Noted heart surgeon unlikely to transform Mormon church as new president


Russell M. Nelson, the new leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, isn’t expected to move the church in major new directions, church members and activists said Tuesday.

Nelson — a world-renowned heart surgeon who was president of the Society for Vascular Surgery and of the Utah State Medical Association before he started moving up in the church’s leadership — signaled a stay-the-course philosophy when he was announced Tuesday as the successor to President Thomas S. Monson, who died Jan. 2 at age 90.

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“If you have stepped off the path, may I advise you with all the hope in my heart to please come back,” Nelson, 93, said in an address broadcast from Salt Lake City, the church’s headquarters. “Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there’s a place for you in this, the Lord’s church.”

In keeping with church tradition, Nelson became its 17th president as the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the church’s second-highest governing body. As president, Nelson, who will also assume the title of “prophet,” will lead its highest authority, the three-member First Presidency.

Nelson “is unlikely to make big waves,” because, as the senior apostle, he had “already been serving amicably with the previous president for decades,” said April Young Bennett, co-founder of Ordain Women, which advocates for women to be admitted to the Mormon priesthood.

Monson wasn’t sympathetic to the group’s concerns, Young said Tuesday on Religious Feminism, a podcast of Exponent II, a publication for Mormon women.

Nelson “really does seem concerned about empowering Mormon women,” she said, but she contended that his sympathies appeared to lie with women in terms correlative to their willingness to defend the church, “not as feminists.”

Nelson on Tuesday cited the church’s Doctrine and Covenants as specifying that “before the foundation of the world, women were created to bear and care for the sons and daughters of God, and in doing so they glorify God.”

“I love them,” he said, referring to women. “I’m the father of nine beautiful daughters. … We need their voices [and] their input, and we love their participation with us.”