I Cannot Read a Sealed Book – Part I: The Basic Case for Making Public the Handbook

July 24, 2010 | 97 comments
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The church handbook is a foundational document for the lived experience of LDS church members. The handbook (actually two specific handbooks at present, but for convenience’s sake we’ll just refer to it as the handbook) sets out rules regarding a variety of important experiences in church member life. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes that the handbook contains “instruction on (1) Church administration and meetings; (2) calling members to Church positions and releasing them from such calls; (3) ordaining members to priesthood offices; (4) performing ordinances and giving blessings; (5) doing sacred temple work, and family history; (6) responding to calls for missionary service; (7) keeping records, reports, and accounting for finances; (8) applying Church discipline; and (9) implementing Church policies on such matters as buildings and property, moral issues, and medical and health issues.”

The handbook is cited repeatedly in a variety of general member discussions (see, e.g., here or here). However, under current policy, the handbook is not made available to the general church membership. Instead, as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes, “Church leaders who receive the handbook include General Authorities, Church department heads, general auxiliary presidencies, temple presidents, and officers in stakes, wards, missions, districts, and branches.”

In my observation, there are some potential negative consequences to the current policy.

One negative consequence is confusion and inconsistent application. The handbook sets out a number of specific rules and church policies that aren’t available anywhere else. It’s not clear how church members are expected to become aware of this information.

Of course, many members are former leaders, and so may be aware of handbook content through that avenue. Many members are current church leaders, and so have current access to the handbook. But a significant number of church members have never held a leadership calling which includes access to the handbook. This problem is particularly acute among women (because fewer leadership callings are available to women), as well as among both recent converts and less active members.

One way to remedy this information gap is for members to regularly consult with their local leaders about questions that they may have. But members cannot ask overwhelmed local leaders to micromanage their lives. Local leaders may be unavailable, or may have only inconsistent availability. And members may not be aware of what questions to ask.

The ad hoc nature of information transmission means that as a practical matter these policies really aren’t applied to members in general. Instead, they end up applying only to members who feel the need to talk to their bishop about that decision and bishops who, not being overcome with inspiration, feel the need to look something up.

Thus, it seems inevitable that a significant number of church members will be unaware of significant sections of the rules and policies set out in the handbook. An inaccessible handbook can be problematic when there are guidelines that aren’t well known. This raises the question of the purpose of such an inconsistently available and applied policy.

This is especially true where there are church doctrines or positions that are explained in the handbook but not otherwise widely available. For instance, specific detail on policies about abortion exceptions, about the theological status of stillborn children, or policies about certain types of birth control, are available in the handbook and basically nowhere else.

The fact that so few members know the church’s position shows the problem of making the handbook unavailable. What’s the purpose of writing a policy for the members on some topic (such as sterilization) if members never learn what that policy is?

A second negative consequence is the possibility of abuse. Discussions in a variety of other contexts (legal, historical, etc) often focus on how members of an organization can suffer due to the possibility for abuse when information is controlled by a set of elites.

I don’t want to overstate the case. I’ve known many church leaders who were wonderful, dedicated servants of God. At the same time, there is temptation built in to the structure. And when leaders are in sole possession of powerful administrative regulations, this possibility becomes more acute. The Doctrine and Covenants makes clear that even church leaders are subject to temptation to engage in unrighteous dominion: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

Access to unavailable restricted and powerful information gives people “a little authority.” In that place, almost all men will act inappropriately — this is canon and scripture. One well known way to counter this tendency is to empower other constituencies with a checks-and-balances sort of power. Thus, good organizational governance principles would suggest making the handbook more broadly available.

Ironically, this possibility is sometimes suggested as a reason for continued handbook unavailability. That is, that it would make a bishop’s position needlessly more difficult if he had to worry about a half-dozen people checking his every decision, and it would give legalistic members an even bigger excuse to be legalistic. For example, many members don’t know that vasectomies are discouraged in the handbook. Many Mormons get them (or women get their tubes tied) and are never wiser, since it isn’t discussed or emphasized in other church manuals, it doesn’t come up in temple recommend interviews. In contrast, making the handbook available might turn lay members into
vasectomy police.

While this is a real concern, the fact is that members informally police each other without official handbook availability. There is already a culture of unwritten rules in the church. This can lead to inconsistent policy knowledge or application, and to vastly different experiences in lived church membership. The handbook’s current status reinforces this culture.

It ultimately does not make sense to put together policies and rules for church members, but to limit those members’ ability to see those rules. There may be a few, small selections of the handbook which should remain private, but the great majority of it could, I think, be made public without doing any harm to the normal everyday operations of the church, and in many cases in fact benefiting it. For instance, I think it would be very healthy for members to see for themselves that there is no official rule on women’s prayers, white shirts, or other topics of minutia which often lead to obsessive policing.

For these reasons, I would suggest that the handbook should be made available to church members, ideally by placing it on lds.org.

(I will discuss related topics, including existing unofficial internet publication handbook content, in future posts in the series.)

97 Responses to I Cannot Read a Sealed Book – Part I: The Basic Case for Making Public the Handbook

  1. Jan on July 24, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. We have a right as church members to know what church policies are. Hopefully, this would discourage leaders from exercising unrighteous dominion, where they refuse members recommends if the members drink Coke, help an abused friend find safety from a church leader/husband, or struggle with mental illness. I have seen horrific abuses of authority in the church. Perhaps in members knew the standards to which leaders were held, leaders might use more restraint.

  2. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Kaimi: two quick points. First, I suspect part of the reason for keeping parts of the handbook from the general membership is to limit liability. Publishing the manual could expose the church to contractual liability when leaders engage in non-tortious behavior that violates the hand book.

    Second, most if the CHI is published. The whole of the second volume is published in the form of booklets for auxiliary heads.

    FWIW, other than liabilty issues the reasons for not publishing seem weak to me. Indeed, in the past large chunks of the manual was published as Widsoe’s Priesthood and Church Government.

  3. ESO on July 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Amen.

  4. Th. on July 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    .

    Not being sacred, is it therefore secret? No? Then why not throw it online?

  5. Andrew S on July 24, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    This seems kinda scandalous to me. Although, I guess if the handbook were officially available, it wouldn’t seem scandalous at all.

  6. Ardis E. Parshall on July 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Your argument seems chiefly based on this idea: The church handbook is a foundational document for the lived experience of LDS church members. The rest of your post consists of negative examples.

    Your argument fails, because the handbook has very little to do with “lived experience.” I have lived all my life as a Latter-day Saint and have never had need or even a particular curiosity to see the handbook. It may describe my experience; it doesn’t prescribe it except in the most secondary of senses.

    While it may outline in plain English the procedures for performing ordinances, those ordinances are based not on the handbook but on scripture. The procedures are generally outlined in scripture as well, or in generations of experience and practice.

    While it may outline procedures for conducting family history research and completing temple ordinances, we don’t do that work because the handbook exists, and nothing I have ever done in connection with that work — my lived experience — has been questioned or changed or halted or modified in any way because somebody with access to a handbook has advised or interfered based on something printed there.

    And so on and on with each of the numbered points in your first paragraph, and the doctrinal issues you mention later — if those doctrines aren’t understood from the source (the scriptures), greater understanding is going to come from counseling, not from reading a brief administrative manual. On the one occasion in my life when I needed to know how to respond to a missionary call, my written call contained the instructions I needed. I don’t need to read the handbook to know how to conduct any meeting I might be called upon for some reason to chair, I don’t need to make written reports, I don’t need to make decisions regarding church property. Those administrative details may in some sense shape my lived experience by recording the structure that is already well known to members, but reading the handbook isn’t in any sense necessary to my living those experiences.

