Those in favour, Manifest it? Part 1

This just a short, two part series on sustaining.  This first post tries to ask some questions regarding the purpose of sustaining (both others and ourselves) and the second post will look at the process of sustaining by examining the question of whether we sustain the person or the office.

The Act of Sustaining

D&C 20:65 teaches that ‘no person is to be ordained to any office in this church… without the vote of that church’.  J. Stapely in a post from early 2008 hinted at the radical democratisation of spiritual power that was distributed through JS’s view of priesthood and through this process of sustaining.  Therefore sustaining votes are a symbol of the sequestered notion that the Church is to be a kingdom of kings and queens, priests and priestess.  It is through such acts that we enact these roles by affirming and accepting the revelatory process which has brought this person forward.

Clearly the act of sustaining is a sign of acceptance or support and yet this symbol suggests a variety of other meanings.  One that the CHI makes explicit is that sustaining serves as a momentary form of foucauldian panopticism, though it is clearly delayed.  Votes to the contrary are of course encouraged but only if the person has knowledge of some reason (usually unworthy behaviour) why this individual cannot serve.  In a community where information regarding intended callings is kept quiet – it is sacred not secret – it is desirable that a space be given for the general community to speak on the moral conduct of the proposed calling.  Though I suspect that this is not what most people think when they sustain, it might become important if there is something to be said.  In such situations the response I have heard most frequently is that people abstain rather than vote against.

In this regard, the act of sustaining oneself fits with this view, for we publically affirm that we are worthy to accept this calling.  In addition we publically commit to serve and are simultaneously enact and support a reshuffling of the network of power in a ward.  Thus with one quick vote power struggles are nullified as we willingly incorporate ourselves into a new series of connections which situate us in reconstituted relations to everyone else.

From a different perspective, I suspect that sustaining votes have also become a symbol of our hierarchy.  Followers are supposed to sustain their leaders and these are taken more seriously than those votes for a YM president, for example.  That the rhetoric of the Church has been directed toward this issue is reflected in our TR questions in which we are asked if we sustain our apostolic, general and local leaders.  Perhaps this is evident because I am not a general or local leader, but IMO this question for most people focuses upon people who are above them in the hierarchy.

Before moving onto the process of sustaining, I want to highlight what I believe is an assumption upon which rests many of the problems with the process of sustaining.  In my view, this TR question regarding sustaining implies our local leaders are in harmony with our general and apostolic leaders.  This is evidently not the case and it therefore creates tension regarding how we perceive the process of sustaining.  It is easy to see, once this assumption is illuminated, how the sustaining of our local leaders is connected with the sustaining our Prophet.  Moreover it is also clear how the process of sustaining becomes conflicted when this assumption is proved to be fallacious.


  1. Interesting stuff, Aaron. First, as a bit of context, I think it is important to consider the modern practice of sustaining church leaders to be related to, but not entirely analogous to, the practice of the early and mid-nineteenth century. It was not all that uncommon for a visiting general authority to ask for names for the bishop from the congregation and then have that nomination seconded and then voted on. In some documented cases there were even more than one candidate. Now while this style of direct democracy wasn’t universal, to be sure, there were some important examples (e.g., the selection of the Twelve over Sidney Rigdon in Nauvoo). I tend to think that modern sustaining, isn’t particularly democratic, though I understand that it does serve as an important fail-safe.

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    The modern practice seems like nothing more than a vestigial trait left over from an earlier era to me. It’s hard to imagine anything but a muffled gasp emanating from the audience if someone were to actually vote in opposition (something I’ve only seen done once, I think). Isn’t it typical to say nowadays that to sustain our leaders is merely to acknowledge their authority and to agree to submit to it? In which case, the failure to sustain becomes an act of rebellion, virtually by definition. At least that’s how I’ve heard it explained on more than one occasion.

    I confess I haven’t devoted a lot of thought to all this, but the whole sustaining process seems entirely devoid of any democratic characteristics whatsoever.

  3. It appears Aaron B., that the last vestiges of the old Republic are ready to be swept away. If only you had a death star.

  4. Aaron R. says:

    Thanks J. I have a real interest in the history and practice of common consent and so those examples you mention are important. To my mind, and this might reflect my own approach to the history of it, the act serves as a signifier for a multiplicity of signifieds. Although these may not be actively enforced I think that the history of that action cannot be forgotten and, if only in potentia, it functions as a democratic and revelatory source of power for local communities.

