The Mormon church’s missed opportunity to engage race, international diversity (COMMENTARY)

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Elder Dale G. Renlund, left, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, center, and Elder Ronald A. Rasband were named as the three newest apostles to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the afternoon session of General Conference, on October 3, 2015. Photo courtesy of Mormon Newsroom

Elder Dale G. Renlund, left, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, center, and Elder Ronald A. Rasband were named as the three newest apostles to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the afternoon session of General Conference, on October 3, 2015. Photo courtesy of Mormon Newsroom

Elder Dale G. Renlund, left, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, center, and Elder Ronald A. Rasband were named as the three newest apostles to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the afternoon session of general conference, on October 3, 2015. Photo courtesy of Mormon Newsroom

Elder Dale G. Renlund, left, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, center, and Elder Ronald A. Rasband were named as the three newest apostles to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the afternoon session of General Conference, on October 3, 2015. Photo courtesy of Mormon Newsroom

(RNS) “Disappointed but not disaffected.”

That was one Twitter reaction upon hearing that all three of the new Mormon apostles named Saturday (Oct. 3) would once again be white and Utah-born.

Disappointed but not disaffected sums it up for me, too. All three of them seem perfectly qualified to fill their new posts. I enjoyed hearing them talk during the semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sunday’s sermon by Elder Dale G. Renlund was beautiful and powerful.

But I was also sad for what could have been, for a missed opportunity. In filling the spots for three apostles, Mormonism had the chance “to demonstrate that this is a global church that happened to begin in America, and not an American church.”

Two days later, we are still an almost entirely American-led church.


READ: Mormon Church appoints three men to its governing body


Consider the numbers. The LDS church had 15.3 million members as of April 2015.

Nearly 1.3 million of them are in Brazil alone, and more than 1.3 million live in Mexico. Other nations with LDS populations exceeding half a million include Peru, the Philippines, and Chile.

But all of our 12 apostles are white, our nine female auxiliary leaders are white, and most of the members of the Quorum of the Seventy are white.

And while the statistics in a Salt Lake Tribune article demonstrate that more international diversity is now entering the ranks — in 2013, only 66 percent of all general authorities were born in the United States — that demographic change hasn’t yet trickled up to the Quorum of Twelve.

One of the comments on my recent blog was that “God chooses the new Apostles and reveals His choice to His living oracles.” My expressed desire for racial diversity was “irrelevant” since “God has prepared whom He has prepared and they will be called.”

But it’s not this simple. I do not believe that apostolic callings happen so very differently and miraculously than other callings occur in the church. It is the combination of divine inspiration and human agency working together that makes a calling happen. When we issue callings in the church, we do so under the guidance of prayer and the Spirit’s leading, but our own experiences and inclinations factor in as well.

Which is why we need to think very carefully as a people when there is such a growing discrepancy between the beautiful racial and international diversity that characterizes our religion around the planet and the much narrower range that is evidenced among our most visible leaders.


READ: When tragedy strikes, partisan politicking offers cold comfort


What would it be like to have an apostle like Elder Joseph W. Sitati of Kenya, a nation which has only about 12,000 members of the LDS church?

What that could mean is having an apostle who is not the product of generations of Mormonism, a proud descendant of pioneer stock. What it would mean is that he would be a pioneer himself.

He would know what it’s like to be a convert, with all the fresh energy and trials that converts experience.

He would know firsthand the challenges of establishing and expanding the church in places where it is untried.

And he would be a light to all of the people of his heritage who currently cannot look at the Quorum of the Twelve and see a single person whose race and cultural experiences resemble their own.

Currently, the only apostle in the Quorum who was not born into the church is Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who is also the Quorum’s only non-American.

He is, not coincidentally, one of its most popular apostles. He has been a breath of fresh air precisely because he’s not like everybody else.

I would love to see more apostles who represent the diversity of the broader LDS church. Some of those will continue to be white, Utah-born, upper-middle-class American professionals.

And I pray that one day the Quorum of the Twelve will also include people who are converts themselves, from every corner of the globe, bringing with them a wider range of experiences, expertise, and concerns.

(RNS1-OCT26) Jana Riess is the author of the new book "Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor." For use with RNS-RIESS-PROFILE, transmited Oct. 26, 2011. RNS photo courtesy DeChant-Hughes.

