Handbook 2: Introduction

June 25, 2011 | 29 comments
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0-a-handbook-2-120x155_000_CoverAfter the Church posted the text of the 2nd volume of its administrative handbook (formerly known as the Church Handbook of Instructions—CHI) last fall, a few bloggers looked at the handbook, including our own Dave Banack.

But in the ensuing months, the handbook hasn’t drawn much attention. Given the handbook’s influence in Mormon life (and because it is something I should read for my current calling), I thought it might be useful to post questions about and reactions to handbook 2. I hope to make this examination in a series of posts (posted on Saturdays), at least one for each of the 21 chapters of the handbook. Dave Banack has agreed to alternate posts with me.

As I’ve read through the handbook so far, I’ve discovered that there is really quite a lot of material to discuss in each section. While the last chapter, covering “Selected Church Policies” may be what draws most attention, in fact many Church policies and procedures are scattered throughout the chapters of the handbook, and I’ve learned something on almost every page I’ve read.

For example, even in the handbook’s Introduction (not one of the 21 chapters), a few questions arise that are worth mentioning and perhaps discussing:

  • The introduction mentions that there are two handbooks, the first for bishops and stake presidents, and the second for all other leaders. I remember that the handbook was first divided in two in 1998 in a significant reorganization that unified all the Church’s manuals. I believe I’ve been told that the handbook has existed since the early part of the 20th century. The history of the handbook (already the subject of one Journal of Mormon History article) would, I think, be an interesting way to look at how the administration of the Church has changed over time.
  • The handbook is updated from time to time—the introduction says that this happens “through letters, notices, and other communication” from the Church, and suggests that these changes should be noted in physical copies of the handbook. So, is the online version of the handbook being updated? I have heard that Bishops and Stake Presidents have access to the “letters, notices and other communication” online, but it doesn’t look like anything that affects handbook 2 is being reflected in the online version. Is that correct?
  • “Questions about Instructions” are directed to the leader’s “immediate presiding authority,” which repeats the instruction that has even been made in General Conference to talk with your Bishop about questions instead of writing the General Authorities.
  • However, the handbook does suggest at times that leaders should contact “Church Headquarters or the Assigned Administrative Office” under certain circumstances. This is the first I’ve ever heard of the “Assigned Administrative Office,” which “applies to priesthood leaders and clerks outside the United States and Canada.” I assume this is often either the Area or Mission office for the area in question, but I don’t know. It does make sense that the Church decentralize in this way, at least because of language and time zone considerations, and also likely because better advice comes from those who know something about the local culture.
  • The last couple of paragraphs of the introduction talk about security of the handbook, and almost make no sense for handbook 2 given that the handbook is available to anyone online. This begs the question of  why this statement is still here. Was making handbook 2 available online a late decision? Is the introduction the same in both volumes?

I look forward to your comments on these issues or anything else you find in the Introduction. And I hope that looking at handbook 2 in this way will be of interest.

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29 Responses to Handbook 2: Introduction

  1. Tim on June 25, 2011 at 10:36 am

    As far as the security issue goes, my bishop recently requested I return handbook 2 the day before we moved out of the ward. He indicated that it was difficult to obtain new handbooks from church headquarters. I’m not sure whether he was correct or not–I don’t know if they’re still difficult to get hold of–but he certainly seemed to think so. Even when I reminded him that it was available online.

    In any case, the books were already all packed and there was no way I was going to sort through all those boxes looking for a single book the day before a big move.

  2. PL on June 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Actually, I’m interested in a discussion about this handbook:

    Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops. This handbook outlines the general responsibilities of stake presidents and bishops and provides detailed information about policies and procedures.

  3. Julie M. Smith on June 25, 2011 at 11:07 am

    “Was making handbook 2 available online a late decision?”

    If I recall correctly, the worldwide training meeting also had someone (maybe Elder Oaks?) asking people to keep it confidential, at the same time the book was being placed online. That would lend credence to your theory, I suppose.

  4. Howard on June 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Handbook 2 is available to everyone on lds.org. Handbook 1 is available to everyone from various online sites.

  5. Kent Larsen on June 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    PL (2), I think what Howard (4) is driving at is that the Church hasn’t officially made Handbook 1 available.

