Elder J. Golden Kimball (First Council of the Seventy, 1892-1938) was visiting a Stake Conference somewhere in Utah. The weather was warm and sunny. During the afternoon session of conference the congregation settled back in their seats to begin the business of sustaining the authorities of the church.
Brother Kimball, noting the lack of attention he was receiving, became somewhat perturbed. Then without a pause or a change in voice, he said, “It is proposed that Mount Nebo be moved into Utah Lake, all in favor manifest by the usual sign.” Surprisingly, a majority of the people raised their hands.
Then J. Golden raised his voice and said, “Just how in the hell do you people propose we get Mount Nebo into Utah Lake?!”
(The J. Golden Kimball Stories, Eric A. Eliason, p. 57)
Moral of the Story
What can we learn from this story about J. Golden Kimball? What does it illustrate about the practice we call "common consent," when:
1. We do not nominate our leaders;
2. We do not vote for our leaders; and
3. We cannot veto the leaders who are called?
Hey, what about "taxation without representation!"
Just a Sec
Hold on. Maybe there is something more than just public pageantry going on.
Let's think for a moment about what this practice is trying to accomplish.
Sustaining leaders allows us to:
1. Raise our arm (or not);
2. Affirmatively assent to supporting the person who has been called, which we are told is a covenant (or not); and
3. Report damning knowledge of a proposed person's character (or not).
Very good. Do ANY OF THESE THINGS require us to actually go through the motions of sustaining officers, since the outcome is predetermined? Since we can support others regardless of whether their names are read over the pulpit?
1. Does raising our arm (or not) effect the outcome? (No.)
2. Does affirmatively assenting to support the person (or not) effect the outcome? (No.)
3. Does complaining about the nominee's character effect the outcome? (Maybe? If the person has committed some serious sin? Or not?)
Hmmm. So the only instance in which a member can exert any influence on a pre-selected candidate is when they know about that person's secret sin and tattles on them?
Sign me up!
The Real Problem
So what's the problem with having members formally raise their arms and "go on the record" to manifest before God and his angels that they sustain the ward choir conductor, or the building supervisor, or the young women's camp coordinator?
President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
"When you vote affirmatively you make a solemn covenant with the Lord that you will sustain, that is, give your full loyalty and support, without equivocation or reservation, to the officer for whom you vote.”
(Conference Report, April 1970, p. 103)
Please re-read that quote by President Smith.
If what he says is true, then I am afraid the current practice of quote-unquote "common consent" is responsible for our gross condemnation.
Gross condemnation, I said!
Because how many of us sing in the choir? How many of us can say we've given our full loyalty and support, without equivocation or reservation, to everyone serving in their respective callings?
How can we know at the outset (when a person is called) whether their counsel will be inspired? Aren't we to try even the spirits? What place is there for agency, conscience and discretion when we write a blank check?
Isn't trust something to be earned?
And wouldn't such a binding covenant actually violate the covenants we've made with God, to whom we owe our ultimate loyalty? "Well, you know God, yes, I remember I said I would keep your commandments, and I'd really like to, believe me, but President Jones wants me to [X], [Y], [Z]. So I am going do it his way."
Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.
Flip the Coin
Here's our dilemma:
1. Either sustaining church officers is a "solemn covenant," in which case we are all under condemnation because:
a. We occasionally raise our arms perfunctorily, without real intent;
b. It is impossible to perfectly obey and support, without equivocation, every person in every calling we are asked to sustain; and
c. If a person were to fulfil their duty of loyalty under (b), then they necessarily must compromise their higher loyalty to God when the two are in conflict.
- OR -
2. The sustaining of church officers is, in fact, not a covenant, and does not represent the law of common consent.
I mean, aren't we already under covenant to love one another? To be "one?" To bear each other's burdens?
1. The Lord told us, "And all things shall be done by common consent in the church" (D&C 26:2).
2. By definition, "common" means "a lack of privilege or special status; something shared by all members of a group."
3.Oddly, we seem to be going decidedly in the opposite direction, which has created some big problems for us:
(a) we are divided by status; (b) leaders'authority is treated above the Holy Ghost's; and (c) obedience to leaders has substituted for the law of the gospel (which is to love one another).
4.There are no covenants made between leaders and lay members. All covenants are between believers, and between believers and God.
