Reform Action #4 of 20 (see overview page)
Reform governance in seasoned regions of the church, working to eliminate autocracy & “divine dictatorship” and implement the democratic principles revealed in our scripture. Restore the law of common voice where possible in the selection of many congregational-level callings. Do better at respecting difference of opinion and re-instituting the vote as a major form of decision making. (this does not necessarily apply in regions where the church is new).
The law of common consent is delineated in the following sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. D&C 20:63–66, D&C 26:2; 28:13, D&C 38:21–27, D&C 102:5–19, D&C 104:71–85, — More importantly the law of “common voice” (a form of democratic representative governance) is established in D&C 38:34; D&C 41:9, D&C 51:4, D&C 58:49, D&C 102:3,12; D&C 104:71–72; Acts 1:26, Mos 29:25-30. Voting is specifically prescribed in D&C 20:63–66; 102:5-8,12,19; Acts 1:26. Church members are specifically instructed in D&C 124:144 to vote their “approval” or “disapproval” of chosen leaders — including those presented by revelation. The Church political structure as delineated in the Doctrine and Covenants appears clearly to more closely resemble a representative ecumenical council where a perfect balance exists between decisions and policy coming from the bottom up according to what the spirit of God speaks to an inspired people and direction from the top down according to what God’s spirit whispers to the leading high-priesthood (see D&C 1:18–20). This order of government given in the D&C accords with the tradition of ecumenicism which historical texts suggest was passed down from the earliest Christian fathers to the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches. These systems helped serve as a basis for political democracy in the ancient Christian World. Our current LDS church system which demonizes religious democratic governance as uninspired is nothing short of religious totalitarianism and needs to reform to accord with Christian and LDS scripture. Our cultural and unscriptural practice of asking for a vote of “sustaining” or “opposition” instead of a general vote of “approval” or disapproval”, tends to discourage the democratic principles taught in our founding revelations (D&C 124:144).
Even the Didache or “The Lord’s Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, which is likely the earliest extant Christian writing yet found (likely written between 90AD – 150AD), has the author telling some unknown group of early saints to “appoint for yourselves, bishops and deacons…”
“Chapter 15. Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof. Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers…” (Didache, from early Christian Writings. Roberts Translation. 150 AD)
It can be argued that every organization needs to find that delicate balance between democratic and autocratic control. The balance between top-down and bottom-up decision making. But it seems clear that LDS revelations strongly suggest that local church governance, was to be decided far more democratically than at present (decisions coming from the bottom up according to inspiration given to members), whereas top-down “revelatory” appointments were generally restricted to certain newly created quorums and appointments as well as possibly some specific quorums. The Doctrine and Covenants explicitly states that Bishops (D&C 51:12), church social workers, and church property managers (D&C 38:34–37) may be “appointed by the voice of the church“. Even though in new stakes it was common practice for them to be appointed by revelation through the head of the church (D&C 72:8, D&C 41:9), or “ordained by the direction of a high council or general conference” (D&C 20:67). D&C 102:8–12 specifically delineates the manner in which the church “high councils” were and are to be appointed by revelation of “unanimous voice” (v. 3) and “vote” (v.5) of a church council composed of various members assembled for that purpose. After organization, vacancies in the high councils were to be filled by a more autocratic “nomination of the president” (see v. 8-9. However that president was to himself have been elected democratically by vote of the council, or “chosen by the body” as it says in D&C 107:22). [footnote: all of this only when a literal descendant of Aaron cannot be found, if found this office was to be primarily appointed and then passed from father to son. see D&C 68:19, 107:17 see also Redefining the LDS (Protestant) View of the “Great Apostasy”]
In LDS and Christian scripture, strictly autocratic structures are only prescribed in early formative periods of a dispensation or in periods of apostasy (1 Sam 8; Mos 29:25-30; Ether 6:22–24). Autocratic or totalitarian states in which decisions and policy only proceed top-down by a dominant, elite hierarchy are repeatedly criticized. Christ’s law strictly delineates that people are to be led by their own faith and agency, even if it is to their own destruction (D&C 101:78; Jacob 4:14; Ether 12:29; 1 Sam. 8:6–9).
Despite the fact that it was never really followed, the revelations in the D&C, as I read them, seem to suggest that even Stake High Councils were to be elected by some type of democratic, representative system. (Likely by lower ward council representatives and not by popular vote. See D&C 107. ) The High Council then would chose the Stake presidency (as a microcosm, they would follow the same direction given in D&C 107:22, where the presidency is “chosen by the body [of the council].” The manner of choosing the Seventy is not specified, but using the scriptures I have so far presented we can assume they were to be chosen by democratic revelation given unanimously to the lower body (likely each Stake High Council choosing one representative to serve or by democratic unanimous voice of the council itself) rather than autocratically.
