One of Mormonism’s most attractive features is the wonderful chance all members are given to both formally and informally “sustain” each other as we play various roles within the community. We officially (and for church records) sustain by the raise of our hand various persons in their callings, but more importantly in that way also pledge on our part to be supportive of this sister or brother as they serve in these capacities. Hopefully we whole-heartedly mean this as we “signify by the uplifted hand” and truly feel comfortable with them in their new position and will do our best to support them in ways they may ask of us, and that when it comes up for us to do so to also offer prayers or other forms of encouragement that might strengthen them. Difficulties can arise at times, however, especially when persons are called to leadership positions that affect our communal lives in sometimes dramatic ways. For many of us, there are high stakes involved when members of bishoprics or various presidencies and other positions of leadership are called. Perhaps this person now tasked to serve in this way is someone we’ve had past conflicts with, someone who feels too rigid or too . . . (fill in the blank here), or someone whose personal conduct has led us to question the inspiration behind their calling. What should we do then? How can we “sustain” them? Does it mean we have to agree with this person? Obey her or his directives? Be loyal and supportive in all things she or he might ask? Can “sustaining” also mean letting them know of our feelings of discomfort with them or something they are teaching or asking?
With the recent changes in the Church’s First Presidency and reassignments within the Council of Twelve Apostles, many persons within the church have had to wrestle fresh with how they might sustain President Nelson and President Oaks, especially, in their new (and more prominent) capacities given certain controversial teachings or programs or policies that have been given or spearheaded by them in the past. At their next temple recommend interview or call during a ward conference for sustaining votes for the church’s top leadership, how can those who feel these hesitations about those called act with integrity as they are asked if they sustain them as “prophets, seers, and revelators”? Can they “sustain” them while also speaking up in church meetings or other circles about their disagreements with their ideas or directives?
“Sustaining” is an interesting topic within Mormonism, for sure! Thankfully, four wonderful Latter-day Saints agreed to come on Mormon Matters to talk about many of the complexities of sustaining, supporting, and conscientiously acting with regard to leaders and others with whom we may disagree or not enjoy. Caleb Jones follows up his participation in the previous episode on the new church leadership changes by being on again, and he is joined by the wonderful Claudia Bushman, Jenne Alderks, and Christian Harrison. All contribute terrific insights on the topic at many levels, including their own personal experiences wrestling with “What does it mean, exactly, to sustain?”
Caleb Jones, “14 Keys to Sustaining Prophets,” Navigating Discipleship blogpost
D. Christian Harrison, “The Longest, Hardest, Calling . . . ” By Common Consent blogpost, 18 January 2018
Jenne Erigero Alderks, “Effecting Change in the Church,” SquareTwo 7, no. 2 (Summer 2014)