Adding a Little Color to the GA’s

With little fanfare over the weekend, President Uchdorf announced the call of only the second black general authority, Joseph Sitate of Nairobi, Kenya.  He was called to the First Quorum of 70, as well as Yoon Hwan Choi of Seoul, Korea.

So, I decided to see what other races/nationalities we had in the Quorums of 70.  In 1976, Spencer W Kimball reinstituted the 1st Quorum of 70.  In 1989, the Quorum was split, and now there are currently 8 quorums of 70.  The First and Second Quorum are considered General Authorities, while quorums 3 through 8 are not, but are considered Area Authorities, and serve in geographical areas throughout the world.

So, since the 1976 reorganization, there have been approximately 201 men called to either the First or Second Quorum.  I decided to do a quick search to figure out who the African, Asian, and Hispanic members were, in a sort of Affirmative Action test.  I was not at all scientific.  I pretty much looked at the name, and tried to determine ethnicity, so my numbers very well could be wrong.  But, in the interest of a quick research, I came up with the following statistics.

  • 1 Native American (George P Lee, excommunicated in 1989)
  • 2 Africans, Joseph Sitate, and Helvicio Martins (though he was actually from Brazil.)
  • 8 Asians (Augusto A. Lim, Han In Sang, Sam K. Shimabukuro, Tai Kwok Yuen, Won Yong Ko, Adney Y. Komatsu, Yoshihiko Kikuchi, Yoon Hwan Choi)
  • 33 Hispanics

This would seemingly reflect the church’s strong growth in South and Central America.  I didn’t bother to check European members of the 70 (like Uchtdorf), but that would be interesting to see as well.  So, what do you think of the church’s Affirmative Action?  Were you surprised at all?  Is it better or worse than you expected?

34 comments on “Adding a Little Color to the GA’s

  1. I think that the addition of General Authorities from other countries is not a result of any type of Affirmative Action but is the result of the spread of the church throughout all the world. However, the ethnic diversity of the General Authorities is not a representation of the diversity of the church as it is today but rather a representation of the church as it was twenty or thirty years ago or even more. The reason I believe this is because General Authorities are generally raised in the church and have years of experience within the church before they are called. Areas of the world where the church is relatively new and developing just haven’t had enough time to develop any of its members to the point where they are ecclesiastically mature enough to be called as General Authorities. General Authorities from other countries represent areas where the church has been around long enough to develop General Authorities. Since half of the church membership now lives outside the United States, according to my theory, I would expect to see half of the General Authorities from outside the United States in twenty to thirty years from now. Apostles, of course, take even longer to develop.

  2. Yes, you might be onto something there. But off the top of my head, Joseph Sitate, Dieter Uchtdorf, and Hartman Rector are all converts. (Sitate joined the church in 1986.) Perhaps I should look into this more deeply.

    I’m sure the church leadership could care less about Affirmative Action, but I view these steps as a positive sign that the church is truly starting to reflect a more international flavor. I was quite surprised to see so much color among the brethren. How about you?

  3. I just did a check on the closed captioning for _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_ for its broadcast from WHUT (PBS station at Howard University, Washington DC) on April 14 (8:00 p.m. for you Washington-ites) and wished we could do one more pass and get a photo of Elder Sitate in there! We have one of Elder Martins, but nothing in the documentary about him specifically. I am planning on sending Elder Sitate’s bio to my missionariers in the Congo.

    Btw, if you go to the 3rd Quorum of the Seventy, you could include Elijah Abel, Elder Kissi and a couple of other Africans whose names escape me at the moment.

  4. Margaret, thanks for the “heads up”.

    I don’t know anything about Elder Kissi. Can you tell me a little more? I decided to do a search on Wikipedia and found a list of Area Authorities. I was quite surprised to see the number of Africans in the Third Quorum of Seventy, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_area_seventies_of_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints

    (I sure wish these kinds of lists were easier to find on the church website.) When one looks at those lists, the church has a much greater international flavor.

