Who Is Mormon Prophet Thomas Monson? LDS Church President to Miss General Conference As Health Fears Grow

Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the church's biannual general conference in Salt Lake City on April 5, 2014. Jim Urquhart/Reuters

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) will hold its biannual general conference this weekend, a major Mormon event that is broadcast in 90 languages. But perhaps the most important Mormon in the world won't be there.

Thomas Monson, the president of the LDS church and leader of the world's 15.9 million Mormons, will not attend the meeting in Salt Lake City, church officials confirmed on Thursday, the LDS-owned Deseret News reported.

Monson's absence is not unexpected. The 90-year-old took a step back from the church's public life earlier in 2017 due to "limitations incident to his age," a May statement from the church said. Nevertheless, his absence from a highlight of the Mormon year draws attention to the advancing age and, possibly, deteriorating health of a man thought of as a "prophet, seer and revelator" by Mormons.

A native of Salt Lake City, Monson joined the U.S. Navy in 1945 but was not deployed overseas before the end of World War II. His naval career lasted just a year before a local Mormon bishop asked him to serve in the church.

Monson chose the church over the Navy and was ordained an LDS bishop at the age of 22 in 1950. Over the coming decades, he rose through the ranks of church leadership, leading Mormon missions in Canada (where the church now has almost 200,000 members) and worked at Deseret News Press, the LDS-owned publishing company.

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In 1963, Monson joined the ranks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second tier of LDS church leadership; the first tier is known as the First Presidency, consisting of the church's leader and his first and second counselors. At the age of 36, Monson was the youngest member of the Quorum in more than a half-century.

Two decades later, in 1985, Monson was asked by church President Ezra Taft Benson to serve as his second counselor, with Gordon Hinckley as first counselor. Hinckley became church president in 1995, and upon Hinckley's death—Mormon presidents serve until their death—Monson became the 16th president of the LDS church in February 2008.

One of Monson's earliest actions as LDS president was to lobby local congregations in California in a bid to support Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment proposing that same-sex marriage be made illegal, after thousands of licenses were issued for same-sex marriages in the state in 2004. Proposition 8 was approved by voters but was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in 2010.

Thomas S. Monson (right), president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attends a cornerstone-laying ceremony at the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, on March 20, 2009. George Frey/Reuters

Monson met President George W. Bush when the latter visited Salt Lake City in May 2008. The LDS president also visited Bush's successor, Barack Obama, in the Oval Office in July 2009. As a gift for Obama, Monson brought five volumes of the then-president's family history records; the LDS church has some of the most detailed genealogical records in the world, and Mormon leaders traditionally present U.S. presidents with their family history. Obama said he would "treasure" the records and read them with his daughters, Malia and Sasha.

The nonagenarian leader gave two short speeches at the LDS church's general conference in April, after which he was hospitalized for "not feeling well." His absence from this weekend's conference marks the first time Monson has not delivered a speech at the general conference since he became a member of the Quorum in 1963.

At the April general conference, Monson urged members to study the Book of Mormon. Along with the Old and New Testaments, the LDS church holds the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture. First published by the church's founder, Joseph Smith, in 1830, Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon recounts the lives of ancient peoples of the Americas; the book also tells of a visit that Mormons believe Jesus made to the Americas following his death and resurrection.

With Monson's health apparently deteriorating, many have expressed concern and sadness over his absence from this weekend's conference. Another senior Mormon leader, Robert Hales, a member of the Quorum, will also miss the conference after being hospitalized for "treatment of pulmonary and other conditions," an LDS spokesman said.

i’m crying real tears because thomas monson won’t be giving counsel at general conference:((

— tay 🌛 (@TaylorTomasello) September 29, 2017