Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Raise of the Right Hand

Some time ago, I became involved in a discussion involving the way local priesthood leadership was dealing with a particular issue. Though I disagreed, I believe I was offering constructive feedback as to why the approach was doing more harm than good. One of the main responses was along the lines, "this came from the bishopric, and they are our priesthood leaders with stewardship, therefore this is inspired by the Spirit," with the connotation that disagreement with the method is disagreement with God.

I have spent a great deal of thought on the nature of stewardship, priesthood authority, and agency. I think that many of us may have a faulty understanding of the nature of priesthood power, and what it means to sustain a person in their calling.

When I raise my hand to sustain a person in their calling, I am not indicating that I will never disagree with that person. When I sustain, I mean I will support. That means I offer all my available time, as well as all my available intellect and compassion, to supporting that person in their calling. There are a few callings, such as pack leader, which I do not sustain no matter who holds that calling. There are very few people I am not willing to sustain.

The nature of priesthood authority is wildly misunderstood. I can understand why the confusion happens. The Priesthood applies in different ways to two different things. First, there are the offices of the Priesthood. These entail specific callings and ordainments, such as deacon, teacher, priest, elder, high priest, Patriarch, bishop, Relief Society President, temple worker, home and visiting teacher, etc. Once ordained, these offices exist until they are formally taken away. It is these offices which give the authority to administer in certain ordinances, either formal ordinances such as administering the sacrament, baptizing, officiating in the temple, or sealing; or informal ordinances such as ministering to the spiritual and temporal needs of specific groups of people in the ward.

There is also the power of the Priesthood. This power doesn't exist if it is not wielded righteously. It doesn't matter to which priesthood offices you have been ordained, if you are attempting to exert control upon others, you are not operating by the power of the Priesthood. This power in the Priesthood operates upon the same principles as the power in the Holy Ghost. Indeed, without the companionship of the Holy Ghost, attempts to wield priesthood power will fail. I would even go so far as to suppose that the power of the Holy Ghost is one aspect of priesthood power. The power of the Priesthood is a power of service, of ministry. It enables the wielder to use the gifts of the Spirit with authority. Every time we make covenants and receive ordinances, we gain greater access to this power (which we can choose to use or ignore.)

To understand priesthood power and authority, it is vital to also understand certain basic principles of the Gospel, particularly agency. No one can have stewardship over another's agency. No matter what a person with stewardship over another commands an individual to do, there is never an excuse to simply follow without thought. If a relationship of trust between priesthood leader and individual has been established, there may be times when an individual may choose to follow without question for a time, but such obedience must always be based upon trust and love. If trust has not been established, if love is not shown, there can be no expectation of obedience based upon the offices or the power of the priesthood.

We follow every commandment of God because we trust that He loves us, and is working for our good. There can be no less in the relationships created by the authority of His Priesthood. Often, priesthood leaders don't see the whole picture, or don't understand the effects of their decisions on those within their stewardship.

In such cases, it is not sustaining one's priesthood leader to allow them to continue in ignorance. It is completely sustaining them, helping them fulfill their callings to the best of your ability, to charitably share your opinions and perspective. It is part of their priesthood obligation to listen to you with charity, to take you seriously. When they do, if they then decide to still continue on their previous course, it is with the companionship of the Holy Ghost and under full authority and in the power of the Priesthood.

This is the model for a righteous priesthood dynamic. And every time I raise my hand to sustain, I truly dedicate my time, talents and all with which the Lord has blessed me to the support of that person in that calling, including the talent of intelligence and perspective.


  1. SR, you are right. Sustaining includes sharing information and perspective. (How we do it may also be important; having read your posts for some time, I assume you do it kindly. Those who offer critiques to anyone who will listen (and not to the PH leader involved) are not sustaining in my view.)

    BTW, hopefully those who conduct in your ward are no longer indicating the use of the right hand when sustaining. That's been out of use for some time, acknowledging that it doesn't matter which hand is used for sustaining.

  2. Excellent post, SilverRain. A very good reminder of some very important principles which are so often misunderstood.

  3. I agree with you nearly completely. The message of your post is very important and not well understood. Much more important than what I will say.

    With that said, there is one point that is not technically correct in your post.

    "there are the offices of the Priesthood. These entail specific callings and ordainments, such as deacon, teacher, priest, elder, high priest, Patriarch, bishop, Relief Society President, temple worker, home and visiting teacher, etc. Once ordained, these offices exist until they are formally taken away."

    You say here that offices of the Priesthood entail callings and ordainments, including Relief Society President, temple worker and home and visiting teacher. These callings are not offices in the Priesthood. That said, those called to them certainly have the right to the inspiration and authority that comes with the calling.

    Perhaps this is a nit-pick, I just wanted to point out the difference between an office in the Priesthood and a calling from the Priesthood. Perhaps someday these callings and offices in the Priesthood will be considered one and the same. It is not so as of today.

  4. Actually, Rich, I disagree. All callings are extended by virtue of the ordainments of the Priesthood. As such, the keys for that stewardship are extended to the person holding the calling. Those keys are Priesthood keys, and my understanding of the offices of the Priesthood indicate that this means they are also offices, if in a slightly different sense than the more typical offices of the Priesthood. (Which is why I distinguished the difference in my meaning by using the atypical word "ordainment."