    Aaron B., thanks for your comment and I certainly cannot disagree that it no longer seems democratic. Yet, like I mentioned in response to J., I think the history of act is still present. In fact this is part of the tension I hoped to convey in my OP (between enforcing hierarchy and democracy). Moreover, I do think it actively does function in a variety of ways but I wonder if these are more noticeable in areas or wards where this part of Mormon culture has not been normalised.

  5. I’m having a hard time understanding the last paragraph of the OP. When you write, “This is evidently not the case…” do you mean that generally our local leaders are not in harmony with the general leaders of the church?

    I agree that there is a subtle difference between the sustaining of the TR question (namely, Do you follow the counsel of….”) compared with the act of sustaining (namely, “Will you support and/or follow…”). In the act of sustaining, I think the generally accepted reason for a no vote is knowledge of transgression that you’ve described.

    I’ve witnessed only one “No” vote on a local level, and the dissenter happened to be seated at the very back of the congregation so no one else but those on the stand saw it.

    I wonder if your suggestion that sustaining votes for leaders are taken more seriously than for other callings which will not lead us specifically. I suspect those who take one lightly also take the other lightly. And I wouldn’t be surprised if those who take one seriously will also take the other seriously. I have occasionally heard an admonishing reminder from the one who is sustaining members to callings that the sustaining vote is a pledge to support and offer assistance when required.

  6. Aaron R. says:

    Yes I don’t think they are in harmony, or at least they are not all the time. I think this lack of harmony is not a problem per se but it is inevitable but I also think that it can cause some dissonance for local members when what they see and hear from the local level does not match up with what they perceive to be the will of the general leaders.

    Also, I would be very surprised if local callings were voted with the same seriousness that those same people sustain the prophet.

  7. I have gone back and forth and tried to decide whether or not this is going to be a threadjack, but I’m going to risk it with Aaron’s permission.

    My upbringing in the LDS Church has had a tremendous influence on my general stubbornness in voting generally. We voluntarily sustain local and general Church leaders; to me, implicit in this sustaining is a pledge to support and assist them as needed in their duties. Somewhere along the line of my life, this has caused me to place a very high value on loyalty and “sticking it out” and ultimately causes me angst in the voting booth during election years.

    To clarify, in the political world, the culture of “sustaining” has resulted in a mentality that voting for a political candidate is a similar showing of support for that candidate’s policies. Consequently, I have a very difficult time with the idea of voting for someone who doesn’t embody every single attribute I find ideal in a representative. Thus, I rarely vote.

    Yeah, twisted.

  8. Aaron R. says:

    Scott, thank you, I think your response is interesting. Can I ask does this apply now to Church callings? Do you feel that the different leaders in your ward measure up to the standards you might expect from them? Do you also now abstain from sustaining in your ward?

  9. Aaron,
    No–the effect has been one-directional. I don’t have expectations (or at least try not to) of my ward leaders, because they didn’t campaign to be put into those positions. Rather, I have expectations of myself–I expect myself to support them in bringing about much righteousness, however I can. I may not agree with everything they do, but I do my best to find a way to sustain them because 99.9% of the time it’s a question of means and not ends when I disagree with a local leader on something.

    There are obvious differences once we move to the political world–politicians seek their positions; they make promises; they strike deals; they move unilaterally at times; and on and on. In theory, it should be easy for me to divorce myself from a politician who changes policy stances mid-stride to one I can’t/don’t support, but it still requires some mental gymnastics to get over my Mormon-bred attitude that I should support the people I “vote” for to the end.

  10. Aaron R. says:

    I think you are clearly one of those people Paul spoke about who take the sustaining vote very seriously.

    I guess I divorce the two situations but probably for the same reasons you cite. I accept that and even expect that my political leaders will make promises which in my view represent a stand that they which to take but that they and I should understand that in practicality those ideas might be workable. In fact I respect that, to a certain extent. I would fear a leader who would push his vision through regardless of the people around him.

    Contrastingly in a faith community like ours I would actually be more willing to remove my sustaining vote than you appear to be. If they acted in ways I felt were wrong (as in ends not means) then I would feel comfortable not sustaining them.

    On a side issue, J. do you have a sense for when if ever the notion of a sustaining vote as a public check on worthiness became part of the Church culture and more specifically the CHI. I am wondering whether it happened during the same time that Daymon Smith’s dissertation looks at (1920-30’s) and was in response to trying to consolidate public and private obedience. I know that the CHI really only started being formalised in the 1890’s anyway, but I was wondering whether this sort of injunction was in the early editions or even informally before then.

  11. “One that the CHI makes explicit is that sustaining serves as a momentary form of foucauldian panopticism, though it is clearly delayed.”

    Really? Sorry, I can’t figure out where that is explicitly stated in the CHI.

