The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published updates today, July 31, 2020, to 15 chapters of its General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes significant changes to five chapters. These follow adjustments made to the new digital handbook in February and March of this year.
To date, 16 of the book’s 38 chapters have been completely reworked, and minor changes have been made to several other chapters as part of an ongoing revision under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The organizing framework for the handbook is the work of salvation and exaltation. The chapters are designed to help leaders around the world serve with Christlike care when implementing and adapting the Church’s various programs, policies and procedures to their circumstances. The text is available to the public in English online and in the Gospel Library app. Translations into other languages will soon be underway.
The new handbook supersedes Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all leaders).
Content published on July 31, 2020, features significant revisions to five chapters. The “Elders Quorum” and “Relief Society” chapters are now organized around the work of salvation and exaltation. The word count in each has been reduced by nearly half. The word count has also been significantly reduced in the new “Sunday School” and “Teaching the Gospel” chapters.
Chapter 38, “Church Policies and Guidelines,” includes eight policies that are either updated or new. These adjustments apply to entries on birth control, donating or selling sperm or eggs, fertility treatments, the occult, sex education, suicide, and surrogate motherhood. (Some other parts of this chapter were updated in February 2020.) Additionally, an entry on medical marijuana is now included in section 38.7 (titled “Medical and Health Policies”). Several of these updates now include doctrinal explanations to help people understand why the Church takes the position it does on these issues.
As with the updates published in February and March 2020, the changes published on July 31, 2020, can be applied effectively to congregations of all sizes, which is especially useful for a global faith of more than 16 million individuals.
Below is a chapter-by-chapter summary of the changes:
- Chapter 5: Stake Leadership (minor updates)
- Chapter 8: Elders Quorum (new chapter)
- Chapter 9: Relief Society (new chapter)
- Chapter 12: Primary (minor updates)
- Chapter 13: Sunday School (new chapter)
- Chapter 15: Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (minor updates)
- Chapter 17: Teaching the Gospel(new chapter)
- Chapter 18: Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings (minor update)
- Chapter 24: Preparing and Recommending Missionaries (minor update)
- Chapter 26: Temple Recommends (minor update)
- Chapter 29: Meetings in the Church (new section added to the chapter)
- Chapter 30: Callings in the Church (a few updates to the Chart of Callings)
- Chapter 32: Repentance and Church Membership Councils (minor update)
- Chapter 35: Physical Facilities (minor update)
- Chapter 38: Church Policies and Guidelines (policy updates in 38.1.5, 38.6 and 38.7)
Chapter 5: Stake Leadership
- The role of stake presidencies in relationships with civic and community leaders in their area is clarified. See this and more in section 18.104.22.168.
- An Area Seventy chairs a coordinating council (see the addition below to chapter 29) and may invite stake Relief Society presidents and other stake officers to attend these meetings as needed. See section 22.214.171.124, 5.4.1, and 5.4.2.
Chapter 8: Elders Quorum
- Content is organized around the work of salvation and exaltation.
- Elders quorum and Relief Society presidencies are responsible for day-to-day missionary work and temple and family history work in the ward.
- The options to call a service coordinator and an activity coordinator have been added. (Note a similar change below in the third bullet under chapter 9, “Relief Society.”)
Chapter 9: Relief Society
- Content is organized around the work of salvation and exaltation.
- Relief Society and elders quorum presidencies are responsible for day-to-day missionary work and temple and family history work in the ward.
- The calling “compassionate service leader” has been renamed “service coordinator.” “Service coordinator” was also added to the “Elders Quorum” chapter, so both organizations have callings with the same titles.
- “Additional Relief Society meetings” have been renamed “Relief Society activities.”
- The stake president calls the stake Relief Society president and does not delegate this responsibility to a counselor.
Chapter 12: Primary
- A few minor changes include new sections on singing time and nursery. Also, section 12.1.1 includes an expanded purpose for Primary (to help children “feel their Heavenly Father’s love and learn about His plan of happiness”). Section 126.96.36.199 clarifies that Primary activities, including day camps, do not include overnight stays.
Chapter 13: Sunday School
- The bishop determines whether there is a need to call counselors for the Sunday School president. The calling of a Sunday School secretary has been included as an option for large wards.
- The position of Sunday School class president has been removed.
- Teacher council meetings can be held for parents to help them fulfill their responsibility to teach the gospel in the home. This change is also noted in chapter 17.
- A Sunday School class can be organized for new members, returning members, those learning about the Church, and others as directed by the bishop. The curriculum for these classes is Come, Follow Me.
- Information that may not apply to some units, such as instructions about resource centers (previously called meetinghouse libraries) and young single adult classes, is presented as adaptations to the “core” Sunday School program.