    Personally, while I’m sure someone somewhere would be willing to host an in-depth discussion of Handbook 1, I’m not willing to start that discussion — not for something that I’m not supposed to have and that I think it is reasonable for the Church to keep confidential (at least in the case of some of the information in Handbook 1).

    Clearly others disagree about whether or not Handbook 1 should be available.

  6. geoffsn on June 25, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I could be wrong but I think that the leak of the 1999 handbooks took a few years, the 2006 handbooks were leaked much faster, and the 2010 handbooks were leaked before their official release. My impression was that the church finally accepted that the handbooks would always end up online and preferred to have people go to the church website to see it than to other websites which might not be church-friendly. The 2010 handbooks were available online from a few sites as early as 11/10/2010 (maybe earlier than that, not sure). The LDS Newsroom announced 2 days later that Handbook 2 would be online and apparently at the same time that announcement was made an “early edition” of the broadcast was going out. https://tech.lds.org/forum/archive/index.php/t-5495.html

  7. Dave on June 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Kent, that’s a great point about updates. It would be very nice if the online version was updated in real time — but then the hard copy handbooks handed out to leaders at the local level would be out of date only months after distribution. Given this and other advantages of online access to the handbooks, I suspect the present red Handbook 1 and the blue Handbook 2 will be the last gasp for hard copy Handbooks.

  8. Howard on June 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    It’s a mystery to me why Handbook 1 isn’t available to everyone on the church website it doesn’t appear to be controversial and seems to be well very done. Of course restricting knowledge accrues power to authority disadvantaging membership.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on June 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    The worldwide training was pretty funny given that, as Julie said, everyone was told to keep the books confidential and within just hours it was online. Big secret.

    Years ago when I wrote for Meridian, we were responding to a policy question that was clearly answered in the handbook (#2). So I quoted the answer. And the site owner’s pulled it as being inappropriate. My thought has always been that if there’s an authoritative answer, it should be used. Better than endlessly debating a bunch of random opinions about the topic.

    So glad it’s finally online. And, yes, just post book #1. I can’t figure out what is thought to be problematic in either one. Except that, as Howard alludes to, if members know what’s in there they are more likely to hold their local leaders to follow it.

  10. Anita on June 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Our Sandy UT ward has been asked by both stake, bishopric, and RS presidency to study the handbook and review it regularly. In our RS presidency meetings (I’m a counselor), the president often refers to it. I feel like it’s being used here!

  11. John Taber on June 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Italy, which has seven stakes and two missions, has its own “territorial” administrative office, which reports to the area office. I think that’s the sort of place they had in mind here referring to an “assigned administrative office”.

    What would be nice is if we had our own such office for the eastern half of North America, so we didn’t have to go to the bubble in Salt Lake for every little thing.

  12. Kent Larsen on June 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Howard (8), while I don’t quite see the issue as completely about power (its an element, but not everything), you do have a point. However, don’t you think that there are (as Alison suggests) times when local leaders should be shielded from members expecting that they follow policies word for word?

    My opinion of the handbook is that it isn’t gospel, but policy, and leaders can, when they have good reason, do something different from what it suggests. If handbook 1 is available online, won’t some members complain when their local leaders fail to follow the handbook?

    Of course, it could also be that the Church is using handbook 2 as a test case — if local leaders and members can handle having this available, then perhaps handbook 1 will eventually follow.

    Alison (9), you have confirmed my opinion of Meridian — one of the reasons I’ve always found it quite annoying.

    Anita (10), I hope that our discussion here will assist those who are studying it locally. Hopefully that study won’t somehow turn it into gospel or make it more rigid than it was intended to be.

  13. Kent Larsen on June 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    John (11), I agree that this is what the Church means by “assigned administrative office.” It saves the church needing to have Italian-speakers on staff in SLC to field questions and get answers, and removes the need for shifted hours because of time zone differences. It also puts locals who know the culture in place so that the administrative office can interpret the policies for local realities.

    For the eastern half of North America these issues really don’t apply — except for, to a minor degree, the cultural differences (which occasionally seem major, I admit). Not sure what you mean by “bubble in Salt Lake” — of course I do agree that sometimes the Church administration seems like its in some kind of bubble or time warp!!

