Dissenting votes at Conference

This is a guest post by Huston.

At this weekend’s global General Conference, the annual sustaining vote for our church’s overall leaders had an unusual wrinkle. Tens of thousands of Mormons there in person–and many more watching online–said yes. But about seven people stood up to say nay.

This was a planned protest vote by a group called “Any Opposed?”. According to their web site, they seem to have wanted an audience with the Apostles so they could air their grievances. They might have been surprised when the conducting officer, President Uchtdorf, referred them to their stake presidents.

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the church has grown far too large for the old policies of the 70’s to be practical anymore. (Hopefully they then learned from Elder Cook’s talk on the subject.) Perhaps they didn’t know that this is the procedure outlined in the Church’s official Handbook of Instructions:

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.

If they’d really read the handbook, they’d know why dissenting votes are asked for in the first place. From the same paragraph cited above:

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.

The point of a dissenting vote is to reveal that a nominee for a calling has been cheating on a spouse, or beating children, or getting drunk every night, etc.
But, again according to their own web site, the dissenting voters weren’t accusing leaders of such immoral behavior. They were protesting the fact that the Church holds opinions contrary to their own about (surprise!) gay marriage and the role of women in the Church.

So their dissenting vote had nothing to do with unworthiness, much less an attempt to find answers or engage in dialogue. It was an attempt to blacklist people who disagree with their political views. They wanted to publicly punish and suppress those who are different from them.

This, of course, has become the modus operandi of the American Left these days. (See here for some recent examples, though there are many, many more.) The mindset of too many liberals today has become one of automatic righteous indignation towards those who dare to dissent from their party line, with a reflexive response to censor them.

Actually, in the eyes of those who gave the dissenting votes, our general Church leaders really are immoral and thus unworthy to hold office. Our leaders have committed the ultimate sin, after all: they don’t confess loyalty to the creeds of liberalism.

Such is the “tolerance” of the American Left.

27 thoughts on “Dissenting votes at Conference

  1. Related, tangentially: the Hugo awards (for science fiction and fantasy) are a point of serious turmoil this year, with several LDS authors at the center of the storm.

    The “weak” demand their right to dissent, until they are strong; then dissent is something evil, to be quashed.

  2. You’ve gone too far.

    “In the eyes of those who gave the dissenting votes, our general church leaders really are immoral … and unworthy?” I suggest you take at face value what they actually say.

    “… they don’t confess loyalty to the creeds of liberalism. Such is the “tolerance” of the American Left.”

    Your rhetoric says more about your own astonishing lack of tolerance than that of your opponents. You damage your own agenda.

  3. You refer to the CHI (appropriately) as an authoritative source on handling dissent, but then add your own language saying, “[t]he point of a dissenting vote is to reveal that a nominee for a calling has been cheating on a spouse, or beating children, or getting drunk every night, etc.” Yet there are many more reasons someone may not be sustained in a particular calling, notwithstanding your own narrow interpretation.

    Members in good standing have a God-given right to vote their conscience, even when it is “opposed.” The presiding priesthood leader then notes the vote and proceeds accordingly, just as happened at this conference. To my mind, the subsequent uproar is much ado about nothing.

  4. 7 in a group of 20,000 is minute, but they got headlines as representing their discontent in the media. Anyone who wants a temple recommend is asked the question personally. That is their opportunity to affirm or deny that they sustain the leadership.

  5. Pat, whether we agree with the votes or how the media handles it is beside the point. The Lord has specifically commanded the members to give their sustaining and opposing votes in General Conference:

    “And a commandment I give unto you, that you should fill all these offices and approve of those names which I have mentioned, or else disapprove of them at my general conference…” (D&C 124:144)

  6. Misunderstanding about Common Consent is based on the misconception that it represents some kind of democratic process in which the minority has a right to be heard. Church leaders are called of God. It is not a democratic process.

    Common Consent was not implemented as an opportunity to stage a public demonstration, or to voice a general protest. At the local level, it affords an opportunity for ward members to communicate with Church leaders, to contribute information they may not know. The scene in General Conference was apparently planned ahead of time, solely intended to attract media attention, and had nothing to do with helping Church leaders learn the truth. They have their reward.

    It is also interesting to note that dissenting votes do not somehow disqualify Church members from a calling. Judgement is still a matter that is up to the inspiration of the local leader – and the Lord – not noisy demanding dissenters.

    While I recognize the right to express a dissenting vote under the policy of Common Consent, I am offended by the shameful and shameless behavior of those who presume to disrupt the Conference with their petulant protests. Let them have the courtesy to just raise their hands like everyone else, or conduct their little demonstrations elsewhere.

  7. To vote opposed to the ones presented should be done on the basis of real reasons – as the article above describes very well. To simply oppose because I don’t like some views and opinions of the ones presented is shameful.

    There are legitimate reasons however to oppsoe. Several years ago in my own stake some dissented when a new bishop was presented to be voted upon. They did so for the right reasons. They new he had and was still cheating on his wife. Stake presidency did the right thing after having it brought to their attention by the opposing vote.

