What is my status in the LDS church? Am I a citizen or a subject?
I’ve always enjoyed the scriptures and have read the LDS canon many times. It all started when I was a young kid. My mother presented me with my very own bible. Originally, it had been a gift from my Godmother, the day I was born. I loved that bible. Just opening it released a rich leathery fragrance, never to be forgotten. Except in fairy tales, I had never heard of a Godmother. With this magical title engraved on the cover, my enchantment with the holy word was compelling at a very tender age.
Fast forward to the present. I have new favorite scriptures. Not a new printed volume. Favorite verses. Verses that I’d never fondly connected with before. Presenting a trio of my new precious passages: 1 Ephesians 2:19, D&C 28:13 & 124:144.
The two polar extremes in organizational governance might be described as Democracy vs. Dictatorship. I’m going to designate a person’s status as citizen in a democracy and as subject in a dictatorship. When weighed between these two D’s, where does my church stand & what is my status in it? Of course, I recognize that each bullet is very incomplete. Below, Denomination refers to the LDS Church.
Who chooses the leaders?
Democracy: The people.
Denomination: The leaders, claiming divine selection.
Dictatorship: The leaders, often claiming divine selection.
Freedom of Speech?
Democracy: Protected by law and venerated by its citizens.
Denomination: Not towing the faith promoting line appears to be prohibited.
Dictatorship: Not allowed, unless it tows the party line.
Democracy: Freedom to dissent and criticize is protected.
Denomination: “It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.” –Dallin H. Oaks. People are supposed to believe and obey.
Dictatorship: None tolerated. People are supposed to believe and obey.
Democracy: In theory, all have equal value.
Denomination: In theory, all are alike unto Christ.
Dictatorship: Everyone is inferior to the dictator and privileged class.
Democracy: A vital and signature characteristic.
Denomination: “Questions are honored but opposition is not.” –Dallin H. Oaks
Dictatorship: Not even the slightest is tolerated.
Citizen or Subject?
I’m not exactly sure how the church fares on the democracy vs. dictatorship line-up. If Democracies have citizens and dictatorships have subjects, the points above do not make a clear case for what my status is in the LDS church.
Which brings me back to my new favorite scriptures.
Ephesians 2:19. “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
YESSSSS!!! I’m taking this literally and at face value. If ever there was a scripture to “liken unto me,” at this time in my life, this is it. I’m not a lower class citizen, but a fellow citizen with ALL the saints, i.e. all members of the church. Are the apostles members? Of course. So, I’m a “fellowcitizen” with the highest leaders. For me, that’s chock full of potent meaning. I am a CITIZEN!
Responsiblities—The Law of Common Consent
In my chosen denomination, the Mormon Church, a wonderful and weighty responsibility is given to its citizens by Jesus Christ, himself.
D&C 28:13 “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.” Beautiful, strong and solemn language!
“All things.” That doesn’t leave much wiggle room. “Not only are Church officers sustained by common consent, but this same principle operates for policies, major decisions, acceptance of new scripture, and other things that affect the lives of the Saints.” -D&C Student Manual, Section 26: The Law of Common Consent, LDS.ORG
“Must.” Wiggle room dwindling. Sounds like a commandment. Sounds like I, and the leadership, should embrace this “law” with sobriety and thoughtfulness.
“By common consent.” Not by consent of the leaders. By common consent of the common—the Fellowcitizens. That includes me. A citizen, not a subject.
Consider this quote from John H. Widtsoe: “When the church or any part of it does not function for the good of man, it fails to function properly and corrective measures should be undertaken.” Elder Widtsoe’s comment implies that the church can “fail to function properly.” As a citizen, I play a vital part in church governance. A sobering responsibility it is . . . to seriously consider my role in encouraging “corrective measures to be undertaken.” The power that Jesus has graciously and wisely entrusted to the citizens of the “Household of God” is the authority to vote.
How is Common Consent Collected?
My absolute favorite scripture: D&C 124:144 “And a commandment I give unto you, that you should fill all these offices and approve of those names which I have mentioned, or else disapprove of them at my general conference.”
Jesus had just given to Joseph Smith a long list of names for various offices. He then commands Joseph to take these names to general conference for approval or disapproval. This is certainly not a dictatorship. Jesus has instituted a system of approval/disapproval by means of voting in conferences. Even the names that He, Himself, has chosen and designated by direct revelation, are to be voted upon.
Why my favorite scripture? This verse tells me just how much the Savior values my opinion, values me as a person, and trusts me as a fellowcitizen. Jesus wants me to be an active part of the governance of His church. Unlike democracy, I don’t select the leaders. Like democracy, I am expected to vote my approval or disapproval. This puts into living practice a principle revealed in the Book of Mormon. “It is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right.” (Mosiah 29:26)
In my church, I Am a Citizen not a subject!