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?