  8. “It is also interesting to note that dissenting votes do not somehow disqualify Church members from a calling.”

    It’s not clear, since it’s so rare for a majority to oppose a call. I do know, admittedly third-hand, of a case many decades ago of a ward where a brother started building up a following who felt he should be their new Bishop. When another man was called as the new Bishop instead, the opposing vote was in the majority.

    This was long enough ago that the ward reorganization was being handled by a visiting authority. When the ward refused to sustain the man called as Bishop, he dissolved the ward on the spot and turned responsibility for the local Saints over to the mission.

    Don’t know that that would happen today.

  9. For the benefit of those inclined to criticize my argument:

    My point here is that this protest is clearly part of a larger trend of behavior on the Left–judging and persecuting those who disagree with them politically.

    That is absolutely what happened here. When you vote “opposed” to a sustaining, you are saying that someone is unfit for the office. Ideally, you would want them removed, just as Brendan Eich was removed as CEO of Mozilla, or many who disagree with the Left (such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali) have been disinvited from speaking at universities, or actress Maria Conchita Alonso was fired from a play in California for supporting a Republican for office, or any number of other such abuses.

    These are fascistic, bullying tactics. Turning the other cheek is not the same thing as laying down to be repeatedly steamrolled by bullies.

    Despite the assertion that “there are many more reasons someone may not be sustained in a particular calling,” the Handbook only makes provision for spiritual unworthiness. I’m not putting words in the voters’ mouths: their own web site says the protest was over the church’s positions on gay marriage and the role of women. Those are platforms of the Left.

    The voters in question hijacked a mechanism meant to ensure spiritual worthiness in order to punish and silence those who hold political views they don’t like. I’m sorry if it sounds uncharitable–and I think those voters may otherwise be fine people, and I wish them well in life–but how is that not the truth? Especially when seen as part of a larger social context, these protest votes are nothing less than thuggish.

    Imagine the shoe on the other foot. If the Church advocated for positions the Right dislikes, and some conservative members voiced that disapproval in the form of opposing sustainings in General Conference, would anyone say that such a display was appropriate?

  10. An interesting part of this to me was President Uchtdorf delegating to the stake presidents the task of finding out from the opposed the reasons for the opposition. Stake presidents are responsible for so many things now, like setting apart missionaries, presiding stake conference, and ordaining patriarchs, that were previously done by General Authorities. It’s a broader flow of authority and responsibility than some decades ago, counter to the tendency in other regards to centralize functions of the LDS church.

  11. Huston,

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree that those who voted in opposition were performing an action for reasons that were outside the instruction in the handbook. Spiritual unworthiness is the reason described in the handbooks.

    I believe that these individuals were attempting to make a statement about their disagreements with general church direction. They probably feel that speaking to their bishop, who has no direct control over the affairs of the church as a whole, is ineffective and the discussion would stop there.

    Right now there is no clear avenue to take to communicate with those higher up in the church hierarchy. The only apparent and designated way would be to speak to your local leader, who would speak to his leader, who would speak to his leader, etc. Basically a large game of telephone.

    Is this the way it should be done? Maybe, but it could seem very ineffective to those who are passionate about a cause and requires buy in from every individual along the priesthood leadership chain.

  12. Matt, that is what happened to Moses. He took on all the responsibility until his father-in-law said it was too much. Then authority was delegated to others who I am sure talked with Moses when serious discussions were necessary. opposition these days are not spiritual, but political and as such not worthy of the highest attention. They are more like children having a tantrum than adults with good ideas. Kudos for Houston not sugar coating who is responsible for these travesties; busy body bully liberals.

  13. I’m not clear from the blogpost whether the individual referenced actually was in attendance at conference and verbally said “opposed” or raised his hand. I was in Plaza 12 – I could hear a couple of people say “opposed” or “no” off, up and to my right, possibly up in the balcony. I didn’t bother to even look their way, but noted some guys with cameras at the bottom of section 12 looking that way. The OP is right about why one should voice opposition when someone is presented for a sustaining vote. Those in opposition, like so many others, want and need attention so they won’t be ignored. I can tell you from experience that stake presidents talk to area authority 70’s on a regular basis, and that area 70’s in turn talk to members of the other Q70 often. I can’t say they take every single individual gripe, concern and suggestion up stream. Sorry, but there are too many wacky and disaffected people to take every complaint “to the top.” Plus, most of the complaints have already been discussed (LGBT rights, SSA, SSM, Women’s ordination, MoFem issues in general). One doesn’t have to go very far to read the views and opinions expressed on hot button issues. But if you have a moral concern or church discipline issue, those are considered and passed up the line. The stupidity of those opposing in conference did give me a chance to explain to my teenage daughter it really means to sustain our leaders. Great teaching moment in spite of the disappointment.

  14. John,

    I’d characterize the trends in the Church as being towards centralizing the the general rules and localizing the exceptions. In other words, things that can be done according to broad and general policies are centralized; things that require individual judgement are localized.

