The Law of Common Consent
Last Sunday (April 4, 2015) in the second session of general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the sustaining of the General Authorities there were few individuals that opposed the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Why do the members of the church have the opportunity to sustain their leaders and what does it mean when someone votes not sustain them? From the time that the Church was restored until now all those who are called to any position in the church are sustained by the members of the church. In the Doctrine and Covenants it says:
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; (D&C 20:65)
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. Amen. (D&C 26:2)
Also the Fifth Article of Faith states:
We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
What this means is that God calls everyone that serves in any position in the church. Once called, the members of the ward, stake or the entire church depending on their calling, are asked to sustain the person being called. This sustaining is not a vote to determine if the person will serve or not, it is an opportunity for the members to sustain the call and promise to support them. Twice each year in General Conference the members have the opportunity to sustain the general authorities of the church.
Just last October; Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke to the members about what it means to sustain our leaders. He said:
“When we sustain prophets and other leaders, we invoke the law of common consent, for the Lord said, “It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.”
“This gives us, as members of the Lord’s Church, confidence and faith as we strive to keep the scriptural injunction to heed the Lord’s voice as it comes through the voice of His servants the prophets. All leaders in the Lord’s Church are called by proper authority. No prophet or any other leader in this Church, for that matter, has ever called himself or herself. No prophet has ever been elected. The Lord made that clear when He said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you. You and I do not “vote” on Church leaders at any level. We do, though, have the privilege of sustaining them.
“The ways of the Lord are different from the ways of man. Man’s ways remove people from office or business when they grow old or become disabled. But man’s ways are not and never will be the Lord’s ways. Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.
“Twenty-six years before he became President of the Church, then-Elder George Albert Smith said: “The obligation that we make when we raise our hands … is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means … that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct.“ (“Sustaining the Prophets”, Elder Russell M. Nelson, General Conference, October 2014)
What does it mean if someone opposes the sustaining, as was the case this past week? The Church handbook of instructions says:
“If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting. The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position. Dissenting votes from nonmembers need not be considered.”
The only valid reason to oppose a person is if the person opposing has knowledge that the person being sustained is guilty of conduct that would disqualify that person from serving in the calling. It has nothing to do with not agreeing with church doctrine or it’s policies. The opposing member is asked to speak to the presiding authority to explain why they opposed the leaders. If there is a legitimate reason, then the individuals are brought together to discuss their reason.
I have never personally seen anyone oppose a local leader of a ward or stake; however, during the 185 Annual General Conferences of the Church there have been times when individuals have opposed those being sustained. In 1838 members opposed Fredrick G. Williams as a member of the First Presidency and he was later released from the First Presidency. In 1898 several members opposed Elder John W. Taylor as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles because of some negative remarks he made about the Tabernacle Choir. Those opposed met with Elder Taylor and he recanted his statements and the members were satisfied.
There have been those who were opposed to Church’s policies. In 1977 a man objected to the church’s policy on who could hold the priesthood and another time some women objected to the Church’s position on the Equal Rights Amendment to the USU Constitution (1980). In these cases their objections had nothing to do with an individuals ability to serve in the position and nothing changed. We don’t know the reasons why those who opposed the sustaining this time did so, but the media interviewed some after the meeting and they mentioned they did not agree with the church’s policy on same sex marriage as well as women not being able to hold the priesthood. Again these are not related to any of those beings sustained as not being qualified to serve in their position. Those who dissented were asked to meet with their stake presidents to discuss their objections. The stake president is the presiding authority for the member and they are the ones that can determine if there is a legitimate reason for their objection.
Except in rare cases when someone chooses to oppose a person being sustained to a position they are really saying they oppose the Lord in calling that person. If we really believe that a man or woman is called of God to the position, as it states in the Fifth Article of Faith, then we are in opposition to how the Lord is conducting the affairs of his church. The Lord knows the person better than anyone else and if he calls him then we should sustain that person. When we sustain our leaders we are telling everyone that we agree with the Lord and his leaders and that we will support those individuals with our prayers, our willingness to serve in callings and that we will do all that we are asked. That is what common consent means to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I along with millions of the members allover the world sustain the First Presidency, The Quorum of the Twelve, the other General Authorities and local leaders.
Your comments and questions are welcome.
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