Here’s a post to ponder while preparing for the upcoming RS/PH lesson, Chapter 6: ”Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains,” whether ye be a teacher at the front of the class or a teacher from the seats.
I noticed an interesting trend while preparing for this lesson. Seventeen of the twenty-one quotes in the chapter predate George Albert Smith’s serving in the office of President of the Church. Following the manual’s selection, quotes given from before he was president tend to emphasize the importance of sustaining the President of the Church whereas quotes after his sustaining tend to focus on his own weaknesses and desire to serve.
Quotes while serving as President:
Two of the four quotes related after he was sustained as president in 1945 refer directly to the office of President, and they are excerpts from his first General Conference addresses as President. His emphasis is on his own weakness and his need for sustaining from the membership.1
“I thank you for the confidence that has been manifested…in hoping that I may succeed, and promising as some of you have, that you will help me to succeed, because I am only a man, one of the humblest among you…I will need the help of every man and every woman and every child, not for my blessing, but for your blessing, and for the blessing of the children of men wherever they may be. That is not my responsibility, that is our responsibility” (TPC:GAS, 57, italics in the manual, not noted whether in original).
The third quote is from an address called “The Church With Divine Authority” which President Smith delivered in Kansas City, Missouri on July 14, 1946. The Deseret News printed the address in full with an accompanying photo and the introductory line, “The way you folks are fanning yourselves I would think it warm in Kansas City.” The manual includes an excerpt in which Smith relates the circumstances of prophetic succession after the death of Joseph Smith:
“What happened when [Joseph Smith] died? … [The Saints] didn’t hold a conclave, choose a chairman and pick a new leader. The leader had already been chosen by the Lord. He was the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brigham Young. … The Church as a body in all its sessions sustained him as President. Perfect order prevailed. …I have traced some of these things in order that there may be no mistake. Joseph Smith did not choose himself to be President of the Church. Neither did any who followed him. … The appointment comes from our Heavenly Father through His inspiration, and men receive all the power that comes with an appointment” (TPC:GAS, 59, ellipses and brackets are from the manual).
Nit-pickers might point out this description isn’t entirely accurate. I checked out the original article which, as it turns out, the manual obscures. After Smith rhetorically asked what happened after Joseph died he answered: “Men who thought they had divine authority, who had been Joseph’s assiciates, now wished to take lead of the Church.” He briefly described Sidney Rigdon’s effort to become guardian of the Church and also mentions James Strang, William Bickerton and Lyman Wight. Without citing the specific section he had in mind he said the Doctrine and Covenants laid down the principle that upon the First Presidency’s dissolution the next governing quorum, the Twelve, would assume the leadership. Brigham Young was “at the head” of the Twelve, but the Twelve had to sustain him as the new president of the Church, followed by a sustaining vote by the membership. Thus, when the manual says “[The Saints] didn’t hold a conclave,” in context Smith is actually referring to the Twelve, who already recognized Brigham Young as the head of that quorum, and thus to Smith did not need to hold a conclave. They appointed Young and the Church subsequently sustained the appointment. While closer scrutiny of this event adds important details, I was happy to discover Smith’s retelling is not as inaccurate as the manual represents.2
One more interesting omission in this quote: “Joseph Smith did not choose himself to be President of the Church. Neither did any who followed him. …” In the original, Smith adds: “I was chosen by those who had the right to appoint. So, there is order in the appointment, and the appointment comes from our Heavenly Father.” This further indicates that the manual’s insertion of “[The Saints]” somewhat obscures the original context, which was actually referring to the Twelve, whose decision was to be inspired by God and sustained by the Church membership.3
The fourth quote (from Smith’s actual presiding time period) refers to following the “leadership of the Lord, and those whom the Lord sustains,” but doesn’t refer directly to the office of President (60).
Ten of the seventeen remaining quotes can be understood to refer to the President of the Church (a few refer to Old Testament prophets, who conceptually bring to mind the president of the Church more than the other leadership, I suspect). The other quotes refer to “the men who preside over his Church,” “holy men,” (59), “various offices” (60), “leaders” (61), “those whom the Lord has called to lead us” (63), “these men whom God has raised up to preside” (64) and a few other similar descriptors. It’s interesting to note that almost all of Smith’s quotes about sustaining the President of the Church are excerpts from talks which preceded his own administering in that office.
One quote refers directly to local leadership, as Smith describes the sustaining process that occurs at Stake Conferences (61). None refer directly to women (Relief Society Presidencies and other callings) although in practice women auxiliary presidencies and local leadership receive similar sustaining votes. Thus, the thrust of this lesson (which immediately follows “The Holy Priesthood–for the Blessing of God’s Children) seems to be on sustaining priesthood holders specifically. A perfect addition to the lesson would include discussion about sustaining women in the Church. Teachers could prepare quotes and references on this beforehand, or class participants can raise the issue during class discussion.3
In part 2 I suggest a few discussion questions teachers might ask and add a few references which help flesh-out the overall content.
1. Other quotes in the lesson speak of prophets as men with “human frailties, they will make mistakes,” (63) and he also refers to the heavy “burdens” carried by the President (64). These selections provide a good opportunity to discuss some of the emotional and physical difficulties George Albert Smith faced during his life, if the Spirit so directs. See J. Stapley, “Mental Illness and George Albert Smith,” bycommonconsent.com, 4 January 2012.
2. See “The Church with Divine Authority,” Deseret News, Sept. 28, 1946, Church section, 6, 9. On the succession question, see D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844,” BYU Studies 16 (Winter 1976): 187-233. Even this article is a bit dated. It is, needless to say, a fairly controversial part of our history. A decent overview of the official story of the succession is Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, “The Kingdom of God Will Roll On”: Succession in the Presidency,” Ensign, August 1996.
3. No single lesson appears to focus specifically on women. One chapter, “Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth,” discusses children specifically.