  5. Oh dear–I was wrong! Elder Kissi was an Area Authority Seventy. He used to come to Genesis meetings when he was in town during General Conference.

  6. Margaret,

    Do you catch flak in your ward for your position and study of black LDS history, or have you straightened them all all out? (Remember my mother-in-law’s comment on Mormon Matters?)

  7. Most people in my ward don’t know me or their new bishop (my husband). We’ve been in the MTC for nearly two years. Those who do know me know I do a lot of work with African Americans. I don’t go into detail about my particular views, unless someone says something stupid about the reasons for the priesthood restriction. Then I just give the main line: “We don’t know the reason.” I won’t tolerate perpetuation of the garbage I grew up with, but I try to be patient with people.

  8. 44 of 201 since 1976 isn’t bad at all. Actually, it’s much higher than I assumed it would be – again, going back that far.

    Thanks for doing this, MH. I appreciate it.

  9. “Areas of the world where the church is relatively new and developing just haven’t had enough time to develop any of its members to the point where they are ecclesiastically mature enough to be called as General Authorities.”

    You mean like Joseph Smith? Since when is that a requirement in the church?

    It is good to see some diversity in the general authorities. I haven’t even heard of this, so thanks for the post. I was quite annoyed by the new apostle falling into the same stereotype. Are they trying to perpetuate the stereotype of the white Utah BYU/UU rich business executive?

    I think they SHOULD use some affirmative action even if it is just a token gesture to at least try to dispel the perception that the church is a Utah church and not a global organization.

  10. Speaking of black leaders of the church, some say that Elijah Abel was ordained by Joseph Smith himself. It says so on the monument that the church has placed on his grave site. However, apart from that, I can’t find any references that cite Joseph Smith as the one who ordained him as an Elder.

  11. Brother Zelph,

    Welcome back. John Dehlin did a few interviews with some experts on the priesthood ban, and I recently have corresponded with Connell O’Donovan, who is a history professor at a university in California. You may want to check out my post, Was the Priesthood Ban Inspired?

    Briefly to answer your question, it is a little unclear who ordained Elijah to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but it is believed that Joseph Smith did it. If Joseph Smith didn’t do Elijah Abel’s ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood, it was either his father Joseph, Sr, or his brother, William Smith. Certainly, Joseph was aware of it. At any rate, it is known that Zebedee Coltrin ordained Elijah to the office of Seventy–that is well-documented in my post. I have also listed some other black saints, including Joseph T Ball, who was Branch President in Boston in 1844! Check out the post.

  12. Calling it affirmative action implies that these men were called because of their skin and not their merits.

    I don’t think the Lord thinks like we do and calls people to offices for the nice multiethnic photo opportunity.
    Elder Sitate wasn’t called to represent blacks. He was called to represent Jesus Christ

  13. Pedro,

    Having no GA’s of color prior to 1976 seems to imply that God is a respector of persons, and has a big preference for white people. I think a little affirmative action is better than a “whites only” church hierarchy. If God loves all men, he should be colorblind with his picks of general authorities.

    Right now, his favorite color is apparently white, followed by brown (hispanic), then yellow (Asian) and then black. I’m not currently aware of any red (Native American) GA’s, and I have a hard time believing the entire race is judged “not worthy” by God. Rather, I think there are some personal biases displayed in this dearth of Black and Native American GA’s.

    Yes, Elder Sitate represents Christ, but it would be nice to have more diversity, to show that Christ truly loves all men, not just whites. We could use several new “Samuel the Lamanite”s in our day.

  14. This brings up the issue of foreordination. If we assume that all of these men who are called to be General Authorities were foreordained before coming to earth to be General Authorities, and we assume that God has some control over when, where, and to whom we are born (at least I assume that), then I think it would reasonable to also assume that those who are foreordained to be General Authorities will be born at a time, place, and family where they are either born into the church or will have an opportunity to join the church. I don’t think that someone who is foreordained to be a General Authority will be born in a part of the world if the church is not there and that person will have no opportunity in his lifetime to join the church. This also goes back to my first comment and fits in with the theory I first proposed.

