The Mormon church made history and injected diversity into a top leadership panel on Saturday by selecting the first-ever Latin-American apostle and the first-ever apostle of Asian ancestry, the AP reports. The selections of Ulisses Soares of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, were announced at the start of a twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They join a panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that, before Saturday, was made up entirely of white men from the US with the exception of one German, Dieter Uchtdorf.
The selections of Soares and Gong are likely to trigger applause from a contingent of Mormons who were anxious to see the faith's global footprint represented in leadership. More than half of the religion's 16 million members live outside the US. The last time there were openings on the quorum, in October 2015, the church chose three Utah men. Their selections reflect the "rising focus of church leadership on the world outside the United States, where the church is growing most rapidly," says Mormon scholar Matthew Bowman, an associate history professor in Arkansas. With 1.4 million members, Brazil has the second-most in the world along with Mexico. Both rank behind the United States, which has about 6.6 million members.
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