The “Vote of Thanks”

I’ve been a Mormon all my life. Sadly, I mostly tune out during sacrament meeting, and I usually bring something to read because 99.9% of the time, I come away from sacrament meeting feeling less in tune with God than before. With a good book in hand, I can have some face time in the ward but simultaneously worship God my own way (currently reading Grant Palmer’s Insider’s View of Mormon Origins – IT’S EXTRAORDINARY!). Last week, I heard something I’ve heard all my life, and like a good intellectual, I questioned it. It was a “vote of thanks” for Brother Jones who had “served diligently” for two years in the Boy Scout troop.*

Just exactly what is a “vote of thanks?” Where did it come from? (Duh. The obvious answer is Utah. What I meant was When did it come from?). What if someone votes against it? If a vote of thanks is just some quirky motion we go through with no basis in anything, why can’t the leadership just ask members to go thank Brother Jones individually? I suspect the latter might even generate more feeling of true gratitude than a robotic motion of raising the hand in order to thank Brother Jones.

* I have issues with the mixing of Church and Scouts because the BSA is not affiliated with a religion of any kind. I have blogged on this before at FPR.

44 Replies to “The “Vote of Thanks””

  1. I have no problems with the vote of thanks. There are just some cultural things that seem strange, but then again all groups have cultural practices for which there is no clear explanation. As for scouts; sometimes the Eagle can become an ordinance of salvation. Our ward has turned into a machine where a young man, consistently shows up from the time that he is 12 will pretty much get it much to the chagrin of BSA council leaders who felt that the high numbers of LDS kids getting the rank of eagle somehow cheapens the experience. Whatever, many of the kids that I knew wanted their Eagle because their parents would not let them get their driver’s licnese until that got the award.

  2. Anononononon’s experience with Palmer’s book is probably because he/she doesn’t agree with it for faith-based reasons. I like it because I agree with it for intellectual reasons. Simple as that. There’s nothing to debate.

  3. all groups have cultural practices for which there is no clear explanation

    See, that’s the sort of thing I tend to question. I don’t like doing things that don’t have clear reasons – which begs the question: why Mormonism, the epitome of all things irrational? I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.

    Not getting the driver license before the Eagle Scout award: My dad tried that one with me, but once he realized that my mom or my sister had to constantly go out of their way to come get me at various events, he quickly realized that it was more a pain in the ass to have them pick me up and drop me off here and there than it was to grant me a license and allow me to buy a (piece of crap) car. Dangling the license in front of a young man and making him go through the Eagle Scout to get it is mean and teaches the boy nothing of scouting. When I was scoutmaster in my last ward, I discouraged parents from doing that to their boys.

    Maybe I should have called this an “open thread.”

  4. Good call on the Vote of Tanks. There are a few better things that we could do to replace it. Plus, when was the last time you were released from a calling, any calling, and felt a huge sense of gratitude from people holding their hands up in unison? It can happen but not often and I don’t believe that even at those times that it would be as meaningful as a face to face thanks. The only thing it’s good for is letting the ward know who is getting released.

    Hey Dave, how about a book report? I’m curious as to why you think it’s such a good book (in more detail).

  5. Mormonism, the epitome of all things irrational?

    Oh good grief David J. How is Mormonism so much more irrational than other religions? Most all Christians believe a person named Jesus died and then resurrected himself and ascended. Does that fit your definition of rational whereas Mormonisms claims that that same Jesus has appeared again to restore a church is irrational? If you plan to become an atheist (as it seems with you as of late) at least rip all theists and not just Mormonism.

  6. Yes Geoff, they all are, but don’t you think Mormonism’s claims are a bit more eccentric than the “norm”? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not atheist or agnostic, I’m just honest in my academic treatment of it. Why should I scrutinize the science of Hebrew, business, or psychology any less than I scrutinize the study of religion? Do to so, I believe, is immoral and, at the very least, hypocritical.

    Also, Geoff, if I’ve been making atheistic comments lately, I invite you to point me to those comments, because I don’t recall making any; after all, I don’t think that way at all.

    LXX, perhaps I will write up what I think about Palmer when I have the time. I actually disagree with his take on the 11 witnesses, but the rest of it was very uplifting (!) and enjoyable.

  7. I found instances of the practice dating back to the 1840s, some mirroring legislative procedures (i.e., approving resolutions to thank Brother X for his service). I also found that Orson F. Whitney did not approve of the vote of thanks.