    I think you’re merely nosy, and you don’t like the idea of anyone having access to something you don’t. That’s a childish reaction, no matter how you frame it as concern for the welfare of the general church membership, or whatever is coming in the rest of your series.

    Sorry, Kaimi. It doesn’t fly.

  7. reader Rachel on July 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    As an auxiliary leader with access to some sections of the handbook in booklet form, I would appreciate being able to read the rest of the handbook for more context of where I and my organization fit in the church structure. And the parts I get to read are terribly mundane.
    As for guidelines about birth control, if they don’t tell me, I guess I don’t have to worry about obeying them, right?

  8. Kaimi Wenger on July 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Ardis, I’m a former branch president who has had my own copy of the handbook in the past. Whatever the merits of my argument in this post — and I’m not saying that the argument is perfect — I can guarantee that it is not based on either nosiness or any sense that I haven’t been invited into the secret clubhouse.

    My post is based on a genuine feeling that the current policy is counterproductive, for a variety of reasons – some of them set out in this post, and some others to come.

    (And to echo Rachel, the handbook is indeed a very boring and mundane document.)

  9. z on July 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    How could it give rise to a contract claim? I’m not aware of any precedent for that happening outside the employment context.

    I think you’re being kind of harsh, Ardis. Is it really necessary to call Kaimi nosy and childish just for pointing out that there could be some benefits to providing information to people?

  10. Dave on July 24, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Well argued, Kaimi. But while I agree with some of your points, I disagree with your conclusion. There are compensating reasons for keeping the handbook restricted to those in leadership positions. A couple of points:

    1. The solution to the problem of unpublished policies isn’t to publish the handbook, it’s to publish the policies at LDS.org. Policies that aren’t published to the general membership can’t seriously be considered policies, so they should probably be rescinded and removed from the handbook.

    2. Local leaders do need a handbook to guide them in the operation of stakes and wards. But do we really want to promote the idea that members of the Church need a handbook in order to live the Gospel? Does any other church issue a handbook to its members? Do we really want to greet newly baptized members like this: “Welcome to the Church … here’s your 200-page handbook. Read it by next Sunday.” I think we’d rather have them read the Scriptures and save questions about procedures or policies for the bishop or the home teachers.

  11. DavidH on July 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    The handbook can usually be found on the internet if one knows where to look and has the right software.

    Most of the handbook does not seem particularly sensitive to me. Making more of it (maybe almost all of it) available at lds.org or some other Church site might help combat the perception that the Church is a secretive organization. It would also be consistent with the general direction of the Church toward greater transparency (for example, information on sealing policies is now found on new.familysearch.org, rather than being limited to the handbook).

  12. Ziff on July 24, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    I agree, Kaimi. I suspect, echoing others, that if the Handbook were declassified, so to speak, its contents would draw interest only because they’ve been kept secret for so long. On their own merits, I suspect they’re quite mundane.

    I’m quite sure I was a returned missionary before I even found out the Handbook existed. Maybe I’m an outlying case. But to me, it’s odd that this document is used to run the Church on the ground, and not only had I not seen it, I hadn’t even heard of it until my early twenties. And I grew up in the Church.

  13. Ziff on July 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Also, I really liked Seth R.’s comment a few years ago when BiV blogged about this topic:

    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.

  14. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Kiami: To elaborate on my early comment, I think that you need to consider the possible legal reason for not publishing the handbook. There has been a lot of litigation over the years regarding corporate handbooks. Companies produce these handbooks as a way of coordinating their internal operations. The problem arises when the handbook is held out to the public as the way in which the company operates. There are numerous cases where contract actions (usually under a theory of promissory estopell) have been brought against companies for failure to follow their handbooks. The idea is that the company in effect makes a promise to the public through its handbook and can then be sued for failure to keep that promise, even though the failure is otherwise faultless and non-tortious.

    I actually suspect that this is the reason that handbook is not published. Having read through it, with few exceptions dealing with fairly detailed and esoteric matters of church administration, most everything in the handbook is taught elsewhere. In other words, I don’t think that there is information in the handbook that the church is trying to keep secret. Rather, the church wants to direct its people without necessarily making a potentially legally enforceable promise to the world that it will behave in a particular way. Note, that refusing the publish the handbook does not mean that the church is legally unaccountable, as it would continue to be subject to tort liability. It would just limit its exposure to contractual (or more properly promissory estopell) liability. Seen in this light, the refusal to publish the handbook is an attempt to protect the tithing funds of the church.

  15. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 24, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Part of the reason for not publishing the handbook more widely is that it is not doctrine and the official position is that it should not be locked in place. Wide distribution of it would do that.

    If you really favor the current edition of the handbook becoming set in stone, by all means push for it to be published.

  16. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    FWIW, I don’t know of anything that is in the handbook that is “binding” on church members that is not taught elsewhere. I am trying to think of anything where someone would be subject to any sort of ecclesiastical sanction as a result of a policy in the handbook that is not otherwise known or published by the church.

  17. Kaimi Wenger on July 24, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Nate,

    Given Serbian Orthodox, I don’t see how any such lawsuit would have any chance of succeeding. Do you?

    _Serbian Orthodox_ is very clear. Court’s *don’t get involved* at adjudicating whether a church is following its own rules.

  18. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    I agree that there are a number of defenses that could be raised. Serbian Orthodox, if I recall correctly, says that a court will not inquire whether a church is following its own procedures if the highest tribunal within the church says that it is following its own procedures. The case does not, however, reverse the neutral principles doctrine which states that church disputes are subject neutral principles of contract law. Hence, if a bishop, for example, was not to follow the handbook and the church was to admit that he failed to follow the handbook, then Serbian Orthodox would provide no cover. Serbian Orthodox would only work if the church was to affirm that the bishop’s failure to follow the the handbook was in fact church policy, and one can imagine that there are reasons why the church might not want to make such a claim. It could still argue that legal inquiry into its internal procedures would violate the establishment clause and this argument is strengthened by the fact that the CHI is not published. If it is published, a litigant would have a powerful counter argument to the effect that no internal inquiry is regarded as the church has held these policies out to the world as those that it will be following, invoking the neutral principles cases.

    This is not clear cut law, and I certainly don’t think that merely publishing the handbook would eliminate any defenses the church might raise. It would, however, make some of those defenses more difficult.

  19. Melissa S on July 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    What bothers me most about not having the CHI made public is the possibility that an individual might make a decision that would cause them to be disciplined when they truly had no idea it would be a problem. Think that is far fetched? Here is an example:

    I am single. I have been single, and I will probably remain single.

    I have always thought that if I never got married, I would still have a child through either adoption or (more likely) invitro.

    The CHI states that:
    “Artificial insemination of single sisters is not approved. Single sisters who deliberately refuse to follow the counsel of the Church leaders in this matter are subject to Church discipline.”

    I have all sorts of problems with this. But, ignoring my own personal disagreement with the actual doctrine, how is one supposed to know this counsel? How can I deliberately refuse to follow it if I do not know it. And while many sisters may consult their bishop before doing this, I wouldn’t have. It never would have crossed my mind to ask someone else about this. And since I am a convert, those who would know of my decision beforehand wouldn’t know to discourage me.