Jana Riess is the author of “The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68 Percent More Humor!” She writes the Flunking Sainthood blog at Religion News Service. RNS photo courtesy DeChant-Hughes

If we are striving to be the Lord’s church, then our leadership will mirror the diversity of the Lord’s people.

(Jana Riess is the author of “The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68 Percent More Humor!” She writes the Flunking Sainthood blog at Religion News Service.)

YS/AMB END RIESS

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  • Doug

    You’re missing the point.. The Lord is the one who calls these leaders, not the members or leadership of the church. When the Lord sees fit to put in more diverse (physically appearing) members, he will. Did you realize that some of the new apostles have been living in other countries for several decades and do indeed have an understanding of the worlds needs? One of them Africa of many years. The Lord knows better than man and in His time and will. I think we all focus a little too much on what the world wants, and not what the Lord wants.

  • Allen

    I don’t know how the current apostles and the newest ones will understand my life and how the church affects me. I was hopeful that the addition of apostles from other countries or races would bring a different perspective to the quorum and that it might help them understand a broader spectrum of people, possibly even including me. I don’t see how that will happen now, but I am still hopeful that it will happen somehow.

  • I am delighted to see that the Quorums of the 70 are becoming more diverse. After some of these have 20 years experience we may diversify the Quorum of the Twelve more. Which will be great if that happens.
    However, how is this different then when we have VERY HUMBLE medical doctors and psychiatrists who treat patients with afflictions and disease that they have never had nor will experience? The general authorities who, almost constantly, travel the world, if they visit the poor, sick, disaffiliated, rebellious, and afflicted and who are very humble, should do a wonderful job representing all the members of the church.
    We need seasoned GA’s running the church, Elder Bednar spoke precisely on the issue of age but the arguments for age perfectly transcend to experience as a general authority also.
    With 15 + million members we need the best we have available.

  • Riley

    “A missed opportunity?” Don’t you have something better to write about other than criticizing God’s prophet? You don’t think President Monson isn’t aware of this issue? Do you need to be from Brazil or Mexico to receive revelation from God for Brazilian’s or Mexicans? Who knows what is best for Brazilians, a Brazilian or God? The man is merely an instrument that God works through to do his will. Men do have agency, and are not infallible, but do you really think God would leave the calling of an apostle to men to decide for themselves without the spirit to guide them? I have heard many miraculous stories of stake presidents being called. I have listened to such apostles as Hugh B. Brown give the miraculous stories surrounding their apostolic callings. This article is like the children of Israel wandering in the desert. No matter what God gave them, they always found something to murmur and complain about.

  • trey palmer

    “Disappointed but not disaffected.” = “I don’t agree with the Prophet of the lords choice but I guess I will still go to Church”

    Pres. Uchtdorf is neither Utah born or American. So I guess it is “trickling” up through the ranks.

    Also if your comments are “Irrelevant” then why post them?

  • Al of Al

    I’m white, male and middle aged, and I don’t believe these men have a clue about the challenges I face. Nor does most of the church. Raised by violent alcoholics, I suffer from the ravages of ACoA, but no one has any idea how to help me. I tried ARP, it was a disappointment. Church counseling was a joke. Even LDS private therapists, who are otherwise excellent, don’t get it. I’m grateful I have a relationship with the Savior because otherwise the church would leave me high and dry. So, Jana, stop looking at the outward appearance and start looking at the heart and soul. Your whining has no substance with me.

  • Bernardo

    To be expected from a business cult fronting as a religion.

  • John Mansfield

    Henry Eyring, Dieter Uchtdorf, and Thomas Monson each explicitly said that those men sustained Saturday were chosen by the Lord. The essay above should have dealt with that factor at greater length than it did.

  • Richard Rush

    “Henry Eyring, Dieter Uchtdorf, and Thomas Monson each explicitly said that those men sustained Saturday were chosen by the Lord”

    Let’s be real . . . What they “explicitly said” was either a delusion or a conscious effort to deceive.

  • Richard Pecjak

    What I don’t understand is why God chose an illiterate farm boy from a shady family to begin His church. The next Prophet wrestled control of the church to himself after his death, and ever since it has been rich privileged white guys from Utah that were called.. That in itself speaks volumes to me about succession of power in the Mormon church .

