some actions scream “cult”!

Did I get your attention? The “cult” word sure seems to do that to people…

Now, before you get all huffy with me, hear me out. Did anyone else catch this story on Slashdot about the LDS Church trying to force wikileaks to take down a 1999 version of the Church Handbook of Instructions? I’m not sure anyone will really take the position that the LDS religion is NOT secretive about some things (e.g., finances, accounting, handbooks of instruction, and whatever they have locked up in their vaults). And I’m not saying the LDS religion is secretive about everything – the internet is making it increasily difficult for Mormonism to hide things like Brigham Young’s teachings (e.g., men on the moon, Adam was God) or claim the BofM is the record of the Native Americans – Mormonism isn’t really “hiding” that stuff anymore.

But when they start threatening lawsuits to keep information confidential, that does kind of give the impression that they have stuff to hide. Taking off my Sociology hat for a second and using the term cult in the popular language way (to refer to a secretive group that controls its members, etc.), hiding information gives the impression that Mormonism is a cult.

Now, putting my Sociologist hat back on, one could just as easily argue that what Mormonism really is doing is revealing its corporatism. Banks have sued Wikileaks to keep their practices confidential. Now LDS Inc. is doing likewise. This follows, of course, on this remarkable article by Joseph A. Cannon claiming the FLDS are spoiling the LDS “brand.” It’s the most glaring admission of corporatism of a religion I’ve ever seen, even though the corporatism is ultimately denied.

Your thoughts? Why is Mormonism trying to squelch the spread of its handbook? What does it have to hide?


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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16 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    I’d disagree with “cultism,” but probably agree with “corporatism.”

    The advantage of course is that since the LDS Church can’t be bothered to make some of the policies in the Handbook publicly known (such as its stance against voluntary vasectomies) I can’t be bothered to be bound by them.

    After all, if they wanted me to follow policies, they’d make them known, right?

  2. Matt says:

    I think it makes sense for any org to maintain internal policies and operating procedures which aren’t meant for public consumption … kind of like internal emails or a sports team’s playbook/recruiting policy and etc. It’s a way of handling the down and dirty and even seamy or easily misunderstood realities. Though this is common among corporations, I’m sure it’s also been common practice for most orgs of consequence, time immemorial. Hell, if there is a god and he has a church, I’d expect this kind of thing there as well ’cause he is working with people in the world and we could assume that he ain’t stupid.

    As for the brand. Well, I think it’s kinda the same thing. A very ancient concept, though granted, moderns have refined it into a fine art by necessity of competition. Mormonism clearly has brand equity of the sort that only the best money and careful grooming can buy. I don’t really hold it against them though — you know, it’s just like building temples–only the best for god, right? You wouldn’t want to be caught falling down if you’re working for the ultimate big man.

    No, I understand them wanting to keep this document private. What I don’t understand is the extremes they’re going to ’cause it’s clearly more destructive to the brand to get sue happy, especially in the wild wild west of the interwebs. You say “we want to throttle the internet” and people are going to think you’ve lost a few marbles, or worse, that you’re hiding something sinister.

    And I really don’t think the FLDS thing is hurting them that much. It could be much worse. They could be like Microsoft and have an Apple quantifiably and dramatically eroding their brand equity nightly on prime-time. Imagine this:

    Not “I’m a Mac” and “I’m a PC”, but “I’m a Pastafarian” and “I’m a Mormon”.

    It could happen and it would be devastating.

  3. zelph says:

    I think that more people are now curious about the handbook due to the lawsuit. That is the most ironic thing. If the church left it alone, not very many people would pay much attention. But now, the church has put a spotlight on it and will make more people curious about it.

  4. Hellmut says:

    The advantage of course is that since the LDS Church can’t be bothered to make some of the policies in the Handbook publicly known (such as its stance against voluntary vasectomies) I can’t be bothered to be bound by them.
    After all, if they wanted me to follow policies, they’d make them known, right?

    One would think so. Alas, we are not that lucky. The Brethren want to eat their cake and have it, too.

    There are some bishops that attempt to enforce the CHI.

  5. Hellmut says:

    I agree with Matt that every organization needs confidential documents. Imagine what would happen if competitors had access to all your information. Other legitimate reasons include security and privacy of clients and employees.