    Now, I am not trying to debate the issue of artificial insemination, but this is an example of NOT KNOWING the handbook would clearly be a problem for me.

    And yes, I have access to the handbook. But only because I downloaded it from the internet.

  20. Jonathan Green on July 24, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Kaimi, although I feel like I could have written parts of your post myself, overall I disagree for the same reasons Ardis stated. I don’t think the handbook is a foundational document, and more importantly, I don’t think it’s intended to be foundational.

    Also, I don’t see how broader knowledge of the handbook would forestall abuse or offer any additional remedy. If a bishop refused to issue a temple recommend to a Coke drinker, to use Jan’s example, what recourse would that member have except to seek the counsel of the stake presidency? I don’t see how access to the CHI affects that situation, unless the handbook were to be established as limiting any leader’s actions only to those that were specifically allowed by it, which I suspect is precisely the situation the church is trying to avoid.

  21. Mark Brown on July 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Over the last decade there have been, I think, three different versions of the handbook. The biggest change I’ve noticed is that it now reads more like a set of suggestions rather than rules which must be strictly followed. Many sections of instructions conclude with wording to the effect that these are general guidelines and that local leaders should seek inspiration as they implement them. I always assumed that this trend was a response to globalization, but perhaps it also is an affort to avoid legal problems.

  22. Ardis E. Parshall on July 24, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    z: Kaimi or any other T&S perma can take me to task if they think I have crossed a line. Policing the blog is not your concern.

  23. Mark Brown on July 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Jonathan, I agree completely that the handbook is not a foundational document, but I don’t see that as an argument against it being published. The church publishes all kinds of things that are not foundational, e.g. The Church News.

  24. z on July 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    If you can call Kaimi childish and nosy, I feel perfectly comfortable describing your comments as harsh, Ardis. I’m merely expressing an opinion, not trying to “police” anything.

  25. z on July 24, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Maybe the handbook isn’t published because publication would draw attention to the policies that are less palatable to mainstream Americans. What a catastrophe that would be.

  26. queuno on July 24, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Melissa in 19 points out one issue – Are there processes/policies (not doctrines) that I don’t know about that I should know about in some way? Is there a discussion of resources and practices that isn’t covered in EQ or SS that would be beneficial to know?

    How do you know what you don’t know?

    What bugs me is when I hear of members doing one thing in one area and it’s not even known about in another. One example are my family and friends who direct-pay their tithing directly to a bank account in SLC and it’s cool with everyone. Yet that policy/practice isn’t known here, or it’s discouraged in other wards.

    I’m all for openness. Certain callings carry certain keys to the execution of certain practices and processes, but I don’t think that the knowledge of how those operate needs to be kept a secret.

    As Ziff said, I don’t think I knew it existed growing up in the Church. I discovered it when I was on my mission and newly assigned to a branch presidency.

  27. David T on July 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Well, there’s a brand new edition of the two handbooks coming out mid-November. There’s a worldwide leadership training meeting broadcast on the subject November 13.

    My stake president told us yesterday he understands from what he heard that the plan is to shrink down Book 1 (“Bishops and Stake Presidents”) significantly, and to make Book 2 (“Administering the Church”) more comprehensive, as well as far more publicly available and applicable.

  28. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Melissa: I think that you raise a fair point. I would, however, point out that one is not subject to church discipline for mere artificial insemination but for disregarding leader’s counsel. Consider two situations:

    Case A. A single sister decides that she wishes to be artificially inseminated to have a child. She does not consult with her bishop about this decision and is unaware of the policy in the CHI. She is artificially inseminated.

    As I read the language quoted, she is not subject to church discipline because she has not disregarded any counsel from Church leaders.

    Case B. A single sister decides that she wishes to be artificially inseminated. She consults with her bishop, who informs her that in her case the practice is not in accord with church policy and could subject her to church discipline. She ignores the bishop’s counsel and is artificially inseminated.

    In this case she could be subject to church discipline. The difference between Case A and Case B is notice.

    That said, I think that you raise a troubling issue and on matters such as this, I think that church policy should be published more forthrightly.

  29. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Kaimi: Let me flesh out what I see as the legal issue with a hypothetical.

    The CHI contains detailed procedures regarding the handling of tithing donations. Imagine the church published the CHI publicly. Suppose that Brother A makes a substantial tithing donation to the church. His bishop fails to follow the CHI procedures and embezzles the money. He is subsequently excommunicated. Brother A learns of the fact and is outraged at the church for calling a crook to be bishop. His testimony is shattered and he feels angry and abused by an institution that he now sees as having been after his money. He sues the church, arguing that he made his donation in reliance upon the procedures set forth in the CHI. He demands that the church pay him the value of the tithing embezzled by the bishop.

    It seems to me that the Brother A has a prima facie case against the church. There are a number of contract doctrines that the church might invoke as a defense, e.g. the reasonableness of reliance under section 90 of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, foreseeability, indefiniteness of damages, etc. It seems to me that in this case, however, the church could not invoke Serbian Orthodox as a defense unless it was to assert that the bishop’s embezzlement of the funds did not violate church policy. Not only would it be difficult to say this with a straight face in court, doing so could collaterally estop the church’s tort action against the former bishop. If Brother A can avoid Serbian Orthodox in this way, then it seems to me that he can argue that the neutral principles doctrine applies and the church is left to whatever defenses it might have under the common law of contracts.

    Notice that by not publishing the CHI, Brother A’s cause of action in contract against the church disappears. To be sure, the bishop has behaved tortiously against the church and could be sued by it. On the other hand, under the doctrine in Palsgraf it seems to me that Brother A has no cause of action in tort against either the church or the bishop.

    Reactions?

  30. Olive on July 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    So is getting your tubes tied discouraged in the manual? Just curious is it works both ways, or if this is gender biased “advice”. Its strange to me that birth control is perfectly fine, but not a vasectomy. I know tons of men who have had vasectomies.

  31. DSmith on July 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Nate / Kaimi:

    Following up on the legal liability point, if you’ve read the story about Steve Benson’s discussion with Elder Oaks re: Elder Packer’s intervention in the excommunication of Paul Toscano it’s interesting that, according to Steve Benson, Elder Oaks was concerned that Elder Packer had inappropriately injected himself into local Church action against Toscano, in the process violating Church disciplinary procedures and opening the Church up to a possible lawsuit from Toscano.

    If true, it would lend credence to the idea that this is based on legal liability concerns.

  32. Mark B. on July 24, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Having had access to the handbook for nearly all of the past 30 years–from the days when it was called the General Handbook of Instructions to its current iteration. I look at it once in a while–every three months or so, I suspect.

    But if I were to write a title for the original post that described my attitude about it, it would be “I Don’t Wanna Read that Sealed Book.” It’s not that interesting, and all those instructions about what meetings to hold and who extends callings or performs settings apart is all sort of dull.

  33. Nate Oman on July 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    One last point on the legal aspect of the issue. A couple of years ago I published an article on church courts in the BYU Law Review. My stake president was kind enough to provide me with access to the CHI for my discussion of current procedures, and I quoted some language in the CHI in the article. My stake president, however, asked that I first talk with the church’s legal department before publishing the quoted language. I believe that I had every legal right to publish it without the church’s approval, although someone with a better knowledge of something like trade secrets law can tell me I’m wrong. Still, given his generosity in helping me with my project, I was happy to comply with his request and I got a letter from the legal department indicating that they had no concerns with my publishing this snippet of language.