    In an article entitled “Why Thank Them?” published in the February 1926 issue of the Improvement Era, he wrote:

    “After I was ordained an apostle, and began to visit the various stakes and wards, I was surprised more than once to hear the presiding officer, at the close of a meeting, thank the congregation for their presence there. The question arose in my mind and found expression on my lips: Why thank them for doing their duty?—for doing what the Lord commands his people to do, and blesses them if they obey? Is it not a privilege to attend a stake or a ward conference, to hear what is said by the servants of the Lord, to be reminded of our sacred duties, partake of the good Spirit that is always present at such times, and be strengthened and renewed, so as to be better able to play our part in the great work of our Divine Master? Ought the Saints to be thanked for receiving blessings from heaven?

    Continuing the theme, my thoughts ran on in this channel: We do not thank men and women for joining the Church, for being baptized, for paying their tithing, for holding office in the Priesthood, going on missions, or serving in the auxiliary organizations. It is a privilege so to do. It brings blessings that are beyond all price. What thanks are due to those who receive such blessings?

    Can it be conceived, that when we present ourselves at the Gates of Glory, and apply for admittance to the society of the blest, that the Lord will thank us for it? I can almost hear him say, to one who has struggled up through great tribulation: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!’ But I cannot conceive of his saying: ‘Thank you, my son, or my daughter—thank you for coming to Heaven!’

    No; such a thing is utterly inconceivable. Well, then, if we are not to be thanked for entering into glory, why should we be thanked for going in that direction—for doing the things that will entitle us to admission there?

    It has become quite a custom in some of the stakes and wards, when officers are released after a term of service, to give them a vote of thanks for that service. This seems to me an incongruity. These brethren and sisters were not working for a vote of thanks. They were serving the Lord, and if possessed of the proper spirit, they did the work gladly, esteeming it a precious privilege to thus help on the Master’s cause. A vote of thanks would not reimburse them. Far more precious is the approval of a good conscience and the sense of duty well done.

    There is also this consideration: If those who labor in the Priesthood, in the temples, and in the auxiliary organizations at home, are to be thanked for their service, then consistency demands that the missionaries who labor abroad should be thanked for preaching the gospel and administering its sacred ordinances for the salvation of the souls of men. And I have never yet heard of anything of that kind.

    Of course we all appreciate the motive in the case. It is a good and worthy one. But is not the act misleading? Could not the same end be reached in another and a better way?

    My point is simply this: A stake president, a bishop, or any other presiding officer in the Church, should miss no opportunity to speak comforting words to the people, especially the flock of which he is the shepherd. He should do everything in his power to encourage them, and on every proper occasion commend them for their faithfulness. But he should not, by word or deed cause them to think that they are doing the Lord a favor by keeping his commandments, and that his servants ought to thank them for it.

    We get far more out of our religion than we put into it. Redemption, salvation, exaltation, eternal life—these are the incomparable rewards for the service that we render to our heavenly Father; and unceasing gratitude and thanksgiving are due, not from him to us, but from us to him, for the countless blessings showered upon us by his all-bountiful hand. Thanks be to Him forevermore!”

    Whitney also made brief comments along these lines in the April 1931 General Conference.

  8. David J: don’t you think Mormonism’s claims are a bit more eccentric than the “norm”

    This implies that you think the claims from “the norm” of Christianity are more rational than the claims of Mormon Christianity. The norm of Christianity accepts most of the miracles recorded in the Bible as historical facts — does that somehow fit your definition of “rational” whereas the claims of Mormonism don’t? Look, if you want to rip into all religions (and Christianity in particular) for being irrational you are free to do so. Just stop singling out Mormonism for your attacks and I’ll stop objecting.

    BTW – I am pleased to hear you are not drifting toward agnosticism or atheism.

  9. Usually I don’t see an option to oppose a vote of thanks. If they are offering that as an option, that particular member of the bishopric, or the entire bishopric needs to try to be a little less formulaic. That’s the problem with some Mormons – formulas are not challenged as they should be..

  10. Nice work, Justin.

    Geoff, my point is this – yes, they all have claims to the miraculous and unseemly, but Mormonism has much more far-fetched claims than classical orthodoxy – that’s one reason (among many) why people hate us. To them, it’s one of the most irrational and implausible belief systems out there. That’s how they perceive us. I know you don’t like it; I don’t like it either, but that’s what they think.

  11. but Mormonism has much more far-fetched claims than classical orthodoxy

    I realize that is your point. But I think your point is wrong. In what ways does Mormonism have “much more far-fetched claims” than classical orthodoxy? Unless classical orthodoxy dismisses basically all of the Biblical miracles (including the resurrection of Jesus) as non-literal myths then I think you are simply wrong here because the biblical miracles are generally a lot more far fetched than the miracles we believe have happened since 1820. But as I understand “classical orthodoxy” (by which I assume you mean the bulk of creedal Christianity), they do not dismiss the biblical miracles as non-historical myths. So I don’t think you have a leg to stand on with your claim here.

