This will be old news for Bloggernaccle Mormons, but a relatively recent edition (1999) of the influential but much obscured Church Handbook of Instructions is available online via wikileaks. I can only say to this, “Hooray Internets!”
I have to post the link on principle, if nothing else. Transparency and open communication are two of my core values, and one of the areas that gave Jana and I the most grief in our struggles with the both the Church institution and its culture. There is a certain amount of power that comes from restricting information to leaders and limiting the access that rank and file members have to it–especially when that information can profoundly affect the happiness of those members and reaches into the most private aspects of their lives.
This culture of secrecy and selective sharing of information pervades the Church, from its slick PR operations, to its approach to its own controversial history (which, I am happy to say, seems to be opening up in the past couple of decades as academic interest grows), to its missionary program (milk before the meat, elder!), to its masonry-inspired temple ceremonies, to its leaders interaction with its members (including annotated records of disciplinary action and fringe group involvement that follow some members around and which can inform their leader’s opinions of them).
Because the LDS Church has an untrained, lay clergy, the Handbook serves as an important guide for Mormon Bishops and other pastoral and administrative leaders. It not only serves as a reference for Church policy, but also contains advice on how to counsel members in a variety of situations (such as asking adolescents about their personal sexual habits) and how to direct members to professional resources if necessary. Its guidance ranges from the mundane (the delineation of responsibilities for the various Church offices) to the extraordinary (e.g., policies towards elective sterilization, transsexuals, euthanasia and hypnosis).
I believe that airing these things out can only improve the situation of my sisters and brothers in the Church by bringing to light problematic policies and practices that should be phased out. Here’s one example from page 72, regarding the sealing (i.e. eternal marriage) of a husband and wife:
Sealing of a Husband and Wife
A living woman may be sealed to only one husband. If she is sealed to a husband and later
divorced, she must receive a cancellation of that sealing from the First Presidency before she
may be sealed to another man in her lifetime (see “Applying for a Cancellation of Sealing or a
Sealing Clearance” on this page).
If a husband and wife have been sealed and the wife dies, the man may have another woman
sealed to him if she is not already sealed.
You catch that? The LDS Church still advocates polygyny. I’ve seen this policy impact relationships between Mormon men and women negatively in this world. Here’s a bit more:
Applying for a Cancellation of Sealing or a Sealing Clearance
When a woman has been sealed and divorced, she may apply for a cancellation of the previous
sealing. The bishop and stake president submit an Application to the First Presidency form to
seek this cancellation.
When a man has been divorced from a woman who was sealed to him and is worthy and
prepared to have another woman sealed to him, he may apply for a sealing clearance. The
bishop and stake president submit an Application to the First Presidency form to seek this
Translated: men remain married (in the eternal, “sealed” sense) to the women they divorced. Women essentially have to apply for a spiritual divorce on top of the legal one. This can mean a period of ecclesiastical red tape and humiliating interviews that can cause stress in her relationship with her prospective eternal husband.
I doubt I’ll spend much more time reading this, but if any of you have a chance to read it (especially those of you who are looking at Mormonism from the outside), I’m very interested in your opinions.