President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The largest Latter Day Saint denomination is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church's leader and the head of the First Presidency, the church's highest governing body. Latter-day Saintsconsider the president of the church to be a prophet, seer, and revelator, and refer to him particularly as the Prophet, a title originally given to Joseph Smith, Jr. When the name of the president is used by adherents, it is usually prefaced by the honorific title "President".
Latter-day Saints consider the president of the church to be God's spokesman to the entire world. He is considered to be the highest priesthood authority on earth, with the exclusive right to receive revelations from God on behalf of the entire church or the entire world. Modern presidents, however, have not generally continued Joseph Smith's practice of publishing written doctrinal revelations and visions, although most have stated that they have received them.
The President of the Church serves as the head of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes and the head of the Council of the Church. The President of the Church also serves as the ex officio chairman of the Church Boards of Trustees/Education.
Establishing doctrine, infallibility, and opinion
According to the LDS Church's Doctrine and Covenants, the President of the Church is the only man empowered to receive revelation for the entire church and to clarify doctrine. The Church teaches its members "we can always trust the living prophets" and that one's "greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church." In the Church, he is "authorized to counsel and dictate in the greatest and what might be deemed the most trifling matters, to instruct, direct and guide this Saints." Members are taught to rely on the Holy Ghost to judge, and if a revelation is in harmony with the revealed word of God, it should be accepted.
Not everything the prophet says is considered to be doctrine. Joseph Smith, Jr. taught "a prophet is a prophet only when he was acting as such." When he declares new doctrine, "he will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church." If the doctrine is not accepted by the Church as the word of God, members are not bound by the doctrine, even if it comes from the President of the Church.
Presidents of the Church have taught that God will never allow the President to lead the Latter-day Saints astray and that God will "remove" any man who stands at the head of the Church who intends to mislead its members. This is not a statement of belief that they are "infallible", but that their errors will not result in "the permanent injury of the work." Bruce R. McConkie said:
With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances.
Thus the current prophet can clarify, correct or change any previous teachings.
As such, when speaking in his official capacity, the words of the Church President are never considered "infallible". Members of the Church are not justified in their actions if they "blindly" follow the President. The Church has counseled its members that they should reject statements that contradict what is found in the Standard Works, "regardless of the position of the man who says it". Statements of the President of the Church can be changed by a future President of the Church; due to the Latter-day Saint belief in "continuing revelation", it is accepted that a Church President will occasionally revise or clarify statements of past Church Presidents. One Apostle of the Church counseled to "beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence."
However, when the President of the Church speaks, it is not always in his official capacity. At these times, the President may offer opinion and conjecture about topics which may or may not be church doctrine or inspired by God. It may be difficult to know when the President of the Church is speaking in his capacity as such and when he is offering personal opinion. Most Latter-day Saints assume that statements made by the President in sermons at a general conference of the Church or other formal church meeting would constitute statements made in the capacity of Church President. However, even then, the President may explicitly indicate that he is only expressing a personal opinion. However, because of the accepted principle that a prophet's teachings need not include the declaration "thus saith the Lord" to be considered binding, individual members of the church can be under tremendous cultural pressure to follow suggestions from the President of the Church just as if they were commandments.
Counselors to the President
When a new president of the church is selected, he chooses counselors to assist him. Most presidents have had a minimum of two counselors, but circumstances have occasionally required more than two; for example, David O. McKay had five counselors during the final years of his presidency and at one point Brigham Young had eight. Counselors are usually chosen from among the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, although there have been a number of exceptions where members of the church's Presiding Bishopric or persons from the church at large were called to be counselors. Any high priest of the church is eligible to be called as a counselor in the First Presidency. There have also been a few cases where counselors have been ordained to the priesthood office of apostle and became members of the Quorum of the Twelve after already being chosen as counselors in the First Presidency (e.g., J. Reuben Clark). There have been other cases where counselors have been ordained to the office of apostle but not set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve (e.g., Alvin R. Dyer). Other counselors in the First Presidency were never ordained to the office of apostle (e.g., Charles W. Nibley; John R. Winder). Whether or not a counselor in the First Presidency is an ordained apostle, he is accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator.
