Why Are We All Raising Our Hands?

“Why are we all raising our hands?”


The question came from my eight year old daughter. For the past few years, we have lived in a mission where there was no church branch or building for us to attend, so we were given permission to share the sacrament at home. Being in a ward was a real treat—not to mention being in a ward with a primary. Her question came as a name was announced as being put forth for a calling, and in supplement, the congregation is asked to sustain or oppose. Even though we were visiting the ward, so perhaps had no need of participating, I did as I routinely did when asked to sustain someone—I absently raised my hand. My daughter’s query jolted me into attentiveness.


“It’s kind of like we are voting,”  my explanation whispered, newly awake. “They’ve asked someone to do a job, and we are voting if we feel good about it and if we’ll help the person do the job. If we do, we raise our hands to sustain. If we don’t, then they’ll ask us if anyone is ‘opposed.’ Then we can ‘oppose,’ or raise our hand against them doing the calling.”


The answer satisfied her, and I was pleased to share a church culture tidbit that my husband and I– having not been regularly in a ward or branch for some years– had not taught to our daughters. In pace, the congregation moved onto the sacrament portion of the meeting.


“When I am old enough, do I get to bring the bread like the boys?” Now she was watching the young teen boys pass the sacrament. “I want to do that,” she said earnestly. “Serve people the sacrament.”


“Uh…” I paused, disheartened. Did I have to tell her now that she was never going to be allowed to pass the sacrament? At home with just the four of us, she knew that just Daddy blessed the bread and water. But we did not have a need for someone specifically to “pass” the bread or water- the plate with the bread was in reach for all of us, as was the water- no passing required.


And was I sure of that she would never pass the sacrament anyway? Maybe one day, women could pass sacrament. Did I have to tell her the deceptive stories I had been told as a girl about motherhood being an insincere partner to priesthood? That only boys were allowed to even share the bread and water in the plastic tray for reasons that even I could not understand? My questions proved I did not have the answers. I paused. My thoughts steadied, then I whispered calmly with love. “Perhaps one day you will. Right now, it’s just the boys.”


We sat in silence, sharing the broken bread, then water, in turn.


Then she spoke. “Why don’t we just do that…” she said, then raised her hand slightly. “Sustain? We just ask the people in the church to sustain or oppose. Then I can be sustained and can pass the sacrament.”


I sat silent. Perhaps dumbfounded. Her unfamiliarity with the rote drone of synchronized sustaining had not yet become a numbed part of her sacrament meeting routine, so she saw it as a democratic, universal, promising experience.  Sure, any ol’ bishop can’t just announce he has decided to give a girl child the Aaronic priesthood, or permission to pass the sacrament, and call for a congregational sustaining. But perhaps in general assembly…much like sustaining a prophet…..


“We can vote on it,” said my precious daughter’s pristine voice, interrupting my thoughts. “Then I can pass the bread and water.”


“I like that,” I said. “I hope so. I do and always will sustain you in everything good.”


She smiled, and we shared a sideways hug in the pew. It was a beautiful moment, one that I have held.


Perhaps the idea is too democratic. After all, the church is a patriarchy, thinly veiled as a semi-democratic drill so that when people’s duties are amended, we participate in judicial sustaining. Yes, the hint of democracy is there, allowing both men and women to raise hands as if we shared equal voice. This alone suggests that the church might hold my membership in as much regard as it holds a man’s. At least I’d like to think my membership means as much as a man’s, though in my heart, I believe not.  I also very much like the idea of putting the priesthood ban to a vote. Or at least voting to see if girls can at least pas the sacrament. It is a simple, yet effective idea. Once that my precious eight year old suggested.


Dare I ask– “All in favour”?


Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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19 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    [Raising my hand emphatically.]

  2. Elizabeth Neipp says:

    We raise our hands in a covenant gesture as a sign of sustaining. It isn’t a vote. I think about the sons of Aaron who managed the symbolic sacrificial offerings and what those offerings meant and mean to us as we approach the sacrament. I picture Moses with Aaron holding Moses’ arms up, sustaining him, in his duties. It means that we will support them by praying for them, by accepting assignments, by helping them when called upon, by being kind to them as they try to execute their calling etc etc. So, while it may look like a vote, it really isn’t one.

