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UW Professor: Mormons to Continue Emphasis on Public Image, Internationalization

January 28, 2008

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will likely continue its emphasis on the church's public image under the leadership of Thomas S. Monson, according to a professor in the University of Wyoming Religious Studies Program.

Although no official decision has yet been made, Monson assuredly will replace Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley, who died Sunday at age 97. Quincy Newell, a specialist in religions of the western United States, said, "given Monson's extensive business experience, including work with the Deseret News, I think we can expect continued attention to the church's public image."

Monson has also been active in the internationalization of the church, particularly in the former East Germany and the former Soviet Union, she said.

"I think we are likely to see the church under his leadership continue its efforts to evangelize around the world, perhaps with a greater emphasis in areas such as Eastern Europe and regions that have previously been closed to LDS missionaries," Newell said.

At Hinckley's death, the LDS Church claimed more than 13 million members worldwide, more than half of whom lived outside the United States.

In part to make the rituals of the LDS Church more accessible to members in other countries, Hinckley initiated an ambitious temple-building plan that more than doubled the number of LDS temples worldwide, Newell said.

"As (Mormon historian) Jan Shipps remarked, 'he took the church from the margins to the mainstream in American society.'"

Newell explained the procedure to choose Hinckley's successor. Two counselors who assisted the president in the church's highest governing body, the First Presidency, automatically re-join the Quorum of the Twelve (from which they were picked to be counselors).

"This group of 14 men governs the church until they choose a new president by unanimous vote in a process that Mormons believe is divinely guided," she said. "By tradition, the man who has served in the Quorum of the Twelve the longest is selected as the new president. For this reason, all commentators and observers expect Monson to become the next president of the LDS Church."

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