LDS “Handbook 2” online
November 30, 2010 - experience
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has put volume 2 of their “Handbook” on the web. This has already produced some interesting media content. For example, the Huffington Post reports “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes no stand on drinking Coca-Cola.” This suggests one of the immediate effects of making this document available is the conflation of the “document” with “the church” and therefore with “the religion” at least in this media source. It is worth asking what the differences are between this textual “Handbook” and LDS faith as a “religion on the ground” in terms of how the faith is practiced by individuals and communities – and what kinds of variations exist between doctrinal ideology, practice, policy, the “Handbook” and lived religion.
Alexander Soucy explores how “performances of authority, primarily through language, relate to the larger context of religious studies” noting that ”the tradition of the academic study of religion has historically been white, male, and biased toward textual traditions or the textual aspects within traditions“ (2009, p.352). Soucy suggests that by continuing this trend “we uncritically accept” and lend “authority to elite male modes of religious practice while either ignoring or devaluing practices associated with women or other marginalized groups” (Soucy 2009, p.352).
The LDS community inhabited by my childhood friends, for example, may not have had a “policy” on Coca-Cola, or caffeinated beverages, but the “Mormon” culture of the region practiced abstention from consumption of caffeine, in at least most cases. And this abstention was linked, by practitioners to their faith.
Of course, this document does provide a vital resource for understanding the bureaucratic structures of the church and how the institution defines itself and its members in terms of titles, policies and practices. For example, on which version or translation of the Bible to use, the handbook advises: “The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical translation is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations” (21.1.7). The handbook also includes a section on the internet about which it says “When carefully used, the Internet can help coordinate the work of the Church, strengthen faith, and minister to the needs of others” (21.1.22).
The Table of Contents for the Handbook:
1. Families and the Church in God’s Plan
2. Priesthood Principles
3. Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ
4. The Ward Council
5. The Work of Salvation in the Ward and Stake
6. Welfare Principles and Leadership
7. Melchizedek Priesthood
8. Aaronic Priesthood
9. Relief Society
10. Young Women
12. Sunday School
15. Stake Organization
16. Single Members
17. Uniformity and Adaptation
18. Meetings in the Church
19. Callings in the Church
20. Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings
21. Selected Church Policies and Guidelines
Appendix: List of Items Referenced
Soucy, A. (2009). Language, Orthodoxy, and Performances of Authority in # Vietnamese Buddhism. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, # lfp017.