Is our procedure for sustaining new appointments in the church a rubber stamp? The dictionary defines a rubber stamp in this way:
“a body or person that approves or endorses a program or policy with little or no dissent or discussion.”
In all cases, no matter what ward or branch of the church I have resided in, I have always observed that the congregation approved or endorsed whatever name(s) were presented for the new appointments. In the rare cases in which there was dissent, it was only one single person in the entire congregation and the other members of the congregation were not told the reason of dissent. In other words, there was never a discussion about the merits or demerits of approving the appointments. The dissenter was later, I am told, given an opportunity to discuss his or her apprehensions in private with the priesthood authority.*^*
It has also been my personal observation that both the announcement of new appointments and the actual vote by the raising of the hands have been performed in the same meeting, the vote taking place right after the announcement. So, the congregation is surprised to hear of a new appointment and then must make an instantaneous decision whether to support it or not. In addition, often times names are lumped together for the vote. Instead of calling a name and asking for a vote on that name and then calling another name and asking for a vote on that name, etc., we get three or four names back-to-back and then a vote to sustain these people, lumped together.
One other observation that I’ve noted is that sometimes when a new leader is appointed, prior to a church vote being cast to approve or disapprove the appointment, the new leader will simply assume that he/she will be chosen by the people, since the people always vote in the affirmative, and that nearly always unanimously, and these newly selected leaders will begin to work in their new appointments and make changes even before the appointment has been finalized by the voice of the people. Hence, the tendency of the current practice is to engender the assumption of a unanimous vote in the affirmative, or in other words, the assumption of a rubber stamp. In practice, it has all the appearances of a rubber stamp and just as a duck is a duck if it looks and walks and talks like a duck, so is a rubber stamp a rubber stamp if it looks and behaves like a rubber stamp. If the law of common consent were done in a different way, no one would assume that the people would approve of them, but instead would wonder whether the people would approve, and no one would begin to exercise the authority of their new calling without first having the confirmation of the people, since that would be usurpation of authority, it having not yet been given (requiring both the Lord’s appointment and the people’s appointment.)
The danger of unrighteous dominion in the current practice of the law of common consent is real. A man in authority, who gives in to the tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion may call friends and associates to positions of authority and leadership in his ward, not because of the Lord’s directives, but because of his own desires, with the sure knowledge that the “voice of the people” will always be in the affirmative, no matter who is called, as long as there are no notable and apparent transgressions in the one(s) being called.
Although the law of common consent is ingenious and an effective means to safeguard against uninspired decisions, its current practice nullifies its ability to check unrighteous dominion. I have been told that when the church was first restored, that the act of sustaining did not take place as it takes place today. I have been told that each name that was presented was openly discussed among the congregation, in the moment of presenting the name, with each person among the congregation being able to rise and give his or her opinion, feeling or testimony concerning the appointment, good or bad, and after the discussion had ended, a vote was taken. Whether this was the case with the earlier church or not, is not the issue. The fact remains that such a discussion tends to strengthen the power of common consent to diminish unrighteous dominion. Whenever things take place in secrecy, there is a tendency towards tyranny. In open discussion, all the facts and feelings are presented, and people can make better judgments.
There may be a better, wiser way to practice the law of common consent. People need time to go to the Lord in prayer and ask that the Holy Ghost reveal to them the truthfulness of an appointment, meaning that they need time to confirm that a new appointment was actually given by direct revelation from God. A way to give them this time would be to make the announcement of new appointments in sacrament meeting and to have those names published in the church program and then to take the vote on those names the following Sunday during sacrament meeting. In addition, to allow, prior to any vote, for anyone to voice any opinion, feeling or testimony they would like to about those appointments, including dissenting opinions. Such a procedure would reduce the number of false appointments to zero and increase the number of true appointments to 100% (unless the congregation themselves are unworthy and cannot receive revelation from the Holy Ghost*~*), as well as increase the confidence of the congregation in the appointment and in the revelatory nature of the gospel.
