SALT LAKE CITY – The Mormon church history is created and injected with a little bit of diversity in a previously white summit leadership panel on Saturday by the selection of the first Latin-American apostle and the first apostle of Asian descent.
The selections of Ulisses Soares of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, were announced during a two-yearly conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The choices triggered excitement among a contingent of Mormons who years are the hope for the faith of the highest leadership to be more representative of a religion that more than half of the 16 million members outside the United States.
“It is a sign that the church is for everyone,” said Guilherme De Castro, a 37-year-old Mormon, which, in Brazil, was in attendance for the announcement. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or the way you look.”
The selections during a two-day conference happens as the faith is struggling with increased supervision on the treatment of sexual abuse and one-on-one interviews between local leaders and young people. Mormon leaders had not spoken on the subject of Saturday afternoon, but a person in the presence shouted several times, “Stop protecting sexual predators,” as new people were announced to second-tier leadership positions.
The eruption came a day after about 1,000 current and former Mormons, marched to the church headquarters in Salt Lake City, the delivery of petitions demanding an end to a closed door, one-on-one interviews between young people and lay leaders of sexual questions sometimes arise.
The church changed policy this week, now the kids can bring a parent or adult with them to the interviews, but the protesters said that did not go far enough to keep children safe. The change came as part of more revisions of the sexual abuse guidelines for reporting on the following recent revelations that a former prominent missionary leader was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s. The ex-leader denied the allegations.
It was the first conference chaired by the new President of the church, Russell M. Nelson. His choices for the two open leadership spots sparked hope that the 93-year-old former heart surgeon will focus on the globalisation of the faith during his tenure. He is set to embark on a trip in April to visit eight cities in Europe, Africa and Asia, including Hong Kong.
The last time there were openings in the quorum, in October 2015, the church chose three Utah men. The history of the church, president Thomas S. Monson, who died in January, was leading the church at the time. The religion believes the church to choose new members of the Quorum with the help of divine revelation.
The choices mark the strongest statement in favor of the global diversity and management the leadership of the church since 1978 when the church lifted a ban on black men in the lay clergy, which the church to spread to Brazil, Africa and elsewhere, ” said Mormon scholar Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California. He said that most people hoped for the best a new non-white leader, so the duplicate selection will be welcomed with enthusiasm in the religion.
The announcement led to a wave of tweets and other social media posts, some by Mormons who said that they never thought they would see the day.
Soares and Gong participate in a panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, before Saturday, was made up entirely of white men from the USA, with the exception of a German, Dieter Uchtdorf.
The all-male panel is located under then-President Nelson and his two counselors, and helps the policy of the municipality and oversees the faith’s business interests. The new appointees start as junior members, but they could one day become president of the church, because the group is the longest-tenured member ascends to the president if the current one dies.
They join a quorum of undergoing a substantial turnover after a series of deaths as the previous leaders succumbed to the consequences of the ageing of the population. Five of the 12 members of the college have been appointed in the past three years. By 2015, it had been six years ago that a new quorum member is chosen, and more than ten years ago, the leadership of the council had two openings.
Just like the previous 12 men chosen for the panel, Soares and Gong were in a lower-level leadership called Quorum of the Seventy, who served as a farm system for the board of directors.
The 59-year-old Soares was an accountant and auditor for multinational companies in Brazil before joining the leadership of the church, according to a church biography. He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The 64-year-old Gong worked for the AMERICAN Ministry of foreign affairs, Washington, D. C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Mormon-owned Brigham Young University, before being selected for the local church leadership panel. He was born in Redwood City, California. His grandparents emigrated to the United States from China.
The new selections reflect the “increasing attention of the leadership of the church on the world outside of the United States, where the church is growing the fastest,” said Mormon scholar Matthew Bowman, a professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
With 1.4 million members, Brazil has the second most Mormon in the world, together with Mexico, according to church figures. Both rank behind the United States, which has about 6.6 million members.
Nelson has long had a special interest in China, Archer said. He speaks Mandarin and spent time there during his professional career. It is possible that Nelson is the hope of Gong selection can help establish a stronger position in the Asian country that is currently not officially recognize the religion and the state only certain operations, Bowman said.
It is estimated that there are at least 10,000 members of the church in mainland China, most of which are native Chinese members, but there are no official church estimates because the Chinese government do not recognize the religion, said Matt Martinich, an independent Mormon researcher.
Of the 116 highest leaders of the church, where on different levels, 40 percent of them are born outside the U. S, said Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor to President Nelson, on Saturday.
The diversity in leadership will help broaden conversations about race and ethnicity, and adding new prisms through which the gospel is viewed, said Ignacio Garcia, a professor of Western and Latino history at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University.
Making a sports analogy, Garcia said the religion has a lot of great minority leaders at the “bank”(mid-tier leadership councils) and now for the first time, two in the “starting line-up” (Quorum of the Twelve).
It is probably an indication of the religion of the future since the indigenous members who will help to sustain the church going forward, Garcia said.
“They are the ones that are growing: black and brown, and Asia,” he said. “That is the future of the church.”