Opposed, if any?

January 5, 2005 | 56 comments
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The sustaining of the second counselor in the Relief Society Presidency in our ward was unanimous. The bishop, who asked the question for opposing votes, had just a quick glance over the audience, while gathering his papers to sit down. No opposing votes. Of course not. But again, I felt relieved.

Strange, but when that question is asked, I always fear someone is going to raise his hand aggressively, with a loud “yes”! It’s traumatic, I guess. When I was district president, back in the 1970s, conducting district conference for our six or seven Flemish branches, there was this man who did just that. It made me cringe and the audience with me. When patiently talked to afterwards about his option and his attitude, this brother simply claimed his democratic right to vote according to his conscience.

It should be said he was a character, huge, outspoken, claiming secret knowledge beyond all of us simple mortals. A convert from Holland, he had moved to Belgium. We once called him as branch president of a small Flemish unit – a unit in the tradition of our Primitive Church -, but we could not keep him long in that position. On Sunday morning, at 9 AM sharp, when the first meeting started, he would lock the front door of the small house where they met. When latecomers tried to get in, he would peek through the window and shout that they could come back next week – “on time!”. It certainly had effect on the handful of local Saints – either coming on time or becoming inactive. Most did the latter. It became obvious that, in spite of all our trying, there was no way to keep this brother in leadership positions. Still, casting a visible and audible opposing vote, was his way to continue to affirm his personality and his presence.

Opposed, if any? We know the traditions that regulate the sustaining vote in Church nowadays. Only if we happen to be aware of the moral unworthiness of the candidate, could we vote against. If that were the case, I presume we would still prefer to not signal it in public, but bring it up in a private conversation afterwards.

The issue can make us ponder about the concept of democracy in the Church and in the world. Politically it is a precarious concept as it carries the danger of majoritarianism, i.e., where the minority, even at 49.99 %, can be ostracized or simply crushed.

There is also some irony in the fact that we hail “democratic nations”. Indeed, in some of these the constitutional majority does not favor the Church, by supporting laws that only protect the recognized religions, by defining us as a cult and by hampering the entry or work of our missionaries.

Western politicians advocate democracy as the ideal solution for tyrannical or chaotic nations around the world. We are made to believe that the organization of free elections will lead to order and stability. But the internal acceptance of such a system requires a very long maturation process through education – willingness to accept the vote of the majority, consideration by that majority for the needs of the minority, ability to talk and to compromise, readiness to forgive past wrongdoings and to embrace diversity. In particular when parties are defined on ethnic or religious grounds, with deep-rooted divides and mistrust, the maturation process may take decades, or even centuries, while civil war is always looming.

Have we, in our Church voting process, achieved the ultimate form of that maturity? Some will say the sustaining vote in Church has hardly any connection with democracy. It is a simple, symbolic pledge that we accept the decisions of our leaders and are willing to sustain the person called. But is this not the final expression of a totally trusting democracy? Can a celestial order be based on anything less?

56 Responses to Opposed, if any?

  1. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 9:44 am

    Even if I ever had an objection to a person being called to a specific position, I probably wouldn’t use the upraised hand to announce it to everyone. I’d probably approach leadership privately to discuss the matter.

    In all the years I’ve been in the Church I’ve never personally observed an objection or opposition vote. But maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. Some time ago our ward was called along with many others to show up at the Tabernacle for reorganization of stakes. We didn’t know what the conference was about until we were there. A stake was dissolved and many wards were also dissolved or merged with others. I was told that when asked if there was “any opposed” that there were hands raised “in the back.” I didn’t turn to see them I guess. As far as I know there was no mention of opposition in the meeting and I have my doubts as to whether opposition to this decision would have made a difference. To try and iron things out privately or publicly would have been way too messy with that many people involved. Probably the people who opposed went home uncounted and just stewed in their own juices.

  2. Kaimi on January 5, 2005 at 10:23 am

    I heard through the grapevine that the one sorta recent instance of actual opposed votes was in Mesa, Arizona when Steve Benson had a calling (high council, as I recall). As I heard, there was a question as to whether he had a majority at all, or whether more were opposed.

  3. kneight on January 5, 2005 at 10:23 am

    When I was a deacon, a lady in our ward was called to be the new primary president. Everyone raised their hands in support. However, her husband raised his hand in opposition. I don’t know what they did to resolve it, but next week, she was the new primary president.

  4. Jim Richins on January 5, 2005 at 10:28 am

    The sustaining vote has little to do with democracy. There, I have said it. The conflation between concepts is due in part to the term “vote”, which may lead some members to believe that what they are doing in church is similar to what they do on election day. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a term other than “vote” right off the top of my head that would better convey the purpose of the sustaining…

    Another source for confusion is that people who are raised in a free political society are heavily socialized to believe that the democratic system is the best system possible. Even in the Church, only very rarely do we make the distinction between the democratic systems now in place, and the theocratic system that will be in place during the Millenium and beyond.