    This understanding is based, at least in part, by a reading of D&C 107:10 and subsequent passages, which describe "member" as an office of the Priesthood. As typically one has to be a member to hold a calling, I am considering callings as part of the office of member, and the specific keys relating to that calling being extended in a similar manner as one of higher office can extend functions to lesser offices in the Priesthood when necessary. I didn't get into this because it would have distracted from my main point.

  5. Again, your original message of your post is way more important than this.

    I am sorry to have brought up my disagreement with you. To be honest it is in the spirit of the original post, to speak up when what I see is incorrect, that I even commented.

    "Keys are the rights of presidency, or the power given to man by God to direct, control, and govern God’s priesthood on earth. Priesthood holders called to positions of presidency receive keys from those in authority over them. Priesthood holders use the priesthood only within the limits outlined by those who hold the keys. The President of the Church holds all priesthood keys (D&C 107:65–67, 91–92; 132:7)." (emphasis added)

    "Auxiliary presidents and their counselors do not receive keys". That would include Relief Society Presidents. There is a complete list there for those who do hold keys. It does not include temple workers, home or visiting teachers or even members of a quorum of the priesthood. This is a related but separate point from the one I brought up.

    You mention "the keys for that stewardship are extended to the person holding the calling". I would agree with this statement if you replace responsibility, authority or inspiration with keys.

    It is interesting to see your view of member of the church as an office of the priesthood from D&C 107:10. What other passages refer to a member as an office of the priesthood?

    I did note your use of ordainment, what is the slightly different sense than the more typical offices? A person is "set apart" when they have a calling given to them. They do not have an ordainment.

    When a male receives the priesthood it is "conferred" on him. He is then "ordained" to an office in the priesthood. (See Conferring the Priesthood and Ordaining to an Office,4945,28-1-1-7,00.html) There is no such language when setting apart for a calling or when you are baptized or confirmed a member.

    Again, perhaps these implementations of the priesthood or our understanding and practice of them will one day be different. This is they way it is now.

    Lastly, the most important gift any person can have is the gift of the Holy Ghost. A member of the church has access to this gift. In any of the offices or presidencies of the priesthood, the use of the gift of the Holy Ghost is paramount.

  6. Before I can really respond to this, Rich, what do you believe "the keys" entail?

  7. "Keys are the rights of presidency, or the power given to man by God to direct, control, and govern God’s priesthood on earth."

    In practical terms, the right to direct the ministry within a quorum. How things will be done and who will do them.

  8. You will find, Rich, as you read the minutes of the Relief Society that the key to direct, control, and govern the Relief Society, organized as part of the priesthood, was indeed turned over to Emma Smith as the President of the Relief Society.

    I find the words of Joseph Smith to better illuminate the doctrine of the Priesthood than the "Guide to the Scriptures."

    "Setting apart" is a term used today to describe the difference between being ordained to a calling, and ordained to an office in the Priesthood, but they are functionally the same. They are both the vehicle by which the keys necessary to act in that calling or that office are extended by virtue of the priesthood wielded by the one extending that calling.

    Were it not for the priesthood, there could be no authorized callings. Callings, therefore, operate under the authority of the priesthood. Keys are a term used to describe the transfer of that authority.

    I submit that your discomfort with discussing the Priesthood this way comes from cultural convention, because the history, the scriptures, and the ordinances of the temple demonstrate that although women do not hold an office in the priesthood beyond member at this time, they most certainly minister in certain ordinances (both formal and informal) of the priesthood, such as in the temple and in callings, and have access to priesthood power when the keys are extended to them by one who has been given the authority to do so. They operate these keys by the office which he holds.

    D&C 85:11 also mentions "members" parallel to priesthood. Being baptized is the first step that allows access to the power of God. As a member, you have certain responsibilities, (to mourn, comfort, stand as witness, among others.) What is the difference between that and being ordained to an office in the Priesthood, other than degree? The power of the Spirit is the power of God, just as the Priesthood is. It has to be conferred upon you by one in authority, just as the offices of the Priesthood. It operates by the authority of the Priesthood, and is the core of divine power upon which all other divine power is built.

    Granted, many don't think of it that way because of habit, but it is clearly laid out in the D&C, and strongly evidenced throughout all four books of scripture in the working of miracles and direction of the Church, once you have eyes to see it.

  9. I agree that having the keys of the ward as a bishop and the functioning of the ward Relief Society President are practically the same, especially when it comes to welfare and many other aspects of ministering and administering in the ward.

    The same can be said of nearly any calling, since "many are called by few are chosen".

    I agree with the spirit of your post and especially the way things should be regarded. My main purpose in adding a correction is to state the way things are officially and institutionally regarded.

  10. I love this post. As D&C so well states, abuse of power seems to be in the nature of men and women. Leadership works best when the leader listens more than they talk, to both the Spirit and those in the group.

    If those in the group will not speak up, the best thing the leader can do is to create the atmosphere where that is more likely. It is also important that the leader not abdicate power to those that are more vocal or persistent.

  11. Well articulated.

    Have you read the address Julie Beck gave at the 2011 Womens Conference at BYU? In it she stated:

    "Recently I reviewed this Primary song. You’re familiar with it. It says, 'Mine is a home where ev’ry hour is blessed by the strength of priesthood pow’r, With father and mother leading the
    "'Mine is a home where every hour is blessed by the strength of priesthood power.' That is your responsibility, sisters, to help your home be a home that is blessed every hour by
    priesthood power. It isn’t just when Dad is there. It’s not just when Mom is there. It’s not just when a priesthood ordinance or blessing is being performed. It’s every hour as ordinances, as
    covenants, are made and kept."


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