Calls to the Quorum of the Twelve: An Analysis

For something relatively out of the blue, I want to take a moment to consider potential future candidates for the Quorum of the Twelve.  The Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency are the highest in authority in the Church and are important in policy making and in defining the doctrine of the Church, so the people who are chosen to serve in these quorums are important to Church members.  I believe that it’s best to not talk about these types of things in the aftermath of a death in their ranks (or when the possibility of such is likely in the near future), so I figure now is as good of time as any to discuss the issue.

In the modern Church, most things are run by councils where several individuals have the ability to express their thoughts and often have an opportunity to accept or reject a proposal. That is a part of the administrative genius of the Church that Joseph Smith put in place to insure that things could continue after the death of charismatic leaders, such as himself, and to increase the likelihood that things are being done in accordance with God’s will (more people checking something, the more likely they are to catch errors). This system seems to carry over to the selection of a new apostle. President Hugh B. Brown (1883-1975) recalled that:

In calling a new apostle the president of the church ordinarily says to the Twelve and First Presidency, “There is a vacancy in the quorum. I would like each of you to write three names on a slip of paper and submit them to me. I will look them over and we will decide, possibly on one of those you recommend. Or we may choose none of the ones you recommend. But this will give you all an opportunity to express an opinion.” At the next meeting of the quorum, the president, usually aided by the First Presidency, having looked those names over, says to the brethren, “I wish to nominate XYZ to become the next member of the Council of the Twelve. Are there any remarks? If not, all in favor, raise your right hand.” When the president nominates someone whose name was not submitted by the Twelve, he simply says, “I feel inspired to appoint this man to this job. All in favor raise their hands.” And everybody raises their hands. President Heber J. Grant never submitted a name as far as I know without first talking it over with his counselors and then with members of the quorum.[1]

While this model isn’t always followed, President Brown suggests that it was followed most of the time.

Ultimately, inspiration is expected to guide the selection of a new quorum member. There is a story from President Heber J. Grant’s administration about how, at the time, Church leaders weren’t shy about nepotism and felt that they should call their sons to serve as apostles. Heber J. Grant had no sons, however, so he wanted a close friend by the name of Richard W. Young to be called instead. As an apostle, he suggested Young on multiple occasions, but he was never selected. When President Grant became president of the Church, he wanted to make sure his friend was called, discussed the possibility of doing so with his counselors and even wrote Richard’s name on a slip of paper to take to the next quorum meeting. When he got there, however, he presented the name of Melvin J. Ballard—whom he hardly knew—instead. President Grant later said:

I have felt the inspiration of the living God directing me in my labors. From the day that I chose a comparative stranger to be one of the apostles, instead of my lifelong and dearest living friend, I have known as I know that I live, that I am entitled to the light and the inspiration and the guidance of God in directing His work here upon this earth.[2]

Still, there are certain trends that can be seen in who is called to the Quorum of the Twelve that can be used to predict likely members of the Quorum in the future.  A survey of the thirty five men who have been called to be members of the Quorum of the Twelve most recently (1951 to present) gives some indication of general trends. From this sample, almost all were Caucasian, 94% were men from the United States, and 77% were from Utah or Idaho. Careers before calls as general authorities were mostly in business (37%), law (17%), or education (20%), with a smattering of other careers, such as Church service, STEM careers, medicine, etc. The average age at a call to the Quorum of the Twelve in this group was 59 years old with a standard deviation of 8.

Prior service was also an important indicator for callings to the Twelve.  Men called to the Quorum of the Twelve were predominantly selected from the Presidency of the Seventy, the First Council of the Seventy, or Assistants to the Quorum/Council of the Twelve (all roughly equivalent to the Presidency of the Seventy today in authority, together making up 63% of the sample), with about 14% percent serving in the presiding bishopric, 11% serving as Church university presidents, and 9% serving in the Sunday School presidency. There is some overlap between the groups represented.  It could be observed, based on this, that the Presidency of the Seventy and the presiding bishopric are a barometer of the future of the Quorum of the Twelve (with the other General Authority Seventies serving, in turn, as a barometer of the future of these groups).

In addition, having relatives already in the hierarchy (particularly prevalent with the Smith, Kimball, Cannon/Taylor, and Tanner clans) or at least Mormon pioneer ancestry was prevalent, though exact statistics are difficult to calculate on that factor since they rarely disclose ancestry. Association with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve during youth as a missionary or in a stake increased the likelihood of becoming an apostle as well (i.e., Quentin L. Cook and Jeffrey R. Holland were missionary companions with Marion D. Hanks as their president, Gordon B. Hinckley’s mission president was Elder Joseph F. Merrill, Ezra Taft Benson had Elder David O. McKay as a mission president, etc.).

