The Difference Between Sustained and Sustain’d

C.L. Bruno continues her guest stint here at BCC.

I am following Connor’s new project with much interest. As I surf around the Bloggernacle, I’m seeing little robotic icons with their right hands raised begging, “Sustain this!”

Sustain’d is a community-driven website where users can submit posts of interest to the LDS blogging coterie. Once a post is submitted, it can be easily accessed and voted upon. A blog which gets many votes remains high on the list, and might even earn a spot on the coveted “front page.” A user can also vote against a post, or “bury” it. An early controversy which arose over at Sustain’d happened when some posts were “buried” and removed from the site by receiving 3 negative votes. At the moment, the bury function is being reevaluated by Connor as well as the other site members.

I’m interested to see how the LDS community responds to a “bury” feature. On one hand, Mormons have little tolerance for ideas which are too controversial or uncomfortable. When such an issue comes up, we want to bury our heads in the sand and refuse to confront it. On the other hand, in the Church model of sustaining, it is unheard of to oppose a proposed action.

Several years ago, my husband raised his hand to oppose an action taken in one of the wards in which we lived. A man was being proposed as a new counselor in the Bishopric. DH hometaught this man and knew him well. He was a jovial, well-known personality around town and in the ward. DH knew, however, that he was in the country illegally. Being from an English-speaking country, he wasn’t branded with the same “illegal alien” status as perhaps a more ethnic person might have been. The man was also involved in many lucrative but shady business deals. Perhaps DH shouldn’t have been surprised at the furor which surrounded his decision to raise his hand to oppose. He later told me, “in Joseph Smith’s day, when an issue was presented to the Church for a sustaining vote it really meant something. Members voted either way, and there would often be a vigorous debate.” This captured my imagination. (I don’t know the historicity of DH’s comment. Perhaps some of you can find some references for or against the statement.) It is interesting how Church practice has evolved to a place where members must choose either to sustain or abstain, or face serious consequences.

Connor’s model of sustaining is, of course, different than what we have in the Church. Our opinions on the internet are bandied about without the weight of priesthood authority and often without the influence of the Spirit. We are much more free to agree or oppose than we are in our wards and stakes. But I’m wondering: when we observe our Bloggernacle community as they begin to use “Sustain’d,” what behaviors will we see? Will there be a reluctance to oppose most posts, choosing rather to support and provide positive encouragement to all? Will we choose to bury away controversial ideas quickly, and with as little discussion as possible? The Narrator, wondering whether a strong critical/progessive voice could possibly be made from the Bloggernacle community, suggested on his site that bloggers register at Sustain’d and submit some of the best controversial posts they could find. The bury feature, Narrator says, was added in response to several posts he, Bryant, and Steve M. submitted–“Censorship at it’s best.” Is the Narrator just being annoying, or does he have a point?

Thank you for reading me, and please go and Sustain this post over at Connor’s site!


  1. Update: It’s now called opposing, and has been implemented. :)

  2. Interesting post, CL. While I am far from convinced as to Connor’s project, I do like the comparisons of Bloggernacle sustaining versus Church sustaining, if only because the process of sustaining each other in real life is something far from defined.

  3. I left a comment but it looks like it’s being held for moderation – perhaps because I included a link?

  4. I remember a talk by Jospeh F. Smith, in which he discusses “church discipline,” and by that he meant the expectations that members follow the rules of the church (not the results of breaking the rules). He then plead with the audience to vote in the affirmative for a measure he was about to submit to them, granting also that they had the right to vote against (but he really, really wanted them to vote fore it) (CD vol. 5 pg. 126-127).

    The pendulum has swung.

    As it relates to Sustained, I don’t really think it does. There you have self sellected voting, something quite different than universal voting of measure put forward by the hierarchy. As to an unwillingness to vote in the negative…well, contention is of the devil, you know.