    I’m also still confused about your statement that local leaders are out of harmony with the general leaders. All of them? In what respect?

    I’m also not sure I agree that the sustaining of local leaders is not treated with the same seriousness as sustaining the prophet. I actually think in some ways it is much more serious because it requires that our words and actions on a weekly, if not daily, basis match up with our sustaining vote. In other words, to most members, one prophet is pretty much like another and they see him only during GC broadcasts, but your bishop is a different matter. If you don’t really actively support your bishop, life gets pretty difficult fairly quickly.

  12. That is a good, question, Aaron. I tend to think that the liturgical valence of sustaining has been around since the earliest years (the Kirtland Temple dedication is a good example of this, I think). When the shift towards an almost complete liturgical function is not evident to me. It would be worth researching.

  13. I guess sustaining is broken up in parts for me. First, there’s the actual voting part of it, meaning do I concur that this person is a good candidate for this position? Inherent in that is whether or not I trust the bishopric to have made either a wise or inspired decision, or, even if that isn’t the case, am I willing to be okay with this person serving in this capacity. Unless, I have real issue with a person’s worthiness or some other problem, this is a no-brainer. I’d be willing to give just about anybody a shot at any calling. So, I vote yes.

    After that, sustaining moves into the realm already mentioned here, the supporting of said person in their calling. When Elder Bednar was visiting he mentioned that a vote to sustain is a commitment to help that person fulfill and magnify their calling. Here’s where my thinking turns a bit.

    Aaron R (10) said:

    “Contrastingly in a faith community like ours I would actually be more willing to remove my sustaining vote than you appear to be. If they acted in ways I felt were wrong (as in ends not means) then I would feel comfortable not sustaining them.”

    If someone truly misstepped in a calling I think not supporting that action *is* sustaining them. The commitment I make is to be a support in helping them perform that calling in a way that is pleasing to the Lord and beneficial for the ward. If I had that person’s best interest at heart I think sustaining them would mean not supporting things that are wrong, but not withdrawing my support of that person in that calling completely. Sustaining would then mean to support them in finding a better way.

    Kind of like these definitions:
    1. to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.
    2. to bear (a burden, charge, etc.).
    3. to undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc.); endure without giving way or yielding.
    4. to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way, as under trial or affliction.

    Sorry for the length of the comment.

  14. Aaron,

    Contrastingly in a faith community like ours I would actually be more willing to remove my sustaining vote than you appear to be. If they acted in ways I felt were wrong (as in ends not means) then I would feel comfortable not sustaining them.

    I left that .01% in there for a good reason–because I completely agree with you there. However, the grand total of things that I would have objected to, even with hindsight (i.e., priesthood bans, etc…), would still only comprise a microscopic percentage of the total number of times I would have been asked to sustain something I was supportive of. In short, my “default” response is to find a way to get over myself and sustain my leaders, but there are certainly things that would override the default position.

    Regarding political sustaining–I wholly admit that my angst with voting is stupid–I’m not advancing it as a truth or principle that all should adhere to, but rather as an example of how my experience in lived Mormonism has impacted my psyche outside of the Church.

  15. harikari says:

    I substantially agree with Aaron B. @2 but am looking forward to you unpacking how exactly the history of the act is still present. Whatever hoary symbolism may cling to them, they are functionally no more than public shows of support. Sustainings are group hugs, however insipid and routine, a small act of public consolation for the poor sister with four little boys who also gets called to be a den leader.

    I think that the act of sustaining has become even more routinized by the practice of “batch sustaining.” You often are not raising your hand for (or however improbable, against) one individual, but two or six or, in newly-formed wards, maybe twenty people at once. Sustainings really are just “ward business,” i.e., part of the after-prayer announcements.

  16. I sustain Steve Evans. I am not sure as what, but I do.

  17. Sunny #13, you cause me to rethink my original comment (#5). When we sustain the prophet we (at least I) mean that I will support him, and the way I do that is to follow him. When I sustain a local leader, I do not commit to agree always, or even to follow in every instance, but to support him, to give him the benefit of the doubt, and work toward his success in his calling.

    That informs how I behave when I have a difference of opinion. A few years ago, a woman I home taught had a beef with the bishop. Since I was her former bishop, she was very free with her opinions in our visit. After listening to her and encouraging her to speak with her bishop, and her refusal to do so (“because it wouldn’t do any good”) I determined that I would speak to him.

    We were friends, and I was his former bishop. I met with him and expressed my concerns. I also indicated that I understood that he was the bishop, not me, and if there were things he felt he should not tell me or discuss with me, that was fine. But I told him how I viewed the situation, and he shared his view with me.

