By now, many of you are aware that a 1998 version of the Church Handbook of Instructions was briefly posted online by Wikinews. The Church submitted a copyright infringement claim against the Wikimedia foundation, but the material which has been disseminated is likely to remain freely available.
Traditionally, the material in the Church Handbook has been strictly confidential. Church leaders and members seem to be as secretive about the instructions in the Handbook as they are about Temple ordinances. As a member of various Auxiliary presidencies, I have seen portions of the Handbook. However, this is the first time I have read it in its entirety.
Much of the Handbook is information of which members are quite familiar. Indeed, I wonder why the whole thing is not placed on the Church website for all to peruse. There are certainly some sensitive passages, but I imagine that the members should be more aware of these restrictions if they are to align their personal lives with Church teachings. For example, here are some instructions I was not aware were official:
- Persons who are considering an elective transsexual operation should not be baptized. Persons who have already undergone an elective transsexual operation may be baptized if they are otherwise found worthy in an interview with the mission president or a priesthood leader he assigns. Such persons may not receive the priesthood or a temple recommend.
- Although the sacrament is for Church members, the bishopric should not announce that it will be passed to members only, and nothing should be done to prevent nonmembers from partaking of the sacrament.
- Local Church leaders should discourage adopted children and their adoptive parents from seeking to identify the children's natural parents.
- The Church uses the King James Version of the Bible for English-speaking members. The First Presidency has stated:
"Many versions of the Bible are available today. ... The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations. While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations" (First Presidency letter, 22 May 1992). Ideally, English-speaking members should use LDS edition of the King James Bible.
- Euthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. A person who participates in euthanasia, including so-called assisted suicide, violates the commandments of God.
From these selected examples, do you think the Church Handbook should be generally available? Do you think it would help members to be aware of these types of instructions? How can we follow Church policy if we do not know what it is? Does any of this information in the Handbook come as a surprise to you?
As for me, I really see no advantage of making the Handbook available only to selected Church leaders, unless it is that if they do not agree with any of the official policies, they do not have to make them known among the membership in their area!