Women Don’t Cast Sustaining Votes?


My sister Cheryl called me this morning, annoyed at a procedure her Indiana stake just used to call a new counselor in her Stake Presidency.   An old counselor had moved and been released between Stake Conferences, so the new one was called and sustained during an interim Stake Priesthood meeting.

“This isn’t like an Elders Quorum President,” Cheryl mused.  “A Stake Counselor doesn’t just serve men in his quorum, he has stewardship over the entire stake.  But he can be set apart without a single woman knowing about the calling or sustaining him?”

The stake hasn’t even announced the leadership change over the pulpit in her ward, despite it happening weeks ago.

Cheryl’s complaint prompted my family to go and look up Church policy.  The procedure her stake followed wasn’t aberrant, it’s approved:

When, as an exception, new stake officers need to begin their service before the next stake conference or stake general priesthood meeting in which they would normally be sustained, they should be sustained in the sacrament meetings of the wards and branches of the stake. These sustainings should be kept to a minimum. Members of the stake presidency or high council present the sustainings. 

Handbook 2: Administering the Church § 19.3

This process is also set out in the Handbook’s “Chart of Callings.” It applies to stake counselors, stake clerks, stake executive secretaries, stake patriarchs, and  high counselors.



I’m baffled.  Sustaining votes by all members in stake conference make sense.  Sustaining votes by all members in each individual ward make sense.  But sustaining votes only at the stake general priesthood meeting, where no women are present, for leadership positions that oversee women?  That’s odd.  What’s the reasoning behind that policy?

By Common Consent” includes women, doesn’t it?

Sustaining votes may be a formality, but they are a formality that matters.  The lay nature of our leadership and our congregations is one of the most distinctive aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  How we create our clergy is a form of democracy, a place where women voices are provided with sustaining input.

It would only take a small tweak to fix this.  If the Church wants to signal that women’s voices are valued, then it should ensure we are always able to sustain (or oppose) the men with Priesthood stewardship over us.

*Photo by Tom Plouff on Unsplash


  1. I suspect some of my SP counselor friends would say “I’m so invisible I’m surprised there is even a rule.”
    Seriously, isn’t this just expediency that proves women are not taken into account? Not intionally or maliciously excluded. Just not counted.
    (That’s a big criticism and a cause for anger in my book. Just to be clear what side I’m on.)

  2. Jared vdH says:

    This upset my mother when it happened in her Stake a few years ago when one of the counselors lost his fight with cancer. Why they didn’t release him while he was still alive I don’t know or understand. From the sounds of it, it wasn’t like it was surprising timing or anything.

  3. I’m nearly certain that back in the day (feeling old here), EQ presidents were sustained in sacrament meeting. I never liked when they were sustained only by the elders in EQ meeting, as this key-holding calling seems like a ward calling to me, as does RS president. So I was pleased to see that policy was just changed, such that RS and EQ presidents are both sustained by the whole ward, in sacrament meeting.

    (Don’t get me started on how EQ presidents can sustain their own secretaries and instructors in EQ meeting but RS presidents have to have a bishopric member come in and sustain theirs.)

    I did not know that a stake presidency member needed to be sustained only by a stake priesthood meeting! Doing an interim sustaining in sacrament meetings throughout the stake makes perfect sense, but just the priesthood? Seems like that’s a policy that should be on the chopping block in the spirit of the recent changes above.

  4. Abbey: Did I miss that? Was that a General Conference announcement? The handbook still says all Elders Quorum calling are sustained by Quorum members.

  5. Seriously, isn’t this just expediency that proves women are not taken into account? Not intionally or maliciously excluded. Just not counted.

    Sexism is insidious and destructive, even if it’s “not intentional.” The fact that unintentional sexism happens so often is part of the problem of sexism.

  6. One solution, which my stake has implemented, is to hold a stake leadership meeting in lieu of a stake priesthood meeting. Still not the whole stake, obviously, but the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidencies are all present.

  7. As far back as these things have been systematized, and in the present, all Melchizedek priesthood quorum officers, including Elders’ Quorum president, are called by a member of the stake presidency, presented, sustained, and set apart in quorum meetings, and then are announced as a fait accompli in sacrament meeting. Out of habit, some officers making those announcements call for a sustaining vote, but technically that is not supposed to be done — those are informational announcements only, not a call for common consent. The same is true when a man is advanced from one office to another. (It’s the same for Aaronic priesthood advancements and positions, too, except those are handled by the ward bishopric rather than the stake presidency. Act done by the men, then women and children informed after the fact.)

    This is my absolutely flat clinical voice reporting what is done, and no personal reaction should be inferred.

  8. It seems hardly a sacrament meeting goes by where we are not asked to sustain someone unknown (to me at least) to a stake high council, RS, Primary, YM, etc calling.

  9. Also, when stake presidents are called/chosen, MEN are interviewed by a visit No generalnauthority to determine who would be the best candidate for the next stake president. Sisters’ feelings, experiences, knowledge, and counsel are excluded from this process (unless my stake does this differently from other stakes?)

