LDS Church appoints three new apostles, all Utah (home) grown

By Eric Johnson

Check out this podcast that aired Thursday, October 15, 2015: Three New LDS apostles 

At the afternoon General Conference session on Saturday, October 3, 2015, the LDS Church appointed three new apostles to replace those who died during the past few months:

The three new apostles take their places.

Ronald A. Rasband3 apostles called to LDS Church leadership

Born in 1951 in Salt Lake City, UT, Rasband–who was the senior president in the Presidency of the Seventy– had been mentioned by many who thought he was a likely candidate. His career was with the Huntsman Chemical Corporation. According to LDS.org:

Elder Ronald A. Rasband was called as the Senior President of the Presidency of the Seventy on April 4, 2009. He has been serving as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy since 2005. Elder Rasband was named a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 1, 2000. He has served as a counselor in the Europe Central Area Presidency, president of the Utah Salt Lake City Area, and Executive Director of the Temple Department. He has also supervised the North America West, Northwest, and three Utah Areas as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy.

As reported by KSL.com, Rasband said in a statement,

I can’t ever remember not believing in Jesus Christ. I have loved him since I learned of Him from the knees of my mother sharing scriptures with me and reading stories. I have just grown up in the Lord. I’ve always loved Him. I’ve always had a desire to serve Him. I love the Lord, I know He is God’s living Son, Jesus the Christ. I’m honored beyond my words to express, to have been called to serve Him up to this very moment and I will devote my time, my talents, everything I have now ‘til the day I die. I’m committed to do it. I’m honored to do it.

Because Rasband was named first, he becomes the tenth apostle, seniority wise, and therefore the twelfth in line to become president after the eleven men ahead of him (two members of the First Presidency and the nine more senior apostles). This is important because, in a similar situation in October 1943, Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson were named as apostles on the same day under President Heber J. Grant. Since Kimball was named first, he retained seniority over Benson and became president of the church before Benson. Had Kimball been named second, he would have never become president since he passed away first.

Gary E. Stevenson

Born in 1955, Gary E. Stevenson is from Ogden, UT, and was a presiding bishop in the LDS Church. At 60, Stevenson is the youngest current apostle and is eleventh in seniority. According to LDS.org

Bishop Gary Evan Stevenson says he has spent much of his life observing the essential work bishops perform across the globe. His father, he said, was “the bishop of my youth, and his service deeply impacted me.” While a young man, he accepted a call to serve a mission to Japan. That assignment instilled in Bishop Stevenson a dual love for Asia and for sharing the gospel that has lasted a lifetime. After returning from his mission, he enrolled at Utah State University. . . .  While at Utah State, Bishop Stevenson obtained a degree in business administration. He later cofounded and served as president of an exercise equipment manufacturing company. He has served in a variety of Church callings, including counselor in a stake presidency, bishop, and president of the Japan Nagoya Mission (2004–07). He was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 2008 and served as a counselor and president in the Asia North Area.

Stevenson has been the presiding bishop since March 2012. He was the area president of the church’s Asia North area from 2008 to 2012 and was the Japan Nagoya Mission president from 2004 to 2007. According to KSL.com, he said,

I’ve often said that I feel like I was blessed to have a sense of the truthfulness of the gospel, really from my earliest memories, and something that instilled in me the desire, the duty to live the gospel, and every day, try to do that. Balance was probably one of the great lessons. When you’re going through something that can be so consuming, what do you do to make certain that you maintain a balance of family, of profession and of Church calling? And then making certain that you take care of yourself as well? Those are the challenges and the struggles that people face. I think that’s been a great preparation, and something that really blessed us.

In April 2014, Stevenson gave a powerful general conference talk to the youth titled “Your Four Minutes.” Referring to the bobsled runs in the 2014 Winter Olympics Games while quoting from Alma 34, he stressed the importance of actions done in this mortality. He said,

Now, consider how your pathway to eternal life is similar to these athletes’ “four-minute performance.” You are an eternal being. Before you were born, you existed as a spirit. In the presence of a loving Heavenly Father, you trained and prepared to come to earth for a brief moment and, well, perform. This life is your four minutes. While you are here, your actions will determine whether you win the prize of eternal life. The prophet Amulek described, “This life is the time … to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day … to perform [your] labors.” In a sense, your four minutes have already begun. The clock is ticking.

