“The Sustaining of President Harold B. Lee,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 1
The Sustaining of President Harold B. Lee
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on Thee” were the words of that sacred morning, sung quietly and deeply by the men’s chorus of the Tabernacle Choir.
The day was Friday, October 6, 1972, the first day of the 142nd Semiannual General Conference of the Church. The 10,000-capacity Tabernacle was overflowing with representatives from nearly every ward, stake, and mission in the worldwide Church.
Within an instant of the chorus’s first sounds, the hearts of all present were lifted to the solemn purposes of this hallowed day.
“The darkness is no darkness with Thee, But the night is as clear as the day.” Clearly and slowly came the words. In awesome reverence all assembled and countless thousands more viewing and listening via electronic media considered the impact of this singularly unusual occasion.
In the foreknowledge of God, the time had come for the sustaining in solemn assembly of President Harold B. Lee as the prophet, seer, and revelator and eleventh President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the kingdom of God on earth, it represented another significant milestone in the rolling forth of the work of the Lord.
For many hours before dawn’s first breaking, members of the Church had formed long, serpentine-like lines outside the Tabernacle’s closed doors. The desire of thousands so early gathered was to witness and participate in the sacred, unique, and inspiringly simple yet majestic voting procedures attendant to the sustaining of a new President of the Church.
To accomplish these purposes, the first session of the general conference was officially a solemn assembly, one of the types the Lord has instructed be called when matters of great importance to the kingdom of God on earth are to be conducted.
Now, a few minutes after 10:00 a.m., the male chorus again pleaded, as it were, for all assembled:
“Give ear, O Lord, give ear to my lamentation.”
Never did it seem were words and music more appropriately inspired and presented. Their spirit and tone penetrated throughout all present and soared upward as a common prayer.
“Give ear to my lamentation,
Thou God of my righteousness,
Who givest comfort in grief,
Show me mercy, show me mercy,
And be gracious to my prayer.
O heed my crying, my Master and my God,
O heed my crying my Master and my God.”
(“Give Ear, Oh Lord,” by Heinrich Schutz.)
The hearts of all who listened were touched, and they were meek.
President N. Eldon Tanner then stepped to the pulpit. He would conduct what is officially known as the “procedure for sustaining President Harold B. Lee, for the reorganization of the First Presidency, and the sustaining of all the other General Authorities and general officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
The priesthood and members gathered represented “a formal solemn assembly of the body of the Church to express the voice of the Church,” said President Tanner. He noted that the procedures “were in accordance with the practice of the Church from the first sustaining vote cast by a general conference for John Taylor, until the present time.” The unique sustaining procedures are conducted only when a new President of the Church is sustained at the beginning of his administration.
Actually, the sustaining procedure is divided into two parts—the first part applies formal solemn assembly voting procedures in sustaining the President, his counselors, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Patriarch to the Church; the second part applies ordinary conference voting procedures in sustaining the remainder of the General Authorities and general officers of the Church.
The first part was approximately twenty-five minutes in length and the second part approximately fifteen minutes, for a total length of forty minutes.
The First Part
The purpose of the first part is to vote on seven propositions: (1) the President of the Church; (2) first counselor to the President; (3) second counselor to the President; (4) President of the Council of the Twelve; (5) members of the Twelve; (6) Patriarch to the Church; and (7) to sustain all the above as prophets, seers, and revelators to the Church.
These seven propositions are handled in four divisions: The first three are treated sequentially but in a group because they involve a single quorum, the Quorum of the First Presidency; the next two propositions are treated sequentially but also in a group because they involve another quorum, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; the sixth proposition is treated individually and involves the Patriarch to the Church; and the seventh proposition involves all of the above and is also treated individually.
It must also be observed that persons assembled in the Tabernacle are seated in eight groups because the voting on the seven propositions is done by priesthood division or ordination. The eight groups are: (1) the First Presidency, (2) the Council of the Twelve, (3) the patriarchs, (4) the high priests, (5) the seventies, (6) the elders, (7) the combined Aaronic Priesthood, and (8) the combined general membership, in which are included all of the above as well as the sisters, children, and male members not holding the priesthood. The Tabernacle is apportioned so that all patriarchs sit as a body, all high priests, all seventies, and so forth through the eight groups. When the first group completes voting on the three related propositions, the voting then moves to the second group, which responds to all three propositions. Hence, voting on each of the propositions is performed eight times. When the voting has been completed by all eight groups on the first three propositions, the voting on the next two propositions involving the Council of the Twelve is pursued, and once more each of the eight groups is called to give its sustaining vote. This same procedure then follows for each of the remaining two propositions.
The manner followed is that “those voting will, when called upon, arise to their feet. When the affirmative vote is called for, those so voting will bring their right arms to the square to witness to the Lord that they sustain the office for whom they are voting.”
It is noted that “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 office for whom you vote.”
The pattern, then, is that the first of the eight groups, the First Presidency, is called to arise and vote on the first proposition, to sustain President Harold B. Lee as President of the Church. After they have voted on this proposition, they remain standing and hear the second proposition, to sustain President N. Eldon Tanner as first counselor to President Lee. After voting on the second proposition, they continue to stand and hear the third proposition, to sustain President Marion G. Romney as second counselor to President Lee. After they have voted on the third proposition, they are asked to be seated.
