As the year 2019 brings the second decade of the 21st century to a close, the work of the gospel and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are — as President Russell M. Nelson has repeatedly said — moving forward at an accelerated pace.
During 2019, that pace was marked by three major policy changes from the First Presidency.
Here's a look at the major policy changes announced by the Church this year and the impact they have had on Latter-day Saints in the United States and throughout the world.
Policy regarding blessings and baptisms for children of LGBT couples
In a statement released on April 4, the First Presidency announced a change in Church policy that would allow the children of parents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to be blessed as infants and baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without First Presidency approval. The policy change came as an adjustment to an earlier Church policy put into place in 2015, which required children being raised by LGBT parents to receive First Presidency approval for baptism.
The First Presidency also announced that the Church would no longer treat same-gender marriage by Church members as a form of "apostasy" for purposes of Church discipline. The First Presidency clarified in the statement that, while same-sex marriage is still considered to be a "serious transgression," homosexual immorality would be treated in the eyes of the Church in the same manner as heterosexual immorality.
Such changes are reflective of the continuing revelation that has been a part of the modern Church since its Restoration, the First Presidency explained.
“These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord,” wrote President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, in the statement.
The Lord has led by revelation through prophets from the time of Adam and Eve to the present day, said President Eyring of continuing revelation. “One reason is that we need the Lord’s direction to meet the changing circumstances, and He has guided changes in practice and policy through the history of the Church.”
Policy changes, the First Presidency explained, "do not represent a shift in Church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity or morality."
The doctrine of the plan of salvation will not change, nor will the importance of chastity, they wrote.
Speaking at his first BYU devotional since becoming president of the Church, President Nelson addressed the LGBT policy change as part of his discussion on "The Love and Laws of God" at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 17.
Using the LGBT policy change as an example, President Nelson explained that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cannot change the laws of God. They can however "adjust policy when the Lord directs us to do so."
He then added, "Because the Restoration is ongoing, policy changes will likely and surely continue."
Policy regarding year-long temple marriage waiting period in the U.S.
On May 6, the Church announced that it would discontinue a policy requiring couples who marry civilly to wait one year before being married or sealed in the temple.
The new policy establishes a global standard in the Church regarding civil marriages and temple sealings. Because local laws in many countries where the Church is established outside the United States dictate a couple must marry civilly before being sealed in the temple, the policy change allows for greater flexibility in planning as couples determine the needs of their families.
As detailed in a letter signed by President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency, the policy change allows for a man and a woman who have been married civilly to be sealed in the temple anytime after they receive their temple recommends for the sealing ordinance.
“We affirm that the sealing of a man and woman in the temple offers eternal blessings to the couple and their posterity that can be gained in no other way,” the First Presidency wrote in a letter to general and local leaders. “We encourage all such couples to qualify for sealing ordinances and blessings.”
While the policy change allows for more flexibility of planning, the First Presidency emphasized that it should not be interpreted as “lessening the emphasis on the temple sealing.”
“The sealing of a husband and wife in the temple is of eternal significance and a crowning experience on the covenant path,” the First Presidency stated.
With the change, there is no specific time within which members should be sealed after being married civilly and, according to the letter, "worthy and prepared couples may be sealed as soon as circumstances permit."
For new members of the Church, a one-year wait period for receiving their endowment or being sealed in the temple after receiving their confirmation remains in place. However, if new members choose to be married civilly during that year, they can still be sealed one year from the date of their confirmation.
Policy regarding witnesses of sealing and baptismal ordinances
President Nelson announced a historic policy change on Oct. 2, allowing women, youth and children to serve as witnesses of sealing and baptismal ordinances performed both in and out of temples.
“We are joyful about these changes,” President Nelson told General Authorities and officers of the Church during the leadership session of the Church’s 189th Semiannual General Conference.
With the new policy change, any baptized member of the Church may serve as a witness of the baptism of a living person. For proxy baptisms — performed in the temple for deceased persons — anyone holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend, may act as a witness. Additionally any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to sealing ordinances, both living and proxy.
“Obedience to sacred temple covenants is essential for us to qualify for eternal life — the greatest gift of God to His children,” President Nelson said, addressing the changes that have been made in recent years to temple ordinances and procedures. “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.”
Adjustments to ordinances and/or procedures do not change the sacred nature of the covenants associated with them, President Nelson explained. "Adjustments allow for covenants to be planted in the hearts of people living in different times and circumstances.”
As President Nelson explained, 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."
Following the announcement of the policy change, women all over the world expressed their excitement and appreciation for the historic policy change. For many, the change came as yet another example of Heavenly Father’s love for His children and reaffirmed that the Church is moving forward at an accelerated pace.