From Gold Plates to Gold Plating: Reaching for the Highest and the Best and Beyond Since 1827

It seems fitting that the being who guided our founder to the Gold Plates be memorialized in gold leaf. (Source)

The current center-right/far-right governing coalition in Austria has a problem—a robust social welfare state. Even though the social welfare state is responsible for channeling the post-war economic recovery into a relatively high quality of life for everyone in the country, the current government has plans to weaken if not dismantle it entirely. Rather than admit that the center-right party—which has been in uninterrupted power for over thirty years but recently “re-invented” itself under Europe’s youngest chancellor—may have anything to do with the status quo, politicians have been busy painting the European Union and its directives that member states are obliged to incorporate into their national legislation (only after their approval by a qualified majority of the same members states, of course) as the obstacle to prosperity:

  • “Es ist wichtig und richtig, dass die Überfüllung von EU-Normen – sogenannt Gold-Plating – beseitigt wird, damit Österreich wieder zukunftsfit wird.” (It is important and correct that the over fulfillment of EU norms—so-called gold plating—be eliminated in order to make Austria fit for the future)
  • “Wir wollen weniger Golden Plating, und wir wollen weniger Bürokratie” (We want less gold plating, and we want less bureaucracy)
  • Gold-Plating [soll] nur dann stattfinde[n], wenn es einen Zweck hat” (Gold plating should only occur if it has a purpose)
  • “In der Praxis gibt es leider kaum einen Wirtschaftsbereich, bei dem der Gesetzgeber bisher auf ‘Gold Plating’ verzichtet hat” (In practice, there is unfortunately hardly a sector of the economy in which lawmakers have refrained from gold plating)

As you have no doubt inferred, this talk of gold plating has nothing to do with opulence, aesthetics or statues of the Angel Moroni; rather it refers to the “practise of national bodies exceeding the terms of European Union directives when implementing them into national law.”

By now you are probably wondering what the connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is. I’m glad you asked. See, going above and beyond the nominal requirements of orthodox observance—a kind of hedging about the law for over-achievers—is a practice that I imagine rings familiar to many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Let me give you a couple of examples.

During the opening exercises of a priesthood meeting in my ward, discussion turned to the dress code of the Aaronic Priesthood holders who passed the sacrament. (One of the deacons had sported a boundary-pushing black-and-white shirt with skull pattern that day.) As is practically required in such a discussion, someone opined that the deacons really ought to wear all-white shirts and ties to pass the sacrament. Another member weighed in, cautioning that the white shirt is not a requirement, urging care lest we establish a “uniform of the priesthood.” [FN 1]

The young mens president then entered the fray, acknowledging that, yes, while the previous brother was technically correct, “the gold standard” for passing the sacrament remains a white shirt and tie. In my experience, he is not alone in this view, the authoritative Handbook notwithstanding.

On a more recent occasion, a fellow BCC perma recounted a meeting of the priests and their parents with the bishop. Because of the unusually large size of the group, they met in the High Council room. It was a little noisy, so the bishop called for order, making the case that because of the special purpose of this room—a place for inspiration and holding councils—it was more hallowed than your garden-variety classroom and, accordingly, due more reverence than such.

I am sure that you are familiar with additional examples of things members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can’t resist giving a little extra polish of significance to, such as the hand one uses to take the sacrament. Consider this an invitation to share them in the comments below!

FN 1
See Handbook 2, Section 20.4:
“Ties and white shirts are recommended because they add to the dignity of the ordinance. However, they should not be required as a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate. Nor should it be required that all be alike in dress and appearance.”


  1. Here a stake president advised regarding the Word of Wisdom, that one should also abstain from herbal teas, that such abstinence would be keeping a “higher law.”
    We do still have some adult priesthood holders, who in passing the sacrament to the congregation, feel impelled to keep their left hands behind their backs. (There had been a time when some ward leaders required that.)
    It has thankfully been decades since I had a bishop who required that only commercial American white bread be used for the sacrament AND that the crusts be cut off (because they were dark!)
    Some purported gold plating is really a cheap fake; some can actually be harmful.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Last week I attended services in a ward where all the young men passing the sacrament not only wore white shirts and ties, but also kept their left hands behind their backs, bent at the elbow at a 45 degree angle. They looked like they were having their arms twisted, and I’m guessing that they were, figuratively speaking. Probably some zealous YM leader’s definition of a gold standard.

    It was very distracting.

  3. They looked like they were having their arms twisted, and I’m guessing that they were, figuratively speaking.

    No doubt!

    a bishop who required that only commercial American white bread be used for the sacrament AND that the crusts be cut off (because they were dark!)