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Carolyn, Abbey is describing new rules that were announced in a 1P letter dated October 11, so this is all very new.

  11. Since sustaining ideally will be done by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the members, you can do that whether or not you were in the meeting where a sustaining vote was taken.

    And, of course, you’ll have an opportunity to participate in a sustaining vote in the next stake conference.

  12. Anon for this one says:

    We just had a stake presidency change. In a stake council meeting, the men (male stake high councilors, auxiliary heads) were asked to submit names, sort of “recommendations” for the visiting general authority to consider and interview. The Stake Primary President was in the room and asked “Do you want us to submit names too?” “Us” meaning the women auxiliary heads. They were told No. THEN. The exiting stake presidency members called back the women and said, “Yes, please submit your recommendations.” Basically, the women are 100% excluded by process but there are individual priesthood leaders who see wisdom in including their voices and do so ad hoc. Why women are not included in a regular, systematized way is baffling but not surprising. Ultimately though, no recommendations really mean anything, right? The Lord calls whom he calls.

  13. We were out of town when our last bishop was called and sustained. Since I had my doubts about him, I was pleased I didn’t have to sustain him. When I was finally present to sustain him I was glad to do so. Having seen him in action I realized how wrong I had been about him. Would you insist that ALL stake/ward members be present before anyone could be sustained to anything? Nothing would ever happen. As Mark pointed out, the opportunity will present itself at the next stake conference.

  14. I think there is a real difference between some members not able to make it on the day of sustaining and deliberately excluding a large percentage based on gender.

    I imagine that this practice comes from the idea that the Stake Presidency is the Presidency of the HP quorum in the stake. So, the theory would go, they can be sustained as the presidency of that quorum by the members of that quorum. But with the recent changes contracting the HP quorum to currently serving stake leadership, and the recognition that priesthood and RS presidencies at the ward level are ward leadership callings, not just silos within the ward, I would not be surprised if this gets changed.

  15. This exact thing happened in my Stake about 5 years ago. I was pretty perturbed that they would change a Stake Presidency counselor without a Stake-wide sustaining. If in fact the sustaining is there to give opportunity for someone to voice a concern, then there is potential for abuse when not everybody is given that opportunity.

  16. Regarding sustaining of EQ and RS leaders, this is in a 10/11 letter from the “Priesthood and Family Department” – here’s a link, but I don’t know whether it’s general-access or calling-specific: https://www.lds.org/letters?clang=eng&id=16501

    The relevant sections:

    Relief Society Callings – Members of Relief Society presidencies will continue to be sustained in sacrament meetings. A member of the bishopric presents them for a sustaining vote. Sisters who serve in other Relief Society callings, including secretary, will now be sustained in Relief Society meetings….The Relief Society presidency recommends sisters to serve in these callings. A member of the bishopric issues the callings and presents the sisters for a sustaining vote.

    Elders Quorum Callings – Members of elders quorum presidencies will now be sustained in sacrament meetings, not in elders quorum meetings. A member of the stake presidency or high council presents them for a sustaining vote. Brethren who serve in other elders quorum callings, including secretary, will continue to be sustained in quorum meetings….A member of the quorum presidency issues the callings, with approval from the bishop. A member of the presidency also presents these brethren for a sustaining vote.

  17. This is some serious buffalo chips. It’s hard to be more disillusioned with gender dynamics in the church, but this… this really sucks.

  18. I think JKC’s got it right, both as to the way the practice developed (with one minor addition: the SP is the presidency not just of the HP quorum but also of the entire Melchizedek Priesthood in the stake) and as to the likelihood that this will change.

  19. Last Lemming says:

    I get a “page not found” error on the link to the 10/11 letter. If this is the same letter the missionaries who ate with us on Saturday were talking about, it contains a bunch of other stuff that would be of interest to BCC readers (like abolishing the position of ward mission leader, splitting his responsibilities between RS & EQ counselors, and adding RS & EQ counselors to the ward council).

  20. @Last Lemming: I get a “you’re not authorized to view this link” when I click on it.

  21. The 10/11 letter I have seen as a result of following the link includes the information Abbey quoted. It does not abolish the ward mission leader position, but allows without requiring such a position, and provides that, if called, such a ward mission leader is to be sustained in sacrament meeting. There is an additional letter containing related information about ward council, optional positions, etc. I have not reviewed it again today.

  22. “Would you insist that ALL stake/ward members be present before anyone could be sustained to anything? Nothing would ever happen. As Mark pointed out, the opportunity will present itself at the next stake conference.”

    …This is not the argument.

  23. Well… this just isn’t okay.

  24. If no woman ever came to church again, they could still have a fully functional church. If no men showed up, we couldn’t do hardly anything. Sometimes I am tempted to be part of the boycott and prove it. This is highly inappropriate, in my opinion.

