One day in Nauvoo, The prophet Joseph dressed up in the worst clothes he could find, got on a horse, and rode down to a boat just as it was emitting a whole load of converts from England. The first man that came up the row, he stopped. “Why are you here?” he enquired. “I have joined the mormon church.” “What do you know about Joseph Smith?” “I know he is a prophet of God.” “What if I told you I am Joseph Smith?” “If you are Joseph Smith, then I know you are a prophet of God.” The prophet smiled, struck hands, and said “I am the prophet, but I’ve dressed up in these rough clothes, just so you’ll understand that if you expect somebody other than a human, you might as well get right back on that boat, and go back to England.”
Joseph Smith had many struggles, but perhaps one of his biggest struggles was betrayal by those who were once his friends. Truman G. Madsen has said that “Every one of the prophet’s own counselors, with the sole exception of his brother, up until the Nauvoo era, betrayed him, went astray, faltered, or failed.” He spent time trying to explain to members that a prophet is a prophet only when he is speaking as a prophet. At other times he is human, with opinions, regrets, idiosyncrasies, and mistakes that ALL members of the human race have. Many of those who betrayed him were perfectly willing to accept him as a prophet, but were not capable of accepting him as a man.
This problem has not gone away with time. Whether it be Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Bruce R. McKonkie, or the local Bishop, too many members of the church fall away from the church simply at the discovery that these humans ARE in fact human. This is one of the two problems I wish to combat. The willingness to accept our leaders as leaders but NOT as human beings. The second thing I would like to address is complementary, and I believe it’s just as damaging. This is when we are willing to accept our leaders as human, but NOT as our ordained leaders. We are asked by our stake president or bishop to do something and we immediately think, “That is not really the way to get this done” or “That applies in general but doesn’t really make sense in my case.” I believe that this can be more destructive to the church than the first problem. Rather than drawing us away from the church, it takes away our ability to be a contributing member.
I would like to address the concept of “The sustaining vote.” I use this term with some irony, because I believe that it is the amalgamation of two separate things. The first is simply the vote. Doctrine and Covenants 26:2: “And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith.” I think that too often in the church when we raise our hand we think that we are simply voting. But what does it really mean to sustain? I can illustrate this point by referring to the first explicit example in the scriptures of sustaining, Exodus chapter 17:
Who Sustained Moses?
“And Moses said unto Joshua, go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and they stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”
So…what if, rather than holding up Moses’s hands, Aaron would have gathered the people and said, all those in favor of Moses holding his arms up all day signify by raising your right hand? What did it mean for Aaron to sustain Moses? What does it mean for us?
I would like to share three personal examples of truly sustaining our leaders. The first is personal for me, the second is personal for my stake, and the last is personal for our dispensation.
Sustaining Through Shoes
I currently own a pair of Doc Martens, a popular brand of dress shoes. On my mission they were the coveted shoes. They have one very distinguishing feature. There is a yellow lace going around the bottom of the shoe. When I entered the MTC, I didn’t have a pair, but about half of the missionaries in my MTC district did. One Sunday, our branch president in the MTC gathered us around and read us the rule in the white handbook which states that our shoes should be dark. He asked all of those with Doc Martens to use permanent marker that night to blacken out the yellow lace so that we could all be following the rules.
As soon as we got back to our dorms, the missionaries broke into two groups. The first group immediately set about darkening their laces. The second group immediately set about complaining about the Branch president. The most common thing that I heard was “He is not my mission president. He does not have any authority over me.” At first I thought the whole thing was pretty silly. I thought it was silly that the Branch president would take the white handbook so far, and I also thought that it was silly that the missionaries were so passionate about keeping their yellow laces.
Over my time at the MTC, I realized through other events that none of this confrontation had anything to do with yellow laces. The two groups of people were actually divided simply: The first group sustained their church leaders. The second group tried to find reasons why their leaders were wrong. Now, I am fairly convinced that whether or not you have yellow laces on your mission will not make you a good missionary. But I would like to ask this: What does it mean to the Lord when we choose to sustain our leaders? And how does it affect our testimonies when we spend time finding the reasons why what a leader said is not really applicable to us?
