In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), a general authority is a member of the highest levels of leadership in the church who has administrative and ecclesiastical authority over the church. A general authority's jurisdiction is church-wide, in contrast to the responsibilities of a local authority or an area authority, which relate to a particular area, unit, or department of the church. As a group, the general authorities are often referred to as "the Brethren". As of March 2013, the number of general authorities is 99.
Origin of the term
The first scriptural use of the term general authority was in minutes of a meeting for the organization of the Presiding High Council in 1834. Though the original minutes did not refer to the term general authorities, the revised minutes, which were included in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, stated that decisions of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles "can only be called into question by the general authorities of the church in case of transgression." The use of the term general authorities at this time and in this context is generally interpreted to include the First Presidency and the Presiding High Council.
Composition and distinction from general officers
|Organization||Membership||Title given to members
(e.g., Title Smith or Title John J. Smith)
|First Presidency||President of the Church and his chosen counselors||President||President of the Church: Life
counselors: Until own death, death of the President of the Church, or release at the discretion of the president
|Quorum of the Twelve Apostles||12 Apostles||Elder;
President or Acting President of the Quorum: President
|Typically life; may be removed from Quorum to join First Presidency; on rare occasions may be removed from the Quorum due to an excess of Apostles|
|Presidency of the Seventy||7 Seventies, typically drawn from the First or Second Quorum of the Seventy||Elder||Variable (usually 5-8 years); until release at the discretion of the church president; may remain a member of the First or Second Quorum of the Seventy when released|
|First Quorum of the Seventy||Up to 70 Seventies||Elder||Life; will typically be relieved of active duties and granted emeritus status around age 70|
|Second Quorum of the Seventy||Up to 70 Seventies||Elder||Variable (usually 5-7 years); until release at the discretion of the church president|
|Presiding Bishopric||3 Bishops: one presiding bishop and two counselors||Bishop||Variable (usually 9-12 years); until release at the discretion of the church president; will typically become a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy upon their release|
|Presiding Patriarch||1 Patriarch, usually a descendant of Joseph Smith, Sr.||Elder||Life; The most recent presiding patriarch was released from active duties and given general authority emeritus status. A new presiding patriarch has not been called since his death.|
|Assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles||Defunct (was variable)||Defunct (was Elder)||All Assistants to the Twelve were added to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1976 and the position was eliminated|
Not all church leaders with church-wide jurisdiction are considered general authorities. The general presidencies of the church's auxiliary organizations, which are sustained as general officers of the church, but are not general authorities, include the following organizations:
- The general presidency of the Young Men
- The general presidency of the Sunday School
- The general presidency of the Relief Society
- The general presidency of the Young Women
- The general presidency of the Primary
The latter three groups are composed of women and represent the only three organizations in which women are given church-wide authority.
Also excluded from the definition of general authorities are members of the Third through the Eighth Quorums of the Seventy, who are called area seventies and have responsibilities relating to a limited geographical area, not church-wide authority.
General leadership for the Sunday School and Young Men organizations have historically been called from the ranks of the general authorities. However, in the church's April 2004 general conference, Thomas S. Monson, of the First Presidency, announced that "a recent decision [has been made] that members of the Quorums of the Seventy [will] not serve in the general presidencies of the Sunday School and Young Men."
Due to this change, no general auxiliary presidencies are composed of general authorities. Rather, the general authority seventies remain active in general church committees and have less jurisdiction over local stakes, particularly in North America. Generally, stake presidents now report to area seventies, who in turn report to area presidencies, which are usually composed of general authority seventies. In North America, there are no area presidencies, with members of the Presidency of the Seventy taking the responsibility of overseeing the areas.
Typically, general authorities are given authority to use the sealing power, while general officers and area seventies are not.
A person is typically called to be a general authority or general officer by a member of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve. The president of the church and members of the Quorum of the Twelve are typically called for life, although there have been more than a dozen instances when an apostle has been released from his service in the Quorum of the Twelve due to disfellowshipment, excommunication, or resignation.
As with any calling in the church, general authorities and general officers serve "until they are released". In current church practice, men called to the First Quorum of the Seventy typically remain general authorities for life, but are granted emeritus status in the October following their 70th birthday. Members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy are typically called for a period of five to seven years. When members of the Second Quorum are released, they are no longer general authorities of the church. When members of the presiding bishopric are released, they typically become members of the First Quorum of the Seventy and are therefore retained as lifetime general authorities, including later being granted emeritus status.
