Last week, I reported here at RD that copies of the new LDS Church Handbook of Instructions, a two-volume, 400-page tome detailing Church doctrines, policies, and procedures (call it a Mormon Talmud) previously reserved only for local and regional Church leaders had been leaked on the Internet days before its official release at a special Saturday meeting satellite-broadcast from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Before last week, in a whole lifetime of Mormonism, I can only remember seeing the CHI once, when I was a teenager, in the home where I grew up. Because my dad had served a few terms as a bishop--a lay minister in charge of a Mormon congregation--we had a copy in the house. The memory is fuzzy, but I believe it was my mom who brought it out so we could check out the juicy parts: church policy on birth control. Not that my mom needed a refresher course in Church policy. My mom knows these things by heart; she's a professional Mormon.
The inaccessibility of the CHI to regular members only heightened its power and significance, so much so that anyone who could quote authoritatively from the CHI during a Sunday School lesson, for example, held a special sort of status in the community. (In Mormonism, the demands of lay ministerial service do convey certain privileges as well.)