the church is free to think as he pleases,” Hinckley told the New York Times shortly after the decision. “But when an individual speaks openly and actively and takes measures to enlist others in opposition to the church . . . we feel there is cause for action.”
I hadn’t realized that a small group of church leaders were present for the revelation about blacks being able to enter the priesthood.
Note that Lobdell shows how Hinckley had a background in media and embraced the use of media to help him in his job.
Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times did a good job of showing how beloved Hinckley was, how well he worked with the media and how his attitude of openness transformed what some saw as an insular church body.
I always prefer the Salt Lake Tribune for my Mormon news and this week has been no exception. You can read a bit about the likely next Mormon prophet, a former newsman! The story has some interesting predictions about how he will lead the LDS. There’s also a very thorough retrospective of Hinckley, a story about his love of history, his legacy of temple building, a transcript of a 2002 interview he gave focused on working with the media.
Many of the national news stories about Hinckley noted that his predecessors had been very ill while serving their presidencies. Some observers said that Hinckley had served as president longer than his 12-year term would indicate. Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Tribune did a great job of explaining why LDS presidents are always so old. Hinckley called it the church’s “gerontocracy problem.”
According to LDS teaching, the church presidency is held by a prophet who serves as God’s only spokesman on earth. After Joseph Smith was killed, Brigham Young took over that role. He had been the senior apostle in the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ever since then, whoever has served the longest in that quorum has ascended to the presidency. Right now the men in the quorum range from age 55 to 90 and have served anywhere from a few months to over 40 years. Fletcher Stack explained how Hinckley helped church members rethink their view of church leadership:
Starting in 1981, Hinckley shouldered much of the work for three aging Mormon presidents (Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson and Howard W. Hunter) who became unable to fulfill everyday duties. But he had to be careful not to act as if he were usurping the prophet’s place.
During Benson’s decline, Hinckley constantly reassured the faithful that the prophet — though not appearing in public or going to the office — ratified every major decision. At the same time, Hinckley was clearly helping members to re-think their assumptions about church leadership. In 1992, he described the hierarchy’s “back-up system,” which allowed the other men to step up.
“When a man is ordained to the apostleship and set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve, he is given the keys of the priesthood of God,” Hinckley said. “Each has the keys but is authorized to use them only to the degree granted him by the prophet of the Lord.”
Please let us know if you see any particularly good coverage of Hinckley as well as analysis of the incoming president.