Kokaubeam voices

Friday, May 16, 2008

Church Handbook of Gotchas

This week, the Church has issued a copyright infringement claim against Wikinews, a news site supported by WikiMedia, referencing a link to a copy of the Church Handbook of Instructions. I'm sure you all heard this. In short order there was much discussion of whether the publication of the CHI was legal or moral or whether rank and file members should have access to the document. Before I move on the the meat, allow me to note in passing that the church seems to think that it has a right to claim copyright infringement by one organization because it references a publication of another independent organization. The fact that these organizations have similar names but are independent and that URLs are little more than a convenient form of bibliography does not seem to be pertinent to church lawyers. They are boldly moving ahead by threatening the wrong organization for a piece of HTML that doesn't copy any church material. They also seem to be unaware that they dropped a similar lawsuit against the Utah Lighthouse Ministry just a few years ago.

But, to get back on track.

What is it that is contained in the CHI that the church does not want published? Is there something in there that is sensational? Damning? Embarrassing? Probably. The defenders of the church would have you believe that it is simply an administrative manual that explains how paperwork should be filled out and handled. And that is true. But it is also a document that has the force of law in matters of personal salvation. Am I exaggerating? Not really.

There are two things that can raise a policy to the level of law. One would be if a person is required to follow this policy, directly or indirectly, in order to receive exhalation. The other would be if a person can be disciplined or excommunicated for running counter to a policy. Do such rule making clauses exist in the CHI? Of course they do. I'm sure you can guess the answer. Let's take a look at just two of these.

A member who has undergone an elective transsexual operation may not receive a temple recommend.

Artificial insemination of single sisters is not approved. Single sisters who deliberately refuse to follow the counsel of their Church leaders in this matter are subject to Church discipline. [emphasis added]
Admittedly, these are extreme cases. I use them here as illustrations. But one naturally wonders what other policies and requirement are hidden in the CHI. Here are a few, most of them direct quotations.

Women's pants are not permitted in the temple.

Civil marriage ceremonies should be simple, conservative, and in harmony with the sacredness
of the marriage covenants. There should be no extravagance in decorations or pomp in the
proceedings. Video recorders and cameras may not be used in the chapel.

A husband and wife who were married outside a temple may be sealed after one full year from the time of the civil marriage. However, this one-year waiting period does not apply to worthy couples in the following cases:
3. An unchaperoned couple's travel to a temple will require one or more overnight stops because of distance.

Worship services for members in prisons, hospitals, and other institutions may be simplified [...] Services usually follow the same format as sacrament meeting except that the sacrament is not administered to inmates in prisons.

The bishop may perform civil marriages where legally authorized by local government authority. He may not assign this to a counselor.

No priesthood officer is to counsel a person whom to marry. Nor should he counsel a person to divorce his or her spouse. [One wonders why it is necessary to put this rule in a church handbook]

The CHI also contains instructions on the requirements and form of blessings. In fact, "Priesthood leaders should not produce or use publications that give instructions for ordinances, blessings, or prayers."

If the member has received other ordinances after having received an invalid ordinance, they must be ratified by the First Presidency to be valid.

A married person is not baptized without the consent of his or her spouse.

Church members should not compare [Patriarchal] blessings and should not share them except with close family members.

If a person has participated in homosexual acts during or after the last three teenage years, he or she will not be considered for full-time missionary service unless the bishop and stake president see strong evidence of lasting repentance and reformation.

FormalChurch discipline may be necessary for members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, for arrange for abortions. However, Church discipline should not be considered for members who were involved in an abortion before they were baptized or because (1) the pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest, (2) the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy, or (3) the fetus was known to have severe defects that would not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.

The list could go on for pages. What some might consider shocking, others would find curious. But most curious is the fact that there is so much information about how a member is expected to live that is only available in this book. Why would the leaders of the church withhold information on how members should conduct their affairs? Why would they specifically proscribe publishing something as simple, useful and ubiquitous as the form of a blessing on a child or on the sick? Are these instructions contained in the Standard Works? In the Ensign?

Why is the church playing 'Gotcha' with essential prayers and ordinances?