Those in Favour, Manifest it? Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.  This second post is concerned with the process of sustaining and asks whether we sustain the person or the office?

The Process of Sustaining

Recently a friend asked me if we sustain the person or the office.  My initial response was: “the person!”  However after I said it I became unsure and so what follows is a cursory attempt to try to understand this dynamic.

Nearly a century ago, Joseph F. Smith said “when [people] complain that the presiding priesthood is not functioning for their good, it is because they are failing to make it so function. Having voted to sustain men as prophets, seers and revelators, we must do our part by faith, prayer, and work, to make them such”[1].  This resonated with me because it was very similar to something said by Kathleen Flake more recently, though this may very well be an example of ‘history done backwards’.  She has argued that ‘we get the Leaders we deserve’[2].  She explains: ‘we get better leaders by sustaining them as D&C 121 describes… that means you, with charity, with unfeigned love… go to them… one-on-one and say “you have offended me” and I need to work this out with you”, but then you must show them that your love is stronger than the cords of death’.

Part of the process of sustaining is this willingness to work at getting the leaders we deserve by striving with them when they fail us.  One of the most important experiences that I have had in my current assignment came from a situation where I had offended a good friend of mine and they came and did what Kathleen Flake describes.  Working through that together was a painful but ultimately redemptive experience and I am a better person because of it; I now see a little more clearly the ways in which I might unintentionally cause pain to the people around me.  Therefore I still subscribe to the idea that we sustain the people and not the office.

This therefore raises the question of when do we remove our support.  D&C 121 teaches that when unrighteous dominion is exercised, when people are compelled or when sins are hidden, then any authority a person might have is necessarily negated.  In this I suspect that one way we get the leaders we deserve through this process is to remove our support (following the process Flake describes) from decisions that are of the nature described above.  Though dissenting votes are uncommon I have spoken to many people who have removed their support from a particular decision after raising their concern with that leader.  However, I think this requires the application of a precise internal honesty that examines our response and the reasons for it.

Taking our leadership system seriously requires that we are careful about dissent from untrained but caring people who are much like ourselves.  Like Eugene England said we will all have leaders who occasionally hurt us ‘by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion’, but then we are ‘made a leader and find that [we], too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous’[3].  In addition, this suggests to me that the process of sustaining is reciprocal rather than linear.  For we sustain our leaders in the hope that they will sustain us and they should seek to sustain us in the hope that we will sustain them.

Notes:

  1. Joseph F. Smith, Inspired by the Refining Influences of Mormonism, We Will Develop the Gifts Within Us in Improvement Era, 1934, Vol. Xxxvii. February, 1934. No. 2.
  2. Kathleen Flake, Rendering to the Corporation address at Sunstone Symposium [audio],
  3. Eugene England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel in Sunstone, (Salt Lake City, UT.: Sunstone Education Foundation), p. 63

Comments

  1. I feel that we do sustain the person not the office, otherwise the business would be carried out as “information only” to the members or alternatively have a list of offices with no individuals attached to them for a sustaining vote.

    I feel they go hand in hand and I dislike the very apparent mindset that seems to be had, if one opposes, (it is heresy and they are on the slope of apostasy). I feel that we are duty bound to oppose on correct grounds (mainly due to worthiness) for the good of the saints and hopefully for the good of the individual concerned.

  2. Aaron, this is quite nice; thanks. It’s comforting for leaders who recognize that they are men and women with their own flaws to know that others sustain them as you describe. And it’s comforting for us who are led to know we have power to influence for good in the way you describe.

  3. It’s interesting how in the Church sustaining has become so automatic and unanimous. I’m not saying that is bad, just that it seems very interesting it is that way.

    I was talking to a person who studied other faiths and he was in shock when I told him how unanimous sustainings are at every level. It was his experience that in all churches there was often sizable public dissent.

    How did such automatic unanimity come to exist in the church?

    Furthermore, in out own church history it seems like the church used to be more open to voting down the desires of the leaders. Joseph trying to get rid f Sydney Rigden comes to mind.

