Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Should the Church Handbook of Instructions Be Made Available to Members? OR Can the Genie Be Put Back Into the Bottle?

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!

32 comments:

Keri said...

The counsel against adoptees identifying their birthparents is surprising to me. I had never heard anything like it, and there are several members of my extended family who are adopted. (Of course, since they were all adopted out of foster care, most of them know their birth families.)

I wonder if any of the sections you have quoted have changed in the newer editions.

angryyoungwoman said...

I think it would definitely be helpful to members if they knew what was in the church handbook. I'm pleasantly surprized that people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery may be baptized. I wonder, though, if they don't make it available because they don't want people to obsess over minutia.

Kalola said...

So if I (an ex-member) were to partake of the sacrament, I wouldn't be taken aside and chastized? Interesting.

My personal feeling is the reason the CHI is not made available to all members of the church is because what is written in it can be misinterpreted and, perhaps, misused by some individuals. Also, can you imagine how bishops and stake leaders would feel if every member came running to them crying "But it says so in the CHI!" JMO

Bored in Vernal said...

lol, Kalola, members probably would do that! Or use it to judge each other.

As far as the sacrament goes, I was surprised by that one, because I have seen Bishops and members do the exact opposite. They are probably being influenced by the BoM passages which tell you not to let anyone partake of the sacrament "unworthily." But imo, it is best to let people decide the state of their "worthiness" on their own.

Isolde Keene said...

I get very annoyed with the lack of openness in the church, and the CHI debacle is just one more pointy object.

Having rules misinterpreted is the cost being part of humanity. It's a very bad reason to keep things out of the public eye, especially for a religious group. If the rules are set up in such a way that they can seriously hamper operations if revealed... the rules need to change, not kept secret and selectively enforced.

It should be noted that the Church has no trouble enumerating other minutiae in very public meetings, see general conference for 'No Inter-Racial Marriage', '1 Set of Earrings', and 'Thou Shalt Not Work if of the Female Gender'. So why is this stuff kept semi-secret?

So specific men are in charge. Good old patriarchy rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies with the secret handy handbook that they can apply as much or as little as they want.

Bored in Vernal said...

Keri, you are right, some of this has probably changed. I remember back in the '80's it said in the handbook that members were not to donate organs. Now the counsel is:

The decision to will or donate one's own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the
decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased member's family.
The decision to receive a donated organ should be made after receiving competent medical
counsel and confirmation through prayer.

NonArab-Arab said...

"Good old patriarchy rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies with the secret handy handbook that they can apply as much or as little as they want."

Well if there's one attitude I've *never* seen any church leader I've known take with regards to the handbook, that's it. Not to say there aren't folks who haven't, but that would be abuse, not use, of it.

Sanford said...

I wonder if the decision to keep the Church Handbook private isn't isn't the result of overdone pragmatism. I imagine Church leaders get tired of having to justify their positions and don't like being put on the defensive. It is hard for someone to make an issue on the contents of a handbook they can't read. Having said that, I think the Church is better served by transparency, especially on something like this.

Kim Siever said...

I am pretty sure LDS Family Services offers open adoptions, so I am surprised by the statement on finding birth parents.

rockin' groovin' mama said...

I had "always" been curious about what is in Book 1 of CHI, since it has been a secret book. I thought for sure there must have been something damnable in there and that's why we peons couldn't see it .

As I read it, I learned things I didn't know before, but didn't see anything worth keeping secret. I don't understand why the Church is making a big stink about it.

mormon heretic said...

The church handbook of instructions is often subject to change. Publishing it opens the church to even more criticism for changing policy, so I'm pretty sure that's the reason for keeping it private.

Note--I do not agree with this line of reasoning, just stating it.

Seth R. said...

I'll be blunt.

If the Church wants me to obey a commandment, they can darn well make it public and let me know about it. If they are so concerned about keeping it secret, then I don't have to be bound by it.

So honestly, they can take their opinion on vasectomies and and shove it.

Ziff said...

BiV, and everyone else who's voted in favor of publishing it, I agree. As I posted once on ZD, I think that hiding it seems counterproductive given that it's used to govern our lives as members.

But then, Seth, you made this point much more clearly and made me laugh to boot. I love your comment!

RWW said...

Local Church leaders should discourage adopted children and their adoptive parents from seeking to identify the children's natural parents.

