After a wonderful weekend of uplifting and inspiring counsel from the leaders of the Church, I encountered a saddening, unveiled criticism of the callings of the newest apostles on social media. The criticism was formed as a question, but it was a rhetorical one regarding the races of the Quorum of the Twelve all being the same. The implication was that the callings are not of God, but due to the prejudice of man. Coincidentally, I had just finished watching the address given by Elder Bednar in the Sunday Afternoon Session of Conference. In that address, Elder Bednar stated, “The Lord does not use contemporary philosophies and practices of leadership to accomplish His purposes.” This person thought that, in line with current theories of and focus on race and diversity, other people than those who were called actually should have been chosen.
A few days prior to Conference, I saw two articles about the coming callings–one speculating about the call of a woman apostle, and one with the headline”Mormon church expected to name new leaders at conference; scholars predict historic decision.” The content contained the following:
The Mormon church could name as many as three new high-ranking leaders at a Utah conference this weekend, and scholars predict that for the first time ever, at least one could be from outside North America and Europe….Monson 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.
I chuckled inside as I read that because, what scholars? When it comes to callings issued by the Lord, who could possibly be considered a scholar besides Himself? Callings are a divine revelatory process, and thereby don’t follow any pattern identified by man. I suppose the only pattern, as Elder Bednar said, would be that “We can expect the President and other senior leaders of the church will be older and spiritually seasoned men.” President Monson doesn’t “throw a bone,” as it were, to groups within the Church delineated based on man-made constructs. He doesn’t call a person of particular race, age, or gender once the racial, gender, or age makeup of the church reaches statistical significance for a particular category. As Elder Nelson said in a 1996 address,
“I perceived such confusion in the mind of a newspaper reporter who asked one of our leaders when a representative of such-and-such a country would become a General Authority. While that question was being answered, I thought about our beloved General Authorities born in the countries of Asia; of Europe; of North, Central, and South America; and of the islands of the sea. Though these Brethren come from many nations and speak several tongues, not one of them was called to represent his native country. Presiding quorums of the Church are not representative assemblies. Each leader has been called to face the people as a representative of the Lord, not the other way around.”
President Monson calls whom the Lord directs Him to call for the Lord’s purposes, and no for no other purpose.
If we are critical of such callings, our criticism relies on one of two arguments:
1) God is fallible. He called the wrong person. We know better than He does. Clearly, this destroys the concept of God as we know, preach, and believe it.
But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. –C.S. Lewis
2) Man, not God, is the actual source of the callings, in which case the truth claims of the Church fall apart.
Either of these arguments is to view the gospel through the lens of man, to project our way of thinking and acting onto Him. God has told us many times that this is not an effective way to live or understand the gospel:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. 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
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. –2 Nephi 9:28-29
If we are critical of the age, race, or gender of those called by the Lord to serve Him and His Church as prophets, seers, and revelators–those whose teachings we are to listen to and heed as Special Witnesses of Christ–we can easily be critical of any of their teachings, ascribing them not to the Lord but to man, and then disregarding them in our own lives. This is easy, especially in a society obsessed with pinpointing faults and weaknesses, and takes no faith at all. It is at the heart of the talk given by President Uchtdorf in Priesthood Session about skepticism versus faith.
“[Satan] spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief. His lie suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naïve, blind, or brainwashed. Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets….Brethren, let me be clear. There is nothing noble or impressive about being cynical. Skepticism is easy. Anyone can do it. It is the faithful life that requires moral strength, dedication, and courage. Those who hold fast to faith are far more impressive than those who give into doubt when mysterious questions or concerns arise.”
Critics of the Church will never be content, regardless of who is called to what positions, because an attitude of skepticism, doubt, and cynicism can always fuel its fire.
Many assume that, due to their race, age, or gender, the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency couldn’t possibly understand issues faced by Church members of other races, ages, and genders. This, however, is a philosophy of man and discounts the omnipotence of Heavenly Father and the process of revelation. Revelation is, by definition, information or direction, gleaned from a divine source, which we had not previously known or understood. It transcends the knowledge and claims of man. It is not restricted by the current or past philosophies of man. We must all ask ourselves if our belief in and dedication to a Church guided by the Lord through His prophets, seers, and revelators is dependent upon the race, age, or gender of those leaders? Rather than spending time and effort criticizing and questioning calls from the Lord, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “What does the Lord want me to learn from this servant of His? How can I sustain this servant in this calling?”
My wonderful bishop counseled me the Sunday before General Conference to pray for the three men who would likely receive the call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve the coming weekend. This was a new experience for me, and it was a wonderful one. My husband and I were able to attend the session where these three brethren were sustained, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how they must be feeling, whoever they were, as we waited for the session to begin. No matter their race or age, I knew that each of the three, as well as their families, must be experiencing intense emotions and praying for strength and help. The next morning, as they each expressed their overwhelming feelings of inadequacy while bearing testimony of their Savior, I felt the Spirit strongly, witnessing to me that they are each truly called of God. As Elder Stevenson was feeling “a tsunami of indescribable emotions, most of which were feelings of inadequacy,” President Monson said to him, “The Lord will qualify those whom He calls.” I know that as we each earnestly seek confirmation of the divinity of the callings of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles, with an intent to act upon the guidance we receive at their hands, we will receive the same witness that Elder Bednar gave: “Truly these men are called of God by prophecy.”