- The “meetinghouse library” is now called a “resource center,” and the “ward librarian” is now the “ward resource center specialist.”
Chapter 15: Seminaries and Institutes of Religion
- Minor updates include a paragraph about class options in section 15.1.2.
Chapter 17: Teaching the Gospel
- Responsibilities of various leaders are consolidated under one heading, “Leaders’ Responsibilities.”
- To emphasize the importance of teaching and learning the gospel in the home, a new section, “Home-Centered Gospel Learning and Teaching,” has been added.
- Information about the course on teaching the gospel has been replaced with a section about teacher council meetings.
- Suggestions have been added that give Primary leaders flexibility in how and when their teachers attend teacher council meetings. This includes the option to hold teacher council meetings for Primary teachers before or after church or on a day other than Sunday.
- Teacher council meetings can be held for parents to help them fulfill their responsibility to teach the gospel in the home. This change is also noted in chapter 13.
Chapter 18: Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings
- A change in section 18.3 notes that, when necessary, approval for some Church ordinances and blessings may be given by a counselor in a stake presidency, mission presidency, bishopric or branch presidency.
Chapters 24 and 26: Preparing and Recommending Missionaries; Temple Recommends
- Sections 24.5.1, 188.8.131.52, and 26.2.2 clarify that mission presidents can authorize their counselors to interview prospective missionaries and release missionaries as needed.
Chapter 29: Meetings in the Church
- A new section at the end of the chapter (29.11) explains the purposes of coordinating council meetings and those who attend these meetings.
Chapter 30: Callings in the Church
- The Chart of Callings (30.7) has been updated to reflect changes elsewhere in the General Handbook.
Chapter 32: Repentance and Church Membership Councils
- Two new paragraphs in section 32.9.7 clarify what a stake president or bishop is to do when he is unable to participate in a membership council due to unusual circumstances.
Chapter 35: Physical Facilities
- Information added to section 35.4.3 details the conditions under which leased buildings may be dedicated for worship.
Chapter 38: Church Policies and Guidelines
Unwed Parents Under Age 18 (38.1.5)
A policy has been added on unwed parents under age 18. Unwed young men who will become fathers may participate in their Aaronic Priesthood quorum or elders quorum. Unwed young women who will become mothers may participate in Young Women or Relief Society. These decisions are left to the prayerful discretion of the young man or young woman, their parents, and their bishop.
Preface to Policies on Moral Issues (38.6)
A statement has been added to the beginning of section 38.6: “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.”
Birth Control (38.6.4)
The entry on birth control now includes information about surgical sterilization, but the policy is otherwise unchanged (the “Surgical Sterilization” section from previous handbooks has been removed). The Church continues to discourage surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control. Because bearing children is the privilege of married couples who are able, husbands and wives are encouraged to “counsel together in unity and seek the confirmation of the Spirit” when considering permanent birth control procedures. Read more details.
Donating or Selling Sperm or Eggs (38.6.7)
The policy on sperm donation has been revised to include the donation of eggs. The Church discourages donating sperm or eggs but leaves decisions to the judgment and prayerful consideration of the potential donor. The Church also discourages selling sperm or eggs.
Fertility Treatments (38.6.9)
A new section on fertility treatments merges previous sections on artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. The text notes that reproductive technologies such as these can help a husband and wife fulfill their righteous desire to provide bodies for God’s spirit children. The Church continues to discourage the use of such technologies with the sperm from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife. However, this is a personal matter that is ultimately left to the judgment and prayerful consideration of a lawfully married man and woman.
The Occult (38.6.12)
The section on the occult says this includes (but is not limited to) Satan worship, fortune-telling, curses, and healing practices that are imitations of priesthood power.
Sex Education (38.6.16)
The section on sex education encourages parents to have honest, clear, and ongoing conversations with their children about righteous sexuality. The section also counsels parents to be aware of and appropriately seek to influence sex education taught in their children’s schools.
The section on suicide encourages greater sensitivity in ministering to those who are considering suicide. Many who have thought about suicide are seeking relief from physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual pain. They need love, help, and support from family, Church leaders, and qualified professionals. Bishops are counseled to provide ecclesiastical support and to help members obtain immediate professional help as needed. The text also notes that while it is not right for a person to take his or her own life, “only God is able to judge the person’s thoughts, actions, and level of accountability.”
Surrogate Motherhood (38.6.21)
This section now includes a long-standing policy that children born to a surrogate mother can be sealed to parents in a temple only with First Presidency approval.
Medical Marijuana (38.7.8)
A new section about medical marijuana says, consistent with previous statements, that the Church opposes the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. The policy also provides guidelines for when marijuana may be used for medical purposes.