    Perhaps when Wilfried says “the final expression of a totally trusting democracy” he is referring to this ultimate theocracy, and not pure political democracy. But, I would assert that the church does not wish to implement democracy in the Kingdom of God, but something totally different. The operative word in the term Kingdom of God is “kingdom” and it means exactly what it implies. Church government implements a kingdom, not a democracy, a republic, or an autonomous collective.

    An even better metaphor for Church goverment however, would be family.

    Don’t get me wrong. Democracy is the best solution for human government – but it is still a sub-optimal solution. Pure democracy – majority rule – is only a shade different from mobacracy.

    This is not the system of government for the Kingdom of God. If a leader asks for a sustaining vote for a calling, and some member objects, the procedure that should be followed is that the leader thanks the congregation and continues with the meeting normally (thus, a person on the front row may never even know that an opposing vote was made). After the meeting, the leader discusses the objecting members reasons or concerns. The leader then summarily decides whether those reasons are sufficient (such as personal knowledge of some moral transgression) to suspend the call and counsel with the called member, or proceed with the call as normal.

    In other words, an opposing vote isn’t an opportunity for a member to excercise any democratic right with the church – such a vote can only be cast with one’s feet. It is really just a chance for a leader to cast a wide, final net to gather information before a member is ordained or set apart. In either case, the decisions of leadership are final.

  5. Graham on January 5, 2005 at 10:32 am

    The only experience I have with seeing somone oppose was with my own father. We lived in a different city than my grandparents, and during business the counselor in the Bishopric called my grandmother to a calling. When they asked if any opposed, my Dad raised his hand and said out loud what the problem was. They corrected the proposal and all went fine.
    I feel that sustaining a person in their calling, is actually a way to sustain the leader that called them. I don’t know why Brother so and so or Sister what’s her name got called to a particular position. But if the Bishopric felt good about it, then I can generally accept that. I may not be the biggest fan of the person being called, but I’m sure there are lots of people who aren’t big fans of me either.

  6. Christian on January 5, 2005 at 10:38 am

    I can recall two instances of votes in opposition. I was a child in one case, too young to understand what the issue was; I just remember it happening. The second vote was in opposition to a call extended to my brother. We were in the same ward (and same university) at the time, me attending graduate school in physics and my brother attending medical school. A member of the medical school faculty was the objector. He rose and stated that he thought the demands of the calling would be too much during an intense stage of my brother’s medical education. My brother ended up serving in the calling anyway; I think he did fine in his calling, and it certainly didn’t hurt his schoolwork or career.

  7. Lamonte on January 5, 2005 at 10:43 am

    The sustaining vote could also be considered a simple opportunity for the ward membership (or stake, general population, etc) to pledge support to that person in their calling. Too often we have people mechanically raising their hand to sustain someone only to have their position change when they are actually asked to “sustain” that person through some form of action (will you go on exchanges with the missionaries? will you work at the cannery for a a welfare assignment? will you make sure your kids get to seminary on time?) While I seved as bishop a fairly new convert was called to a calling and the only dissenting vote was from his wife. After the meeting I met with the two of them and found that his wife felt he had too many responsibilities at home that were not being met. We mutually agreed that he would be released from his new calling. In subsequent conversations I tried to help both of them understand that we all have “much to do” in our homes and elsewhere but that active members should try to serve in the chuch whenever possible. The wife has been inactive for a few years now but the husband still attends … and accepts callings.

  8. Ana on January 5, 2005 at 11:04 am

    At one point when serving as choir director in a BYU married ward, I annnounced in sacrament meeting that I expected to see everyone who had raised their hand to sustain me at choir practice. It raised some eyebrows, but it worked; we had 40 people at choir that evening.

  9. Charles on January 5, 2005 at 11:07 am

    Lamonte is absolutely correct. The point of sustaining a person is to publicly show support to that person. We will sustain them in thier calling. Helping them as needed and directed by the spirit. It is a chance for everyone to know what is going on in the Ward and see the support they have in their positions.

    Opposing votes aren’t votes in a democratic sense but a vote of no confidence. “I don’t believe they are right for the calling or I know something you may not”.

  10. Bryce I on January 5, 2005 at 11:10 am

    Danithew and I were in the same ward as kids growing up. When we were wee lads, they reorganized the stake we were in, and I recall my parents telling me that there were a sizable number of hands that went up in opposition to the reorganization.

    I imagine this is fairly common, as a “vote” against reorganization is only indirectly a statement of dissatisfaction with any particular individual.

    Jim Richins’ comment is right on.

  11. Mike Parker on January 5, 2005 at 11:29 am

    One of the best-known opposing votes came during the October 1980 General Conference. Marion G. Romney was at the pulpit. Here is the account from (the minutes of the meeting):
    _____

    President Romney: It is proposed that we sustain President Spencer W. Kimball as prophet, seer, and revelator, and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All in favor, please manifest it. Contrary, by the same sign.

    [A call of “no� from several in the congregation]

    Elder McConkie: President Romney, it appears that there are three negative votes. This is to advise those so voting that they may meet with Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve following this session. Thank you.

