Howard W. Hunter, an 86-year-old former corporate lawyer, is the new "prophet, seer and revelator" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (LDS), popularly known as the Mormons. His appointment came within 48 hours of the funeral of his predecessor, Ezra Taft Benson, who died May 30 at 94.
The move comes after two of the most contentious years in recent Mormon history.
More than a dozen top scholars and critical thinkers have either been expelled from the church or lost jobs at LDs-backed institutions after expressing public dissent from church teachings (CT, Nov. 22, 1993 p. 46). "Secret Ceremonies," an expose of Mormon rituals, hit the bestseller lists and touched off controversy among Mormon women. And Benson's grandson, Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper cartoonist Steve Benson, quit the church claiming leaders opposed members who wanted a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Hunter, known for consensus-building within the top executive ranks of the 8.8 million-member group, sounded a conciliatory note in his first remarks on assuming the leadership position: "Pray that we might treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness."
LDS spokesperson Don LeFever said this did not signal a willingness to accept dissident views: "Part of coming back is a change of attitude," he said. "So I think [the message is], let us reason together."