Below is a letter Terryl Givens recently wrote on what it means to sustain Church leadership. It is an outgrowth of an actual correspondence between Brother Givens and a friend, and is posted with Givens’ permission. The friend holds strong feelings about recent changes made to the Church Handbook of Instruction and had asked Givens how someone could sustain a leadership that he or she believed had acted in error or unrighteously.
I am glad you followed through with your question. [How can I sustain a leadership that I think has acted in error or unrighteously]. It is one that is on a lot of minds these days. The word sustain only appears in the scriptures once, so I think it is a pretty important moment to infer its exact meaning. D&C 134.5, admonishes us to “sustain and uphold” the respective governments in which we reside. Now notice that we don’t have to like or agree with a great deal that our governments do. But I take “sustain” in that case to mean we support the general framework, share its common purposes, and work for its betterment. To sustain the elected leaders of a government would similarly mean to recognize their legitimately derived authority, and not work to undermine that authority, even if we voted for the other guy (or woman). So adapting this scriptural usage to the sustaining of our own leaders, I take the same cues. We recognize their legitimately derived authority. (This is made explicit in the temple interview questions. We affirm that they have the priesthood keys to administer in their office.) We pray for them and share their common purpose of building the kingdom, although we may not agree with or embrace their particular course of action at any given moment. But by recognizing their authority, and working within the parameters of kingdom governance to exert our influence on the church’s course in righteous ways, we can be faithful to our covenants even if dubious about particulars, and be true to our consciences at the same time.
I believe, if I can say so, that the way you framed the question shows you are confusing general principles with particulars. You said given a specific policy statement, you have trouble sustaining the leadership as prophets seers and revelators. But sustaining them in their keys and offices never presupposed that we expect their judgment will always agree with God’s–or with ours! That is why we are asked by the Lord himself to receive their words “in all patience and faith.” You have to ask very seriously, why we are admonished to have patience for our leaders. You are experiencing the precise occasion that such words foresaw, and were intended to get you through.
“Within the parameters of kingdom governance” is of course a crucial caveat. Our political government is rightly influenced by the exercise of the vote, of town meetings, petitions, ballot initiatives, legislation and constitutional amendments—even civil disobedience when all else fails. That is how democratic societies operate and flourish. But the church is not a democracy, and what is both effective and appropriate in one system is not in another—in this case in a church predicated on delegated authority from above and a system of hierarchical leadership with vertically distributed keys. So influence needs to be exerted along the lines of section 121, which are divinely revealed principles of righteous influence: “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge.” Obviously, we can only exert righteous influence along those lines if we are part of the institution we wish to shape.
Your brother in the gospel,