    • spunky says:

      So…. you are saying you won’t sustain my daughter if she is called to pass the sacrament?

      I get your point. But I have also been berated by men at the pulpit for not raising my hand to sustain or oppose– the sin of being a fence-sitter rhetoric. It seems to carry a weight as though it were a vote, at least socially and culturally.

      • Andrew R. says:

        If there were a revelation extending the Aaronic Priesthood to women, and your daughter was found worthy to receive that priesthood, and be ordained a Deacon, I would sustain her. Of course, it’s a given that I personally don’t believe this will happen – but that is just me.

        However, the wider view of what Elizabeth was saying was that it isn’t a vote. I would not be voting to say she should be ordained, I would be making a covenant to do all in my power to help her fulfill her duties in that office of the Priesthood.

        The only reason for a member in full standing to not sustain would be that they were unwilling to do everything in their power to support the ordination or calling. And the only reason for opposing the vote would be because you knew of a reason why the ordination or calling should not take place – it is rare, but it happens.

      • Spunky says:

        I’ve seen opposing sustainments, too, Andrew. I think they are becoming less frowned upon.

      • Andrew R. says:

        There is sometimes a genuine need. Whilst I know, having witnessed it, that calling at which it matters do come with the Lord’s blessing, that doesn’t mean that the person is ready and able to serve. Sometimes there are things that need to be resolved and this is a method the Lord can use to bring them to a head.

        And sometimes, it is a means to help others understand they don’t know everything.

        Bishops can be prayed about, approved by the First Presidency and after interview not be called. They can be called and someone oppose with a valid insight that was not revealed in the interview. And they can oppose with a valid insight that was revealed in the interview and is resolved. All of these will help someone in some way I believe.

        I knew of a man called as Bishop (he had had every chance to speak up to his stake president). Only then did his daughters come forward and explain why their Dad should not be Bishop (they didn’t oppose, they waited until a couple of weeks later).

        He was excommunicated – and would have been anyway. However, if he had confessed, and started the repentance process, it would have been easier than accepting the call.

      • Elizabeth Neipp says:

        Not saying that at all! I’m just pointing out that it isn’t a vote and that it’s interesting to explore where some of these practices might come from.

  3. Patricia I Johnson says:

    Sure. In a NY minute!

  4. MDearest says:

    From the mouth of a child comes pure and simple wisdom, unencumbered by any mental gymnastics needed to justify tradition for it’s own sake. It would be a delight to see young women serving the sacrament, and would make the priesthood seem less like a boy’s club.

  5. Meredith says:

    I dread the day when I have to explain to my young daughters why they don’t get to participate like their brother does. I loved reading about the innocent faith and wisdom of your daughter.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Six daughters and I have never had to “explain” to them why they don’t get to participate. So, either they are too thick to realise they are hard done by, or I am so good at my patriarchy that they don’t dare to question.

    • spunky says:

      Ouch, Andrew. That’s mean towards your daughters, though I hope you are joking.

      When I was little, I asked my mother, not my father about it. Not because I didn’t love or trust him, but because she was my primary carer. (When we were at home- not even school age, my sister and I played “church” where we squished and ripped bread into bites, taking turns passing it to each other.) Lessons I had in primary solidified that girls weren’t to pass sacrament, so I never thought to speak to my own decent and kind father about it.

      I suspect your daughters had experiences similar to mine and would not ask you about it for similar reasons.

      • M says:

        Maybe you are so good at your patriarchy, Andrew, that they know not to come to you for those kinds of questions.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I think you know me well enough to know that both options were supposed to be silly. They haven’t asked their mother either, but she sits quite firmly in the “I don’t want the priesthood” camp.