    What is striking here is that the issue of publication was not treated as an ecclesiastical matter — as would presumably, for example, the publication of secret aspects of the temple ceremony — but was a matter for the Church legal department. This strongly suggests to me that the reason for not publishing the manual has to do with limiting liability.

  34. Tim on July 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    32–Dull maybe, but necessary for some leaders. When I was EQ President, I needed to know some of those boring parts to fulfill my calling. Basic stuff that I just didn’t know the procedure for. I looked and looked in my copy of the handbook (Book 2). The information I needed wasn’t in there. I finally had to ask a member of the Bishopric for help. Turns out that necessary information was, for some strange reason, only available in Book 1, which I didn’t have access to.

    So yes, access to the handbooks can be important. Necessary, even, at least in my case. According to comment 27, though, it looks like Book 2 will be improved in the near future. About time.

  35. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 24, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Gee, if they want to limit liability, they make all matters stemming from the handbook of instruction subject to binding arbitration by the area presidency with an appeal and de novo review by a panel appointed by the Q12.

    Read some FAA (federal arbitration act) case law.

  36. Rob Perkins on July 24, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    No leader has refused to give me a look in the CHI upon request.

  37. Kaimi Wenger on July 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I think the real question is:

    In Bangkok, is the handbook replaced with a “Thai CHI”?

  38. Chad Too on July 24, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Why do I have the feeling that my reading this discussion is going to end up getting listed on somebody’s billable hours?

  39. Bob on July 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Nate and Kaimi, I worked on this very issue years ago as part of a legal team handling a large liabity claim against a large church that my company insued,(not LDS). A Pastor, using his manuel, advised a young gay boy to fast and pray to overcome his ‘problem’. He killed himself instead. We ended up paying a lot of money.

  40. Nae Oman on July 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Bob: Was it a negligence claim or was there some claim regarding reliance on the manual by the boy or his family?

  41. queuno on July 24, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    The argument that it’s just dry and boring stuff is not a very good one. We subject ourselves to dry and boring stuff all the time in the Church.

    If it’s not written down somewhere, it’s not official. Except a few notable “need to know” situations, I just don’t see why most of this stuff can’t be published under lds.org in some web-only readable form, subject to logging in with one’s LDS Account. Why not publish the process by which a disciplinary hearing is held? Why not publish the process by which process xyz is done?

  42. Scott B. on July 24, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Ironically, this possibility is sometimes suggested as a reason for continued handbook unavailability. That is, that it would make a bishop’s position needlessly more difficult if he had to worry about a half-dozen people checking his every decision, and it would give legalistic members an even bigger excuse to be legalistic…

    …While this is a real concern, the fact is that members informally police each other without official handbook availability. There is already a culture of unwritten rules in the church.

    Kaimi,
    The second paragraph quoted above is certainly true, but it has nothing to do with the argument you raised in the preceding paragraph. The concern with making the book widely available–as you correctly point out–is that local leaders would potentially have a peanut gallery of second guessers and enforcers from the congregation on any decision. However, you then leave that situation and say, effectively, “well, but people police each other anyway.”

    In an LDS context, raising concerns about the righteousness/worthiness of my fellow pew-dwellers based on a reading of the CHI is one issue; raising the same issues about the presiding authority is an entirely different beast.

    You may still not find the concern convincing, but your pooh-poohing of it with an unrelated explanation needs repair.

  43. Mike M. on July 25, 2010 at 12:00 am

    I’ve had access to both CHI books (book 1 is the interesting one) in various callings, including my current one. It is useful to distinguish between the procedures and the policies. The procedures would be dull to many (but not all) people, but the policies about abortion, artificial insemination, etc., near the end of CHI Book 1 are much more interesting. For example, you can read that some behaviors must merit church discipline, some can merit discipline, some are discouraged but no discipline specified, and so on.

    I like the idea of making the policies public so that, as others have expressed, all members can be aware of them. But I can see reasons to keep them private. I actually have thought that a benefit of keeping them private is that making them public could make the leaders *too* accountable publicly. This may sound perverse, but if the handbooks are fully public then the leader may feel inclined to follow the handbook more closely than appropriate in various setting. One challenge of leadership is knowing when to go by the book and when to deviate under inspiration. This is already hard enough for many leaders. I can’t say if this concern is in the minds of those who call the shots in HQ, but it’s a thought…

  44. Mike M. on July 25, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Now that I see Scott’s comment, let me clarify. The point I’m making is not about people policing leaders. It is about leaders fearing that policing whether or not it happens, and then that fear having adverse consequences.

  45. Todd O. on July 25, 2010 at 12:20 am

    When I was 25, I was called to be in a branch presidency. I was already having some serious problems with the church, but reading the Handbook, especially the section on “courts of love”, ushered me right out of the church. I know that people have different social and spiritual needs, but the level of bureaucracy and surveillance, and the prioritizing of rules and minutia and institution over people was pretty much the polar opposite of my personality and my spiritual needs.

    I think that stopping the cult of secrecy in the church would both force the church to be more honest and also protect it from accusations of conspiracy and hiding stuff.

    I suppose, however, that the authoritarian personalities reflected in the comments above (not to mention my own family) would probably make me draw a different conclusion: Members of the church will by and large accept whatever the church gives them without critical thinking and moral evaluation. See: Prop 8. So releasing the Handbook for general reading would have no effect at all.

  46. Bob on July 25, 2010 at 12:26 am

    #40: As I recall, the claim was crafted as clergy malpractice and the pastor hid behind the manuel given to him by his church.
    I use to have such manuels outlining my duties. When I got sued for ‘Bad Faith’, the manuel was taken from me, and a ‘new’ one given to me. By the time I was on the stand___ I could say “I don’t recall what was in the old manuel, and the new one speaks for itself”.

  47. Melissa S on July 25, 2010 at 12:49 am

    #28:

    I recognize the difference between those two situations, but I think it still leads to problems. So, the single woman who asked her Bishop first or talked to her RS president doesn’t get to have a biological child (and will probably not have a child at all, since adoption is also discouraged), but the single woman who didn’t ask or didn’t think to ask can?

    That some kind of messed up stuff right there…

    I think the CHI is made secret for three reasons:

    1) If regular members read it, it may turn them away from the church (like poster #45). The level of micromanaging is high, and some of the guidelines (like the one above) could be troubling.

    2) Non LDS readers would just have more stuff to hold against the church. The section on morality issues is pretty severe, but even worse is the information about sealing issues. It is hard to fight a sexism argument (or a polygamy is dead argument) when the person on the other end is reading the section about men being able to be sealed to more than one woman while a woman cannot be sealed to more than one man.

    3) Finally, the church thrives on secrecy. Most of the temple ceremony is shrouded in secret, even though there are actually very few things that can’t be discussed. People aren’t supposed to talk about callings until they are announced. No one knows what documents are held in the Granite Mountain Vault. Certain things just aren’t talked about. And when certain things aren’t talked about, two things happen. People worry they may be sinning when they are not, so they actually become MORE conservative* in their actions. [What a great way to keep members in check--if we don't tell them what actions are wrong then they just won't do anything!] And, people tend to be fiercely loyal to groups with lots of secrets. LDS members are part of something, something grand and wonderfull (it must be grand and wonderful if it has so many secrets), so they remain loyal because they like the secrets. Even if they aren’t in the know.

