By Common Consent

Earlier this month, Thomas S. Monson was set apart. This coming conference, church members will be asked to sustain him as President of the church. And members will almost certainly sustain him.

But what if they didn’t?

How exactly does common consent work? What if President Monson were duly set apart and chose counselors, but then wasn’t sustained by the members? Would he still be Prophet? What effect would that have? (Has anything like this happened before?)

And on a broader level: What exactly is the purpose of operating by common consent? And does it bring about those possible benefits — or does it just potentially create confusion? Is there a good reason to operate by common consent?

59 comments for “By Common Consent

  1. anon
    February 20, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    My obstinate three year old always votes “opposed”–very appropriate with her personality, but no one seems to care.
    I understand that if there is an opposition vote, they are to be taken aside after the meeting to discuss their objections. It’s hard to imagine a great majority of opposition in the Conference Center to be seen like that, but perhaps it would work like the Sidney Rigdon/BY succession where the Lord intervened.

  2. queuno
    February 20, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Trying to mess with the Google Search algorithms, eh Kaimi? Somewhere, Kevin Barney is crafting a post called “Times and Seasons” to discuss his fondness for Spring.

    Although, these are good questions and ones I don’t have an answer for. I suspect we’ve moved away from the original purposes of common consent in the Church.

  3. Kevin Barney
    February 20, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I think originally the practice was grounded in typical New England democratic participation in church decisions that got absorbed into the Mormon ethos. Over time it has become mostly a rubber stamp.

    The only significant example close to what you are suggesting I can think of was that time that Joseph wanted to throw off one of his counselors and the people wouldn’t let him (I forget the details).

    You know what I hate? When leaders remind us that we voted to sustain someone or something and try to use that as leverage to make us do some unpleasant thing. Don’t treat it as a rubber stamp when you’re asking for the vote and then turn around and pretend that it is substantive when you’re trying to influence behavior.

  4. queuno
    February 20, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Put this on a more local level. A bishop is replaced in January. The new bishop was the president of the Elders Quorum and is ordained to the office of High Priest in the meantime. Three months later, in stake conference, when his name is presented for a sustaining vote of a past action, every member of every ward other than his own votes against it. Then what?

  5. Kevin Barney
    February 20, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    queuno, good idea for a post!

  6. Kari
    February 20, 2008 at 10:12 pm


    In my stake they don’t wait until stake conference, high councilors take the action in each ward. They always preface it by reading the section from the CHI that says something like, “when necessary to take action prior to the next stake conference…”

  7. queuno
    February 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    You’re probably right in that my example is flawed. You could replace it with an elder going on a mission that wasn’t presented until stake conference. I know that in my own case, I was already “in country” before my MP ordination was presented at stake conference (late 80s, several CHI rewrites ago). Although, I don’t think I’ve ever seen HCs present HP ordinations at times outside stake conference. Good to know…

  8. Cicero
    February 20, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Really, it’s not that confusing…

    President Monson would still be the prophet.

    Those who rejected him would be cast into Hell unless they repent. God would likely punish the Church as a whole through disaster and calamity.

    We operate by common consent because that is what God has told us to do. It provides us with an opportunity to choose- which is essential for our progression.

  9. Ray
    February 20, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    A bit off topic, but relevant to Kevin’s last paragraph in #3:

    Whenever I am at the stand conducting any sustaining votes, I always look around the congregation slowly and purposefully – and I pause long enough after asking the question about dissent to make it obvious that I actually am allowing for the possibility that there will be dissent. I also explicitly turn and look behind me at all the people sitting on the stand – again, to make it obvious that I am looking at each and every individual in the room at the time. Honestly, I do not expect a dissenting vote, but I believe I owe it to the spirit of the process to take my time and make the possibility of opposition real in the minds of those in attendance.

  10. Adam Greenwood
    February 20, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    I think its ourselves that our in the balance, not who we’re voting on.

    The idea that we can’t have a meaningful choice unless its not clear that one choice is right and the other is wrong would turn the gospel on its head.

