To sustain or not to sustain?



We had ward conference yesterday, and as part of that, the leaders of the church were put to a sustaining vote.  I admit that I had a personal quandary about whether to participate – what does it mean to sustain my leaders, both on the local and general levels?

I’ll just go ahead and say it – I don’t support the new policy on same-sex couples and their children (or revelation… or whatever we’re calling it these days).  To me it is not only un-Christlike and uncharitable, it seems to signal an increasing shift towards our church’s collective worship of the heterosexual, nuclear family in place of worshiping Christ (who, strangely, had very little to say about the heterosexual, nuclear family).  It feels like idolatry, and it has been hurtful and divisive.  I’ve prayed about it, I’ve read about it, and I just don’t feel like it’s of God.  On the other hand, I have no qualms about our prophets and church leaders being fallible people – I see evidence throughout scripture and church history that confirms that, to quote Elder Holland, “imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with.”  I am willing to grant them grace and space to work through this thorny theological issue, just as I hope my fellow church members, church leaders, and ultimately God are also willing to grant me the same as I work through all of my imperfections.

That said, I fear that “sustaining our leaders” has evolved from a process of leaders obtaining common consent (with occasional or even frequent dissent) to showing a willingness to conform; to sustain a leader now seems to suggest that we will fall in line and do as we’re told.  In fact, the church webpage on “sustaining our prophets and apostles” say exactly that – we are to “examine our lives, repent as necessary, pledge to keep the Lord’s commandments, and follow His servants.” No counsel is given on what to do when obedience to church leaders would require a sacrifice of integrity.  How do we sustain our leaders in those cases?

When I think of sustaining something, I think of providing sustenance.  If I have a plant, for example, and I see that it’s dying, my duty is to provide it food, light, air, and nutrients to try to correct the imbalances it has.  I don’t simply keep doing what I was doing that caused the plant to be dying in the first place.  How do we provide sustenance to our church leaders?  When I ask the Lord to sustain me through my trials, I hope that I will receive strength, support, additional light and knowledge, and patience.  So if I feel that my leaders are making a mistake, what is my duty in sustaining them?

I admit that I haven’t figured this out, so I’m asking our readers for their advice.  This is an idea that I’m still struggling with – do I raise my arm and say that I sustain my leaders when given the opportunity, even if I disagree with them in many ways?  Do I oppose their sustaining as a way of voicing my concerns?  Do I abstain from the procedure?  How, as a woman in this church with very little institutional authority and voice, do I best sustain my leaders, especially in times when I disagree with the path they’re taking?


Liz is a reader, writer, wife, mother, gardener, social worker, story collector, cookie-maker, and hug-giver.

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31 Responses

  1. Emily U says:

    Ward Conference happened for me yesterday, too. And my hand felt a little heavier than it normally does when I raised it to sustain my general and local leaders. Or, at least, I felt the weight of what I was pledging to do more than I have in the past.

    I wrote a letter to my stake president and bishop about the policies last November. That’s what sustaining at this moment in time looks like to me.

  2. Rob Osborn says:

    The great thing about our church is that we do have a voice and if we speak, our concerns will be addressed on a personal face to face level. It’s okay to struggle with an issue. It can become a problem though if it gets past the balance point in your mind where you no longer have faith in the leadership on both local and overall levels. I made myself a checklist years ago to check my worthiness to be in tune with the spirit to receive answers. They are-
    1. Am I obedient to the commandments?
    2. Do I serve others and love them as myself?
    3. Do the majority of my feelings towards church leaders reflect a positive feeling?
    4. Do I praise the righteous for the good they do?
    5. Do I pray with honest humility to bless and watch over the prophets?
    6. Do I pay an honest tithe and fast offering?
    7. Do I seek for, and pray for humility in all things?
    8. Am I optimistic, diligent and hard working in all my callings both in the home and at church?

    Those few questions keep me in check with how in tune I am with the spirit in regards to understanding the doctrine of Christ and his word revealed to the Holy prophets. In the past, whenever I have had personal struggles with doctrine or policy it’s because one or more of the above questions was wholly unmet. Generally speaking- the true disciples of Christ do not struggle with revealed doctrine. Yes it’s true that all of us, from time to time, have a falling out with the true discipleship we have been called to.

    • ElleK says:

      “Generally speaking- the true disciples of Christ do not struggle with revealed doctrine.”

      I could name many, many instances when this is simply not true. Look at the epistles in the NT or at our own early church leaders for a start.

      Also, doctrine v. policy (which is generally man-implemented interpretation of doctrine) is also a thorny issue. I can name several church policies off the top of my head that have nothing to do with this new policy that I think are harmful and should be changed. I don’t think that makes me any less a disciple of Christ.