        I think that the children of those who are feminists will already be understanding gender bias. Since we have never made an issue of gender bias in society, let alone the church, I guess it wasn’t on their radar. Although there is, and certainly has been, gender bias in the UK, it doesn’t appear to be as bad as the US, and other places. The commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police (highest police officer in the country is a woman. The commissioner of the London Fire Service is also a woman. Our Prime Minister and Head of State (Queen) also women. And women are out performing men in education https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/may/12/university-gender-gap-scandal-thinktank-men

        In my ward the RSP has an MSc in Computer Science, the YWP has a Masters (don’t know what in) and the PP has an LLB. The Bishop told the RSP that he was releasing her first counsellor and calling someone else. She said, “are you asking me, or telling me”. That was four weeks ago and nothing has happened yet. In the UK the units are not big, Bishops don’t get much of a choice when looking for leaders who are worthy and willing. As a result they have to learn to work with them.

      • M says:


        We have yet to make an issue of gender bias in our family. My oldest daughter is 6. Her pediatrician is female, her mother has the same career as her father, and she knows lots of working women. The other day she asked what scientists do – I explained what a hypothesis is and how the scientist performs experiments. “So then does she keep making a new hypothesis every day?” was her response. I have never heard the “she” pronoun used so naturally when discussing a hypothetical gender-neutral third-person. Oh, the innocence of children!

        I’m from a conservative area of the U.S. but even so, her first experiences with gender bias will likely be at church – I mean, it’s everywhere! I don’t think she’ll take note because her mom is a feminist, though perhaps the gender bias will be more pronounced given how egalitarian her dad and I run things at home. But I come from parents with very traditional gender roles, and I noticed and was bothered by it and remember asking my mom about it. Her answer was “I don’t know.” I appreciate that she didn’t tie it up in a pretty bow for me.

        I don’t feel all that different than your wife re: the priesthood. I wouldn’t say I’m firmly in the “I don’t want the priesthood” camp but rather “If God doesn’t want me to have it, so be it, I just want to know His will. I want to know if the question has been asked and answered.” I’m bracing myself for the scenario that Spunky describes in the OP. It would be a lot easier to answer my daughter’s inevitable question if I could give her some better insight to her own unique female power as a daughter of God. But I don’t really know what that power is. I don’t even know my own eternal potential. So yeah, it’s a difficult question for some of us to answer.

        You might try asking some of your daughters sometime how they feel about gender bias in the church. Does it bother them that only men preside? That the vast majority of our scriptures, lessons, manuals, etc. are written by men and about men? Do they wonder about Heavenly Mother? How do they see themselves in eternity with respect to their eternal companion? How do they feel about their husband presiding in the home and what does that mean to them? I imagine like many, they’ve put a lot of thought into those things, they might just not be communicating those thoughts to you.

      • M says:

        “I like that,” I said. “I hope so. I do and always will sustain you in everything good.”

        I love this, Spunky.

        Unlike saying the blessing, there’s nothing about actually passing the sacrament that requires the priesthood. The way I see it, we’re just doing it out of tradition. So when you said “Perhaps one day you will. Right now, it’s just the boys” you were spot on.

  6. Cj says:

    During the earlier days of Church in Salt Lake there were wards who opposed new bishops on occasion. I don’t believe the congregations were overridden.

  7. Kris says:

    One of the reasons we sustain is because the Church is a church of order. We have the names of the Church leaders presented regularly to us and so we know who our leaders are and can sustain them or no. This makes for transparency.

  8. Rebecca says:

    In my ward, they recently accidentally had the high priest group leadership sustained in sacrament. I rose my hand extra high that day out of principle because it was the first time (to my memory) that I’d ever had the chance to raise my hand to sustain someone in that calling. When I brought it up in a Sunday School lesson about the priesthood a few weeks later, the ward leadership got all sheepish and apologetic, because they really hadn’t realized the mistake (high priest leaders are supposed to be sustained in their class, only by their own quorums).

    It really doesn’t seem fair/equal to me that people elders quorums and high priest groups are only sustained by men, yet they have some sort of dominion over the women in the ward. Whereas the relief society–having a similar dominion over both men and women–is sustained by all ward members.

    Long story short, I do hope these things change someday or that the church will finally quit arguing that they teach gender equality.

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