    President Romney: Thank you.
    _____

    My understanding is that this was an organized protest by a group of people opposed to the Church’s stance on the Equal Rights Amendment. Of course, Spencer W. Kimball remained President of the Church despite the contrary vote. I suspect it would take a larger, uncoordinated negative vote to prevent a general authority from taking office.

  12. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 11:41 am

    There was a book of LDS fiction that I read many years ago that described a defense attorney who was representing a murderer and drug dealer in court. The murderer had killed some beloved members of his LDS community and the main character wrestles with keeping his legal obligations and also with anger from the LDS community.

    At the end of the book, this character gets called to be a counselor in the Stake Presidency and his sustaining is a controversial matter — at least a few congregation members walk out and maybe some hands go up in opposition. I cannot remember the title, though I’ve done some searching under terms like “LDS legal fiction” and the like. Anyway, this was a situation where a sustaining was used for dramatic effect in a fictional work.

    Anyone familiar with the book I’m talking about? Or the author?

  13. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 11:45 am

    I think the title is something rather bland, like “The Attorney” or something like that. I can’t find it though.

  14. SFW on January 5, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Can anyone detail the historic use of opposing votes? Was there a time when church members regularly raised their hands in opposition?

  15. Ian R on January 5, 2005 at 11:55 am

    At a stake conference in Santiago Chile (Estaca de Pudahuel), I witnessed an entire row of saints stand and loudly voice votes of opposition to the sustaining of the Stake President. A former high counselor was in their midst. I was sitting with a family of investigators just 3 rows behind them.

    The conducting officer noted their objection and tried to move on but the gang of protestors walked to the podium like it were some coup d’etat and tried to discuss the basis of their votes in front of the entire stake. At that moment, the Temple President and presiding authority, Elder Wells (emeritus) approached the podium and told the dissenters in a thunderous voice to sit down immediately. He then explained to them and the congregation, on the appropriate procedure for voicing and discussing non-sustaining votes. He assured all present that following the meeting, the opponents would be able to discuss their concerns with the stake presidency. He also briefly discussed the rationales and limits of the sustaining procedure.

    It was not fun to explain to the investigators.

  16. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 11:57 am

    ok, I found it. The author is Lindsay P. Dew and the book is titled “The Trial.”

    Here’s the description from the page on the book at Deseret Books website:

    What does an LDS lawyer and Bishop do when he is appointed by the court to defend a criminal he knows is guilty of murder, especially when he knows his defense may result in an aquittal? John Lindsey is the young attorney faced with this dilemma. The Trial is the spellbinding novel about a man who is forced to weigh his duty to God against his duty to country and who must chart a course that will satisfy both.

    I was a teenager when I read this book so I don’t know how I’d feel about it now. But at that time I enjoyed reading it. It seemed like a fairly realistic story.

  17. William Morris on January 5, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    You beat me to it, dani.

    Here’s a review of the novel.

  18. Jonathan Green on January 5, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    Author(s): Dew, Lindsey Phillip.
    Publication: Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co.,
    Year: 1984
    Standard No: ISBN: 0877478740

    Uh, this friend of mine read it once, and he told me about it, or something like that…

  19. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    It’s a good book and that review sounds pretty faithful and relevant to my experience with the book. I might have to go pull it off my mother’s bookshelf and give it a quick perusal again. It also seems to me like an excellent candidate for a Mormon movie. When I checked the author’s name it was the only title that popped up … I was expecting there would be other titles as well.

  20. David King Landrith on January 5, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    I’ve always felt that when people get released, we should be offered an opportunity to oppose it. Introducing such an opportunity would certainly increase the number of opposed votes.

  21. John Mansfield on January 5, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Here’s another data point. In its late 1995 conference, the Baltimore Stake massively rearranged the units of Baltimore and its eastern and northern suburbs. Six branch presidencies, three bishoprics, and a number of high councilmen were called. The conference was held in two sessions in different locations. In each session there was an opposing vote to the sustainings. Each time the conference stopped while a counselor to the stake president (or maybe the president himself, I can’t remember) met with the opposing voter. The counselor conducting then explained to the stake the nature of the opposition, why the stake presidency didn’t consider it an impediment, and asked for a new sustaining vote.

    In one case, the complaint was that a person was an unfaithful home teacher. In the other, there was a business dispute which the stake president already knew about and considered resolved. The first opposing vote was withdrawn. The second was not. The whole process left me more comfortable with casting an opposing vote if I should ever feel opposed.

  22. Ann on January 5, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    A visiting seventy came to reorganize our stake, and made a very large point of having called the entire presidency himself. Several people walked out rather than sustain one of the members of the presidency, but no opposing “vote” was noted (or cast, I think).

    Within just a month or two, the presidency member was released and excommunicated. He moved away. He had been stealing from members for several years, but the extent of his deception was not clear until the people he had been stealing from, one family at a time, reported it to the stake president. He apparently did not mend his ways, because he later went to prison, at which point his wife divorced him.

    Am I the only person here who has heard of opposition to a call being entirely justified, with the end result that the call is withdrawn, or a result similar to the story I describe above?