    Although we disagreed, I think I sustained him, because the purpose of my conversation was to either get direction myself for how to proceed, or to help him see a view he might otherwise not have seen.

    I do not share the experience that local leaders regularly diverge from general leaders in their teachings or actions. I happen to live in a very conservative stake (though it is not in the intermountain western US), so I’m not surprised that those in leadership positions generally cite the party line. So I still dont get the concern for the difference between local and general leaders.

  18. Aaron R. says:

    Thanks for the comments whilst I was away.

    MCQ, the suggestion I am making is that when sustaining we become judges and observers of moral conduct in a way that we participate in. That is actively encouraged in the handbook and therefore do not think it is a stretch to compare that we foucauldian notions of power and discipline, though I agree they are not exactly similar.

    Also regarding local leaders being harmony. No this is not all of them all the time but it is some/most of them some of the time, which is why we have the differences and struggles we see at all levels of the Church hierarchy.

    Sunny I consider that second dimension in the next post.

    Harikari, the batch sustainings is intended to actually facilitate the counter-vote by making it less-personal and therefore less obvious who is being challenged.

    Regarding the history being present. It will only take one sustaining vote to be resisted by a large number of people for this history to become actualised. Therefore though we may currently feel that this is unlikely I think unless there are specific policy changes then there is still in potentia the possibility of a revelatory consensus which votes against.

    Paul, I think my point is rather that what the party line is, is not always as clear as we (our leaders like to think). I often hear SPs complain about other SP who are not following the party line, and this is the same among Bishops. Though publically there is an attempt to demonstrate consensus my experience shows me that this is fairly the case privately.

  19. The members have allowed the sustaining vote to be used as a rubber stamp by any Church leaders.

    In all cases, no matter what ward I have been in, I have always observed that the congregation approved or endorsed whatever name(s) were presented for new appointments. In the rare cases in which there was dissent, it was only one single person in the entire congregation and the other members of the congregation were not told the reason of dissent. In other words, there was never a discussion about the merits or demerits of approving the appointments. The dissenter was later, I am told, given an opportunity to discuss his or her apprehensions in private with the priesthood authority.

    It has also been my personal observation that both the announcement of new appointments and the actual vote by the raising of the hands have been performed in the same meeting, the vote taking place right after the announcement. So, the congregation is surprised to hear of a new appointment and then must make an instantaneous decision whether to support it or not. In addition, often times names are lumped together for the vote. Instead of calling a name and asking for a vote on that name and then calling another name and asking for a vote on that name, etc., we get three or four names back-to-back and then a vote to sustain these people, lumped together.

    We call it “sustaining” instead of “voting” as if to insinuate that if you don’t vote in the affirmative, then you must not “sustain” your leaders who were so inspired to have made such a call.

  20. 18, Aaron R, I agree that individuals will be have individually, so although there may be general attempts to do what is right, their approach may vary, and may even be annoying to their peers. I’ve felt that myself (and I’m sure others have felt it about me, too!).

    19 Justin, I don’t agree with your final paragraph. Several of us have offered thoughts about what it means to sustain (compared to voting), and also offered rationales for sustaining as a group rather than as individuals (though, frankly, my own understanding was it was a means of getting through the business quickly as much as anything). In any case, most leaders are taught to be careful about wording to avoid it’s being a vote to sustain the bishopric in the extension of the calling (as in “all those who can support the bishopric in these callings…”); we are to sustain the individuals being called.

  21. But there is never discussion as to the particular merits or demerits, nor is there time for the congregation to pray for confirmation for the calling.

    I understand the discussion about the different ideas of “sustaining” — but if the vote is just a formality that always gets passed unanymously in the affirmative, then it lends to being a rubber stamp.

    This is best seen in General Conference, where the conductor announces “that the sustaining has been unanimous in the affirmative”, when only a small membership of the church found within the Conference Center has been observed. After the vote, the newly called General Authorities are asked to take their places on the stand, although the voting of the vast majority of the church is not known.

    All of this has the appearance of a rubber stamp. It is that aspect that troubles me the most — as if the length of this comment wasn’t evidence enough.

  22. Aaron R. says:

    Justin, they always say the sustaining ‘appears’ to be unanimous. Moreover, though I agree with your assessment we must also remember that the current discourse that defines sustaining the Prophet for example seeks to use this action as a demonstration of worthiness or righteousness, in that if you do not sustain then you are the one who has become apostate. However if we are sensitive to the way that this sign has been used then we are able to see how traces of the previous discourses are still present and only require either a shift in discourse or a local enactment of this power.