    As Seth points out, the funny thing about the secrecy of the CHI is that it is supposed to govern the behavior of members but members cannot be reasonably expected to abide by rules that they do not understand.

    It is a well established principle that laws become valid only upon their publication.

    I am not sure if the refusal by LDS authorities to inform their members of the rules of conduct in a reasonable manner makes Mormonism a cult. It is clear, however, that this practice is unreasonable and authoritarian.

    Even the Roman Catholic Church, which shares Mormonism’s concept of priesthood authority, treats its members this way. Keeping rules of conduct secret is extreme, especially, for an organization that operates within the western world.

  6. aerin says:

    I think Seth does have a point – if you don’t know a policy – why should you have to follow it?

    BUT – with that said, the only thing I can think of is if a member does decide to do something (like IVF or voluntary vasectomy), and then at some point in the future, in discussion with their bishop or others, it comes up that these things are not kosher.

    I can imagine it might bring up lots of guilt for the individual member – who thought they were following all the rules, and then to find out the rules had changed.

    I will go on record (I have before) saying that I don’t understand why some of the information isn’t public. Or at least public to the membership (I feel the same way about budget/tithing, for the record). I work for a company, and we have lots of policies that are clearly labeled private/confidential. I’ve signed a confidentiality agreement. That means, if I reveal something confidential and they find me, I could be sued.

    But in this internet age (as you bring up profxm) it’s simply too difficult to keep any information secret. Look at all the videos on youtube, for example. This policy will probably need to be re-examined.

  7. profxm says:

    Couple thoughts…

    I’m not sure I buy the “every organization needs confidential documents” argument. I’m guessing most everyone on here would say the US government should have just two types of confidential documents – those that relate to pending national security threats (e.g., we believe terrorist X is living here and we don’t want to let him know we know) and military plans (i.e., no sense telling the enemy what you are going to do). Otherwise, why shouldn’t emails, memos, etc. be public information?

    As for religions, I don’t care if they keep their rituals sacred (not that they are secret; hooray internet and google) or even their quotidian emails, “Hey, Tommy da’ Monson, we still going to Hooters for lunch today? -Boyd da’ Packer” But why try to hide their rules and regulations? As everyone from Seth to Aerin to Hellmut has said, “How the hell can members follow the rules if they don’t know them?” That’s setting people up for failure. I haven’t read the CHI (not all that interested and I lack time), but what’s in there that is so super-secret?

    If it were full of “trade” secrets… Snicker… Ha, ha, ha… LMAO… Trade secrets? This is a fracking religion, people! Sure, Mormonism competes with other religions for adherents, but trade secrets? This is like Coke competing with Pepsi, but when people ask why they should drink Coke, Coke responds, “We can’t tell you.” And when someone asks for a sample, Coke responds, “We can’t give you one. You just have to drink it.” In the case of religions, the “trade secrets” are the appeal. You don’t want to hide the appeal, do you? Am I missing something here?

    Finally, FLDS vs. LDS commercials… Now that sounds like fun…

    LDS: “I’m LDS.”
    FLDS: “And I’m FLDS.”
    LDS: “I have one wife.”
    FLDS: “I have five.”
    LDS: “We have a prophet.”
    FLDS: “I live next door to the prophet and have sex with one of his former wives he gave me as my own.”
    LDS: “I give 10% and the church lets me use the cultural hall for weddings.”
    FLDS: “I own 10%.”
    LDS: “We have millions of members.”
    FLDS: “We have a few thousand and I’m related to them all.”
    LDS: “I call my fellow Mormons ‘brother’ and ‘sister.'”
    FLDS: “My fellow Mormons are my brothers and sisters.”
    LDS: “We’re hip. We have a cutting edge website and embrace technology.”
    FLDS: “We’re retro, which is the new hip!”

    I could go on and on… 🙂

  8. Matt says:

    I think the semi-secret position statement has a use, if for nothing else, to avoid open discussion of things they’d rather not talk openly about (for fear of offending babes? or otherwise) but still want to have a position on should a specific case come to the attention of local leadership.

    I can imagine that there might be policy positions that you want to make accessible to the leadership but not necessarily make common knowledge and therefore a pronouncement on the entire membership. Things like “we’re against vivisection”, if not a common “problem”, might be held in reserve and meant only for those who seek specific counsel, only later to be made a general pronouncement should a general “problem” develop.

