Latter-day Saints should “avoid all statements of prejudice toward others” and avoid the use of threatening, degrading, bullying, violent or other abusive language or images online, according to a policy update included in the church’s newly completed General Handbook of policies and procedures.
The two-year project to combine, streamline and update the “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is now complete in English. The final revisions were published online Wednesday morning and in the Gospel Library app.
The final installment included seven newly revised chapters, including the counsel against abusive language.
“If online threats of illegal acts occur, law enforcement should be contacted immediately,” says a revised section of chapter 38. A related revision in chapter 32 says the church may hold a membership council for a Latter-day Saint who threatens physical violence in person or online.
Other revisions released Wednesday allow the use of culturally diverse music styles and instruments other than a piano and organ, provide clear instruction about deceased people for whom church members cannot do temple ordinances and new lists of interview questions for convert baptism candidates and Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (see chapter 31).
The church announced in January 2020 that it was combining what had been Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 into a single, streamlined, universally accessible, flexible, online General Handbook with 38 chapters.
It also restructured the handbook’s content around what church leaders have emphasized as core doctrinal concepts about God’s work of salvation and exaltation. The handbook also is now more adaptable to congregations of all sizes, explains the scriptural “why” of the way things are done and uses ministerial language, according to a news release issued Wednesday.
The text also was simplified and the word count reduced by 20% to 25%.
A team of 20 to 30 general authorities and general officers of the church worked with church staff and editors on the project. Then the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provided feedback and ultimate approval, said Elder Anthony D. Perkins, executive director of the Church’s Correlation Department.
“The First Presidency is not shy about making edits,” he said. “And for me, that has been very inspiring — to do the very best work we can … and yet there are things that we miss — very important things that Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency see and are added into the handbook. I can say to members with full confidence that the handbook, as written, reflects the desires and the input and direction from the people we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators.”
Wednesday’s milestone is not the end for handbook updates, however. Elder Perkins said it will remain “a living, breathing digital document.”
The church will release updates three times a year, in March, July and November or December.
Work also continues on translating the handbook into other languages. The church expects to finish the handbook in other languages in 2022. The regular updates in the future will be released simultaneously in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.
What is new in the General Handbook?
Chapter 19, titled “Music” opens the door wider for culturally diverse music and instruments.
“Sacred music that is written or sung in culturally diverse musical styles may help unify congregations,” the new text says. “Music coordinators and priesthood leaders may include a variety of appropriate musical styles that appeal to members of various backgrounds.”
Guidelines for what names can and cannot be submitted for temple work are provided in chapter 28.
Church members generally should submit only the names of those related to them. Temple ordinances for the dead, known as proxy ordinances, may be performed beginning one year after the person’s death unless they were found worthy to attend the temple before their death but were unable to due to circumstances beyond their control. In that case, temple work may be done for them as soon as possible.
If a person is not a relative or a close relative has not provided permission to perform ordinances, proxy temple ordinances may not be performed until 110 years after the deceased person was born. The policy is intended to avoid offending living relatives and encourage temple work to be performed by church members who knew and associated with the person.
Under the heading “Submitting the Names of Celebrities and Unauthorized Groups,” the handbook says church members generally should not submit the names of famous people and Jewish Holocaust victims to FamilySearch.org.
The chapter also includes a new policy allowing unendowed Melchizedek Priesthood holders to officiate in confirmations for the dead.
Other updated policies in the handbook
The revisions include new instruction on streaming ordinances (chapter 38). The guideline encourages members to attend ordinances in person, but allows a bishop or stake president to authorize streaming an ordinance when a close family member cannot attend because he or she:
- Lives in a remote location or has limited ability to travel.
- Has physical, mental, or emotional health challenges.
- Is immunocompromised or in a care facility or hospital.
- Needs sign-language interpretation.
- Is serving a full-time mission. (The mission president’s approval is required.)
Bishops may authorize the streaming of baby blessings, baptisms, confirmations, and Aaronic Priesthood ordinations. Stake presidents may authorize the streaming of Melchizedek Priesthood ordinations and the setting apart of missionaries.
One revision features counsel from President M. Russell Ballard’s April 2021 general conference message, “Hope in Christ” that emphasized that single church members are essential. That is included in chapter 14, which also notes that elders quorum and Relief Society presidents now are responsible for supporting young single adults in their congregations.
Another policy codified in the newly revised chapters instructs congregational leaders to record sacrament meeting attendance numbers by including those who attend in-person or by streaming. Sunday School attendance is done the same way, but includes members serving in Primary or serving as youth leaders.
Stake physical facilities representatives now will be known as stake building representatives.
See the changes made in previous releases
The handbook now has 38 chapters. New and updated chapters were released in eight installments over 22 months:
- The first release in February 2020 included nine reworked chapters that reflected the church’s recent emphasis on ministering and home-centered gospel living and teaching. It also defined transgender policies for the first time and changed the name of disciplinary councils to membership councils and updated their procedures.
- A second update in March 2020 completed an additional three chapters focused on Aaronic Priesthood quorums and the Young Women and Primary organizations.
- The third update in July 2020 brought updates to policies about medical marijuana, birth control and issues related to fertility treatments and completed four more chapters.
- The fourth update in December 2020 codified recent statements against prejudice made by President Russell M. Nelson and his first counselor in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks.
- The fifth update in January 2021 introduced several temple-related changes.
- The sixth update in March 2021 reemphasized the First Presidency’s long-standing support for vaccinations. It also counseled against affinity fraud and extreme preparation and survivalism.
- The seventh update in August 2021 included language urging Latter-day Saints to welcome refugees to their communities and keep church settings free of politics.
- The eighth and final update was released Wednesday.