  25. In my experience, most stake callings are first sustained by the High Council, and often called and set apart and begin serving potentially before any sustaining vote is taken anywhere else, presumably because the stake has already sustained the Stake President publicly. All stake callings are without any authority of their own, and are only extensions of the Stake President’s authority delegated to those individuals. Still, a new counselor in the Stake Presidency ought to be sustained throughout the stake by all members. I would hope this policy changes, but I have seen how this works on the ground, and expediency is often the driving factor. Excluding the women of the stake and not having the HC get sustaining votes from ward congregations as soon as possible seems contrary to the concept of common consent, and sends a message just ripe for misunderstanding and resentment that could and should be avoided.

  26. Kevin, that’s very different from my experience. In our stake the general pattern is that the High Council approves the decision to call the person, but they aren’t set apart until they are sustained by the membership and they don’t begin serving until they are set apart. There may be some exceptions to that, but they are very rare and only when absolutely necessary.

  27. JKC, in my stake in Washington state when I spent four years on the HC, that is exactly how it worked. But I recognize that is a local situation, and I can’t say it is typical. But I agree that excluding women is not a good practice.

  28. John Taber says:

    When I was seven years old, I attended a stake priesthood meeting that was open to all male members of the stake. (It was at the site of the Cane Creek Massacre in Tennessee.) The counselors in the stake presidency were released, the second counselor was sustained as first counselor, and a new second counselor was sustained. This was in 1980, so I don’t think this is a new policy.

  29. Our last Ward relief society callings (after the recent general conference) were sustained in Relief Society. The bishop came to the meeting and did it. We were told it’s a new policy.

  30. Another example showing that women are not valued or considered equal in importance to men in the Mormon church.

  31. When our stake presidency was changed several years ago, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was here to make the change. I was not present for the calling of the new stake president, but my husband was called as a counselor, so I was present. Apparently the person they had intended to call for the other counselor was not able to accept the calling for some reason, so it became a matter of consideration in the room with the apostle, the new stake president, his wife, the new counselor, and me. Thoughts were solicited from everyone. Then a new bishop was needed (since he had now been called to the stake presidency.). The apostle asked for opinions by going around the room and asking those present. He began with me. It was a sweet experience for me to know that an apostle valued my opinion as much as that of anyone else in the room.

  32. Bro. Jones says:

    mam — Thanks for sharing that story. Makes me wonder if this whole thing is another artifact of leadership roulette that doesn’t have to be set in stone.

  33. Left Field says:

    As a historical note, stake conferences were quarterly until about 1980. I’m guessing that the provision for sustaining stake officers at stake priesthood meetings originated at that time, when it became problematic to wait up to six months for the next stake conference.

    Quorum sustainings are supposed to be announced in sacrament meeting, but my experience is that they rarely are. When I was HPGL, I had to nag the bishopric repeatedly to announce new HP assistants. Because a week intervenes between the sustaining and the announcement, they never could seem to remember, or perhaps think that it was important. Also, since the calling and sustaining is done by the stake, the bishopric doesn’t really think to put it on their own agenda. I think an announcement never happened unless I reminded them again at the beginning of sacrament meeting. And it’s not just the sisters who are kept out of the loop. More recently, I had a calling in the Aaronic Priesthood that kept me out of HP meeting, and it was weeks before I learned that a new HPGL had been called.

  34. Last Lemming says:

    it was weeks before I learned that a new HPGL had been called.

    The most surreal experience I’ve had in the Church was one Sunday morning when I got a call from a friend who had missed church the previous week asking who the new HPGL was. I told him and added “You do know that you were sustained as his first assistant, right?” He responded, “Oh yeah, I knew that. They just never told me who I’d be serving under.” So there’s all sorts of ways to be left out of the loop.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    mam, my understanding is the way you described it is explicitly the way it is supposed to be done. That is, they are supposed to solicit the input of everyone, including the sisters, present in such a setting.

  36. Lc posted: “Our last Ward relief society callings (after the recent general conference) were sustained in Relief Society. The bishop came to the meeting and did it. We were told it’s a new policy.”
    So now the women serving in Young Women and Primary will no longer sustain their Relief Society leaders? Will it be announced in Sacrament meeting?
    Way to prove to the Nursery workers that they really are only babysitters!

  37. This all seems quite crazy to me. If we expect the whole ward to be supporting folks in their callings then sustainings need to take place in a general meeting where everybody can potentially be present.

  38. The process of sustaining leadership is simply a placebo invented by Joseph Smith. It makes people feel better but has no actual force or effect. Nobody cares.

  39. This reminds me of the temple recommend question that is asked to all members, male and female: do you attend your priesthood meetings? On the hopeful side, this maybe signals the continual evolution of viewing women differently in relation to the priesthood. On the cynical side, they didn’t bother to think about how this question would sound or be relevant to women. I told the interviewer that I don’t attend priesthood meetings. He thought about it for a minute, and he said maybe it was referring to sacrament meeting because it happens under the direction of the priesthood. Since women have priesthood authority, all church meetings are under the direction of the priesthood, so it seems strange to not just ask if we attend our church meetings. Does anyone have insight into this?

  40. When I was in the Bishopric, I skipped that phrase Mary, or inserted ‘relief society’ meetings depending on what calling the woman had. Just as I skipped the question about child support if I knew the person had never been divorced.

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