Contextualizing quorum changes

By April 1, 2018

Quorum. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

First, let’s take a step back, but not all the way back. Mostly because this isn’t a book. Let’s go to 1964. At this time, each stake and mission generally included a High Priests quorum, at least one Elders quorum and at least one Seventies quorum. In the years leading up to this time, church policy was that if there were not at least 49 elders (a majority of the scriptural 96–D&C 107:89) then a “unit” en lieu of a quorum was to be organized. But why would that matter? I imagine that the majority of Elders quorums in the church today don’t have 49 members. The answer goes back to the definition of what a quorum is, namely, “the number (such as a majority) of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business” (to quote Miriam-Webster).

Some folks that have served in civic or business organizations that follow old timey rules may be familiar with the idea that you need to have a quorum to transact business. Generally speaking a quorum doesn’t exist unless you have the group assembled. You see this in old minutes of the church as well. Things have changed a lot since D&C 107 was delivered and sustained and many words that are currently fundamental to Mormon self-conception have evolved within the tradition in particular ways (e.g., priesthood and ordinance).

Back to 1964. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve had some questions about governing jurisdiction within the church, and President McKay asked David Yarn–a Prof at BYU, and smart guy who did stuff like this–to write a position paper that ultimately got published in the Improvement Era. The whole thing is remarkable, but here is a fascinating bit:

When a presiding quorum is to be organized, be it the presidency of the Church, the presidency of a stake, a bishopric, the presidency of a quorum, or the head of an auxiliary, it is the president (or bishop, or superintendent) who is chosen and appointed by the authorizing body…The keys of authority of the particular jurisdiction center in the president. [emphasis added]

There are a couple of things to note about this statement, in light of quorum organization in 1964 generally: First, this construction is less odd when you consider that Bruce McConkie had spoken about Relief Society Presidents receiving keys. Next, in 1964 if Elders quorum members were spread across multiple wards, which was common, they could organize themselves into ward Elders “groups.” However the “group leaders, their assistants, and secretary” were not generally “set apart.” These groups met regularly, but also joined for quorum business at least occasionally. Lastly, at this time, the Stake President was a member of the High Priests quorum, not its president, and these quorums did have regular, albeit not weekly, meetings.

In 1968, however, everything changed. The Priesthood Correlation Committee revised pretty much everything. Perhaps the biggest change was that all of the High Priests quorums in the church were sort of dissolved. Now, technically they were not dissolved, they were simply reconstituted, with the Stake Presidency as the new quorum presidency, and each ward getting a High Priests group, with a group leader, etc. The HP quorums never really met again to conduct business, if you will. All business was managed in the groups exclusively. One of many driving forces within this reorganization was a shifting conception of what “keys” are (another complicated word). Keys grew to be something that only priesthood quorum presidents held in the church. And if the Stake President didn’t have keys, then the system is broken. Things were in flux though–the Q12 was still using Yarn’s rational above at least for a few more years after this change.

Things have stayed fairly static on the priesthood organization side of things, seventies quorums excluded, for the last fifty years. Also, for at least a couple of years after 1968, if a ward did not have at least 49 Elders then multiple wards would combine to constitute a quorum. Eventually no one cared about having a technical majority anymore, because what business was the Elders quorum doing anyway, and every ward got a quorum.

On March 31, 2018 (aka, yesterday) freshly minted Church President Russell Nelson announced another change to things. The High Priests groups in each ward were to be dissolved, with all of their members joining the Elders quorum of the ward in which they reside [n1]. I think that there are several compelling logics for a such a change beyond those stated with the announcement: 1) logistically (especially in developing wards and stakes) multiple priesthood groups attenuated resources; 2) the EQ president and the HP group leader were functionally equivalent, and thus subverted the idea that “only priesthood quorum presidents can have keys” axiom; and 3) Relief Societies have long succeeded with blended demographics. There are some fun resonations with early Mormonism in this structure as well [n2] (note that where HPs fit in early Mormonism is remarkably complicated). Now the High Priest quorum is still to exist, but it is to be comprised of church officers called to governing positions in the church (Stake Presidency, High Council, Bishoprics, and Patriarch). My sense is that the reason that the HP quorum was kept at all, even if it is a logistical fiction, was precisely because the axiom that only priesthood quorum presidents can have keys has become so dominant, and we want the Stake President to have keys.

__________________________

n1. As a side note, in 1979 the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve had a lengthy debate about combining High Priests, Seventies, and Elders into a single ward group for regular meetings. The idea proved too divisive to implement at the time.

n2. Important to this conversation is the reality that there was no High Priest Quorum in the early church. In fact, in the earliest church there were no quorums, but JS swiftly revealed them as the organizational structure for the church. When D&C 107 was revealed in 1835 which organized all of the various quorums, there was only a High Council and a Presidency of the High Priesthood. Basically, those were the governing bodies. Because High Priests quorums were created after this revelation was printed, unlike other quorums, there were no canonical numerical requirements for their existence and also more flexibility to how they were constituted.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Great background, thanks for sharing.

    I served my mission in Colorado from 1977 to 1979. For priesthood meeting we always met with the Seventies, which was usually about three grizzled men who had been doing missionary work nonstop for decades and were pretty thoroughly burned out. That was not a sustainable organizational model.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — April 1, 2018 @ 8:02 am

  2. There was sort of a divide in the priesthood career path back then: if you got promoted to the leadership track, you were made a HP and served in bishoprics, high council, and stake callings. If you didn’t, they made you a Seventy and you did (or didn’t do) missionary work and you met as a very small group of Seventies on Sunday. If you managed to stay active for about ten years, they might make you a HP anyway.

