Another General Conference another opposing vote. Another opposing vote, more faithful Mormon responses seeking to invalidate or discredit the intentions of the opposer. Having somebody publicly call out your religion is hard. Since Mormonism is so all-encompassing, seeing someone vote against the leadership of the church feels like a personal attack against the values and lifestyles held by active Mormons.
But opposing votes are important. They should not be invalidated. In fact, they should be embraced.
Opposing is in the scriptures
One of Joseph Smith’s more egalitarian ideas was having church government ostensibly controlled by the Law of Common consent. In 1830 he introduced the concept to the church body (see Doctrine and Covenants 26). Essentially, Smith envisioned that every decision that effected the body of the church would go before the people, who could vote for or against it. Later in Doctrine and Covenants 107 he wrote that decisions must receive unanimous approval by church leaders, including everything from administrative policy all the way up to who would hold key leadership positions.
Later church policy instituted the idea that a person should vote opposed to sustaining a leader if the member felt that the leader was not after the instructions of God correctly, or was somehow violating church commandments. Over time, the actual act of opposing became so rare that, for most church leaders, it was little more than a formality, a hold over from an earlier time. Every General Conference members were asked to sustain the leaders. In the modern era, the sustainings were unanimous, except for two incidents in the 70s and 80s. But, over the past few years opposing votes have occurred every conference. It’s a disturbing trend for Mormons who have grown up not expecting the an opposing vote to actually occur.
But the members are completely in their right to vote opposed. Whether or not their reasons fit into the Mormon world view, they are exercising a right that has been in Mormonism since 1830.
The church asks for them
In conference the church is asking for opposing votes. Unfortunately, for years now members have gotten used to that as a formality. Most likely the leaders in the Q12 have as well. But if the church did not want to give people the option to vote opposed, they should stop asking for opposing votes. Mormon reactions to opposing votes is so confusing. You have leaders who Mormons believe speak for God asking for dissenting votes, but dissenters aren’t supposed to give them if they have issues? They are unfaithful for taking an option that Mormons believe comes directly from God? If it was really a sign of unfaithfulness, wouldn’t God just tell the leaders to stop asking for them?
People have legitimate concerns, and pushing them away only creates problems down the road
It is not within anybody’s right to tell a concerned church member that their concerns are somehow illegitimate. How do you know what they are going through? Church members should follow the example of Jesus Christ, who sat and listened to the concerns of others, instead of making fun of them and automatically shunning opposers as unfaithful heathens.
From an internal Mormon perspective, shunning opposers only creates more problems down the road. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who opposes. You are frustrated at the church and want to express your concern in the way set forth by Mormon standards. But when you do that all the faithful Mormons jump down your throat and shout you down on social media. If I was opposing, that would definitely give me cause to call it quits. “Fine, they don’t want my opinion? See you later. Thanks for caring for the one.”
By ignoring and shunning people opposing, Mormons are creating a stronger group of dissenters than before. The opposers feel ostracized, and the few who are interested in what they have to say feel the same. Slowly dissent grows, jeopardizing the hegemony of the leaders.
Organizations should not be totalitarian.
Faithful Mormons would be uncomfortable with any other organization that does not allow people to express their concerns. Political organizations, jobs, school. All of these become insufferable when people are not allowed to express their concerns. So why does religion get a pass?
Now I know the apologist answer: Because the leaders are speaking for God. But, Mormon apologists also put forth the idea that sometimes the leaders are speaking as men. When you have that idea in Mormonism, then there is really no support for claiming that opposers are bad because they are fighting against the voice of God. Maybe they are opposing the voice of men? That is a possibility.
Creates an environment where non-protest opposing votes can’t exist.
I am not naïve. I know that these opposing votes are protest votes. I still support them, but I’m not going to pretend otherwise. However, the Mormon reaction to the votes creates an environment where people with legitimate concerns from within faithful Mormonism can not express their opinions, since members have, for years now, completely ostracized any opposing votes.
What if there is actual misconduct in the Quorum of the Twelve? It has happened before. In 1943 Elder Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated because of extra-marital affairs he was conducting with a woman that he was assigned to council as a part of his duties. That is horrifying in its own right, but imagine if this woman had wanted to vote opposed in today’s climate, hoping to bring to light that Lyman was not living gospel standards. If I were her, I would be afraid to, because I have seen how members treat people opposing.
It’s not impossible. Something could go wrong at the top. And we need to keep the option open for dissension.
Instead of just ostracizing dissenters, Mormons need to stop and listen to them. Hear what they are saying. Carrying on smugly assuming that everything is perfect is not a way to live life. People make mistakes, and it takes rebels to open faithful eyes to ways we can improve. Mormonism benefits for dissenters.