  14. Chris on June 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I love Meridian Magazine. It is a great uplift to me.

  15. Howard on June 25, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Kent I generally lean towards openness and transparency but you have a point I guess it could get petty with some members.

  16. Julie M. Smith on June 25, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    “My opinion of the handbook is that it isn’t gospel, but policy, and leaders can, when they have good reason, do something different from what it suggests. If handbook 1 is available online, won’t some members complain when their local leaders fail to follow the handbook?”

    Actually, I think one of the strengths of this handbook is that it is very clear on what can be changed depending on local circumstances and what can’t, and this point was emphasized in the training. So if a local leader is changing one of those things that isn’t supposed to be changed, a member would be right to question that. By the same token, if they are changing one of the flexible items, the handbook will re-assure the member that it isn’t rank apostasy and they need to quit the backseat driving.

  17. Kent Larsen on June 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Chris (14), I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree. To me, Meridian feels like I’m being force-fed cotton candy by Molly Mormon.

  18. Naismith on June 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I generally support posting it all, but it needs to be rewritten for that venue. It was designed as a handbook for leaders, not a handbook for members. It was what leaders should counsel members who ask-and sometimes there may a difference.

    For example, I had no idea of the church’s stand on sterilization prior to our family making that decision. I knew it felt right to me after 5 kids, and it was very common where we lived for an LDS woman to have her tubes tied in conjunction with final childbirth.

    Later when I found out that we were “supposed” to consult with the bishop, I asked my husband why we had not, since he’d been in leadership for years and knew what was in the handbook. His answer was that what was in the handbook was for folks who asked, and that leadership prefers that people prayerfully make such decisions on their own. And since the answer was so strong, it would have been the same even had we talked to the bishop, but that was 30 minutes less that he would have with his family.

    I don’t know–he might be wrong–but it definitely was designed for leaders not members.

  19. Jax on June 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Everyone has heard the stories of a bishop changing sacrament protocol, or having women perform ordinances, etc. Having the handbook (at least handbook 2) available to everyone makes it possible for the members to see what is and isn’t acceptable and to prompt course corrections for errant leaders. Not too many of them here in the US, but overseas some bishops have very little time in the church and can get things wrong. By spreading the knowledge of how things are supposed to be done it makes it more likely that someone will identify problems and act for correction.

    But what do you do when the handbook specifically states that ordinances in chapter _ are NOT to be changed, then your branch president changes it? You question it, are referred to the stake president who also approves the change despite its clear contradiction to the handbook, to which both bishop and SP are bound and have no authority to change. Then what?

  20. PL on June 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Why would any of the information in Handbook #1 need to be confidential? Why do policies need to be secret? The idea that there’s “policy” that’s to be hidden from the members is nonsense. If there is official advice about how we should act and how we should think, then isn’t it fair for us to be able to read that policy for ourselves? And what’s so bad about members knowing what their local leaders are supposed to do?

    Since the glory of God is intelligence, then I expect to know the official policies & positions of the church or any other organization I join.

  21. Geoff-A on June 27, 2011 at 2:07 am

    I believe we should have access to book 1. There is some suggestion it is available on line, where?

    I have had a Bishop try to excommunicate me and it was only because a friend was an ex Bishop that knew a Bishop could not excommunicate a High Priest that he failed. The Stake President didn’t proceed but also didn’t want to contradict the Bishop, and clarify my situation. I’d also like to know what can and can’t be done so I don’t get in that situation again.

    Not having access to book 1 is like not having access to the laws of the land.

  22. Howard on June 27, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Geoff-A just google “LDS Handbook 1″ then be tenacious because you will go through several old dead links, misdirects and requests to register but I eventually found it without registering. Some sites allow online use only others allow you to download. It’s about 30 Mb so it doesn’t email well. I would post a link but it would probably be taken down soon after.

  23. Michelle B on June 27, 2011 at 11:48 am

    This is of great concern to me and if I had known about it when I was baptized I probably wouldn’t have been baptized. There are policies/statements in it that I would never have considered, such as surrogacy is discouraged or no hypnotism. I thought I was well read regarding the LDS Church and I’m finding out about this now? It makes me think, what else don’t I know about this Church I agreed to follow?

