The church is releasing a new Church Handbook of Instructions. Different parts of the handbook have been analyzed at Wheat and Tares, Project Mayhem, and by MoHoHawaii. There’s a lengthier discussion (or, one might dare say…thesis…) here.
I feel a bit numbed from all of the changes in a sense. On a day-to-day basis, I don’t deal with Mormonism offline…the only times it comes into radar offline is when someone makes some comment about Mormons — the hairs on the back of my neck still rise for that.
But online, I’ve been keeping at least a bit afloat…and so whenever I see one of these comparisons (especially the ones Moho has posted), I get a little bit excited for the changes…at first.
Consider his evaluation of the changes regarding gay marriage. The new CHI completely eliminates a first paragraph that says, among other things, “The Church accordingly opposes same-gender marriages and any efforts to legalize such marriages. Church members are encouraged “to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender“.
I don’t know about you, but to me, that seems like a tremendous shift.
Yet…later parts of the passage bring me back down to reality. It’s not so monumental a shift. It’s just incremental. A lot of that is rephrasing and streamlining…and the genuine changes are more modest.
In most instances, incremental improvements would be disappointing to me. I’m not quite sure what HP Palm is doing with the Pre 2, for example.
…but with the church, I recognize that for the most part, the way the church changes is through quiet, almost imperceptible incremental changes. Oh yeah, and pressure from the outside.
But these understated changes have downsides. For one, their low key nature makes it possible for people to continue believing the old stuff…since the old stuff is never denounced and repudiated, but merely scuffled somewhere, there exists pockets of people who believe the old, pockets who believe the new, and everything in between. There becomes the vacuum of responsibility for doctrine: when advantageous, someone can support previous statements of previous leaders. Why not? They have not been repudiated. But when more advantageous, someone can reject the previous statements as non-doctrinal, non-current, or whatever else, and stick with the more recent statement. Why not? The church has continuing revelation.
I don’t know for sure why the church does things that way. I suspect (but this may just be a tin foil kind of paranoia) that the church does it for the pragmatic reason of keeping everyone in the tent…that way, if it makes a new statement, it may not risk alienating the base of people who agreed more with the previous stance. Those people need not leave or even get on the train with the rest of the church — they can continue believing in the beliefs of the previous policy era.