Updates to Latter-day Saints handbook include sections on racism, ‘seeking information from reliable sources’

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FILE – In this April 18, 2019, file photo, the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City is viewed. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has asked all its members in Utah to wear face coverings when in public, a request that comes as confirmed coronavirus infections in the state increase. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(ABC4) – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published new updates 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.

According to the Church, 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 Church says the rewritten chapters align with the handbook’s organizing framework of the work of salvation and exaltation.

This 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; 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% of the handbook has been reworked, according to the Church. The General Handbook replaces Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all leaders).

The rest of the handbook will be revised next year. The Church says other updates include many new and updated policies.

For example, a new section on prejudice reflects recent teachings 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” advises members to be wise in their pursuit of truth.

“Seek out and share only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information,” the text reads. “Avoid sources that are speculative or founded on rumor.”

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 sacrament meeting, for example, the text says individuals wear their best available Sunday clothing to show respect for the sacrament ordinance. This same principle applies to temple attendance.

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 says 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 medical marijuana section 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 says it 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.”

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.

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