Counselors are formally designated as "First Counselor in the First Presidency" and "Second Counselor in the First Presidency" based on the order they were selected by the president. Additional counselors have been designated in different ways, including "Third Counselor in the First Presidency" (e.g., Hugh B. Brown), "Assistant Counselor to the President" (e.g.,John Willard Young), and simply "Counselor in the First Presidency" (e.g., Thorpe B. Isaacson). The president and all his counselors constitute the First Presidency, which is the presiding quorum of the church. The next senior apostle to the president of the church is set apart by the president to be the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Succession to the presidency
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when a president of the church dies, theFirst Presidency is dissolved and the members of the First Presidency who were formerly members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles return as members of that quorum. The Quorum of the Twelve, which may number greater than twelve with the returning members from the First Presidency, then becomes the presiding council of the church, with the senior apostle as its president. During this period of time, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is the highest ranking official in the church, and has historically always become the next church president. However, this appointment is only made official when the Quorum of the Twelve meets and selects the next president of the church.
In modern times, the Quorum of the Twelve has typically moved quickly to reconstitute the First Presidency by setting apart the President of the Quorum of the Twelve as the president of the church within days or weeks of the late church president's death. However, Brigham Young presided over the church for three years as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve before the First Presidency was reconstituted after the death of Joseph Smith. The tradition of waiting for two to three years before selecting a new president continued until the death of the fourth president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, in 1898. More recently, the surviving apostles will typically meet in the Salt Lake Temple on the first Sunday following the late president's funeral, to select and set apart the next president of the church (as was done in 1973, and described in detail by President Tanner to BYU students in 1978). At theGeneral Conference immediately following the ordination of a new president, the general membership of the church who are in attendance have the opportunity of sustaining their new leader by common consent, at a special conference session called the "Solemn Assembly"
Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is important, as the senior apostle presides over the quorum and, historically, becomes the president of the church upon the current president's passing. Specific rules have applied to special situations that have come up over time.
For instance, there have been cases where an apostle has been excommunicated or disfellowshipped, then later restored to the quorum. It was decided that in these cases, the excommunicated or disfellowshipped apostle loses his seniority in the quorum. For example, Brigham Young decided that John Taylor was to be President of the Twelve and Wilford Woodruff follow him in seniority due to the readmission to the quorum of Orson Hyde, who had been disfellowshipped in 1846, and Orson Pratt, who had been excommunicated in 1842. Young ruled in 1875 that when Hyde and Pratt rejoined the quorum, they became the newest junior members of the quorum and their previous service did not "count" when calculating quorum seniority.
Later, whether or not an apostle was a member of the quorum and when the apostle was put into the quorum became an important factor. Following the death of Lorenzo Snow, John Willard Young (ordained 1855, never in the quorum) became the senior apostle, and Brigham Young, Jr. (ordained 1864, added to the quorum 1868) the senior apostle serving in the quorum. However, on April 5, 1900, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve unanimously decided that the date an individual became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was the relevant date for succession purposes, not the date an individual was ordained as an apostle. Thus, Joseph F. Smith (ordained apostle 1866, added to the quorum 1867) became president of the church in 1901, because he was the living apostle who had become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the earliest date.
In another instance, Ezra Taft Benson left active status in the quorum for a time when he was serving as the United States Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration. In this case, however, Benson did not lose seniority in the quorum and he became the president of the church upon the passing of Spencer W. Kimball.
If the President of the Quorum of the Twelve has been called to be a counselor in the First Presidency, the most senior apostle not called to the First Presidency is set apart and referred to as the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At the death of the president of the church, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve retains his position in the quorum's membership and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve takes his role as president of the quorum.
Though there has never been a popular movement in the church to have a President removed or punished, he could theoretically be removed from his position or otherwise disciplined by the Common Council of the Church. The only president of the church brought before the Common Council was Joseph Smith, Jr., who was tried for charges made against him bySylvester Smith after the return of Zion's Camp in 1834. The Council determined that Joseph Smith had "acted in every respect in an honorable and proper manner with all monies and properties entrusted to his charge."