Our 5th Sacred Text

Do you remember that one General Conference? That one when we all raised our hands and sustained the Handbook as holding more authority than scripture, or common sense, or the spirit?


I was surprised, too! I mean, really, it was about time! Ever since the secret and not-as-secret Handbook one and two merged into one and went public, we were finally able to know what to do for everything!


I mean, when I was little and my mother was primary president of our (then) branch, she used to have a bulletin board where we would pin drawings of Jesus that we coloured ourselves. Thankfully, that wickedness was removed in section 35.5.1 where it says only approved artwork (and no bulletin boards) should be shown… ‘cause clearly my 4-year-old hands made colourings that were spirit-reducing rubbish. Phew!


And when I was a Young Woman in my (then) ward, and one of the Young Women teachers was a professional ballerina, she used to hold occasional free dance classes for members and (“not yet” member) friends of ours. It was her idea that getting people in the building was among the first steps to conversion, because they were in a building that was filled with the spirit. We know now that was just plain hogwash. “Holding organized athletic practices” “not sponsored by the Church” are not allowed ( Phew! Glad I know this now. Wish I had known it back then! I would not have handed out nearly as many Books of Mormon had I known we were trespassing the Handbook.


One time, when I was a Young Single Adult, when we had a cultural night in the building, wherein we hung flags of different countries (when available) by platters of gloriously unusual foods and games. I loved it! The presentations from different returned missionaries about the places they had served, and learning about different states as well as countries… well, now we know that is just plain wrong. Section 35.5.6 in the sacred Handbooks states “The national flag may be flown on Church property as long as local guidelines are followed.” It says nothing about non-national flags. Or even state flags! Thank goodness we no longer have Boy Scouts doing semaphore badges!


Because saying nothing is as powerful as saying something, amiright?*


For example, because the handbook does NOT specify that a woman CAN hold her baby in the baby blessing/ child of record practice, obviously she can NOT.  (A friend’s bishop told her this. My bishop and I disagreed, but — hate to say this– we are in the same church. Not the same ward or stake or even country… but in the same church. Whoa. One of us is astray!)


So… according to may church member I have interacted with, if it isn’t in the church Handbook, it can not happen!


That being said, I do confess to making a meal for a family in need who were not members of my ward. I did not consult the handbook for fear that it would be wrong of me to do this because….  (whisper please) … because it was on the sabbath. I found no instruction, so did it anyway. Feeling that unrestrained was … dare I say… spiritually liberating? Obviously not a feeling we want to teach given the ridgid holdings many take of the Handbook.


And when our house was flooded last week, the handbook did not specifically tell anyone to come and help us move furniture, and yet, a member of the Elder’s Quorum did so… of his own volition. That seems wrong, given the Handbook and all—but it felt right. His wife even made us cookies—a recipe of which was also not found in the Handbook. (Obviously a little suspicious, but we ate them anyway. They were ridiculously delicious and I regret not having photographed them because the looked like perfectly made chocolate chip cookie mini pizzas).


I could go on. But why should I? I don’t need to follow the prophet, or think for myself, seek for the spirit or anything else, right? Certainly not when I have the Handbook.


Oh! But getting back to where I started… do you remember that general conference? The Handbook standing at the podium, after we all sustained it as holding more authority than scripture, or common sense, or the spirit? Or something like that?


Me neither.


Why do we treat than Handbook like scripture? Even in place of scripture? Even in place of canonised scripture?


I don’t know, either. I mean, I get it—in the world of GPS, we want to be exactly directed, in spite of road construction, in spite of potholes, in spite of visual clues, in spite of driving to the same place, at the same time, sometimes day after day after day… we want something else to take responsibility for decisions that might impact and hurt others.


But here’s the thing: It’s happening anyway. The impact. The hurt. Maybe even more so, with blind obedience to… the Handbook.


So I’m saying is… that sometimes, if not most times, relying on the spirit and common sense would be a more rewarding and inspirational experience than bearing witness of a non-canonised item that we reference way too much.

Way. Too. Much.



Let’s not do that anymore.





*Tee-hee— (38.3.1) the handbook does NOT specify the length of women’s skirts or dresses in the temple. It specifics sleeve length (“long” or “three quarter”), but NOT skirt length. There is nothing about covering the calves, or ankles. Common sense tells me that an ankle-length dress or skirt is preferred… but if it isn’t in the handbook….miniskirt Tuesday? Who’s in?

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.


  1. 15-20 years ago when my dad was in our stake presidency, he was told by a visiting Seventy that the handbook was good guidance generally, but that there was a lot of leeway to do things differently if the Spirit or situation dictated otherwise. Unfortunately, that more balanced attitude seems to be the exception rather than the norm.

  2. Years ago my father came to visit while he was a bishop, and we spent an afternoon walking around a lovely tourist town and he told me all these stories about decisions he made that weren’t in the handbook. He is a generally by the book kinda guy and it bugged him a bit that he had “broken” all these supposed rules. But he was also clear that the Spirit was telling him to do it and there were reasons for what he did. I just listened and was supportive and let him talk. I also remember my father-in-law telling me he didn’t want the handbook released because then people would judge him on every decision and whether it followed the book. And I also remember “Utah Mormons” moving to my “mission field” ward and telling us we were doing things wrong because we didn’t always follow the book. What I have read of the newer handbooks does try to emphasize choices to fit the local situation, but we as a people so need to let go of “it’s done this way and only this way” thinking.

  3. So good they stopped letting us show pictures of the Savior that aren’t approved. Some of us might display an image that suggests he wasn’t lily-white with long straight hair and European beauty standards. Can you even imagine the testimony-destroying horror a brown crayon could do?

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