I have heard my bishop say that when the stake presidency asks him to do something, he doesn’t stop to decide whether it is the way that he would do it, he simply does it. He is a great example to me of sustaining his leaders. My stake presidency has recently asked the members of the stake to refrain from using our electronic devices during sacrament meeting. I’m sure there were many of us in the stake, myself included, who thought, “My scriptures are on my phone. I only use it to read the scriptures. They aren’t really talking to me, they are talking to everyone around me playing candy crush during the meeting.”
The truth is, perhaps I may be justified in using my phone to read the scriptures during sacrament meeting, but once again I would ask: What does it mean to the Lord when we choose not to obey his chosen leaders?
Brigham is Brought to the Test
Other than perhaps Hyrum, I can think of no greater example of someone who sustained Joseph Smith than Brigham Young. This story has been passed down through members of his family. This was shared by Truman G. Madsen:
There was a day when the prophet arose in a large meeting, and asked Brigham Young to stand. He arose. And then the prophet, in that setting, rebuked him from his head to his feet, for doing something which, in fact, he hadn’t done. Now I don’t know whether it was an exaggerated story the prophet had heard and really believed, or whether he was deliberately putting Brigham to a test, a thing the prophet often did in his life. He finished, and every eye in the room waited, looking for what Brigham would say. Brigham Young was a strong man, often referred to as the “lion of the Lord.” He was not one to stand down easily. He could have said “Haven’t you been reading that you’re not supposed to rebuke in public but only in private?” or he might have said “You are dead wrong” or he might have said “Joseph, doesn’t it say something about persuasion and long suffering, gentleness and meekness in the revelations?” He said none of the above. In a humble voice that everyone knew was sincere, he said simply, “Joseph, what do you want me to do?” The prophet burst into tears, came down off the stand, threw his arms around Brigham and said, “Brigham, you passed!”
Now, I would ask one more time, what does it mean to the Lord when we sustain his leaders? I know many of us are currently seeking revelation for something. One of the methods that the Lord uses to teach us is through his ordained leaders. How can we expect to receive guidance when we do not honor the guidance that we are given?
Sustaining the Lord
Now…what does it mean to sustain the Lord. I start by referring to two verses. The first is in Mark chapter four: “And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another: What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The second is in Doctrine and Covenants section 29: “for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power.”
What is Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ’s main method of operation? How do they accomplish the salvation of men? The scripture does not say “what manner of man is this, that he forces the wind and the sea to comply.” It is not by force or compulsion that they work, but through our honoring, obeying, and sustaining them. Doctrine and Covenants section 82: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” I would amend this slightly and say that the Lord is bound whether we do what he says or not. When we obey, he is bound to fulfill his promises. When we disobey, we literally remove his ability to help us. We are not called the body of Christ simply because we receive nourishment from the head. We are the tools by which he performs his work.
Sustaining each other
A new member of my ward recently said that his goal was this: when someone asks for volunteers, he always signs up. Since then I have tried to make this a personal goal. I’ve realized how often we excuse ourselves from work because we tell ourselves that it is not our responsibility.
I am not the best home teacher. Often I find myself saying, “Young Mens is a hard calling, at least I make up for my home teaching by working hard in the Young Mens program.” I am sure many members go through similar conversations in their heads, but what if we could live by this member’s credo? We don’t need to be in Young Men’s to go on a campout, we don’t need to be a Ward Missionary to introduce ourselves to visitors, and we don’t need to be in the Relief Society Presidency to do our Visiting Teaching.
Sometimes we find ourselves complaining that we didn’t get anything out of our meetings on Sunday. Think about this: How much of what you do in church on Sunday is for your own personal benefit? It is our great privilege to belong to a church where we don’t come on Sunday simply to receive an enlightening sermon. We come here to serve, whether through the sacrament, or teaching, or simply greeting each other. If you find yourself disappointed with your Sunday meetings, I would challenge you to look inwards and find more ways to serve.
President Uchtdorf once spoke of the concept of “Lifting where you stand.” This is my encouragement to us as a church. If we can stand together united as a ward, as a stake, as a people, sustaining the Lord, and sustaining one another, then we can simply “lift where we stand.”
Steven Jacobs –
Steven is a student at UCR and is a returned missionary. He is the developer of the iPhone and iPad app for Gameplan and is actively engaged in serving the youth in his ward.