  11. TMD
    February 20, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    #3, KB:
    I disagree with your comment. Sustaining our leaders has an initial manifestation, a point at which we have the opportunity to indicate our position within the congregation and affirm again our belief in the divine guidance of the church. No one makes you raise your hand, either in support or opposition, after all. Reminders that we did, indeed, vote to sustain a leader (or, in some cases, a program or goal) are calls to our conscience: did we really believe that there was inspiration behind a call? If we don’t feel like acting on that now, why? Is it mere laziness, or is it something more fundamental? If it is laziness, should we not repent of that and move on? If it is something more fundamental, should we not seek to address that, no only by ourselves but perhaps with others?
    Moreover, I see sustaining as not so much a matter of appproving, though it seems it would have that effect, but to pledging to support–literally sustain–our prophet, our bishop, our girls camp leader, as the case may be. Again, if months later we find ourselves unable to do that, should we not be inquiring, within ourselves, into why? Far from annoyance with a leader for trying to ‘use leverage’ to get us to do something ‘unpleasant,’ should this not be a moment of calling oneself to account?
    Sustaining, I think, has a far greater and more profound nature in church than mere voting. It’s not so much a question of voting for a choice as pledging ourselves to action in support of revelation.

  12. Kevin Barney
    February 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

    TMD, I’m sincerely glad you find the practice meaningful. Many Saints do. I don’t; I think it’s a relic of an older style of church governance that simply doesn’t exist anymore in our top-down hierarchical church, and therefore I continue to stand by my comment. But it’s not something I want to argue about.

  13. Swisster
    February 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

    On the ward level, don’t we always announce the proposed callings and do a sustaining vote BEFORE doing the ordination and setting apart? Should the apostles wait to ordain until after conference?

  14. queuno
    February 21, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Swisster, then why not wait to reorganize the First Presidency until after GC?

  15. Josh
    February 21, 2008 at 1:03 am

    President Monson would, of course, continue to be the prophet regardless of who sustained him in general conference by virtue of God’s ordered and prescribed method of selecting His prophet. Remember, this isn’t a democratic organization. Jesus Christ stands at the helm. Most of the world doesn’t sustain the president of the Church as a prophet–that does not invalidate God’s dictates.

    Our sustaining vote demonstrates our commitment to follow and support the Lord’s ordained leaders. As for waiting to ordain them until after general conference, there are plenty of historical examples of ordinations taking place beforehand. They do that now with Melchizedek Priesthood ordinations on occasion today, in fact. There are cases, I am sure, where an vote of opposition could bring to light something that was not previously known and could therefore affect the ordination, but that too can be explained in light of God’s plan to bring to our knowledge events or circumstance we may not previously have known, thus enabling leaders to take necessary action they would not have done prior to such a circumstance.

    By the way, Kaimi, I’m an old missionary companion of yours (Malacatan). Shoot me a line, pal!

  16. February 21, 2008 at 1:27 am

    Common consent is a “rubber stamp”…

    Yes — in a manner of speaking. Similar to what Nephi explains about the rebellious Israelites who failed to sustain the leadership of Moses, after the Lord had confirmed and ratified his prophetic office so many times, time and time again, through miraculous manifestations.

    I think perhaps the Lord would not hesitate to purge rebellious Church members today in a similar fashion, if we failed to “rubber stamp” the calling of a prophet.

    1 Nephi 17:41

    “…the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”

    Alma 37:45

    “…do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way…”
    “…see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live.”

  17. It's Not Me
    February 21, 2008 at 1:29 am

    I know Kevin does not want to argue his point, but I do want to add that it seems–at least from my perspective–that he has it backwards. Perhaps it is we, as individual members of the congregation, who treat the initial sustaining as a rubber stamp, then when we are reminded that we voted to sustain are uncomfortable with the position we find ourselves in. Correction: placed ourselves in.

  18. Lon
    February 21, 2008 at 1:45 am

    I’ve seen meaningful non-sustaining votes in two cases. One as a young man, one during my time serving as a bishop.

    In the first case, a new Teacher’s Quorum President was being sustained. He had, for years, picked on one of the boys in the quorum. When it came time to oppose, that young man purposefully raised his hand. The bishop took that young man out and they had a talk. They came back in. The bishop gave the young man a chance to express why he didn’t think the new President was worthy of the position and he couldn’t support him. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us. The bishop asked the new President if he understood the issue. He said he did. The bishop then said that he would be checking back with the young man in question, to see if the new President was changing his behavior to reflect his new calling. He did. It was a pretty profound change in that young man.