  4. Aaron,

    I’m having a little trouble with the second part of the OP. In speaking of withdrawing support, you seem to be speaking of pulling support of an idea. I’m not seeing how that differs from the first part of the post wherein you discuss letting someone know when you feel they have misstepped, yet remain committed to helping them fulfill their calling.

    You speak of sustaining people (versus offices), yet seem to reduce sustaining (in the second part of the OP) to whether or not we support ideas. As I stated in the last thread, sometimes not supporting an action or idea *is* sustaining someone, which point I think you make earlier in this post.

    Equating supporting ideas or actions with sustaining a person is problematic for me and is, I think, a major part of the problem with interaction among saints. Disagreeing with a leader is often seen as insubordinate or faithless. But I think that sustaining is to be able to state lovingly and openly where one disagrees and why, and then offer even an increase of sustaining support for the person (not necessarily ideas).

    Or did I misread your post? I’m really interested in your thoughts here. Thanks.

  5. This is good stuff, Aaron. I think Matt B.’s piece on dissent is interesting and worth considering in this discussion.

  6. Aaron R. says:

    Deaco, I think there is a feeling that sustaining votes are a means of distributing ‘information only’ but it is done in through a ritualistic hang-over from 19th century Mormonism. I agree with the sentiment that is probably not the case but I can also see why some people would feel that way.

    Thank you Paul. I suspect that sometimes this is not how it is seen. In fact I recently attended a Stake Conference where our SP suggested that dignity for the office is attained through adherence to certain formal elements, which I feel is part of an ecclesiastical mask that is too easily worn by some leaders and which is intended to hide their imperfections.

    Joseph, perhaps read part 1, if you have not already because I discuss your questions in part there. Moreover I had previously posted on the transition at another blog.

    http://mormonmatters.org/2009/10/04/common-consent-democracy-or-prophetocracy/

    Sunny, I think the idea from the first part (paryicularly as Flake describes it) is that hopefully some resolution or harmony emerges from that discussion. The second part is an attempt to observe what we do “following the process Flake describes” and it fails to resolve the differences. I think I did not make that clear enough.

    I agree with your comment regarding finding ways to state difference and allowing love and support to flow from that. I think the principle here is that following such discussion we will feel better about submitting our integrity to support the leader/community. Thus I think just disagreeing politely is a good first step but I also think that it sometimes (perhaps often) requires us to support something we will disagree with.

  7. Aaron R. says:

    Thanks J. I am not sure who Matt B. is and where I might find his discussion but would love to look at it.

  8. Aaron (#6) — I wonder if the formality of which your SP spoke is mutually exclusive of the sustaining you mention here. I don’t think so. We have had repeated SLC visitors come through indicating that we need to return to more formality (using President and Bishop more regularly, etc) out of respect for offices.

    But I think the type of sustaining you describe (if I understand it) is still possible even in formal settings.

  9. Aaron R.,

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll read the other posts.

  10. Paul no.8 – I agree with that our leaders should be addressed by their calling i.e Bishop, President. However I don’t think it should be exclusive to those who are perceived to be in a “higher calling” the same respect should be given to YM/YW presidents. I know you aren’t saying it should but I feel that if we are calling our Stake President “President Jones” then we should also be calling our ward YM President “President Smith” etc.

  11. #3, I noticed this last conference they did not even look up just read the names and pronounced unanimous. I don’t even remember when the last time even in my ward they looked up more than briefly. I think this is a largely ceremony with no real thought or attention paid to it. What about the persons who do not respond at all? half of them aren’t even paying attention to what is happening and no response is niether sustianing nor objecting.

    I do think it is the position not the person. We aren’t asked to sustain former bishops and we don’t unsustain them when they are released. The acts of sustaining authority only applies to the person in the position while they are in the position.

  12. Aaron, your discussions reminded me of when I was called to be Scoutmaster about 15 years ago. I had serious reservations about accepting the calling, as I had some strong negative feelings about the BSA. After discussing those concerns, and being rather frank about what I would do, and what I would not be doing, the bishop’s councilor stated that they still felt I was the right person, and the call was still extended. I sustained the bishopric by accepting the calling, but had set the ground rules before I was sustained. In turn, they sustained me by supporting me including respecting those things I could not do. It turned out better than expected for all of us, and I never felt I had to compromise my inner convictions in any way.