    Moreover, I would ask whether we have not abdicated this responsibility by being willing to allow others to make these decisions for us. I know that I certainly do not have the time to be intimately involved in every calling nor do I know the brethren well enough to judge their character. My decision to sustain would be the same whether they gave me time or not.

  23. the current discourse that defines sustaining the Prophet for example seeks to use this action as a demonstration of worthiness or righteousness, in that if you do not sustain then you are the one who has become apostate.

    And it is this aspect of our current discourse that bothers me. If we are checking to see if anyone knows if Bro. or Sis. so-and-so has committed a sin that leaders might not know about — then why don’t we just ask for that information?

    The law of common consent is a check-and-balance in that any church position or canonization takes not only the calling from the holders of the priesthood keys, but also the election from the holders of the keys of the church.

    I agree that most tend to “not have the time to be intimately involved in every calling nor know the brethren well enough to judge their character” so just render an affirmative vote. But I’d like to see this catagory encouraged to abstain from voting, while only those who have received a spiritual confirmation for or against manifest it during the vote. This could be an adequate gauge of the spirituality of a given unit.

  24. harikari says:

    @18 I think we may be using the word “history” differently, but I would of course agree that a large-scale vote to the contrary would produce some concerned frowns on the stand. However, I would not characterize this as the “in potentia . . . possibility of a revelatory consensus which votes against,” because this is purely a sustaining vote that congregants “may” express (or not), and not in any way a revelatory vote. Theologically, we deny in the strongest possible terms even the in potentia possibility of lay revelation for the church. If the Prophet wanders into error, the Lord will not reveal it through a show of hands to the contrary in the Conference Center. Laity possess no keys, rights, authority, etc., pertaining to church governance or doctrine, and that certainly includes the issuance of callings.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but again, what “specific policy changes” could deprive congregants of their ability to express a revelatory consensus? Or are you thinking that policy could only deprive them of their RIGHT to express group revelation?

    On another note, I see in the CHI (p 47) that priesthood officers are instructed to consult only with dissenting members who are “in good standing” and further that dissenting votes from non-members “need not be considered.” This suggests to me that the vote is not (as some seem to suggest) seriously intended to mine congregation knowledge of disqualifying sins that priesthood officers might be ignorant of. The nay-vote of (e.g.) a non-member investigator who knows Sis. Krabappel abuses her children should certainly be equally considered when she is sustained to teach primary. And of course it would be by any sane bishop, who in fact may or may not ignore that hand opposed.

    But sustainings are not and cannot be congregational vettings of worthiness, since the congregation possesses no keys of judgment. And even if everyone in the chapel votes nay, objections (at least by MiGS) should be considered but of course are completely non-binding. Only church officers possess the keys to judge worthiness. Sis. Krabappel may not be “uncalled” from Primary after the vote. (A member is called when the call is issued, not when sustained.) The vote is entirely for our benefit and the candidate’s and in no way determines church governance.

    Sorry, getting redundant. But again, “in potentia”?

  25. harikari,

    You are incorrect when you say that, “Sis. Krabappel may not be “uncalled” from Primary after the vote.” If the majority votes in the negative, then the call doesn’t go thru — this is what “common consent” means. As was the case with Samuel — the Lord’s people are free to ignore their leadership by using the law of common consent, even if it would be to their own detriment.

    The nay-vote of (e.g.) a non-member investigator is ignored because only those who hold the keys of the church — and that would be baptized members — have a vote. The equivelent of letting the investigator vote would be letting German citizens vote in US elections.

    If the vote is only for the benefit of the members, then we should just stop.

  26. harikari says:

    @25 What do you mean, “doesn’t go thru”? Though where? Are you saying that a bishop’s decision must be ratified by his congregation for it to be binding? How many nay-votes are needed to overturn a calling he issues? One, a quorum, simple majority, super majority?

    And what do you mean when you say “baptized members . . . hold the keys of the church?” The prophet holds the keys of the church, which he may delegate to other priesthood officers who may delegate in turn. 100% top down. Baptism gives you no keys and no vote on how the keys of the priesthood are exercised. I agree with you that we are free to ignore those who hold the keys, to our detriment, but ignoring the leadership of someone who has been given a calling does not mean they are “uncalled” or lose their keys.

    Sustaining is simply a recommended procedural policy. It has precedent, it has has history, but is not required and has no binding authority one way or the other. The handbook says simply, “Members who are called to most church positions should receive a sustaining vote before they begin serving” (46). The same language is used of settings apart.

