President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a historic policy change Wednesday morning allowing women and children to serve as witnesses during sacred ordinances. For baptisms outside the temple, any baptized member of the Church can serve as a witness. For baptisms for the dead, any member of the Church, including women and young Church members, holding a limited-use temple recommend can serve as a witness. For sealing ordinances, any endowed member of the Church with a current temple recommend can serve as a witness.
“I testify of the importance of the work that the Lord has entrusted to each of us,” said Church President Russell M. Nelson. “He has prepared us to serve at this time, and He will continue to help and sustain us as we seek to build up His kingdom on earth.”
As is customary for the October general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, General Authorities and General Officers of the Church met this morning to be instructed by the First Presidency. This instruction included a new Church policy related to the witnessing of ordinances, including baptisms performed in chapels and temples.
President Russell M. Nelson
“Obedience to sacred temple covenants is essential for us to qualify for eternal life—the greatest gift of God to His children,” President Nelson taught. “As leaders in the Lord’s Church, we need to understand the eternal truths taught in the temple. We need to know the importance of and the difference between sacred covenants, ordinances, and procedures.”
Using both historic and recent changes to temple ordinances and procedures to illustrate this point, President Nelson said that “any adjustments made to ordinances and/or procedures do not change the sacred nature of the covenants being made. Adjustments allow for covenants to be planted in the hearts of people living in different times and circumstances.”
Quoting a prophecy from President Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Nelson said: “We have not gotten through with revelation. … President [Brigham] Young, who followed Joseph Smith … organized these temples and carried out the purposes of his calling and office. … He accomplished all that God required at his hands. But he did not receive all the revelations that belong to this work; neither did President Taylor, nor has Wilford Woodruff. There will be no end to this work until it is perfected.”
President Nelson then announced a change in the Church’s policy related to witnesses who participate in baptisms in local congregations and in temple work.
- Any baptized member of the Church may serve as a witness of the baptism of a living person. This change pertains to all baptisms outside the temple.
- A proxy baptism for a deceased person may be witnessed by anyone holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use temple recommend.
- Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to sealing ordinances, living and proxy.
“We are joyful about these changes. Imagine a beloved sister serving as a witness to the living baptism of her younger brother. Imagine a mature couple serving as witnesses in the temple baptistry as their grandson baptizes their granddaughter for and in behalf of a dear ancestor.”
President Nelson concluded his remarks by teaching that “the temple is the object of every activity and every advancement in the Church. All our efforts to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead lead to the holy temple. He has and always will direct how ordinances are to be performed so that we can understand and internalize our covenants with Him.”
President Dallin H. Oaks
In a continuation of the teaching given two weeks ago by President Nelson at Brigham Young University, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, offered remarks about the eternal nature of God’s children, His plan for them and the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors.
“While God’s commandments forbid all unchaste behavior and reaffirm the importance of marriage between a man and a woman, the Church and its faithful members should reach out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same sex or whose sexual orientation or gender identity is inconsistent with their sex at birth,” President Oaks taught. “We do not know why same-sex attraction and confusion about sexual identity occur,” he continued. “They are among the challenges that persons can experience in mortality, which is only a tiny fraction of our eternal existence.”
President Oaks spoke of three fundamental doctrinal truths that God has revealed:
“First, … that God created ‘male and female,’” and that this “binary creation is essential to the plan of salvation.”
“Second, modern revelation teaches that eternal life, the greatest gift of God to His children, is only possible through the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female joined in an eternal marriage (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:19). That is why the law of chastity is so important.”
“Finally, the long-standing doctrinal statements reaffirmed in [The Family: A Proclamation to the World] 23 years ago will not change. They may be clarified as directed by inspiration.” For example, “the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.”
“When counseling with any members experiencing challenges related to their sexual orientation, Church leaders should affirm that God loves all His children, including those dealing with confusion about their sexual identity or other LGBT feelings,” President Oaks said. “Such members and their families have unique challenges. They should be offered hope and be ministered to as directed by the Spirit according to their true needs, remembering the admonition of Alma to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort (see Mosiah 18:9).”
“Because we love God and understand His great plan of salvation and the significance of His commandments, we manifest our love for our neighbors by helping them come unto Christ, repent, and keep His commandments. This is part of bearing one another’s burdens that they may be light.”
President Henry B. Eyring
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of the role of leaders in the Church and the promises the Lord has made to them.
“He has done for each of us what He has always done. This promise has been true in our service: ‘For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up’ (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88).”
Using the allegory of the olive tree from the Book of Mormon, President Eyring said, “With our efforts, we do not change His timetable. He will do His work in His own time and in His own way. We are assured that He will bless us for having labored out of love until the end of our days, however many or few they may be.”
Acknowledging the burden of local leaders to teach, love, correct and encourage Church members, President Eyring quoted former Church President Spencer W. Kimball. “What we desire is to have Church programs serve Church members, not the reverse. We also want priesthood leaders to take into account, prayerfully and carefully, the needs of their members and to focus on meeting those basic needs.”
President Eyring said, “You can see in most of the organizational changes announced in the last few months even that we have moved, in many ways, under President Nelson’s leadership, toward a home-centered and individualized leadership style.”
“My hope is that you might listen in this training with faith. We serve a living Savior, who calls us to serve with a perfect understanding of the needs of the people we serve for Him. He knows what needs to be done and when. He reveals His purposes to His prophets.”
More to Come
On Thursday, October 3, the leadership meetings will continue with instruction from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other senior leaders of the Church, including General Officers of the Church’s organizations for children, women, youth and Sunday School.
Read more about this historic change on the Deseret Newsand the Church News.