    *conservative isn’t thr best word here because of its political connotations, but I can’t think of a better one.

  48. ECS on July 25, 2010 at 7:39 am

    It’s been awhile since I took contracts, but why must a donor rely on the published CHI procedures protecting against embezzlement in order to build a prima facie case against the Church? Seems to me that a judge would be skeptical of the Church’s claim that its CHI, of which a copy is given to every single male leader (and probably read by Brother A himself), be considered “unpublished” for legal liability purposes.

    I very much doubt trade secret law would apply to the CHI, because its contents are readily available to the general public, and I doubt the Church’s efforts to protect the CHI from disclosure would be considered “reasonable” given all the CHI handbooks lying around. I guess I’m still having trouble with the idea the the CHI should be protected from the general LDS membership. I could see why Church leaders wouldn’t necessarily be excited about non-members getting a hold of a copy, but wouldn’t the Church _want_ single sisters to know that they shouldn’t pursue fertility treatments?

    Also, since we’re taking a legal tack here, the prohibition on artificial insemination (and vasectomies) is particularly problematic given that the CHI rule doesn’t even apply unless an individual member reveals details about one’s reproductive choices to one’s bishop. It’s a completely screwed up notion of the principle of legal notice – the general membership should be given notice of the CHI prohibition if it is to have any legitimate force and effect. Otherwise, single Sister A, who didn’t think to consult with her Bishop, will be free to conceive and carry a child, whereas single Sister B, who did consult with the Bishop, would be subject to Church discipline for making the same choice. I’m straining to see how under any line of thinking these disparate outcomes for the same action are acceptable.

  49. Ardis E. Parshall on July 25, 2010 at 7:48 am

    No one knows what documents are held in the Granite Mountain Vault.

    Do you mean the First Presidency’s vault? That’s usually the one where people imagine all the secret and mysterious good stuff must be hidden as part of the cultish Church’s evil plot for world domination and the misleading of its gullible members. ‘Cause if you really do mean the Granite Mountain Records Vault, I can point you toward a couple of public catalogs (one online, one not) that list millions of the items stored there. Not everything, of course, since large amounts of storage space are rented to private companies that are far less transparent than the Church.

  50. Ardis E. Parshall on July 25, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Otherwise, single Sister A, who didn’t think to consult with her Bishop, will be free to conceive and carry a child, whereas single Sister B, who did consult with the Bishop, would be subject to Church discipline for making the same choice. I’m straining to see how under any line of thinking these disparate outcomes for the same action are acceptable.

    Because, ECS, Sister A acted in ignorance and Sister B acted with willful disobedience. Sister A doesn’t get off scot-free (she has created a life that, under present circumstances, cannot be sealed to parents, with whatever handicaps that entails), but ignorance is not a matter of ecclesiastical discipline. Knowingly acting contrary to church order and doctrine *is*.

    I’ve been snarky in this thread up to this point, but I mean this without any snark: The chief difficulty of discussing church law/policy/practice/doctrine/whatever with a roomful of lawyers is that lawyers tend to apply the rules that govern secular law to situations where a different set of principles applies.

  51. Mark Brown on July 25, 2010 at 8:54 am

    The uneven application of church discipline from one bishop or stake president to another is remarkable. An offense which will get you thrown out of the church in one ward will only require that you refrain from participating in the sacrament for a few weeks in another, and I think the vague, passive wording in the CHI has a lot to do with this. When the handbook says that something “is not approved”, that leaves a lot up to interpretation. It is also interesting to watch, from one edition to the next, how the level of disapproval with something changes. Twenty-five years ago, cremation was strongly discouraged. Now it is not even mentioned.

  52. Ardis E. Parshall on July 25, 2010 at 9:30 am

    That’s just as true in American criminal law, Mark, despite the transparency, public input, and constant review of the law. Do you think it would be any more wise for the church to adopt minimum mandatory sentences than it has been for the nation?

    In any case, in matters of church discipline it is supposed to be the strict offense that governs the penalty, usually. The state of the penitent’s heart, his current attitude, whether she was endowed, whether he was in a position of trust, what is felt necessary to help a person return to a state of worthiness and full fellowship, all matter far more than the offense in determining discipline. (You can judge how difficult it already is for many members to understand the difference between sacred and secular systems whenever a case is covered in the press and the person being disciplined protests that his constitutional rights as an American citizen were not observed by the church court.)

    I think perhaps the greatest value in NOT publishing a handbook regarding the details of church discipline is that the fuzziness of the current state allows the system to work as the Lord intended it, with reliance on the spirit and inspiration. A published manual would encourage a more legalistic approach to procedure and precedent, which would tend to negate the special province of the spirit.

  53. Ardis E. Parshall on July 25, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Er, it is *not* supposed to be the strict offense that governs … (Sheesh)

  54. ECS on July 25, 2010 at 9:44 am

    “Because, ECS, Sister A acted in ignorance and Sister B acted with willful disobedience. Sister A doesn’t get off scot-free (she has created a life that, under present circumstances, cannot be sealed to parents, with whatever handicaps that entails), but ignorance is not a matter of ecclesiastical discipline. Knowingly acting contrary to church order and doctrine *is*.”

    Ardis, the problem is not only the disparate punishments involved here. Perhaps Sister A would have never pursued fertility treatments if she had known the CHI officially discourages single sisters from conceiving children. Therefore, because the CHI rules are not generally available to educate members that certain behaviors are prohibited or strongly discouraged, members will unknowingly violate these rules and suffer the consequences of their ignorance.

  55. ECS on July 25, 2010 at 9:45 am

    The chief difficulty of discussing church law/policy/practice/doctrine/whatever with a roomful of lawyers is that lawyers tend to apply the rules that govern secular law to situations where a different set of principles applies.

    Understood. I’m more interested in discussing this “different set of principles” as well, but I’m not sure we have sufficient information to know what these are.

  56. Mark Brown on July 25, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Ardis, right, I guess it wasn’t clear that, on balance, I think it is ultimately a good thing that a lot is left up to the local leaders. That can be terribly unfair sometimes, but the alternative is a handbook ten inches thick which spells out every jot and tittle with still no guarantee of fairness.

    The handbook has become smaller and smaller over the years, and that is a sign of progress.

    I think one of the most positive results of making the CHI public would be that members would no longer think there is A Big Book of Answers hidden somewhere in the bishop’s office. The obligation to rely on the spirit and seek inspiration applies to all of us, and it is my impression that far too many of us want to transfer that responsibility to our leaders.

  57. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 25, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Bob — I handle public sector law for the Titan Group. Professional question: was he sued for offering professional non-religious services or for religious services and in what state?

  58. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I ask that question, realizing you said “clergy malpractice” but I wanted to be clear whether they had nuanced it or not. In my jurisdiction, pure clergy malpractice probably results in a summary judgment, clergy who offer other professional services can be sued for malpractice in those services, even if they overlap the clergy role.

