On Tuesday, Jan. 2, Thomas S. Monson, leader of the 15.9 million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), sometimes known as the Mormon Church, died at the age of 90. He was the 16th successor of the Prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church on April 6, 1830.
The LDS Church is a non-Trinitarian Church that professes faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement as the core of their faith. The LDS has four texts that are sacred to them, the Bible (Old and New Testaments — retranslated by Joseph Smith), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
Joseph Smith founded the LDS Church after what he claimed were visits from God the Father and Jesus Christ at the age of 14. He claimed he was eventually given golden plates which revealed the story of an ancient civilization here in the Americas who were visited by Jesus after he rose from the dead. These supposed plates were written in an ancient language that only he could translate which came to be known as the Book of Mormon.
The LDS Church is organized in a hierarchical priesthood structure administered by men only. They believe that the church is led by Jesus Christ through private revelations to a man chosen as the Prophet-Seer-Revelator (successor of Joseph Smith). This man is generally referred to as President in modern times. He and two counselors are ordained apostles and form the First Presidency; 12 other apostles form the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Along with these leaders the church is led by the Quorums of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric, they are called general authorities of the church. At the local level the church leadership is drawn from the laity and work on a part time volunteer basis without pay.
All males who are practicing members of the church are ordained to the priesthood around the age of 12. The priesthood is divided into the Aaronic priesthood for those 12 years old and up and Melchizedek priesthood for men 18 years old and up.
President Monson served as Prophet for the past 10 years. During his time as an Apostle and Prophet church membership grew from 2.1 million to 15.9 million. The number of temples grew from 12 to 159; one of them was opened this past year in Philadelphia. He shot up through the ranks of the LDS Church as a bishop at age 22 and president of the church’s Canadian Mission at age 31. He was one of the youngest ordained LDS apostles at the age of 36.
As a new apostle in 1963, he served alongside apostles who knew or were raised by LDS pioneers who crossed the plains and arrived at the Salt Lake Basin around 1847. Some of them could remember the church before the Revelation that ended polygamy in 1890. He is the last prophet to have served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles with church leaders who had known men who knew the Prophet Joseph Smith.
President Monson spent more than three decades in the First Presidency. He spent a total of 54 years as an apostle. His daughter, Ann Monson Dibb, one of three children born to President Monson and his wife Frances (who died in 2013), said that her father lived by three scriptural charges found in the Epistle of Saint James, “First, James 1:22: ‘Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.’ Second, James 1:25: ‘A doer of work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.’ And third, James 1:27, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ No matter what their trial or sorrow may be, (my father) extended his hand. He lifted them, steadied them and supported them as they applied their own faith and trust in their Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Funeral services are set for President Monson for Jan. 12 at the religion’s 21,000 seat conference center in Salt Lake City. Some famous Mormons, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, entertainer Marie Osmond and conservative talk show host Glenn Beck were among those who made statements upon his death. Romney said in a statement that he’ll remember Monson’s compassion for the downtrodden. Osmond tweeted a picture of her embracing Monson, saying he was always there for her family. Beck recalls Monson’s kindness and humility.
His successor will be named after the funeral. Following the death of the prophet, the First Presidency is dissolved and the two counselors in the First Presidency return to positions of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The prophet is then determined based on who has the highest ranking seniority from the date when they were ordained to the Twelve. That would be 93-year-old Russell M. Nelson.
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.