5. In choosing authoritarianism over common consent, we have created a culture of "Strongmen" in which we forfeit spiritual initiative for lifeless conformity.
6.Zion cannot be established without equality, which our hierarchy makes impossible. Until we learn to live by common consent, "Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom" (D&C 105:5).
7. Spiritual communism (in which a religious ruling class dominates the body of Christ) causes us to quench the Spirit. We all have the authority and gift of the Holy Ghost -- direct communication with a member of the Godhead!
8."Keys" have conquered conscience―resulting in a spiritual life that embraces secrecy, lying, double standards, prideful counsel, preferential treatment, control, priestcraft and unrighteous dominion . . . all of which, for some reason, we want to call good.
Who's to blame for the current state-of-affairs?
We all are. We have stood by, allowing our God-given gifts, privileges, and prerogatives to be co-opted by a system that is antithetical to the gospel of Christ.
We have outsourced our spiritual accountability to those who preside over us. We have been lulled into carnal security by Babylon's appealing bribes.
What's the Big Deal?
Some may wonder, "What's the big deal if we don't operate by common consent? Can't we just keep the status-quo, letting others be in charge of our spiritual affairs, keeping our noses to the grindstone, and let the Lord sort things out in the next life?"
Good point. Who needs Zion when we already have a Magisterium? Why swim against the current? Why stand against the wind? Why witness for Christ in the midst of spiritual wickedness?
Here's a reason:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
The most perfect prison is the one we don't know exists. The subtlest bondage is the one we falsely call freedom.
And others will the devil pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well-- and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
[And thus the devil] leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.
(2 Nephi 28:21; 26:22)
So we could lie down, letting our spiritual lives atrophy under the weight of priestcraft. Or, you know, we could awaken.
To our awful situation.
Have you heard people talking about "walking the covenant path" lately? It's everywhere! For example:
President Russel Nelson: "I say, keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere." April 2018 Ensign, "As We Go Forward Together."
Elder Dale Renlund: "When you do these things, you will follow the covenant path and qualify to 'dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.'" October 2020 General Conference, "Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God."
Elder Ronald Rasband: "Whether you have access to a temple or not, you need a current temple recommend to stay firmly on the covenant path." October 2020 General Conference, "Recommended to the Lord."
Elder Quinton Cook: "Righteousness … qualifies us for the sacred ordinances that constitute the covenant path and blesses us to have the Spirit give direction to our lives." October 2020 General Conference, "Hearts Knit in Righteouness and Unity."
President Henry Eyring: "Heavenly Father smiles on you as well whenever He sees you help a daughter of His move along the covenant path toward eternal life." April 2014 General Conference, "Daughters in the Covenant."
. . . and there are many, many more.
*** BREAKING NEWS ALERT ***
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
THERE IS NO "COVENANT PATH" WITHOUT COMMON CONSENT.
How so? Let's find out.
Covenant to Live the Law of Sacrifice
Jesus lived the law of sacrifice by condescending to earth and becoming a man.
He sacrificed his privilege, his status, his power, his entitlement . . . and became the least among us. He showed us that we must sacrifice our desire to be the greatest, to sit in the high seats, to be praised of men, and instead we must wash others' feet as a servant.
Is the body of Christ following Christ's example by setting aside our hierarchical heresies? Are we letting go of our self-importance and authority? Are we living by common consent in the bonds of mutual brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ?
Covenant to Live the Law of the Gospel
The law of the gospel is to love God and to love one another. As Christ exemplified. By this shall all men know that we are His disciples―not based on our title, calling, or status . . . but based on our love.
What is the great sign of love? What empowers our self-determination and agency? What thrives in an environment of liberty, where individuals are treated as equals, as divine beings?
Christ hopes to exalt us, making us "joint heirs" with him.
By contrast, hierarchies refuse to live by common consent in order to keep the commoners in their "place."
Covenant to Live the Law of Consecration
There is no "Land Ho!" for those sailing toward Zion without common consent. In hierarchies, we find only "Walk-the-Plank."
The whole gospel enterprise is to become "one."
I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.
Are we currently constituted as "one?" Are we equal, as the gospel requires? Well, no, of course not! We cannot be one in a hierarchy.
And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just--
And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church.
Is it odd that we have all these scriptures that . . . we don't take seriously?
