From left to right: First Counselor Henry B. Eyring, President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf
At a press conference held Monday February 4th, 2008, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially introduced the new First Presidency. Local media stories from a multitude of sources, including the Provo Daily Herald, the Deseret Morning News, the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL Channel 5, HERE and HERE, and KTVX Channel 4.
As expected, 80-year-old Thomas S. Monson, the most senior of the Apostles in terms of service on the Quorum of the Twelve, was introduced as the 16th President of the Church. Not unexpectedly, 74-year-old Henry B. Eyring was brought back into the First Presidency, this time as the First Counselor. This decision provides valuable continuity between "administrations".
But a bit of a surprise was the selection of 67-year-old Dieter F. Uchtdorf as the Second Counselor. The Salt Lake Tribune was the only local media outlet to have introduced Uchtdorf's name into public speculation, justifying it by suggesting that Monson may have acquired a particularly high regard for Germans during the time he negotiated with German government officials to build a temple in Freiberg, Germany, while it was still behind the Iron Curtain. In addition, the inclusion of a foreigner in the First Presidency also serves to further emphasize the global character of the Church.
Monson, 80, succeeds Gordon B. Hinckley, who died last month at age 97. Out of respect for the deceased president, the Mormon church never names a successor until after funeral services. Hinckley was buried Saturday.
Little change in policy and direction is expected initially. Monson said he was prepared to follow Hinckley. "It's not difficult because he blazed the trail," Monson said at a news conference. "I worked with him for so long -- 44 years. We knew each other so well. I knew and testify afresh that he was the Lord's prophet".
He added: "There will be no abrupt changes in the course we will be pursuing," that would include traveling the world to be among church members and continuing to build small temples in places where the church is growing. As president, Monson will guide a growing church with 13 million members in 160 countries. Of those, about 5.7 million are in the United States, with one-third of those living in Utah.
President Monson also answered some questions about the Church's position on social issues. When asked if women should seek education as a means of personal fulfillment, rather than simply as preparation for possible divorce or death of a spouse, he said preparation for any eventuality is important and that personal satisfaction comes from setting educational goals and achieving them.
Regarding another question about whether church members could disagree with the faith's opposition to legalizing same-sex unions and still remain in good standing, he said the answer "depends on what the disagreement is". "If it's an apostasy situation, that would not be appropriate. If it's something political, there is room for opinion here and there on either side". [Ed. Note: This requires some clarification. If a Mormon advocates same-sex unions as an individual in a secular political environment, that will not affect the member's standing in the Church. But if a Mormon publicly advocates that the Church should approve same-sex unions, then that would create the "apostasy" situation and subject the member to Church discipline. This is how Sonia Johnson got into trouble - not by politically advocating ERA as an individual in the secular arena, but by waging a public campaign against the Church to get them as an organization to endorse ERA, by advocating praying to the Heavenly Mother (forbidden by Matthew 6:9), and by urging people to boycott LDS missionaries.]
He said the church will maintain its openness with the press, largely instituted during President Hinckley's administration. "I believe in an open book and access (by) the media".
Latter-day Saints know Monson as a compassionate storyteller whose parables recount the stories of individuals resolving their struggles through faith. As a senior church leader, Monson has served as an international envoy for the church and supervised the expansion of humanitarian programs. He's also known for forming ecumenical partnership with other faiths.
Monson was named to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1963 at the age of 36, after serving as a local church bishop and as director of the church's Canadian missionary activities in Toronto. He went on to serve as counselor to Hinckley and two previous presidents in the church's highest leadership circle, the First Presidency. A more complete biography was recently posted HERE. Updated official LDS biography HERE
Henry B. Eyring had spent more than three decades serving the LDS Church full time, before becoming an apostle in 1995 and second counselor in the First Presidency on October 11th, 2007. After earning a graduate degree in business administration from Harvard University, he became an educator, working for years at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, Calif. He was president of LDS-owned Ricks College (now Brigham Young University-Idaho) in Rexburg, Idaho, from 1972 to 1977, then became the church's commissioner of education. He managed the church's extensive educational operations, including BYU, the LDS institutes of religion adjacent to many college campuses, and seminary programs for high school students. He then had a brief stint with the Presiding Bishop's Office, where he oversaw the church's buildings. Eyring has been married to his wife, Kathleen, for 46 years and is father to six children. Official LDS biography HERE.
A native German who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1940, Dieter Uchtdorf was ordained an apostle on October 7th, 2004, after having been part of the presidency the Quorum of the Seventy since 1995. The former pilot and executive for Lufthansa German Airlines was called to the Seventy in 1994. Uchtdorf said he was "joyfully overwhelmed" by his new responsibilities. "I learned quickly in the church that we're not representing a nation or country or ethnic group," President Uchtdorf said. "We are ... representing the Church of Jesus Christ. We are representatives of Him". Uchtdorf is only the 11th apostle in the Church born outside of the United States. He and his wife, Harriet, have been married for 45 years and have two children. Official LDS biography HERE. Wikipedia account HERE.
But as the members of the new First Presidency assume their positions, other members of the leadership are taking on new roles. President Boyd K. Packer will now serve as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He previously served as acting president. This change in position puts him in line to become the next president of the Church. Today's announcement also leaves a vacancy in the Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles. That position could be filled as early as tomorrow but more likely will be announced during the Church's general conference in April.
Commentary: Based on the list of three Apostles who spoke at President Hinckley's funeral, I believed that the Church was also using the funeral to showcase the new First Presidency. I was two-thirds right.
Apparently, President Monson was influenced to keep President Packer in the succession by leaving him as an Apostle. I did consider the possibility that President Monson would reach out to a younger man, and I thought Jeffrey Holland might be a wild-card selection.
But as we LDS like to say, the thinking has been done, and the decision made. Good luck to all three and I vote to sustain them in their positions.