  23. The Only True and Living Nathan on January 5, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks to synchronicitous bloggernacle conflation, a similar subject has been under discussion at Nauvoo.com:

    http://www.nauvoo.com/ubb/forum/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=4;t=000583

    (First-time visitors to Nauvoo should make themselves aware of the Nauvoo Charter: http://www.nauvoo.com/charter.html )

  24. Kevin Barney on January 5, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    I don’t like it when people try to blackmail us to do something by saying, “But you voted to sustain this person!” Sure, I raised my hand. But it doesn’t follow that I gave that person carte blanche over my life for the duration of his or her calling. Just because I sustained the EQP, it doesn’t follow that I’m going to take the day off of work to help with his pet project, or whatever.

    The expectation is that no one will object; if you want to hold the sustaining up as some sort of a meaningful commitment, you’ve got to be more willing to countenance negative votes. If it’s a rubber stamp (and it is), then don’t try hold me to it unless you’re ok with me starting to exercise my conscience and start voting no on a regular basis.

  25. Boris Max on January 5, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    It would be interesting to see how sustaining vote tallys would run if every member on the books was present and felt empowered to say no. I am under the impression that attendance figures for the US and Canada run somewhere around 40%. If my figure is even close to correct, isn’t this a massive and perpetual no-confidence vote much more powerful than a handful of members rushing the pulpit?

  26. Lamonte on January 5, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    Kevin Barney – If you raise your hand to sustain the EQP don’t you think you should at least try to help him when he asks, if it’s possible? Certainly taking a day off work to help with a specific project is a great sacrifice but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make that sacrifice once in a while. It’s not about a guilt trip, it’s about discovering that service is what ultimately makes you happier. President Kimball once said that serving other makes us more significant individuals.

    Boris Max – What would be the motivation for saying no, or raising your hand in opposition? You make it sound as though everyone is chomping at the bit to put someone down.

  27. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    If one casts an opposing vote or abstains from sustaining, do they then have the right not to support the person in their calling?

  28. Kevin Barney on January 5, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    When I was EQP it was immediately following a ward split. I had maybe five (more or less) active elders, plus a few others who had other callings that interfered with priesthood. I would go to PEC every week and regularly get multiple assignments [most indiscriminately passed down from the stake) requiring anywhere from seven to a dozen elders each. I would never put a guilt trip on my elders by saying you raised your hand to sustain me, now you have to do all of these tasks, no matter how unreasonable the demands were. Much of my time was spent trying to protect my few charges from utter burnout by being constantly asked to do way, way too much.

    A sustaining vote is not a license to force a self-acknowledged bad singer to join the choir, for example. (Someone pulled that gambit for a stake choir recently, and it worked–all too well. There were lots of bodies, but I was surrounded by men who couldn’t sing a lick, and were so bad I couldn’t even hear myself try to sing or to make any progress with the music. I would have much preferred a smaller choir that could actually sing.)

    Basically, I’ve had my fill of guilt trips in this church, and I’m not in a mood to allow myself to be manipulated anymore. It must be time to become a high priest (guffaw!).

  29. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Kevin,

    I know what you mean about guilt trips and refusing to accept them. I had a stake athletic activities rep call me early on a Saturday morning to tell me that our ward was supposed to provide two referees for a volleyball tournament our quorum wasn’t even participating in (we got very late notice about it). The expectation was that the quorum members assigned would give up two hours of their time. He said he sent me an email telling me we had this responsibility. If I had time free I would have volunteered myself but there was no way I was going to call and ask quorum members to do this an hour before the event was occurring. I had no recollection of agreeing we’d do this and I stonewalled him (as politely as I could). He was pretty mad at me when he finally hung up the phone.

    I think a major responsibility of any EQP is to defend the quorum from stupid last-minute assignments.

  30. Lamonte on January 5, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    Kevin – touche’ on the HP comment. It is a different life in HP Group. It sounds like your new stake had a problem setting priorities for the membership’s time. I always think it is perfectly acceptable to turn down a request for support if you simply can’t do it. Nobody should be made to feel guilty about not having the time to perform church service if they are engaged in other worthwhile activities (like raising a family). I think committed church members, however, have an obligation to do what they can to make the whole thing work.

    danithew – actually I would say that if someone raised their hand in dissent then they have the right NOT to support that person in their calling. But I have ask the question again – why would a committed church member take such a position?

  31. Jim Richins on January 5, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    A sustaining vote for a given calling is not a rubber stamp. The congregation does not call an individual, nor does it ratify a decision made by the Bishop. A ward or stake is not an implementation of the separation of powers that we see in US goverment. A “no” vote during a sustaining does nothing more than identify a person who may have information relevent to the worthiness or ability of an individual to perform some calling which the Bishopric may not previously have had access to. There is no democratic right in the church to vote for leadership or any other position or calling.

    If a Bishop calls A (member) to a calling, and X (member) in the congregation has first-hand knowledge that A has committed some transgression that might disqualify him/her from service in the church, it is X’s *obligation* to “vote” no.

    (I wish I could think of a different term than “vote” to use in the context of sustaining).