In the biannual general conferences of the church held in April and October, all of the general authorities and general officers of the church are presented to the Latter-day Saints for a sustaining vote, in accordance with the church's interpretation of the principle of "common consent". This is a voluntary indication made by each member (usually by raising the hand) that the member assents to be led by the individuals presented as general authorities and general officers. Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are always named by name, as are any persons being added or released from a position or any general authority or general officer moving from one organization to another (e.g., a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy being called to the Presidency of the Seventy). Otherwise, the general authorities and general officers of the church are simply sustained "as presently constituted".
This biannual procedure is dictated by church theology, which states that the church shall be governed by the common consent of its membership. Dissenting votes are rare and have even more rarely prevented a person from holding the proposed position. General authorities and general officers are also assigned to deliver sermons during the two-day conferences.
|First second-generation general authority||Joseph Smith, Sr.||December 18, 1833||Presiding Patriarch||son Joseph Smith, Jr. was President of the Church|
|First non-American general authority||John Gould||April 6, 1837||president of the Seventy||British subject, having been born in Upper Canada; released on September 3, 1837|
|First third-generation general authority||John Smith||February 18, 1855||Presiding Patriarch||father was Hyrum Smith, Assistant President of the Church and presiding patriarch; grandfather was Joseph Smith, Sr., presiding patriarch|
|First fourth-generation general authority||Joseph Fielding Smith||April 7, 1910||Quorum of the Twelve Apostles||father was Joseph F. Smith; President of the Church; grandfather was Hyrum Smith; great-grandfather was Joseph Smith, Sr.|
|First general authority of Asian descent||Adney Y. Komatsu||4 April 1975||Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles||Joined the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1976; was given emeritus status in 1993|
|First Native American general authority||George P. Lee||3 October 1975||First Quorum of the Seventy||Excommunicated in 1989|
|First resident of Europe general authority||Charles A. Didier||3 October 1975||First Quorum of the Seventy||Native of Belgium; was a member of the Presidency of the Seventy from 1992 to 1995 and from 2001 to 2007|
|First resident of Asia general authority||Yoshihiko Kikuchi||October 1977||First Quorum of the Seventy||Native of Japan|
|First resident of the United Kingdom general authority (i.e. resident when called)||Derek A. Cuthbert||March 1978||First Quorum of the Seventy|
|First resident of Latin America general authority||Ángel Abrea||20 March 1981||First Quorum of the Seventy||Given emeritus status in 2003|
|First resident of Australia general authority||Robert E. Sackley||April 1988||First Quorum of the Seventy||transferred to Second Quorum of the Seventy in 1989; died in 1993|
|First general authority of black African descent||Helvécio Martins||April 1990||Second Quorum of the Seventy||released in 1995|
|First Korean general authority||Han In Sang||July 1991||Second Quorum of the Seventy||released in 1996|
|First Filipino general authority||Augusto A. Lim||July 1992||Second Quorum of the Seventy||released in 1997|
|First Chinese general authority||Tai Kwok Yuen||July 1992||Second Quorum of the Seventy||released in 1997|
|First resident of Africa general authority||Christoffel Golden Jr.||April 2001||First Quorum of the Seventy||Resident of South Africa|
|First black African general authority||Joseph W. Sitati||April 4, 2009||First Quorum of the Seventy||Native of Nairobi, Kenya|
- Gardner, Marvin K. (1992). "General Authorities". In Ludlow, Daniel H.. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan. pp. 538–540. ISBN 0028796055.
- General Authorities, "Church Organization", LDS.org (LDS Church), retrieved 2013-03-14
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 102:32
- From 1961 to 2012, every member of the Presiding Bishopric had been called to be a general authority in another capacity upon being released from the Presiding Bishopric. Most have become Assistants to the Twelve or members of the First Quorum of Seventy; Robert D. Hales was called as member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 2012, H. David Burton and his counselors were released and designated as emeritus general authorities.
- Quorums of the Seventy, "Church Organization: General Authorities", LDS.org (LDS Church), retrieved 2013-03-14
- Monson, Thomas S. (May 2004), "The Sustaining of Church Officers", Ensign: 24.
- Flake, Lawrence R. (2001), "Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Called By Each President of the Church", Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, pp. 321–322.
- This practice had become more flexible for a period of time when Gordon B. Hinckley was church president. For example, as of the October 2004 General Conference, three of the seven members of the Presidency of the Seventy, two other members of the First Quorum, and four members of the Second Quorum were aged 70 or more and continued in office. During the administration of Thomas S. Monson, the typical pattern described has been used.
- The April 2012 release of H. David Burton and his counselors was an exception to this, as they were simply designated as emeritus general authorities, rather than members of the First Quorum.
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 20:65
- Stack, Peggy Fletcher (2009-04-20). "Africa's 'Mormon superstar' is first black African LDS general authority". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2012-01-24.
- Grampa Bill's G.A. Pages : brief biographies of every LDS Church general authority in history