Vaccines, affinity fraud, survivalism among policy updates in latest General Handbook release

“General Handbook” for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
English revisions for the General Handbook were published March 31, 2021 — the fourth update since February 2020. Credit: Church News graphic
Cover of the new General Handbook for Church leaders and members. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the fourth English-language update to its General Handbook on Wednesday, March 31, which includes four rewritten chapters, seven other chapters with section changes and four updates to policies and guidelines.

Those four policy updates include statements regarding vaccinations, affinity fraud, extreme preparation or survivalism and respecting local restrictions on sharing the gospel.

Four rewritten chapters

Formerly called “Ward Leadership,” Chapter 6 is now titled “The Bishopric,” which better reflects the content and summarizes the bishop’s responsibilities for the work of salvation and exaltation. The chapter also explains the differences between bishops and branch presidents and includes information about the ward executive secretary. Ward leadership roles and responsibilities are detailed in subsequent chapters.

English revisions for the General Handbook were published March 31, 2021 — the fourth update since February 2020.
English revisions for the General Handbook were published March 31, 2021 — the fourth update since February 2020. | Credit: Church News graphic

Chapter 23 — “Sharing the Gospel and Strengthening New and Returning Members” — emphasizes the responsibilities of ward leaders for sharing the gospel and strengthening new and returning members. Updated information about the callings of ward mission leader and ward missionary is included.

“Missionary Recommendation and Service” — the title of Chapter 24 — includes updates on preparing and qualifying for missionary service as well as clarifying types of missionary service. It also updates policies on maximum age for younger sister missionaries and on setting apart senior service missionaries.

Chapter 29 — “Meetings in the Church” — includes overviews about various types of Church meetings and explanations that bishops and stake presidents may authorize streaming of meetings and virtual meetings when appropriate.  

Policies and guidelines updates

A new entry on vaccinations (38.7.13) reemphasizes direction the First Presidency has consistently given since at least 1978. “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life,” the handbook says. “Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”

President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday morning, Jan. 19, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday morning, Jan. 19, 2021. Church leaders have consistently emphasized vaccinations since 1978. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

A new section about affinity fraud (38.8.2) says using friendship or a position of trust to take financial advantage of another is “a shameful betrayal of trust and confidence. Its perpetrators may be subject to criminal prosecution. Church members who commit affinity fraud may also face membership restrictions or withdrawal. … Members may not state or imply that their business dealings are sponsored by, endorsed by, or represent the Church or its leaders.”

Latter-day Saints are to be wise in regards to self-reliance and emergency preparation, as stated in an added policy on extreme preparation or survivalism (38.8.16). The Church counsels “against extreme or excessive preparation for possible catastrophic events. … Efforts to prepare should be motivated by faith, not fear. Church leaders have counseled members not to go into debt to establish food storage. Instead, members should establish a home storage supply and a financial reserve over time.”

A new section on respecting local restrictions for sharing the gospel (38.8.37) explains the Church’s missionaries “serve only in countries where they are officially recognized and welcomed by local governments. The Church and its members respect all laws and requirements with regard to missionary efforts. For example, in some parts of the world, missionaries are sent only to serve humanitarian or other specialized missions. Those missionaries do not proselytize. The Church does not send missionaries to some countries.”

Other updates include the expansion of callings that can be held by members in young single adult and single adult units as well as modified information throughout the handbook about members with disabilities.

Of sections 37.2.2, 37.3.2 and 37.5.2 detailing the expansion of callings in the aforementioned units, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told Newsroom:

“In recent months, our minds have been drawn with particular focus to Latter-day Saints who are single adults. We want you to know that you are loved — and so very needed in building the kingdom of God. For this reason, we felt to search carefully for policies and misperceptions that might limit the Church service of single members. What we found was that Church policy already allows for broad service by single adults — and it could be even broader. We feel today’s policy adjustments can make a big difference. We hope your leaders know to put you to work — including as counselors in bishoprics, on high councils, and as organization presidents and counselors.”

Updates regarding members with disabilities include information about performing temple work for deceased persons who had intellectual disabilities; about members who are deaf or hard of hearing; about organizing special classes, programs or units; and about the calling of a stake or ward disability specialist.

Below is an index of new and revised sections and chapters of the General Handbook, as published on March 31, 2021, with rewritten chapters and new sections in bold:

Chapter 5: Stake Leadership

  • 5.3. Differences between the Authority of District Presidents and That of Stake Presidents
  • 5.6.1. Calling, Sustaining, and Ordaining a Stake Patriarch

Chapter 6: The Bishopric (rewritten)

Chapter 14: Single Members

  • 14.0. Introduction
  • Bishopric
  • Young Single Adult Advisers
  • 14.3.4. Ward Young Single Adult Committee

Chapter 23: Sharing the Gospel and Strengthening New and Returning Members (rewritten)

Chapter 24: Missionary Recommendations and Service (rewritten)

Chapter 27: Temple Ordinances for the Living

  • Who Performs a Temple Marriage or Sealing

Chapter 28: Temple Ordinances for Ancestors

  • 28.3.5. Deceased Persons Who Had Intellectual Disabilities

Chapter 29: Meetings in the Church (rewritten)

Chapter 33: Records and Reports

  • 33.6.2. Members of Record
  • 33.6.10. Records of Members Who Have Intellectual Disabilities
  • 33.6.11. Records of Members Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
  • 33.6.25. Out-of-Unit Member Records
  • 33.10. Stake and Ward Technology Specialists

Chapter 37: Specialized Stakes, Wards, and Branches

  • 37.2.2. Leadership in a Young Single Adult Ward or Branch in a Conventional Stake
  • 37.3.2. Leadership in a Young Single Adult Stake and Its Wards or Branches
  • 37.5.2. Leadership in a Single Adult Ward

Chapter 38: Church Policies and Guidelines

  • 38.7.13. Vaccinations (new)
  • 38.8.1. Adoption and Foster Care
  • 38.8.2. Affinity Fraud (new)
  • 38.8.4. Autographs and Photographs of General Authorities, General Officers, and Area Seventies
  • 38.8.9. Church Name, Wordmark, and Symbol
  • 38.8.11. Copyrighted Materials
  • 38.8.14. Directories
  • 38.8.16. Extreme Preparation or Survivalism (new)
  • 38.8.20. Guest Speakers or Instructors
  • Giving Assistance
  • Providing Opportunities to Serve and Participate
  • Organizing Special Classes, Programs, or Units
  • Interpreters for Members Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
  • Privacy
  • Disability Specialist
  • 38.8.33. Privately Published Writings
  • 38.8.35. Referring to the Church and Its Members
  • 38.8.36. Research in the Church
  • 38.8.37. Respecting Local Restrictions for Sharing the Gospel (new)
  • 38.8.41. Seminars and Similar Gatherings
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