Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormons get two new apostles who are not white Americans, in historic LDS General Conference

Ulisses Soares, left, of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, who is Chinese-American, join a panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the start of a twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Salt Lake City. At the church conference this weekend in Salt Lake City, The Mormon church has made history and injected diversity into a top leadership panel by selecting the first-ever Latin American apostle and the first-ever apostle of Asian ancestry. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

©2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares take their seats on the stand after being sustained as the newest members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the Saturday morning solemn assembly in the Conference Center, March 31, 2018. ©2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.


(RNS) — Mormons made history at their 188th General Conference with their announcement of replacements for two recently deceased members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

One is a Brazilian, Ulisses Soares, 59, who has served since 2013 as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy — which is often a “feeding ground” for grooming future apostles. The São Paulo businessman is the church’s first-ever apostle from South America, and has previously served as a mission president in Portugal.

The other is Gerrit W. Gong, 64, also of the Presidency of the Seventy. Gong, who is originally from California, is the first apostle of Asian descent in the nearly 16-million member church. He is a former Rhodes Scholar and has served in a variety of positions in international relations.

Mormons around the world first learned of the change when members of the Quorum were asked to sustain new LDS president Russell M. Nelson on Saturday (March 31). Twitter was alight with excitement, as church members expressed surprise and delight that the Quorum would now feature more ethnic diversity than ever before.

While Gong was on many Mormons’ short lists as a possible choice for the Quorum (including RNS’s own entirely speculative post earlier this week about possible changes to watch for), Soares, who is younger, was more of a surprise.

These changes took place amidst an opening session that focused heavily on the religion’s recent transition to new president Russell M. Nelson, who succeeded Thomas S. Monson who died in January.

From the opening hymn — “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” — to the closing remarks by Elder Neil L. Anderson, the event was a lovefest for President Nelson, and for the LDS belief in prophets.

“We embrace President Nelson as we would have embraced Peter or Moses in their day,” said Anderson, who explained the unique role the LDS prophet has in Mormons’ spiritual lives.

Members should follow the prophet’s instructions, Anderson said, noting that anything the prophet says would be better greeted with exclamation points than question marks by church members.

“If we choose to set his counsel aside and determine that we know better, our faith suffers and our eternal perspective is clouded.”

Yet the Saturday morning session speakers did not claim prophetic infallibility, and at least one called attention to the possibility of human frailty.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said Latter-day Saints should not be surprised that people called to serve in the Church are not perfect. “Given the reality of our human weaknesses and shortcomings, how do we move forward in supporting and sustaining each other?” he asked.

This question is on the minds of many this week, as the Church conducts its otherwise joyous conference under a bit of a cloud.

It has spent nearly two weeks dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by a former president of the Missionary Training Center, a story which became even more controversial on Friday night when Salt Lake City television station KUTV ran a story suggesting the LDS Church’s attorney may have provided documentation that contained sensitive information about the female accuser’s history to the accused’s son Greg Bishop, who then released it to the media.

Four more sessions are planned in this weekend’s Conference: an afternoon gathering for the entire membership today, a priesthood meeting for men and boys this evening, and two more sessions for all members tomorrow. It is widely expected that President Nelson will make some kind of major announcement at some point, though the content of this announcement is unknown.

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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • There are many Asian nations. Is there more information about Elder Gong’s Asian heritage? IS his heritage likely to be controversial to some Asian Mormon’s or is he from a more neutral background?

  • add some badly needed diversity to the religion’s highest leadership
    Why? RNS says it is ‘badly needed’. Why? Clearly, diversity is not a strength. How long are the revolutionaries going to pound this lie down the throats of people???

  • LDS is still a business cult run fronting as a religion and run by a bunch of male AARPIEs.

  • Elder Gong is something like third or fourth generation American on both sides, but his ancestors were Chinese.

  • Saying something is “clearly” without expansion is not helpful.

    Perhaps you could explain why you think “diversity is not a strength”? preferably with examples?

  • “Members should follow the prophet’s instructions, Anderson said, noting that anything the prophet says would be better greeted with exclamation points than question marks by church members.”

    The mantra of every insecure leader. Obedience good, respectful questioning bad.

  • No good – I don’t see what you’re seeing – and perhaps what you see is not what you think you see? And, furthermore, perhaps you know/suspect that what is there to be seen destroys your preconceived preference?

    After 40+ years in sales environments ISTM that people who say “clearly”, “obviously” “undeniably” et al and then can’t back it up with reason are probably using those words simply to try to gain, by bullying, approval for a position they know to be untenable. (And CAPS – even without grammatically incorrect !!! is always reminiscent of the weakness of the frightened wannabe bully).

