Common Consent

    A principle of decision-making where all participants in a particular group (e.g., a fellowship or conference) are eligible to either affirm or reject an action or proposal; such action can be sought after with either a majority or a unanimous vote. The word consent is used “in cases where power, rights, and claims are concerned. We give consent when we yield that which we have a right to withhold; but we do not give consent to a mere opinion, or abstract proposition.”1 The early church (established in 1830) governed themselves by common consent, with no man dictating to them. Equality prevailed, and authority was disbursed into equal and independent groups that prevented autocratic rule and guarded against apostasy of the whole body.2 They conducted all of their business in conferences. Someone would be elected (by common consent) to preside at the conference and to conduct the business. If Joseph Smith was present, it was common for the saints to elect him, but they could have elected anyone. Business could be introduced by anyone, which could include complaints, suggestions, and discipline. The purpose of conferences was to take care of the business and to make sure that the community was cohesive and that issues were dealt with.3 Although both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had the priesthood conferred on them by the voice of God, they only obtained an office in the church by common consent from the body of the church.4 Even when the founding prophet was in direct communication with the Lord, the church body still retained the final control through common consent: And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith (T&C 6:1).5

    Today, the right of internal governance within fellowships belongs to the members through their common consent. Because the right to govern arises from this common consent, with no internal hierarchy, the decisions of fellowships can be varied. Their decisions may change from time to time, based on experiences. But each fellowship has the right to decide, as well as the right to decide to change.6 Believers are allowed to “organize themselves” in any manner they choose. The right to organize stems from “common consent” given by both men and women. This right is so fundamental that it holds greater right than a first presidency, a twelve, a seventy, or a high council. All authorities derive their institutional right to preside solely from the consent of the governed. It is through “common consent” that any right to government is established in the church (see T&C 6:1; 10:4).7See also SUSTAIN.

    1 Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols. (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. “Consent.”

    2 “Reorganizing A Stake,” Dec. 6, 2015, blog post.

    3 “The Mormon Legal Mind,” Comments made at Sunstone Symposium panel discussion by Denver Snuffer, Aug. 1, 2015, transcript, 20.

    4 Preserving the Restoration, 158.

    5 Passing the Heavenly Gift, 418.

    6 “Sacrament and Tithing,” Jan. 4, 2016, blog post.

    7 “Organize Yourselves,” Sept. 19, 2016, blog post.