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LDS Church handbook on social issues available online

Published November 26, 2010 11:53 am

Abortion to autopsies • Second volume of brand-new handbook goes online.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For those members — and any others — who might be wondering, the LDS Church takes no stand on drinking Coca-Cola.

The Utah-based faith opposes gambling (including government-run lotteries), guns in churches, euthanasia, Satan worship and hypnotism for entertainment.

It "strongly discourages" surrogate motherhood, sperm donation, surgical sterilizations (including vasectomies) and artificial insemination — when "using semen from anyone but the husband."

But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports organ donation, paying income taxes, members running for political office and autopsies — "if the family of the deceased gives consent."

These and other positions are spelled out in what Mormons commonly refer to as "the handbook" — a newly published two-volume set of instructions for stake presidents, bishops and other local LDS leaders.

Until now, the handbook was available only to these church leaders. That still holds true for the first volume, which is available online to bishops and stake presidents.

That blue volume includes information about counseling with members. LDS authorities worried that if it were widely read, some members "might decide they don't need to go see their bishop," says Michael Otterson, managing director of LDS Public Affairs. "It made much more sense to reserve that volume for leaders."

But the church is putting the second, red volume online for everyone. So, for the first time, members and outsiders can read for themselves the church's position on a panoply of social issues.

"It's extremely convenient to have it on the Internet," Otterson says. "Church members can search it easily and cross-reference it with other materials. It absolutely makes sense."

LDS general authorities understand that, whether they posted it or not, the book would be online within days, he says. "It was a common-sense decision. There was no great debate about it."

Putting that book on the Web "removes the veil of secrecy from a lot of the operation," says LDS sociologist Armand Mauss of Irvine, Calif. "That's healthy."

Mauss sees the move as part of a "recent trend in the church to become more transparent."

Such transparency also is reflected in "a new appreciation for candor and openness in publishing Mormon history," Mauss says, "and in a public approval for academic Mormon studies not controlled by the church."

All these developments, he adds, help to "neutralize the public image of the church as an unduly 'secretive' organization in its operations."

Julie M. Smith, a Mormon in Austin, Texas, also applauds the move.

"Some people assumed that there was something sinister that the church was trying to hide," Smith says in an e-mail. "Making the book public shows this wasn't the case."

It will help clear up confusion about counsel that wasn't clearly understood, says Smith, a stay-at-home mom with a degree in biblical studies.

Smith points to the church's position on vasectomies.

"I've known church members who were shocked that the handbook strongly discourages vasectomies. They had no idea that there was any policy concerning it," she says. "If there are such policies, I think it is wise that everyone — not just those with leadership callings — knows about them."

Making such stances available is particularly important for women, who generally had less access to the handbook, she says. They can "feel more involved and knowledgeable about church policies."

The dual handbook was unveiled last weekend in a worldwide leadership-training session viewed via satellite by thousands of members. The move to put Handbook 2 online also may have been prompted by busy Mormon authorities who were tired of answering questions already delineated in the book.

In fact, the book specifically says that members should not contact LDS general authorities about doctrinal or personal issues. (It says not to ask for their autographs, either.) Instead, Mormons are urged to take their questions to their local leaders.

For outsiders as well as the faithful, the handbook provides a fascinating peek into the administrative, social and doctrinal positions of the nearly 14 million-member faith.

Many members hail this new openness and find several statements in the handbook to be surprisingly complex, leaving much decision-making to individuals or couples.

Take birth control.

The handbook says it is a "privilege" for Mormon couples to nurture and rear children, but the decision of how many to have is "extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord." Moreover, church members "should not judge one another in this matter."

The book also says sexual relations in marriage "are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife."

While the LDS Church discourages the use of in vitro fertilization using semen and eggs from people outside the couple, the decision "ultimately must be left to the judgment of the husband and wife."

Some members wish the book explained the theological basis for various stances. For example, it says that artificial insemination of single sisters is not approved.

"Single sisters who deliberately refuse to follow the counsel of church leaders in this matter," it says, "are subject to church discipline."

Writing at feministmormonhousewives.org, Keri Brooks asks, "I recognize that they want to encourage the birth of children within temple marriages, but they don't discipline pregnant women married to nonmembers, or single women who adopt, so there's something more going on."

Several Mormon bloggers are especially pleased to see this statement about other faiths: "Much that is inspiring, noble, and worthy of the highest respect is found in many other faiths," the handbook says, and cautions missionaries and other members to be "sensitive and respectful toward the beliefs of others and avoid giving offense."

As a whole, Mauss says, putting Handbook 2 online should have the effect of helping rank-and-file Mormons feel "inclusion and ownership" where programs and policies are concerned, rather than belonging to the leaders.

It will, he says, help create a "more informed membership … with a greater awareness of church expectations, both in personal behavior and in the requirements of all the various callings."

The church's rules and policies, Mauss says, will "seem more like 'ours' as a church than as 'theirs.' "

pstack@sltrib.com

Where the LDS Church stands on ...

Abortion

The Lord commanded, "Thou shalt not … kill, nor do anything like unto it" (D&C 59:6). The church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Members must not submit to, perform, arrange for, pay for, consent to, or encourage an abortion. The only possible exceptions are when:

1. Pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest.

2. A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy.

3. A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.

Even these exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons responsible have consulted with their bishops and received divine confirmation through prayer.

Church members who submit to, perform, arrange for, pay for, consent to, or encourage an abortion may be subject to church discipline.

As far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.

Sex education

Parents have primary responsibility for the sex education of their children. Teaching this subject honestly and plainly in the home will help young people avoid serious moral transgressions. To help parents teach this sensitive and important information, the church has published A Parent's Guide.

Where schools have undertaken sex education, parents should seek to ensure that the instructions given to their children are consistent with sound moral and ethical values.

Surgical sterilization (including vasectomy)

The church strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control. Surgical sterilization should be considered only if (1) medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health or (2) birth defects or serious trauma have rendered a person mentally incompetent and not responsible for his or her actions. Such conditions must be determined by competent medical judgment and in accordance with law. Even then, the persons responsible for this decision should consult with each other and with their bishop and should receive divine confirmation of their decision through prayer.

Source: Handbook 2: Adminstering the Church —

Read the handbook online

O To view all of Handbook 2: Administering the Church, which had previously been available to only to church leaders, go to › lds.org