In the talk he also explained,

And in the same way that the discipline of training prepares an athlete to perform elements in his or her sport at the highest level, keeping the commandments will qualify you to receive these saving ordinances. Do you sense the urgency?

Not mincing his words, Stevenson said,

Self-discipline is needed. Daily prayer, scripture study, and church attendance must be the foundation of your training. A consistent pattern of obeying the commandments, keeping the covenants you have made, and following the Lord’s standard found in For the Strength of Youth is required. Perhaps you’re aware of things in your life that are threatening to slow or stop your spiritual progress. If so, follow this scriptural counsel: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” It is not yet too late to repent. But it soon may be, because no one really knows when your four minutes will be over.

Dale G. Renlund

The junior apostle is Dale G. Renlund, who has been a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy since 2009. He was born in Salt Lake City, UT, in 1952, attending the University of Utah and later becoming a professor of medicine at the university. He later served as the medical director of the Utah Transplantation Affiliated Hospitals Cardiac Transplant Program. He joins fellow doctor Russell M. Nelson, who is the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and next in line to the presidency. As reported in KSL.com, Renlund said,

We must recognize that the Savior helps everyone. Saints are sinners who keep on trying. There is something about seeing people as Heavenly Father sees them –as a beloved son or daughter of Heavenly parents, and as such, with divine potential. All true followers need to plead for that pure love of Christ that He does give (Moroni 7:48). God is so mindful of individuals, and status doesn’t much matter. Faith and hope matter. He knows His children one by one.

In the previous general conference (April 2015), Renlund gave a talk titled “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying.” He said,

The term Saints is commonly used to designate those who have achieved an elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well that we are not perfect.

What’s interesting about the quote is that, in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball taught,

This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sins. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal. . . .Perfection really comes through overcoming (p. 209).

In the next part of his conference talk, Renlund said,

Our theology does teach us, though, that we may be perfected by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly upon” the doctrine of Christ: exercising faith in Him, repenting, partaking of the sacrament to renew the covenants and blessings of baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant companion to a greater degree. As we do so, we become more like Christ and are able to endure to the end, with all that that entails. In less formal terms, God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were. He cares that we keep on trying. . .. My invitation to all of us is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites.

Again, Renlund contradicted the teaching of Kimball who explained in The Miracle of Forgiveness,

Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. To try with a weakness of attitude and effort is to assure failure in the face of Satan’s strong counteracting efforts. What is needed is resolute action (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 164)

Kimball then gave a story of an army officer and a solider before saying,

It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults, who have gone through these learning periods, must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To “try” is weak. To “do the best I can” is not strong. We must always do better than we can.  This is true in every walk of life (p. 165).

To hear a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast on this talk that originally aired on April 16, 2015, click Saints Keep on Trying (General Conference)

In another talk given at the October 2009 General Conference (“Preserving the Heart’s Mighty Change”), Renlund spoke in detail on the heart transplant process and declared:

Just as with heart transplant patients, however, this mighty change of our spiritual hearts is just the beginning. Repentance, baptism, and confirmation are necessary but not sufficient. Indeed, equal, if not greater, care must be taken with a spiritually changed heart than with a physically transplanted heart if we are to endure to the end. Only by doing so can we be held guiltless at the time of judgment.

Analysis of the Choices of the Three New Apostles

Since most previous choices have come from the Seventies, we speculated that the choices would be heavy on those with this qualification. We predicted that no outsiders would be invited, including BYU scholars. The picks, we said, would be noncontroversial. Although our speculations were wrong, our overall view was correct. (To hear a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that aired 8/13/2015 and Bill and Eric’s speculations as to whom they thought were viable candidates, click here.) Indeed, two of the three appointees came from the Seventies. We also predicted that the men would be in high support of the leadership. I thought this might be the year that the LDS Church leadership would name a minority candidate as one of the three new apostles. If so, I thought a Hispanic would be a wise move, as there were several qualified Latin American candidates. Less than an hour before the announcement was made on October 3rd, I stood outside the conference grounds in Salt Lake City and spoke to several Latter-day Saints. I told them how I thought naming a person of color–mind you, something no apostle has ever been–would be a smart move, in more ways than one. I told these Latter-day Saints that this might be the time. One young Hispanic man became so excited at this thought that he began to jump up and down–literally. I turned to my friend Randy Sweet and said, “Boy, I hope I’m wrong.”

