After a flurry of posts related to the new edition of the CHI (now titled Handbook 1 and Handbook 2), the Bloggernacle has fallen silent. (The Salt Lake Tribune has followed up with a helpful article.) One of the new features of Handbook 2 (“H2”) highlighted in the worldwide training broadcast is the three introductory chapters that provide a foundational and doctrinal context for the guidance given in the balance of the book. I am going to note a few statements given in the four pages of Chapter 1, “Families and the Church in God’s Plan,” with short comments following each statement. The bold titles are my own; all quotes are from H2.
1. The Family and Gender Essentialism. The family “is the most important unit in time and in eternity.” Families are “central to God’s plan.” “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.”
While many of the statements in H2 contain scriptural citations, these particular statements do not, perhaps because scriptural statements on the family are not as sweeping as those in H2. Consider Matt. 12:46-50, in which the mother and siblings of Jesus came to speak with him, but he responded by telling the crowd, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” So if we do the will of God, we’re all family. Even more suprising is that the seven-paragraph discussion headed “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” contained within Chapter 1 never mentions the family. It notes “the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and all the laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel” and it enumerates the familiar First Principles (faith, repentence, baptism, confirmation, and enduring to the end). It summarizes, “We will be judged according to our actions, the desires of our hearts, and the kind of people we have become.” So scriptures and discussion stressing individual judgment and salvation are planted right in the middle of the section arguing the centrality of the family in the plan of salvation.
The reference to the nature of male and female spirits is tough to place. I think that’s just a poetic or elliptical way of saying that the nature of men and women is such that they complete each other. That view seems to reflect the statements in the Proclamation that men are presiders and women are nurturers. There is, of course, a discussion to be had whether the gender roles assigned by the Proclamation (or established by social tradition) are rooted in the different nature of men and women (or even of male and female spirits), or whether the talk about the different nature of men and women is a reflection of the roles assigned by the Proclamation or by society.
2. Requirement or Blessing? “Eternal life” is defined as “exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.” “Exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom can be attainly only by those who have faithfully lived the gospel of Jesus Christ and are sealed as eternal companions.”
Both elements are required, it seems: (1) faithfully living the gospel of Jesus Christ; and (2) being sealed to an eternal companion. But it turns out that if you fulfill the first requirement, the second requirement is waived if not satisfied: “Faithful members whose circumstances do not allow them to receive the blessing of eternal marriage and parenthood in this life will receive all promised blessings in the eternities, provided they keep the covenants they have made with God.” So H2 actually describes eternal marriage as a blessing, not a requirement. The only requirement for exaltation is to faithfully live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Too Little Time. The final section of Chapter 1 contains some counsel regarding the tension between family responsibilities and church duties. “Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and familes and are not ends in themselves.” And this: “Church leaders need to be careful not to overwhelm families with too many Church responsibilities.”
It is nice to see this counsel expressed directly. This helps prevent some people from inadvertently treating programs (or, more likely, their favorite program) as ends in themselves and helps avoid overburdening those individuals or families who are so willing to serve that they end up getting burned out. It is *not* better to burn out than to fade away (aka enduring to the end). It is a pleasant surprise to see correlated official guidance come down on the side of families in the battle between home and church over the few weeknight and weekend hours that you’re not working or sleeping.
Conclusion. It is, of course, fun to talk about doctrine and speculate on the nature of male and female spirits (I’m guessing that even after a billion premortal years together, they still don’t understand each other). However, H2 is a handbook for administering the church, not for splitting doctrinal hairs. Consequently, the practical counsel noted in item 3 above — that programs are for people, not the other way around, and that families should not be overwhelmed — will likely be the statements in Chapter 1 that will make an actual improvement for Latter-day Saints by changing how things are done in some wards and stakes.