  15. DB, It seems to me like your definition of foreordination sounds suspiciously like predestination. I guess I don’t have a problem with that if you also believe that George Washington was foreordained to be the father of our country, Mahatma Ghandi was foreordained to lead India, MLK was foreordained to lead the civil rights movement, Barack Obama was foreordained to be the first black president, and Abraham Lincoln was foreordained to lead our country out of the Civil War.

    God foreordains many people to lead–it’s not just LDS priesthood holders. What say you?

  16. My only concern with fore-ordination is the way it is used to justify the way we do things – not necessarily what God would do if He forced His will upon us. It’s fine and dandy to say that God fore-ordained ONLY those who actually have been called, but that would deprive those of true agency AND it would dictate that no human mistakes could be made in any way that might impact the fore-ordained.

    Don’t get me wrong; I believe in fore-ordination. I just don’t believe in fore-ordination to the extent that it really does become pre-destination – and especially when it is used like it was pre-1978 as a justification to keep black men and women from holding the Priesthood and attending the temple. It’s precisely that type of thinking that led to the justifications Elder McConkie said were devised from limited light and knowledge – and that our current apostles and prophets are telling us to not endorse now.

    When I read the current statements, it is clear to me that fore-ordination CANNOT be used to justify the Priesthood ban. Period.

  17. I do believe that many people are put on the earth at a certain time and place because they have a particular mission to fulfill on the earth. To me that would include George Washington, MLK, Columbus, even Galileo etc., and not just church callings. I don’t believe that everyone that ever did something extraordinary was foreordained to do it, but I believe that God will place certain people in certain places at certain times so that certain things can be accomplished. To me this is what foreordination is all about. I do believe that everyone who has been called to be a General Authority has been foreordained to that calling but I also believe that there are many who are foreordained to that and because of their agency do not make it. This is the difference between foreordination and predestination. Like the scriptures say, “many are called, but few are chosen.” If predestination governed our actions, God would only call as many as would be chosen and no more.

  18. DB, I’m glad you have a large definition of foreordination. I agree with Ray’s thinking on this subject.

  19. MH,

    I tried to avoid getting back in to this discussion again when you posted a second part to the original discussion we had on the subject, but I can’t hold my peace any longer.

    To me, being color blind means that you also don’t spend time calculating and dwelling on racial statistics and assuming that callings and appointments are or should be made based on skin color rather that inspiration. Such attitudes reflect a great lack of faith in the Lord’s anointed and it would appear that you view them as racist because they pick “favorites”.

    I for one am not suprised to see so much color among the brethren, but then I have a different take on things and I don’t sit around and worry about diversity for diversity’s sake. That’s called being color blind.

  20. If the brethren were colorblind with regard to calls, then the statistics would back up this claim, and the brethren would flaunt these numbers.

    The church spends much time in conference conveying statistics showing how many missionaries, stakes, wards, missions, convert baptisms, etc. In the wards we track home teaching, visiting teaching, etc. These are “good” statistics. We use these statistics to show the church is growing, people are being visited (or not). These numbers aren’t kept to “worry about diversity for diversity’s sake.” If these numbers are bad in our ward, we don’t assume that it shows a “lack of faith in the brethren”, it shows we’re not doing our home teaching, and we need to improve.

    It is disingenuous to refer to racial statistics as “bad”. If highlighting racial inequities makes me appear that I lack faith in the brethren, then I am guilty. Burying our head in the sand, and pretending these inequities do not exist does not fix the problem.

    I’m not trying to insinuate that the brethren currently called were not called by inspiration. I have been on record several times saying that inspiration often gets mixed with personal biases and judgment. This is no different. It is an area I think the we, as well as the brethren, can improve.

