The New LDS First Presidency: Historical Notes and Contexts

By January 16, 2018

Thanks to Brother X for this post!

As expected, Russell M. Nelson was set apart as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His counselors are Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring were selected as First and Second Counselors, respectively.

I am a historian. I do not predict the future. Latter-day Saints view every calling as from the Mouth of God. I do not disparage that. As an active LDS I believe in that. I am merely pointing out lines of thought. So please no comments about this being political.

With that in mind, there are some interesting things to think about with this new First Presidency:

Each member of the First Presidency has a Ph.D. or J.D.

President Eyring was called as Second Counselor, a position he had served under Gordon B. Hinckley. Under President Thomas S. Monson, he had served as First Counselor. This is the first time since David O. McKay called J. Reuben Clark to be his Second Counselor, when he had served as George Albert Smith’s First Counselor. From that move comes one of the phrases most often associated with Clark, “in the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who had served as Second Counselor to Thomas S. Monson, was released from the First Presidency. Uchtdorf is the first member of the First Presidency that was not retained since Marion G. Romney was not called by Ezra Taft Benson into the First Presidency. Romney had been ill for several years. Before that, Hugh B. Brown was not asked to serve as a Counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith.

There is a certain logic in showing that President Oaks is next in succession and it makes sense that he is in the Presidency.* These LDS Church Presidents (a majority of them) had not served in the First Presidency before their call as LDS Church President: Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith**, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, and Howard W. Hunter.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf has been asked to fulfill a special assignment. I’m very interested to hear what that assignment entails!

What did I miss? Any contexts that I missed?


**Joseph Fielding Smith was not called as First or Second Counselor to David O. McKay

Article filed under Announcements and Events Miscellaneous


  1. Yes. Important context for those fretting about President Uchtdorf not being retained are his own General Conference talks “Lift Where You Stand” (October 2008) and “The Greatest Among You” (April 2017).

    Comment by Chris Grant — January 16, 2018 @ 11:17 am

  2. Lots of experience with academia in that presidency (and in the 12 in general). My secret hope is that the Church chooses to divest itself of BYU during Pres. Nelson’s tenure.

    Other predictions:
    * Elder Nelson will accelerate/expedite the ongoing divorce between BSA and LDS
    * The re-structuring of gospel instruction during the 3-hour block will continue to undergo major changes.
    * Emphasis on the sabbath day will continue to be a “front burner” item

    Out on a limb prediction:
    * Due to the Lord’s timing and Elder Nelson relationships, missionary work will begin in China.

    Comment by The Other Clark — January 16, 2018 @ 11:19 am

  3. KSL gives a lot of context to Dyer who was also demoted even further than any of the other ones you mentioned.

    Alvin R. Dyer, who was called to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency on April 6, 1968, under President David O. McKay, was ordained an apostle the previous October but was never a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Following his service in the First Presidency, Dyer was called to be an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and later to the Quorum of the Seventy.

    Comment by jpv — January 16, 2018 @ 11:30 am

  4. “missionary work will begin in China”

    Last time I checked there’s a temple and multiple stakes and districts there. And, due to President Nelson’s age, what kind of contacts is he still going to have in the country, and honestly, what difference would it make to them whether he was President of the Twelve or President of the Church?

    “a special assignment”

    I assumed they meant special assignments like the fireside Sunday evening. All the apostles have special assignments over missionary work and preaching the gospel, etc. In other words, he’ll be reassigned from his duties in the First Presidency to duties of an Apostle.

    Comment by Anonymous — January 16, 2018 @ 1:42 pm

  5. RE: Missionary work in China
    In the Seattle WA mission, I was told by the sister missionaries in our ward that there is a sister missionary serving here that is from mainland China. I have not met her yet, but it would be interesting to hear her story.

    Comment by kevinf — January 16, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

  6. It’s true that Joseph Fielding Smith was not either a first or second counselor to President McKay. But, as Pres. McKay’s health began to fail during the last five years of his life, three additional counselors were added to the First Presidency (joining Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner, who were Pres. McKay’s counselors from 1961 and 1963, respectively): Joseph Fielding Smith and Thorpe B Isaacson from 1965 to 1970, and Alvin R. Dyer from 1968 to 1970.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 16, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

  7. I think one of Elder Uchtdorf’s “special assignments” will be regarding YSA’s/millenials.

    Comment by U2 40 — January 16, 2018 @ 3:38 pm

  8. I’m sorry, but I am confused by the following paragraph. Could someone reword it for me?

    “Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who had served as Second Counselor to Thomas S. Monson, was released from the First Presidency. This is the first time this had happened since Marion G. Romney was not called by Ezra Taft Benson into the First Presidency. Romney had been ill for several years. Uchtdorf is the first member of the First Presidency that was not retained since Hugh B. Brown was not asked to serve as a Counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith.”

    Comment by Moss — January 16, 2018 @ 3:57 pm

  9. I also find it intriguing from a sociological perspective that so many of the apostles/prophets have had inactive or absent fathers–Nelson, Oaks, Richard G Scott, Howard W Hunter, Heber J Grant, probably many others.
    I would also love for someone to do a study about the mortality of apostles’ wives–it feels like generally in current American society that women outlive men, but in this case (stress? absentee husbands/fathers?) many of the apostles’/prophets’ wives predecease them (Harold B Lee, Howard W Hunter, Hinckley, Monson, Oaks, Nelson, Richard G Scott, others?
    I know Barbara Ballard and Kathleen Eyring are quite ill).

    Comment by acw — January 16, 2018 @ 4:17 pm

  10. Sorry for the confusion, Moss. The post has now been updated for clarity.

    Comment by David G. — January 16, 2018 @ 4:50 pm

  11. Does President Nelson have a PhD in addition to his MD?

    Comment by E — January 16, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

  12. I don’t understand the refusal to discuss politics on this post. Any ignoramus knows that President Uchtdorf was not reassigned because of his more moderate views, his strong charisma or his outstanding communication skills. It is because he possesses the best head of hair since David O. McKay!

    Comment by Old Man — January 16, 2018 @ 10:51 pm

  13. E: Yes, according to his bio from

    Comment by J Stuart — January 17, 2018 @ 9:38 am

  14. As far as the list of presidents who were never in the First Presidency prior to their call as President, you can now also add Russell M. Nelson to that list.

    Comment by D — January 19, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

  15. Is this not the first time that ALL THREE in the LDS First Presidency have doctor level degrees?

    Another first: this is the first time that the church President was ordained an apostle after 1978.

    At least some of us have never resolved why the church ordained Blacks and allowed them into the temples before there was common consent voting by the membership over the change.

    Comment by Heber — January 20, 2018 @ 10:27 am

  16. Hey Heber: I don’t say this lightly, but if any of you are still upset over the 1978 policy change, you are welcome to leave the faith.

    Comment by Ben P — January 21, 2018 @ 3:38 pm


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