“All in Favor, Please Signify!” Ensign, Mar. 1974, 14
Nearly every Latter-day Saint has heard the words, “All in favor, please signify by the uplifted hand.” At almost every sacrament meeting we are given the opportunity to sustain new ward officers or teachers. This seemingly routine act, whether it occurs in ward or stake and general conference meetings, is in reality a sacred and important happening.
However, many people fail to see the true meaning of this principle of common consent as exercised by the membership of the Church.
In July 1830, the year of the organization of the Church, the Lord instructed the leaders and the members of the Church on the principle of common consent. These are the words of the revelation:
“And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen.” (D&C 26:2.)
In September of that same year the Lord again emphasized the principle of common consent when he revealed:
“For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.” (D&C 28:13.)
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that decisions made in the presiding quorums of the Church should be unanimous and that each member should agree to such decisions. (See D&C 107:27.) He further counseled that the decisions should be made “… in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity.” (D&C 107:30.) The presiding quorums and councils of the Church are different in their deliberation from other groups or bodies who conduct their business after the manner of the world. This difference has been stated as follows:
“… In Church Councils every decision must be unanimous. In the world, ‘the majority rules,’ and the minority is set aside. It is possible to obtain unanimity in the Church Councils, because there is no one there who has any selfish interests to ‘fight for.’ In those assemblies everything is done, when the Spirit of the Lord prevails, ‘in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.’ When each member endeavors to conform his views on every question that comes up for consideration, to these requirements, and eliminates all personal preferences, unity can be maintained. In these Councils each member freely states his views, but when the opinion of the majority is ascertained, this is always found to be based on truth, and the minority gladly falls in line. For it is of such Councils that it can be said absolute truth, vox populi, vox Dei.” (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, Deseret Book Company, 1951, p. 701.)
The Saints can have faith in their leaders and vote unanimously on all propositions, knowing that the things presented for their sustaining vote were approved of the Lord to their leaders before being presented to the membership of the Church.
President Stephen L. Richards stated that we have unanimity of thought and action in the Church because it is based on righteous principles. These are his words:
“There are some, perhaps, who may feel that it is subversive of individual freedom of thought and expression to be controlled by the interpretations of our leaders. I wish to assure them that any feeling of constraint will disappear when once they secure the genius and true spirit of this work. Our unanimity of thought and action does not arise, as some suppose, from duress or compulsion in any form. Our accord comes from universal agreement with righteous principles and common response to the operation of the Spirit of our Father. It is actuated by no fear except one. That is the fear of offending God, the Author of our work.” (Conference Report, October 1938, p. 116.)
The brethren who preside in the Church earnestly desire that obedience be founded on faith, and derived from thoughtful and prayerful consideration. President Joseph F. Smith declared that we should obey our leaders when they counsel us, but that it must be an obedience based on understanding.
“… when our leaders speak it is for us to obey; when they direct we should go; when they call we should follow. Not as beings who are enslaved or in thralldom; we should not obey blindly, as instruments or tools. No Latter-day Saint acts in this manner; no man or woman who has embraced the Gospel has ever acted in this way; but on the contrary they have felt to listen cheerfully to the counsels of the servants of God as far as they were able to comprehend them. The difficulty is not in getting the Latter-day Saints to do right, but in getting them to comprehend what is right.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, p. 329.)
This matter of comprehending what is right is paramount in the minds of the brethren. Obedience must be obedience that comes from a proper understanding and comprehension of the matter presented.
A member of the Church, through faith and prayer, can learn for himself that the business being transacted or the principle being taught or the person being presented by the Church leaders to be sustained is correct. Elder Erastus Snow claimed that it is our responsibility to know for ourselves. He declared that the leaders present the will of God to the people and the people have the responsibility to have this confirmed by the spirit of the Lord to them as well.
“I want to say to the young men and the young ladies and to all the people—but especially our children, the youth in Israel—that the leaders of this people do not speak of themselves. That which they are striving to impress upon the people is of the Lord and not of man. The Latter-day Saints have not been gathered from the different nations of the earth, and brought together in these mountains to worship man, nor to serve man, to be their slaves, nor to be obedient unto man, and if anybody has such an idea or intention they have got hold of the wrong people. The people who are gathered here are not the people calculated to do such a thing. The faith we teach throws everybody upon their own responsibility; they are at liberty to act and choose for themselves, and all will be held responsible before God for their faith and conduct.” (JD, vol. 24, p. 158.)
When the responsibility for knowing that a matter is right is shifted to the individual, it places him in a position where he must justify his acceptance or rejection. He will be held accountable for the decision he makes—if he misjudges the matter, he will have to suffer the consequences because he has placed himself in opposition to those who have been called to positions of responsibility in the Lord’s church.
Voting in the Church is a personal matter for each individual member. Since each one may know the truth for himself, his obedience must be entirely voluntary. There can never be any element of force or coercion in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a fact that each member may vote his own conviction and yet see all in one accord. Mormons should not follow their leaders blindly. They should follow them intelligently because the leaders give the word of the Lord to their members and the Lord will reveal to each member, individually, a knowledge of that fact.
President Charles W. Penrose pointed out that we have a further reason for the principle of common consent in the Church. The following is his explanation:
“We sustain our brethren … as prophets, seers, and revelators; and I have heard it remarked by some brethren, that they could not see any need of doing so, and that holding up their hands does not make those men prophets, seers, and revelators. That is true as far as it goes. But by sustaining these brethren in our customary way, we manifest to God and the powers behind the vail, who work with the brethren in the flesh, that we are willing to receive any revelation that the higher powers may see fit to communicate through them in that capacity. We have a great deal of principle and doctrine given to us through the means of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, etc., with which we ought to make ourselves thoroughly familiar. At the same time we have men presiding over us in this Church through whom the word of the Lord will come in our present circumstances for our guidance and for the guidance of the whole Church in its onward march, as the exigencies of the case may require. And when we lift up our hands to heaven to sustain them, we manifest that we hold ourselves in readiness to receive the word of the Lord whenever he sees fit to impart to us. They are the legal channels; they are the appointed receptacles to receive the words of the Lord for us as an organized body; and by lifting up our hands to heaven in this way, we show to God and to angels, that we are ready at any time, if the Lord has a word of revelation to communicate to us, to receive it, no matter how it may come; whether by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, or otherwise; by means of the Urim and Thummim, if he sees fit to restore it to the Church, … We manifest to him by our uplifted hands that we will receive his word by inspiration, by the Urim and Thummim, or by revelation, or the ministration of angels, or in any way he may be pleased to communicate. It is fitting then that we should do this.” (JD, vol. 21, p. 47.)