    Whether X affirmatively sustains A, merely abstains by not raising his/her hand, or enthusiastically opposes a calling, (assuming A is eventually set apart anyway) is ultimately irrelevent. The decision to call and set apart A rests with the Bishop. The committment to support whoever may be called into any position (EQP, RSP, GDI, etc.) has already been made by X, even if the person called turns out to be A, at Baptism and esp. the Temple. This committment is made in advance and in ignorance based on faith that the Lord is in control, and not on one’s one intellect or common sense.

    Regardless of what other mortal saints may do, one’s own individual salvation does not depend on anything except our own obedience. This relates back to the “To X or not to X” thread. If your Bishop makes a mistake, your salvation is not in jeopardy. If your Bishop makes a decision, which you enthusiastically supported, and it turns out to be a bad decision, your salvation is not in jeopardy. On the other hand, if your Bishop makes a bad call, and you know it’s a bad call, and so you oppose it, dig in your heels, and otherwise refuse to help without discussing your concerns constructively with the Bishop in private, your salvation may be in jeopardy.

    Finally, I don’t think that the fact that 60% of the members of a given ward being absent is tantamount to a vote of no-confidence in either A’s calling, or in the Bishop himself. Sadly, I think it is evidence that 60% of the ward feel that there are other idols to worship on Sunday, or for whatever reason, would prefer not to prepare themselves for exaltation.

  32. Jim Richins on January 5, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    I’ve neglected to comment much on the guilt-trip angle of a sustaining vote.

    I don’t believe this is an appropriate method for leadership, even though it is a tactic employed frequently and is often successful in coercing members to join a choir, lay down sod, referee a game, or whatever (note that it is a form of coercion, which is specifically forbidden in Section 121, among other places).

    I have never asked someone to fulfill an assignment by asking whether they voted to sustain, and my opinion on the matter is strong enough that I doubt I ever will.

    Giving members in a congregation an opportunity to publicly assent to a calling and thereby commit themselves to support an individual in that calling is at best a tertiary purpose fulfilled by the practice of a sustaining vote. From a Bishop’s point of view, the support of the congregation for a new EQP or RSP is assuming – even expected – before a call is even made.

    If there is any leverage for a guilt-trip tactic, it would be based on covenants made in the Temple, not based on a sustaining vote. Contrary to a sustaining vote, the Temple covenant actually does carry legitimate leverage to justify a guilt trip.

    Nevertheless, I doubt I will personally ever use that tactic, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone else, because I don’t believe it reflects true leadership.

  33. Geoff Johnston on January 5, 2005 at 3:40 pm

    Jim,

    Nice posts all around. I appreciated your points on how the Church is not a democracy, even though we live in a society that teaches democracy as the highest and best form of government. The Lord does not agree with doctrine. And your point about using the temple covenants as a reminder being more doctrinally sound than the sustaining “vote” is very valid. As you noted though, it seems that resorting to evoking temple covenants to get compliance falls under the “reproving betimes with sharpness” portion of section 121 — and thus ought to be pulled out only when a leader truly is “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” to do so. And then section 121 describes the appropriate steps to take afterwards.

    As an aside — My dictionary define “betimes” as “early, or at a good hour” — not as “occasionally or at times” as I had long assumed.

  34. Geoff Johnston on January 5, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    Oops. Make that: “The Lord does not agree with that doctrine”.

  35. gst on January 5, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    Geoff, that’s why many of Pepys’ entries begin “Up betimes”–he got up early, not occasionally!

  36. Marc D. on January 5, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    In the October 1954 General Conference, President J. Reuben Clark, during the of officers, presented the name of David O. McKay as prophet, seer and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All present voted in the affirmative. President Clark overlooked asking for a negative , and upon being reminded by President McKay that he should do so, he made the following comment: “Excuse me, I did not see anything but all upraised hands. If anybody wants to negative, now is your opportunity.” President George Albert Smith, on a similar occasion, said, “All who want to negatively, raise the left hand” (Conference Report, Oct. 1954, 115).

  37. A Soft Answer on January 5, 2005 at 3:49 pm
  38. XON on January 5, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    (I realize that the thread may have matured beyond this by now, but I only have intermittent blog access during the day)

    T&S ought to consider getting into childhood regression psychotherapy, because this post just brought me back some thirty years (or so. .. ) like it was yesterday.

    I recall very clearly that when I was very small, the combination of the incantatory nature of the sustaining ritual and the fact that I didn’t know what “opposed” meant produced the following understanding of the experience:

    That you could raise your hand (even 4-year olds can grasp that) and agree with the Bishop. Then, I thought the next incantatory phrase provided the opportunity for anybody who had forgotten to agree with the Bishop, or anyone who was ‘busy’ (remember, 4-year-old here. .. sometimes it took a couple of seconds to climb onto the bench to see what we were agreeing to. . .) had the opportunity to raise their hands, too.

    I still remember being fairly amazed when I finally learned what “opposed” meant, and listened to the wording more carefully.

  39. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    It’s true the Church isn’t a democracy but because decision-making and budgets are spread around among various organizations within a ward, and also due to all the meetings where presidencies and councils meet, there is an awful lot of input into what goes on.

