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.
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 unrealized—that 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.
- President Gordon B. Hinckley, "How Apostles Are Called", April 1994 General Conference: https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2013-10-1700-how-apostles-are-called?lang=eng
- "Calling an Apostle of the Lord", LDS.org: https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/calling-an-apostle-of-god?cid=HP_FR_6-12-2015_dCN_fCNWS_xLIDyL2-1_&lang=eng