    Ardis E. Parshall — I think you are being remarkably patient given the tone and approaches you are responding to.

    that the fuzziness of the current state allows the system to work as the Lord intended it, with reliance on the spirit and inspiration. A published manual would encourage a more legalistic approach

    Exactly. And, some times, choices that are appropriate may differ from the handbook. I still remember a visiting general authority making the comment that Nephi would never have killed Laban if he had the handbook of instruction …

  59. Mr_Bean on July 25, 2010 at 11:31 am

    The handbook should be publicly available for anyone to read. If the Church is afraid of liability issues perhaps it should re-write the handbook to mitigate that problem. By making the handbook public it provides the positive good of making Church administration more transparent, accountable, and over time it will make administration more uniform throughout the Church. At present a lot of leaders use the handbook as an excuse to call audibles they probably shouldn’t call, and then as justification say “The handbook (or Salt Lake) says …” By making the handbook public those who are improperly exercising their authority and using the handbook as a crutch can be corrected. The Lord’s house is a house of order, but this is not the case when the handbook is open to private interpretation and application by every leader with no mechanism for correction. Given the current environment and application of the handbook it begs the question why have a handbook at all?

  60. Tom on July 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Just a thought, maybe the policy against artificially conceiving a child out of wedlock hasn’t been widely broadcast because it’s pretty obvious that it’s contrary to Church teachings on the family. I know part of the issue is the question of discipline—even if it’s obvious that something is contrary to what the Church teaches, that doesn’t mean it’s obvious that acting contrary to those teachings will lead to discipline—but it shouldn’t be hard for an active member to discern where the Church would stand on this issue.

  61. ECS on July 25, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Tom – that may work for artificial insemination, but vasectomies? Surrogate motherhood?

  62. Nate Oman on July 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    ECS: Without reliance on a promise or representation made by the church, then there is no contract action by Brother A against the church. Without the contract action the only way that he could have a case would be in tort and he would need to show a breach of some duty that the church owed to him. A donee is not a fiduciary of a donor, so I think that the possibility of a tort suit in this case is pretty remote.

    The fact that the CHI exists and while not published is widely known is insufficient to make out a contract claim, or at the very least makes such a claim more difficult. The cases I have seen generally involve benefits described in manuals distributed to employees. The employees claim that the manuals constitute a promise to provide the benefits, while the employers argue that the employment relationship remains at-will. In these cases it is not the mere existence of the policy that makes the company liable or even the fact that the policy is known to the employees. By definition there will be a policy if there are employee benefits and by definition employees will become aware of the policy. I know of no case, however, where these facts were deemed sufficient to hold that the company had made a legally binding promise regarding the benefits.

    To give a simpler example, the mere fact that I know that you go running every day at 6 am and you are aware of my knowledge does not mean that you have made a promise to me that you will go running every day at 6 am.

    Stephen: With regard to the FAA, there are a lot of state courts that seek to circumvent the federal pro-arbitration policy by declaring mandatory arbitration clauses involving suspect clauses to be unconscionable.. It is not difficult for me to imagine say a California court throwing up the kind of clause that you contemplate. If I was advising my client on how to limit liability, I would advise them to avoid a promissory estopel claim in the first place rather than put their trust in the FAA.

  63. z on July 25, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    It seems so silly and pointless to try to keep “secret” a manual that’s available online and distributed to a significant number of people. I have to think that withholding the actual content isn’t really the reason for the policy (although it may have that effect for a significant number of members and it isn’t unproblematic). I fall more on the side of thinking it’s maybe to de-emphasize the guidance it contains, to maintain flexibility or even deniability, as one can always argue that the handbook is slightly out of date or doesn’t purport to address all possible scenarios.

  64. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    With regard to the FAA, there are a lot of state courts that seek to circumvent the federal pro-arbitration policy by declaring mandatory arbitration clauses involving suspect clauses to be unconscionable.. It is not difficult for me to imagine say a California court throwing up the kind of clause that you contemplate. If I was advising my client on how to limit liability, I would advise them to avoid a promissory estopel claim in the first place rather than put their trust in the FAA.

    Differences in jurisdictions are huge. I’m in Texas. You can make an anti-estoppel clause stick and the FAA gets solidly enforced, down to the federal law that states that the arbitrator gets to make the decision of what is arbitrable and what is not.

    I suspect you don’t get interlocutory appeals, nor can you just proceed to arbitration and default a part that does not cooperate (but instead tries to use the Courts) and then get a federal judge to impose the arbitration decision.

    This is similar to the discussions we’ve had over the Church’s response to confidentiality laws — some states make exceptions, some don’t.

  65. living in zion on July 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Hubby had the “V” done. Never considered for a second to ask the Bishop about it. Totally planning on being cremated. I am wondering what else I don’t know that is against Church Policy. Oh well….I am pretty clear in my head on what is the Gospel and what is Cultural nonsense.

  66. Naismith on July 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    “Just a thought, maybe the policy against artificially conceiving a child out of wedlock hasn’t been widely broadcast because it’s pretty obvious that it’s contrary to Church teachings on the family.”

    Um, I don’t see how, since there is no immorality involved. Why would this be a problem?

  67. PL on July 25, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Someone might want to do a post on funny stories related to use of the handbook. To get it started, this is mine. One time, in a previous ward, the bishop left on business. At the ward council that fell during his absence, the RS president asked if she could videotape the wedding of a mostly inactive member to a non-member that would be performed by our bishop in the chapel. I voted yes, but the other counselor voted no, and we agreed to consult the handbook. For a reason that no one understood (does anyone out there know why?) it is not allowed to videotape anything in the chapel. The bishop didn’t answer emails about this issue since, well, he had better things to do. On the day of the wedding, the RS president videotaped from the side door, so that the camera was just barely outside the chapel. She needed to lean sideways at a crazy angle in order to be able to kind of get the shot. The poor, poor nonmember woman. I hope she is not the type who would want to ever attempt to watch that video.

  68. queuno on July 25, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Our stake had the cremation thing thoroughly put to bed this month, when a very prominent (and faithful and active) member passed away and was cremated. If anyone had thought that she acted contrary to church wishes, they were quickly disabused of that notion…

  69. Ardis E. Parshall on July 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Um, I don’t see how, since there is no immorality involved. Why would this be a problem?

    Um, because it leaves the child without the possibility of sealing to parents, and because the single parent has no eternal tie to the child. That is the general objection to any kind of conception or adoption of children by single parents.

  70. AHLDuke on July 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I won’t even attempt to wade into the legal discussion, in spite of being an attorney. I agree with Kaimi that publicizing the manuals would have a salutary effect on the Church, by hopefully preventing abuse and encouraging consistent enforcement and application of rules. Having read the handbook on my mission (probably the same 1999 version that is available on the Internet, I can confirm that it is largely mundane). What is of interest to me is whether publicizing the handbook could lead to a more open discussion of certain rules that perhaps ought not to be set forth as church policy, i.e. positions on certain types of reproductive technologies or birth control methods. Would members agitate to have those policies changed, softened, or simply removed if they knew such policies existed?

  71. Tom on July 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Naismith (#66): The principle is nicely encapsulated in this sentence from the Proclamation:

    Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.

    That principle is taught clearly and consistently.

    ECS (#61): Is discipline stipulated for those things? If not, then I don’t think it matters very much if people know that they are discouraged. If it is, then I would agree that it is problematic that those policies aren’t known because those actions are less obviously contrary to the teachings of the Church, if at all.

  72. Alison Moore Smith on July 25, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I’ve advocated official public publication for years. Two thumbs up!