  5. A really interesting post. One of the observations you make about the differences between the Church and the online community is really interesting to me:

    Our opinions on the internet are bandied about … often without the influence of the Spirit

    I wonder if that could shed some light on the situation brought up by your husband’s comment. Maybe the reason the vote has lost meaning in Church is because we’re handing it out “without the influence of the Spirit.”
    I think sometimes we rely more on Priesthood authority than on Spiritual guidance, as though we trust the testimonies of our leaders more than our own.

  6. I am goin over to the link, but just found your site through Technorati and wanted to say I like what you’re doing. I was told that if you do not sustain someone- then just don’t raise your hand and speak to the bishop in private later. Seems kind of silly, but gee, we can’t cause any controversy or uncomfortable situations! Must avoid confrontation at all costs…

  7. wow. i’m so annoying that my comment about being annoying got deleted.

  8. Loyd, cut it out. Consider this a warning.

  9. Loyd’s just trying to see if he can get a strong “critical/progressive” showing on Sustain’d. I wondered why so much crap was showing up…

  10. Ah. So he’s a troll. That makes things easier.

  11. I’ve been impressed with how quickly Connor has been responding to criticisms and concerns regarding how Sustain’d works. He’s been very open to input and making improvements over there.

    Yes, there are at least one or two users over at Sustain’d who are trying to manipulate/skew what is going on. That isn’t surprising. But I think Sustain’d is offering the right tools for its users to deal with that situation effectively.

  12. I’ve always felt this topic was one of the unstated tensions defined by this blog. “By Common Consent” Does it have any meaning in our church today?

  13. C.L.,

    I think the public nature of the way we do sustaining in church says a lot about its purposes. I find it hard to believe that if we did secret ballots there would ever, ever be a vote “unanimous in the affirmative”, including for president Hinckley. I think part of the purpose, maybe the larger part, is to publicy show support in a dramatic way. I always like to notice the look on the faces of eight y.o. boys and girls when the bishop presents them to the congregation as brand new members. When they see two hundred hands go up, they always blink, then smile.

  14. steve:

    c.l. bruno jokingly asked:

    Is the Narrator just being annoying, or does he have a point?

    can i not play along and say that i was just being annoying? or is playing along with a joke no longer allowed on bcc?

    i am not trying to manipulate or skew anything. as my post indicated (which c.l. bruno pointed out), i am interested in seeing if progressive/critical voices can be made and sustain’d on connor’s new site.


    Loyd’s just trying to see if he can get a strong “critical/progressive” showing on Sustain’d. I wondered why so much crap was showing up…

    you can call those posts ‘crap’ if you want. go ahead. but realize that much of that ‘crap’ are issues that many lds feel and believe strongly about. i have had several friends leave the church lately because when they bring up issues, concerns, or thoughts that they have, others tell them to shut up because what they think/say is ‘crap.’

    please tell me ben, which of those posts were ‘crap’? what made them ‘crap’?

  15. while i think that connor’s new ‘opposing’ function is better than the older burial function (and i strongly commend him for taking in others thoughts), i think that the real skewing and manipulation is being done by those who are going through and ‘opposing’ every post that they think they might disagree with solely based on the title and summary.

    the spy function which connor implemented makes this easily apparent.

  16. I didn’t say concerns, questions or doubts were crap, something I heartily disagree with. I said many of those posts were crap.

  17. ben:

    what made them ‘crap’?

  18. Narrator, I always appreciate your comments. You may be annoying but I think it’s important to test Sustain’d to see if alternative voices will be shut out of the Bloggernacle. By the way, I’m glad you liked my post on the Song of Songs—or did you just post it because it was likely to get buried?????

  19. c.l.,

    i didn’t realize you also wrote the song of songs post. i actually realy liked that post. in fact i think i was the one who submitted it.

    that i was the one who submitted it may more ‘controversial’ than the content of your post and subject it to opposition. there is at least one person on sustain’d who is opposing posts solely because i submitted them.

  20. Steve:

    So what makes me a troll? and what have i done to incur a warning?

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Loyd, I’d be happy to answer your questions offline, but I’m sure you can see how discussions of your behavior are not central to the topic of CL’s post. Feel free to email.

