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It has been more than 10 years since the LDS Church had two openings at the same time in its Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Mormon world has changed much in the intervening decade.

The Utah-based faith has seen one of its own finish second in a historic bid for America's highest office, and its theology, history and practice lampooned in a Tony Award-winning musical. The Mormon missionary force has skyrocketed from 58,000 to nearly 90,000, with pairs of young female and male proselytizers visible across the globe. The percentage of Spanish-speaking members now accounts for more than a third of the 15 million Latter-day Saints, inching ever closer to the 41 percent who communicate in English.

When top LDS leaders gather to consider two Mormons to replace the late apostles Boyd K. Packer and L. Tom Perry, the world will be watching, waiting and wondering as never before:

Will the apostles remain an all-white, all-American (save for one) body? Or will those elite ranks be open to leaders who illustrate the changing face of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

This much is certain: No women will be on the list.

But some of the faithful hope at least one of the new apostles will hail from beyond the usual "Mormon corridor."

"It's already a well-known fact that a narrow majority of Latter-day Saints lives outside of North America," says Melissa Inouye, a Mormon scholar who has lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China. "Current rates of growth (low in North America and in Europe; high in Africa and in some parts of South America and Asia) dictate that within a decade or so, this majority of membership from the global South will be even more prominent."

Serving as a young Mormon missionary in Taiwan years ago, Inouye would show prospective members a photo of the LDS Church's three-member governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and they frequently would ask: "Why are they all white Americans?"

If Jesus spoke "through prophets and apostles with messages for the entire world," they asked, "didn't it seem strange that he just happened to choose only white North Americans?"

Naming, perhaps, a South American or African to the apostleship wouldn't simply be a "smart strategy" for the church, says Inouye, who teaches at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. "It also naturally reflects what Latter-day Saints believe, which is that we began as an American church but that the restored gospel transcends national and cultural boundaries."

Mirroring the faith's global reality in its governing quorums, the scholar says, "would be a powerful testament that the church's message is for everyone."

Thinking global • Matt Martinich, an independent LDS demographer who closely tracks Mormon growth, agrees.

Such a move would "signify an important step in the internationalization of the church," says Martinich, who lives in Colorado. "I think a Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking Latin American is quite probable."

High-ranking male leaders such as Brazilians Claudio R.M. Costa and Ulisses Soares of the faith's First Quorum of the Seventy have been mentioned as potential apostles.

Martinich also sees the possibility of tapping others, including Michael John U. Teh of the Philippines and Chi Hong Wong from Hong Kong, for the office.

The demographer would like to see a Chinese man in the quorum due to that country's enormous population, he says, "and the need for an apostle to administer Chinese members in mainland China — a location that cannot be easily administered by non-Chinese leaders due to legal restrictions on religious freedom."

A black African such as Joseph W. Sitati of Kenya or Edward Dube from Zimbabwe, he says, would help Utah-born leaders understand their brothers and sisters on that continent.

"White leaders are just not the best to use in some areas due to safety concerns such as Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the church in Africa lacks members in regional or international church leadership due to the relatively recent establishment of the church in most nations."

To Ezra Steinvoorte, a Dutch Mormon scholar who is participating in a Brigham Young University summer seminar on Mormon studies, choosing a non-American apostle, and preferably two, could be crucial to the church's reputation as a global institution.

"Many current issues the church is dealing with are more American issues than worldwide issues," Steinvoorte writes in an email, "and a diverse leadership might be more sensitive to possible signs of Americanism in the church's teachings."

Most international organizations, he says, "have policies now regarding equitable geographical distribution as to avoid being stigmatized as biased or even neocolonialist."

'Americanized' foreigners • LDS anthropologist Brad Kramer warns Mormons to be careful about that wish list.

"There is a tension between the desire for progress on gender/sexuality issues," Kramer says, "and progress on racial/diversity questions."

Any bunch of "new, nonwhite, non-American apostles in the quorum will almost certainly come from parts of the world where LGBT rights and feminism are either met with outright scorn and resistance or are treated as irrelevant," says Kramer, who specializes in religion and gender studies. "It's easy for white progressive Mormons (myself included) to forget how progressive the church's 'Proclamation on the Family' reads in most of the world outside of Europe and North America."