    Whoah! And in connection with the Word of Wisdom, what about the saying, “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead”?

  4. Jared vdH says:

    Fascinating. In one of the wards I attended during my mission, a senior missionary also assigned to the ward insisted that those passing the sacrament should not, under any circumstances, put either hand behind their back because it made them look like waiters and not servants of the Lord.

    For the record, since I was a deacon I’ve put my hand behind my back not out of some sense of propriety or because a leader told me to, but because I was an awkward 12 year old, didn’t know what to do with my hand, and was worried I’d accidentally hit someone with it. The pattern has unconsciously followed me since.

  5. My mama insisted that tithing was to be paid on the gross.

    A bishop once told me that fast offerings should be 1%.

    Imagine a poor single income family with a new baby paying 11% of their gross in tithes and offerings. I don’t have to imagine.

    Y’all should have seen my Mama’s face when I told her net vs. gross was a choice.

  6. One I’ve seen a ton of gold-plating on is temple garments. For example, that even swim suits should cover everything garments cover or else you’re immodest, because God’s standards are unchanging.

  7. My mom, correcting me in front of everyone, about the length of my skirt. (It was like one inch above my knee).
    The gold standard for women and girls is still a totally covered body (modest is hottest). As of last month, in the sacrament talk, the female speaker proclaimed that our value as women was in our modesty.

    Unrelated story:
    An old lady gushing over my 12 year old son about being a “real Deacon.” She was so proud of him for being a “real Deacon.” I though about my youth, and if anyone was proud of me for being a young woman, with no priesthood. The answer was no, definitely not, never.

  8. since I was a deacon I’ve put my hand behind my back not out of some sense of propriety or because a leader told me to, but because I was an awkward 12 year old,

    Solidarity, brother. To this day, when I’m asked to bless the sacrament, I feel self conscious about what I’m doing with my hands while standing in front of everyone waiting for the deacons to return to the table.

    net vs. gross [i]s a choice

    Certainly not something anyone needs to be looking over your shoulder to determine; also, I doubt that even those who claim/intend to pay on gross actually take into account the full value of, say, the benefits they receive in making their calculations.

    even swim suits should cover everything garments cover

    My mom perished every time a certain home teacher came over. He always wore shorts and his garments always showed below them. In this case, I’m inclined to place the blame on the length of the garments rather than the shortness of Brother A’s shorts.

    I though about my youth, and if anyone was proud of me for being a young woman, with no priesthood. The answer was no, definitely not, never.

    This is unfortunate, and I hope that in the meantime those in your orbit have developed a greater appreciation for the qualities that warrant our admiration.

  9. Mission rules are some of the worst offenders of this concept. Suddenly, talking to one’s family other than the proscribed two times a year becomes one of the worst infractions one could fathom.

  10. I think it’s great to have standards of conduct that don’t come from some other authority. I have a number of “rules” for myself that are more strict than what the scriptures or official church policies teach. I think raising your personal standards is a valuable exercise. But that doesn’t mean those “extra mile” standards should be anything other than a private and personal decision.

    [As a side note, although I am against strict standards for what deacons should wear to pass the sacrament, I think I would draw a line at skulls on shirts, if for no other reason than it carries a significant risk of distracting from the ordinance.]

  11. I think I would draw a line at skulls on shirts, if for no other reason than it carries a significant risk of distracting from the ordinance

    I think we were all in agreement on that point, even the deacon concerned. Though in my experience, what counts as a distraction varies wildly. We once had a missionary attend Ward Council to complain that one of the priests blessing the sacrament had worn a black tie, which clearly was appropriate for funerals only!

  12. Mission rules are some of the worst offenders of this concept.

    In principle, having unique rules for unique situations doesn’t strike me as gold plating per se, but mission culture does seem to provide fertile ground for a certain kind of zealotry. For example, when I was at the MTC, the rule was lights out and in bed at 10:30 p.m. But the day before a sister district was due to be transferred to the field, we met to say farewell by singing hymns. It was about 10:25 when we wrapped things up, but I liked to shower in the evening to avoid the rush in the morning. So I hopped in the shower, and seconds later the district leader from the other side of the building (the showers were in the middle) came rushing in to find out what on earth was going on. He became so enraged by our encounter that he had to be held back by two other missionaries who happened to be brushing their teeth when the sparks started to fly. The next day there was a meeting with the district president who, to his credit, was more concerned about the threat of physical violence than the violation of curfew by a few minutes. Still, the fact that somebody could get so worked up about the rules is sobering.