  22. Ha Ha. The dangers of democracy: people might not actually like you.

  23. (I say that with reference to the bury/opposed function — the danger exists over at sustain’d that people just simply don’t like your post and then vote it down. That could hardly be called censorship because, after all, it’s democratic, right?)

  24. Yes, there are at least one or two users over at Sustain’d who are trying to manipulate/skew what is going on.

    I wouldn’t say that anybody is trying to manipulate or skew what’s going on at Sustaind. Personally, I’d like to see how posts from different ends of the spectrum play out. As far as I can tell, those posts that appear on Sustaind seem reasonable and well-thought-out; I have yet to see a post that is blatantly anti-Mormon or uneasonably critical. So far, it seems that the more mainstream posts are more popular (which shouldn’t come as any surprise). Although the more “controversial” posts have received less sustainings, it seems that they haven’t received a whole lot of opposition either (with perhaps a couple exceptions).

    As more people begin using Sustaind, it will be interesting to see how things play out. I think the Narrator’s experiment is a good idea; if nothing else, it’s probably directed a more diverse crowd to the site than might have participated in it otherwise, and I think that’s a good thing.

  25. Mark Butler says:

    I imagine that this will end up being a case study in why a republic is superior to a democracy, as the history of Slashdot well demonstrates.

    There is wisdom in crowds, but some crowds are wiser than others.

  26. Your husband’s experience reminded me of a similar experience my mom had with a newly called Relief Society president. This sister was President Hinckley’s niece, her husband was employed by the church, she had five children and was generally seen as a model citizen. However, she was very mean and condescending to my mom, partly because we had a special needs child in our family and she thought my mom was beneath her. She expended a lot of energy trying to get my parents to move out of the neighborhood, even following them around to the grocery store and harassing them on a few occasions.

    Mom found out she was about to be called as RS president and went and told the bishop about how this woman had abused her. The bishop patted her on the head, told her he respected her opinion, and extended the calling anyway. When the sustaining vote came up, a lot of people were shocked when my mom voted to oppose. It caused a lot of problems with the neighbors. My dad was released from his calling as stake Sunday School president, and eventually my parents had their records transferred to another ward in the stake.

    I’ve heard it said that when you oppose a person for a calling, you’re really opposing the priesthood leaders that called them, and by extension, the Savior himself. I believe we should sustain our leaders as much as we can, but sometimes the leaders don’t have all the information, like you alluded to with the brother called to serve in the bishopbric. Opposing a sustaining can actually serve a purpose in those cases, but I think some local priesthood leaders can be too sensitive, which can hinder the work from progressing.

  27. Commenting on Steve’s very interesting comment about the sustaining process and how raising a hand to “oppose” a person for a calling may be perceived …

    … it seems absurd to me that the Church would offer a person the opportunity to oppose priesthood leaders or the Savior himself. Maybe that’s how it’s understood by some … but it doesn’t make sense to me. If people are offered the option to oppose a calling, they should have the full right to use the option.

    The problem is that hardly anyone ever does and I don’t even know of a logical thought-out process that follows an opposition vote by anyone. I’m sure church leaders are expected to speak with the person who offers an opposing vote … but it seems that no one is really expected to use it.

    Another question I would have is the significance of an ‘opppose’ vote in a very very large meeting, such as general conference. Could there be any point or purpose in offering an opposition vote in the meeting hall? Is anyone actually keeping track of such a thing? Would someone follow up if that happened?

  28. Just to clarify what I’m trying to say a little bit or cast it into perspective … I have never felt a need or desire to raise my hand in opposition to a calling.

    What concerns me is the idea that it would be considered wrong to raise your hand in opposition to a calling. My feeling is that if a person has legitimate reasons to feel a person shouldn’t have a calling, he/she should be able to raise his/her hand without fear of ward-wide or stake-wide negative social consequences. I imagine there is no way to get around the fact that the person who has been called (and that person’s spouse, family and friends) are going to be offended. So maybe I’m living in imaginary land … but again, it seems that when the system was first put into place, the ‘oppose’ vote had a real purpose.