Even an outspoken "traditional marriage" proponent such as apostle Dallin H. Oaks "is more progressive on these questions," he says, "than any likely candidate for apostleship from Latin America, Africa or the South Pacific."

Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss is not worried.

"No one is likely to be called into the Quorum of the Twelve who has not become thoroughly Americanized and correlated through years of service at lower echelons," says Mauss, a retired professor who lives in Irvine, Calif. "So he is not likely to be an important change-agent as a member of the Twelve."

To Mauss, a higher priority than ethnicity likely will be the "skill and effectiveness of the new apostles in representing the church in the upcoming struggles over a certain package of issues involving family, marriage, sexual [orientation] and morality, gender, transgender and the implications of all these issues for 'religious freedom.' "

Those topics are, of course, tantamount to the church's relationship to the United States and its government.

If dealing with same-sex issues is the main qualification, several observers point to L. Whitney Clayton, a Seventy who helped orchestrate the faith's Proposition 8 push in California.

Clayton is one of the seven presidents of the Seventy and has worked closely with apostle David A. Bednar.

Outside the box • In recent years, the Seventy have served as a farm team of sorts for the apostleship, but apostles do not have to come from within church employee ranks.

Oaks was a Utah Supreme Court justice, and Russell M. Nelson, who just became president of the quorum, was a heart surgeon. The current apostles also include former presidents of BYU and BYU-Idaho, attorneys, a nuclear engineer and several business executives.

Could the next one be a poet, an architect, a high-school coach or, gasp, a journalist?

How about Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young or former NFL signal caller Gifford Nielsen, who already serves as a Seventy? Or maybe another current general authority, Larry Echo Hawk, a Pawnee who served in the Obama administration and would become the quorum's first American Indian?

In 1933, then-President Heber J. Grant sidestepped the church's hierarchy and appointed J. Reuben Clark as his second counselor. Clark, at the time U.S. ambassador to Mexico, was one of the most prominent Mormons, but had not served a mission, nor had he ever been a bishop or stake president.

Today's most well-known Mormon probably is Mitt Romney, the two-time candidate for the U.S. presidency and the first LDS hopeful ever to top the ticket of a major political party, but few think being an apostle is in the former Massachusetts governor's future.

High stakes • Naming a new apostle is not a popularity contest or an election. It is serious business in the LDS Church — a cross between finding the perfect spouse and anointing a royal heir.

All Mormon apostles are seen by members as "prophets, seers and revelators." And the man who outlives the apostles named before him ascends to the LDS Church's highest office.

The ultimate responsibility for choosing apostles belongs to that man — in this case, church President Thomas S. Monson — acting "through inspiration," according to Mormon teachings.

There's no telling when the new appointees will be named. It could be at the October General Conference. It also could come sooner or even later than that.

The real challenge "is not whether we get a person of color — people of color are ready to serve," says BYU history professor Ignacio Garcia. "The question is whether the church is ready for the changes a person of color might make necessary."

Right now, the church is perceived as a white institution, he says, and so it needs to prepare itself for the evolving demographics that will come both in the church and outside.

"It isn't just picking a brown or black face as an apostle," says Garcia, author of "Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith." "It's about what that says about us and about our faith."

For her part, Catherine Stokes would relish seeing an African such as Sitati in the quorum, but she wonders when there also might be an African-American like LDS area authority Tony Parker of Atlanta.

"In a church dealing with the complexities of this country and the international world," says Stokes, a black convert who joined the LDS Church in Chicago in 1979 and now lives in Utah, "surely they will address the issues in a way that sets the example for the rest of the world."

Mormonism needs leaders, she says, "whose vision includes diversity and the wisdom of understanding the past so that we might not walk in those paths again."

Stokes wants those seats to be filled with men dedicated to "leading the world in Christian principles of loving one another of every race, ethnicity, religion and gender, and in healing our spirits so that we might move forward in coming unto Christ."

If they cannot do that, she asks, "pray tell, who should?"

Twitter: @religiongal

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