    Don’t waste your time playing juvenile mind games – either bet or fold.

  • Jana Riess, now that the Tewlve Apostlesi include one from South America, are you now going to follow his advice and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ? Maybe you now understand this is a world church wirh doctrines and commandments given by the revelation of Jesus Christ just as anciently in his church.

  • Understanding is the perception of information.

    When that information is incorrect the virtual certainty is that the perception will also be wrong.

    When the information is unsupported by valid evidence and contrary to observation and logic the probability is very high that the information is incorrect.

    Why would having a senior member from outside the US improve the (negligible) possibility of any religious belief being valid? Shouldn’t you now be ardently embracing Roman Catholicism?

  • I don’t see what you’re seeing
    Of course you don’t. Most likely, you are not of the ‘Posterity’.

  • Being faux-coy does not become you.

    Posterity simply means future generations. Whilst acknowledging that time may, perhaps, not be the single direction process that we naturally understand I doubt that either of us is of a future generation.

    Do you have any idea at all what you mean by the ‘Posterity’. If you can explain it privately you can do so here can’t you?

    In the meantime the fact that you are attemptng to hide your failure to support your irrational premise behind a smokescreen of rainbow-coloured obscurantism is noted.

  • It looks like God again avoided the hard choice of selecting an African-American or a Native American.

  • What the LDS leaders do not tell its members

    “What emerges from these studies is that scholars have virtually no reliable information on the historical Jesus, and conflicting accounts from writers, none of whom were present at the time of his life. While there is some evidence that we may have some of Jesus’ words, in what is called the “Q” source, even this cannot be proven. As for his life, hardly any incident can be verified: his birth and baptism, the wedding at Cana, his curing of the sick, his entry into Jerusalem and meeting with Pontius Pilate, or even his crucifixion, much less the resurrection.”

    Craig Eisendrath is the author of At War with Time: The Wisdom of Western Thought, From the Sages to a New Activism for Our Age

  • Posterity simply means future generations.

    Sure…..whatever you say. Despite the evidence.

    hide your failure
    Oh, do tell. I can’t wait to hear your ‘professional’ opinion of me; since you know me so well. Please, please, please… me understand myself. What is my “failure”?

  • “Posterity simply means future generations.

    Sure…..whatever you say. Despite the evidence.”

    It’s what the dictionary says – do you have access to one?

    the evidence? – The evidence you can’t, or won’t, produce (despite being explicitly asked to do so) – presumably because it doesn’t exist or doesn’t support your preferred preconception.

    – – – – – – – – – –

    “What is my “failure”?” –

    As stated immediately after the word failure “your failure to support your irrational premise”

    – – – – – – – – – – –

    You have been asked to support your statement – “Clearly, diversity is not a strength” – you have not done so.

    You have been asked to support your statement – “Most likely, you are not of the ‘Posterity’.” – you have not done so.

    Three out of three is Fold; final time – Bet or Fold.

  • It doesn’t surprise me that the new Apostles are not white Americans. I kind of expected that as the church continues to grow, there would be Apostles and church authorities from all over the world; and I won’t be surprised if that trend continues. After all, this is Jesus Christ’s church, not the church of Utah and California. The Lord will call whomever He chooses to call to church leadership positions.

  • P.S. – To me, this General Conference was wonderful! I look forward to reading and studying the talks from this conference over the next 6 months.

  • To ourselves and our Posterity. Uhhh……………………what don’t you understand? Oh I get it………….race is just a social construct so therefore ‘race’ had nothing to do with it. Sure. “Ourselves = Europeans (white); our posterity = keyword being “OUR”.

    The first Naturalization Act — The first statute in the United States to codify naturalization law. Alternately known as the Nationality Act, the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the U.S. for two years. In effect, it left out indentured servants, slaves, and most women.
    Why am I even talking with you! That is the larger question.

  • Ah – you mean racial diversity, I wish I was surprised.

    You are white and US born I presume.
    That would mean that you are probably mainly mongrel British (as I am), mongrel Germanic, mongrel Iberian or mongrel Scandinavian – no doubt intermingled with genes through other nationalities.

    And remember – it is acknowledged that if you, I or just about anyone go back ten generations (y)our biological parentage is not the same as (y)our legal ancestry. Might be ten generations ago or anywhere up to the last, somewhere in there is a parent who was born “on the wrong side of the blanket”.

