Sustaining Church Officers (Law of Common Consent)

Related Posts: Are Mormons Brainwashed?, Mormon Temple Worship, Why Covenants?

For those of you who are not Mormon I’ll provide some background. In the Church when a person is asked to perform a duty, i.e. a “calling”—whether bishop, primary school teacher, or Apostle—they are presented to the congregation in which they will work for sustaining. In the case of an Apostle or General Authority they are presented to the Church as a whole. The person conducting the meeting will say something along the lines of,

[Ask the person who is to be sustained to stand.] It is proposed that we sustain [So-and-so] as [church position]. Those in favor may manifest it by the uplifted hand. [Pause briefly for the sustaining vote.] Those opposed, if any, may manifest it. [Pause briefly to allow for a dissenting vote, if any.]

This is what sustaining looks like.

What sustaining looks like.

Objections to the sustaining of any person are rare. I don’t recall ever hearing an objection raised in General Conference—though apparently it did happen during the October 1980 General Conference while sustaining of President Spencer W. Kimball.[1] I only recall one time seeing an objection raised in a local congregation.

During the April 2015 General Conference some objections were raised to the proposed sustaining of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles. According to Fox 13 Salt Lake City there were five objectors.[2]

I confess I was a little shocked when I saw this. Objections are very, very rare.[3] So rare in fact that I had to looked up the procedure for what happens when an objection is raised. According to the Church Handbook of Instruction the following procedure should be followed if there is an objection.

If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting. The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position. Dissenting votes from nonmembers need not be considered. (Handbook 2, Sustaining Members in Church Callings, 19.3)

The handbook makes it very clear. Valid objections are based on knowledge of disqualifying conduct. Objecting to a persons’ political views or disliking them is not sufficient. I will also emphasize the Handbook says, “a member in good standing” (emphasis added).

Common Consent

The doctrinal reasons for sustaining those who serve in the Church is called the Law of Common Consent. It is based on D&C 26:2 and 20:65:

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)

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)

I should point out that we have no paid ministry. From Sunday school teachers to ward clerks, from bishops to stake presidents to Area Authority Seventies, all are unpaid. Only General Authorities receive a stipend. (And there are only about a hundred.[4]) Because the Church is run by volunteers who could decline to serve only common consent works as a ruling principle.

The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual explains it this way,

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. (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 54)

This statement originated from then Apostle and later President of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith. It simply recognizes that the influence of Church leaders is based on the common consent of the people and without it no one could lead.

Apostle James E. Talmage explained it this way,

Every prayer that is offered, every ordinance administered, every doctrine proclaimed by the Church, is voiced in the name of Him whose Church it is.

Nevertheless, as an association of human membership, as a working body having relation with the secular law, as a religious society claiming the rights of recognition and privilege common to all, it is the people’s institution, for the operation of which, so far as such is dependent on them, they are answerable to themselves, to the organization as a unit, and to God.

He went on to say that the idea the Church would reject a revelation “is extreme, and suggests an improbable contingency.”[5]

But there is another dimension to sustaining church officers besides raising your hand to vote ‘yes’. One scripture often used to describe what this means is Exodus 17:12,

But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

Aaron and Hur sustained Moses by helping him perform his task. And that is the other dimension of what it means to sustain those who serve in the church. If I vote ‘yes’ then I am doing more than showing my public support. I am taking upon myself a commitment to help that person succeed in his or her calling.

My wife and I sustained our bishop. Therefore, when he asked us to teach primary we accepted. The only time I have ever turned down a calling was when I was sixteen, and I regretted doing it.

So common consent does not mean voting in the traditional sense. There are no candidates and it is not majority rule. It includes members voluntarily sustaining church officers and helping them succeed while recognizing the reality of a volunteer organization.

Sustaining is also part of our covenant relationship to God. In order to attend the temple we must sustain the President of the Church. (See Are Mormons Brainwashed for a list of temple recommend interview questions.)

Sustaining is not intended to providing a platform for dissenters to express their dissatisfaction with Church policy.

Objection to sustaining

I have to be honest. When I hear of people objecting the first thing I question is their motivation. I find it hard to believe any person called to any respective calling is unqualified. That would be an extraordinary contingency. We believe that through faith God will “make weak things become strong” (Ether 12:27). So, for example, if I feel unqualified for a calling God will help me rise to the occasion and it will be an opportunity for personal growth.

With that in mind a legitimate objection would have to be very serious and based on knowledge of the personal life of that person. Knowledge that very few people could legitimately claim. In the case of the objections raised during April conference they likely objected to the Church’s position on gay rights issues. I doubt they knew anything about President Monson that would disqualify him from being President of the church.

One of the objectors commentated to Fox 13 reporter Jeremy Harris, “If this is a living church with continuing revelation it should not be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It should be leading the pack.” (See [2].)

And to me her objection is clearly not valid.

End Notes_______

[1] The video and transcript of the 1980 objections can be seen at



Both videos were accessed 20151205.

[2] Jeremy Harris, (April 4, 2015). “Vocal oppositions at LDS General Conference not a first. Retrieved from Accessed 20151205.

[3] I remember once when I was about six years old. I noticed that no one ever objected during sustaining. I was curious about what would happen if someone did. So when the opportunity to object came round I tried to raise my hand just to see what would happen—my mother held it down.

[4] In the entire church only General Authorities receive a stipend, and they number about 100. For more information see FairMormon, “Mormonism and church finances/No paid ministry/General Authorities living stipend” (accessed 20151205).

[5] Liahona, the Elders’ Journal, Vol. 19, No. 21, pp. 405-406, April 11, 1922. <> accessed 20151205. Elder Talmage also said, “the plan of organization and government of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that of a theo-democracy.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *