In historic first, Mormon church diversifies top leadership

March 31 (UPI) — The Mormon church on Saturday appointed an Asian-American man and a Brazilian man to its Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The appointments of Gerrit W. Gong, 64, and Ulisses Soares, 59, mark a historical moment in the church, which since its founding in the 1800s only filled top positions with people of European ancestry.

Gong, born in Redwood City, Calif., is of Chinese ancestry and has worked in international relations. Soares, born in São Paulo, Brazil, has a business background. Both had been church leaders in lower governing bodies and had held various volunteer positions.

The appointments are of significance within the church hierarchy because unlike many local positions, an appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is a full-time, lifetime role.

Also on Saturday, President Russell M. Nelson was sustained as church president. Nelson took over as president in January, following the death of Thomas S. Monson.

On Monday, the church announced it was making significant policy changes, with guidelines that state “members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.” The church has faced scrutiny in the past after numerous women said church leaders encouraged them to stay in physically or sexually abusive relationships.