Elder Joe J. Christensen, emeritus General Authority Seventy, dies at age 91

Elder Joe J. Christensen, who served as a General Authority Seventy from 1989 to 1999, died Tuesday, May 18, in Salt Lake City. He was 91. 

“More than ever before in my life, I know that Jesus is the Christ,” Elder Christensen testified during the October 1996 general conference. “This is His Church and it is led by living prophets. … I pray that the world will be a better place because you have lived in it.”

Prior to his call as a General Authority Seventy, which included an assignment in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Christensen served as president of Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, from 1985 to 1989. He also served four years as president of the Provo Missionary Training Center in Utah. 

BYU-Idaho President Clark G. Gilbert, right, poses with past university presidents, from left, Elder Bruce C. Hafen and Elder Joe J. Christensen, both emeritus General Authority Seventies; Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Elder Kim B. Clark, then a General Authority Seventy, prior to his inauguration in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015.
BYU-Idaho President Clark G. Gilbert, right, poses with past university presidents, from left, Elder Bruce C. Hafen and Elder Joe J. Christensen, both emeritus General Authority Seventies; Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Elder Kim B. Clark, then a General Authority Seventy, prior to his inauguration in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Christensen and his wife, Sister Barbara Christensen, served as president and matron of the San Diego California Temple from 1999 to 2002. 

Joe Junior Christensen was born July 21, 1929, the son of Joseph Amos and Goldie Echo Miles Christensen. He grew up in the small farming community of Banida, Idaho. 

After attending Utah State University for two years, he served as a missionary in Mexico and Central America. He received an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. from Washington State University. He completed a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force. 

Elder Joe J. Christensen served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from July 1953 to July 1955.
Elder Joe J. Christensen served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from July 1953 to July 1955. Credit: Photo Credit, Saints at War Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU

He married Barbara Kohler in 1952 in the Salt Lake Temple, and they are the parents of six children. 

“Marrying Barbara was the most important decision I ever made, and the best thing that ever happened to me,” Elder Christensen said shortly after his call as General Authority Seventy in 1989.

Elder Christensen began his 34-year career in the Church Educational System as a seminary teacher and later became a director in the institutes of religion adjacent to Washington State University, the University of Idaho and the University of Utah. 

In 1970, he was asked to become associate commissioner of Church education under the direction of Commissioner Neal A. Maxwell.

“At that time, the seminaries and institutes of religion were just beginning in non-English-speaking countries,” explained Elder Christensen. “So for the next nine years, I traveled to 66 countries around the world as the seminaries and institutes were being established. Those were exciting years.”

Elder Christensen also served as a member of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA and Young Men general boards, counselor in the Sunday School general presidency and regional representative.

In 1970, Elder Joe J. Christensen was asked to serve as the associate commissioner of education in charge of religious education under Commissioner Neal A. Maxwell.
In 1970, Elder Joe J. Christensen was asked to serve as the associate commissioner of education in charge of religious education under Commissioner Neal A. Maxwell. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Christensen taught during the April 1999 general conference, “The more our hearts and minds are turned to assisting others less fortunate than we, the more we will avoid the spiritually cankering effects that result from greed, selfishness and overindulgence.  

“Our resources are a stewardship, not our possessions. I am confident that we will literally be called upon to make an accounting before God concerning how we have used them to bless lives and build the kingdom.”

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and by his six children: Amy (Donald) Poulton; Susan (Jeffrey) Jones; Stephen (Marilyn) Christensen; Linda (Peter) Evans; Douglas (Cathi) Christensen; Spencer (Sheila) Christensen, 29 grandchildren and 68 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Saturday, May 22, at the Salt Lake Valley View Stake Center, 2245 East 3900 South, Salt Lake City, at noon. Due to COVID-19 precautions, no public viewing will be held. The service may also be viewed at https://youtu.be/nk6rtT3BhpY