  21. If the brethren were colorblind with regard to calls, then the statistics would back up this claim, and the brethren would flaunt these numbers.

    Says who? You are in no position to judge the hearts and minds of the leaders of the church and how they issue calls based solely on statistical information.

    Performance based statistics are in a totally different category than statistics based on race. People can’t change their race, but they can change their performance. Racial statistics are not a reliable indicator of whether or not the church is racist when you consider all the variables involved in issuing callings. It’s all very clear when you are nothing more than an armchair quarterback, isn’t it? But more often than not, it’s quite a different story when you’re the one on the field calling the plays because you have more knowledge and a broader perspective.

    Burying our heads in the sand DOESN’T fix problems where problems exist, but then you have to assume that that’s what’s being done. Where’s the proof of that other than conclusions based on statistics which I’ve already stated aren’t a reliable indicator in this case. If someone wanted to make a plausible case based on statistics, a whole lot more statistical information would be needed to make a fair evaluation.

    BTW, inspiration mixed with personal bias and judgement is a contradiction in terms. We may have covered that before, but I can’t remember. That’s how I see it anyway.

  22. Performance based statistics are in a totally different category than statistics based on race.

    That’s your opinion, and you’re welcome to it. I disagree–it seems to me that you’re making emotional arguments, rather than objective ones. Numbers are numbers–they aren’t good or bad. How we interpret them is what makes them good or bad.

    I suppose my comments do sound a little like armchair quarterback, but I also think the truth hurts. If there was more color, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

  23. It’s not the numbers themselves that concerns me. It’s the reason we’re worrying about the numbers that concerns me. You wouldn’t be worrying about them if you didn’t think the leaders of the church were racist. You look at raw numbers without accounting for the variables and see racism. That sort of judgement concerns me so much that I have to hold my tongue before I say things that I will later regret. I may be making emotional arguments, but that is because this is an emotional topic for me. It is a topic which divides us in all aspects of society because people want to see problems where there may or may not be a real problem. Evidence of progress at the very least isn’t enough it seems. Right now, claims of racism, and classism, and religionism, and numerous other isms are dividing our country, and if we let them, they will divide us in the church as well. I can only see comments such as yours adding to the divisiveness and that most certainly is not in harmony with the Lord’s will.

  24. You look at raw numbers without accounting for the variables and see racism.

    Tara, what are the variables I should be accounting for? I have had a considerable amount of training in statistics. You bring up a good point here, which is the idea of a “confounder”.

    20-30 years ago, there was a study done which seemed to show that sugar caused heart attacks. It turns out sugar was a confounder. Later studies showed that smokers consumed a much larger amount of sugar (usually in coffee, but in candy as well) than non-smokers. So, the real culprit of heart attacks was smoking, rather than sugar. When sugar was controlled for between smokers and non-smokers, sugar ceased to show a link to heart attacks. So sugar was a confounder–it was covering up smoking as the real problem. What are the confounders I should be considering on this issue?

    I am really surprised why you view this post so negatively. I have seen progress in the church regarding race, and Elder Sitate’s call is proof of that. This is something to be celebrated. We’ve come a long was since John Taylor’s statement that blacks exist to represent Satan (for an opposition of all things.) Sure, we’ve got progress to go still, but aren’t you also glad Elder Sitate was called?

    “Right now, claims of racism, and classism, and religionism, and numerous other isms are dividing our country” I agree! That’s why I would like to see more diversity, and less segregation in our church. The general authorities should lead by example. I would love to see no -ites in our church as in the days of 4 Nephi. But until we can truly integrate the world into our leadership, then we are a long way from getting rid of -ites.

    This isn’t without challenges. Firetag has mentioned on some other posts here that diversity brings its own challenges. Perhaps that is why the brethren move slower than I would like. But I am glad they are moving in the right direction. Elder Sitate’s call is proof of that, and that is something we should all celebrate.