    • AuntM says:

      I was totally loving your comment — all about what works for you — until you wrote: “Generally speaking- the true disciples of Christ do not struggle with revealed doctrine.” That’s the line that doesn’t need to be crossed. That’s when you lay down a load of judgment on people you don’t even know and over whom you have no stewardship. That’s when you switched from humility to hubris.

      • Andrew R. says:

        With all due respect to your site, and its rules, this entire site acts to judge those members who seek to follow the counsel of the Brethren. We are seen as weak, lacking in the Spirit (because we don’t see the truth that we are being misled), fooled, etc.

        Even more so because we do not see that Men and Women are identical. That gender is, or at least should be, unimportant – at least in an Eternal perspective.

        And if we state these positions we are seen as judging those who do not believe as we do.

        There can be no useful debate if each does not see the other’s side as valid in their doxology. You can’t shut out those who do not believe as you do by calling them judgemental. Because to do so is judgemental.

        I honestly do not understand why many of the posters here are seeking for change in the LDS Church. What they seem to want is a completely new Church. At least it would be completely new (different) from the one I have lived in for the last 47 years. The one I have studied, taught, lived. It genuinely intrigues me that some can want to still be in this Church (and believe it true) when they are so open about not really believing the Apostles are directed by God – but by their own wishes.

        If this Church is in error, surely a new one is needed to take its place – and that will not come from the current leadership.

        I read here, and comment here, because I want to know what drives members to think the way you do. It is interesting, and some of what is written here informs. Obviously there are problems in the Church sometimes. Not all bishops and stake presidents are perfect, and some have been truly bad. But most try to do the very best they can.

  3. X2 Dora says:

    Thank you for your thoughts, Liz. Part of the reason for this earthly existence is for us to learn, and become moral agents. Part of becoming a moral agent is being willing to engage in difficult self-examination. “True” disciples often struggle with doctrine, especially that of the temporal variety. What do I mean by temporal? Well, anything that isn’t sustainable and eternal. In the ancient church, this was evidenced by the expansion of teaching the gospel to non-Jews. In more modern times, it was evidenced by the lifting the priesthood/temple ban, as well as opening up areas of service to women. Even Spencer W. Kimball stated that he had to struggle against himself (!) in order to understand that the priesthood/temple ban was against the will of our Heavenly Parents, and had to be expanded.

    I’ve struggled a lot with this newest policy, and even more with what I perceive to be a doubling-down of the general leadership. It goes against everything I believe about the importance and urgency of developing a strong relationship with our Heavenly Parents, and how essential baptism, confirmation, and voluntary service are to our spiritual development. I met with my bishop the other week, to explain my position, and to request a different type of leadership. So much of what I hear at church is top down, without feedback from the grassroots level. And yet, what I know from my career in nursing is that the first job of caring for my patients is to ask and listen. I ask what their symptoms are, how they are feeling, how their health has changed, what has helped,do they understand their treatments, are the compliant with their treatments, do they have questions, etc. Then, combining their answers with my knowledge, I devise a plan. That’s the type of leadership I want at church. That’s the type of leadership that I know that the Elaine Jack RS presidency was engaged in. That is the type of ministry that will help people come unto Christ.

    To be frank, I know that my one voice will not change the world. But I think I can help my local leaders be better, because I know that I am one of few who have the courage to voice these needs. What I want is less ad-ministering, and more ministering.

  4. Diana says:

    I think for me, it goes back to the example of Moses in Exodus 17:11-12 – Moses needed the hands of Aaron and Hur not because he was such a great prophet or strong man, but precisely *because* he was weak. Our leaders need our sustaining not because they are perfect, but because they are imperfect. Thus, I think part of sustaining is to love our leaders and recognize their frailties. That I can do with a ready hand, even while struggling with this policy.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Rob, I’m so glad you’re a true disciple of Christ and don’t struggle with revealed doctrine. I’m also happy that I’m not like you, nor do I ever want to be like you. I want to struggle with all of it, and not afraid to find out uncomfortable or messy things.

  6. Becca says:

    Such good comments here already, but I will add my tiny piece.

    Two days after the policy came out, I found myself sitting in my (good) bishop’s office. I looked at him and said “The day that I went through the temple, I promised myself that I would always have a temple recommend and never let it lapse. I’ve kept that promise for 17 years. But I’m afraid that I may need to turn my recommend in today, because I need to go on record that I don’t support this and I think that it is wrong.” And then he looked at me and said “Keep your recommend. We have never asked members to have a testimony of a policy. Ever. Pray hard for your church leaders. Voice your concerns, as you’re doing, and you are worthy in every way to go to the temple.”

