Why I’m glad the experts got it wrong: One man’s thoughts on the calling of three new apostles

Just a few weeks ago, three new apostles were called to fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the weeks and months leading up to that momentous event, I noticed several news sites, blogs, and other media outlets published articles speculating about who would be called. Looking at those articles now, it is interesting to see the difference between their predictions and who was actually called. That contrast has given me reason to reflect recently on the “mysteries of God” and the process by which He calls His servants.

What did the experts predict?

Not surprisingly, religious scholars and other experts seemed to largely base their predictions on the backgrounds of "candidates" and what they could mean for or communicate to members of the church and the rest of the world. Following the passing of Elder L. Tom Perry, which opened the first vacancy in the Twelve, one source listed 13 potential replacements, citing things like educational background, work experience, being in the “right age range,” and their “[appeal] to the Church membership” as characteristics that increased their chances of being called. Beyond those characteristics, probably the most common prediction I observed was that at least one of the new apostles would come from outside the U.S. or Europe, as a way to reflect the worldwide membership of the church. A writer for the Associated Press specifically wrote:

[The President of the church] may tap somebody from Latin America or Africa as an acknowledgement that more than half of the faith's 15 million reported members now live outside the United States, church scholars said. 

That move would create a strong, visible symbol of the church's global aspirations and give Mormons from other regions a quorum member to call their own, said Armand Mauss, retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.[i]

Who was actually called?

The three men who were ultimately called were Elders Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson, and Dale G. Renlund. While at least one source got one of these correct (i.e., a writer for By Common Consent picked Elder Rasband), it may surprise some that the most common speculation went unrealizedthat is, none of these men are from outside the U.S. The natural question then becomes: why?

From a practical standpoint, calling a non-American certainly could have increased the diversity of the Twelve and provided the positive signal referenced above. Surely the leaders of the church, and God Himself, are just as mindful of people outside the U.S. as those within it. It also seems clear that the other men named by the experts as potential replacements are honorable men who would have been well prepared to assume the responsibilities of an apostle. So again, why the disconnect between experts’ predictions and reality? 

The short answer: because men did not make the call. There is an established order for calling an apostle, and it does not rely on man’s logic or reason or on politics. Rather, it is based on divine revelation, which communicates God's reason and will. As the Lord declares in the Old Testament, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). That is, men and women do not qualify for calls to serve based on their worldly accomplishments, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Of course, that is not to say that the other men named as potential replacements were not qualified or unworthy; however, it is apparent that not all of the characteristics the experts used to make their predictions were the same the Lord used to choose His new apostles. 

What criteria were used, then? Other than faith in and a testimony of Jesus Christ, we can’t say for certain. And in a way, I’m glad of that. While we may well see apostles called from additional countries at some point in the future (and I will be just as happy to sustain them as I am to sustain any current member of the Twelve), the divergence between the experts’ expectations and reality is just another piece of evidence for me that the Lord, not men, is in charge. He is not ruled by man’s fickle opinions or desires, nor is He swayed by our supposed wisdom. Rather, the Lord calls precisely whom He needs to lead His children at any given time.

What I can say is that I firmly believe Elders Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund were called of God, through revelation to His prophet and current spokesman on the earth—President Thomas S. Monson. I can also tell you that I have received a personal witness of the divine callings held by President Monson and his counselors, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and President Henry B. Eyring, as well as each member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. God has not left us alone in these “perilous times” foretold in scripture (see 2 Timothy 3). Rather, just as He called and ordained prophets and apostles in the primitive church (see John 15:16; Ephesians 4:11-13), He has called and continues to call prophets and apostles to guide His children today. These men are special witnesses of Christ to the whole world, called to bear sacred testimony of Him and guide us back to the presence of God. I sustain them and am grateful for their selfless service. 

Joseph Harrison is the proud father of an adorable little girl and the husband of an incredible and accomplished wife. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and worked for several years in management consulting before coming to Texas A&M, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in strategic management. His passions include his family, the scriptures, serving others, teaching, and college football. His favorite teams include Clemson and Texas A&M Go Tigers & Gig 'em Ags!


  1. Just because a calling comes from God doesn't mean it can't be predicted (I had Elders Rasband and Stevenson in my top 10, but I'm a nerd who spends too much time thinking about these things).
    I was also expecting someone really young (no one in particular but some young unexpected person), similar to President Monson when he was called an apostle (i.e., Ocasio, Finkelstein, Zajac, Westphal).

    1. Of course you're right, Mike. I like to think God, being a God of order, is also rational. So we may be able to predict things like this to some extent based on reason. I guess the bigger point I was trying to make was that, because He can see the end from the beginning, God's reason is higher than man's reason. So if something doesn't seem to make sense to us (like calling three more American apostles to lead a worldwide church), it doesn't mean the gospel is not true; it just means God knows better.

  2. What a fantastic piece of writing. I love your perspective on this--so full of faith and truth.

  3. Well written!
    I, too, am *SO* glad the so-called "experts" got it wrong!
    When the "speculators" come around in cases like this (both on a worldwide and local level), I will usually make the attempt to teach them that speculation gets you nowhere. In fact, it has been advised against by church leaders.
    I tell them speculation only leads to PRIDE if you got it right (the "I-told-you-so" sort of person), or to rationalization, jealousy, enmity, and possibly hatred if you got it wrong (the "why HIM?" or "Oh well" sort of person).
    And remember... not all apostles come from current groups of general authorities! Look at President Monson, President Nelson, Elder Oaks, Elder Bednar, etc (not to mention many MANY apostles of the past)... What were their callings before they were called to the apostleship? Being a general authority or in a high-ranking church position is NOT a prerequisite for being called as an apostle! As President Monson has said on a few occasions, "Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies!"
    One of the articles referenced here mentions countries having an apostle "to call their own". The apostles do NOT belong to the people! If every single country, culture, ethnicity, background, language, occupation, etc were meant to be represented in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, there would need to be a LOT more than just TWELVE (or fifteen if you want to get technical)!
    This is not the Church of the Politically Correct, the Church of Employment Equity, or the Church of Proportional Representation... It is the Church of Jesus Christ! God has his church under control! Leave it in the Lord's capable hands! All the speculating in the world won't change anything. However, it could make a huge change in something VERY important to your salvation - your ATTITUDE!! ;-)

  4. Great article. I would only take exception with the term "experts". Experts possess some special skill or knowledge. In this case those doing the predicting were only different from the rest of us in that they were willing to make their guesses public. I had my own guesses going in and was completely wrong. Now I'm excited to learn over the upcoming years why the Lord chose these three as I have come to understand why He chose the others.

    1. Fair point, Marc. The scholars would be experts, which is essentially where I was getting that from; but you're right that the bloggers are not. Just don't tell the blogging community I said that. ;)

      Either way, I'm with you. I look forward to hearing more from these three.

  5. Initially, I was really hoping for more diversity. After they were called I realized it was a foolish wish. God doesn't care about our political correctness. He can give revelations to anyone, and he knows who he wants to lead.