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?