Thus, I have to admit that I was suprised that three safe and very traditional picks were made. All are Caucasians hailing from Utah. Each one is a lifelong Latter-day Saint going back multiple generatins. It appears that the three had served their church positions admirably. Could it be that these men proved faithful in other ways as well? Consider some of the things that they had said at  general conferences during the past few years.

In an April 2014 conference talk titled “The Joyful Burden of Discipleship,” Rasband stated,

To sustain our leaders is a privilege; it comes coupled with a personal responsibility to share their burden and to be disciples of the Lord.

In another conference talk that he gave in April 2008 called “Special Experience,” Rasband showed his faith in the LDS leadership when he taught,

I would like to add my testimony and witness on this special day that President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet on the earth. I am grateful to have this privilege to speak in general conference.  I am grateful, as you are, for the experience we have in this historic conference as we sustain, in an orderly and patterned way, our new prophet, First Presidency, and other leaders of the Church.

In that conference talk, Rasband also said,

I know that my Redeemer lives, even Jesus Christ, and that He speaks to and through His prophet, dear President Thomas S. Monson, in this, our day.

And Rasband had only kind things to say about Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency, in his April 2010 conference talk titled “The Divine Call of a Missionary.” He said, in part,

Henry B. Eyring, I would like to relate to you an experience, very special to me, which I had with him several years ago when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Each Apostle holds the keys of the kingdom and exercises them at the direction and assignment of the President of the Church. Elder Eyring was assigning missionaries to their fields of labor, and as part of my training, I was invited to observe. As the process began, a picture of the missionary to be assigned would come up on one of the computer screens. As each picture appeared, to me it was as if the missionary were in the room with us. Elder Eyring would then greet the missionary with his kind and endearing voice: “Good morning, Elder Reier or Sister Yang. How are you today?” He told me that in his own mind he liked to think of where the missionaries would conclude their mission. This would aid him to know where they were to be assigned. Elder Eyring would then study the comments from the bishops and stake presidents, medical notes, and other issues relating to each missionary. He then referred to another screen which displayed areas and missions across the world. Finally, as he was prompted by the Spirit, he would assign the missionary to his or her field of labor. From others of the Twelve, I have learned that this general method is typical each week as Apostles of the Lord assign scores of missionaries to serve throughout the world. I joined Elder Eyring early one morning in a room where several large computer screens had been prepared for the session. There was also a staff member from the Missionary Department who had been assigned to assist us that day. First, we knelt together in prayer. I remember Elder Eyring using very sincere words, asking the Lord to bless him to know “perfectly” where the missionaries should be assigned. The word “perfectly” said much about the faith that Elder Eyring exhibited that day.

Rasband’s first words as an apostle that came from the podium on Sunday morning, October 4, 2015 were, “President Monson, thank you. We love you.”

Kind words regarding the prophet were delivered at the end of Stevenson’s April 2014 talk:

I conclude with my testimony of the blessing we have in a living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, and of Jesus Christ and His role as our Savior and Redeemer, in His holy name, Jesus Christ, amen.

In his Sunday morning talk on October 4, 2015, he said,

I like you find strength in and sustain President Thomas S. Monson as propeht, seer, and revelator, and I marvel at his faithful and dutiful apostolic service spanning over fifty remarkable years.

And at the end of of his April 2015 talk, Renlund said,

I am deeply grateful for the Savior, for His infinite Atonement, and for latter-day prophets who encourage us to be Latter-day Saints, to keep on trying.

All three had been proven faithful to the current leadership–verbally praising Monson and the other general authorities–to join a club where no renegades or newcomers are invited.  Could their faithfulness to the status quo have played an important role in their appointments? This is what we used to call the “good old boy” network. In context, this description typically referred to politics, but isn’t the LDS leadership all about politics? If a man can prove himself faithful in the little things, the promise of greater rewards can be just around the corner. By choosing three “white” lifetime members, the opportunity to energize Latin America, Asia, or Africa was lost. Hooray! Now, of course, the four senior apostles are in their mid-80s and beyond, and they will surely be gone sometime in the next decade. I just hope Monson lives long enough to continue missing golden opportunities that could make the LDS Church relevant in this 21st century pluralistic world in which we live.

To hear a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that aired 8/13/2015 and Bill and Eric’s speculations as to whom they thought were viable candidates, click here.