  25. Well, I’m no statistician, but the information I would think needs to be considered is first of all, what percentage of church membership is African (or whatever other race or skin color you want to ensure equality for), and then compare that to the percentage of African GA’s (or whatever other calling you think they should have). Then DB makes a good point about ecclesiastical maturity–that needs to be accounted for. Then I think you need to consider the African population (in other countries) and their own need for priesthood leadership at lower levels from the more ecclesiastically mature priesthood holders to ensure that those resources are used where they are needed most. Positions in the upper ranks of church hierarchy might not necessarily be where their talents are needed most. Knowing that there are probably other things that church leaders take into account when issuing calls, there are most likely other variables that I wouldn’t have considered. Admittedly, we won’t have access to a lot of information needed to include these variables in the numbers. That’s why I think it’s best to defer to the players on the field. We don’t see what they see.

    I’m glad you see progress. But I also see that you don’t think it’s good enough. That stands out to me and concerns me. I see it as divisive. That’s why criticism of our church leaders is such a serious matter. It’s divisive. Christ calls us to be united and as one, but publishing and publicly discussing our discontent with church leaders does not breed unity.

    Am I glad Elder Sitate was called? I don’t know the man personally, so I can’t say if I’m glad. I can say the same of any white GA who is called that I don’t know personally. If you want to know if I’m glad he was called because he is black, the answer is no more than I would be if someone white was called instead. It isn’t a matter that I’m concerned over because I don’t believe the leaders of the church are racist. Or if they are, how can I know for sure? It isn’t my place to judge them without even knowing them personally, or without sufficient insight into their inspiration and decision making.

    You say you want there to be no more -ites in the church, but there always will be as long as we are concerned about whether or not we have enough diversity or if we are looking for racism or assume there’s racism because the numbers say there is. We only see -ites if we are looking for them or are rallying to advance them and single them out.

  26. Tara, it’s obvious we see this issue differently. You make some valid points, but as I said before, if the church was more homogenous with regards to race, then I would view that as a wonderful development.

    20 years ago, Elder Helvicio Martens was called to be the first black general authority. I was on my mission at the time in the southern US, and was ecstatic, because we taught so many black people. Some of them wouldn’t join because they thought the church was too white. I enthusiastically carried around the photos of the GA’s around. When they would ask me why there weren’t any blacks, I would always point to Elder Martens. They viewed this as pitiful, but at least it was a start.

    In my last area, a bishop was called who was black. He was an outstanding bishop, and greatly helped the work of the Lord. His call was inspired. Black general authorities do not need to come from Africa, or Brazil. We have many outstanding black church members here in the US.

    Yes, it does take time for some blacks to be trained in leadership, but if we can accept converts like Pres Uchtdorf, Hartman Rector, and Elder Sitate to become GA’s in less than a lifetime, then I think that there are plenty of righteous people in all races that could do as good of a job as these three men. 20 years is too long between black general authorities, IMO.

  27. TH posted a link to a document titled “We Share” which talks about CoC beliefs. The section “Unity in Diversity” brought this conversation to my mind. It is something I think the LDS should better embrace and understand when talking about diversity. (I’ve added some emphasis to some of these points.)

    Unity in Diversity

    • The Community of Christ is a diverse, international family of disciples, seekers, and congregations.

    • Local and worldwide ministries are interdependent and important to the church’s mission.

    • The church embraces diversity and unity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    • We seek agreement or common consent in important matters. If we cannot achieve agreement, we commit to ongoing dialogue and lovingly uphold our common faith in Jesus Christ and the mission of the

    • We confess that our lack of agreement on certain matters is hurtful to some of God’s beloved children and creation.

  28. MH, you mention that you are not aware of a Native American GA. I remember there was a GA that was Native American. Unfortunately he was excommunicated after pedophilia was discovered. I can’t remember his name.

    Regarding racism, I will not be convinced otherwise until there is a Black Apostle. Someone with a chance at becoming president of the church. Until that happens, its all token appointments to me.

