On the Folly of Demanding Demographic Diversity among the LDS Apostles

[Cross Posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

As you probably already know, three new apostles were called during the recent October 2015 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apostles serve as special witnesses of Jesus Christ and hold priesthood authority and keys to direct the work of God on the earth. Jesus directs his church through these living apostles and prophets. And as members of the church we believe these men are called by God through inspiration to the living prophet and president of the church.

Some members of the church, and not a few dissidents and former members, have expressed disappointment and feelings of hurt because the three new apostles do not come from diverse enough backgrounds to meet their contemporary concepts of Diversity. All three new apostles are white men, born in Utah. These disappointed members and critics wanted new apostles with backgrounds more representative of the diversity in church membership, which now has more members outside of the United States than in.

There has been plenty of commentary about this criticism, and I don’t want to rehash what has already been said. But I do want to step back and take a more abstract look at some of the problems with wanting the Lord to call apostles based on demographic diversity.

Diversity is a good thing. Each individual brings a unique package of experience, background, talents, and ideas that can contribute to building the Kingdom of God.

However, when considering diversity, it is important to recognize that we, as human beings, tend to draw arbitrary lines and to group people based on simplistic similarities. However we draw those lines, we unavoidably generalize, oversimplify, and reduce people from complex individuals into artificially uniform groups.

Some people have suggested they would be happy if new apostles were European, South American, African, or Asian instead of from Utah. But do these broad categories represent any kind of real cohesive group or identity?

Let’s take South America as an example.

Say an individual from South America is called to be an apostle. All of the South Americans rejoice! “Finally, an apostle who is like us, who shares our background, and knows our needs!”

Or do they?

Of course, you can’t really call a generic South American to the apostleship. Only real individuals can be called. And that individual comes from a specific country, was raised in a specific culture, and speaks a specific language. This specific apostle is from Brazil. He speaks Portuguese.

Do you really think that the Spanish speaking members in South America feel he is like them, shares their background, and knows their needs? Not really.

So now we have to call a Spanish-speaking apostle in addition to our Portuguese speaking apostle. And we do. And all the Spanish-speaking South Americans rejoice! “Finally, an apostle who is like us, who shares our background, and knows our needs!”

Except they don’t. You can’t call a generic Spanish Speaking apostle. This time the apostle is from Lima Peru. The Chileans, who have historically had long-time conflicts with the Peruvians, don’t feel any real connection to this apostle.

So now we call an apostle from Chile. But this individual is from the capital city, Santiago. But the Chileans from the south of Chile, in Concepción, feel little similarity to the urban Santiaguinos.

So we call an apostle from southern Chile. But even though he was born and raised there, he comes from a wealthy family, originally immigrated from Europe, and went to college in Spain. He has little in common with the native Mapuche campesinos.

And so on. You understand what I’m saying. You got it early on. The same thing is true of Europe, Asia, Africa, or anywhere else.

There will always be a way to draw a line that emphasizes differences and to feel excluded.

It works the other way around as well. It is a mistake to think that just because someone has sufficiently similar appearance, or comes from a similar place, or speaks the same language, or seems to have similar background, that they are like you, think like you, and share your concerns.

There will always be a way to draw a line that emphasizes similarities and to feel included.

The point at which we decide that someone is sufficiently like us to matter is subjective and arbitrary. And it is a choice.

In the governing councils of the church, there are only 15 individuals (3 in the First Presidency and 12 Apostles). It is literally impossible for 15 individuals to be sufficiently diverse that everyone in the world feels validated that people “like me” can be an apostle. The choice of any individual will always be the exclusion of some other individual that could have been chosen. That is the nature of choice.

This is the folly of demanding diversity. It is a diabolic trap that can only ever result in hurt and disaffection. Once you adopt this frame of thinking there is no winning. Someone will always feel hurt. And only the devil wins.