    “Most” is not all and “should” is not must. In a ward, the bishop decides on both counts. He can make up any calling he wants, issue it to whomever he wants, and if he so decides, sustains and sets that person apart, or not. That person is “called” the moment s/he’s, well, called and accepts.

    When I was in the bishopric, we called some assignments assignments and some assignment callings. There are of course precedents that guide, but it’s ultimately an arbitrary decision by the bishop. If my bishop wanted someone to assist the YW Camp Director, we might call someone to do it or just assign them. Arbitrary. For ward callings, no formal action is necessary, nothing has to go in the computer, nothing to the stake, nothing to Salt Lake. Unless a calling involves keys (there are just a handful), there is nothing to transfer or bestow, and all ward priesthood offices involving keys in fact come under the stake (I think). There the rules are a little different, not for sustaining, but for setting apart (required, since keys are transferred).

    Point is, priesthood authority comes from God, not the body of members, so the body of members has no corporate authority. We do not appoint our bishops, we do not ratify their actions, we cannot veto their decisions with a congregational vote. Whatever common consent is, it is not that.

  27. 26 — Yes, the bishop has the keys of the priesthood in the ward, just as the stake president has them in the stake.

    I daresay sustaining is more than a “recommended procedural policy”. See the banner for this blog — D&C 28:13 and D&C 26:2 indicate that all things are to be done by common consent. Further D&C 20:65 indicates that ordinations should only be performed after the “vote of the church.” Section 124 provides direct revelation on a number of callings, but they are still to be approved (or disapproved) at the next general conference (v. 144).

    That said, I agree with the exception you take to #25 Justin’s example, as I haven’t read of such a thing’s ever happening to see if that would be the case (with the exception perhaps, of the the succession discussion between BY and Sidney Rigdon).

    Also — ward callings that transfer keys but don’t require stake involvement: presidents of the Deacon and Teacher’s quorum. Since the bishop holds keys to the Aaronic PH in his ward, he can give those keys to those presidents.

    These scriptural injunctions are not mere suggestions, nor are they treated as such. That some assignments may pass without a sustaining vote is true, but the clear practice is to sustain those who will lead, as evidenced in the

  28. sorry — pushed the submit button too soon!

    the final line should read, “as evidenced in General Conference.”

  29. harikari,

    I used “go thru” to mean validated by the Lord. The person may have the calling but he or she does not have the election.

    If a Bishop chooses to use unrighteous dominion and to place whomever he chooses in the callings he wants — without any regard to the voice of the people — then he is acting outside the approval of the Lord.

    The people of the Lord’s church have been given the kingdom, which is defined as the keys of the church. Contrary to the footnote to “keys of the church” in D&C 42: 69 and also the Triple Combination Index, the keys of the church are not synonymous with the keys of the priesthood, but are a second set of keys given to every single church member, whether they possess priesthood or not.

    Church keys are exercised or manifested through the law of common consent, which in turn is based on the majority principle. This means that the people of the church vote on issues and whatever the majority decides, goes. This is known as the voice of the people.

    Your anecdote from the time you spent in the Bishopric is evidence to how wide-spread this “rubber stamp” view of sustaining votes is in the church.

  30. By The Rules says:

    This is an improtant discussion to be having as I can envision what is now “in potentia” actually becoming a larger issues. As the church and world culturally continue their divergence, it may become a growing platform through which unaccepting attitudes become manifest. Will anyone in Harry Reid’s ward fail to sustain him in his next calling? Abstain v. oppose? As the coming years turn to history, I will watch closely as fence sitters increasingly have to choose the culture in which they feel most comfortable.

  31. Justin, thanks for raising the difference between the “keys of the church” and the “keys of the priesthood,” as I think it’s something that is way too conflated, as evidenced by some of the responses above and most of the weekly sustainings we witness.

    It’s something I have confused most of my life, thinking that the “keys of the priesthood” ruled the day. The issue arises each Sunday when we assume that our “common consent” is intended to support our leaders in every decision they make. That’s the route I’ve taken most of my life, until recently, and one most of those around me have.

    To wit, I’ve unfortunately taken a “negative” view of those who’ve actually utilized their keys in voting by questioning their sanity, or looking down on them. Only now am I beginning to see the wisdom in the “keys” every member has through common consent.

    I’d actually suggest that what happens in General Conference is a perfect example of this. Unwittingly, the assumption is to the unanimously affirmative sustaining votes. Indeed, how often does the one reading the callings/sustainings even look up to note how many of each have occurred? I’ve noted more than a few times when the details are read and no one really even looks up to see if there are any dissenting votes. Perhaps it’s merely anecdotal, but a small personal example.