The second group, the Council of the Twelve, is then asked to arise, and they hear and vote on each of the three separate propositions. Following the voting of the Twelve, the patriarchs are asked to arise, and the pattern continues. In this manner all eight groups arise when asked and vote on the first three propositions.
Then, after the entire assembly has voted on the First Presidency, the procedure is repeated for the next two propositions, to sustain Spencer W. Kimball as President of the Council of the Twelve and to then sustain the members of the Twelve. (See members on center pullout chart, page 76, wherein a new member, Bruce R. McConkie, is noted; see also page 5.) All eight groups again arise when separately called and respond to the two separate propositions.
Then, after the entire assembly has voted on the Council of the Twelve, the same procedure is applied to the sixth proposition, to sustain Elder Eldred G. Smith as Patriarch to the Church. Again, all eight groups are called separately to respond.
Finally, the seventh proposition is presented—that all those just sustained, the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Patriarch to the Church, be sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. All eight groups are again called separately to arise and respond to the proposition.
Thus, on this eventful and beautiful October Friday morning when the above brethren, chosen of the Lord, were sustained, eight different times did the priesthood and general membership arise, raise their arms to the square, and sacredly send their sustaining faith and heartfelt confidence toward President Harold B. Lee.
Throughout the complete formal assembly sustaining, fifty-six different times did the groups arise, each voting similarly on the seven propositions, each time sending their support and love as another wave of strength and renewed spirit to the President and those called to serve with him.
An individual priesthood bearer of any priesthood ordination stood four times with fellow brethren similarly ordained, and with them raised his arm to the square seven times. Then, joining with the membership at large, including those not holding the priesthood, he stood again four more times and raised his arm to the square seven more times. Hence, a priesthood bearer stood eight times and voted fourteen times. Members not holding the priesthood stood four times and voted seven times, sufficient so that each member could wholeheartedly express his or her solemn support, as well as receive heaven’s confirming spirit.
Thus concluded the first part of the sustaining procedures.
The Second Part
The second part of the sustaining procedures was to sustain the remainder of the General Authorities, general officers, and general auxiliary officers. They were sustained by voting procedures used in the regular general conferences. That is, the propositions were presented and the entire membership remained seated and voted in unison with upraised hands.
At the recently concluded October general conference, eleven propositions were presented. These eleven propositions are included herein so that members everywhere may recognize and sustain these additional officers:
Sustaining Assistants to the Council of the Twelve. Three new brethren were added to this roster: Elder O. Leslie Stone, Elder James E. Faust, and Elder L. Tom Perry. (See pages 12, 14, and 16, and center pullout.)
Sustaining President Harold B. Lee as trustee-in-trust of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sustaining members of the First Council of the Seventy. One new person, President Rex D. Pinegar, was added to the Council. (See page 18 and center pullout.)
Sustaining the Presiding Bishopric. (See center pullout.)
Sustaining, as constituted, the Regional Representatives of the Council of the Twelve and the Mission Representatives of the Council of the Twelve and the First Council of the Seventy.
Sustaining the Church Historian, Church Archivist, Church Librarian, and the managing director of the Historical Department of the Church.
Sustaining, where applicable, the chairmen, vice-chairmen, advisers, and managing directors of the following general priesthood committees and departments: Priesthood Welfare Committee, Priesthood Home Teaching and Family Home Evening Committee, Priesthood Missionary Committee, Priesthood Genealogical Committee, Social Services, Physical Facilities Department, Department of Internal Communications, Department of External Communications, and Commissioner, Health Services Corporation.
Sustaining the Church Board of Education and the Commissioner of the Church Educational System.
Sustaining the Church Finance Committee.
Sustaining the officers of the Tabernacle Choir conductors, and organists.
Sustaining the general auxiliary officers and the general boards, as constituted, of the Relief Society, Sunday School, Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (for recent changes, see page 135), Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (for recent changes, see page 135), and the Primary Association.
The list is long, but it well illustrates the commitment each of us has as a member of the Church to uphold by our faith and prayers those who are called to promote the causes of the Lord in our day.
Following the voting, all present joined in singing:
“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs And works his sov’reign will.
Ye fearful Saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.”
—Hymns, no. 48.
President Harold B. Lee then stepped to the pulpit. Newly empowered and blessed by the solemn and sacred outpouring of binding love and support, he appeared magnificent in his true role as President of the High Priesthood of the Church of God on earth. In great meekness of spirit, and in his richly mellow and stirring voice, he declared:
“Today, at the greatest moment of my life, I find myself without words to express my deep and innermost feelings. What I may say, therefore, must be actuated by the Spirit of the Lord, that you, my beloved Saints of the Most High God, may feel the depths of my soul-searching on this momentous and historic occasion.”
His remarks are reprinted in full on page 23. May we all read and ponder them. And may each of us daily be engaged in prayerfully upholding him and all others we should sustain in our roles as citizens of the kingdom of God on earth.