  40. David on January 5, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    I had thought that the sustaining of officers related to the principle of “common consent,” and that Church officers can only serve with the “common consent” of the members. Similarly, scriptures are added to the cannon with “common consent.”

    I believe in the early days of the Church, meetings and sustaining of officers were sometimes like New England townhall meetings. I have a recollection that Joseph Smith was turned down on a proposal to release a brother from a presidency of some sort, and the brother was not released.

    While I have heard it said that a sustaining vote commits us in some fashion to following a brother’s or sister’s counsel or leadership, I prefer to view the sustaining as my “consent,” along with the “consent” of others, to that person’s serving.

    If the sustaining vote does not serve the “common consent” requirement set forth in the Doctrine & Covenants, what does?

  41. Walt Nicholes on January 5, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    An anecdote that circulates from time to time (this supposedly took place in the East Sharon Stake, in Provo, Utah) presents an authority, who after calling for a sustaining vote on (as was done at the time) each member of the First Presidency and then the Twelve and then the presidents of the Seventy, and then the various stake officers, one at a time, finally droned on “and all in favor of moving Mount Timpanogos to the south of the valley raise your hands.” The story goes that most of the hands went up automatically. The authority then snapped the congregation back to attention by saying, “All right, then, brethren, let’s go get our shovels and get it done.” There was much laughter.

    I recall a dissenting vote, or, rather, a manifestation of opposition (for those who don’t like the word “vote”) when I was a teenager. The brother in question was being presented for a sustaining vote as an assistant scout master. More than one hand went up, but not too many. The Bishop indicated that he would meet with those who had manifested the opposition. The next week, without comment, the brother was released.

    To the more direct question:

    George A. Smith, counselor in the First Presidency taught “…Unless we can govern ourselves, we are unprepared to be governed in the way that the kingdom of God is to be ruled and directed, which is to be upon the principle of common consent. It is not that a majority shall rule, but that the people shall be agreed; and when all the people are agreed as touching any one thing in the kingdom of God, no power can resist it.

    The world look upon us a though we are tyrannized over because they do not know the principles upon which we act. In all our Conferences and Councils, this people should act as a unit, and have done so to a greater extent than any other people that have existed on the earth for a great many centuries. This has astonished even republicans.”

    (Journal of Discourses: Volume 6, George A. Smith, 3 Jan 1858)

    Orson Pratt further elaborated: “That was the way Joseph ordained in the Temple; each Council voting separately, by standing upon their feet in order that their votes might be better known than they could be by keeping their seats. After one Quorum had voted for the highest authority of the Church, then another Quorum or Council would be called upon to give their vote, and so on, until all had voted for the different authorities, and then it was presented to all the Church, male and female. Why? It is because God ordained, on the 6th day of April, 1830, as you can read in the Doctrine and Covenants, that all things in this Church should be done by common consent. This is the reason for the voting. Although the Lord may give a revelation upon the subject, although He might say, Let my servant Hyrum Smith be Patriareh [sic]; or Let my servant Brigham Young be President of the Twelve Apostles; notwithstanding the Lord may give this by revelation, yet He himself was anxious to carry out the principle he had revealed a long time before that; namely, that all this I have named may be brought before the General Conference to be sanctioned and approved, or not to be sanctioned. What! the people have a right to reject those whom the Lord names? Yes, they have this right, He gave it to them. “Let them be approved of or not approved of;” showing that He had respect to the people themselves, that they should vote and give their general voice to eith r [sic] sustain or not to sustain. I do not know why, only in the latter days the kingdom is in a little different circumstances upon the face of the earth, than it has been in during any former dispensation. We are living in a free Republican Government, wherein the people vote, and the Lord established this great American Government and gave the Constitution, and He wished the people to have a voice in the officers named; He wished the people to exercise their agency; you may call it a democratic principle. Notwithstanding He himself may point out the persons, and call them by name, yet you may approve of them or disapprove of them at my General Conference.”

    (Journal of Discourses: Volume 19, Orson Pratt 5 Oct 1877)

    Elder Pratt actually calls it a vote. The usual terminology requests a “sustaining vote” by raising your hand, and allows for “any opposed, by the same sign.” The references above cover the principles pretty well.

    I have observed a great many who disapprove of a particular calling (or more commonly, of the person being called,) who simply “abstain” by not raising their hand in a sustaining or opposing vote. The Lord only will judge their hearts and actions, knowing both. It would be more honest, in my opinion, to either manifest a sustaining vote (and afterward in support) or to manifest opposition. But even after manifesting opposition, if the calling stands, after the review of appropriate authorities, then I believe we are obliged to “sustain” (support) wherein at all possible and practical.

    Happy New Year to all.

    Walt

  42. Jim Richins on January 5, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    Everything is done in the Church – especially in councils and quorums – by common consent. This does not mean, however, that the membership has veto power over their leaders. The principle of common consent relates more to the principle of unanimity, of being of one heart and building Zion, than to giving permission to the leaders to take action or extend a calling.

