SALT LAKE CITY — At 94, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has proved a far more vigorous and transformative figure than scholars expected when he took office a year ago, pushing through a flurry of surprising changes on such matters as gay members and the name of the faith.

“He has been a more transformative president than anybody expected he would be. He has an expansive agenda.” — Matthew Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia

Russell M. Nelson made his biggest move yet Thursday when he rescinded rules banning baptisms for children of gay parents and branding same-sex couples apostates subject to excommunication. Those 2015 policies had generated widespread backlash.

He has also launched a campaign calling on people to stop using the shorthand names “Mormon” and “LDS,” severed the faith’s ties with the Boy Scouts of America after a century, shortened Sunday worship by an hour and revised a sacred temple ceremony to give women a more prominent role.

His vigor has surprised many scholars and church members who thought he would be more of a caretaker after becoming the second-oldest man to lead the faith, said Matthew Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

“He has been a more transformative president than anybody expected he would be,” Bowman said. “He has an expansive agenda.”

Nelson’s Visibility and Vibrancy Set Him Apart From His Predecessor

As members gather Saturday for a twice-annual conference in Salt Lake City, they are bracing for more changes by the former heart surgeon who leads the Utah-based faith with 16 million adherents worldwide.

“Nelson has made it appointment viewing for people,” said Brandt Malone, a church member from Detroit who hosts the Mormon News Report podcast.

Nelson’s visibility and vibrancy set him apart from his predecessor, Thomas S. Monson, who kept a low profile and was in failing health for part of his presidency. Church presidents serve for life, and Monson died in January 2018 after leading the faith for nearly a decade.

Since ascending to the post, Nelson has given speeches to tens of thousands at stadiums in Seattle and Phoenix and visited 15 countries. He met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in March in what the church called the first meeting between a pope and a president of the faith.

Nelson hasn’t altered church doctrine but has approved changes that scholars say seem designed to improve the religious experience for an increasingly global membership.

Photo of a woman holding a rainbow flag

FILE – In this Nov. 14, 2015 file photo, Sandy Newcomb poses for a photograph with a rainbow flag as people gather for a mass resignation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is repealing rules unveiled in 2015 that banned baptisms for children of gay parents and made gay marriage a sin worthy of expulsion. The surprise announcement Thursday, April 4, 2019, by the faith widely known as the Mormon church reverses rules that triggered widespread condemations from LGBTQ members and their allies. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The Church Still Opposes Gay Marriage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

We've got issues, and we're willing to share
(but only if you want them in your inbox).