Thursday, March 10, 2011

Question on Sustaining

Today I have a question that got sparked by an interesting discussion over at fMh. In LDS circles, it's common to find the language of "sustaining" someone in a calling. In particular, "Latter-day Saints sustain the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles as prophets" (Gospel Principles [1997], 48). The glossary in the 1997 edition of Gospel Principles defines this action as one "to support and accept" (Gospel Principles [1997], 382).

Furthermore, sustaining the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve is required in order to be considered worthy of holding a temple recommend. In the February 2006 issue of New Era, which included an article taken from an 1976 address by Elder Robert Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he quoted one of the lines of questioning for the temple recommend interview:

Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?

And as former LDS Church President Howard Hunter wrote in the April 1995 issue of New Era:

You must sustain the General Authorities and local authorities of the Church. When you raise your arm to the square when these leaders' names are presented, you signify that you will sustain them in their responsibilities and in the counsel they give you. This is not an exercise in paying homage to those whom the Lord has called to preside. Rather, it is a recognition of the fact that God has called prophets, seers, and revelators, and others as General Authorities. It is a commitment that you will follow the instructions that come from the presiding officers of the Church. Likewise you should feel loyalty toward the bishop and stake president and other Church leaders. Failure to sustain those in authority is incompatible with service in the temple.

All this, however, still seems to underdetermine the concept of "sustaining". President Hunter's explanation helps some, although it may not be universally held and also does not give certain crucial details. (I believe somewhere I saw a statement that sustaining requires one to submit to an authority's "inspired counsel". But that, of course, raises the disputed question on when a General Authority is speaking authoritatively or not - a question on which Latter-day Saints are in fact by no means in agreement, whether or not LDS tradition contains any indicators of what the best set of criteria might be.)

So my question is, what exactly - in a practical and a theoretical sense - is entailed by affirming in a temple recommend interview that one "sustain[s] members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators" and "sustain[s] the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church"?

What are some actions and beliefs that would be presently required in order to actually carry this out? What are some actions and beliefs that would be presently incompatible with carrying this out?

To what extent would be strong disagreement with the public remarks of a General Authority (even in, say, General Conference) be compatible with sustaining that person?

And what of active dislike for a given General Authority? (I know that Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is frequently singled out on this score as a consequence of his infamously intemperate remarks.) Can a person authentically sustain a General Authority whom he or she dislikes in a strong way? Can a person sustain a General Authority whom he or she thinks is a bad fit for the position and ought not be there?

So how exactly is one to unpack this tricky issue of "sustaining" the General Authorities?

And here's yet a further question I have for Latter-day Saint readers after they've unpacked their notions of sustaining: has there been any time during the history of your movement at which, if you could - knowing and believing as you do now - travel back, you could not perform the three sustainings mentioned in the current temple recommend interview questions?

1 comment:

  1. Most of the questions from a temple interview have to do with the candidate's testimony. We are asked if we believe that these brethren were called of God to serve as his mouth piece and servants. Upon sustaining them we are confirming our testimony and belief in these gentleman.

    If we are asked to sustain a person whom we have legitimate objections to, we are given a chance to object by the same sign. We are later spoke to by the Bishop or Stake President and if we have conclusive evidence, the individual will be asked to step down from his or her calling.

    Though I only hold a "limited use recommend" I have never had issue with those questions.