I grew up in the Anglican Church. I was christened shortly after I was born. My parents took me to church most Sundays. I attended Sunday School. I was confirmed as a teenager. I went to church camp. I found comfort in the rituals and prayers and hymns, in the time spent with family and friends.
And when I was nineteen, I left the church.
I did not rant against the church.
I did not rail against the church.
I did not make church events uncomfortable for other members.
I did not disrupt church proceedings.
I did not encourage others to leave the church.
I simply discovered, after a lengthy conversation with my minister, that I did not believe one of the tenets of the Anglican faith.
And so I left.
There was no fanfare.
There was no press release.
There were no media outlets waiting to report the breaking news.
Given my experiences with my former church and the experiences of the many converts that I have talked to about this, I do not understand why people who do not believe Latter-Day Saint doctrine remain members of the church.
Given my experiences, I find it disturbing that when a few members of the church decide that they are unhappy with one or two or a dozen points of doctrine, that they publicly rant and rail against it.
Given my experiences, I find it selfish and disrespectful when they decide to make church events uncomfortable for others by conspiring to disrupt church proceedings.
Given my experiences, I find it heartbreaking when they encourage others to do the same through the use of formal and informal media campaigns.
Each April and October, the general church membership is asked to sustain the leaders of the church, from the very top global level to the lowliest unit members. This means that “we stand behind them, pray for them, accept assignments and callings from them, obey their counsel, and refrain from criticizing them.”
When members are asked to refrain from disrupting conference proceedings, but do it anyway…
When members are asked to stop encouraging dissent or teaching false doctrine through public means and refuse…
When members organize demonstrations so as to disrupt a worldwide meeting for millions of people…
They are not sustaining church leadership.
That said, sustaining our leadership does not mean that one has to agree with everything they say or everything they do. There are protocols for airing one’s questions and concerns. Sustaining our leadership does not mean that one has to agree with every point of doctrine. There are protocols for seeking answers and clarification on these matters. Sustaining our leaders does not mean that we blindly follow. Indeed, we are taught to frequently seek personal revelation through study and prayer.
Sustaining our church leaders means more than praying and accepting and obeying. In the October 1946 General Conference, George Albert Smith said, “I hope that you will realize, all of you, that this is a sacred privilege. … It will not be just a symbol but it will be an indication that, with the help of the Lord, you will carry your part of the work.”
While this refers to the engagement in and completion of the work that one is asked to do by church leaders in accepting assignments and callings, it also refers to the way in which one conducts oneself as a member. Sustaining our leaders is not just a privilege – it is a sacred privilege, performed with a godly character, that is not common or profane. It is this part of the sustaining process that has led to several changes in recent years.
When women wanted changes in programs for girls, young women and adult sisters, they wrote letters, talked to church leaders, expressed their concerns. The General Women’s Meeting was born out of this process, and the women’s meeting was officially recognized as part of General Conference, just as the Priesthood Session has been. It also resulted in other changes for the women’s auxiliaries in the church.
When homosexual members sought answers to their questions about their place in the church and in church society, a website was created to answer their questions, and the church was instrumental in working towards anti-discrimination laws in Utah.
When members wanted more transparency regarding church history, a series of historical essays was commissioned to give a fuller, broader understanding of these events.
These are just three examples. There are likely dozens more, including the church’s use of technology, access to family history records, and changes to the missionary age. One can publicly sustain church leaders and still disagree with aspects of the church.
It took me six years of learning about the church before I became a member. And as a member, I have sometimes had questions and concerns with church doctrine, church leaders, church history. But by following the protocols, I have been able to have my concerns addressed.
Which is why when the leaders of the church ask for a sustaining vote, I raise my arm with millions of other members and declare “All in Favor”.
And I pray that those who are opposed can find a way to sustain them, too.