  73. Gaila on July 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    The black CHI 1 2006 says p. 81, 183-4, cremation is not encouraged but the laws in some countries require it. Sperm donation, surgical sterilization, surrogate mother, all “strongly discouraged” p. 188. In vitro using semen from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife is strongly discouraged p. 186. “However, this is a personal matter that ultimately must be left to the judgment of the husband and wife. Responsibility for the decision rests solely upon them.”

  74. Mark Brown on July 25, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    If people don’t know that those things are discouraged, it doesn’t really matter if they are discouraged.

    And when it says that somebody is subject to discipline, it doesn’t say what kind of discipline, nor does it say that discipline is mandatory. Depending on the potluck of which ward or stake you live in, you could receive discipline ranging from nothing to excommunication.

  75. sam on July 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    On my mission, when I was a bean, my trainer took me and two sister missionaries out to lunch. In my region of the world growing up, the local missionary rules forbade this kind of activity, as it probably looks a lot like a double date. I felt terribly guilty, but was too cowardly to say no to it. That evening back in the apartment, I asked my trainer if what we did was against the rules. He thought for a moment, obviously unsure, and said, “No,…I don’t think so.” Then a moment later, he said, “Well, if you call up the mission office and ask them, they’ll end up making a rule about it.”

    Leave the handbook alone. What we don’t know can’t hurt us.

  76. Naismith on July 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    (#66): The principle is nicely encapsulated in this sentence from the Proclamation:
    “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”
    That principle is taught clearly and consistently.

    Well sure, that’s the ideal but I don’t think the message is consistent. After all, we’re frequently told that children of single mothers are going to turn out just fine. In last general conference, Elder Neil Anderson’s talk discussed two single mothers and what a great job they did in raising their children.

    So a single woman could marry anyone just so that she can have children “legally,” then ditch him, and it would be fine? Being a single mother from the start just cuts out the middleman.

    Plus, women who join the church as single moms or get pregnant “accidentally” are still welcome in church (after the moral issues are dealt with, which is often resolved fairly quickly if she is not yet endowed). Why would a faithful single sister and her child be any less part of the church?

    I had no clue that it was a problem. Despite having served in ward RS leadership for most of the last 10 years.

    I can’t figure out why any sane adult *would* bring up matters of reproduction to the bishop. It seems pretty much up to them and the Lord.

  77. Tom on July 25, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Naismith (#76),
    I don’t think the full acceptance of people whose situations are less than ideal indicates an inconsistency in teaching the ideal. All of us make mistakes that make our lives less than ideal, and we can all be part of the Church. But it should be no surprise that the Church discourages purposefully choosing to act against the ideal.

    So a single woman could marry anyone just so that she can have children “legally,” then ditch him, and it would be fine?

    Of course not. You know the various teachings of the Church that that course of action would violate.

  78. itgotweird on July 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    I really wish I had known about that vasectomy entry before getting one. My wife definitely not have asked, and it would have saved me from a lifetime of chronic pain.

  79. Swearing Elder on July 25, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Why members are held accountable to follow rules they can’t even read is pure insanity. Would you sign up for a country club (not a bad analogy for Mormonism) without seeing all the rules you would be held to? Would you buy a house in a neighborhood without looking over the covenants and restrictions for that area?

    Of course not. You’d demand access to these documents before you signed on the dotted line.

    Not so in Mormonism. You’re in the dark and expected to try and follow rules you can’t even look at.

    Silly. Unethical.

  80. Naismith on July 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    You know the various teachings of the Church that that course of action would violate.

    Do I? Amazing that you can read my mind via long distance.

    A lot of this seems very clearly focussed in black-and-white to you. It does not to me.

    I live in an area where the church got started with petticoat branches. The local members were all women. Some were married to non-members, some not. For some years, the church had to send in senior missionaries to provide leadership. But then the children of these women grew up, and they filled in the ranks of leadership, and started exporting missionaries rather than needing them. A single woman who adopted or had a baby alone would fit right in, and become part of that diverse mosaic.

    I would love to see survey data from rank-and-file members about what the church teachings are on these various issues.

    I had no idea that the church discouraged sterilization, cremation, or various topics mentioned here. Just no idea.

  81. Nate Oman on July 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    I do think that it is a mistake to imagine the CHI as a bunch of rules that members are expected to follow. Mostly its a description of procedures for running the church, things like who is supposed to set apart the secretary to the high priest group. The secret rules that people are referencing all come from a single chapter. This chapter is not actually presented as a set of rules for members. Rather, it is presented as a resource for bishops who counsel with members on sensitive topics. The purpose is not to control members with secret rules but create some basic modicum of consistency in the messages the leaders give to members in their counseling sessions. One might disagree with some of the positions adopted and one might wish that these policies and positions were collected in some convenient and more accessible form. Swearing Elder’s outrage at how unethical the whole thing is strikes me as hyperbolic.

  82. Nate Oman on July 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    One other quick point: A while back, I went through every issue of the CHI going back to the first handooks issued at the very end of the 19th century. I didn’t look at the whole manual. I was only looking at the procedures for church courts. One thing that became clear in looking at successive editions was the way in which the handbook grew in complexity in rather random and ad hoc ways. From looking at the history of the text, I think it is fairly clear that what was happening was that individual cases were coming up to the Brethren, forcing them to think about issues that they hadn’t previously considered. Their resolution of these cases would then get put in the handbook. The hand book is thus less of a single, rationalized code, than a repository for institutional memory, its procedures developing in a kind of ad hoc, common law fashion. The other thing that I noticed was that while text was added, it was seldom taken away. The result was that you had language in the manual that actual diverged from what I knew to be church practice but the church hadn’t yet got around to removing.

    What all of this means is that on some things I suspect that the manual is less a secret manual of what the church “really” thinks, than a highly conservative (in a literal sense) document that instantiates a record how it has thought in the past and perhaps how it sort of, kind of thinks now. In other words, the the CHI may actually have LESS authority than people here are suggesting…

  83. Ziff on July 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I would love to see survey data from rank-and-file members about what the church teachings are on these various issues.

    I agree, Naismith. That would be fascinating!

  84. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    In other words, the the CHI may actually have LESS authority than people here are suggesting…

    And intentionally so. Publishing it would have the contrary effect of giving it more authority.

  85. Swearing Elder on July 26, 2010 at 5:50 am

    I see a lot of “oh, it’s just policy and procedures” kinds of comments. Well, then, just publish the damn thing already. Let people know what the policies and procedures are.

    If someone is going to get called up on a Court of Love they should know what to expect.

    As for the sensitive topics, why let a member struggle to figure this out (assuming they are trying to follow the Party Line)? Just let them see what the handbook says about vasectomies or in vitro fertilization or the price of rice in China or whatever else is in there…

  86. Aaron R. on July 26, 2010 at 8:18 am

    “In other words, the the CHI may actually have LESS authority than people here are suggesting…”

    Though I agree with this statement in principle, I think the degree to which it is ‘less’ is difficult to determine precisely because it has the 1st Presidency’s direct approval. Among local leadership this document seems to be taken very seriously. Though I agree that it is a repository of institutional knowledge I suspect that because emendations are brought about via 1st Presidency letter, there is a sense that the CHI does become a non-canonical form of scripture. This is gives the text an unusual place in our doctrine and policy. That ambiguity is not clearly laid out, mind you; even if it were, that does not solve issues of interpretation. Further, I believe that the reason it is not made public is in part due to this ambiguity. Therefore it might have less authority than some people are suggesting, but not much less.

