The Elders of Israel

The Elders of Israel October 9, 2014

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds semiannual general conferences, with twenty thousand of the faithful gathering in the church’s conference center across the street from Temple Square and others watching in local meeting houses, stake centers, and over the internet.

General Conference always receives some coverage in the media. This year, the New York Times noted Apostle Dallin Oaks’s call for civility and graciousness amid ongoing opposition to the legalization and acceptance of gay marriage. Also, Ordain Women did not protest outside of the church’s Salt Lake City Conference Center but instead sought and gained admission to regional stake centers. Finally, for the first time in the church’s history (at least to my knowledge), several church leaders delivered their addresses in languages other than English.

I went to a local ward to watch the Saturday evening session, organized for the church’s priesthood holders. I’ve watched scattered bits of LDS conferences on the internet. I found it a different experience to watch with church members for whom the speakers are “living prophets.” A few thoughts and questions:

– I would love to hear President Dieter Uchtdorf speak in German. Could he possibly sound as tender and kind in his native tongue? I couldn’t even find a Youtube clip of him speaking German. Nächstes Mal auf Deutsch, bitte, Präsident Uchtdorf!

– If the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. organized a General Conference (as opposed to a General Assembly), would anyone watch ten hours of discourses by church leaders?

– The fact that I, as a non-member am entirely welcome at priesthood meetings, and female members are not, makes no sense to me.

– Some Latter-day Saints consider “Ye Elders of Israel” to be a rather trite selection for priesthood meetings. (The church’s hymnal, by the way, specifies that it is a song for men). I found the rendition by the Missionary Training Center choir beautiful:

– By contrast, it’s a bit awkward to stand silently while one’s companions sing: “While they who reject this glad message / Shall never such happiness know.” That’s from the LDS standard “We Thank Thee God for a Prophet.” Indeed, I perceived more markers of LDS distinctiveness in the priesthood session than I have from visiting LDS church services on occasion. For example, the repeated emphasis on President Thomas Monson’s testimony, compassion, and leadership is necessarily a bit off-putting to a Protestant.

– The LDS Church’s highest-ranking leaders are elderly men. There’s no suspense when the current president / prophet dies, as the most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles succeeds him and forms a new First Presidency. Seven of the current apostles are upwards of eighty. There are obvious disadvantages to having leaders of advanced age, namely declining capacities. Perhaps someday a church president will imitate Pope Benedict XVI and retire. But at the same time, I admire the fact that the church generally does a better-than-average job at obtaining participation and contributions from members of all ages. Newly ordained holders of the Aaronic priesthood serve the sacrament during Sunday meetings. Young adult women and men serve missions. Very old men hold the “keys of the priesthood.” Most non-senior adults are relatively uninterested in the counsel of an eighty-seven-year-old man. Many of these run counter to common sense, but they also have positive effects. Although the church does emeritize its non-apostolic general authorities at the age of seventy, the Mormon example is a good reminder that you don’t need to put people out to pasture too soon.


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  • David Tiffany

    “…several church leaders delivered their addresses in languages other than English.”

    It doesn’t matter how many languages it is spoken in…the “restored” gospel introduced by Joseph Smith and the Mormon church has been called into question.

    Joseph Smith didn’t always refer to the “golden plates” when writing the Book of Mormon.

    The papyrus used to write the Book of Abraham was a funerary text.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2014/06/deceived.html

  • TomW

    Having seen Präsident Uchtdorf speak “auf Deutsch,” I can assure the author that his tender and engaging tone comes across very nicely in his Muttersprache.

    And why am I not surprised to see David Tiffany spewing his standard anti-LDS screeds in yet another corner of the internet? Good grief! A response to his criticisms of the Book of Abraham: https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng

  • EngineerSenseHere

    Pretty good article. Elder Bednar gave a great talk directed at those interested in learning about the LDS (Mormon) Church.

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/come-and-see?lang=eng

  • Brian

    “The fact that I, as a non-member am entirely welcome at priesthood meetings, and female members are not, makes no sense to me.”

    To clarify, the OW group wasn’t denied entrance simply because they were women, but rather because they were trying to use the event as a stage for political advocacy and agitation. Men, under the same circumstances, would have also been denied. Long before OW staged their first protest, you could find a few women attending the priesthood sessions at local meetinghouses, and nobody cared.

  • TomW

    In all fairness, women are denied entrance to the Conference Center because the meeting isn’t FOR them, just as the General Women’s Meeting isn’t FOR men. The only reason a handful of women flew under the radar screen for past local meetinghouse broadcasts is because the matter had never been escalated the way which the actions of recent activists have done. Now they are more likely to be politely requested not to attend the local broadcasts, albeit instructions have apparently been to let it go if the person is going to insist and potentially become disruptive if turned away. But such isn’t exactly the behavior of a faithful adherent.

