Things happen fast around here these days. Last night when I retired for the evening, nothing about yesterday’s Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting had yet been posted online. Now that I am home from church today and are sitting here at my computer, the video is publicly posted for all to read and discuss; Handbook 2 (or “H2″) is likewise publicly posted; and several Bloggernacle posts are up (here, here, here, here, here, and here). But I still think my notes have a few things to add to the discussion.
In his short pre-recorded introductory remarks, President Monson stated that reading, understanding, and following the Handbook would further the goal of avoiding what he termed unauthorized practices. As an example, he recounted a personal experience where a high councilor thought it proper to turn the chair of a young man receiving the priesthood toward the local LDS temple. I’m aware of a visiting general authority who recently advised local leaders that women should not offer the invocation in sacrament meetings (this is now expressly corrected in H2, section 18.5: “Men and women may offer both opening and closing prayers in Church meetings”).
While the persistence of these sorts of problems is often laid at the feet of the general membership, these examples remind us that it is generally local leaders and even general leaders — the people that members listen to and follow — that perpetuate doctrinal folklore and unauthorized practices, not the rank and file of the Church. The solution (in place now for less than 24 hours) is to put the Handbook in the hands of members. This bottom-up approach to identifying and rejecting unauthorized practices is a small revolution in LDS church governance.
Elder Oaks referred to H2 as principle-based, and pointed to chapter 17, “Uniformity and Adaptation,” as an example. That chapter identifies some aspects of LDS practice that cannot be changed by local leaders (e.g., the Sunday meeting schedule, the directions on how to conduct disciplinary councils, the details of how to perform ordinances) but also identifies some features of LDS practice that can be modified to better serve the local membership (e.g., modifing the staffing and program of auxiliaries, curtailing stake meetings where travel is long or difficult, combining youth classes when numbers are small).
Elder Cook, who along with Elder Oaks and Elder Bruce D. Porter had the task of directing the revision of the Handbook, reviewed some of the substantive changes in H2: Welfare Committee gone; recommendation to invite RS President to downgraded PEC; more responsibility to Ward Council members; increased attention given to young single adults.
But he really emphasized section 20.1.2 of H2, “Worthiness to Participate in an Ordinance or Blessing,” by reading all three paragraphs verbatim. This is the section that restricts some priesthood actions (acting as voice in performing confirmations, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, and setting apart a person for a calling) to temple recommend holders. This is a real zinger. God bless those many local leaders who will have to use “discernment that must be righteously exercised” (Elder Cook’s words) in determining which less active fathers will be allowed to confirm their children, which can stand in the circle, and which will just sit on the front row and watch. The word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword, and for some fathers this word is going to cut deep. Time to ante up a little righteousness if you want to stay in the game.
Next was a role play by an ethnically diverse Ward Council, then a panel discussion led by Elder Ballard and featuring Elder Holland, Elder Bednar, Elder Gonzalez of the Presidency of the Seventy, and President Beck. The highlight of the panel discussion was by Elder Gonzalez, who remarked that there’s a saying in organizations that if you want to keep something secret, put it in a handbook.
Concluding remarks were offered by Elder Packer. From a leader who is often considered to be at the far conservative end of the LDS spectrum comes this statement that should warm the heart of any liberal Mormon: “Too often families are regarded as instruments to staff the organizations and complete all of the activities listed as possibilities. Priesthood officers must prayerfully consider what not to do, and strive to reduce substantially the requirements upon the families.” Amen.