Monday, October 13, 2014

What Does It Mean to "Sustain" Church Leaders?

The concept of "sustaining" is an important part of the LDS Church, but it is one that I believe generally has been weakened greatly from what it can be and is meant to be.  I believe it is much more powerful than often is understood, and I believe the gap between how it commonly is understand and what it is meant to be is extremely important.  I believe the full depth and power of the organizational structure of the Church is compromised when the membership fails to sustain the leadership in the fullest sense of the word.

The following are the definitions found in the Oxford English dictionary that have a person as a direct object: 

3a. To support the efforts or cause of; to give assistance to, back up; (in later use usually military) to support (other troops).
8. To keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from failing or giving way; to strengthen the spirits or resolution of; to give encouragement or psychological support to.
10a. To play the part of; to keep up (an assumed role) competently; to represent (a dramatic part or character) convincingly.
10b. To hold or be invested with (a title); to fulfill or discharge the functions and responsibilities associated with (a position).
11a. To endure (something painful, difficult, or unpleasant) without failing or giving way; to bear, withstand.
13a. To tolerate the existence or presence of; to permit, abide.
13b. To permit oneself or consent (to do or be something)

I believe there are all kinds of issues involved in the lay leadership structure of the Church. I've called it the genius and idiocy of the Church, and I've called it the best and worst thing about the Church. I've taught my children that they don't have to agree with or obey church leaders just because they are church leaders (that I'm just not into Lucifer's plan). My children know I don't agree with some things I hear in church - at all levels. I can't support every leader I've had or seen in every way they would like me to support them . . . but that's not what sustaining means.

There are enough definitions of sustain listed above to cover how I work with leaders at all levels and of all kinds, especially when "to give encouragement to; to endure (something painful, difficult, or unpleasant) without failing or giving way; to bear, withstand" is included in those definitions.

Therefore, I can and want to sustain church leaders whole-heartedly.

If I disagree with something a leader says on principle, according to the dictates of my own conscience, I am sustaining that leader in an important way if I let that leader know of my disagreement - and that can't happen if I withhold my complete sustaining. I want to hear that type of sustaining voice when I'm a leader, sustaining me by speaking up, so I provide that voice when I'm not a leader - privately, not publicly. I've disagreed verbally with leaders in the past, they have thanked me for it, and I'm sure I'll do it again - but that is not the same thing to me as not sustaining them. I have sustained them specifically because I have been willing to share my "counsel" with them when I see things differently than they do - and, again, they have appreciated it. 

I try to treat leaders (sustain them) how I want to be treated when I am in a leadership position (be sustained) - and that means I sustain them in every way listed above, including ones that too many people would see as negative.


Jeff G said...

"I try to treat leaders (sustain them) how I want to be treated when I am in a leadership position (be sustained)..."

I think you presume much here. After all, it's not obvious to me that how you want to (hypothetically) be treated in a leadership position is at all relevant. By contrast, how your actual leader wants (in the here and now) to be treated seems a little more relevant. Even more importantly, how the Lord wants you to treat your actual leader seems most important of all.

Papa D said...

Jeff G, I think the Golden Rule applies to leaders just as much as to non-leaders. I also agree that how the Lord wants us to treat our leaders is most important of all - and I believe the Lord wants us to sustain them fully, in every sense of the word, and not just do whatever they want on nothing more than the basis of their leadership.

That last model is called unrighteous dominion and is condemned in our scriptures for good reason.

Papa D said...

Also, Jeff, my view is not hypothetical. It's how I have felt in the past in various leadership positions. I don't want "Yes men"; I want fully functioning counselors, and I want that same interaction model with those who are not in official counselor positions.

I believe what I have outlines in this post is consistent with the counsel model and with what the top Church leadership has been teaching for a long time.

Jeff G said...

I was not doubting whether you had been in a leadership position or not. Rather, I was following you in framing things in terms of what you would hypothetically do if you were in your leaders place rather than your own. The point is that he and not you was called and set apart to lead you, thus making what you would hypothetically do in that situation largely irrelevant.

The golden rule is meant to establish a symmetry between people while the whole point of setting somebody apart is to break down this symmetry in some sense of the word. It is for this very reason that what you would do in the situation in question cannot simply be taken for granted. If the golden rule were to fully generalize, after all, then we are really talking about the Protestant notion of universal priesthood.

I'm also very suspicious of any appeal to the intellectuals who wrote the dictionary as an authoritative source of what it means to sustain the Lord's anointed.

I'm even more suspicious of your tacit presupposition that the only options available to us are the dictionaries definition of sustaining and your straw man version of unrighteous dominion.

The opposite of sustaining a priesthood leaders is not unchecked obedience to them, but undermining them. Yes, there are ways of disagreeing with and giving feedback to priesthood leaders without undermining them, but pretending that unchecked obedience has anything to do with this is a red herring at best.

Papa D said...

Jeff, you are reading WAY more into the post than is there - and we apparently disagree on what it means to sustain leaders.

ji said...

"The point is that he . . . was called and set apart to lead you"

I try to think in terms that he was called and set apart to help me and serve me, as I help and serve my family. Matthew 20:28 comes to mind, and Mark 10:42-45, and Luke 22:26, John 13:12-17, and Philippians 2:3, and 1 Peter 5:3. 1 Kings 12:7, too.

I think part of the dissonance with sustaining is that it is all one way -- leaders command and followers obey -- and we seem to have lost any sense of what I describe above. I look at a man sustaining a church leader much as a wife sustains her husband -- and PapaD's insights from the dictionary definition are helpful in this regard.