“Should I vote to sustain someone to an office in the Church if I think that he would not make a good leader?” Ensign, Feb. 1977, 52–53
H. Dean Garrett, director, Holbrook LDS Institute of Religion, Holbrook, Arizona In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and John Whitmer in July 1830, the Lord gave the following instructions: “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.” (D&C 26:2.)
In a previous revelation on Church government and organization given in April 1830 the Lord indicated that “No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church.” (D&C 20:65.)
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith explained the implications of these revelations by stating: “No man can preside in this Church in any capacity without the consent of the people. The Lord has placed upon us the responsibility of sustaining by vote those who are called to various positions of responsibility. No man, should the people decide to the contrary, could preside over any body of Latter-day Saints in this Church, and yet it is not the right of the people to nominate, to choose, for that is the right of the priesthood.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Bookcraft, 1956, 3:123.)
The procedure of formally sustaining people in office is followed every week throughout the Church. Yet, there could be a time when a person might have questions concerning the person presented to hold office. Should a person raise his hand to sustain someone he feels does not have the ability or would not make a good officer or leader in that position? Should he sustain someone he feels is not worthy of that position?
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith indicated that a person should be very careful in casting a negative vote, that such a vote should never be made for personal reasons. He stated, “I have no right to raise my hand in opposition to a man who is appointed to any position in this Church, simply because I may not like him, or because of some personal disagreement or feeling I may have, but only on the grounds that he is guilty of wrongdoing, of transgressing the laws of the Church which would disqualify him for the position which he is called to hold.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:124.)
Even with this in mind, however, the Lord has given to each individual the right and responsibility to vote his conscience. If and when he determines he should cast a negative vote, then he should also realize that he will have the responsibility of privately explaining to the presiding officer his reason for that negative vote. This procedure is necessary to help the presiding officer know whether the objection is valid, and whether the person called is worthy to serve. If the reason is not valid, the person called will serve in that office.
We must remember that under proper circumstances it is the Lord who inspires the calling of a person to service in the Church; the presiding officer acts as the Lord’s agent in making the call. Therefore, careful, prayerful thought should take place before a person decides to cast a negative vote. It is the right of every member, however, to know for himself by inspiration and revelation that the dealings of the presiding officer are in tune with the designs and counsel of the Lord. Every member of the Church can have that assurance.
There may be a time when a person would have doubts concerning the ability or qualification of someone being called to a position in the Church. One brother in my acquaintance once learned a great lesson in this regard. Years ago, as a ward teacher supervisor, he had a problem motivating a particular ward teacher to perform his duties. The supervisor found it necessary to do this man’s ward teaching for six consecutive months. One night in a sacrament meeting, my friend was called upon to sustain this man to be a member of the bishopric. He struggled within himself to know whether he should sustain a man who had not performed his duties as a ward teacher and whom he felt did not have the qualities necessary to be a good member of the bishopric. Reluctantly, he finally voted in the affirmative. In the ensuing months the slothful ward teacher took hold of his position in the bishopric and moved the work of the Lord forward. He served successfully as a member of the bishopric and later as a bishop, a high councilor, and eventually as a counselor in a stake presidency.
The act of sustaining a person is a sacred responsibility that allows the members of the Church to publicly indicate their support of the person being called to a position. As President Harold B. Lee stated, “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 officer for whom you vote.” (Conference Reports, April 1970, p. 103.) This places the responsibility upon us.
Elder Loren C. Dunn, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, stated it this way: “When we sustain officers, we are given the opportunity of sustaining those whom the Lord has already called by revelation. … The Lord, then, gives us the opportunity to sustain the action of a divine calling and in effect express ourselves if for any reason we may feel otherwise. To sustain is to make the action binding on ourselves and to commit ourselves to support those people whom we have sustained. When a person goes through the sacred act of raising his arm to the square, he should remember, with soberness, that which he has done and commence to act in harmony with his sustaining vote both in public and in private.” (Conference Reports, April 1972, p. 19.)
The Lord has commanded us: “Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings.” (D&C 108:7.)
The practice of the law of common consent allows us, as members of the Church, to evaluate our position and to bring our thinking and commitment in tune with that of the Lord. President Charles W. Penrose beautifully stated it this way: “It was designed by the Almighty in the organization of this Church, that the voice of the people should respond to the voice of the Lord. It is the voice of the Lord and the voice of the people together in this Church that sanctions all things therein.” (Journal of Discourses, 21:45.)