I am a fan of the NYT obituary section. I read it weekly in the print edition of the Sunday paper.
Usually they post obituaries of people who made their impact in life at a younger age, and died in relative obscurity. Their obituaries probe around a bit, turn over a few stones, and leave a few stones deliberately unturned with veiled ironic comments.
The TSM obit, by comparison, is a bit of a snoozer. It's almost more of a recap of the affairs of LDS, Inc. from 2008 to the present, rather than an accounting of TSM's influence in the world.
It seems to me that Monson's impact in the world occurred, and probably his period of power, occurred at mid-apostlehood, rather than post-2008 when he assumed the helm of the organization. Particularly since in 2008 at age 80 his health and mental acuity had already declined considerably.
For instance, in contrast to the assertions of the NYT, it wasn't clear to me at all, at the time, that TSM was behind Prop 8, the anti ordain women movement, or the "punish the children for the sins of their parents" anti gay policy. These seemed to be the inner workings of the church departments, Hinckley inertia, or the Packer contingent in the Big 15.
Yet, the NYT puts these out there in direct association with TSM, because he was the figurehead leader. Apparently without doing even a modest amount of homework as to what Monson's cognitive abilities were at the time of these events, or how power is structured behind the figurehead leaders of LDS, Inc. I'm kind of surprised that the NYT writers missed these elements, because they are an important part of the story. (And, the corollary, that the most impactual effect's of TSM's leadership are not really known, because the policies he likely set in the 1970s and 80s were hidden behind the figureheads of Kimball and Benson).
For instance, this statement in the NYT obit
"But in 2015, Mr. Monson responded to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage..." is a pretty big stretch. Watch a minute or two of TSM's sermon at October Conference that year. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/be-an-example-and-a-light?lang=eng
Do you think this guy is tweeting and setting policy? I don't think so. The more interesting and accurate take on it is to describe how shadow leaders have a long history of using a signature machine to speak for an incapacitated figurehead leader. And TSM himself helped pioneer the use of it a generation earlier.
If I was writing the obituary for the NYT, I'd structure it like this:
TSM, a long-holding power player in LDS, Inc. has passed. He has been a key developer and influence of the policies and positions of the LDS church for 54 years, much of it behind the scenes while he was a junior leader in the elite leadership quorum.
While he was the president of the religion for the past decade, he never had the stamina or mental acuity to be an effective leader during this time. As his health gradually failed he became unable to conduct the symbolic leadership activities. Yet, as is the custom with LDS leaders, he never retired, simply stepped back from the pulpit when his ability to speak eventually failed.
TSM's primary influence came not in the decade as president of the church, but in the 1970s and 80s, when LDS, Inc was governed behind the scenes, with geriatric figureheads in the "president" role.
- [whatever he did then?]
- [Was he behind the later controversial policy to treat gay students at BYU with penile electroshock therapy when presented with gay pornographic images, etc.]
- [He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Boy Scouts]
- [As a young and jovial member of the elite quorum, his sermons were popular as they stood out from the more staid sermons of his peers]
- [His cheery, honest-looking face helped LDS, Inc's for-profit insurance business thrive]
- ["Every sermon included a widow story" was a cliche, but accurate, as he never ceased to deliver a story about yet another visit to a young WWII widow in the early 1950s]
- [established, with GBH, the precedent to use the signature machine to execute an internal coup when a current LDS president no longer had the cognitive ability to lead the church]
Later, though he rose higher in the leadership hierarchy, his influence diminished in 1995 when the last of the quiet figurehead leaders died and was replaced maverick sentient church president Gordon B. Hinckley. Unlike his predecessors, Hinckley wielded control of political, economic and spiritual policies in the organization. And the power which TSM and GBH had jointly controlled while they were shadow-leaders was now assimilated by GBH. But, true to form in the LDS tradition, the policies and positions taken by the church are never attributed to any one leadership faction or another, making obituaries difficult to write. Suffice it to say that by all appearances Monson's days of power were now on hold until the day that he could potentially outlive Hinckley, 17 years his senior but in excellent health, while Monson continued to struggle with diabetes and obesity.
Thus, TSM was already in declining health and declining political power within the organization when Hinckley passed in 2008 and he finally had the theoritical ability to have executive authority over the church's policies and positions.
Unfortunately, his decade of "leadership" is characterized more by shuffling policies, clumsy adjustments to positions, and botching up many PR gambits that his predecessor, GBH, would have dispatched with handily. And having an organization devoid of many of the attributes expected of governed by a leader.
- [Prop 8, 2009, had a nasty backlash, the meddling of LDS, Inc. and Utah donors in California politics was clumsily mishandled]
- [Ordain women, pissed off a lot of people]
- [Gays participants in the Boy Scouts, let to an awkward divorce between LDS, Inc. and their longest-standing public partner].
- [punish children to the sins of their parents. A controversial policy that departs from the historic doctrine of the church, but appears to have been a poorly thought-out policy change rather than a deliberate departure from New Testament theology.]
- [filling vacancies in the elite leadership quorum with faceless bureaucrats without a modicum of charisma, unlike the capable theologians, popular university presidents or Germans with cute accents that previous presidents had appointed]
Meanwhile, TSM's health visibly deteriorated, and whatever leadership qualities he provided to his church diminished. His much-anticipated biennial appearances at the church's televised conferences grew shorter, his speech labored, but peraps most noteworthy is that he persevered. Even to the point of requiring spotters to catch him if he collapsed at the pulpit during what ended up as his final sermon in 2016(?)
After a many decades of faithful and successful service to his beloved church in his years of prime, his legacy is that when he rose to the helm, he failed to either provide effective leadership or take early retirement to allow someone else to take over the reins, or, to assign younger, charismatic leaders positions of power, as an earlier generation had done using TSM himself 50 years previous to save the Mormon Church of that era from its leadership vacuum.
Edited 11 time(s). Last edit at 01/09/2018 05:27AM by reinventinggrace.