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Prince’s Research Excerpts: Priesthood & Mormonism – 1988

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1988:   Mar.:  Update on Church presiding quorums and committees.

“When President Spencer Kimball announced the reorganization of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1975 the move inaugurated a half decade redefining the roles and responsibilities of the new quorum, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.  The result is a committee system of general authorities which exercises substantial oversight of the church headquarters and general programs and is designed to keep the focus of the Church on its stated three missions: to preach the gospel, redeem the dead, and perfect the saints.

Church organization was not always complex.  In the 1930s the First Presidency directly supervised many departments and apostles served as general presidents of the auxiliaries.  In the 1960s the priesthood correlation movement restructured the Church administration bringing all departments and auxiliaries (some of which had become quite autonomous) under priesthood direction.  Coupled with that, the growth of the Church has required the Quorum of the Twelve to assume direct administration that the First Presidency once did.

In 1977 the First Presidency announced that they had made an organizational distinction between the ecclesiastical affairs of the Church and the temporal affairs (although those terms are not now the Church ‘buzz words’ they were then.)  Under the direction of the First Presidency, ecclesiastical affairs were to be administered by the Quorum of the Twelve and the temporal matters (buildings and welfare services) by the presiding bishop.  As a result, youth programs were transferred from the presiding bishop to the Twelve.

On the ecclesiastical side there are three ‘executive councils’ which direct the affairs of the Church:  the Missionary Executive Council, the Priesthood Executive Council, and the Temple and Family History Executive Council (formerly the Temple and Genealogy Executive Council.)  Apostles are assigned by seniority to one of the committees.  The senior apostle on each council serves as chair.  Members of the First Quorum of the Seventy who act as the executive director of a Church department also serve on the council which directs their department.  (See organizational chart for committee assignments.)

These councils directly supervise both the church bureaucracy and ‘priesthood line’ leaders of the Church.  Like Congressional committees, these councils give programs and policies a detailed general authority review, which explains why some apostles seem particularly active in a certain area.  Each council also supervises one third of the areas of the Church, giving them direct authority over the Church’s hierarchal priesthood line.  For each area presidency, one apostle on the council is identified as the ‘first contact’ person (see chart for area assignments).

Overseeing these three councils is the Correlation Executive Committee, whose membership consists of the chair of each executive council and the presiding bishop.  The chair of this committee is the president of the Twelve or, if for some reason he does not serve on the committee, the senior apostle on the committee.  This influential committee of the three or four senior apostles directs executive councils and hence most programs of the Church.  In addition, the Correlation Department, which approves all Church materials for publication, reports to this committee.  One particularly influential branch of the Correlation Department is Research and Evaluation, which conducts highly sophisticated studies on the Church in areas such as membership activity and conversion processes.  Obviously, the chair of this committee can be very influential; because of the activist nature of the current chair, some in the bureaucracy call him the ‘de facto’ Church president.

This committee structure places the Quorum of the Twelve in a position to actively ‘regulate the affairs of the {church} in all nations’ (D&C 107:33).  Indeed, many informed Church staff describe the management of the Church’s departments without mentioning the First Presidency.  When asked about the role of the Presidency, one senior bureaucrat with years of Church Office Building experience replied, ‘That is the great secret.’  Another jokingly stated, ‘In this Church we made a distinction long ago between presiding and conducting.’  Others explain that there is an extensive informal decision-making system that is not reflected in organizational charts.

LDS Public Communications spokesperson Jerry Cahill explains that preliminary decisions made by the executive councils are approved in a weekly meeting of the Twelve and the First Presidency.  According to him, the structure of that meeting’s agenda is the three missions of the Church and the specific items come from the executive councils.  Nevertheless, items that received an hour of discussion in an executive council may get five minutes at this meeting.  (For a detailed description of the administrative meetings of Spencer Kimball’s presidency see President N. Eldon Tanner’s speech, ‘Administration of the Restored Church,’ in the 1978 April Ensign.)  However, members of the First Presidency are able to exercise control through the crucial committees they chair, including the General Welfare Services Committee chaired by President Thomas S. Monson (which oversees the functions of the presiding bishop), the Personnel Committee, the Church Board of Education chaired by President Gordon B. Hinckley (which oversees Brigham Young University and the Church Educational System), and the all important budget committee, the Committee on the Disposition of the Tithes, which meets once a year.

In addition, the Brethren have a loyal bureaucracy which sincerely attempts to implement their will.  Many Church administrators report that the latest talks by the prophet and his counselors are frequently referred to by general authorities and analyzed by employed staff for direction in administering programs.