    I don’t know if that is helpful to a single other soul, but it has surely been a life raft for me.

    • Amanda says:

      Thank you. It feels like this was written for me.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Sounds exactly what I believe my Bishop would have said. He is a good man, and he knows he is not perfect. If you had to be perfect to receive the endowment 1) you would never receive it, and 2) when you received it it would be unnecessary.

      But there is a difference between not being OK with (or supportive of) the policy and voicing that it is wrong, and the Church leaders have moved away from God’s will.

      I believe that this talk really sums up the problem I have with much that is said against the policy.

      Those who find it unfair that those in Same Sex marriages can not be sealed, that their children can not be baptised as children, etc. seem to believe that the Church should change with the world.

      Why? The world is enlightened and knowledgeable of things God’s Apostles are not? You see it doesn’t make any sense to me. We have been warned, and warned again, that the world (Babylon) will be the undoing of even the faithful, and that seems, at least to me, to be the case.

  7. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    I have the gift of agency. When I am told to walk off a cliff, I seek a different path.

  8. Joni says:

    I’ve got Ward Conference this Sunday, and I know that my husband will be watching with eagle eyes to see if I raise and lower my forearm at the proscribed time. (I’ve always felt a little silly flapping my hand up and down like a chicken wing, especially since we’re not *actually* voting on anything. At one point I declined to participate, since the ritual holds no meaning for me. It… didn’t go well.) I still believe that ‘sustaining’ is something we do with our hearts and minds on an ongoing basis, not something we do with our right hand and forearm a couple of times a year. So I will make the approved gesture to keep the peace, while continuing to believe that The Policy is wrong and will someday be retracted.

    I do think there was a time when ‘sustaining’ was not understood to mean ‘agreeing with everything they say even at the cost of one’s own conscience.’ It seems that there’s been a doubling down lately, especially in the wake of The Policy. I do hope that the trend reverses – it’s going to be awfully tough to hold onto my children’s generation if the leadership insists on unquestioning obedience.

  9. MD says:

    Wow Rob your 8 questions are more rigid than a temple recommend interview. I have never been perfect in all those points and never will be because I am an imperfect being. I suppose then according to your standards I have not felt the spirit.

    I almost never raise my hand in the sustaining of anyone because one I almost always do not have enough information to make an informed decision and two since I don’t have the priesthood I am not really part of the process it is generally a meaningless gesture for me.

    • Rob Osborn says:

      They are not hard questions but they do show how narrow the path is. Problem is that everyone wants to widen the path. That narrow path leading to eternal life is narrow for a reason. Becoming a true disciple isnt easy. Its a lot of hard work and diligence.

      • Liz says:

        I’m glad those questions work for you, Rob, and I think checking in with ourselves and our discipleship is important. I do think, though, that we often want to define the narrowness of the path for others, rather than ourselves. We’ve got to do a lot more internal checking in and a lot less policing of other people.

  10. Liz says:

    Thank you all for your comments! I went and met with my bishop right after ‘the policy’ was released and expressed both my sincere testimony of the gospel and my utter disgust with the policy, and asked him to pass my concerns (along with the concerns of others) up the chain. I just feel like, lately, that’s not enough, and I don’t totally know how to sustain my leaders (especially at the general level) without the ability to voice my concerns. It’s an ongoing issue, but one I felt acutely when I was asked to raise my hand to sustain them on Sunday. I appreciate everybody’s feedback – it gives me a lot to think about.

  11. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Be thankful for you testimony. Also, be sure, absolutely sure, that your disgust at the new policy is not an emotional reaction. I will make this statement: “There may be some whose feelings are hurt, but no one will be hurt by this new policy. No one will lose any blessings through no fault of their own.”
    When we find ourselves at odds with anything that the General Authorities say or promote, we must first look to our own selves to ensure that our reactions are stripped of emotionalism and based upon pure revelation.
    I am not one that believes that the prophets are infallible. However, the same reasoning applies to all of us. We are not infallible either, and we do not have the responsibility of steering the church through the pitfalls and tumultuous times of these last days. The prophets that have been chosen to do so invest so much of their time, energy and faculties in providing that guidance and leadership. I do not know how many hours per day they may average in fulfilling their callings, but I suspect it is more than you or I. And they do it seven days a week.
    They do not just throw these things out lightly. They discuss, pray, discuss more, and pray more before they make their decisions, announce new policies, or changes to other policies. They do their prayers in their own spaces, communally, and in the temple.
    As members of the Church, as temple recommend holders, we owe it to ourselves and the Lord, and to the Lord’s chosen prophets to do no less.