This was pleasantly surprising to me.

Ziff said...

In the discussion at Slashdot of the leaking of the CHI, one commenter suggests that the Handbook is so normal that it makes the Church look good. He laments that the Handbook

"doesn't have any really good secret stuff I was hoping to read."

He continues, "I don't know why LDS wants it concealed. In fact, I'd argue that manual is strong evidence to the rest of the Christian world that LDS is not an out-there weird cult. Perhaps LDS wants it publicized? Threatening Wikileaks is the perfect way to do it!"

I would guess not, but it's certainly a fun theory. If the Church wanted to publicize the Handbook through usual channels (e.g. a First Presidency letter read in sacrament meeting) we might all snooze through it. But if they're fighting a legal battle to keep it from being passed around online, we'll sit up and notice maybe?

But then I guess the Slashdot commenter was suggesting that it was a ploy to get people who aren't Mormons to read it.

Bored in Vernal said...

Well, I was aware of the vasectomy thing, but plenty of members are not. It can be a real shock if you have done something major like that only to later find out it was against Church policy. Not every member will counsel with the Bishop before making choices about reproductive issues. Here's the relevant passage:

The Church strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control. It
should be considered only if (1) medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health or (2)
birth defects or serious trauma have rendered a person mentally incompetent and not responsible for his or her actions. Such conditions must be determined by competent medical judgment and in accordance with law. Even then, the persons responsible for this decision should consult with each other and with their bishop and should receive divine confirmation of their decision through prayer.


I'm pretty sure this is softer than it used to be.

RWW, this was pleasantly surprising to me:

Persons with HIV infection or AIDS are treated as anyone else who expresses faith in God, repents, requests baptism, and is living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

and later:

Attendance of people with HIV infection or AIDS at Church meetings does not pose a serious
health problem. Public health authorities affirm that HIV has not been transmitted through
casual contact in homes, schools, churches, and places of work.
Those who occasionally may need to clean up blood or render first aid should learn and follow local health department recommendations.

LaurieSue said...

I have to admit that this whole conversation has kind of amused me. I'm in the Stake RS, and we spend most of our time just trying to get people to read and use their handbooks! Many church members have copies of the handbook, or at least sections of it, and they neglect to read them. Members frequently misinterpret things in the handbook, and yes, they do judge one another by the standards in the handbook. I have seen it time and time again.

That being said, I would like to see the Handbook on the Church Website, or at least Book 2, because it provides the instructions for most of our callings. In Relief Society alone, there have been many changes made, and we are constantly having to refer to this 1st Presidency letter and that to keep things straight. It would be so nice to have a current Handbook online as a reference. And if the Church wants to keep the handbook more confidential, they could still require members to log-in to view it like they do with the ward directories.

I do understand keeping some things confidential because of their sensitive nature. I also think the Church is simply applying the principle of "a house of order." By giving us the sections of the handbook that apply specifically to our individual callings, they are helping us to stay focused on our duties, rather than worrying about everyone else's.

wren said...

It should be freely available to members. To not do so is similar in intent to times when it was illegal for the common people to own bibles because only the clergy were deemed fit to interpret scriptures.

A bishop blatantly lied to me about the name removal process. I followed his incorrect instructions and followed up with him and he continued to lie, saying it was being handled when it was not. He was shortly thereafter released. When I followed up with his successor, he read the process to me directly from the handbook.

Transparency gives one full ability and accountability to exercise their free agency.

brooke said...

thanks for posting that biv. i find myself having conversations with people about church topics. i find that i've read what the church has actually said and they haven't and don't believe some of the things i say.

as pleasantly surprised as i am that transfolks can be baptized, i find it an unpleasant surprise that they cannot be given priesthood or temple recommends. it just goes to show you how far the church has yet to go.

RWW said...

RWW, this was pleasantly surprising to me...

I don't understand why you addressed that to me, but okay. :)

as pleasantly surprised as i am that transfolks can be baptized, i find it an unpleasant surprise that they cannot be given priesthood or temple recommends.

