Today’s post is a guest post by Jenntoo. Jenntoo is an Asian/Pacific Islander American who is interested in migration and gender. Her university education began at a school that was 5% non-white with no Women’s or Ethnic Studies programs, and ended at a radically different school where she learned feminist methodologies and the art of writing abstrusely.
In the Church newsroom post-Saturday morning conference, Daniel Woodruff KUTV2 News asked the question of the day: What can you or what will you do as apostles to help the members outside of the Mormon corridor and the United States feel understood and valued as members of the faith?
Elder Rasband: “I can’t answer your question specifically other than to say that Jesus Christ loves everyone and we’re going to be apostles to everyone. . .We’ve had opportunity to travel through the church and we love the Latter-Day Saints everywhere.”
Elder Renlund: “. . .I think that if we pay that price. . .of studying and learning and being with [people outside of a narrow geographic area] somehow the Holy Ghost can bless us with the Savior’s compassion, with the Savior’s empathy, to try to help. And I think that that is the way; it’s the gift of the Spirit to be able to be with people. And even though we might look differently to feel and to want to be like them. Paul said to those that were under the law, he was as if under the law. . .He wanted to be all things to all men so that he could by all means bring some to Christ. And I think that is the Spiritual gift that we seek.”
The roles of the apostles can be seen as three-fold: 1) Share Christ-like love at all times and in all places. 2) Be the face and voice of a transnational religion. 3) Make the highest level administrative decisions within a large organization.
The first role: I’ve seen, read, and heard for myself and believe that these men are amazing, kind, compassionate, and selfless human beings who have sacrificed much of their personal and family time to serve this church and teachings of Christ. I trust that “somehow the Holy Ghost can bless [them] with the Savior’s compassion.” Apostleship is a highly demanding calling and they appeared genuinely overwhelmed and humbled by the task.
Regarding the second role, their appointment gives fuel to naysayers in media who point out the obvious. Initially, I perceived the appointment of three apostles who look almost exactly like the ones we’ve always had as one of those moments that test my faith. I pondered, and prayed, and wondered if I’m racist, sexist, and ageist. I also drew from my well of authenticity and lived experiences and realized something. I still pray to a Christ who looks Scandinavian (red robe Jesus). Visual imagery of Christ and God in the LDS church are Scandinavian white. These images are ingrained and I have trouble unseeing them. Before I became aware of my own color and what that meant for my place in the world, I truly believed that white male is what “leadership” looks like. The old me would ask, “They are called of God, so what’s the big deal?” We should all be color-blind, says those who are blind to the Other’s lived experience. As an Other, I’m pointing out that Mormons of color around the world are minorities within their own communities, and they could use someone who gets what that feels like, preferably someone visually dissimilar to the other decision-making powers.
This brings us to the third role. Our apostles make the highest level decisions while taking into account members in every corner of the globe. They have and will travel the vast majority of their years, but traveling is not the same as having grown up without basic human rights, certainty of a secure future, or basic sanitation. All three of the apostles grew up under conditions where they did not have to worry about those things and chose career paths that did not specialize in studying human inequalities. I can only have faith that the leaders will take into account the lived experiences of everyone they meet when they gather to make decisions.
I’ve had time to think why it unsettled me so much, initially, when I saw that all three appointments were from Utah. All the places that I have lived in my childhood and adolescent years were where my belief systems were formed and where I developed a sense of self. But are apostles (today or yesterday) able to feel empathy for everyone from every circumstance to the exclusion of where they “grew up” because they are called of God? Christ chose all but one of his apostles from Judea, so does that end the conversation on the relationship between place and empathy?
Most importantly, will church members be able to interact with them authentically given their possible perceptions of white male = superiority and so are treated with deference? (I witnessed this happening all the time among my Asian family members.) Or would an apostle of color receive more authentic responses from locals because they feel they can level with him?