  12. Geoff, the claims that I’m talking about are not points of common belief in things like miracles, as you keep calling out, but points of divergence that make you and me distinct. For example, it is very difficult for most people to swallow “official” LDS church history. The plates, the angels, the previously unknown/undiscovered languages, the claims to translation, polygamy as a divine rite, etc. etc. All this, as I stated above, is what is “fantastic” about Mormonism, and why I stated that it is the epitome of irrationality. Granted, all religions are irrational, but ours makes claims that are unseemly. I’m not so sure why you choose not to see that, and accept. It is miraculous. It is a marvelous work and a wonder, and that’s what makes it so – because it teeters on the unbelievable because it is highly irrational and aberrant. I guess I’m someone who doesn’t play Defender of the Faith like most conservative members would – I’m just fine confronting the more difficult points of our claims and openly discussing them in an objective, quasi-third-party manner. It’s probably due to the academic training I’ve had, so sorry if I came across as obtuse. I won’t change my approach to these things, but I can clarify where I’m coming from when I say things like I did above. They view us as highly improbable and irrational, and for good reason. And I’m fine with that.

  13. David J: I’m talking about are not points of common belief in things like miracles

    First you say you aren’t talking about miracles, then when describing what you are talking about you list a bunch of our modern miracles that we believe happened but that others don’t believe.

    So the standard of “rationality” you are apparently trying to employ assumes that any claim to miracles after 1820 is irrational, while claims of far more extreme miracles prior to 100 A.D. is totally rational. In other words, saying Jesus miraculously turned water into wine is “seemly” and “rational” whereas saying that same Jesus visited Joseph Smith in visions is “unseemly” and “the epitome of irrationality”. Is that right?

    This is not a matter of you being an open minded champion of critical though David. It is a problem of a glaring double standard you are using here.

  14. David J,

    I think that the real problem is that you do not believe in the Boy Scouts. How could you not believe in the Boy Scouts? Where else can you learn to be uncritical citizens while at the same time learn how to tie knots and start fires. I did not learn any of these things.

    The Boy Scouts make all of these other things seem rational. Golden plates make sense to me. Mind-numbing conservatism, not so much.

    I think that it is time for you to abandon your libertarianism and fully convert to liberalism. Then your conversion to the dark-side will be complete. It is your destiny.

    Back to the vote of thanks. I like it, though I think that it could be more sincere and less procedural (I agree with you there). My wife has held every crappy job in the primary and young women, often times at the same time. These calling require one to sacrifice family, money, and considerable amounts of vacation time for other people’s brats. She does not complain at all (I do enough for her). She once taught a four-year-old primary class on top of being in the YW presidency. The bishop decided that since she was never officially sustain that she did not need to be released with the standard “vote of thanks.” It is one of the few times in our nine years that I saw you cry in public.

    We should all individually thank Brother Jones for his service. After all, he put up with 12 and 13 year old boys for two years. That is two years of hell. I also think that we are institutionally bound in our thinking. It is important that we be thanked and thanked others officially as well as personally. It is about being polite.

    Where does it come from? Does it matter?

  15. Geoff, I think you’re speed-reading what I wrote. Again, all religions have their claims which require faith and are therefore irrational, but Mormonism’s claims differ in their far-fetchedness. It is a stretch to believe in a resurrected Jesus, don’t get me wrong, but it is much more of a stretch to take Mormonism for what it claims to be. Does that clarify? For you, it’s all or none; for others, it’s not.

  16. Yeah, but the vote of thanks is just one piece of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle – it was shocking to me because I never really took a step back to notice what it is, what purpose it serves, and why we continue to do it.

    So Ronan, what’s the biggest weird thing to you?

  17. It is a stretch to believe in a resurrected Jesus, don’t get me wrong, but it is much more of a stretch to take Mormonism for what it claims to be.

    How so? You keep making this claim as if it is self evident but I simply don’t buy it at all. What makes the claims of Mormonism “much more difficult” to accept as rational than the claims of most other Christian churches? As far as I can tell — it is mostly some variation on the nonsensical “ancient miracles are easier to call rational than recent miracles” line we hear on occasion. Is that not what you mean?

    For you, it’s all or none; for others, it’s not.

    Huh? What are you talking about here?