    I’m not sure what all you mean by “strict adherence to formal elements”, but it reminded me of a former stake president years ago in another state who always wore a white shirt and tie, even to Girls Camp. I think it had the opposite effect of distancing him from the girls and their leaders through too much formality.

    Deaco, as to addressing persons by their titles, I think a distinction needs to be made. My daughter, when at Ricks College about 10 years ago, had a landlord who was also in her bishopric. He may have been a fine bishopric member, but he was a slumlord and a jerk as a landlord. I told her in no uncertain terms that when she was at church, he was “Brother Landord”, but when he was acting solely in his duties as a landlord, he was to be addressed as “Mr. Landlord”. It helped, I think, in the long run for a better, healthier, relationship.

  13. #10 Deaco — I’m ambivalent about the title thing. I call my SP President and my bishop Bishop, even though the former was until very recently my home teacher and the latter was my ward clerk for most of the years I was his bishop.

    Our pattern in our stake (as taught by our former SP, who was quite formal, but the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet) was to refer to those who held keys by the title. It was interesting to watch him call the Deacon’s quorum president President Smith.

    I had another friend in a neighboring town who was also bishop when I was. He said if he referred to himself as bishop in that ward, he’d have been laughed out of the building. Good for him for being sensitive to his flock.

  14. I think it’s generational. I am a surgeon, but many of my patients call me Mike. I never refer to myself as Dr So-and-so. When YM president, the youth all also called me Mike as we went to midnight movies together and all of our other activities.

    I think respect needs to be earned and not “forced” with a title. With the YM, I expected them to respect me, not for the office, but because I respected them, let them know that, and treated them with respect. It didn’t take long. If I didn’t treat them with respect, I could force an action by making them call me “President”, but the title would mean absolutely nothing.

  15. I remember growing up the age old question was whether we call YM leaders by first name or last name. So many of them were college students at our local university and were therefore very close in age to the YM themselves. My parents were mortified that anyone would call a leader by his first name (not because of their church view — we were recent converts — but because it just wasn’t done). I think there is a generational issue.

    YM leaders should do whatever it takes to draw the YM in and make them feel apart of what’s happening, regardless of what we call them in my view.

  16. It is Matthew Bowman’s article in the Fall 2009 Dialogue. Good stuff.

  17. Of course it is based around circumstances. One of my best friends is currently serving as my Bishop. He is Joe when we go out for a curry and go to football matches. At church and in ward councils etc. he is Bishop. Discretion needs to be used.

  18. Kristine says:
  19. Several great comments that speak to the need for both a pragmatic and personable approach (remembering that above all we are a community/society), as well as the judicious use of formality to reinforce the dignity and importance of “the work.”

    I would add, that the primary danger, and trend, that I see in the usual discourse over leaders and sustaining them and/or their actions, is the “Follow the Prophet” mantra. By that I mean the seemingly unthinking, knee-jerk, and widespread (and I live in Arizona, not Utah County) mentality that we must do what our leaders say without question–because that is “speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed.” And, I am well aware of the several (though too few) times that notion has been debunked by “general” authorities.

    One example is the current issue of same sex marriage. I see no unrighteousness in disagreeing with both my local leaders and the “prophet” on such an issue. I have the obligation to study these things out and come to my own understanding/testimony. But, ever fewer in the church remember or understand, or have even heard such a principle. One has great difficulty even engaging in a discussion on such topics in a “church” setting without being labeled a heretic (and I am not imagining things–for I have been, and it was during a HP priesthood class, where one has a right to expect some maturity in understanding true principles).

    When I was a teenager (1960 through 1969), I recall an occasional lesson/talk that mentioned how our leaders were still human, and fallible (back when we were more overtly anti-Catholic? ;-). The trend in the past few decades–though not supported by what the current prophet was saying–has been to elevate both the GAs and the local leadership–especially Stake Presidents, in my experience, to an ever higher allegorical pedestal.