  43. Steve Evans on January 5, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    Jim: “Everything is done in the Church… by common consent.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  44. Jim F. on January 6, 2005 at 12:41 am

    We have the privilege of dissenting from the choices made for those who lead us. It seems to me that the privilege of dissent may be one of the most important markers of democracy, more important surely than majority rule. Of course, that both the Church and democracy allow the privilege of dissent doesn’t make the Church a democracy, but it makes each, at least in principle, more immune to authoritarianism.

    (And thanks to David and Walt Nicholes for pointing out the faulty claims and reasoning behind some of what has been said on this thread.)

  45. A visitor on January 6, 2005 at 4:12 am

    Unfortunately, IMO, the unanimity of the sustaining vote could give the impression that MOrmons are expected to think alike, keep mum when they should speak up, or lie/pretend that they think or feel one way, when they really feel another.

  46. Jim Richins on January 6, 2005 at 10:30 am

    Jim F.

    If for no other reason than helping me to expand my understanding, could you be more specific on what you feel are faulty claims and reasoning? If I have made an error, I will appreciate any correction or enlightenment you can give.

    Some more thoughts:

    The George A. Smith quotation provided does not refute any of the claims I have made about Church government – in fact, I believe it clearly underscores what I have been saying (no surprise that a prophet is able to explain an eternal principle better than I am!). He says “It is not that a majority shall rule, but that the people shall be agreed…” This is the core of the distinction between democracy and the Kingdom of God.

    The quote from Orson Pratt does seem to refute my claims, but standing alone as it does, it does not justify the idea of “privilege of dissent” (if I understand your meaning). One reason is that it – and this really applies to both quotes – has dubious authority. As I am sure you are well aware, before the turn of the century, many GAs and even Apostles would speak from the pulpit or publish ideas that were not doctrinally correct. Even President Young’s occasional speculation was sometimes co-opted as doctrine. “A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such.”

    Furthermore, the full context of many of the quotations or writings of early saints is often misunderstood, or missing altogether. I’m not saying that the Orson Pratt quote is being taken out of context – I don’t yet know the full context (if that is even possible being displaced over 120 years). It’s just something additional to keep in mind.

    Common consent does not mean democracy. But, the concept of theocracy in church government that I have explained does not imply authoritarianism, either. Mormons are not expected to stay mum, silently and dutifully obedient to every request of their leaders. In an earlier post, I said that if a member is aware of some information that the Bishop may not have previously had, it is his/her *obligation* to oppose. This obligation is not merely to a personal sense of intellectual integrity, but it is a Gospel, a Prieshtood, even a Covenantal obligation.

    Corollary to the covenant that every member makes to sustain the decisions of their leaders, is a covenant that every leader makes to counsel with the members – both give AND receive counsel – judiciously and in good faith. “…only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and love unfeigned…” Indeed, any leader who does not take seriously the instructions of Section 121, nor heed the counsel of the Savior in all respects, has lost his/her authority under the Priesthood, and “he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks.”

    No leader called into service in the church should assume that by virtue of their call, he/she has ultimate freedom to make any decision on a whim, expecting the membership to follow dutifully. This is not in keeping with the principle of Priesthood leadership, nor even with the process of revelation. A leader is expected to “wrestle” with the Lord, to “reason it out together”, to be humble, and consider all possibilities – not just those that appear easily to his/her feeble mind. If we think of leadership in the church as being more of a spiritual ministry (rather than as an administrative structure), hopefully we can understand how a leader should minister to his/her flock (serve), not administer them.

    A man is not called “up” to be Bishop, to look down on the members from the pulpit, but perhaps he is called “down”, to look up to the members who have spiritual or temporal needs, considering those needs as a priority over his own. He is called “out” of the world and its superficial notions of leadership, and called “in” to a ministry of love and service.

    Matt 18:1-4.

    If there were instances in the past where the membership seemingly excercised veto power over the Prophet, then I would suggest that that specific instance was a mistake. Many mistakes have been and continue to be made in the Kingdom. Perhaps Joseph had to acquiesce for a time, and wait for repentence to take hold, for the sake of the church’s survival. In any case, one or two disconnected anecdotal experiences do not reveal a pattern, let alone justify any doctrine.

    I understand Common Consent in somewhat similar terms as to the process of achieving consensus in the secular domain (though hopefully in the process of achieving Zion, it is much more than that). Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean wholehearted agreement, but only the minimum consent required to move forward. Thus, members in a congregation may disagree – even oppose – a calling made by the Bishop, but after the Bishop has dutifully counseled with them and heard their concerns (not necessarily to convince them to change their mind, but to hear their concerns as a final opportunity for him to change HIS mind), they are still obligated to sustain, both the called individual and the Bishop.

  47. Walt Nicholes on January 6, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    I wasn’t refuting or supporting any view. I was simply supplying quotations of previous authorities along with my own offering of limited wisdom.

  48. Jim Richins on January 6, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    I understand that, Walt, and I appreciate the info you have brought to the discussion. However, Jim F. has suggested that there has been faulty claims and reasoning, and the Orson Pratt quote you provided does seem to refute what I’ve been saying.