What is a pirate?
A pirate plunders what doesn't belong to him for profit.
Spiritual pirates, on the other hand, plunder what doesn't belong to them for profit.
See the difference? Me neither.
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Gaddianton Robbers of a Different Stripe
The Chief Gaddianton Robber, Giddianhi, proposed some very reasonable terms to the Nephites (in what is my favorite textbook example of gaslighting):
I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, [see the personal touch?] feeling for your welfare, [how nice of you to care!] because of your firmness [flattery will get you everywhere] in that which ye believe to be right, [oh, just what I think is right?] and your noble spirit [ah, shucks, the greatest generation? Really?] in the field of battle.
Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, [is that all?] rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you [you mean if I don't do what you say I'm doomed?].
Or in other words, [let's try this again] yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us . . . [you really mean it?] and become our brethren [you do care!] that ye may be like unto us-- not our slaves, [well, of course not, silly pants!] but our brethren and partners of all our substance [wait: you're saying you'll kill me unless I give you all my stuff; but if I give you all my stuff, you'll share it with me? How generous of you!].
(3 Nephi 3:5-7)
Modern Giddianhis have learned that using the name of God is profitable. Priestcraft is big business.
They tell us, "God wants you to give me authority; here, let me take it from you; and if you do what I say, you'll be blessed, my friend."
Yikes and double yikes! What kind of horrible hypocrisy is it to promise eternal blessings to those that walk the "covenant path," while denying the very laws that God ordained for those blessings? Will a man rob God?
Oh dear! We're already at Post 8 of this series and we haven't even looked at the definition of "common consent"yet.
What does "common consent" really mean? (It would be nice to know ― after all, we are supposed to be living by it!)
As Learned Hand said, "Words are chameleons."
The problem of equivocation makes it difficult to know what others mean when they say "common consent." They might mean something very different than what we are thinking.
Lost in Translation
* Swedish vacuum company Electrolux used the following slogan in an American advertising campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."
* In Chinese, Kentucky Fried Chicken's slogan "Finger-lickin’ good" came out as "Eat your fingers off."
* Ford had a problem in Brazil when its Pinto vehicle flopped. The company found out that "Pinto" was Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals."
* When Parker Pen marketed its ballpoint pen in Mexico, its advertisements were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word embarazar meant embarrass. Instead the advertisement said: "It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
* The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says under "Common Consent": Today the Church continues to operate by divine revelation and common consent. Callings to positions of Church service at all levels of the organization and ordination to the priesthood are made by the inspiration of authorized leaders and are then brought before the appropriate body of members to be sustained or opposed. Members do not nominate persons to office, but are asked to give their sustaining vote to decisions of presiding councils by raising their right hand, and anyone may give an opposing vote in the same way.
Tiny male genitals, indeed.
What is "Common?"
Let's begin with the first word. What can we learn from the Lord's choice of the word "common?"
1. Common (adjective): something characterized by a lack of privilege or special status.
(The opposite of common is being "set apart, having rank or office.")
2. Common (adjective): something relating to a community at large; shared by all members of a group.
(The opposite of common is "elect, exclusive.")
3. Common (adjective): something that is abundant or frequent.
(The opposite of common is "restricted, scare, seldom.")
Does the Lord, by instructing us to do "all things by common consent," hope to distribute authority among all of us ― spreading power far and wide among a community of believers? Isn't this the exact opposite of concentrating power in a select few?
We live by common consent when we share, as stewards, God's authority.
William Buckley famously said in 1961: "I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone director than by the Harvard University Faculty."
What is "Consent?"
Nailing down consent is tough, so let's try to tenderize it a bit.
When should consent be explicit vs. implied? When should consent be informed vs. given blanketly? In a group, does consent need to be unanimous or just a majority? Should consent be required for administrative actions or just big policy decisions?
These were some of the questions the Framers of the Constitution dealt with: How can we establish a "government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people?" (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863.)
How can a Church be conceived in liberty? How can a religion be dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?
The United States was supposed to be an example ― a prototype, a stepping stone ― towards something greater: Zion.
So why have we retreated away from Zion and common consenttoward authoritarianism and political correctness (i.e. creedal orthodoxy)?