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  • John Mansfield

    That would be a straight-forward resolution, but the essay writer doesn’t seem to consider the LDS leaders to be deluded men or deceivers testifying of false revelations they never experienced.

  • Downtown Dave: Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Serving Him, I believe, first to the covenanted people and then to the world. The evidence is amazing and comprehensive. The sociological stats in the US clearly show the LDS are following New Testament standards more comprehensively than any other large identifiable group. And as Christ said, by their fruits ye shall know them.

  • Jared

    The church used to be primarily a Utahn and then later American church. As the church has become more diverse, it takes time for that diversity and experience to filter into leadership. Be patient. They don’t exclude people because of color or ethnicity, but they don’t choose them for that reason either.

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  • WanderWoman

    Jana says: “If we are striving to be the Lord’s church, then our leadership will mirror the diversity of the Lord’s people.”

    Why, where is the scriptural basis for that? In fact, the scriptures say the opposite. See, e.g., 1 Samuel 16:7 (“for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”); D&C 133:26–34 (in the last days it is the tribe of Ephraim’s privilege first to bear the message of the Restoration of the gospel to the world)

  • WanderWoman

    Allen, you wonder “I don’t know how the current apostles and the newest ones will understand my life and how the church affects me.”

    My answer is: The Lord knows, so it really doesn’t matter whether you do or not.

  • SanAntonioRob

    The “we need seasoned GA’s” argument is bogus, and made only in hindsight. If a 25-year old elder had been called to the Apostleship – like was done several times in the early days – some would say “we need someone who isn’t set in their ways”. Joseph Smith wasn’t seasoned, Mormon wasn’t seasoned, Alma wasn’t seasoned, etc.,etc.,etc. I’m not sure how, with the scriptural history we hold dear, some still hold to the “we need people who rise through the ranks” argument. It’s not a scripturally-based argument; it’s a business-based argument.

    And if all serious, Church-related official business a Prophet or Apostle does is directly from the Spirit, how does “rising through the ranks” even come into play? The “rising through the ranks” argument seems to be, itself, a recognition that not all official business a Prophet or Apostle does is directly from the Lord. Could that not extend to the actual calling? That’s all Jana seems to be saying.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    This is clearly true:

    “When we issue callings in the church, we do so under the guidance of prayer and the Spirit’s leading, but our own experiences and inclinations factor in as well.”

    This is not clearly true:

    “If we are striving to be the Lord’s church, then our leadership will mirror the diversity of the Lord’s people.”

    Frankly I would have been happier, too, to have an Apostle called out of Latin America, Africa, Asia, or out of more than one of them. It would appeal to me for all kinds of reasons. But that’s because I am not in a position to know who will serve best and most effectively in the assigned tasks and roles. Unlike Jana Reiss, I do not feel obligated to view every last thing in group-identity terms. I don’t think the Lord Jesus Christ does either.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I would thank you for your opinion if it were entitled to any weight. But honestly you are in no better position than any of us to know what “being real” means here. I can take those men at their word and be every bit as “real” as you, if not indeed more so.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    What’s a “business cult” exactly? i get that you want to be insulting, but you should still want to be coherent, I would think.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    No use trying to get through to David Tiffany. He’s a troll.

  • Joseph M

    Growth and statistics of church unit dist

    NewYTD 460(11.5/week 40)
    Africa 137, 29.8%
    Asia 115, 2.5%
    Europe 117, 2.5%
    North America (w/ Caribbean) 125, 27.2%
    Pacific 39, 8.5%
    South and Central America 49, 10.7%
    Utah & Idaho 78, 17.0%

    Areas Temples Miss Stakes Dist Wards Branch Totals
    Global 24 148 418 3,151 544 22,468 7,346 34,099
    Us/Can 10 81 131 1,589 10 12,538 2,065 16,424
    US n/a 73 124 1,542 7 12,202 1,915 15,863
    Utah n/a 15 10 576 1 4,678 327 5,607
    Canada n/a 8 7 47 3 336 150 551
    Out 14 67 287 1,562 534 9,930 5,281 17,675

    I thought this was an interesting take on the idea of diversity among the Apostles, from a niece of Elder Renlund.
    http://www.mormonobserver

  • BWB

    I don’t entirely disagree with Jana because I’d also love to see a Black, Latino, Asian or whatever ….. member of the Twelve. But I wouldn’t say it was a missed opportunity for anything because the Lord knows what He’s doing.