    In the second case, a new second counselor was being called into the bishopric. The EQP found out ahead of time. He came to talk to me. This man had not been doing his HT in any way that the EQP felt was fulfilling his priesthood calling and that he would not sustain him in the new calling and his advance to HP. I told him to do what his conscience dictated. Before the meeting, the EQP talked with the HC who would be performing the sustaining vote. He was told the same thing. When the time came, the EQP raised his hand to oppose. A few members noticed and were very surprised. Most didn’t notice a thing. The new second counselor was put in place. I told him who had been in opposition and why. I also told him that he had to step things up. He did. The EQP saw that in the weekly PC meetings. Three months later, the EQP got up in Fast & Testimony meeting and publicly sustained the second counselor.

    I do know of one instance where an opposing vote changed things. But I wasn’t there. In my folks ward, a man had been called to a bishopric. A sister in the ward opposed. The HC talked to her. Next Sunday, the man was released. It was never announced why.

    The sustaining vote has nothing to do with electing the person to their calling. It’s about a public indication that we will individually get behind the person in their new calling. It is also a chance for individuals who might know something about a person’s worthiness to speak up. But it is not a vote.

  19. Kaimi Wenger
    February 21, 2008 at 2:15 am

    I understand the idea — articulated by a lot of folks — that common consent isn’t really about approving the leader; that it’s really a test for the follower; and so on. It’s an appealing idea, because it’s one relatively simple way to reconcile common consent with the idea of prophetic calling.

    I’m not so sure that that’s the answer, though. In particular, that approach seems at odds with the D&C discussions of common consent, as well as church history incidents (such as with Hiram Page) where common consent seemed to be very important, not just as a self-test for church members, but in confirming the position of church leaders (including Joseph Smith).

    D&C 28 contains the most in-depth discussion of the idea:

    11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan ddeceiveth him;
    12 For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
    13 For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.

    In other words — Hiram Page is not in position to be acting as prophet because he has not been sustained by the members as such. And really, that was the core of Joseph’s response to Page’s challenge. (Various biographies discuss this.)

    (A similar rule is laid out in D&C 26: “And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith.”)

    Those verses make it appear that common consent has real teeth, not just in the area of personal righteousness of the sustaining members, but rather in the arena of running the church. In fact, that’s the _only_ thing that common consent is mentioned as doing in the D&C — actually playing a part in the management of the church.

    (See also D&C 104, mentioning common consent as part of running the United Order.)

    The D&C seems to contemplate a common consent norm that plays a real role in church management. Has that changed? Is common consent now a test for the individual member only, and plays just a nominal role in actual church management?

    And if so, when did the shift take place — and why?

  20. Ray
    February 21, 2008 at 2:44 am

    The standard wording is, “It is *proposed* that we sustain . . . All opposed . . .” My vote is a sign that I am willing to sustain the *proposed* action – or not to sustain it. Any construct that limits or denies that right to object to a proposal makes it something other than a proposal.

    Since we don’t believe in infallibility in the issuing of callings, and since there have been and continue to be instances where a dissenting vote has changed a calling, I have a hard time accepting a sustaining vote as anything less than a sustaining vote. I can accept the idea that we are not “electing” someone, but that doesn’t mean that my vote always should be seen as automatic or a test of my faith. If I know nothing that would disqualify a candidate for the office to which s/he is being called, I accept fully my need to accept it on faith – if as nothing more than my public statement of trust in the person who issued the call. If I know of something that would disqualify the candidate, however, I feel it is my duty to make it known to the proper person – even if that means I have to raise my hand in opposition to the calling / action.