Choosing in Groups
Political scientist Michael Munger has an excellent book called Choosing in Groups (2014). Here are some important take-aways I have gleaned from his research:
1. Wisdom of the Crowd. Groups are essential in order to aggregate, increase, and disseminate information. In other words, we are smarter together. Shared knowledge means the group IQ is far greater than individual IQ.
2. Representation. To maintain legitimacy, groups must allow all members to feel "represented." Everyone needs to have a stake in the outcome. This means everyone needs to have "ownership" and a voice.
3. Freedom. There must be freedom to join as well as to exit. Otherwise you have a cult. The decision to obey a group's rules must be voluntary.
4. Choosing how to Choose. A group must have rules for how to make decisions. The way a group decides something will often predetermine the outcome. In other words, most organizations create rules so that those "in charge" will be able to control the outcome regardless of how the group "chooses." This creates the illusion of choice.
5. Framing the Question. The easiest way to control the outcome is to preselect the alternative choices. For example, if we hold a vote on whether to serve Chocolate or Vanilla ice cream at our Church Social, the person who put Chocolate and Vanilla on the ballot already did the deciding. What if we want Peaches & Cream? Too bad. Or cake rather than ice cream? Or both? There are always more choices than what we are presented with.
6. Darned if you do, Darned if you don't. While limiting the alternatives of a group can cut off a lot of other good options, the fact is the more options there are, the less the outcome will reflect the desire of the majority of the people.
7. Condorcet Paradox: “If there are at least three choices and at least three choosers who disagree, then pairwise majority rule decision processes can imply intransitive group choices, even if all the individual preference orders are transitive." According to Wikipedia: "This means that majority wishes can be in conflict with each other: Majorities prefer, for example, candidate A over B, B over C, and yet C over A. When this occurs, it is because the conflicting majorities are each made up of different groups of individuals."
Okay, enough Social Choice Theory for today!
How did we end up here?
Choosing in groups is messy; it is complicated to build consensus. It requires celestial love and patience.
It is much easier to fall in line with a Strongman. No love or patience required. Just obedience.
So instead of becoming of "one heart" with each other, we have chosen to give our hearts to "one leader" (despite the fact that we already have One Leader, Jesus).
Why did our ancestors choose the way of Babylon? Why did our pioneer forefathers abandon common consent? Why has the Church chosen Strongman leadership instead of pure love? Why has the Church structured itself legally as a Corporation Sole that prevents common consent?
Three men are sitting in a cell at KGB headquarters in Dzerzhinsky Square.
The first man asks the second why he has been imprisoned, who replies, "Because I criticized Karl Radek."
The first man responds, "But I am here because I spoke out in favor of Radek!"
They turn to the third man who has been sitting quietly in the back, and ask him why he is in jail.
He answers, "I'm Karl Radek."
"K" is for "Kremlin"
The Kremlin (or Кремль, for our Russian-speaking friends) lies at the center of Moscow.
What does the word "Kremlin" mean? "Fortress inside a city."
The Kremlin is a both a place and a symbol. It is the seat of power, sitting separate from the city, surrounded by a massive wall, from which the leaders rule.
It looks down upon the Red Square.
"K" is for "Krooked"
1968. Red Square, Russia.
1989. Tiananmen Square, China.
2015. Temple Square, United States.
In Masonry, the "square" is a symbol. It is the joining of two perfect "right angles."
Imagine constructing a building with defective tools, where the carpenter's square was actually not square. How would the building look? Would it stand securely?
And what would happen to the structure―or, in other words, to a civil government or church government―if we used squares that were not, in fact, square?
For example, what would happen if we took Jesus's gospel of liberty and agency and squished it into rules and legalism, administered to please the pride of Judaizers?
Now that's twisted.
Ezekiel warned the leaders of his day about twisting religion, using it for profit and vainglory. He reminded them:
The posts of the temple were squared, and [also] the face of the sanctuary.
"K" is for "Kompass"
The "compass" is also a symbol, representing direction and guidance.
In architecture, a compass allows one to draw a perfect circle.
God walks the Eternal Round:
The mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, [notice: not by leaders] as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.
(1 Nephi 10:19)
The straight and narrow path, when combined with the fourth dimension, represents the path walked by God, who is the same "yesterday, today, and forever."