The Lord calls individuals, not demographics. He calls individuals that have the unique individual skills, experiences, and backgrounds that He needs. It is not a statement about what kind of people are not acceptable to Him. It is not a statement that certain demographics are more “worthy” than others. It is not a statement that these individuals or their backgrounds are superior to all others in the church. It is not even an indication that they are more righteous than others.

Every member of the church should be striving to live such that they could be an apostle, should the Lord so call them. And whether He ever does is irrelevant.

Do the apostles know what it is like to be you? Probably not. And they probably never will. But they have the Spirit of God and He knows. God guides His church. And He hears your prayers and knows your hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that unites us and helps us to understand one another even with our mismatched backgrounds, experiences, and needs.

And even though they are not like you, the men who have been called as apostles have made the same covenants that you have made. They repent of their sins, just like you. They have faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, the same as you do. They make sacrifices and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, just like you. And God can use them to carry out His holy purposes. Just like you.

So don’t succumb to this mental trap meant to undermine your faith. Trust in the Lord to know you and to guide His church and His chosen apostles according to His superior wisdom and love. He is capable of communicating His will to His authorized representatives, even in their weakness. And you can sustain and support them without hesitation.

18 thoughts on “On the Folly of Demanding Demographic Diversity among the LDS Apostles

  1. If you wanna have some fun, suggest to these “we-need-leadership-that-looks-like-the-membership” folks that in keeping with demographic trends, the US should get 4% of the voting seats in the UN General Assembly instead of the 0.5% of voting seats that it currently has.

    In keeping with their politically progressive values, most of these folks don’t want more diversity in the Q12. They just want fewer (white) Americans. It’s a subtle distinction; but a key one; because it’s the difference between advocacy from love versus advocacy from animus.

  2. The broader problem is that these complaints that “too many” white men lead the Church undermine the building of Zion. Demands that the leading councils of the Church “look like” certain areas of the world demonstrate that some people are succumbing to shallow differences and disunity; while that happens, the unity upon which the building of Zion relies eludes us.

    I suppose this is an unfortunate consequence of such rapid Church growth — the kinds of divisions and preoccupations that infect much of the world are being imported into the general membership; this is another reason why a strong “Mormon culture” (and assimilation thereinto) is a good and valuable thing.

    To say nothing of the fact that it is not the role of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve to “represent” the members of the Church; they represent the Lord *to* the members of the Church (at least, in the abstract).

    I suppose, if I had occasion to talk with anyone who felt “hurt” or “disappointed” at the calls extended to the new apostles, I’d ask them which of their values were so offended by the Lord’s decision. This is another instance of some people enshrining liberal presumptions above all else.

  3. There is no chance that they would choose someone like me, and I wouldn’t want them to. I am very comfortable with being a ‘mother in Zion’.

  4. “The Lord calls individuals, not demographics. He calls individuals that have the unique individual skills, experiences, and backgrounds that He needs.”

    Does the Lord care about diversity? Apparently He does. After all, we and this world He made are incredibly diverse, and for reasons only He knows. On the other hand, when appointing his foreordained Apostles, diversity takes a seat way, way back.

    I Samuel 16 is instructive. Following the Lord’s rejection of Saul, Samuel was called to select the next king among Jesse’s eight sons. The oldest was so impressive that Samuel thought, surely, he is the one. The Lord’s response?

    “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” (verse 7).

    Samuel bypassed each son until he came upon the youngest–David–who is characterized as being a man after the Lord’s “own heart” (13:14)

    Who can say that any of our recently called apostles–or future apostles, regardless of color, language, or nationality–are not men after the Lord’s own heart?

    “Hurt” and “disappointment” are absolutely avoidable if we “Trust in the Lord with all [our] heart, and lean not to [our] own understanding…and He will direct [His Church].” (Prov. 3:5-6).