If the historically ambiguous role between the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve is now fairly clearly delineated, the role of the First Quorum of the Seventy is still uncertain and the boundaries between them and the Twelve, with whom they are doctrinally equal in authority, continue to shift.  Shortly after the Quorum was reorganized, the differences in quorum responsibilities were explained by assigning the setting of vision to the First Presidency, policy to the Twelve, and administration to the Seventy.  The seven presidents and other seventies were made directors of the Church’s main departments and the presidency began making administrative decisions.  Very soon, however, the apostles began to sense that they were too distant from ‘regulating the affairs’ and the executive councils were created to direct the departments, giving the Twelve greater supervision.

Currently seventies now fulfill their scriptural injunction to act ‘under the direction of the Twelve, . . . in regulating all the affairs of the church’ (D&C 107:34) on an individual basis.  As area presidents, auxiliary heads, and department directors they report to members of the Twelve on the executive councils.  However, the quorum seldom has the opportunity to act as a united group.  In a way, the former title ‘assistant to the Twelve’ is more descriptive of their duties than ‘member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.’  There is a monthly quorum meeting for members in Salt Lake, and after each general conference there is a quorum meeting in which information is disseminated but no decisions are made.  (One seventy in an overseas area presidency is hoping to serve his entire five-year term without attending a quorum meeting.)  Apparently, when the seven presidents meet they do some coordinating, work on specific assignments from the Twelve, but outside of training new members, they do not direct the work of the members of their quorum.

In addition to the above major committees and councils there are numerous other general authority committees, which are usually chaired by an apostle and frequently have seventies as members.  A sampling of them include the Boundaries and Leadership Changes Committee, the Special Affairs Committee chaired by Elder David B. Haight (press and governmental relations), the Leadership Training Committee chaired by Elder James E. Faust (for general authorities and stake and local leaders), the committee on the restoration of temple blessings and cancellation of sealings (it reports to the First Presidency).

Even for the Church Office Building employees, it is difficult to understand the organization of the general authorities.  The Brethren are very secretative [sic] about their inner workings.  Currently, no organizational charts are available even for the bureaucracy.  For the general church member, no listing of general authority responsibilities and organization has been published since a 1979 Church News story announced the executive committees, as they were then called.  Although the accompanying chart is accurate as of late as [sic] April 1988, it is undoubtedly now out of date (there are rumores of major reassignments in August).  Reportedly, one reason for the dearth of information on the presiding quorums is to avoid emphasizing the process and personalities over the content of their deliberations.

Terminology is important in Church administration.  For example, when a seventy directs a department, he is the executive director and his counselors (who are also seventies) are managing directors; however, when a non-general authority is the director he is only a managing director.  The term ‘administer’ is now out of favor; several apostles have become attached to dropping the ‘ad’ and simply ‘ministering’ to the Church.

With the growth and entrenchment of the committee system, the decision-making processes of the general authorities have become more collaborative.  When President Gordon B. Hinckley was a counselor to Spencer W. Kimball he easily dismissed a reporter’s question about the possibility that Ezra Taft Benson might lead the Church in an ultra-conservative direction if he succeeded to the presidency.  Dismissing the idea that one person alone could lead the Church in a new direction, Elder Hinckley said that the question showed no understanding of the consensus decision-making processes of the Church’s leaders.  In the years since, the nature and power of that process have become increasingly apparent.”

[Among the listings in the chart are the following:



L. Tom Perry

Marvin J. Ashton

Boyd K. Packer

Robert D. Hales


L. Tom Perry

David B. Haight

M. Russell Ballard

Robert L. Backman

Glenn L. Pace


Marvin J. Ashton

Neal A. Maxwell

Russell M. Nelson

Joseph B. Wirthlin

James M. Paramore

Hugh W. Pinnock

Robert D. Hales



Boyd K. Packer

James E. Faust

Dallin Oaks

Richard G. Scott

W. Grant Bangerter

Henry B. Eyring


Dean L. Larsen

Ted E. Brewerton

Robert B. Harbertson


Missionary Department (under Missionary Exec. Council)

Robert L. Backman

J. Richard Clarke

Russell C. Taylor

Glen L. Rudd

Curriculum (under Priesthood Exec. Council)

Hugh W. Pinnock

Gene R. Cook

William R. Bradford

Keith Wilcox

Priesthood Department (under Priesthood E. C.)

Marion D. Hanks

James M. Paramore

Paul H. Dunn

Sunday School (under Priesthood E. C.)

Robert L. Simpson

Devere Harris

Phillip T. Sontagg

Young Men (under Priesthood E. C.)

Vaughn J. Featherstone

Rex D. Pinegar

Hartman Rector, Jr.

Family History Department (under Temple & Family History E. C.)

Richard G. Scott

Loren C. Dunn

J. Thomas Fyans

Historical Department (under Temple & Family History E. C.)

Dean L. Larsen

John K. Carmack

Temple Department (under Temple & Family History E. C.)

W. Grant Bangerter

Rex C. Reeve

H. Burke Peterson]

(“Update on the Committee Organization of the Church’s Presiding Quorums,” Sunstone 12(2):50-51, Mar., 1988)