  20. Aaron R. says:

    Paul (#8) I think the formal titles are intended to show respect, but I know people that call their bishop ‘Bishop’ but do not really like him. I feel like I would want people to demonstrate their respect for me as a leader by being willing to serve with me rather than by calling me by an official title.

    Deaco (#10) I agree that if this is to be done then women should be included.

    Jerry (#11) I think you raise an interesting point about the difficulties of completely separating this issue out. I guess I don’t feel like I am called to sustain God because their is a recognition that he does not need sustaining. For me it is exactly that this is flawed individual temporarily assuming a role that they are not qualified to fulfill that they need to be sustained.

    kevinf that is the type of thing I meant.

    Frank, I appreciate your thoughts here and sympathize with some of the challenges you are currently facing.

  21. There is a third element of sustaining that you do not cover in your two part series, but it is very real to me. It is the spiritual witness that may come in the act of sustaining, in the making of that covenant to sustain.

  22. All this is very interesting, thank you….but I’m still upset about Sunday. In our ward, the very new counselor in the brand new stake presidency visited, and asked us to sustain 2 men to the High Council, both from our ward. One I know well and dearly love, a genuinely good man. The other I know well too, for at least 22 years. I know he dumped his devoted wife and 6 kids to marry his son’s friend’s (much younger) non-LDS mother, is unethical in business (my son worked for him), has not attended Church in the last 2 years, except when it’s “his” Sunday to teach, then he breezes in 5 minutes beforehand and leaves after the prayer, I know he has an one-the-job vocabulary that would embarrass a drunken sailor—not to offend sailors, mind you–I know he can be a charismatic, sweet speaking charmer, yet I trust him as far as I can throw baby grand pianos.

    Overall, I see him as a seriously poor example of a Latter Day Saint, and leader. I think people with noticeable callings should have some integrity, and be at least active in the Church. What the heck is he doing on the High Council, with the power to influence people??

    I was caught off guard when asked to sustain him. I’m not sure I am brave enough to dissent in public…I’ve never seen it done. I guess it did not matter, because I would have had to stand on the pew and yell to be noticed anyway—raising our hands is so routine, no one was paying attention.

    I figure the new stake presidency may not know him well, maybe this call was even in process before they were in their places 2 weeks ago. How do I sustain this man???

  23. Aaron R. says:

    Paul, I must confess that this has not been my focus only because it is the central component for many people and one that I cannot argue with because I have myself experienced it. However, I do not always and so my interest is directed toward what else does this practice do in our community and how can we resolve the tension between people we sustain (because we have felt spiritually tied to them) but who also hurt and fail us. Your right that I should have made that more explicit and I appreciate you bringing it up.

    Deb, I think your situation is difficult. I do not pretend to have good answers but I recommend you listen to the Kathleen Flake presentation I linked to in the OP. Perhaps you should speak to the SP and or the person involved and express your concerns. I think this situation reflects that challenge that everyone faces but you clearly feel that he has overstepped the bounds of what you think is acceptable. Discussing these different standards with your leaders is important. However, if I were in your situation I am not sure how I would respond.

  24. Deb,
    A number of years ago, I was in a stake conference session when the name of someone from my ward was presented for a sustaining vote for an ordination. I had some concerns about this action. I refrained from raising my hand to either sustain or oppose the ordination, but after the meeting asked to speak in private to a member of the stake presidency and then informed him that I was voting not to sustain this action. He took what I said seriously. The conversation was brief, and he said that someone would be talking to me to follow-up. Later, I met with the bishop in his office where there was time to express my concerns in detail.

    I moved out of that stake within the next year, so I don’t know what follow-up actions occurred. Since my concerns weren’t about any big moral transgressions, but about something more subtle, I presume the man was ordained. If my concerns were valid, I hope that the bishop was able to work with that individual to help him. If I was wrong, that’s okay, too. I communicated my fallible, subjective concerns to my leaders in an appropriate manner.

    Your situation sounds more tension-filled than mine was, though. Too bad we can’t talk about this directly, one-on-one.

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