  21. queuno
    February 21, 2008 at 3:40 am

    (Small threadjack: Whenever I hear the phrase “The Kingdom of God is not a democracy”, I envision “Chariots of Fire”…)

  22. February 21, 2008 at 9:59 am

    David B. Haight, October 1998 General Conference:

    “And in a setting in Kanesville, there were nine of the Twelve assembled: two were in the valley here, one had gone to Texas, and nine were there. In that setting, in the Orson Hyde home, the First Presidency was reorganized on December the 5th, 1847, but they needed to have it ratified by the Saints. And so that meeting was postponed for three weeks so they could build a little log tabernacle in Kanesville. And in three weeks, with the workmen there and the members of the Church who had come in by wagons getting ready to cross the Missouri and head for the valley, they built a little tabernacle.

    “In that meeting was presented a proposition that the Presidency of the Church would be reorganized, but they needed a sustaining like we’ve done here today, like that opportunity that is ours to raise our hands and sustain the prophet. So the First Presidency was reorganized; Brigham Young had selected Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards to be his counselors. Thus, it takes the sustaining of the people to give the leaders of the Church the authority that the Lord has designated by revelation that is necessary.”

  23. Swisster
    February 21, 2008 at 10:00 am

    queno — Right. I am just confused about why things would work in a different order for the topic quorums of the church. Is the order “call, sustain, set apart” at the ward and stake levels, but “call, set apart, sustain” at the general level?

  24. Eric Boysen
    February 21, 2008 at 10:09 am

    I interpret “common consent” to be, not a vote of enthusiasm, but rather a vote of “I can go along with that.”

    In practice it appears to be used for two things: 1) acceptance of officers and 2) acceptance of scripture. (oh, also I think the church audit commitee report, but why that non-varying annual event I couldn’t say). Since I rarely know the people involved, I have never had occasion to vote anything but in affirmation of candidates for church office. As for scripture, the cannon is open but rarely appended to. The last go round pre-dates my membership. Writings are pretty well vetted before they are elevated to that status, though there are things we treat as core doctrinal statements of the prophets that I wish they would add..

  25. dpc
    February 21, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I believe that during the Nauvoo period, the church membership rejected Sidney Rigdon (maybe it was Frederick G. Williams?) as a member of the First Presidency, even though Joseph Smith eventually convinced them he should be allowed to stay. I can’t find the source, but I think there is some precedent in the church membership rejecting a member of the First Presidency

  26. Mark IV
    February 21, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I remember reading in an ancestor’s journal about the calling of a new bishop in their ward, I think it was in the Brigham City area. The ward rejected the newly called bishop, and my ancestor recorded his belief that it was because his wife was thought to be a busybody. There were no repercussions, a few weeks later a different man was called.

  27. JM
    February 21, 2008 at 11:15 am

    There is a third option, abstaining from voting.

    I had an issue where I had a disagreement with our stake presidency regarding something that was happening in our stake. This ‘happening’, was something that was going against a common, established procedure and against a directive in the CHI and against an administrative directive in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    I struggled with this for a number of months. Ward conference was approaching and I didn’t want to make a scene by casting an opposition vote. I approached the bishop a couple of weeks previous and notified him of my opposition. He said he would take up the matter with the SP at his next monthly interview with him to see if he could offer any explanation or direction. He suggested I abstain from voting until he spoke with the SP.

    In the end, I ended up speaking to the Stake President before stake conference. I outlined my reasoning for opposing his stake presicency. There was no resolution. He offered that I could appeal to a higher authority, but that it would probably come back to him anyway to deal with and that we would be in the same situation. Basically my opposition didn’t affect anything. He felt the need to carry on. We parted agreeing to disagree. Now, when presented with the opportuinity to sustain or oppose the stake presidency, I just abstain.

  28. A Turtle Named Mack
    February 21, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I’m with Kevin on this one. What once may have been a meaningful exercise in democracy has been transformed into a simple matter of bureaucracy. I also begin to boil when “reminded” that my sustaining vote somehow binds me to future action. Therefore, I commonly abstain from sustaining people in callings that I have no intention of supporting (lest my affirmative vote for the Ward Choir Director be construed as a willingness to join to Ward Choir). I don’t oppose the calling, I just want nothing to do with sustaining it. That third option should be announced as a possibility from the pulpit as well.

  29. Kevin Barney
    February 21, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    The episode dpc is thinking of is as follows:

    In 1837, Joseph Smith put forward the names of his counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, for a sustaining vote. Williams was not sustained and so was replaced by Hyrum.

