(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.
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.
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.
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