I was running late on my way down to Layton, UT for a mission reunion. We were watching the Saturday Afternoon session of General Conference together, and I was about 15 minutes away when the broadcast started. I flipped on my car radio and tuned in as they began reading the names of the General Authorities for a sustaining vote. As the names of the first presidency were read and the vote requested, I silently raised my hand as a personal message to myself that I sustain Thomas S. Monson and his two counselors. I sat there reflecting about the oddity of the situation. There I was, wandering through the suburban maze of Layton, UT, hopelessly lost; and yet, I felt an obligation to show my personal support for our leaders, knowing full well that only me and the bearded man mowing his lawn and giving me funny looks would see it. As President Uchtdorf moved on, I focused again on finding my destination. Moments later I was surprised to hear shouts of “Opposed! Opposed!” drifting out my car radio. I literally stopped my car and sat there listening, the lawn-mowing man now staring me down with contempt. “What was that I just heard?” I thought. “I’ve never heard someone do that. What does this mean? How do they handle this?” As any of you who watched or listened to the broadcast are well aware, President Uchtdorf took it in stride, inviting those opposed to speak with their stake presidents about the reasons for their opposition.
While I had never heard of this happening before, I can say I wasn’t overly shocked, considering recent events such as the excommunications of both John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, as well as other controversial social issues with which the church has been involved. Later, while researching the events of the day, I discovered that the whole thing was a stunt that had been planned in advance, and that President Uchtdorf was more than likely expecting this to happen. Still, as I sat there pondering, the faint sound of sprinklers echoing in my thoughts, I questioned, “Can they do that?” The answer is a resounding, “Of course they can.” Here’s why:
The “Law of Common Consent” is found in the Doctrine & Covenants in several places, such as section 26 verse two and 28 verse 13. In short, the “Law of Common Consent” states that everything in the Church is to be agreed upon by the body of the Church as a whole. So, in other words, these members were well within their rights to oppose the sustaining of church officers. For one thing, church leaders literally ask for it. Asking for an opposing vote is not a ploy to weed out the unbelievers, it’s a serious request, and such opposition isn’t new–it has happened in past conferences. Samantha Shelley wrote an excellent article outlining some of the history of dissenting votes in the Church. We recommend you check it out here: http://www.whatsoeverisgood.com/the-right-to-oppose/
So what does this mean? Is President Monson getting thrown out? Is Dieter F. Uchtdorf going back to his day job flying planes? Of course not. So how are we, as a membership, meant to react to this?
Watching social media has been interesting in the wake of this, in historic and contextual terms, really insignificant event. I’ve seen members condemning the actions of these people, calling them anything from disgruntled ex-mormons to attention-seekers. Thankfully, the conversation has evolved into most people simply declaring that they sustain Thomas S. Monson as prophet, an action that is perfectly appropriate, though perhaps somewhat unnecessarygiven that we literally all just had the chance to do that in conference.
Personally, I’m somewhat surprised at the initial reaction to the opposed votes. It perhaps highlights one of the issues these people were trying to make a statement about. Many people in the Church feel that they can’t voice their concerns about Church doctrine or the actions of Church leaders for fear that they will face social or official consequences. Let me just say, I think this thinking is flawed. There is plenty of room in the Church for questions and even doubts. Numerous General Authorities have recently spoken on this very topic–Sister Wixom, for example, discussed doubts and questions in this morning’s conference session–and they have encouraged members to be active and involved in their congregations, no matter the level of their testimony. Despite this, there is a prevalent culture in the Church that often assumes that someone with questions is ready to leave the Church, or perhaps working against it. This culture is damaging and unproductive to the inclusive mission of the Church. In our digital age, it’s easy for anyone to find all the “evidence” they need, whether true or not, to decide to leave the Church, and if we reject those struggling with unresolved questions, then we are in no way fulfilling the Savior’s injunction in the Doctrine & Covenants to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”
Despite the fact that this was obviously a calculated attempt to draw the attention of the press to particular issues, the way that the membership of the Church reacts says a lot about who we are and what we stand for. I sincerely hope that as a church we can welcome those who have opposing opinions with the same hand of fellowship and forgiveness that we would extend to anyone else.
For what it’s worth, I absolutely sustain Thomas S. Monson, his counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators, and look forward to their messages for us and the rest of the world in today’s sessions of conference.