  29. Bishop Rick, I meant I couldn’t think of any current Native American GA’s. Yes George P Lee (a Navajo) was ordained a Seventy in 1975. He was excommunicated for apostasy in 1989. In 1994 he was arrested for molesting a 12-year old girl. I don’t believe another Native American has been called as a GA, and I didn’t see any Native-American sounding names on the list I checked. Of course, Lee isn’t a Native-American sounding name either, so I may have missed some. Certainly there are none with as high of a profile as Elder Lee in the past 20 years.

  30. MH;

    In reading the OP I noticed another difference I wish you’d explain. How did it come about historically that two quorums became GA’s while other quorums became AA’s?

    We’ve never come close to filling our Quorums of Seventies, and until recently I don’t know what rationale was used to assign 70s to quorums (now a quorum roughly supports the fields of 2 Apostles geographically). But I don’t know of a time when the Presidents of the Seven Quorums didn’t have a separate status roughly on a par with the High Council.

    Something for the future post page?

  31. That’s right…Elder Lee. I remember how shocked everyone was when he was excommunicated. He was looked highly upon. I remember him as an eloquent speaker.

    Your correct about him being excommunicated in 1989 and arrested in 1990, but he was arrested for molestation that took place prior to 1989. The facts are he claimed to be having a polygamous relationship with the 12 year old. This, along with his belief that Lamanites (direct descendants of Israel) would be the prominent leaders in creating the new Jerusalem with Whites (adopted into Israel) having a secondary role, were why he was charged with apostacy.

    He actually plead guilty to molestation though, so I have to wonder if he really was trying to live a polygamous relationship, or if he used that as a cover-up.

    Like you, I am not aware of any other Native American GA.

  32. FireTag, That is a good idea for a future post, but let me try to answer it briefly here. Michael Quinn discusses this in his book “Origins of Power.”

    If my memory serves me correctly, in the early days of the church, Seventies were part of every stake in the Kirtland and Nauvoo days. I believe the Presidents of the 10 quorums of 70 were considered “General Authorities”, while the rest of the members were “regular” Seventies whose primary role was missionary work. Elijah Abel (a Black Mormon), was a “regular” Seventy, and served several missions with apostles including Lorenzo Snow and Wilford Woodruff (future prophets). I’m not exactly sure how these quorums continued to evolve–I’ll have to check Quinn. I know that my dad (definitely not a GA) was a Seventy in my stake and that position was eliminated probably around 1976 or so, and he was ordained a High Priest at that time.

    By the 1950’s-70’s, many people were called as “Special Assistants” to the Twelve. (Pres Hinckley served as a special assistant.) Many of these special assistants assisted with stake reorganizations, and other needs of the 12. I suspect there were so many special assistants, that Pres Kimball wanted to organize them back into the former organization of the 10 Quorums of Seventy as in the days of the early church. Most of these special assistants were ordained to the office of Seventy. The position of Area Authority was created in the 1980’s I believe. I think that became unwieldy as well, and in 1989, Pres Benson decided to put them in additional Quorums of 70. The First Quorum of Seventy serve for life, while Quorums 2-8 (max of 10) serve a 5 year term. Only the First Quorum are considered General Authorities (living generally in SLC); the others are considered Area Authorities, live in the area of the world, and keep their full-time jobs.

    Each Quorum has well under 70 members–I suspect they are only about 40-50 members per quorum. With 2800 stakes across the world, the Seventies continue to supervise missions and stakes across the world.

    The High Council serves a completely different function–they serve on a stake level, and basically supervise the wards on behalf of the Stake President. Quinn makes some interesting claims that the High Council was on par with the Twelve in the Nauvoo days, which would be quite startling for most Mormons to know. That definitely sounds like a great future post topic. I just bought Quinn’s book, and received it in the mail last week, so I will have to review that information. Quinn says there was a real power struggle between the Twelve and the High Council over who should lead. (Of course, Brigham Young won–at least from the LDS point of view.)

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