  5. From a pragmatic perspective most apostles (but not all) are called from the 1Q70, most of those (but not all) are called after being a stake president or a member of the other Q70s, it simply takes about 50 years for the 1Q70 to track the (active/solid) membership numbers. People being born in the Church now in the “non-US” areas of the world are likely to be the ones who will show up in the various general leadership quorums in 50 to 70 years.

  6. It seems to me that Gerrit Gong, now in the presidency of the First Quotum of the Seventies is a good example of how diversity will come. Of course he is only genetically diverse, according to the standards some seem to demand. His Chinese ancestors have been Americans for several generations. Like other general authorities of the Church, he is very accomplished and well educated, including a long list of academic and government posts that are impressive.

  7. The irony is that it a latino apostle would me much more likely to be super-conservative than a Utah apostle. The longer the church has existed in a culture, the more diverse and rich that culture becomes in its manifestations and understandings. Church culture in Latin America is very new, and extremely correlated.

  8. For years some academic friends have claimed that we should reject the notion of race, for it was solely a social construct. What if God agrees with them and has never accepted the notion of race? On the other hand, if we accept race as a vital factor in evaluating people, we see in the apostles a rather homogenous group of human beings.

    But what if God believes in a greater definition of diversity than that imposed by social constructs of race? Perhaps God sees individuals who can be united in their testimonies of Christ, yet who have vastly different experiences in their families, in the human exchanges they have experienced and relationships they have forged, and in the manner they have developed and gained their testimonies? Can there not be significant spiritual and intellectual diversity among a group fused together by common beliefs and a reverence for deity?

    And what of those who refuse to give up on the antiquated social constructs and still prefer to evaluate a person or the Quorum of the Twelve by their skin color and not the content of their character? What do we call them? Would “racists” be an accurate descriptive?

  9. Faithful saints supporting the call of the new apostles are tending to do so in ways that are too close to the critics’ terms. Each member of the First Presidency explicitly testified last week that those men called are who the Lord wants as his apostles, and the apostles are called overwhelmingly from a narrow segment of the church. So the faithful, instead of looking for diversity points to impress the critics with, ought to ponder why the Lord looks to Salt Lake City for his apostles.

    There are a couple factors that I wonder about. Brigham Young spoke of the first generation to grow up as Latter-day Saints. They with that tremendous advantage would be a more righteous people overall than him and his fellow converts overcoming their previous ways of thinking and living. Members who grew up in Latter-day Saint homes can now be found throughout the world, but those in the heart of Utah have an immersive, multi-generational environment to nurture them. The Lord evidently still wants some leaders (Eyring, Uchtdorf, Hales, Bednar) with other rearing, but he mostly needs apostles that do have a Utah formation.

    I, as a non-Utahn, confess a private wish for church leaders from more far-flung stakes, not so much with an eye on other continents, but with an eye on the greater geographic diversity that existed within the First Presidency forty years ago. Kimball and Tanner spent their lives before the call to general church leadership in Arizona and Alberta, and Romney lived his first fifteen years in Chihuahua. With the death of Elder Scott, for the first time since 1937 none of the Council of the Twelve was born in Idaho. It’s a much bigger church now than forty years ago, big enough that sufficient apostles can be found in Salt Lake City with no need to go even as far afield as Idaho or Arizona.

  10. Correction: much bigger church than seventy years ago (era when Kimball, Tanner, Romney, Benson, et al. were being called to general church leadership).

  11. Pingback: No, Virginia, Christianity Doesn’t Need to Change, People Do | The Crazy Little Red Head

  12. As a French-born Saint baptized in Germany, I was naturally happy when Elder Uchtdorf received his call as an Apostle. Like if your awesome former Stake President or Mission President was called. That’s where it ends. The Lord knows whom he needs to call. There are no quotas and no statistics involved. Upon the death of an Apostle, it is normal to wonder who the next Apostle will be. There are many faithful members who could be called. The Lord directs His still relatively small Church and knows the timelines and the steps that need to be taken for the work to progress.

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