Christofferson, 63, one of the seven presidents of the First Quorum of the Seventy, replaces Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who President Thomas S. Monson selected in February as his second counselor in the governing First Presidency.
Uchtdorf read the list of LDS authorities, including Christofferson, this morning during the first session of the two-day 178th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It was part of the church's ritual, known as a "solemn assembly," held each time Latter-day Saints confirm a new president. Mormons in the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City as well as those watching across the globe stood in place and raised their right hands as a symbolic vote to support Monson and other leaders of the 13-million member church.
Christofferson, a Pleasant Grove native and a lawyer by trade, took his seat among other apostles.
Monson personally made the call to Christofferson on Thursday "in a kind way," the new apostle said at a press conference. "President Monson reflected on his own experience being called as an apostle at 36 by [former LDS Church President] David O. McKay, who was called at 32. I feel pretty old. I'm 63."
His first thought was of "incredulity and a deep sense of humility. Over time, he came to have a sense of gratitude for the trust that is manifest in such a calling from the Lord," Christofferson said. "Since then, I've felt something of a real anxiousness to be out and about and involved [preaching Christ's message]. . .I look forward to doing that the rest of my life."
Though he shared the news of his new position with his wife of nearly 40 years, he managed to keep it from his children.
"I'm as surprised as you are," said his youngest, Michael, 23, who learned of his father's new role during the morning session with everyone else. "He's a good man, a great father, and I think he'll do a good job."
Added his daughter-in-law, Rainey, who's married to Christofferson's oldest child, Todd, and lives in New York City: "He's the best of men.. . . You always hear complaints about in-laws, and I've never been able to complain. I'm grateful to them [Christofferson and his wife, Katherine] for their example."
Christofferson was called to the Seventy in 1993 and to that quorum's presidency in 1998. In those 15 years, he said, he and his wife have traveled to 44 countries on six continents. Other international experiences he's had include the mission he served as a young man in Argentina and later service in the Area Presidency in Mexico.
Given that more than half the church's membership lives outside the U.S., many Mormon bloggers wondered why the latest apostle didn't hail from outside the U.S.
"It's even worse. I'm a former attorney," Christofferson joked when the question was put to him. "One of the under-reported stories is what's happening in the First Quorum of the Seventy. There is diversity there from all over the the world. . .But we are not called to represent any place, group or region. We don't need to try to tell the Lord about his sheep and how to take care of them. Our assignment is to represent him to them. The Lord knows them better than we do."
Christofferson had an early experience as a religious minority, spending his high school years in central New Jersey. He was the only Mormon in the school, he said, "I found many wonderful friends of different faiths. . .It forced me to think deeply about what I believed."
While he lived in Nashville, Christofferson represented the LDS Church in interfaith efforts so it was not surprising that he represented the church in working with Jewish leaders in 2005 to reaffirm an earlier agreement between Mormons and Jews over the LDS practice of baptism by proxy.
Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York-based World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and other Jewish leaders disputed the continued appearance of Jewish names on the genealogical index the LDS Church uses to perform proxy baptisms of the dead.
The church at the time agreed to discontinue vicarious baptisms for Jewish victims and to remove their names from the index unless they are direct ancestors of current Latter-day Saints. The agreement stands to this day.
Before working full time for the church, Christofferson was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Tennessee. As a young law clerk, he worked for Judge John J. Sirica during the Watergate break-in, White House tapes and cover-up trial.
"It was my first job out of law school in the summer of 1972. It was a unique way to start a legal career," Christofferson said at the news conference. "It gave me interestingly enough a great deal of added faith in government. I saw there in action many, many good people who did the right thing and restored the equilibrium and constitutional balance of the United States."
When asked about the display of religious principles in the public square, Christofferson said, "My experience is that there's room for a great deal of diversity and variety in our societies and cultures to co-exist."
As an apostle, Christofferson joins those who one day may become the church's "prophet, seer and revelator." The man who outlives the apostles named before him ascends to the church's highest office.
Jessica Olsen, 24, a Brigham Young University student, said she didn't know much about the new apostle, but added, "It's good to know that the church is taken care of."