"K" is for Kristian"
Authoritarian regimes repress freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom to act. If you speak unkindly of Xi Jinging, for example, you are quietly "disappeared."
The goal of authoritarian regimes is to preserve the ideological orthodoxy of the current ruling class. (Notice that if the ruling class changes, so may the state-sanctioned views.)
Too bad: where is our anchor if we are tossed to and fro by the changing views of others above us, whose positions jump around as much as a fashionista's hemline?
Can there be an authentic orthodoxy when the orthodoxy du jour is subject to change based on the preferences of those who are in authority?
Why would Christians put up with this, when Christ is their anchor, and when Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever? Why do Christians permit a revolving political correctness when the gospel has not changed, and yet what was "safe" yesterday may lead to our shunning today?
The lesson? Experience shows the most important thing is to always stay in lockstep with the the current leadership.
Or else, to the gulag with 'ya.
Well, if we send some of our brightest, most faithful, loving members to the gulag (meaning, casting them out of our congregations), what are we left with?
An impoverished community of lackeys. (You know, because they "lack keys.")
In an authoritarian church, it seems to preclude people from authentic belief and expression of faith because they must virtue signal their support of the current leadership's views above all else.
Those who wish to be authentic―that is to say, unorthodox or heterodox―are viewed as being disloyal to the current regime, and risk marginalization or excommunication from the Party.
For example, Jesus was viewed by the Jewish leaders as an unorthodox teacher. His criticism of the hierarchy provoked them to arrest him, hoping to silence Him.
In Soviet Russia, Stalin made an artform of accusing his opponents of being "enemies of the people." Once labeled, Stalin was able to imprison them, expel them, confiscate their property, or even execute them.
Why do we submit to authoritarians? Why do we give them power over us when the Lord called us to love one other, not to love authority?
"K" is for Spiritual "Kommunism"
How could the Church, which was so vocal in its denouncement of communism, come to embrace its authoritarian aspects? Its centralization of power in a select few? How did the gospel come to be governed by an oligarchy?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, how could the Church, which was so vocal in its denouncement of communism, come to embrace its authoritarian aspects?
David O. McKay:
The position of this Church on the subject of Communism has never changed. We consider it the greatest satanical threat to peace, prosperity, and the spread of God's work among men that exists on the face of the earth.
(Improvement Era, June 1966)
When did the Church's position change?
Well, in the 1960s and 1970s.
"K" is for "Korrelation"
The King is dead! Long live the King!
Correlation killed common consent (which was already on life support).
1. What was Correlation supposed to accomplish?
Just ONE thing: David O. McKay wanted to improve and coordinate the Church's study material. Yes, that's right: Correlation was, originally, just a plan to write some class work.
2. What did Correlation become?
Correlation resulted in the creation of a Creedal Orthodoxy for the Church. Which had not existed before. (Think of the Correlation Committee as the Mormon version of a perpetually-convoked-Nicaean Council.)
3. Did Correlation overthrow the Government of God?
Hmmm. I think I'll defer to President David O. McKay to answer this question.
In President David O. McKay's personal diary, he recorded:
"Correlation work affects primarily the duplication of courses of study; and that it should not affect the organization of the Church."
Further, President McKay said that Correlation:
"should be handled very carefully or it will get out of hand . . . . The Correlation Program must be carefully checked."
[For these references and some fun reading about the history of Correlation, see, Dissertation of Daymon M. Smith, 2007, "The Last Shall Be First and the First Shall be Last: Discourse and Mormon History," pp. 433, 438; accessed at: https://bycommonconsent.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/daymon-smith-dissertation.pdf
So, was Correlation "checked?" Did Correlation "get out of hand?" Did Correlation "affect the organization of the Church?"
You be the judge.
"K" is for "Kommon Konsent"
There are three definitions of "litter." Which use of "litter" best describes the gospel plan?
1. Litter: A covered couch or seat carried by others.
[Did Christ call us to be carried about on the shoulders of servants like a Pharaoh?];
2. Litter: Trash or garbage left in a public place.
[Which may qualify for a good amount of our sermonizing]; or
3. Litter: The offspring of an animal.
[Are we the children of the Lion of Judah?]
If we call ourselves His people, why don't we live His commandment to do all things by "common consent?"
Why have we instead embraced authoritarianism and Creedal Orthodoxy?
The Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.