A General Authority is a priesthood leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose responsibility is at a church-wide level, rather than localized to a particular area or unit of the Church. In most cases, General Authorities are given authority to use the sealing power.
Members of the following leadership organizations are considered to be General Authorities:
It is important to note that not all ordained to the office of Apostle or Seventy are General Authorities. Those called into the First Presidency as a high priest may be released as a non-general officer of the Church.
Leadership for the General Sunday School and Young Men's organizations have historically been called from the ranks of the Seventy. However, in April 2004 General Conference President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency said that "a recent decision [has been made] that members of the Quorums of the Seventy not serve in the general presidencies of the Sunday School and Young Men...."
Due to this change, General Auxiliary presidencies are not called from the Seventy. The Seventy will be more active in general church committees and have less jurisdiction over stakes, particularly in North America.
In North America, Stake Presidents will now report directly to priesthood leaders who hold keys such as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency. In this way, those who hold priesthood keys will direct others with keys.
In addition to General Authorities, there are general officers and general auxiliary presidencies, who oversee curriculum and have other church-wide responsibilities. General auxiliary presidencies include:
- The General Young Men's Presidency
- The General Sunday School Presidency
- The General Relief Society Presidency
- The General Young Women's Presidency
- The General Primary Presidency
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 the remainder of one's 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.
In current church policy, men called to the First Quorum of the Seventy keep the designation "Elder" and typically remain general authorities until they die, but are granted emeritus status at the age of 70. This has been more flexible in recent years, and 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.
As with any calling in the Church, general authorities and general offices serve "until they are released" - except for Apostles this usually means limited periods of time, usually from three to twenty years. While there are no revelations that state Apostles serve for life, and on a number of occasions in Church history Apostles have been released from their general authority duties, the conditions of turmoil that led to past members of the Quorum of the Twelve leaving that body are essentially a thing of the past. The excommunication of Richard R. Lyman in 1943 was the most recent such occasion since the resignation of two Apostles who defended polygamy in 1905.
The priesthood quorums (the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and Quorums of the Seventy) contain only males, as priesthood in the Church is limited to males. Members of the Presiding Bishopric, Young Men's Presidency, and Sunday School Presidency are also men. Members of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary leadership organizations are women.
In the semi-annual General Conferences of the Church held in April and October, all of the General Authorities are presented to the general membership of the Church for a sustaining vote. 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. This procedure is dictated by Church theology, which states that the Church shall be governed by the common consent of its membership (Doctrine and Covenants 20:65). Dissenting votes are rare. General Authorities are also assigned to deliver sermons during the two-day conferences.