    Ziff and Naismith, Matt W. at NCT did some work on this recently. Its worth checking out, and he has even kindly made the data available for further research.

  87. Tom on July 26, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Naismith (#80),
    It’s just that I’ve observed you for several years on the blogs and you’ve evidenced enough intelligence and experience for me to be confident that you’re not so clueless as to believe that getting married with the intention of conceiving a child and getting divorced would not violate Church teachings.

  88. Naismith on July 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

    “Ziff and Naismith, Matt W. at NCT did some work on this recently. Its worth checking out, and he has even kindly made the data available for further research.’

    It was my understanding that it was an opt-in panel, rather than a survey. And available only to that subset of members who are comfortable with the internet. While of some value, that’s not a representative sample of church membership.

  89. oudenos on July 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

    “I see a lot of “oh, it’s just policy and procedures” kinds of comments. Well, then, just publish the damn thing already.”

    It was worth wading through all of these comments just to read Swearing Elder swear. I love me a handle that delivers!

  90. Bob on July 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    #57 & 58:
    Stephen M (Ethesis)
    This was a CALIF. case, in the early 80s. It was pretty new ground and a high profile case. I don’t recall the listed Causes of Actions, I sure Wrong Dearth by the parents was one of them.
    Clearly the boy was very mixed up and suicidal. Now, any pastor would rightfully rercommend he see a doctor. ( Not preached to him about his ‘sin’.)

  91. Dan G on July 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    # 81 — Nate said — “The secret rules that people are referencing all come from a single chapter. This chapter is not actually presented as a set of rules for members. Rather, it is presented as a resource for bishops who counsel with members on sensitive topics.”

    Nate, it may not be the intent at the top to have the CHI act as a set of rules for members, but I would argue that that is often EXACTLY how it is applied at the local level. Most bishops I have known – good men, all – treat the CHI as explicitly stated Church policy that they are responsible to implement.

    When I was an EQ president several years back, I asked my stake prez why the handbook is not distributed widely. His response (and he was a very devout guy) was telling: “Because there are things in there they don’t want everyone to know.”

    To me, it’s one thing to control the distribution of things like procedures to handle sensitive situations. But if there are policies that members are expected to follow, they need to be widely distributed to members, or done away with.

    My own – admittedly cynical – view is that making the CHI public would spell out something pretty clearly: That there are numerous expectations put upon LDS members that have no basis in scripture, or even modern revelation, but exist solely as a policy decision made by some anonymous committee sitting in Salt Lake.

  92. chris on July 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I see the handbook as a guide for those in authority to operate the church within the sphere of their responsibility.

    Opening it up to the members and it becomes a law of Moses people start trying to live by. That’s not the purpose. But I’m sure people now often say, “that’s not in the handbook” or “the handbook says to do this”. We don’t need or want the members turning common place to a detailed handbook for guidance, the scriptures and the spirit should do that.

    I’m not necessarily opposed to the handbook being public. I’m just trying to square up some justifications as to why it’s not distributed to everyone. If it was in everyone’s hands I wouldn’t really care either, but it should would get annoying to see even more people say, “the handbook says…”

    We’d probably end up with the 5% of active member-busybody types reading it and over-magnifying it, and the rest of the church that rarely reads their scriptures let alone other materials would just ignore it anyway.

    Now, if what you’re suggesting is we should have a basic handbook for individuals and families? Well we do have one of those. And it’s pretty short too:
    http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,28-1-1-1,00.html

  93. a random John on July 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I think the way the Church uses copyright regarding the handbook is interesting. Most organizations use copyright so that they can profit from their publication of a work. In the case of the CHI the Church uses copyright to limit distribution of the work to those that it wants to see it.

    I find the term “publish” as it has been used in this discussion to be odd. If publish means to distribute publicly then the Church does not publish the CHI. But it seems to me the the the Church prints and (carefully) distributes the CHI, and the term “publish” seems to describe this activity.

    In any case as has been mentioned the book has in fact been widely distributed online. Doesn’t that impact any arguments concerning liability?

    I think the reason that they don’t want it make more public is that it is subject to changing over time and the Church is uncomfortable dealing with change. They’d rather that old policies and practices go away quietly than have the changes examined carefully.

  94. Nate Oman on July 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    ” But if there are policies that members are expected to follow, they need to be widely distributed to members, or done away with.”

    But my point is that this is not really what the manual is about. I don’t think that it contains much in the way of policies that members are expected to follow. Rather, it mainly contains guidelines about what leaders are supposed to do. Almost all of these guidelines related to the way in which wards and stakes are organized. There simply isn’t much material in the manual that says something like, “Members are expected to do X, Y, and Z.” I agree that there are some problems with some of this stuff not being more widely available, although for some of the policies I think that having them in the obscurity of the CHI actually encourages a certain salutary desuetude.

    Let me throw out another concern: Mormon doctrine and practice largely evolve through an oral tradition. To be sure, we write stuff down but the quintessential doctrinal document in the church remains the sermon. There are exceptions like the “The Father and the Son” or “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” we don’t have a tradition comparable say to the encyclical letters that are circulated by popes from time to time. If we were to publish and official list of official positions we would change the way in which our doctrine develops. I’m not sure this would be a good idea. The oral nature of doctrinal development actually creates a great deal of flexibility and is a pretty good way of managing pluralism within a unified community. I’m not convinced that replacing it with a system of publicly promulgated rules, policies, and rights would be an improvement.

  95. Jones on July 29, 2010 at 12:49 am

    I am arriving late to the discussion. When serving as President of a Stake Auxiliary, few things were more frustrating than to be told (by a loving, kind and fair) Priesthood leader that something had to or could not be done because “it was in the handbook”. Of course, this was Volume 1 of the handbook that I didn’t have access to and had no idea what it said. I love the Lord and believe in relying on inspiration in our callings. I also try to be obedient. Sometimes it feels that that common members operate in separate spheres than do our leaders.

  96. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 29, 2010 at 6:54 am

    I’m not convinced that replacing it with a system of publicly promulgated rules, policies, and rights would be an improvement.

    I very much agree.

  97. American Yak on July 30, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Such a bizarre one.

    I can’t remember which thread it was on, but somebody posted an older message about white shirts and sacramental prayers and the first presidency explicitly condemning formalism.

    Rules and regulations are the bane of all societies, organizations, countries, regions, nations, governments, etc. Everyone has to wrestle with them, everyone has to come to their own conclusions, and everyone will disagree to some point or another.

    I think the days of privacy are largely coming to an end, and the Church will have to do something about the CHI. They’re going to have to address it at some point or another. I actually don’t think it’s that big a deal, because honestly, I just don’t take the CHI that seriously. Yes, it’s policy, procedure, you might even say doctrine.

    But Nephi was commanded to kill, Hosea to marry a prostitute, and Eve knew she could only make it by partaking. I just don’t take the CHI seriously, because the Spirit is the best thing ever. EVER! So, yeah, they could publish it or not. But I say whatever. If it’s such a big secret, let it be, and just deal with life. No matter what you do, there will always be SOMETHING that isn’t right and needs to be corrected; you’ll find examples of such things throughout your entire life no matter what you’re reading.

    Isn’t this more simple than we’re making it out to be? I don’t know. I mean, there’s a time and place for everything. I think I’m just suggesting that it’s not the worst thing on the planet that it’s not published. The Church has bigger fish to fry, as do we.