    Whichever – your ancestors were black-skinned (as were mine and everyone else’s). They lived in Africa. Some of their descendants occupied Europe via Eastern Asia, some stayed in Africa and others (non-Europeans) only got far enough to be the people that some believe were God’s chosen (you do know that Jesus of Nazareth was not European don’t you). Different waves immigrated across Europe bringing different skills (pottery, bronze, iron) and languages (the origins of English are Indian?) which lead to the most incredible explosion of human understanding and ability. We even have small amounts of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA. Without those interminglings technical and artistic advances, including the European colonisation of most of the planet, would have been missed, maybe lost forever.

    I don’t know where you live but in the UK our hospitals (particularly at consultant/registrar levels), our transport systems, our hospitality infrastructure, our military, our food production, our international sporting profile, our music and our culture – indeed the whole of our society and consequently the lives of us all – are enhanced by the inputs of different cultures, varying ethnicities and sometimes even by different religions.

    You say LOOK AROUND!!!. I do, but I don’t do it with a brain that is terrified of reality. Not all that I see is good (patronage, bigotry, discrimination, religion etc.) but I know that my life has been better than that of my predecessors by a factor of several and a lot of that is due to the benefits of integration.

    You quote an Act of 1790. The world was a different place. If you want to live in 1790 I assume you will renounce and avoid any pensions, post 1790 medicines, refuse to use any machinery invented since such as cars, computers, telephones and planes. You will refuse any medical procedure that was not possible in 1790, including the use of X-rays, MRI/CT/Ultrasound scanners and will scorn the use of anaesthetics (1840s). And you will immediately and irrevocably cease using the internet.

    If not, if you want the benefits of an advanced society, you have to take the whole package. The basis of society is that no individual can, without consequence, opt out of the collective ethos.

    Why are you talking with me? – because your comfort zone is losing?

  • Yup – everybody’s were. Further down the line some of those who migrated north became lighter skinned for excellent survival reasons. Just because their skin became lighter (and their lungs smaller) doesn’t make them any less human does it?

  • Sure. Btw……got any Ashkenazm dna in you? Are you related to Paul Newman by chance? Or do you just hate your ancestors.

  • Hit a nerve? It’s Ok. You will be alright. It is not your fault. Blame your parents and their parents….. Jesus said, “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump.”

  • Juvenile.

    You can’t/won’t try to justify your position – you failed three times.

    You’re out of the game.

  • Juvenile. 🙂
    I did JUSTIFY my position. The reality that you don’t understand the context of ‘posterity’ combined with the fact that Naturalization was only given to those who were “white”………… evidence enough.
    Are you supporting Allison Chabloz in the UK for her civil rights??? What kind of humanitarian are you.

  • No you didn’t.

    You failed to explain what you meant by posterity – despite being explicitly asked to do so.

    You quote a single document but won’t address the fact that the world has changed – or that you only want to cherry-pick the bits of the change that meets with your preconceived preferences.

    I’m a humanist and one that tries to explain things to those who can’t/won’t respond in kind.

    PS – we have no way of knowing what Jesus (assuming the man the gospels refer to existed) said. Do you accept all he is claimed to have said (starting with the sermon-on-the-mount) or do you cherry-pick that as well?

  • All those who fought in the Revolutionary war and were part of the creating and the signing of the Declaration = Caucasian. Even a third grader could understand this. Good grief.

  • You’re not helping your cause.

    As someone who has not had to bear the burden of being a US citizen the subtleties of your ancient history (ancient in US terms that is) are, for me, neither important nor formative.

    ISTM that you are using an old, outdated, irrelevant and, by modern standards, immoral document which has long been abandoned in your own country to attempt to justify a tribal type reaction to your (cultural?) fears.

    Since someone being different is not a threat to you but being different and better might be it is reasonable to presume that you feel inferior to those you wish to exclude from being able to compete with you. This is not healthy. Why do you doubt yourself?

    Being different provides great opportunities for a better life – forty years professional selling experience taught me that win-win is usually achievable – the alternative may be win-lose (or lose-win) in the short-term but is remarkably often lose-lose in the longer-term.

    Am I to assume that you would personally tell your god that it was banned from the US? Jesus of Nazareth was not Caucasian – and nor were the early hominids from whom, he, you, Trump, Obama and I are all descended. Do you understand the import of the parable of the Good Samaritan? Do you understand the scientific theory of evolution – random mutation moderated by natural selection?

    Should you continue to run away from answering sensible points and go on evading serious discussion you aren’t going to understand yourself and your relationship with the wider world. If you can lose the irrational fear that you have been taught you will be a more contented person – and even if you’re unable to embrace humanism you might become a rational, caring atheist!

    OK – I’m out unless you can address the situation in a rational manner and without undignified puerile attempts at argumentum ad hominem.

  • Brazilian does not mean “not white”. Mr. Soares looks to be European (as is his Portuguese surname).