  • S B

    I’m female, and I personally have attended priesthood sessions of LDS conferences at the local level. Once I drove my son to a meeting of several hundred men and boys an hour from our home. I had planned to shop during their meeting, but was graciously welcomed in by my mission president’s wife. I sat in the middle of the room with her and a visiting general authority’s wife and had a great time. I’ve also attended stake priesthood meetings with my husband. I sat right in front of the podium, but no one ever said an unkind word about my presence. And a friend in my congregation regularly joins her husband at local broadcasts of the General Conference Priesthood Session. Again, everyone can see that she’s there, and no one minds.

    OW was turned away from the Conference Center because they are politicizing the discussion about women in the LDS Church, not because they want to attend meetings.

  • Guthrum

    Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly: I don’t there would be very many attending. That is because the PCA has few members left. This after the denomination left the doctrine of Biblical authority and embraced moral relativism, and pop culture. Their members left by the millions for churches that teach and preach the Gospel without apology.
    One alternative is the PCA. Conservative and Bible based.

  • Guest

    The “keys of the priesthood” are not just held by “very old men.” In a local congregation or ward, priesthood keys are held by the Deacons’ quorum president, who is usually 12-13, the Teachers’ quorum president, who is usually 14-15, and the Elders’ quorum president, who is typically 18+. These hold keys limited to their quorums. The Bishop, typically 25 +, holds the keys to needed preside over and bless the entire ward. The stake president, typically 30+, holds keys to preside over several congregations. All these hold keys only for the duration of their calling.

    It is true that only the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve apostles hold all the keys of the priesthood, to preside over all the Church, and they hold them for life. The average age of these 15 leaders is 79, but whether or not that is “very old” is a matter of opinion. Most of them are still vigorous, work long hours, and travel regularly to all parts of the world. Their average age, when first called to the Quorum of the Twelve, was 56. Thus their average experience as an apostle is 23 years; the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have given, as apostles, 345 years of combined service. Pres. Monson, who is 87, has served the longest as an apostle (51 years), and was also the youngest of the 15 when called (36.) Quentin L. Cook, 3rd youngest in seniority, was the oldest when called: 67.
    – – –
    Name: present age, age when called, year called (determines seniority)
    – – –
    Thomas S. Monson: 87, 36, 1963
    Henry B. Eyring: 81, 62, 1995
    Dieter F. Uchtdorf: 74, 64, 2004
    – – –
    Boyd K. Packer: 90, 46, 1970
    L. Tom Perry: 92, 52, 1974
    Russell M. Nelson: 90, 60, 1984
    Dallin H. Oaks: 82, 52, 1984
    M. Russell Ballard: 86, 57, 1985
    Richard G. Scott: 85, 60, 1988
    Robert D. Hales: 82, 62, 1994
    Jeffrey R. Holland: 73, 54 1994
    David A. Bednar: 62, 52, 2004
    Quentin L. Cook: 74, 67, 2007
    D. Todd Christofferson: 69, 63, 2008
    Neil L. Anderson: 63, 58, 2009
    – – –

  • hthalljr

    The “keys of the priesthood” are not just held by “very old men.” In a local congregation or ward, priesthood keys are held by the Deacons’ quorum president, who is usually 12-13, the Teachers’ quorum president, who is usually 14-15, and the Elders’ quorum president, who is typically 18+. These hold keys limited to their quorums. The Bishop, typically 25 +, holds the keys to needed preside over and bless the entire ward. The stake president, typically 30+, holds keys to preside over several congregations. All these hold keys only for the duration of their calling.

    It is true that only the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve apostles hold all the keys of the priesthood, to preside over all the Church, and they hold them for life. The average age of these 15 leaders is 79, but whether or not that is “very old” is a matter of opinion, considering their healthy life style. Most of them are still vigorous, work long hours, and travel regularly to all parts of the world. Their average age, when first called to the Quorum of the Twelve, was 56. Thus their average experience as an apostle is 23 years; the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have given, as apostles, 345 years of combined service. Pres. Monson, who is 87, has served the longest as an apostle (51 years), and was also the youngest of the 15 when called (36.) Quentin L. Cook, 3rd youngest in seniority, was the oldest when called: 67.
    – – –
    Name: present age, age when called, year called (determines seniority)
    – – –
    Thomas S. Monson….87, 36, 1963
    Henry B. Eyring……….81, 62, 1995
    Dieter F. Uchtdorf…….74, 64, 2004
    – – –
    Boyd K. Packer……….90, 46, 1970
    L. Tom Perry…………..92, 52, 1974
    Russell M. Nelson……90, 60, 1984
    Dallin H. Oaks…………82, 52, 1984
    M. Russell Ballard……86, 57, 1985
    Richard G. Scott………85, 60, 1988
    Robert D. Hales……….82, 62, 1994
    Jeffrey R. Holland…….73, 54 1994
    David A. Bednar……….62, 52, 2004
    Quentin L. Cook……….74, 67, 2007
    D. Todd Christofferson..69, 63, 2008
    Neil L. Anderson……….63, 58, 2009
    – – –

  • hthalljr

    Kindly delete my duplicate post, unsigned, mistakenly made in response to Guthrum.