    Today, I was looking at the website of another church, regarding an activity they are hosting. I paged through their “About Us” area. In a few paragraphs they give some information about their church government and where they derive authority. They also state the books they use for their creed and codes and say that the books are available online or at the church library. They have nothing to hide and welcome their congregations in being knowledgeable in their church’s policies and structure.

    It should not take a google search for me to find out how my church is run.

  24. It's Not Me on June 28, 2011 at 12:59 am

    That’s a new one for me–concern over the Church’s stance on surrogacy and hypnotism.

  25. Kent Larsen on June 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Policies strike each of us differently. What is important to one person may be irrelevant to another. And what seems like doctrine to one may seem like something that is a fad to another, something that will eventually be changed or forgotten.

    I think one of the problems with making too much of policies is that they begin to look permanent and doctrinal over time. Even General Authorities thought that what we now consider to have been a policy about blacks and the priesthood was doctrine.

    I don’t know whether the Church’s current policies about surrogacy and hypnotism are doctrinal or simply policies that might change. Neither has yet affected my life so its hard for me to care. [That could, of course, change -- perhaps hypnotism could help me lose weight!] Perhaps our culture will change in a way that will make one or both of these policies irrelevant. Or perhaps the Church will eventually change the policy.

    At the least, I think we need to respect that for Michelle B. these or some other policies are problematic or perhaps even affect her life.

    But, Michelle, I think I should make two points:

    1) These are, as far as I know, policies. Their presence in the handbook doesn’t mean that they are doctrine. They could be in the handbook more because of the culture of the membership of the Church or the overall ignorance about these issues among humans today. If they are contrary to the will of the Lord, or irrelevant to the doctrine, they are likely to eventually change. If they are really putting you out in some way, then I would talk with your local church leaders and (on a theoretical level) other members who have a lot of knowledge of these issues so that you gain a better understanding of these policies and of the issues behind them. There is no doubt a lot more to them than the short statements in the handbook.

    2) How important are these issues to you in relation to the rest of what the Church provides? Are they really more important than the rest of LDS doctrine, practice and society?

    Since these policies have no impact whatsoever on my life the Church could change its policy on them annually and I wouldn’t care. But I do recognize that for some people they might be very important. I hope those people recognize the overall value of the Church in struggling with how to accept the Church’s policy, even if it turns out to be a temporary policy.

  26. Michelle B on June 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I’m being misunderstood. The policies on surrogacy and hypnotism don’t effect my life, that is part of my point. My point is that I would never ask about these two issues. I would not even know the Church had a policy unless I read the Handbook. I didn’t know the Church had a policy regarding surrogacy until I read it when the Handbook went online, but I’m not surprised about their stance.

    The Handbooks should be open to all members to read and know where they stand and how they will be treated in various circumstances, such as a Church court.

    These policies don’t effect my beliefs regarding the Church but the inaccessability to the information does. When I was baptized about 15 years ago noone discussed policies with me nor did anyone tell me about Church discipline, for example. I was so caught up in wanting to be baptized that I didn’t even know what questions to ask.

    @ Kent
    1) I don’t consider them doctrine. Some people do consider the handbooks scripture, I have heard this as stake meetings before. I don’t believe that either.

    2)If these issues weren’t important to somebody they wouldn’t put them in an internationally distributed book. Are these issues on the same level as the AofF or First Vision? To me, no.

  27. Geoff-A on June 29, 2011 at 12:44 am

    There is also a policy of vasectomies which many people just ignore because it is a safer means of birth control that does not mess with female hormones.

    We do need to know what the plicies like this are so we don’t oppose them in inapropriate venues.

  28. Brian C on July 3, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Handbook 1 is available to bishoprics, stake presidents, executive secretaries, and clerks if the leader signs into lds.org and the leader’s calling is properly recorded in MLS. Handbook 1 is available on lds.org but you have to sign in and have to have access.

  29. PL on July 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Brian C (28.) — We all know that Handbook #1 is available to certain members who happen to have a calling in certain leadership positions. The point I’m making here is that since Handbook #1 is about you, me, and all members — then we ALL should have access to read and know what’s in it. What is so SECRET that I should not be allowed to read and know the policies in that book about ME?