    • EM says:

      The quote you shared seems to invalidate emotional responses, as if emotions aren’t a real part of our experience. They’re certainly not the only part, but they’re a very real and important part of being a person. I think it’s worth sitting with feelings to make sure we are pursuing a wise decision. But saying that hurt feelings doesn’t mean real hurt? I disagree with that.

      • Glenn Thigpen says:

        EM, I realize all too well that having emotional reactions are inevitable. I am not trying to downplay or invalidate them at all. Please go back and reread my post. I am advocating a measured response, i.e. looking to and into ourselves first and foremost, and trying to make sure that our responses are not driven by emotion rather than revelation. EmilyCC had a response pretty much in line with your own. Please read my response to her. Your suggestion that we “sit with feelings to make sure we are pursuing a wise decision” is well made, in my opinion.

        As to the hurt feelings aspect, on some levels, I will agree with you, and on others I have learned a bit. I went through five years or more of therapy, quite a few years ago now, but I leaned some invaluable lessons about schooling my feelings/emotions. Those lessons have helped me tremendously in my life, especially my marriage.

        Yes, I can hurt my wife emotionally by saying something stupid, even if I mean well by it, and even if it is true, because she and I are so very emotionally entwined. There was a time also that I would react emotionally when she would say something that “hurt”. Until I learned not to react, but to seek understanding of why she said the something, and especially to give her time and love after she had said the something. She has learned the same thing about me. I have tried to apply the things I have learned throughout all of the phases of my life.

        Children are also liable to be hurt by actions and words of the adults around them, parents, family, friends, etc. They are living almost a totally emotional existence. And sometimes they will be hurt when the adults have to go against their wishes because we know that what they want will hurt them.

        I am going to have to leave it at that. This could easily become a thread of its own and I do not want to derail this one.


  12. Rob Osborn says:

    Does that mean that you guys should do a lot less policing and critiquing of the leaders too?

  13. Liz says:

    I should probably make this clear – I don’t have any angst about disagreeing with the policy, and so I don’t think that the calls to pray more/check my reaction really have anything to do with my post. My question is how we sustain our leaders on both the general and local level when we – of a free, clear, and prayerful conscience – deeply disagree with their statements or actions. Suggesting that I simply haven’t thought long and hard enough about my own stance feels irrelevant at best and condescending at worst.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Yes! I also don’t see how some comments about reactions being “emotional” somehow lessens those reactions. We are denying saving ordinances to people. Of course, people are going to be emotional.

      • Glenn Thigpen says:

        The ordinances are not being denied, only delayed. And, if you will reread my post, no one, but no one, in light of revealed gospel principles, will be denied a celestial glory through no fault of their own.
        I do realize it is an emotional issue for so many. That is why I said that our responses should be based upon pure revelation.
        Why should we hold ourselves to a lower standard of humility, soul searching, prayer, and expected perfectionism or think that we are any less fallible than the prophet leaders that God has chosen? Especially when it come to things that are revelations for the Church?
        I will make a suggestion for all those who have a sincere testimony but a heavy heart on this or any other issue concerning the brethren. Find out all that you can about each of those brethren. Find out about their lives, their struggles, and their course in the gospel. Read and study about how they make their decisions. Pray for them. Love them. And pray for your own understanding. Give yourselves six months, until your next stake or ward conference, and see how you feel then. You may be surprised how gladly you will be able to raise your hands to acknowledge that you have and do sustain your prophets.


  14. Christie says:

    I was in this same quandary during our ward conference last year. I hesitantly raised my hand to sustain the GAs, but I had tears in my eyes and was crying inside. At that time, I was in the stake RS presidency and didn’t want to cause any issues at that time, and I wasn’t emotionally ready for any fallout.

    This year in ward conference, I plan to sustain my locals and oppose the GAs. It’s the only thing that I can do for my own integrity and sanity. Of course, there’s a lot more to my story, but I am finally in a good place spiritually and emotionally after more than a year of questions and angst. Let the chips fall where they may.

    Best wishes to you and to all who are in similar situations.

  15. EmilyCC says:

    I’m so glad I read this because my ward conference is this weekend, and I hadn’t thought about what I’d do. When the policy came out, I thought, “I can’t renew my recommend because I don’t think I can sustain leaders who do this.” I am still grappling with this question and have wondered if by providing my feedback and staying in the Church if that isn’t sustaining. I wish I knew.

    • Bryce says:

      I hear you. Particularly given what I know about the passage of the policy I’m all the more torn. At the moment my position is that I sustain the leaders in general but I do not agree with them on every point – especially this awful policy.

  16. Jenny says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this Liz. I’m glad you spoke to your bishop too and I hope the meeting went well. I wish I had some great solution, but I have only compassion, love and understanding to offer as I have felt the same struggle in my faith.

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