Amid Societal Shifts, What Will New Mormon Leader Appointments Mean? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will announce three new top leaders. Scholar Matthew Bowman discusses what the change could mean at a time when social issues challenge the faith.
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Amid Societal Shifts, What Will New Mormon Leader Appointments Mean?

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Amid Societal Shifts, What Will New Mormon Leader Appointments Mean?

Amid Societal Shifts, What Will New Mormon Leader Appointments Mean?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The senior governing council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expected to name new leaders to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These appointments come at a time when questions about ethnic diversity, gender equality and LGBT rights challenge the church. Matthew Bowman is the author of "The Mormon People: The Making Of An American Faith." He joins us now from Henderson State University in Arkansas. Mr. Bowman, thanks so much for being with us.

MATTHEW BOWMAN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: As you and I speak, we don't know who these men will be, but we know they will be men, right?

BOWMAN: Yes, correct. The governing councils of the church are all men.

SIMON: And we have fairly recent deaths of three leaders, which makes a quarter of the positions open on the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Is there a prospect that new leadership could change the church?

BOWMAN: Somewhat, although I wouldn't expect too much change. And even though these three new appointees will join the second-highest governing body of the church, they will still be junior apostles. And it is also, I think, likely that these leaders of the Quorum of the Twelve are usually chosen from the middle level leadership of the church, which means, as well, they will already be generally in support of what positions are currently held.

SIMON: You are, I understand, a Mormon yourself.

BOWMAN: Yes.

SIMON: And a young Mormon, and just within your lifetime, worldwide Mormonism has become enormously diverse, hasn't it?

BOWMAN: It has, yes. Over the last 20 years or so, majority of members of the church are no longer in the United States. So most are now in the global south.

SIMON: How likely do you think it is the council is going to choose someone from outside the United States?

BOWMAN: I certainly wouldn't be surprised. I think Mormons have been waiting for that for quite a while now. It's becoming, I think, more likely every time a new vacancy opens up. So this very well could be the year.

SIMON: Any feeling you have that this council might be a little bit more inclined to favorably view the ordination of women into the Mormon priesthood or, at least, more involvement of women in the decision-making process?

BOWMAN: You know, that's an interesting question to ask. And it's one that, actually, runs somewhat at cross-purposes, I think, with similar desires for more diverse leadership because, you know, if these new apostles are chosen from the global south, just given the cultural predilections of that area, I think it actually might be less likely. So I think advocates for greater female participation and leadership might actually prefer new leaders from the global North.

SIMON: The church has attempted to be more conciliatory toward lesbians, gays, transgender people in recent years. Do you see this council continuing that way?

BOWMAN: Yes, I think so. I think the church has, I think, steadily moved to be more conciliatory in a lot of ways. They are still holding firm on the issue of marriage, and I think that will not change. But there, I think, is, other than that, a definite effort to reach out and to find more common ground. It is a slow process. Large institutions like this don't change very easily.

SIMON: Mr. Bowman, as I understand it, the quorum is the oldest it's ever been, with many members in their 70s or 80s. With respect, that would suggest there's going to be a lot of turnover in the next few years.

BOWMAN: Yeah, I think that's actually likely. You know, the quorum has been getting steadily older. Over the past 20 years, it's been, very frequent, the oldest quorum ever. And there will likely be more turnover in the next few years as well. Since the higher you rise in length of membership, the higher in leadership you are, it means that the highest leadership of the church is quite old indeed. The current president is 88.

SIMON: Mr. Bowman, is there still anti-Mormon prejudice in the United States we ought to know about?

BOWMAN: Oh, you know, I think most small religious groups have a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of distrust about them. Mormonism in particular, I think, is suspect for many of the same reasons that Roman Catholicism has been historically suspect. That is, there is a sense that the members of the church follow high leadership, rather than making their own decisions. They appear sort of secretive. They practice rituals that are uncommon to many other people. But I suspect many of these fears are due to a lack of awareness, lack of knowing a Mormon yourself and misunderstandings.

SIMON: Matthew Bowman, author of "The Mormon People: The Making Of An American Faith," thanks so much for being with us.

BOWMAN: Thank you for having me.

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