  13. I’ve got similar stories. And one or two that seemed reasonable, like a bishop who told the young men passing the sacrament that pants drooping below their underwear, and pants with a flag on the fly, were inappropriate. I was with him on those two examples.

    But what I don’;t get–maybe it’s a missing DNA sequence–is the tendency to go up, to gold plate in the terms of the OP. When I hear “be an example” it registers as comfort first and then lowest common denominator. Modesty suggests to me “slightly below average.” Where does the gold plating instinct come from?

  14. The underground man says:

    I was told once to put paper towels in the sacrament tray because the sound of the plastic cups hitting the metal was distracting and took away from the reverence of the moment

  15. Left Field says:

    When I was a deacon, back in the Nixon Administration, I don’t remember that we had any expectation of white shirts. By the time I was a priest, in another ward in another state, we were instructed by the local leaders that those who pass the sacrament should wear ties, and those that bless should also wear jackets. But I still don’t remember anything about shirts. When I was a missionary (in the Carter Administration), a general authority assigned to our mission recommended that we continue wearing white shirts to church even after our mission. I remember being surprised, since white shirts were mostly a missionary/general authority thing.

    When I was a deacon, we would take the sacrament trays to our assigned location and wait there, if necessary, for the bishop (or other presiding officer) to take the sacrament. Sometime over the next decade or two, it became almost universal for the deacons to wait at the sacrament table until the bishop took the sacrament. I’m sure that started because previously, a deacon might occasionally go to his assigned spot and forget to wait for the bishop. But I never liked it. The Handbook says the presiding officer takes the sacrament first, but it doesn’t say you need to make a big show of it.

    More recently (I don’t know, maybe 20 years ago) they added an instruction to the Handbook saying that deacons may walk to their assigned location while the bishop takes the sacrament. It didn’t *prohibit* waiting at the table, but it made clear that it was not required. Since I’ve been in my current ward (~16 years), those passing the sacrament have always left the sacrament table as soon as they get their trays. Sometime this summer, they changed the procedure and now have the deacons wait at the table. I think this change corresponded to a new YM president. If the YM president passes the sacrament, he is always the one to take the tray to the bishop and he has the deacons wait until he turns around and gives an exaggerated nod, as if they can’t see for themselves. Apparently, it’s important that they wait until the bread is actually in the bishop’s mouth (or maybe it’s when he swallows) before they are allowed to walk away from the sacrament table. It’s very bizarre, but none of it is actually prohibited by the Handbook. On one occasion, the stake president was there, and the deacons waited for both the stake president and the bishop to take the sacrament. That’s certainly going well beyond the requirements of the handbook, but it might be attributed to deacons’ misunderstanding. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the YM president told them to do it to show “proper respect” for the bishop, or somesuch. I think he likes it for the same reason I don’t–because it makes a big show of who is presiding. The sacrament is supposed to focus on Jesus, not on the bishop. If I were revising the handbook, I would just drop the extra-scriptural “bishop first” thing. But for some reason, they never ask me.

    I did give my opinion when the subject came up, but to no avail. The deacons will wait at the table, even though the Handbook says they don’t have to.

  16. Left Field says:

    The Handbook does prohibit requiring a particular posture, and specifically mentions the hand-behind-the-back thing. But it doesn’t say you can’t put your hand behind the back if you just want to.

    I will say that I’m not a fan of deacons carrying the sacrament tray at knee level, as if it’s a bucket of water, and I have been known to recommend against it if I have occasion to appropriately weigh in on the subject. Same thing with offering the sacrament by holding the tray right in front of someone’s face.

  17. Same thing with offering the sacrament by holding the tray right in front of someone’s face

    Seriously! “Brothers and Sisters, please take the sacrament with your right nostril—you know, the one the deacon has placed the tray in.”

    the sound of the plastic cups hitting the metal was distracting

    The clinking of the cups in the background is kind of a “textures of Mormonism” thing for me—I probably wouldn’t miss it much if silenced, but there’s a dozen sounds more distracting in your average sacrament meeting.

  18. One of my favorite examples of this was “obedience brings blessings, so if we create more mission rules, we’ll have more opportunities to be blessed!”

