Today’s guest post is from Faith. This is the third post in a series spotlighting career backgrounds for leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can read the previous post in the series here:

Residency Patterns

Many large international corporations have much of their leadership on the ground at a local level, away from the headquarters. “Despite increasing interdependence across the globe, the world is not necessarily flat. (People) have unique tastes and values, and local knowledge can be a distinct competitive advantage. Anyone who depends on deploying a one-solution-fits-all strategy across cultures and nations will lose.” [1]

The church tries this with the area presidencies.  However, the male LDS area presidencies are rarely locals and are typically exported from elsewhere (frequently the Utah/Mormon corridor). All the Q15 (from what I can find), except Uchtdorf who was on overseas assignments as a GA for the 10 years prior to Q12 calling, had lived in Utah prior to their calling.

Of the 134 new LDS mission Presidents called in 2023, approximately 24% are from Utah. 26% are from the 12 other US Western states, 13% are from the remaining US states, and 36% are from the non-US nations.  As compared to total church membership, if I did my calculations correct, the percentage of LDS residency is 13%, 16%, 10%, and 61%, respectfully. [2] Again, nearly twice as many Utahans are placed in mission leadership, compared to their ratio of the entire membership.  Whereas international LDS mission Presidents are half of their represented membership numbers.

When you look at the individual resumes of the vast majority of Mission Presidents, called from a home stake in the US Western states and remaining US states, over 80% of their biographies lead back to Utah roots.[2] On the other hand, few of the newly called international called Mission Presidents have any ties to Utah. Why is living in Utah a preference and even a requirement for the higher church callings?  If speaking English and having an idea of US culture is necessary, there are members with international connections living in Florida, Texas, and the other 47 states, without Utah ties. Also, there are quality members in England, Australia, and the other 192 countries of the world. Why only Utah ?

The Church Ideal

I recall a quote from Boyd Packer, “Giving [members] in Peru what is preferred on the Wasatch Front can be giving [them] less than giving [them] a simpler building and program suited to [them]. And it can cost a lot more.” [3]. I also remember another thought from Packer, “Missionaries are to export the gospel, not the Wasatch front culture”. (No reference to the quote, just my memory). If that is the case, why is it that the church has so much focus on the Wasatch front culture (Pioneer Trek, Utah ties, etc.) when establishing the church. Example: Modern-day Mongolian pioneers re-enact trek? What do Mongolians have to do with Western USA pioneers? This is very difficult to change, when the Area Presidencies are from Utah/Western USA, and living in Utah is nearly a prerequisite of higher callings.

Women Leadership Residency

Are women called in the same pattern as the men?  With the recent LDS General Conference, a new Young Women Presidency were called and sustained.  When comparing the official photographs of the new YW presidency,  with the current RS Presidency, along with the 2017 RS Presidency, there is a glaring pattern. The Second Counselors “look different” and have non-European typical surnames compared to the others. Even the 2017 RS Presidency joked that their hair colors are “different”. This was a signal that this was groundbreaking territory (except for Chieko Okazaki). This is a major improvement from the past and a positive for a global church; having a leadership that reflects its’ international members. However, are these non-“Utah pioneer-stock” born counselors really different than the others? 

Let’s take a look at the women’s brief biographies mentioned.

Andrea Muñoz Spannaus is the new 2nd counselor, for the new 2023 Young Women Presidency. Her biography reads that she is from Argentina. She served an LDS mission in Argentina as a young adult, and later a mission in México with her husband.  Looking at her husband’s biography, it shows that he graduated from BYU, in Provo Utah in 1992; the same year they were married. They had lived in Utah, but then returned to Argentina. Based on her husband’s CV, it appears they lived in South America until approx. 2012, when it appears they moved back to Utah. Since then, they have worked/served for the church. They currently live in North Salt Lake, Utah. [4] She has lived in Utah for the least years of the provided female examples, 10 years.

Kristin Yee is the second counselor in the 2023 Presidency. Her biography reads that she is from Sacramento, CA originally.  She currently lives in Woods Cross, Utah and has been a Utah/Rexburg ID resident since 2000, including her 2 years at BYUI. [5]

Reyna Aburto is originally from Nicaragua. She moved to California and was converted to the church in 1989. She has lived in Utah since 1993. She currently lives in Orem, Utah. [6]

I am happy for them in their service. In a video “Just Like You”, they noted that as a group they have experienced financial problems, infertility, LGBTQ family, family with addictions, chronic illness, divorce, incarcerated loved ones, death of a spouse, and all have been affected by depression or anxiety.[4] “It wasn’t just that they represented many more Latter-day Saint women than previous leaders had, it was that they addressed real issues rather than focusing on idealized identities.”[7] “They provided experiences and examples that lots of Latter-day Saint women “could relate to”, “They spoke women’s language, and didn’t use the ‘Primary’ voice. It was a huge step forward. They showed us what global Mormonism could look like.[7] It is refreshing to read their biographies, compared to the current male leadership and the female presidencies from the prior 150+ years.

However, again, all of their biographies have Utah ties. Even the 2nd Counselors with international heritage still have Utah connections and significant time living in state. After living and continuing to live in Utah over the past 10-30+ years are Spannaus/Yee/Aburto from Utah or not from Utah?  Do they still possess the perspective of members that live in South America, Central America, or Asia and a comprehension that international members currently face?  I would suspect they bring a different perspective than the “Utah pioneer stock” breed.  However, is that sufficient for an international church?

The women are not called to live on International living assignments, just for brief travel and photo ops for the church publications. Why not international living assignments, other than accompanying their husband?

Final Thoughts

Would the YM, RS, and Q15 presidencies be improved, or more truly diverse if its members were called directly from those countries and not after living in Utah for over a decade +?  Or, is it better that its presidencies live in Utah, as a requirement, to know how the church works in “Zion” ? Can outsiders (non-Utahans) work with the LDS church bureaucracy ?

The “Racial Minority” men in the Q12 have also prolonged Utah residency. Gong has lived in Utah since 2002, on and off, but frequently was gone on LDS international assignments.  Soares lived in Utah 13 years prior to Q15 calling.

What patterns have you experienced in your wards of callings in relationship to importance of being from or having lived in Utah?

For the church to maintain an identity and not diverge into splinter churches, is a Utah residency essential?

Is the one fits all strategy helping the church to win or to lose?


  8. The map graphic with Utah highlighted was obtained through a Bing search of and is utilized here under Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 3.0)