    This system is sort of replicated with the new arrangement, except instead of doing penance in the Seventies Quorum (and meeting separately on Sunday), the non-leadership men just stay (and languish) in the New Expanded Elders Quorum. Time will tell whether it becomes a de facto up-or-out system. That is certainly not what senior leaders intend to happen, but Mormonism is full of unexpected consequences.

    Comment by Dave B. — April 1, 2018 @ 9:36 am

  3. Yeah, the case of the Seventies is extremely complicated with shifting organizations throughout the 20th century. At the beginning of the century all Mormon missionaries were ordained 70s. By the end, none were. But there were various permutations and existential angsts. That said, I’m not sure that the two track segregation of priesthood officers really was a HP/70 thing, and with the new HP quorum being essentially non-functional, I don’t really see an opportunity for that to be established. But like you say, Dave, it is hard to predict.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 1, 2018 @ 10:55 am

  4. Under the new paradigm, I can perceive of only one reason a MP holder not on the “leadership track” would want or need to be ordained a HP: to participate in the ordination of a son as a HP so that son may serve in a Bishopric or High Council. Are we seeing the end of a father-son line of authority, which was so commonly celebrated several decades ago?

    I wonder, if there is little difference between the roles of two offices in the future, will we see the two consolidated? Or will we see a set transitional age, where a father is honored with ordination to the office of high priest, so that he may participate in the ordinations of his sons or sons-in-law if they are called to leadership positions?

    I am also concerned that Elder/High Priest divisions will still exist in some wards. Lumping priesthood holders together does not immediately create unity. Any perception of difference tends to get amplified. Granted, it has been clearly stated that an Elder or High Priest may preside over the new EQ’s, but old traditions die hard.

    Comment by Old Man — April 1, 2018 @ 11:25 am

  5. I’m seeing multiple comments about a “leadership track” to which members may be “promoted” – as opposed to, I take it, a non-leadership track. Is this a real thing? If so, where can I learn more about it?

    Comment by Jiminy — April 1, 2018 @ 7:53 pm

  6. The Leadership Track is largely perceptual (and totally male). Most of us first encounter it in the mission field in which we observe some elders jockeying for advancement through District Leader, Zone Leader, culminating in Assistant to the President. (These steps may reflect my own antiquarian mission experience). It might have better odds of succeeding that playing high school basketball in hope of being able to play for the NBA.

    When those so inclined get home from their missions, the steps go through Elders Presidency, Bishopric, maybe High Council, Stake Presidency, Mission Presidency, Part-time Seventy, Full – time Seventy and then the 12. Here the odds are probably much worse than the NBA example.

    Not everyone is bitten by this plague and most of those who are inflicted come to realize at some point that they are on a fool’s errand.

    Comment by Sheldon — April 1, 2018 @ 8:45 pm

  7. Thanks. I’ve heard of some high priests questioning the scriptural validity of the change, claiming that by scriptural mandate an elder cannot, under any circumstances, preside over a quorum made up of, at least in part, high priests. They read some of 107 to state this. Any take on that? I don’t agree with that reading but won’t bore you with my take.

    Comment by Brad — April 2, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

  8. Brad, I imagine that you are referencing vss. 11-13:

    10 High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things, and also in the office of an elder, priest (of the Levitical order), teacher, deacon, and member.

    11 An elder has a right to officiate in his stead when the high priest is not present.

    12 The high priest and elder are to administer in spiritual things, agreeable to the covenants and commandments of the church; and they have a right to officiate in all these offices of the church when there are no higher authorities present.

    I think there are a lot of ways to approach this issue, but I think the most significant is that section 107 as been wildly deprecated as a governing document for church ecclesiology. It just doesn’t describe the modern LDS Church. I think beyond that point, someone might argue that “rights” are indicative of capacity, not imperatives. If it were the latter then Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons wouldn’t really do anything in the church.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 2, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

  9. I think J. Stapley is correct.

    Here is my take on our current priesthood paradigm: The priesthood itself is > any ordained office in that priesthood. Hold that concept and everything makes sense.

    An ordination to the office of high priest is only relevant when a MP holder is actively serving in a calling which requires that specific ordination, making him a (usually temporary) member of the Stake HP quorum.

    Upon his release, the high priest ordination is no longer relevant, but he certainly possesses standing as a MP holder. (“Elder” being a generic title for MP holder helps.)

    He retains his ordained capacity to the office of HP for any future assignments or may ordain other high priests when called upon, but he lacks the imperative (or authorization?) to serve as a high priest in the Church unless set apart again to one of the specified callings.

    The new EQ quorums are made up of every MP holder not assigned to the Stake HP quorum. Any MP holder has the capacity to be set apart, hold the keys and preside over the new Elders’ quorums. Therefore, all MP holders, both ordained Elders and ordained High Priests, may serve in the Presidencies and preside over the quorum.

    Certain High Priests in the Stake HP Quorum carry the imperative or authorization to intervene in the EQ. Stake Presidencies preside over both the Bishoprics and the EQ Presidencies. Bishops can make assignments to the EQ as “presiding high priests” in the ward.

    The general principles in D&C 107 are maintained. I think the new policies actually clarify things a bit.

    Comment by Old Man — April 2, 2018 @ 5:12 pm

  10. Old Man, just to clarify, when you say the priesthood consists of any ordained priesthood office I assume that you are meaning the LDS men?s priesthood organization consists of any ordained priesthood office, since the definition of priesthood is the power of God, which can be given to deserving men and women.

    Comment by Grimalkin — April 5, 2018 @ 10:11 am


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