William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the "Common Consent" Doctrine

The question was put:

"What was termed "The Law of Common Consent" was discussed this morning in my daughter's seminary class, and it got me to thinking again that we may have strayed from the original ideal of this LDS tenet.
Today, "Common Consent" has come to mean that we raise our hands to "sustain" whoever it is who has been selected by "the Priesthood."
And we do not oppose unless we are specifically aware of some "sin" that would disqualify the nominee for office. (A quote was read in class from Joseph Fielding Smith to that effect.)
I am not certain this is how it was originally intended.
My thoughts are that this practice was instituted to give power to the members over who would hold office in their ward, branch or church.
Its nature is such as to suggest the idea of democracy within the LDS Church, but when a student brought up that word in class this morning, he was dutifully pooh-poohed by the teacher. The Church is not a "democracy," nor do we "vote" for leaders.
And yet the Law of Common Consent seems to contain elements of both "democracy" and "voting."
I think it would be fair to say that leaders put forth a person for office, in effect nominating them for that post.
The members then have the ability to vote for or against that person.
There seems to be a deliberate tension originally set in place with this process; a combination of a hierarchical and a congregational system.
In a hierarchical system, the leaders would simply appoint a person to fill an office and the members would have no say.
In a congregational system, the members would appoint a person to fill an office and the hierarchy would have no say.
The Law of Common Consent seems to combine the two, in order to give place for both leadership and membership to have their voice in selecting church officers.
The problem, if problem there be, is that the power has shifted almost exclusively to the leadership of the LDS Church in that they select a person for office, and the membership is then expected to sustain whoever is selected; so much so that in the most recent general conference, I believe thanks was expressed for the sustaining vote of the members before the reading of Church officers.
The "Law of Common Consent" seems to have become a fait accompli in which the voice of the membership has been reduced to meaninglessness; or at best the voice of the membership is there solely for the purpose of acting as "spies" for the leadership to see if they have caught the nominee in some sin the leadership did not.
Any thoughts?"

To which I responded:

Much as I laud the ideals of democracy, I do not believe that a true church should be run on strict democracy where official doctrines and leadership positions are simply put to a vote by the lay membership. That being said, there is something horribly wrong with an organization whose leaders are so convinced of their own doctrinal inerrancy that they are closed off to suggestions, opinions, and criticisms of members (a.k.a., outsiders) who upon voicing any dissention are immediately branded as apostates. My personal speculation is that the doctrine of common consent was originally intended to give the LDS membership a voice in selecting their leaders. Just as the "councils" system today provides a forum (albeit a closed-door forum) for leaders to discuss and debate callings, policies, and at higher levels, even doctrines, I believe the "common consent" system was intended to encourage the voicing of criticisms, disagreements, and concerns so that "all things are done in order." The "order" is that members have at least some input and voice in the deliberation from which official callings and doctrines emerge. The leadership's "legitimacy" is not based upon popular vote, nor by purported prophetic decree alone, but by a process of truth-discernment which is more transparent and not obscured by stubborn dogma. Just as we should not and cannot pray in a vacuum, casting out all of our existing knowledge, just as we should "ponder" and pray, rather than just pray, so, too must the process at arriving at the truth be open to hearing and considering what non-leaders have to say. If we elect to make decisions without ever listening to or fairly considering dissenting views, we will at the outset be precluding ourselves from arriving at conclusions which might turn out to be correct. If we as a church are sincere in seeking the truth, then we will not close ourselves off to dissenting views, and will instead give them a fair voice and due consideration.

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