  18. David J.,

    Mormonism may or may not be more “irrational” than “orthordox” Christianity (whatever those two terms mean); but in the larger context of world religions, it doesn’t seem so “far-fecthed”. I think that’s the bone people are trying to pick. Mormonism really isn’t all that different, so why single it out? Or at least put together a better arguement as to why it is. Have you precluded most of the world’s religiosity?

  19. Geoff – let me ask you this – do you find Scientology preposterous? And tell me – why do you think folks find it so hard to believe the tenets of Mormonism?

  20. So does your non-answer mean that you have no justifications whatsoever for calling Mormonism “the epitome of all things irrational” or for claiming that it is “much more of a stretch to take Mormonism for what it claims to be” than to accept that a person resurrected himself 2000 years ago?

  21. My non-answer is just to get you thinking as I was – Mormonism isn’t the most difficult thing to believe, but neither is it the easiest for an outsider. Folks are much more inclined to believe something less – that’s why I asked the Scientology question. That’s also why I asked you why you think most folks find our tenets difficult to believe. My guess is because they find it too much of a stretch. I guess you could say my initial comment was an exaggeration, but not without a kernel of truth to it. It obviously pissed you off, so I apologize for that.

    My point in all this is to say that as a group, we’re viewed as very, very weird in what we believe. As far as the epitome of it all, I am wrong to single it out with such strong language without marking it as hyperbole, but the exaggeration/hyperbole was to make the point that the vote of thanks shouldn’t be so weird to me because hey, as a Mormon I believe a lot of crazy crap, so the vote of thanks shouldn’t really bother me (yet it does!). So I should have flagged my remark as an exaggeration, but you see the point. The vote of thanks is one very small and easy thing to live with in an entire sea of the seemingly irrational, strange, and near impossible, and Mormonism is no stranger to being labeled as awkward when lined up with its purported Christian counterparts (by their count, anyway, not by Geoff J’s).

    And just to rib you a bit – do you think JC resurrected himself (in the reflexive state) or do you think he was resurrected by something/someone? Careful, because we know Greek around here! 😉

  22. Alright David. Maybe you were just exaggerating after all. But I must say it seemed that your initial comment on these lines was not about the rather innocuous and trivial practice of votes of thanks in the church. You said:

    I don’t like doing things that don’t have clear reasons – which begs the question: why Mormonism, the epitome of all things irrational? I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.

    (While we are ribbing each other, let me point out that “begs the question” doesn’t actually mean “raises the question” as you used it here… 😉 )

    Let me assure you that most non-Christians — particularly the atheists — see our devout creedal Christian pals as just as weird and irrational as they see us Mormon Christians. (And BTW — I hope you get to the bottom of your personal question “why Mormonism”. It is a very important question indeed.)

    why do you think folks find it so hard to believe the tenets of Mormonism?

    I think it is for the same reason a non-Catholic finds the tenets of Catholicism hard to believe or a non-Jew finds Jewish tenets hard to believe, etc. We all find tenets that are foreign to us hard to believe.

    And just to rib you a bit – do you think JC resurrected himself (in the reflexive state) or do you think he was resurrected by something/someone?

    Hmmm… Good question. I dunno. Since he was already God I imagine he had power to do it but I suspect it was a group effort with the entire Godhead in practice.

  23. I don’t think it’s about (ir)rationality; as smallaxe said, in the context of world religions, is one claim more rational than the other? The question seems rather to be about (un)familiar or (non)traditional claims. I think irrationality is elemental in religion.

  24. Amen to #28, it seems to me that David J. is trying to use “irrational” as synonymous with “unfamiliar.”

    Geoff #27, your point about “begging the question” piqued my interest and so I looked up Wikipedia’s take (of course I’m not interested enough to actually check alternate or the listed sources for reliability…), and I have to say I side with the descriptive linguists on this one (i.e. that David J.’s usage is acceptable—also b/c I think “circular reasoning” is a simple enough phrase to essentially mean petitio principii, so why not let “begging the question” mean what it sounds like it means?).

  25. I just stumbled upon this blog, very interesting.

    Here is my take on the subject, take it or leave it. As a member of the LDS Church you have 2 choices. Either you have a testimony of the Book of Mormon or you don’t. If you believe it or “know” it to be true then you must accept the “far-fetched” claims of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors. Such as Moroni visiting him, the Sacred Grove, etc. Otherwise he would be a liar and you shouldn’t believe the BofM. See what I mean?

    If you believe the Bible and it’s miracles, Jesus walking on water, raising the dead, resurrection, atonement, etc then what is the big deal about angels visiting someone?

  26. James L, the dichotomy between believing the BofM and all of the “official” church history that goes with it is unnecessary.