    So here I am, speaking out for a right I’ve never had any need to use and likely will never use.

  29. Mark Butler says:

    No one opposes a person, in propriety, rather he opposes the call of that person to that calling.

    The authority of a person in a calling (or invested with a mantle) derives in part from the sustaining vote of those he is called to minister unto. That is why the vote is taken, even when none is likely to oppose. It is necessary that the holder of a calling be invested with public authority by the members of the Church, and not only the authority derived from the more private inspiration of the leaders.

  30. Re: #25

    Wow, I can’t believe that I actually agree completely with a post by Mark Butler!

    Mark, I sustain your comment! =)

    The problem with opposed votes in church is all about peer pressure. Church is the one place you really don’t want to stand out – you want to be just one of the flock. With the community tied so directly to the church – how many of your neighbors are in your ward? – ostracism from church members can have major impacts felt outside. Steve’s example above is probably an extreme case of this, but people are people.

  31. The more people that use it, the less effect a few people trying to skew results will have. I’d love to see the site as a portal that everyone uses in the bloggernacle community.

  32. I think JJohnson hit it right on the money.

  33. Er, jjohnsen … my apologies. :)

  34. Nick Literski says:

    Two experiences regarding “sustaining”:
    (1) When I served as a stake executive secretary, the stake president (a very good man, btw) often made it clear that it was in his mind an act of rebellion, and a clear sign that something was wrong with the opposer’s faithfulness, if someone ever raised their hand in opposition to a calling.
    (2) At one time, I was a juvenile probation officer in Utah. I had a probation client who had recently stolen candy from a small child at the point of a knife (an armed robbery, if done by an adult). He was presented by the bishop to be advanced to the office of a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. I left the chapel before the “vote” was called for, so as not to have to raise my hand either way. A few months later, I was in conversation with one of the bishopric counsellors, and posed this situation as a hypothetical—given, btw, that any information I had on a juvenile offender was legally confidential. This elderly bishopric member didn’t care about the confidentiality of my source. He was highly offended, rather, that I would ever question the bishop’s “inspiration” by even considering an opposing vote.

    The reality is that “common consent” in the modern LDS tradition is a complete misnomer. It has become a faithfulness test of the person sustaining, rather than any sort of check and balance on callings, etc.

  35. With sympathy and respect to those who may actually have faced negative consequences for an opposing vote (while at the same wondering how many other factors figure into those consequences — was the negative vote honestly the first clash between snubber and snubbee?), aren’t we borrowing trouble to expect some horrendous outcome for raising a hand in opposition?

    I’m thinking about our ward’s sustaining of a new bishop two weeks ago. When I consider some of my ward members one at a time and try to imagine how I would have reacted had that person opposed the new bishop, all I can come up with is curiosity, in a gossipy, none-of-my-business sense: “What does she know that I don’t know?” I cannot stretch my imagination far enough to suppose that I would be horrified that Brother Campbell opposed, or think that Sister Schmidt was was an apostate if she opposed, or imagine that I would snub Brother Topham if he had opposed.

    Even if the person being opposed was myself, I can’t imagine holding a grudge once my initial embarrassment passed. Chances are that I would understand already why that individual opposed me in my calling. If it were bad enough to justify a negative vote, the vote would hardly make things worse; if there was truly no just cause for opposition, somebody’s opposition would hardly wreck my life, self-confidence, or willingness to serve. It might even spur me on to fill my calling better than I might have otherwise, to be absolutely certain that the opposition wasn’t valid.

  36. Good comments, all. I liked what Mark Butler said about the necessity that the holder of a calling be invested with public authority by a sustaining vote. But if this is the sole purpose of sustaining, why don’t the leaders just call for all who can sustain the calling to raise their hands, then leave it at that? Why do they even ask if there are any opposed?