The policy is spot-on. Repentant "transfolks" are essentially in the same position as the eunuchs of old, so they have every right to be baptized. On the other hand, women cannot hold the priesthood. It seems perfectly consistent and correct.

brooke said...

and rww, this is where we are going to have to agree to disagree. i believe that gender is on a spectrum from male to female. if someone transitions from female to male they should be given the priesthood. (and fwiw i also think women should be able to hold the priesthood as well, so gender really shouldn't matter no matter what). and beyond the priesthood - why not allow the trans community into the temple? i have many trans friends and i know what they have gone through in order to align the gender their bodies display with the gender of their soul. this is a group of strong and amazing people. the treatment they get from the rest of society is abominable. and to not be allowed into a sacred house of the lord is just wrong. my view is that christ and God are far more accepting than people on earth give them credit for. i believe that upon death we will all see how truly loving and accepting God the father is. and i can tell you that in that moment i will be humbled at the sight of him and deeply ashamed about all those who i judged wrongly and treated awfully because of my judgements.

Grandma Labrum said...

I think the thing that was disconcerning about putting the handbook on-line was simply that it is a copyrighted document and isn't to be published without permission. Like was stated by someone somewhere else, what would keep this website from publishing JK Rowlings books, or anyone elses copyrighted materials? We must learn to respect the law that allows people the right to keep their work as their own work, weither they are a person, company, or organization. Copyrighted is copyrighted and should not be published for others without permission from the owners. I don't have any problem with going to my bishop or stake president to ask them for information from the handbook, if it is something I really need to know. I agree that there would certainly be some who would misinterrupt or misuse the information there. Any commandments we are to live by are known by all of us.

Anonymous said...

I don't find 'the church can just shove it' comments very useful. If we're part of a community trying to become as one, a cooperative spirit to solving tough issues is needed.

SilverRain said...

It makes sense to me not to publicize it because it mostly consists of suggestions meant to be used with wisdom and the Spirit. Putting a guide like the Handbook into wide distribution is just asking for Pharisaical approaches to behavior. Isn't that bad enough as-is?

That being said, I don't think anyone should worry about hiding it, either. It's not secret, just not something that is necessary to emphasize.

John (with an h) said...

Transparency good. Secrecy bad.

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

Hummm.
The posted copy of the CHI must be incomplete. It doesn't say anything about refraining from cola drinks, chocolate, brownies, or anything else containing caffine (except of course, coffee). It also doesn't instruct members to refrain from white sugar or white flour. They must have scanned an incomplete copy.

lma said...

Not publishing the CHI publicly is tantamout to saying, "There are rules you must follow or imperil your salvation. But, we aren't going to tell you what they are, except on a "need to know" basis, and then you can't read them for yourself. We'll tell you what they are, and you'll just have to take our word for it."

Nope. Doesn't work for me.

As for the contention that the whole controversy over the CHI is comparable to trying to post one of J. K. Rowling's books on the 'net...I just don't see the comparison. No one is asking anyone to conduct their lives in accordance with the Harry Potter books while, as I said above, church members are expected to conduct their lives in accordance with the rules and guidelines in the CHI.

I'd like to make a different comparison. Not publishing the CHI is sort of like not publishing the US Codes (Federal legislation signed into law) and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) but expecting people to follow the those laws and rules or be punished by the government for not doing so.

Sam B. said...

Ima (and others),
I have to say, give me a break. Nobody's being punished for what they don't know.

I am completely ambivalent about publishing the CHI; I understand, though, that the Church is going to fight against unauthorized publication of its intellectual property. I'm sure a lawyer told them to do it, and we lawyers tend to be extremely risk-averse.

As for the handbook itself, it's an administrative document. It's not a book of commandments, it's not a book of scripture. It is a document that's been put together to tell people how to do what they've been called to do. I'm with Seth; I'm not worried about commandments I've never heard of. But I'll take it one step further: there are no commandments in the CHI.

Groovy, huh?

Mormon heretic said...

BiV,

So is there anything about getting a woman's tubes tied, or does that simply fit the same category as vasectomies?

Bored in Vernal said...

The Church strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control.

I assume that means women and men.

God said...

What everyone fails to acknowledge is that if what is found in the Handbook is from God, what man has authority to copyright the word of God?

Tracy Thompson said...

My own personal opinion is that some things contained in the book are guidelines. No two situations are the same, and a bishop should/would use common sense and the spirit to guide him in individual situations, where the rest of the congregation may know a bit of a situation and wonder why the instructions weren't followed exactly as written.