    First, the are a TON of problems (mostly anachronistic ones) with official church history. I for one believe JS wrote the BofM with his own hand, but that doesn’t preclude me believing that it’s the word of God. I believe the book of Jeremiah was written by a guy named Baruch and later edited by naughty zionists, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe its message. Same thing with the BofM. Oh, and I teach Sunday School. 😉

  27. Where to begin… D&C 2 is a good place – JS didn’t start talking about angelic ministry until late Kirtland era. Also, the “First Vision” was developed during the Kirtland era, and if it did happen the way the church says it did (which is doubtful), it would probably have happened ca. 1824. Then you have issues and doctrines debated and fleshed out in the BofM that were hotly debated by Methodists and Baptists in JS’s area in the mid 1820s – things probably wholly alien to ancient meso-americans. The list goes on.

  28. Are you meaning like things like swords, cement, things like that? In the mid 1820’s? Before it was published? I don’t get the point about D&C 2. First vision was not developed during the era but was written down and from many viewpoints. If I am allowed to leave a link I have found some answers to this on a few good pages on the web.

  29. James, I don’t think David J is refering to the anachronisms inside the BoM as much as the anachronisms of our Church History.

  30. Thank you Jason. The BofM is its own problem, but a problem nonetheless. Curiously, all the problems in the BofM vanish if one concedes that it’s a 19th century text. If one does that, it reads just fine. Free your mind.

  31. David J,
    A little hyperbolic, don’t you think, to declare that “all the problems in the BofM vanish if one concedes that it’s a 19th century text”? Smarter people than I (and, I assume, than you) have believed that it is a 19th century text, have believed that it is an ancient text, and have believed all sorts of stuff in between. By dismissing those who view it as ancient or some pastiche of ancient and new out of hand, you . . . don’t do much of value, at least. Dialogue seems to break down most where I assume that, because I’m a smart person, my conclusion is the only reasonable conclusion. Just sayin’.

  32. I just find it bizarre that someone can believe it to be “written” by Joseph Smith and not translated and still believe it is the word of God. That is one of the pillars of the Church. You say you are a member?

    I have come full circle. I have gone from belief to doubt and have come back to belief through prayer and study. Reading crap on anti-sites is what helped me down that path to doubt. I just wanted to see what the “idiots” on the other side of the fence were saying. Doubt crept in. Satan’s tools.

    My mind has been open, free, whatever. I have done the soul-searching, the praying, the reading. I still believe it to be an ancient text.

  33. Good points, really. I explored countless “apologetics” which wrestled with the BofM’s problems, and the most concise to me was the concession that it was authored by JS. It really does clear up virtually everything.

  34. James (#38), there are a lot of believers who see it this way.

    Again, another reason I usually refrain from discussing this stuff openly. I’ll go back to my closet.

  35. Believers in what? Believers that believe that Joseph Smith lied about being a prophet and translating ancient plates?

    I want a refund on my tithing then. 😉

  36. David J: the most concise to me was the concession that it was authored by JS. It really does clear up virtually everything.

    Actually, if you are looking to “clear up everything” I recommend Ostler’s expansion theory. His theory is that the Book of Mormon as we have it is a modern (19th century at least) expansion of an ancient text. See his discussion of it at T&S here.

    The reason I think this is a much better way to clear up the various anachronisms that have been tripping you up is because one can simply attribute those parts to prophetic expansions by Joseph. But one is not forced to ignore the evidence of ancient origins that have been so studiously compiled by Mormon scholars and apologists over the years with the expansion theory. Plus, neither God nor Joseph Smith must face the charge of being liars with the expansion theory. With the pure fiction theories that are out there (even the inspired fiction theories) somebody is simply a liar (what with the plates and the testimonies of the witnesses and the angelic visits from Moroni and all). I don’t think the pure fiction theories do a very good job of clearing up things at all because they have a whole different set of problems associated with them.

  37. Geoff, I’ve read Ostler, and I like the “compromise” theory he introduces. But what a lot of Mormon scholars attribute to ancient text to me is usually a stretch. JS was extremely well versed in the KJV Bible (even so much that he seems to know when Moroni was misquoting him), and since the KJV is one of the most “wooden” translations, to duplicate its prose in the BofM and the D&C might lend to what appears to be ancient linguistic underpinnings but in reality are just KJV biblicisms. I think James Strang did much of the same in his translation of The Book of the Law of the Lord, which book became one of his prime claims to prophetic authority.

    Anyway, we’re all agreed that it’s the word of God, so at least we share that. 🙂

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