    Clearly, you have strived to provide two alternative (not necessarily contrary) sources for information, which indicates you have a fair and balanced approach (any allusion to Fox News is not intended as an insult).

  49. Chris O'Keefe on January 7, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    I think that there is a strong connection between democracy and church government, even under the theocracy that we’ll live under when the whole things wraps up. While we are socialized to believe that democracy is the best form of government, there are various forms of democracy- and American democracy is actually an outlier. Different types of democracy have different methods of dealing with opposition. Political scientist Arend Lijphart distinguishes, if I recall correctly, between what he calls the federal-unitary dimension (basically centralization and constitutional structures) and conflict-consensus dimension (in a parliamen, this is the difference between proportional representation- which Bill Clinton citd as being “undemocratic”- and winner take all- the way the US and British systems operate). Lijphart concludes that consensus-federal oriented democracies do a better job of takin care of their citizens.

    Further, I think that the scriptures demonstrate that the Lord is willing to take his time, often, to “let us reason together” and discuss and explain the reasons for various commandments. In Counseling with our Councils, Elder Ballard seems to emphasize the importance of making sure that all voices in leadership councils are heard before decisions are made. While not formally democratic (in that nobody has a formal veto over the bishop), it seems to me that a democratic spirit is present. Even if the bishop has a clear and direct impression that a certain course is best for the ward, I think he still has a responsibility to present it to his council, let them pray about it, and make decisions based on whatever consensus emerges via prayer (assuming that everybody is in the proper spirit to arrive at consensus).

  50. Terry on January 8, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    My dad, who once taught a priesthood class of what was then referred to as the “senior aaronic priesthood” (back in the 1950′s), told me this story.

    Late one Saturday evening, he received a call from a member of the stake presidency wondering if his senior aaronic class would accept the assignment of parking lot ushers for stake conference the next day. My dad gave him a blunt “no”. Shocked, the brother asked why. Here’s what my father told him: “It’s taken me a long time to get some of these brothers to come out to priesthood meeting. For most of them, this is the only meeting they attend. If I ask them now to show up at stake conference tomorrow to be parking lot ushers, I’ll never see some of them again. If you had given me a week or two’s notice, then I could have conditioned them and probably gotten them to do it. But I am not going to jeopardize all the time and work I’ve spent in getting them to point they are at now just because someone else in the stake fell down on the job and is trying to correct their failure at the last minute.” The counselor thought for a moment, then said, “Brother T, I see your point, and I agree with you. We’ll find someone else.” And they did.

    One other story (most of you who have ever lived in a small town will appreciate this): At one time in my life, I lived in a small farming community in Idaho. Most of the people were LDS. (I think we had maybe 3 families at the most that were not Mormon.) One year for the annual ward picnic, the bishop announced in ward counsel meeting that each auxilliary was assigned the task of building an outhouse, and these outhouses would then be auctioned off at the ward picnic in a few weeks. (The Relief Society was excused from the project.)

    I need to explain here that we not only had a bishop in the ward, but we also had “Mrs Bishop”, if you catch my drift. Bishop and Mrs Bishop had a summer cabin in the hills not too far away. The “bathroom” facilities for the cabin was any bush you could find to squat behind. The idea for the outhouse construction and auction was Mrs Bishop’s idea.

    Anyway, my brother, who was a scout leader at the time, suggested in the meeting that perhaps the ward counsel should have the opportunity of discussing the project first, and then voting on it. “Okay,” said the Bishop, then immediately called for a supporting vote: “All those who will support the bishpric in this proposal, raise your hand.” Hands went slowly up as wondering glances were thrown around the room. Everyone knew that only ONE family in the entire town had a use for any outhouses.

    No outhouses were auctioned, by the way. Construction was begun on only one, and that one was never completed because the Elders quorum president paid a visit to the bishop and politely informed him of the extreem disinterest on the part of everyone of building outhouses for his and Mrs Bishop’s cabin in the hills.

    Jedi

  51. John David Payne on January 12, 2005 at 10:15 am

    When I was 13, our beloved deacon’s quorum advisor got released. We were so upset that we talked about raising our hands to oppose the calling of his replacement. But since our real objection was to Brother McLaughlin leaving, and not to a new guy coming in per se, we decided that we would simply abstain and not raise our hands either for or against. The bishopric noticed, of course, and during priesthood we got a somewhat heated lecture on sustaining. Then we had another vote right there, and we were told that we had better get our hands up. We did, and the new guy turned out to be all right.

  52. Kristine on January 12, 2005 at 10:28 am

    John, I’ll remember that story next time I get accused of being the rebel of the family :)

  53. John David Payne on January 14, 2005 at 10:15 am

    Kristine, what kind of Haglund would I be if I didn’t think I was smarter than my bishop? :)

  54. Kristine on January 14, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    Hmmm. A smarter one than the rest of us?

  55. Mike B on October 4, 2005 at 11:04 pm

    #12 – The book is titled “The Trial”, written by Lindsey Dew.

  56. Mike B on October 4, 2005 at 11:09 pm

    Sorry. I was too lazy to read ahead and see that others had found the title. It was a great book; very realistic from several perspectives.

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