    The episode I was earlier thinking of is as follows:

    In 1843, Smith intended to place Amasa M. Lyman in the presidency and release Rigdon. However, during his address at the October 1843 general conference, Rigdon asked that he remain in the Presidency. The congregation then voted to retain him as first counselor, contrary to Smith’s expressed wishes. After the vote, Smith stood and stated, “I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. You may carry him, but I will not.”

  30. CS Eric
    February 21, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    We have our ward conference this weekend. I am debating on whether to abstain when the local leaders are presented for a sustaining vote.

    We have a couple in the ward, he the First Counselor in the bishopric and she the Relief Society President, who meet all the outside requirements (active, full tithe payers, etc.). But they are spiritual and emotional bullies. We have complained to the bishop several times about their bullying, but since he is the Alpha Male, he isn’t going to see it–bullies don’t attack the Alpha. They pick on and abuse members in the ward who are on the margins, including my wife.

    I’m not sure I have reason to vote no, but I am sure not going to vote “yes.”

  31. Dave Kitchen
    February 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    My thought on the “rubber stamp” issue is that it varies by person and calling. When Brother X is sustained in General Conference as a member of the Seventy, and he is serving as an Area Authority over Chile, I consider my vote to have very little weight. I do not know the man. I don’t live in his area. And it is unlikely he would ever be moved to preside over my area. Mostly, I am sustaining the process and those who called him.

    However, when Sister Y is called to serve as a nursery worker in my ward, I consider my vote to have great weight. I know sister Y, and my daughter is in the nursery. In this instance, there would be some merit if someone later reminded me that I had sustained Sister Y.

    I was asked to serve in a bishopric about 15 minutes before I was sustained. In those few minutes, I counseled deeply with my wife, discussed the burden the calling would carry, and instructed her to take her sustaining vote seriously. At the time my name was read I was not 100% sure that she would in fact sustain me. She did. There have been times since then when the burden has been unusually heavy and I have reminded her of her vote.

    That said, I find it much more worthwhile to ask “do you still sustain me” than to remind her of her previous vote. I believe sustaining is an ongoing question, not a one time deal.

  32. bbell
    February 21, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I have seen several “no votes” in my life.

    The most memorable was when several parents objected to the Bishops son being advanced to Teacher over constant bullying. He was conducting and seemed real upset. It ended up being OK. The bullying stopped and after a few months the son was ordained.

  33. annahannah
    February 21, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    My 20 year old son has not raised his hand to sustain anybody or anything since he was told in sunday school years ago that to sustain meant to support. He doesn’t want to have anybody tell him that he has to do something because he raised his hand.

    One time,over 15 years ago, I was in the mothers’ lounge when they called a new YM presidency. I immediately broke into tears. I had a son in YM, and 2 of the 3 leaders were somewhat bullies…making fun of people, rough, etc. Later, when I told the bishop how I had cried, he wanted to know if I wanted to oppose the calling. I sustained it in the idea that I believed callings were called by the Lord, but I still saw the childish behavior of the presidency. Don’t know about that one.

  34. dpc
    February 21, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    #29. Thanks Kevin. A good historian I am not! I think I got both of those episodes confused and thought they happened at the same time

  35. Paul
    February 21, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Elder Steven E. Snow, of the presidency of the Seventy, discussed this to some extent in our Stake Conference last Sunday. (He was there to reorganize our stake presidency.) He talked about sustaining and told us that if everybody in the audience had voted in opposition to the new stake president, then \”you can be sure he wouldn\’t be your next stake president.\”

    For what that\’s worth.

  36. Lon
    February 21, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    To address #19, I think there are still situations where the congregation could have an effect if they did not support a situation either individually or ‘en masse’. As I said, I know of one situation where a single voice derailed a calling for reasons I never learned. But that woman knew something that made that man unsuitable for the calling he had been nominated for. Had she not opposed the sustaining vote, the information she had may not have come to light. Who knows what the outcome could have been?