  32. I’d be interested in more discussion of the keys of the church vs. keys of the priesthood. Justin, what’s your source (since you indicate that footnotes in the scriptures are not a reliable source)? I do not mean to challenge you, but am asking out of interest.

  33. harikari says:

    Thanks to Paul for the reminder on the keys to Deacon and Teacher’s quorum presidencies. I also agree, rereading what I wrote that, that I was did not acknowledge properly the weight of scriptural and historical precedent for sustaining. It is more than a “recommended procedure,” and you are right it is required in scripture and functionally required in the church today. I have known people to begin serving in a calling before sustained, but certainly not ordained before that. That is clearly the order of the church.

    But I stand by my contention that sustaining is not ratification of a calling, like a senate vote on a proposed piece of legislation. While common consent in that sense was apparently a governing principle very early in Mormon history, it now is a procedural and theological principle only. I think the article on Common Consent in the Encyc. of Mormonism accurately describes its contemporary function:

    “In selecting new officers and making administrative decisions, Church leaders are instructed to seek the will of God. Once the Lord makes his will known and a decision is reached, the matter is brought before the appropriate quorum or body of Church members, who are asked to sustain or oppose the action. This process provides for direction of the Church by revelation, while protecting the agency of the members to verify in their own minds whether decisions have been proper and made according to the will of God” (1:297).

    It goes on to say that if there are objections in sustaining, they are considered by presiding officers. However, “after considering the objections, presiding officers are free to pursue whatever decision they believe to be right” (1:299). Sustaining or objecting to priesthood leadership decisions is certainly a valid principle of moral agency, but has no authority outside of members “own minds.”

    I second with Paul that Justin needs to cite a source for his distinction between the keys of the church and keys of the priesthood. But in my case, I guess I would challenge him. I think that view is entirely idiosyncratic.

  34. Likewise, Harikari, I’d like you to find a source that verifies what you quoted (1:299) in the Encyc. of Mormonism.

    That page states the following, “because of the emphasis on divine and prophetic leadership and because of well-established norms and values in decision-making procedures, public dissent … is unusual.” And, “after considering the objections, presiding officers are free to pursue whatever decision they believe to be right.”

    Therein lies a problem. If we’re to take this passage at face value, then we are to believe that the “well-established norms and values in decision-making procedures” indicate that dissent should be rare and unusual. It is suggesting that if we don’t agree with what the leaders are proposing/advancing, if we’re the one dissenting, then we’re breaking “well-established norms and values” and challenging the “divine and prophetic leadership” of a body. If that’s the case, then I’d like to ask what happens if those norms and values are wrong? Certainly just because something is well-established does not imply that it’s correct, or divine, in any way, yet that’s the interpretation that follows that line of thinking. It’s nonsensical, in my view, to take such a portrayal and ritualize common consent into a practice where dissent is not only “unusual,” but, indeed, tantamount to bucking “divine and prophetic leadership.”

    Likewise, where in scripture do we read that presiding officers are “free to pursue” the decision they “believe to be right” regardless of the information advanced by objections? I’m not out to start anything by asking that, but would appreciate some scriptural direction as to how that statement came into existence. Or, is that another one of those “well-established norms and values in decision-making procedures” that we’re merely to rubber stamp? If I may, such a route may too easily lead us into a situation that directly contradicts D&C 121 (i.e., “no power or influence ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood”). If the leader (presumably a priesthood leader since we’re talking about church leadership) is free to pursue whatever decision they want, then the pathway of least resistance is likely to play the “authority” card (i.e. “I’m the Bishop/Stk Pres/etc.”), which brings us dangerously close to “power or influence” being maintained by “virtue of the priesthood.”

    Perhaps I’m wrong in that assessment and would welcome clarification, but otherwise that paragraph from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1:299) is, at the very least, poorly written if it doesn’t mean what can be inferred from a logical deduction of the same.

  35. Now it’s no Encyclopedia of Mormonism: but notice in D&C 107:1-4 that it was the church — neither God nor the priesthood holders, but the membership of the church itself — that changed the name of the order of priesthood.

    From reading that scripture, it is clear that ancient church members were telling priesthood holders what to call the priesthood order. And there is no indication that they sinned in the practice. So, when I read this, I asked: “By what authority did the members change the name of the priesthood?”

    And since the keys are the authority, “By what authority?” can be asked just the same as, “By what keys?”

    Well, the keys used by the church to change the name of the priesthood were not the keys of the priesthood because only men of the church who possess priesthood hold priesthood keys. Every other baptized member is without priesthood keys.

