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Nepotism and Church Leadership – It’s All In The Family

By Lane Thuet

To members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the president of the Mormon Church is considered to be the only living prophet, a seer and the only revelator authorized to speak to men on behalf of God. There have only been 15 of these men, to date, for their church. The current one is Gordon B. Hinckley. These men are all honored and revered by the membership of their church while they live, and even after they die. While most LDS members have never met the current or any former Mormon prophet personally, they will still proclaim that they have a deep love and respect for these men.

How does someone get to be prophet of the Mormon Church? Those familiar with Mormon history know there was a succession crisis after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. No one knew for sure who was supposed to become the next prophet, if anyone. When all was finally said and done, Brigham Young was the one who ended up as second prophet, seer and revelator for the church. In order to prevent such a problem from arising in the Church again, a policy for succession was declared. The policy states that at the death of any prophet, the senior apostle in the Quorum of Twelve will become the next prophet of the church – a policy which was remained in effect to this day (Ensign, May 1983, p.22-23; also Doctrines of Salvation 3:156).

Spencer W. Kimball once said, “…the death of (God’s) servants is in the power and control of the Lord, He permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p.34). As we look a little deeper into the lives of the LDS apostles, however, we find another factor at work. Family relations play an important part in who gets selected as a general authority for the Mormon church – general authorities being the men at the top of the hierarchy who rule the organization and set the doctrines of the church. From this pool, men can eventually rise into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles – from which the next prophet will be selected. Thus, family lines are also a factor in succession of anyone to the position of prophet and President of the Mormon church.

Commenting on the characteristics of the men who ran the LDS Church for its’ first 100 years, D. Michael Quinn said, “At a primary level were kinship ties. No less significant were marriage connections…Convoluted relationships made the Mormon hierarchy an extended family, and extensive family connections persist among LDS general authorities today” (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p.163). Both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that family relations played an important part in calling members to the top Church government positions.

Joseph Smith gave general authority positions to many family members, including his father, two brothers, an uncle, and several cousins. In all, he appointed 23 men to leadership positions in the Church who had family ties to him. Brigham Young appointed three of his sons as apostles, but did so secretly. He revealed this fact to the rest of the apostles’ Quorum only after the fact. He also appointed 10 other family relations as general authorities. John Taylor appointed 8 relatives, including two sons, to the church leadership. Wilford Woodruff, likewise, appointed 3 relatives, including one son. Lorenzo Snow appointed 1 relative. Joseph F. Smith (6th LDS Prophet) appointed 11, including three of his sons – one of which later became the 10th prophet of the Mormon Church. Heber J. Grant appointed 4 relatives.

After meticulously documenting and tracing family records among LDS leaders over the years, Quinn commented that “Where kinship was involved, (Brigham) Young’s successors appointed only men with close kinship relations to current or former general authorities. Aside from Wilford Woodruff, LDS presidents after Young also doubled his proportion of appointments with close kinship connections. Twentieth-century presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant more than doubled the founding prophet’s proportion of appointments with close kinship to other members of the Mormon hierarchy” (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p.169-170).

From 1847 to the early 1900’s, the practice of polygamy greatly multiplied the family ties between Mormon authorities in Salt Lake City. Church leaders routinely intermarried with descendants of other general authorities. But even after polygamy was officially ended, family ties remained a strong consideration in appointing men as LDS general authorities.

How does the current Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles measure up? 100% of them are related in some way to current or former general authorities of the LDS Church. In the top 2 leading quorums – consisting of 15 men (The First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles), five of these men are directly related to each other. Four are related to each other by marriage. Four are directly related to former LDS Presidents. Five are directly related to former apostles. Two are married to wives who are direct descendants of former presidents. Five are married to wives who are directly related to former apostles. Seven are married to wives who are relatives of current general authorities or of their wives. The only apostle who has no blood ties to any other general authority is Apostle Richard G. Scott. But, true to form, his wife is related to several current general authorities and even descends from a former LDS apostle.

The answer, then, to the question, ‘how does one get to be the prophet of the LDS Church?’ seems to be by having the right family ties, coupled with longevity. When the LDS Church leaders state that “Families Are Forever”, they are apparently including the family of apostles and prophets who have run the Mormon Church since the beginning. Those with no family ties to any LDS leaders – former or current – need not apply for the job.

Addendum: On 2 October 2004, President Gordon B. Hinckley presented Dieter F. Uchtdorf and David A. Bednar to the LDS Church as new apostles following the deaths of David Haight and Neil Maxwell earlier in the year. I have been unable to ascertain any extended family ties to current or past LDS General Authorities for either of these men or their wives. On 6 October 2007, Quentin L. Cook was presented as a new apostle after the death of James Faust. Elder Cook and his wife both have multiple ties to current and past General Authorities, including former President Spencer W. Kimball, former Apostle Heber C. Kimball, and former Presiding Bishop Edward Hunter.

Note: Most of the statistics for this article were originally researched and documented by D. Michael Quinn in his excellent book The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, pp.163-197, 641-725, and 731-745. 

For a three-part series on the Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast concerning this issue, go here: Part 1  Part 2  Part 3 

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