Church handbook update: Prejudice, policies for members with disabilities, and more topics included


Another batch of updates was published today, December 18, 2020, to the Church’s General Handbook for leaders and members. Six more chapters have been rewritten, and sections of 11 other chapters were added or revised. The text is available to the public in English online and in the Gospel Library app. Versions in other languages will follow in coming months.

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Leaders Discuss Church Handbook Updates

This ongoing handbook revision is being done under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The text is designed to help leaders around the world serve with Christlike care when implementing and adapting the Church’s programs, policies and procedures to their circumstances.

The rewritten chapters align with the handbook’s organizing framework of the work of salvation and exaltation. This work includes (1) following the teachings of Jesus Christ, (2) caring for those in need, (3) inviting all to receive Christ’s message, and (4) uniting families for eternity. The content has also been simplified, reduced and made more adaptable for congregations of all sizes worldwide. The newly rewritten chapters are:

  • Chapter 5: “Stake Leadership,” which includes updated information on stake council meetings (Watch this video explaining new additions); information about how a district president’s responsibilities differ from those of a stake president; and a section on the stake patriarch, which was formerly in a separate chapter of the handbook.
  • Chapter 21: “Ministering,” which emphasizes doctrine and scriptures related to how members care for others.
  • Chapter 22: “Providing for Temporal Needs and Building Self-Reliance,” which includes updated guidelines on administering Church welfare and offers an expanded list of available resources.
  • Chapter 25: “Temple and Family History Work in the Ward and Stake,” which includes updated information on (1) organizing temple and family history work in the ward and stake, (2) family history resources and (3) calling temple workers.
  • Chapter 26: “Temple Recommends,” which includes updated information on issuing temple recommends. The temple recommend is a pass that permits Latter-day Saints to enter one of the faith’s temples.
  • Chapter 27: “Temple Ordinances for the Living,” which includes updated information for members receiving their own endowment or preparing to be sealed or married in the temple.

Since the first release of General Handbook chapters in February 2020, nearly 60 percent of the handbook has been reworked. The General Handbook replaces Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all leaders). The remainder of the handbook will be revised in 2021.

New and Updated Policies

Other updates published on December 18 include many new and updated policies. For example, a new section on prejudice reflects recent teachings from President Russell M. Nelson and President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency about honoring the dignity and divinity of every soul.

“All people are children of God. All are brothers and sisters who are part of His divine family,” the handbook says. “Prejudice is not consistent with the revealed word of God. Favor or disfavor with God depends on devotion to Him and His commandments, not on the color of a person’s skin or other attributes. The Church calls on all people to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group or individual.”

An added section titled “Seeking Information from Reliable Sources” counsels Latter-day Saints to be wise in their pursuit of truth. “Seek out and share only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information,” the text says. “Avoid sources that are speculative or founded on rumor. The guidance of the Holy Ghost, along with careful study, can help members discern between truth and error (see Doctrine and Covenants 11:12; 45:57). In matters of doctrine and Church policy, the authoritative sources are the scriptures, the teachings of the living prophets, and the General Handbook.

Another new section (“Dress and Appearance”) encourages Latter-day Saints to “show respect for the body in their choices about appropriate dress and appearance. What is appropriate varies across cultures and for different occasions. For example, for sacrament meeting, individuals wear their best available Sunday clothing to show respect for the sacrament ordinance. This same principle applies to temple attendance. Disciples of Jesus Christ will know how best to dress and groom themselves.” This new section also says “members and leaders should not judge others based on dress and appearance. They should love all people, as the Savior commanded.”

Throughout the handbook, references to “birth sex” were changed to “biological sex at birth.” This was done to be consistent with the first reference in section 38.6.23 (“Transgender Individuals”), published in February 2020.

New policies regarding members with intellectual disabilities recognize the challenges that members sometimes face in making decisions about ordinances. The handbook now explains that the bishop has responsibility for baptisms of members of record who are baptized at age 9 or older because of intellectual disabilities. These members no longer have to be taught by the missionaries unless they desire to be. The handbook also encourages individuals, leaders, and, where applicable, parents to counsel together in making decisions about receiving ordinances.

The medical marijuana section (first published in July 2020) clarifies that a person should follow the “dosage and mode of administration from the physician or other authorized medical provider.” Also, “the Church does not approve of vaping marijuana unless the medical provider has authorized it based on medical necessity.” The Church continues to oppose the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The handbook section on the Word of Wisdom has been renamed “Word of Wisdom and Healthy Practices.” In addition to noting the Church’s long-established counsel to abstain from tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee, the text clarifies that “there are other harmful substances and practices that are not specified in the Word of Wisdom or by Church leaders. Members should use wisdom and prayerful judgment in making choices to promote their physical, spiritual, and emotional health.”

An updated section on medical and health care notes that “seeking competent medical help, exercising faith, and receiving priesthood blessings work together for healing, according to the will of the Lord.” Latter-day Saints “are discouraged from seeking miraculous or supernatural healing from an individual or group that claims to have special methods for accessing healing power outside of prayer and properly performed priesthood blessings. These practices are often referred to as ‘energy healing.’ Other names are also used. Such promises for healing are often given in exchange for money.”

See below for an index of all new and revised sections and chapters published on December 18.

Translated portions of the new handbook were published in October and November of this year. The entire handbook is expected to be updated in English by the end of 2021. Updated chapters are being translated into 35 languages and released as soon as they are available. Additional languages may also be made available in the future.

Index of New and Revised Sections and Chapters of the General Handbook, published on December 18, 2020 (new sections and rewritten chapters are in bold)

Press release from Newsroom.
Lead image: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
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