Mormons Need Post-American Leaders
It has been over 100 years since there were so many openings in the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Three new apostles will soon be called to replace Elders Perry, Packer, and Scott who passed away in recent months. LDS apostles are special witnesses of Jesus Christ, but their responsibilities go far beyond providing spiritual leadership for the 15 million Mormons worldwide. They are in charge of running the global church. From over 80,000 missionaries to the management of a for-profit billion dollar cattle ranch in Florida, the LDS church is involved in much more than just Sunday services.
The nature of their calling requires a special skillset that narrow the likely selection of new apostles. They need to be pure in heart to fulfil the spiritual aspects of their callings. The Old Testament teaches us that the Lord "looks on the heart" when he is selecting his servants. Apostles also have to be capable in leadership and management to deal with the challenge of managing such a large and complex organization.
Many have speculated and hoped for increased diversity when the new members are called. Of the Members of the quorum of the 12 and first presidency, all but one are white Americans. The lone exception is German, Dieter Uchtdorf. Apostles are called to represent Christ to the people, not the other way around, but diversity among top leadership would be beneficial for several reasons.
It could improve the connection between top leadership in Salt Lake and members outside the United States and those within the US who do not fit the traditional Mormon mold. For a hierarchal organization the legitimacy of the top leadership is paramount. When leadership is geographically, culturally, politically, and or linguistically disconnected from portions of membership problems could arise. Lower growth rates could result due in part to American centric agendas and cultural disconnect.
The LDS church is aware of this and has taken several small but noticeable steps at preventing this disconnect from happening. For example, general conference speakers can now speak in their native language, previously they were expected to speak in English. In the last general conference three temples were announced and all were located outside of the United States and Europe. In recent years the LDS church would often announce temples in pairs where one temple would be located in the US and one temple outside the US. Announcing three temples outside the US demonstrates a clear shift to invest in areas outside of the United States.
This suggests that there is a strong chance that when the three new apostles are called, they will represent a significant step towards diversifying the top leadership of the LDS church. Often diversity is mentioned as a singular concept, yet there are many types of diversity. The types of diversity worth noting when discussing membership in the quorum of the 12 apostles are ethnicity, nationality, world view, their former profession, and age. All of these traits allow leaders to connect with members in deep personal ways.
Elder Claudio Costa serves as the head of the Brazil area and has previously served in the presidency of the seventy. As a native of Brazil his call as an apostle would resonate with the million plus members in Brazil and those in all of Latin America. At age 66, he would not represent a youth choice, but he would still be younger than Elder Cook when he was called to serve as an apostle. Elder Ulisses Soares a current member of the presidency of the seventy and also from Brazil fits a similar profile.
Elder Joseph Sitati would represent a large step forward for the LDS church as the first African apostle. Given the LDS church's past policy of banning blacks from the priesthood until 1978, this would mark a monumental step in LDS history. Certain regions in Africa are the fastest growing. The church has been investing heavily in Africa, including more temples; it would not be surprising to see them invest human capital as well. Elder Edward Dube would also fit this profile, but has only been in the quorum of the seventy for two years.
Elder Michael Teh fits many categories as he is only 50 and is from the Philippines. Despite his youth, he has held several leadership positions including his current position as president of the Philippines. The Philippines is another region with high growth rates, a surprisingly large number of Mormons (over 700,000) and like Africa, more temples have been announced and built in recent years.
Many non-U.S. members of the first quorum of the seventy served their careers working for the Church, usually in the Church Education System. The majority of apostles have law degrees or MBAs. Adding diversity in terms of professional careers would be something worth considering as well. Elder Gerrit Gong received a PhD from Oxford University in International Relations and spent meaningful time in government service and doing policy oriented research. His 1984 work on the Standard of Civilizations was influential enough to merit several high profile book reviews. This type of knowledge could certainly be beneficial when understanding how the LDS church could respond to the changing world order.
Being from different countries doesn't mean that different world views are represented. African societies are generally very conservative. Elder Sitati's stern support of traditional marriage in his most recent general conference talk is a prime example. Elder Larry Eco Hawk could represent a change in this area. Currently there are no registered Democrats among the members of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Even though Elder Eco Hawk is a conservative Democrat, it would still be enough to invite open thinking in a Republican dominated church. As a Native American, he could also connect with many indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide.
The most important qualities a future apostle has are the ones that can only be seen by the Lord. That said, for the diverse body of Mormons across the globe a diverse group of leadership would improve the ability of Mormon apostles to represent Christ. The key is not to simply be a non-American apostle. Whoever is chosen will have the same calling no matter his background and nationality, to represent Christ to the entire world.
No matter the nationality, post-American apostles are needed now more than ever.