    The entire group of baptized and confirmed members, who make up the church of God, have received a set of keys separate and distinct from the keys of the priesthood. “Or in other words, the keys of the church have been given” to them.

    D&C 26:2; D&C 28:13; 1 Samuel 8:7; Mosiah 29:26 — The keys of the priesthood are subject to the keys of the church, and not vice versa. This is why we find the Lord commanding his prophet Samuel, who possessed all of the active priesthood keys, to obey the will of the people in all things. This is why we find the seer/king Mosiah commanding his people to make it a law among them to make decisions by the voice of the majority. And finally, it is why the Lord commands to His church that every decision absolutely must be done by common consent.

    The principle is that the servants — those who hold priesthood — must hearken to their masters — the church — whom they serve.

  36. harikari says:

    Tom, I’m not sure what you mean by verify. You disagree with it theologically, which is fine. I’m articulating what I see as the normative, contemporary practice of sustaining and its function in church governance. I’ve cited the CHI and Encyc. of Mormonism as normative, contemporary sources. They may or may not be in harmony with scripture, theologically sound, effectively prevent the abuse of church authority, etc., but I’m not taking a position on any of those those things. Even if I were to disagree with them on every point, they are still normative and contemporary, and they also correspond with my own lived experience of the order and function of priesthood leadership. That’s all I’m claiming of them and I think their normativity is pretty evident. Even if they are non-scriptural, authoritarian and self-contradictory, that does not make them non-normative.

    I’m hanging with this discussion because I can’t believe some of you are effectively arguing that we as a church (not just you, but we as a church) believe that our priesthood leaders reveal the mind and will of the Lord, hold the keys to seal on earth and in heaven . . . unless a majority of us votes otherwise.

    If we really believe the keys to revelation for a ward are ultimately vested in the congregation, not the bishop, why don’t all the bishop’s actions come before the ward for approval? We have the authority to overrule him calling someone to play the organ, but when a bishop excommunicates someone, we don’t get a vote? We get to decide if someone is worthy to be called but have no voice in if/when they get released? What if they were worthy when called but then become unworthy, but the bishop failed to release them? Wouldn’t periodic resustainings seem absolutely vital?

    Honestly, I have no idea where you gents are coming from on this. Authority in the church, and all checks and balances, runs strictly from top to bottom–and is vested entirely in the priesthood (men)–however much this may makes us libertarians and feminists squirm.

  37. harikari,

    Continue to get your information from the EofM and CHI, but I find it more important to quote a scripture that supports my point-of-view — however idiosyncratic it might be.

    D&C 20:65-66
    No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church; but the presiding elders, traveling bishops, high councilors, high priests, and elders, may have the privilege of ordaining, where there is no branch of the church that a vote may be called.

    D&C 20:63-64
    The elders are to receive their licenses from other elders, by vote of the church to which they belong, or from the conferences. Each priest, teacher, or deacon, who is ordained by a priest, may take a certificate from him at the time, which certificate, when presented to an elder, shall entitle him to a license, which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling, or he may receive it from a conference.

    D&C 42:81
    But he or she shall be condemned by the mouth of two witnesses; and the elders shall lay the case before the church, and the church shall lift up their hands against him or her, that they may be dealt with according to the law of God.

    Let’s recap:
    Who decides who gets the priesthood? The church, by vote.
    Who decides who gets what office of the priesthood? The church, by vote.
    Who decides which priesthood holder receives a license to perform the duty of his calling? The church, by vote.

    Just as priesthood keys are a test to priesthood holders, so the church keys are intended to prove the church members. If the time comes when the keys of the church are used as a rubber stamp to approve anything the priesthood leaders desire to do and say — by virtue of the titles of their offices — the keys will cease to function as a check and balance on the priesthood.

    At that point, the church keys will convert the minister/servant status of priesthood into an honor of men, with a celebrity-like status, allowing unrighteous dominion to take control in the priesthood offices. If this were to happen on a church-wide scale, then the voice of the people — i.e. the church — would be choosing iniquity, resulting in the judgments of God coming on it, according to Mosiah 29:27.

  38. Hey- I’m really looking forward to part 2. How long until it goes up?

  39. re: #36

    Just a couple of thoughts:

    (1) If something is, as described, “normative and contemporary,” does that make that thing divine or inspired or scriptural? You’ve articulated that those ideas are “normative and contemporary,” but that doesn’t address the underlying issue.

    (2) I’d invite you to read the paper linked in my name (not my website, though I do know the author). A different viewpoint than the contemporary version on “the mind and will of the Lord,” and one I align myself with. That article contains some indirect analogies about the original topic of this thread.

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