    A bishop flat out could not serve if a majority of the ward (probably even a significant minority) did not sustain him. It wouldn’t work. You could argue that that one group or the other is wrong in a spiritual sense but I don’t know that is always the case. I am reminded of a story I was told about my grandparent’s ward. It may or may not be fully true in the details since it happened 50 years ago or more and I always heard from one side. In addition, my memory may be playing tricks on me. In this story, a man was called to be bishop in a Southern Utah ward. The man was a farmer who had for years had run ins with other farmers, including my grandfather, over water (common occurrence even these days). A significant number of the ward could not support that man as bishop. My grandfather was among them. A water dispute may or may not have had underpinning spiritual issues. More likely, it was a civil dispute that had festered over years. The man called to bishop was likely a qualified man who could have filled the position. But he couldn’t due to this ongoing disputation.

    I guess what I am saying is that I thing the admonition that all things must be done by common consent is that the church cannot and should not operate in secrecy. Everything has to be done in the open so the people can know who has what authority. I mean, one need only look at the claims made regarding the continued practice of polygamy to see the dangerous of creating ‘secret authorities’. That seems to sync with the admonition of Hirum Page. He had not publicly received authority to do what he had done. And that is as true today as it was then.

    I’m hoping I make sense here.

  37. February 21, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Great discussion and fascinating to hear the experiences and insight from so many. It is very difficult to take a practice/principle and sterotype how it works or doesn\’t work in a worldwide Church of 13 million people. I imagine that in some areas, wards, branches, etc… common consent operates very much like a rubber stamp – from the experiences shared above there are obviously places where common consent is very much not that way. There are a lot of reasons why a calling may be issued beyond simply the service the person will render. And as such common consent plays a big part – the examples above illustrate that – through a calling and common consent (or the withdrawal of it) behavior changes occurred and in some of the cases likely repentance as well.

    As for the exceptions that people have noted with how things happen with the First Presidency today and with ordinations of Elders I don\’t see any conflict with the principle of common consent. Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept is a principle that is very evident in the work of the Restored Gospel – the Church organizationally today looks very little like it did when the First and Second Elders were sustained on April 6th. In Joseph Smith\’s time the First Presidency and it\’s operation and influence were still being understood. As the Lord\’s Church grows he adapts his organization and practices accordingly. In today\’s world for the Church to function without the First Presidency for a significant amount of time would likely be very difficult – thus the Lord instructs the Quorum of the Twelve to reorganize the First Presidency. I have complete faith that if there was a valid reason for common consent to be withdrawn from the First Presidency that it could happen – it is very, very unlikely obviously. In the case of Elders on missions or at school where that action cannot be sustained by common consent after the fact then action could be taken. Sustaining an action after the fact doesn\’t remove the efficacy of it.

    Interestingly no Apostle was called to fill the opening in the Twelve and likely won\’t be until Conference as was the case with Elder Cook and Elders Bednar and Uchtdorf.

    To end on a lighter note – when I sustain our Ward Choir director I do so with this reasoning – I can\’t carry a tune (ask my wife) so by not going I am blessing the Ward Choir (I commonly joke that the Director asked me not to come). Additionally I am more than happy to watch our little girl so that my wife who can sing can attend. Whether or not that reasoning if valid I don\’t know, but it works for me.

  38. TonyP
    February 21, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Was he set apart…or was he ordained? Presidents have been both in the past, but in recent years I think most have been ordained. Then there was Brother Brigham who, if I remember correctly, was neither set apart nor ordained. Anyone have an answer?

  39. February 21, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Sustaining votes exist so that there is a clarity about who is in positions of leadership. It’s not a vote for someone, it’s a formal recognition of that person as the leader. This way there is no secret prophet.

    Also, it is a chance for us to bring up issues of worthiness, and similar concerns, for the person being sustained if we have them.

    Finally, when the saints rejected FGW, that was their fault, not the prophet’s. God can’t force anyone to obey him. Sustaining is our way of being on God’s side.

    Not a vote, but yes, very important.

    I think the ‘democratic new england’ thing was the church not yet being grown up, it wasn’t ‘how things should be, we’ve moved away from them’.

    That’s my thoughts there.

  40. rp
    February 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    One elder in my mission baptized a number of unprepared children, some underage.
    Q: Why was this wrong?
    A: These kids did not understand the covenant, or what is required of the covenant, and therefore cannot be bound to live it.

