Sunday, January 27, 2008

LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley Called Home To Serve A Higher Mission At The Age Of 97; Anchorage (Alaska) Temple Part Of His Legacy


The Deseret Morning News (by far THE most comprehensive account) has just reported that the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, died on January 27th, 2008 at 7:00 P.M. MST, at the age 97. The cause of death has been initially identified as incident to age. The most comprehensive media coverage will be forthcoming in the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL Channel 5, KTVX Channel 4, and KUTV Channel 2, all in Salt Lake City. Also picked up by CNN.

Official LDS Church statement HERE.

The official LDS Church website offers a biographical sketch of President Hinckley. Here is an abridged version. He was born June 23rd, 1910, in Salt Lake City, Utah, a son of Bryant Strigham and Ada Bitner Hinckley. One of his forebears, Stephen Hopkins, came to America on the Mayflower. Another, Thomas Hinckley, served as governor of the Plymouth Colony from 1680 to 1692.

After attending public schools in Salt Lake City, the future Church leader earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Utah and then accepted a call from the Church to spend two years as a full-time missionary in Great Britain. From there he was called to be an assistant to the Church Apostle who presided over all the European missions.

Upon being released from missionary service in the mid-1930s, he was called by then Church President Heber J. Grant to organize what has become the Church's public affairs program.

President Hinckley's major assignments during two decades of service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles included the supervision of Church units in Asia, Europe, and South America. His Church committee assignments as a general officer have been in such areas as temples, missionary work, welfare services, priesthood, and members in the military service. He also served as chairman of the executive committee for the observance of the Church's 150th anniversary in 1980. He also served 14 years as a counselor in the First Presidency, the top governing body of the Church.

According to Lightplanet.com, President Hinckley was sustained an Assistant to the Twelve on April 6th, 1958, and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on September 30th, 1961. He was ordained an apostle Oct. 5, 1961, at age 51. Subsequently, President Hinckley was called as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball on July 23rd, 1981, and as second counselor December 2nd, 1982, becoming first counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson from November 10th, 1985 until May 30th, 1994. He then served as first counselor to President Howard W. Hunter from June 5th, 1994 until March 3, 1995.

On March 12, 1995, President Hinckley received the ultimate call, and was ordained and set apart as the 15th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Perhaps the primary hallmark of President Hinckley's stewardship is that the LDS Church truly became a global church during this time, increasing in population from 9 million to 13 million members, with an unprecedented outburst of temple construction. He conceived the idea of downsized temples to reduce real estate and construction costs; Anchorage, Alaska was one of the beneficiaries. Indeed, it can be said that President Hinckley undertook the most ambitious building program in the church's history, including the massive Conference Center near Temple Square and a total of 83 temples - that's 24 more in nearly 13 years than the 50 constructed in the previous 165 years of LDS history.

Amongst other innovations, President Hinckley created a plan to help returned missionaries in Third World countries get an education. He revitalized missionary work, worked on the retention of new converts, sent apostles to live in far-flung regions for the first time in Mormon history, and replaced many paid positions with volunteers.

President Hinckley understood the value of the media. On April 7th, 1996, he was interviewed by Mike Wallace on the CBS program "60 Minutes" (transcript HERE). He was also interviewed twice by CNN's Larry King, in September 1998, and again in December 2004 (YouTube video HERE). Another interview with a German reporter in 2002 is posted HERE, but be advised that the site is skeptical of Mormonism. All told, during his nearly 13 years as president, Hinckley gave more than 2,000 speeches, visited more than 150 countries, and greeted hundreds of diplomats and ambassadors. He was interviewed by journalists from nearly every major American newspaper, charming many with his folksy wisdom and self-deprecating humor.

And no one took a stronger lead in the church's political efforts. He built alliances with other Christian denominations to oppose same-sex marriages and defend religious liberties. In 1998, Hinckley announced a "Proclamation on the Family," which laid out the church's support for the sanctity of marriage, the significance of family and the importance of chastity.

That became the theological foundation for the church's opposition to any effort to promote same-sex marriage. In 2000, the LDS Church defended the Boy Scouts' right to exclude gays from leadership positions, and the church and its members in Alaska and Hawaii gave time and well over $1 million to thwart same-sex marriage initiatives ($500,000 in Alaska alone); in 1999, members in California helped finance the push for a Protection of Marriage Act on that state's ballot.

He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in October 2004.

Of course, any self-respecting devout LDS man is incomplete without a devout helpmeet by his side. He married Marjorie Pay on April 29, 1937, in the Salt Lake Temple, who preceded him in death in 2004. He is survived by five children and 26 grandchildren.

So what's next? With the death of President Hinckley, the First Presidency was dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve temporarily becomes the governing body of the church. President Hinckley's counselors, Presidents Thomas S. Monson and Henry B. Eyring, took their places — first and 11th — within the 14-member quorum. Until his death in August 2007, President James E. Faust served as President Hinckley's second counselor for 12 years.

According to custom and tradition, the senior ranking Apostle (based upon date of ordination to the Quorum of the Twelve) now becomes the President of the Church. The present quorum's senior member is Thomas A. Monson. Thus, barring any unusual developments, he will be ordained to the Presidency after the funeral of President Hinckley, within a week to 10 days. He can choose his own counselors, although there's a strong possibility he would invite Henry Eyring back to serve as one of his counselors. But I don't intend to outguess the Lord.

Personal Observations: Gordon B. Hinckley was certainly the right man in the right place at the right time. The fall of the Warsaw Pact and the retrenchment of the Soviet Union into a smaller, more unified Russia opened up opportunities that only someone with an open-minded, innovative vision could exploit. And President Hinckley was such a person. But although he was open-minded in tactics, he remained single-minded in defense of the faith. Marriage and morality remained non-negotiable.

I am reluctant to even appear as if I'm ranking the Presidents of the Church into a pecking order. But the combined effect of duration and difficulty of service, in my opinion, places President Hinckley amongst the top five church presidents in terms of impact, joining Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball. But all of them did the Lord's work, and no judgment of the others is intended.

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