  19. Exactly, JKC.

  20. When I was in college (10 years ago) an institute teacher declared that it was inappropriate to kiss someone you were not engaged to, and even then it should be a very occasional, very chaste kiss. Hugs should last no more than a few seconds, cuddling only if both participants’ feet were on the floor facing forward, never be without a chaperone, never out after midnight… Once I went on third date with my now husband that involved being out past midnight and a goodnight kiss, and my roommates staged an intervention. *eyeroll*

  21. The idea that garments must be worn not just during the day…but at night too, or during the oddly specific sweaty yard work. Do I suddenly become unendowed during yard work or exercise or showering or 💥😍 or am I still okay even up to hours later?

  22. I think a large portion of the rules in CH1 and CH2 are a result of gold-plating – either codification of individual leader’s preferences, or common sense reactions to over-reach.

  23. My mission president told us never to put our scriptures on the floor, since it showed that we didn’t really value them. (Kinda like garments I guess?)

    I’ve always been confused about the yard work injunction about garments. Why yard work? I would love to know the history behind that addition.

  24. “The young mens president then entered the fray, acknowledging that, yes, while the previous brother was technically correct, “the gold standard” for passing the sacrament remains a white shirt and tie. In my experience, he is not alone in this view, the authoritative Handbook notwithstanding.”

    I’m just imagining if my very cynical 17 yo son were in that meeting he would have probably quipped “Nixon took us off the gold standard.”

    “I though about my youth, and if anyone was proud of me for being a young woman, with no priesthood. The answer was no, definitely not, never.”

    This made me think. It used to be that as young women received their Young Women’s medallion they were recognized in sacrament meeting. And when they changed to program and the YW could earn a medallion for each stage in the program (BH, MM, L) they were also being recognized in sacrament meeting for earning those. But now that I think about it, it’s been years since a YW has been recognized at the pulpit. I guess I just assumed there weren’t any YW earning them. Has the policy changed? I’ve lived in a number of wards in a number of states since the last time I remember seeing it done. I don’t have daughters so I don’t know.

  25. Once I knew a scoutmaster who tried to prohibit tardy boys from passing the Sacrament if they were not seated at the beginning of the meeting. I was in a position to pull rank and veto this idea and I was backed up by the Bishop, whose son was one of said boys.

    In the same ward, a sister shut down late-arriving boys and parents to the Pinewood Derby. Interestingly, the same bishop supported her decision (Matthew chapter 20, anyone?).

    In a different ward, my son wears a man bun when he blesses the Sacrament.

  26. I might add that the tardy Cub Scout’s dad was in the bishopric.

  27. I once had a counselor in a primary presidency give an un-asked-for 10 minute testimony on the divinity of the primary manual. She felt strongly that we needed to use and teach from it word-for-word because it was inspired. And not just inspired in a general sense, but that every single Sunday there was someone in our primary who needed to hear something written just so in that manual (this was the general primary manual, not the individual class manuals although likely she felt the same about those). Ugh.

  28. When my husband was a young man he attended church every Sunday and passed and blessed the sacrament and attended mid week scouting activities, went to Seminary, supported service projects, etc. His leaders listed him as inactive because…

    He didn’t play basketball with the young men.The same young men who emotionally and physically tortured him for years.

  29. How about every instance–BYU Honor Code, temple workers, significant leadership positions–where facial hair is verboten?

    Or the counsel from my seminary teacher–who was, ironically, a university professor–that graduating from seminary was more important than graduating from high school?

    Or the bishop who did not give me a temple recommend to do baptisms because I admitted to drinking Dr. Pepper (same bishop refused to give my mother a recommend because she saw the occasional R-rated film)?

    Or about 90% of (the thankfully out-of-print) MORMON DOCTRINE?

    I forget who coined the phrase “sacred creep,” but it is a real thing.

  30. These examples remind me that the covenant path is paved with good intentions.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    For the sisters who want to gold plate bathing suits to be long enough to cover garments, show the pictures of earlier garments that went to wrist and ankle, and insist as a result that they can only swim in burqinis.

  32. There was a discussion on my ward FB page a few months ago about whether it was okay to cut up church magazines to make a collage.

  33. Aussie Mormon says:

    Hopefully they don’t want to swim in France.

  34. I tell kids that every rule, save 10, were created RE-actively rather than PRO-actively.

    My favorite mission handbook rule was “Elders and sisters should sleep in the same bedroom but not in the same bed.” Yowza! What happened to cause the creation of that rule?

  35. Left Field says:

    Did it really say that elders and sisters should sleep in the same bedroom?! That’s probably not what was intended.

  36. One year I was a leader at girls camp. The girls all arrived at the appointed time after dinner for camp fire. They sat and sat and sat and waited. I finally went up to the camp director and asked what was up. She said they had to wait for a priesthood holder to light the campfire and they were all in a meeting that was running very late. I told her my girls had certified that day in fire starting and could do it. She said “no, it had to be a priesthood holder”. So they waited another half hour. Crazy.

