The sustaining of the second counselor in the Relief Society Presidency in our ward was unanimous. The bishop, who asked the question for opposing votes, had just a quick glance over the audience, while gathering his papers to sit down. No opposing votes. Of course not. But again, I felt relieved.
Strange, but when that question is asked, I always fear someone is going to raise his hand aggressively, with a loud “yes”! It’s traumatic, I guess. When I was district president, back in the 1970s, conducting district conference for our six or seven Flemish branches, there was this man who did just that. It made me cringe and the audience with me. When patiently talked to afterwards about his option and his attitude, this brother simply claimed his democratic right to vote according to his conscience.
It should be said he was a character, huge, outspoken, claiming secret knowledge beyond all of us simple mortals. A convert from Holland, he had moved to Belgium. We once called him as branch president of a small Flemish unit – a unit in the tradition of our Primitive Church -, but we could not keep him long in that position. On Sunday morning, at 9 AM sharp, when the first meeting started, he would lock the front door of the small house where they met. When latecomers tried to get in, he would peek through the window and shout that they could come back next week – “on time!”. It certainly had effect on the handful of local Saints – either coming on time or becoming inactive. Most did the latter. It became obvious that, in spite of all our trying, there was no way to keep this brother in leadership positions. Still, casting a visible and audible opposing vote, was his way to continue to affirm his personality and his presence.
Opposed, if any? We know the traditions that regulate the sustaining vote in Church nowadays. Only if we happen to be aware of the moral unworthiness of the candidate, could we vote against. If that were the case, I presume we would still prefer to not signal it in public, but bring it up in a private conversation afterwards.
The issue can make us ponder about the concept of democracy in the Church and in the world. Politically it is a precarious concept as it carries the danger of majoritarianism, i.e., where the minority, even at 49.99 %, can be ostracized or simply crushed.
There is also some irony in the fact that we hail “democratic nations”. Indeed, in some of these the constitutional majority does not favor the Church, by supporting laws that only protect the recognized religions, by defining us as a cult and by hampering the entry or work of our missionaries.
Western politicians advocate democracy as the ideal solution for tyrannical or chaotic nations around the world. We are made to believe that the organization of free elections will lead to order and stability. But the internal acceptance of such a system requires a very long maturation process through education – willingness to accept the vote of the majority, consideration by that majority for the needs of the minority, ability to talk and to compromise, readiness to forgive past wrongdoings and to embrace diversity. In particular when parties are defined on ethnic or religious grounds, with deep-rooted divides and mistrust, the maturation process may take decades, or even centuries, while civil war is always looming.
Have we, in our Church voting process, achieved the ultimate form of that maturity? Some will say the sustaining vote in Church has hardly any connection with democracy. It is a simple, symbolic pledge that we accept the decisions of our leaders and are willing to sustain the person called. But is this not the final expression of a totally trusting democracy? Can a celestial order be based on anything less?