SALT LAKE CITY - The Mormon church made history and injected a bit of diversity into a previously all-white top leadership panel Saturday by selecting the first Latin-American apostle and the first apostle of Asian ancestry.
The selections of Ulisses Soares of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, were announced during a twice-annual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The choices triggered excitement among a contingent of Mormons who for years have been hoping for the faith’s top leadership to be more representative of a religion that has more than half of the its 16 million members outside the United States.
“It’s a sign that the church is for everyone,” said Guilherme De Castro, a 37-year-old Mormon from Brazil who was in attendance for the announcement. “It doesn’t matter where you are from or the way you look.”
The selections come during a two-day conference happening as the faith grapples with heightened scrutiny about its handling of sexual abuse reports and one-on-one interviews between local lay leaders and youth. Mormon leaders hadn’t spoken about the topic as of Saturday afternoon, but a person in attendance shouted several times, “Stop protecting sexual predators,” as new people were announced to second-tier leadership posts.
The outburst came one day after about 1,000 current and former Mormons marched to the church’s headquarters, delivering petitions demanding an end to closed door, one-on-one interviews between youth and lay leaders where sexual questions sometimes arise.
The church changed policy this week to now allow children to bring a parent or adult with them to the interviews, but protesters said that doesn’t go far enough to keep children safe. The change came as part of more revisions to sexual abuse reporting guidelines following recent revelations that a former prominent missionary leader was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s. The ex-leader denied the allegations.