    I can image that subjects such as homosexuality, external study groups, women’s rights/civil rights movements, murder, excommunication proceedings, membership resignation, etc, etc. are these types of subjects and some might be even too “black” for publication in a handbook of even limited circulation but then appear in later editions should the topic become a more common issue.

    Can we imagine that there are even unspoken but commonly held views at the higher levels of leadership that might one day find their way into a handbook of instruction?

    I really don’t think this kind of thing is surprising and yes, it does make sense to have semi-secret rules, procedures, policies, or even doctrinal positions, and etc. I don’t find the general existence of such things sinister in any way, though the specifics of such things remains open to debate.

    In the end, a secret is only sometime meant to hide the sinister. Other times it’s a powerful tool, even for good, but mostly just for all the vagaries and pragmatics of operating in the real world.

  9. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    ‘competitive information’??? WHAT?
    I thought information (“from God”) was universal/for the benefit of all, men & women, church members & non-members, slaves & masters, bond & free,etc.
    But since this ‘stuff’ (read between lines) is obviously from men (in God’s place???)… then they ‘have to’ copyright it.
    Compared to how they ignore.disrespect.minimize if not eliminate focus to Christian basics…it all ‘makes sense’. UGH.

  10. Seth R. says:

    I don’t think it has anything to do with trade secrets. Half the records of any corporation in the US are not publicly available for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with “trade secrets” or “competitive advantage.” Even actual shareholders can’t get access to most of Disney’s records for crying out loud. Corporations are not open with their records. That’s just the way things are in our society.

    I think the Church really does have a problem with “corporate culture” if you want to call it that.

    I also think that the days when “no comment” was a legitimate corporate strategy are long gone. Doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or not. You answer a reporter with “no comment” these days, most of America is going to assume you’re guilty – no questions asked.

    But old habits die hard I guess.

  11. Craig says:

    The corporate actions of the church are one of the many thing that really turned me off (from the church). Either you’re the Church of Jesus Christ and have a moral imperative to act as such, or you’re a corporation acting in self-interest. I see these two things as mutually exclusive (at least in the way the LdS church combines them).

    What is really unbelievable is how unbelievably bad the church is at the public relations bit of being a business. Whether it is telling the public that the never “told” members to write their legislators in support of the national anti-gay marriage amendment, trying to hide things like the CHI, or the recent reaction of the church about the gay marriage issue in CA, the church says and behaves just plain stupidly.

  12. Steve EM says:

    The secret CHI reminds me of why I went to see the first Porky’s movie in Provo circa 1980: because Provo tried to ban it!

    It’s also ironic in a church with no professional clergy at the local level, that Joe and Molly Mormon are treated by the GAs with such disrespect. JS wouldn’t recognize this sad church.

    Oh, I’m pretty sure the sole reason the CHI discourages sperm donation is silly masturphobia. Why should a fertile woman who desires reproduction be barren because hubby’s shooting blanks?

  13. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Seth R:
    GREAT CALL on the comparison between Disney & the LDS church!
    (I would have made it to McDonald’s franchises)

    Don’t ya just love it when people defend Bizarre behavior/decisions?

  14. circus watcher says:

    The missionaries taught me that people who sinned because they did not know the truth are not held responsible (somemwhat paraphrasing. If I do not know about a policy in the CHI, I am not sinning if I have transgressed the policy.
    How are Saints to be perfected if they do not know what is expected of them? Is blind obedience enough?
    My employer has “secret” information. I am also told that it is MY responsibility to be using the latest version of the procedures. The procedures are not for public consumption – but I am expected to know and follow them.

    I bet the problem is that reasonable people will see the church as being to controlling. The church does not want the public to see them that way.

    circus watcher

  15. Seth R. says:

    I’d take it further circus.

    I know several things that are in the CHI. But I do not consider myself bound to follow them – even though I know about them.

    The Church has not made the information publicly available and has not preached the instructions or policies from the pulpit or published them for wide distribution.

    Obviously, they don’t want me to know about it. So I need not consider it binding.

  16. Guy Noir Private Eye says:


    WHY should information be binding ‘on some'(of God’s children)… and not others…
    ‘the thought makes reason stare’….
    oh well.

    But; OTOH, I do Love the comparisons between corporate & COB-GA decision rules-secrecy!
    ‘You Deserve a Break Today…’

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