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”. 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’. 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’. 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.
- 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.
- Kathleen Flake, Rendering to the Corporation address at Sunstone Symposium [audio],
- Eugene England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel in Sunstone, (Salt Lake City, UT.: Sunstone Education Foundation), p. 63