For a more narrow range of analysis, starting with when President Nelson was called as an apostle in 1984, of the 18 men called, 67% were from Utah/Idaho and 89% from the United States. Average age at time of call was 60 (standard deviation of 5 years). As far as careers go, 44% were business, 11% in law, 28% were in education. As to previous callings, 56% served in the Presidency of the Seventy, 22% in the presiding bishopric, and 22% as Church university presidents. This suggests that there have been some shifts in demographics during the more recent past compared to the last 70-ish years overall (less lawyers and men from Utah and Idaho), but there are still some predominant trends.

The trends seem to be that Caucasian males from the United States—especially Utah and Idaho—in their mid-fifties to early sixties; with careers in business, law, or education; and who have served in the Presidency of the Seventy are the demographic most likely to be selected to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve during the last half a century or so.  Based on these trends, strong candidates include Carl B. Cook (age 63, Utah heritage, business career, member of Presidency of Seventy), Gérald Caussé (age 57, business career, Presiding Bishop of the Church with previous service in First Quorum of the Seventy), Matthew S. Holland (age 53, education career, connections to existing hierarchy, Utah heritage), or any member of the Presidency of the Seventy.

If the Church chooses to call a member of the Quorum of the Twelve that reflects the international and multi-racial nature of Church membership these days (purposefully moving beyond the trend of calling men from the United States), things could get more interesting. The calling of Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Gerrit Gong to the Quorum of the Twelves indicates that there may be more diversity in background among the Quorum of the Twelve moving forward.  I’ve already mentioned Gérald Caussé, but of the current members of the Presidency of the Seventy from outside of the United States, Patrick Kearon was raised and educated in the Middle East and UK (age 59, career in transportation and real estate), Terence M. Vinson is from Australia (age 69, business career), Carlos A. Godoy is from Brazil (age 59, business career), and José A. Teixeira is from Portugal (age 59, career in business/accounting). Considering the Church’s growth in Latin America, Elder Godoy may have a particularly high likelihood of being called.

Along the lines of considerations based on geography and membership growth, General Authority Seventies from Mexico or other Central American countries may receive strong consideration for calls to the Quorum of the Twelve, given the growth of the Church in that region (approximately 13% of the official count of Church members live there, or 9.7% of organized stakes, with no members of the Quorum of the Twelve currently haling from the region).  These include Jose L. Alonso (age 62, career in medicine, Mexico), Valeri V. Cordón (age 51, career in business, Guatamala), Benjamín De Hoyos (age 67, business and CES career, Mexico), Arnulfo Valenzuela (age 61, business career, Mexico), and Moisés Villanueva (age 54, business career, Mexico).  Of these, Jose L. Alonso and Arnulfo Valenzuela match the historic data for calls to the Quorum of the Twelve most strongly.

Another demographic group that may receive special consideration is men of black African ancestry, due to outstanding Church growth in Africa and (potentially) a desire to be more inclusive of a racial group that has faced historical discrimination in the Church.  Currently, members on the African continent makes up about 4% of the official Church membership count and 5.2% of organized stakes in the Church (though this doesn’t take into account the racial makeup of the membership there or elsewhere in the world). There are currently five black men (that I’m aware of) who serve as General Authority Seventies—Joseph W. Sitati (age 68, career in engineering/finance, from Kenya), Edward Dube (age 58, career in education, from Zimbabwe), Peter M. Johnson (age 54, career in accounting/education, from United States), Thierry K. Mutombo (age 44, career in business and in the Church, from Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Adeyinka A. Ojediran (age 52, business/finance career, from Nigeria).  Any of these men may be considered for a call to the Quorum of the Twelve in upcoming years, though Elder Dube stands out, due to longer service in the Seventy while still being below age 60.  It seems unlikely that any of these five men will be called directly to the Quorum of the Twelve in the immediate future, however, since none of them have served in the Presidency of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, or as Church university presidents and the fact that the proportion of black men in general authority positions, while rising, is still relatively low.

Based on the above discussion, it seems to me that Gérald Caussé, Carlos A. Godoy, Carl B. Cook, Patrick Kearon, Jose L. Alonso, and Arnulfo Valenzuela are the most likely candidates to be called to the Quorum of Twelve in the near future. We never know what will happen, though, as the story from Heber J. Grant mentioned above indicates.  Any worthy male in the Church could be called, though those who already are known to the current president of the Church and other apostles are most likely to be called.  In any case, President Russell M. Nelson had the following to say about the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency:

I belong to a wonderful priesthood quorum. We enjoy a precious brotherhood. We pray together; we serve together. We teach, love, and sustain one another. The Twelve come from different backgrounds—business, education, law, and science. But not one was called to serve because of that background. In fact, all men called to positions of priesthood responsibility are chosen because of who they are and who they can become.[3]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Hugh B. Brown and Edwin B. Firmage (ed.), An Abundant Life, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 127.

[2] Heber J. Grant, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant (SLC, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), 181-182.

[3] Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Priesthood Responsibility,” CR October 2003, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2003/10/personal-priesthood-responsibility?lang=eng.

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