  • cwandrews

    I knew, as soon as their names were announced, that this article was on its way in some iteration.

    I’ve known many, many non-United States citizens who are LDS, and I can honestly say that influences due to nationality, race, color, etc. are *HUGELY* overrated. Besides language and cultural differences, people are pretty much the same all the world over – good and bad.

    To suggest that additions to the Q of the 12 be considered due to nationality, color or creed is beyond superficial and completely beyond the scope of the immensity of this calling.

  • cwandrews

    Ignore Dave. He pops up after every article, pimping his blog.

  • cwandrews

    ‘Business cult’? Son, that just don’t make sense.

  • cwandrews

    I know, weird. Not at all like Moses, Daniel, David or even Isaiah who were all perfectly-spoken and very well educated older men when called by God.

    Oh, wait…

  • Bernardo

    Business cult. A group that employs various mind control techniques (notably deception) for the non-religious purpose of making money.

  • Bernardo

    http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

    Religion………………………… Adherents

    Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion

    Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion

    Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion

    Hinduism 900 million
    Chinese traditional religion 394 million
    Buddhism 376 million
    Animist religions 300 million
    African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
    Sikhism 23 million
    Juche 19 million
    Spiritism 15 million
    (Mormon, 15 million (for added details and ?’s, see http://religiondispatches.org/mormon-numbers-not-adding-up/)

    Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million

    Baha’i 7 million
    Jainism 4.2 million
    Shinto 4 million
    Cao Dai 4 million
    Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
    Tenrikyo 2 million
    Neo-Paganism 1 million
    Unitarian Universalism 800,000
    Rastafari Movement 600,000

  • Bernardo

    Mormonism is a great business model i.e. charge your Mormon employees/stock holders (temple people) a fee/t-ithe and invest it in ranches, insurance companies, canneries, ga-udy temples, a great choir and mission-m-atured BYU football and basketball teams.

    And the accounting books are closed to all but the prophet/”profit” and his all-male hierarchy.

    And all going back to one of the great c-ons of all times i.e. the M-oroni
    revelations to Joseph Smith analogous to mythical Gabriel’s revelations to the ha-llucinating Mohammed !!!

    Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word/fragment filter.

  • Joseph M

    As additional context look at this essay from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism
    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/EoM/id/4391/show/4316

    If you take a look at Figure 3 on the fourth page it shows just how rapid and recent the change from a primarily Utah Church to a world wide Church has been.

  • larry

    The LDS is like the southern Baptists. They only acknowledge the existence of people who are not middle aged white males, unless forced to by circumstances. Even then it is by token measures.

  • Ben

    Saturday morning I was full of enthusiasm for the announcement. As soon as it came, my stomach dropped.

    A lot of people here are quick to bash Jana since God doesn’t make mistakes. Frankly, I agree with her. Right or wrong, and I don’t doubt the calls are right, the hill our sons and daughters have to climb in the mission field is steeper now than it was before the new callings.

    When a missionary shows pictures of the 12, many investigators in many nations wonder why they’re all white men. Until an apostle of color is called, many people will assume, perhaps unfairly, that the church is still “dogged by past racism”.

    You and I know the church is a place where all are welcome regardless of skin color or nationality. God is no respector of persons and invites all, black or white, to partake of salvation. But optics matter… perhaps not to God, but certainly to people… and it’s people, specifically God’s children, that we are trying to reach.

  • Ben

    Saturday morning I was full of enthusiasm. As soon as the announcement came, my stomach dropped.

    A lot of people here are quick to bash Jana since God’s in charge. Frankly, I agree with her. Right or wrong, and I don’t doubt the calls are right, the hill our missionaries have to climb in the field is steeper now than it was before the new callings.

    Many investigators in many nations wonder why all the apostles are white men. Until we have an apostle of color, many people will assume, fair or not, that this is a white, American church.

    You and I know the church welcomes all regardless of skin color or nationality. But optics matter…perhaps not to God, but certainly to people…and it’s people, specifically God’s children, that we are trying to reach.