  37. I’m glad this topic has come up. It seems strange to me that the church would have a sustaining process and offer the opportunity for opposition votes if a raised ‘opposed’ hand is considered a sign of apostasy/rebellion. If that is how leaders perceive the process, then the membership’s options really are between sustaining or abstaining from raising a hand at all … which a lot of people do anyway because they are daydreaming, slumbering or trying to herd kids. It seems then that asking ‘any opposed’ has become a weightless meaningless formality … except for those few who constantly remind themselves that God is keeping track of every thing.

    While the sustaining vote is on a very low level, a positive thing, I don’t think I would bother to raise my hand in opposition, even if I knew something horrible about the person being sustained. Instead I’d probably ask to talk to the bishop privately after the meeting and express my concerns at that point. That way the action would be perceived as the views of a concerned Christian citizen rather than a flagrant rebel.

    Again, I don’t think this scenario will ever happen … though life can surprise you.

  38. Wow, I take things at face value. You know, it never occurred to me not to simply use the way that is given to us to oppose a calling, and raise my hand, if there was ever any good reason. I haven’t ever had such a reason, but I would never have dreamed someone’s faithfulness would be called in question by doing something that the leaders ask EVERY SINGLE TIME if someone doesn’t want to do. (laughs) That’s just weird. I would certainly raise my hand, if there were some good reason. I’m a faithful member of the church, but what I have the greatest faith in, is the truth.

  39. CL (Original Post but specifically #36):

    Precisely. Sure there might be the occasional time when a serious error could be made on a calling and an objection should be raised, but more than anything (IMO) it is US who are being asked to sustain and support that individual; that when that Scoutmaster needs the nine seatbelts available in your ‘burb at the last minute, that he can count on you.

    Who are we going to oppose anyway? Is a person worthy to be a Primary teacher or Home teacher but not a member of the Bishopric? Sounds like a double-standard. And why are they not worthy? Because they don’t treat a family in the ward with kindness? No one in the ward would ever be able to fulfill a calling with that litmus test.

    I apologize in advance for not remembering who made this comment on the ‘nacle recently: “People in church callings either grow or swell.” We may all be well to admit that we have been accomplished in a bit of both and while we were struggling to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we probably hoped others would sustain us until we got over whatever our challenge was.

    Now if Brother M is a child molester or Sister J is sleeping with someone other than her husband, that concern should be raised. I can only sympathize with Nick Literski on the confidentiality conflict he had with the juvenile so I don’t know how that could have been handled any better. I feel sad for the Bishopric member who dismissed his concern as akin to apostacy and applaud Nick for his courage.

    In a somewhat related incident, I was chairing an Eagle Board several years back where the candidate was less than stellar (or enthused about the whole thing for that matter; something about a driver license being granted) but the board unanismously granted him the advancement. Three days later one of the board members called me to indicate that this boy had been fired from a job for stealing tires within a few weeks of the board. We decided not to reverse our decision and let this boy’s conscience have a chance. I heard that it did.

    Steve’s Mom (#26) had a terrible experience and you can only hope that that RS prez will see her need to repent especially considering her heritage. But I don’t think being a “snot” disqualifies you from holding a church calling and certainly we have all had church leaders and/or associates that have been easier to sustain than others. It may boil down to the “Us vs Them” discussed so well over on M*.

    I’ve been on both sides: Needing to sustain idiots and being an idiot that needed to be sustained. Maybe we’ve all been on both sides.

    Thanks for the post CL. My heart goes out to those hurt by the insensitivities of others; and I’ve been one of the “others” too often.

  40. Connor Boyack has improved Sustain’d quite a bit. He’s added a woman icon to the logo (being the sensitive egalitarian guy that he is) and fixed up the RSS feeds so that they are easier to follow (makes it a lot easier to find and sustain a link that interests you).

    I’m not sure how many people are currently adding links to Sustain’d, but the more who participate, the better it will work.

    I’ve already found LDS-related news and links on Sustain’d that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

    I’d like to see more group blogs add the sustain’d logo to their sidebar lists of aggregators. Mormon Mentality now has it up.

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