Tuesday 20 February 2018

93-year-old ex-surgeon appointed Mormon church president

Russell M Nelson succeeds Thomas S Monson, who died on January 2.

President Russell M Nelson speaks at Thomas S Monson’s funeral (AP)
President Russell M Nelson speaks at Thomas S Monson’s funeral (AP)

By Brady McCombs

The Mormon church appointed a 93-year-old former heart surgeon Russell M Nelson as its new president, following a longstanding succession plan that aims to keep the faith on course with a minimum of upheaval.

The selection of Mr Nelson was announced by high-ranking Mormon D Todd Christofferson during an address broadcast from Salt Lake City to Mormons around the world.

Mr Nelson then spoke to Mormons, calling on them to “keep the covenant path”.

The new leader announced that his two counsellors will be Dallin H Oaks and Henry B Eyring, both members of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles leadership body.

Mr Christofferson is also one of its members.

The religion’s 17th president was chosen during a private meeting of the Quorum, per church tradition that makes the longest-tenured member of the Quorum the new president.

Mr Nelson is now considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by Mormons. Mr Nelson succeeds Thomas S Monson, who died on January 2 at the age of 90.

He is the second-oldest man to assume leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Utah and counts nearly 16 million members worldwide.

The former surgeon will oversee the religious and business interests of the faith in collaboration with two top counsellors and members of the Quorum, one of the faith’s top governing bodies.

Mr Nelson’s record during his three decades in church leadership suggests he will make few changes as he upholds church teaching and seeks to draw new members.

Among the challenges he faces is adapting to the increasingly global nature of the church, which was founded in 1830 in the United States and now has nearly six in 10 members living in other countries.

Mr Nelson takes the top position amid increased scrutiny of church teaching in the internet age, which has made more information on doctrine available. Under Mr Monson, leaders released a series of essays explaining some controversial areas of Mormon history, including early polygamous practices and a past ban on black men in the lay clergy.

The church also faces some pressure to allow greater leadership roles for women, including those who want to be admitted to the priesthood.

Mr Nelson also will have to navigate the issues raised by the LGBT rights movement. 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.

Last year, Mormon leaders partially cut ties with the Boy Scouts of America, which in 2015 ended its blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. The LDS church, which has been the biggest sponsor of troops, said the move was not about that decision.

Press Association

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