    When you make the baptismal covenant you accept the church doctrine as embodied by the official canon. If the canon is to be added to, each individual in the covenant must acknowledge and sustain the new addition, thus extending their covenant with the lord. Otherwise, how could they be bound by covenant to accept the new scripture if it wasn’t part of Scripture when they entered into the covenant? Thus we sustain the doctrine. But along with the doctrine, there is the administration of the doctrine. There are too many administrative details for us to sustain each particular action (each chapel built, each new manual, etc.), so instead, we sustain the administrators of the doctrine.

  41. TMD
    February 21, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    33 does that include the prophet?

  42. gst
    February 21, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    ZSorenson, at #39 you make these two assertions in the same post:

    “[Sustaining] is a chance for us to bring up issues of worthiness, and similar concerns, for the person being sustained if we have them.”


    “Sustaining is our way of being on God’s side.”

    Which leaves me very confused. If I don’t sustain a fellow because he’s a pederast, or a known coffee imbiber, or whatever, am I no longer on God’s side? Or is sustaining our way of being on God’s side by sustaining only those callings that God got right? Or am I missing something?

  43. Brent Hartman
    February 21, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    If you don\’t sustain the President of the Church then you will loose you good standing in the Church. \”All those that sustain the President of the Church may do so with uplifted hand……and all those who would like to show their apostasy may do so now.\”

    In a way you could say that leadership uses a certain amount of leverage to make sure people sustain them. \”Sustain me, or hand over you temple recommend.\”

    If you don\’t believe me, just try it.

  44. gst
    February 21, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Brent, guess which appendage I’m holding up now.

  45. Christian
    February 21, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Kevin Barney: “You know what I hate? When leaders remind us that we voted to sustain someone or something and try to use that as leverage to make us do some unpleasant thing. Don’t treat it as a rubber stamp when you’re asking for the vote and then turn around and pretend that it is substantive when you’re trying to influence behavior.”

    Who says it’s a rubber-stamp? Leaders have been, and still are, rejected by common consent. Scriptures are cannonized to standard works through common consent, and we haven’t added very many new ones over the last century. This is the church. You take it seriously, or you don’t, but that says more about you than about Common Consent.

    No, it’s not democracy. It’s covenant, just like Joshua and King Benjamin all put God’s laws up for the people to sustain or reject.

  46. Brent Hartman
    February 21, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Wow, gst, I’m flattered!

  47. Dom1NATE
    February 22, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    We don\’t wait until GC to sustain the president of the quorum of the twelve as the prophet because we have already sustained that brother as an apostle. The keys to the kingdom reside with the entire quorum. There is no advancement or change of priesthood authority when a member of the twelve becomes president and prophet.

    No member of the church becomes an apostle before receiving a sustaining vote.

  48. Gander
    February 23, 2008 at 12:46 am

    Agree with the rubber stamp. Too ingrained to ever go away, but format should be changed so members understand that it’s not a vote. Maybe use “sustain” instead of “sustaining vote”.

  49. SSCenter
    February 23, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    My understanding is that you should only oppose when you know something that would make the person unworthy. When President Benson became prophet I remember some saying they could not sustain him because of his strong political views. His politics did not, of course, change his worthiness and I\’m sure very few actually opposed him.

  50. February 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    I disagree strongly with the “not a vote” sentiment. The language of the Doctrine and Covenants and essentially all current Church publications use the word vote*. The D&C uses it even more often than the phrase “common consent.” It may not be a democratic system in the western sense, with candidates and debates and … (heaven forbid), but I fail to see how calling what we do a “vote” is somehow a misapplication of the term. A vote is a vote; in this case, it’s not between people, but yea or nay on a particular proposal (ie, that the decision to put this person in that calling). This is of course not foreign to political processes of any democracy, where measures are put forth either to a direct or representative process.

    It is indeed the “voice of the Church” sustaining and upholding a person that makes that person a leader. If nobody sustained him or her, that person would not be leading anybody, because he or she would have no followers committed—“indentured,” if you like—to him or her. This concept also has application in politics.

    As far as Church history goes, I’m suprised nobody has brought up William Smith, who served as presiding patriarch after Hyrum Smith. Brigham Young set him apart to that capacity without a vote, but when the next conference came, not only was he not sustained, but a vote was taken** as to whether he should be excommunicated, which I believe was unanimous.