    Which seems sensible enough.

  15. Clearly the leaders of the Church are not allowing the dissenting votes to distract from them from the mission of the Church. I feel that blog posts like this give attention to those who feed off it while teaching dubious doctrines about when it is appropriate to vote opposed. The handbook gives no criteria for voting opposed. It does instruct leaders to ascertain if the reason for voting opposed disqualifies the person presented. The rest of us have no reason to judge either the leaders or those voting opposed. It’s between them and the Lord. This is a tempest in a teapot.

  16. DD, I appreciate the thought about basically not “feeding the trolls,” but I’m not passing any moral judgment on the dissenters. When people put out messages in public, in any way, there’s an implied contract that those messages are open to scrutiny by the rest of society. The point here was to highlight the link between this action and a larger trend of leftist agitation using scurrilous tactics.

  17. I’d like to know if any of them regret what they did.

    Kind of like when you were in high school and your buddies talked you into throwing smoke bombs into the gymnasium garbage cans during a basketball game.

    At the time you thought it was going to be so cool. But then later you realize you shouldn’t have done it because everyone found out it was you and from there on out they always looked at you funny.

  18. Thanks for the clarification, Huston. I agree their actions are open to scrutiny. I do think it is dangerous to say that a person can only oppose if they are aware of serious sin. For example, if a person voiced support for re-instituting polygamy in the Church, I would have serious problems with them teaching a youth Sunday School class. Of course, it would be up to the bishop to decide if that were a real problem. Maybe what I thought was support for apostate groups was really just a hypothetical musing. I would be required to support the bishop either way.

    I did a cursory search at lds.org. I could not find any statements about when an opposing vote might be warranted. In this case, I did not see any disruption from the dissenters. They made their votes; it was noted; hopefully they spoke with their stake presidents. I thought President Uchtdorf’s response was perfect.

  19. Not to beat the dead horse, but there are guidelines for dissent. They are quoted in the OP and found in Handbook 2, 19.3, which is readily available to everyone. The only expressions of dissent that need be considered are those made by members in good standing. The presiding officer (or assigned officer) is to meet in private after the meeting and is to determine 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.” I know we’re all trying to be non-judgmental, but do you really think those who dissented have personal knowledge of conduct of the FP/Q12 that would disqualify them from serving? The key word is “conduct,” not position on doctrine or political alignment or views. “Guilty” and “conduct” imply a moral failing. I suppose you could give conduct a liberal interpretation such that because FP/Q12 member speak out against controversial matters that their very act of mouthing words is “conduct.” That is a stretch, though. Call me judgmental if you want, but I think the dissent expressed was disingenuous and just for attention.

  20. IDIAT, I think it’s clear that apostasy, which is an act of mouthing words, is conduct that likely disqualifies a member from holding a calling.

    DD, I’m dubious about the example of a member who expresses support for re-instituting polygamy in the Church. As some non-members are all too gleeful to point out, we still practice a limited form; I have a wonderful man to home teach who is sealed to two wives. Just not both living at the same time. If your example was a member who expresses support for simultaneous civilly recognized marriage to two living women, *without* fresh directions from the Brethren authorizing it, then your example would be a good one. But in that case, he would be an apostate, wouldn’t he?

  21. IDIAT, I agree that those who voted opposed in general conference likely did not have personal knowledge of moral failings of the leaders of the Church. I also agree that it was likely for attention. Thus, one of my concerns is that the outrage expressed here and elsewhere is out of proportion to their actions and simply gives more attention to . Their leaders will deal with the situations. I agree with Kent that words can be conduct. Some of the statements about how bad the conduct has to be carries it too far, in my opinion. People should vote opposed if they feel that is the way to vote. Then, the presiding officers can deal with it according to the Handbook of Instructions.

    Kent, I don’t know if voicing support for re-instituting polygamy is apostasy in every case. My point is that someone could privately express support for a teaching that would make me uncomfortable with them teaching my children, and I would also be uncomfortable with them being brought up on charges of apostasy. Given the handbook definition of apostasy, preventing them from teaching may prevent them from committing apostasy, that is teaching false doctrine publically after being warned and counseled. It could be a blessing to vote opposed for what some may think a minor matter.

  22. Since a few personal examples have been shared I’ll offer my own. An inactive, but occasionally shows up a few times a year over the last decade, member was called to help assist with youth. I voted to sustain him, because I wanted to support him and the bishop in the call, but at the same time, I met with the bishop and informed him of some personal things I knew that made me unsure of the individual around the youth. I told the bishop, I didn’t know if the issues were ever resolved, and I sustained the bishop and wouldn’t make a fuss one way or the other but I wanted him to be aware of my knowledge (based on first hand experience and evidence) with the individual.

    Someone else ended up in the position, but I have no idea why.

    I didn’t feel a no vote was warranted outright, because he could have changed and already shared his issues with the bishop, but also figured it would be prudent to provide relevant info where youth were concerned.

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