Recently, Tad Callister wrote a article for Church News. While I’m not sure what the difference is between the Church’s Web page and the “Church News” section, it seems very official. Maybe the News section is retired GAs, and the Church web site is for current GAs?

Anyway, Brother Callister (not Elder anymore) gave an interesting take on principles vs rules. First he starts out with the famous Joseph Smith quote:

“I teach the people correct principles and they govern themselves.”

The Gospel Kingdom [1987], p.323

A basic summation of his article is that principles are the best way to do things, but sometimes we need help, and when we do, rules are created. He gave an example of a child wanting to watch TV on Sunday. The priciple is “Keep the Sabbath Day holy”. But if the child chooses to watch TV that is not appriate, he then says that rules need to be made.

He concluded his article with:

 We use principles whenever we can so as to maximize the agency and growth of our children, but if they cannot “handle” principles, then we implement the fewest rules necessary until they arrive at that point.

I have a hard time reconciling that sentiment with the rule driven Church I grew up in. Granted many of these were rules based on principles, and made up not by the Church, but by the local leaders and parents trying to implement the principles. But what is the church if not its people/leaders?

I had a bishop in the early 1970’s that asked us during TR interviews if we drank Coke. The principle: Word of Wisdom, our bodies are temples, eat healthy, etc. Today bishops ask if you drink coffee/tea. This is a rule because evidently the church doesn’t think we can interpret the principle on our own. If we did, many would drink tea instead of Mountain Dew.

Our Church Handbook is filled with rules, but in the latest changes, seems to be moving away from “don’t do this” and more towards words like “discouraged” or “warns against”. I would guess in the past that some over zealous Bishops were disciplining members for not keeping these “rules”, so much so that in the recent changes to the handbook announced last week, they had to add the following statement.

“A few policies in this section are about matters that the Church ‘discourages.’ Church members usually do not experience membership restrictions because of their decisions about these matters. However, all people are ultimately accountable to God for their decisions.”

section 38.6

Another policy is that surgical sterilization is discouraged. I’ve read where some say this is a step forward, as the handbook use to say that you needed to “consult with your bishop” before pursuing a vasectomy. I can just imagine how that conversation would go!

Me: Bishop, I’m thinking of getting a vasectomy.

Bishop: Well, you come to the right place. Will you be getting a ligation or cauterization?

Me: Which is better?

Bishop: Cauterization has a much lower failure rate as many studies have shown.

Me: Well then I’m definitely going with that method! I’m so glad I came to discuss this with you!

So what do you think, does the LDS church have too many rules? Are they treating us like children watching bad things on TV, in need of rules? Is the new handbook a step in the right direction, leaving more up to the member, even if it is “discouraged”? Have they reached a happy balance, with lots a broad principles, and just enough rules to keep us headed in the right direction?