    * A dictionary definition is basically useless with the scriptures, so please spare me the obvious.

    ** This may be an important procedural change to this discussion. The last general authority to be excommunicated was George P Lee (Sept. 1989). Not only was a vote not taken, the only mention of this occurring was a two sentence blurb in the “News of the Church” section of the Ensign. This, of course, has applied to local excommunications for quite some time now, but it was not always that way. I’m wondering the exact time this change happened. Even without a congregation’s vote, however, a high council will take a vote, which need not be unanimous.

  51. Alan L
    February 23, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    The last negative vote I saw was made by the candidate himself. He quickly got up and told the High Counselor conducting the business that he was voting no because he hadn’t been interviewed for the calling!!! A little laugh never hurts in Sacrament meeting.

  52. Aaron Brown
    February 24, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Alan, I saw something similar on my mission. Two men were called to prominent ward positions, and both stood in opposition to their callings, as they hadn’t been informed of them in advance. Alas, this wasn’t perceived as funny by the congregation, but as very, very awkward. The Bishop was already somewhat reviled for his bad habit of standing up two minutes before Sacrament was to end, and discoursing spontaneously for 20 minutes on random, uninteresting topics. So this just added fuel to the fire.


  53. anonymous
    February 24, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I really think that we should all watch “Mobsters and Mormons”….it is the best teaching of this principle in action. :)

  54. East Coast
    February 24, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    I watched Mobsters and Mormons on the recommendation of a friend and found myself being offended in a number of ways; the portrayal of Catholics being one of them. However, I did find the relevant part of the movie (not sustaining a church leader) to be very interesting if rather unlikely.

  55. February 26, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    A friend of mine from law school had the same experience, of being called without an interview and of voting to oppose his calling. I know that Brigham Young would call people on missions who were in the tabernacle in that way, and ask for a sustaining vote, but I assume they could have objected in the same way.

  56. DW
    February 28, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Lots of interesting comments, but I’m not sure if anyone has got to the heart of the first question: What would happen if the members (en masse, I’m assuming) opposed President Monson?

    Would he still be the President of the Church? The answer, I think, is no. Does this mean the Church has apostasized? I think so, but perhaps only in a certain sense. A new president would likely be sustained, and assuming that it is someone with the authority (an apostle) and everything is done in proper order, things would continue in the Church, as far as I can reason, with the priesthood authority. And I imagine the Spirit would continue to be with certain individuals and they would carry on with the work of the Kingdom. Obviously, the Church would be in serious trouble and God would be angry for the Saints not sustaining who He wants to be Prophet, but I wonder if this would preclude the Church from carrying on, perhaps even repenting later?

    I honestly don’t know if my assessment of things here is correct. The situation has never happened, and I seriously doubt it will.

    I suppose another possible thing to imagine is that the rejected prophet could start up another Church, on God’s command, and this new church presumably would now be the Lord’s Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would now be a completely apostate organization that is devoid of priesthood authority …. ? Would that be the case? I really don’t know.

  57. Ray
    February 28, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    #56 – Sounds like a very carefully worded position statement for the Community of Christ.

  58. March 6, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    nice work man 10x

  59. Christian
    March 17, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    What would happen if the members (en masse, I’m assuming) opposed President Monson?

    Would he still be the President of the Church? The answer, I think, is no. Does this mean the Church has apostasized? I think so, but perhaps only in a certain sense. A new president would likely be sustained, and assuming that it is someone with the authority (an apostle) and everything is done in proper order, things would continue in the Church, as far as I can reason, with the priesthood authority. And I imagine the Spirit would continue to be with certain individuals and they would carry on with the work of the Kingdom. Obviously, the Church would be in serious trouble and God would be angry for the Saints not sustaining who He wants to be Prophet, but I wonder if this would preclude the Church from carrying on, perhaps even repenting later?

    Why do you exclude the possibility that the Lord might be working through the members of the church? The process of common consent comes to the church through revelation, does it not? Why on earth would you assume that a process that the Lord set up would result in the frustration of the Lord’s purposes?

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