The evidence given in the Doctrine and Covenents and Acts 1:12–26 concerning how an apostle or “traveling twelve” was to be replaced are ambiguous. In the case of Judas’ replacement its unclear as to exactly who was to be involved in the vote. Acts 1:15 specifies that 120 believers were present for the vote presided over by Peter. But there is absolutely no indication as to whether only the eleven voted or some larger number of officials or even if all 120 took part.
I believe that the idea of church councils have and should embody the principles of democracy. Leadership assembles councils, which would ideally consist of individuals representing the heart and will of the people. The council should serve as the vehicle for democratically integrating the voice, will and needs of the people into the every level of church leadership and decision-making. The council also serves as unit which balances the democratic voice of the people with the autocratic direction of the leadership. Unfortunately decision making all too often does not occur this way in our Church. Instead leaders too often use scripture to justify a “divine dictatorship” where God’s authority is used to justify human decisions. (Contrary to D&C 121:41 & the 3rd of the 10 commandments.)
Leaders often forget scriptures which teach that the heavenly “Lord” is a face or archetype of an entire realm of completely equal individuals–a group consciousness which is unified in heart, mind and purpose (D&C 76:94–95, John 17:21–23, Moses 7:18). They instead pretend “the Lord” is a heavenly dictator whom they alone act as mouthpiece. The Doctrine and Covenants makes clear that church power is not to be derived or maintained this way (D&C 121:41–42). The scriptures specify that “power and authority” should not be maintained by virtue of priesthood office or position (ie. follow the prophet because he’s the prophet or leader because he’s the leader). Furthermore, no priesthood decision in the Church is binding upon any member unless that member receives a witness and conviction from the Spirit concerning that decision (D&C 50:15–20, see Oahspe Chap 7 Book of Jehovah for clarification). Emphasis on “following the prophet” discounts the scriptural directive to be an entire church of prophets (D&C 1:20). Policy should optimally be enacted primarily by the unanimous decisions of the councils gathered to represent the heart and will of the people (D&C 107:27–32).
The purpose of the Restored Church (and the work it is doing in heaven) is actually to “gather in one” the existing Christian churches into an ecumenical union (see D&C 10:64–69, 101:43-67, Eph 1:10, D&C 27:13, 84:100). Just as the ancient Church was meant to gather in a brotherhood of the existing Judaic synagogues, the order of the end-dispensation gathering is not simply to gather individuals, but Christian congregations into Zion. In order to do this a certain level of autonomy must be given to those converted congregations & their leaders. In the early apostolic church, the gathered congregation maintained its leadership structure under the Aaronic priesthood—but was now overseen and kept unified by the regional level (stake) High Priesthood & apostleship. This is why the early Church (as well as modern LDS revelation) specifically allowed/allows for Levites to lead congregations “without counselors”, with only their existing Aaronic Priesthood (See D&C 68:14–24, D&C 84:18, D&C 107:15–16,76). This is also part of what made the early Church so successful, Jews did not necessarily need to disavow the old covenant (thus Peter & Paul’s argument in Gal 2 )—they simply needed to accept that a new covenant superceded it. In fact, they may not have even needed to be re-baptized… as a priest like John the Baptist with the Aaronic Priesthood legitimately possesses the needed congregational authority to baptize “throughout all their generations” (D&C 84:17–18, see also Abr 1:4, 2:11). In regard to the present dispensation, we have completely lost sight of this anciently established order or gathering. Our overly-autocratic structure (and overreach of the high priesthood) has all but made the “gathering in one” of existing Christian congregations impossible. We must pay closer attention to the order presented in our scriptures in order to re-establish the less autocratic union/church of Saints presented in the Lord’s latter-day revelations. One which not only builds congregations from scratch, but seeks out existing Christian churches, properly authorizes their deserving pastors according to revelation (giving them the priesthood as well as two Elders from the Stake to act as helps or counselors), but then letting them lead their congregation according to the dictates of the Spirit. (All congregational authority falls under the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood except that of the Elders and High Priests who must give the Holy Ghost. The Elders & High Priest are to be managed and directed by the Stake President who is the actual president of the High Priest Quorum. The function of these quorums actually makes more sense if you think of them as being “apart” from any congregation.)
Overly autocratic coercion and manipulation always bring disunity. Disunity is the ultimate form of apostasy (D&C 38:27). Scripture suggests that God’s dictates on war, murder, government, priesthood availability, sexual practices and most aspects of morality change a bit according to temporal circumstances. But a unity in equality & love is the ultimate requirement of group exaltation (D&C 105:4; 38:27, Moses 7:18).