  37. Aussie Mormon says:

    Left Field: The current version is “If you live in an apartment with more than one room, always sleep in the same room as your companion, but not in the same bed”.

    I wonder the same thing though. At some stage someone must have taken the “Stay Together. Never be alone. It is extremely important that you stay with your companion at all times. Staying together means staying within sight and hearing of each other. The only times you should be separated from your assigned companion are when you are in an interview with the mission president, on a companion exchange, or in the bathroom”. instructions (or what ever they were at the time that rule was added) a bit too far.

  38. I really like Mark’s point:

    “I think a large portion of the rules in CH1 and CH2 are a result of gold-plating – either codification of individual leader’s preferences, or common sense reactions to over-reach.”

    This makes a ton of sense. Sometimes the gold plating meets with a leader’s approval and gets moved from the unwritten to the written order of things, and sometimes it doesn’t, and it gets smacked down. And in unusual circumstances, like the white shirt (non-)rule, we get it both ways, so the Handbook says that it’s really preferred, but it’s not required.

  39. Jack Hughes says:

    In EQ a few weeks ago we got caught in a 20-minute discussion about why the emblems of the sacrament must only be taken with the right hand. The older men (who vastly outnumber me and my fellow 30-somethings in the quorum) were adamant in asserting the spiritual superiority of the right hand, and drowned out any respectful dissent. It didn’t end until the bishop stepped in and shut down the discussion, saying it didn’t really matter which hand is used, and asked the teacher to move on. Bless his heart. This is notable because this same bishop has a history of being allergic to doing anything that is not explicitly sanctioned by the Church handbooks or so ordered by the stake president.

    And whenever someone brings up the white shirt thing, I always share the fact that the most spiritually powerful sacrament meetings I have ever attended were the ones on my military deployments–where instead of white shirts, we wore camouflage and body armor and carried loaded weapons. That usually ends any further discussion on the matter.

    This tendency to gold-plate arbitrary rules has done some serious damage to our ability to think critically and innovate.

  40. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    As someone who is left-handed, I try to be as obvious as possible in my use of said hand in the administration and partaking of the sacrament. Alternatively, I could fumble with the trays while using my non-dominant hand, or dribble the water down my tie while trying to get the cup to my lips. As a YM, I rather enjoyed the militaristic precision with which the Deacons would line up, conspicuously broken up by my tray being in the ‘wrong hand’. Although, I’ll admit that I actually think about this each week when I partake of the sacrament with my left hand. The fact that it is consistently on my mind in that moment is a reminder that gold plating, or “looking beyond the mark”, has real consequences.

  41. TataniaAvalon says:

    When I was a kid I got told off by my mom for using my left-dominant hand. I’ve used my right ever since. Never thought about it. On my mission there was a rule that you could only shop within your district on P-day. Well we lived outside the district so it didn’t make much sense. Let’s just say we went to the closest store regardless. I tended to treat the mission rules as more guidelines than actual rules. Another time I got in trouble for not going to the christmas pagent. I had bronchitis and my companion was Deaf. Neither of us wanted to go so we didn’t go. Zone leader calls “sister are you really sick?” me-“nope I’m just hacking up my lungs for funzies”

  42. We should all recognize that what is being discussed here as gold-plating is nothing more than modern day phariseeism – the enforcement of unwritten rules and oral traditions. I encourage everyone reading this to make a point of calling this practice out for what it is any time it is observed.

  43. Ryan Mullen says:

    I often think about my left-handedness in regards to the sacrament and the hereafter. There are a million little ways left-handedness inconvenient in society, from writing to water fountains to bike signaling to ordinances. What might otherwise be a minor aspect of my identity has instead become a strong identifier for me. (I have one left-handed daughter and she gets imperceptibly bigger ice cream scoops.) As a result, I want to take the sacrament with my left hand and, if we handedness is a thing in the hereafter, I will be left-handed then as well.

    And that’s for as minor a thing as handedness. I can only imagine what my feelings would be if my sexual orientation or gender identity were the issue at hand.

  44. Pirate Pete says:

    ”The young mens president then entered the fray…”

    When did the young mens president attend priesthood meeting? Or was all this discussion during opening exercises in front of said pirate-dressed youth? That seems most tacky of all…

    Personally, I prefer my white shirts to have the top three buttons opened and have lots of frilly lace. Shiver me timbers.

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