This procedure can also be implemented on a stake or general conference level. For example, the first day of conference the newly appointed names would be read and the second day of conference the discussion and vote would occur. Or, if the names are known in the week(s) prior to stake or general conference, these names can be transmitted to the local wards or branches to be read in sacrament meeting the Sunday before conference. In this way the people would have at least a day and perhaps up to a week or more to ask their God for confirmation of the appointments. Then, during the conference, prior to the vote, an open discussion of the names can take place. In the case of general conference*#*, an additional, non-broadcasted half hour can be added to one of the sessions on Saturday (if the names were known and read to the local congregations in sacrament meeting in the previous week) or on Sunday (if the names were read to the church in a Saturday general conference session,) whereby the local congregations can openly discuss the names and then vote on them. Afterward, the results of the vote can be transmitted to Salt Lake City and then announced in one of the remaining sessions of general conference (depending on when the results are received.)
Although the above recommendations are more involved than the current practice, they would be an effective means to reduce and eliminate unrighteous dominion among us.
*^* It seems that the general opinion of people in regard to sustaining is that if you don’t know if a person who has been called is guilty of transgression, you should raise your hand in approbation, since this shows your support of the bishop’s inspired leadership and calling. If, however, you do know of some possible transgression that a newly called person may have committed, you ought to raise your hand in opposition, so that the priesthood leadership can take note and speak to the opposing individual in private to determine whether he or she possesses new information which would alter the decision to call that person. Because of the intimate topic of worthiness, this is done in private. We have this procedure and policy explained in manuals of the church and in fact explained by leaders on all levels. On the surface it may appear to be reasonable. However, when fully analyzed, it becomes clear that the worthiness of the newly called is by no means the only reason for objection to their calling. If there are 10 worthy members and one gets called for a new position, worthiness plays no part in distinguishing one from the other. The question, therefore, is not just one of worthiness, but one of whether the appointment is indeed done by the Lord. In other words, who is the Lord’s pick? If the Lord has picked person number 1 but the bishop has picked person number 10, yet all 10 are worthy, by following the current formulaic practice of worthiness being the only justifiable reason for an opposing vote, the Lord’s pick will not be chosen and unrighteous dominion wins again. An open discussion of the appointments prior to a vote is the wisest course. In cases of accusation of transgression, in other words, in cases in which congregation members possess knowledge or evidence of an appointment’s unworthiness, we already have procedures for telling these things in private (see the law of the church in D&C 42) and a person can stand and state that they wish the voting to be delayed until they can transmit information to the bishop or other authority which may bring into question the appointment. This spares embarrassment and a public discussion of an accusation of transgression. For all other considerations, however, the congregation should be free to discuss whether the appointment is correct, meaning that the Lord was the one doing the appointment.
*~* There are three things a person can do during the act of sustaining: a hand can be raised in approbation, a hand can be raised in opposition, or a hand can remain unraised. If, during the week between learning of an appointment and taking a vote on it, any members of the congregation pray to the Lord and receive confirmation that the appointment is of God, they’ll raise their hands in approbation. If any members receive revelation of the Holy Ghost that the appointment is not of God, they’ll raise their hands in opposition. And if any members receive no revelation from the Holy Ghost, neither confirming nor denying the appointment, they’ll keep their hands down. In this way, a majority of members raising their hands in approbation indicates that they’ve received revelation that the appointment is of God and the appointment goes through. If a majority of members raise their hands in opposition, it means the appointment is not of God and does not go through. And if a majority of members keep their hands down, it means that the members were not able to receive revelation and confirm the appointment and the appointment does not go through. This will quickly indicate the spiritual state of the congregation. Such a case, in which the majority cannot tell whether the appointment is of God or not, may nullify a true appointment (meaning that it does not go through), but this is in keeping with the principle of preaching the word of truth by the Spirit and receiving the word of truth by the Spirit as set forth in D&C 50. Unless an appointment (assuming it consists of the word of truth) is received by the Spirit of truth, it (the process) is not of God. And thus we see that rubber stamping is not of God.
*#* The current practice of sustaining in general conference is even worse at inhibiting unrighteous dominion than that done on a local level. First, the names are announced and then a vote is taken, with no discussion or time to consult with the Lord. Second, the names are routinely lumped together in the vote. Third, because the church is found throughout the world, most of the church is outside of the conference center and their voting cannot be counted. It is presumptuous to announce “that the sustaining has been unanimous in the affirmative” each general conference, when only the small membership of the church that is found within the conference center can be observed to vote. After the vote, the newly called general authorities are asked to take their places on the stand, although the voting of the vast majority of the church is not known. All of this has the appearance of a rubber stamp.
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