    Except for 4 years at BYU, I’ve spent my whole life in the mission field. Our ability to attract and retain African Americans is far less than I think God would find satisfactory. Common sense says this could have been a…

  • Thomas Hartley

    Some good scriptural reminders about whom the Lord calls:

    1 Samuel 16:7

    But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

    John 15:16, 19

    Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain […] If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

    D&C 121:34-35

    Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Deception is a mind-control technique, eh? So the Hillary Clinton campaign is a business cult apparently. Planned Parenthood is a business cult, according to you. Volkswagon is a business cult, right? Basically you’re saying that anyone who says anything that you don’t regard as strictly accurate, while also having income, is a business cult, is that pretty much it?

    I hope you don’t think you’ve reached coherence yet.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    As mentioned in my earlier comment, I too experienced disappointment. But I got over it after thinking about it. You should too. Its good that you acknowledge that “the calls are right.” It’s silly to imagine that “the hill our sons and daughters have to climb in the mission field is steeper now than it was before the new callings.” The hill – that is, the challenge of inherent resistance to the message of the Gospel – has far more to do with many, many cultural and individual factors than the racial make-up of the Twelve. When investigators are touched by the Spirit, I don’t imagine that they are thinking at all about “diversity” issues, nor do I suspect that they use the phrase “dogged by past racism.” They can and do see racial, ethnic, gender, and socio-economic diversity in the leadership of their branches, wards and stakes, and it takes a particular political outlook to expect senior leadership groups to apply affirmative-action programs to achieve…

  • trytoseeitmyway

    … to achieve preset quotas. This is a long winded way of saying that I don’t imagine anyone cares about this except for those (like Jana Riess) who see everything through group-identity lenses.

  • the anti mormon people will aways try to find faults in our church but my self im not worrird coz i know they are working for the devil and what they dont know is that they are being used by the devil big time, if not why wating their time thinking watching every lds move so that they can find negetives to say…… thats a fact they cant run from

  • Bernardo

    From: lds-mormon.com/time.shtml

    “The first divergence between Mormon economics and that of other denominations is the tithe. Most churches take in the greater part of their income through donations. Very few, however, impose a compulsory 10% income tax on their members. Tithes are collected locally, with much of the money passed on informally to local lay leaders at Sunday services. “By Monday,” says Elbert Peck, editor of Sunstone, an independent Mormon magazine, the church authorities in Salt Lake City “know every cent that’s been collected and have made sure the money is deposited in banks.” There is a lot to deposit. Last year $5.2 billion in tithes flowed into Salt Lake City, $4.9 billion of which came from American Mormons.”

    “The Mormons are stewards of a different stripe. Their charitable spending and temple building are prodigious.

    continued below:

  • Bernardo

    But where other churches spend most of what they receive in a given year, the Latter-day Saints employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or stock in other peoples’ companies but is invested directly in church-owned, for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media, insurance, travel and real estate. Deseret Management Corp., the company through which the church holds almost all its commercial as-sets, is one of the largest owners of farm and ranchland in the country, including 49 for-profit parcels in addition to the Deseret Ranch. Besides the Bonneville International chain and Beneficial Life, the church owns a 52% holding in ZCMI, Utah’s largest department-store chain.

    All told, TIME estimates that the Latter-day Saints farmland and financial investments total some $11 billion……..”

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Tithing is a scriptural principle that many churches teach. It is not mandatory in the sense that many many members of the Church do not pay a full tithe or in some cases anything at all, and no one would think to question their right to be members of the Church. Dedication in tithing is one of many areas about which members are asked in connection with worthiness to receive ordinations or ordinances which they have requested, along with faithfulness to Jesus Christ, honesty, adherence to sexual morality and even compliance with child- or spousal-support obligations. It’s funny you pick tithing out of the lot as a reason for criticism – I guess that just tells us how you feel about money, huh?

  • JT

    Jana – Do you believe that Jesus is the leader of the LDS church? That it is His church?

    If so, the title of your commentary should read: “Jesus missed opportunity to engage race, international diversity”.

    I am sure He had not thought about race and diversity until you pointed it out. Please continue to let Him know how he could do run His church better. Maybe He will one day finally listen to you. Please be patient with Him.

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