Church updates General Handbook with significant updates to 5 chapters, minor revisions to 10 others

The Church announced today significant updates to five chapters in its digital administrative handbook and revisions to 10 additional chapters.

With the announcement, Church leaders have now made significant updates of 16 of the 38 chapters of the  “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” which supersedes Handbook 1 and Handbook 2. In addition, minor revisions have been made in other chapters of the new handbook, originally released on Feb. 19 and updated in March.

The latest updates, released July 31, include the Relief Society and elders quorum chapters now organized around salvation and exaltation, with the word count in each chapter reduced by nearly half. The Sunday School and Teaching the Gospel chapter revisions also resulted in significant word-count reductions.

The chapter on Church policies and guidelines includes eight new or updated policies — on birth control, donating or selling sperm or eggs, fertility treatments, the occult, sex education, suicide and surrogate motherhood. An entry on medical marijuana has been included.

The revisions were initially posted in English on July 31, with language translations to follow. 

‘New’ chapters after major revisions

  • Chapters 8 and 9; Elders Quorum, Relief Society: The two chapters have both the Relief Society and elders quorum presidencies responsible for day-to-day missionary work and temple and family history work in the world. Also, an option to call a service coordinator and an activity coordinator in the elders quorum have been added, while the former Relief Society calling of “compassionate service leader” has been renamed “service coordinator” so that both organizations have callings with the same titles.
  • Chapter 9, Relief Society: Specific to this chapter, “additional Relief Society meetings” have been renamed “Relief Society activities,” while the stake president is to issue the call of the stake Relief Society president, not delegating the responsibility to a counselor.
  • Chapter 13, Sunday School: Organizational changes include the bishop determining whether there is a need to call counselors for the Sunday School president, the calling of a secretary being an option for large wards, and the removal of the position of Sunday School class president. The chapter allows the organizing of a Sunday School class for new members, returning members, those learning about the Church and others as directed by the bishop, with the curriculum being “Come, Follow Me.” Also, organizational naming conventions change “meetinghouse library” and “ward librarian” to “resource center” and “ward resource specialist,” while information that may not apply to some units — such as instructions about resource centers and young single adult classes — is presented as adaptations to the “core” Sunday School program.
  • Chapter 17, Teaching the Gospel: Responsibilities of various leaders are consolidated under the single heading “Leaders’ Responsibilities,” a new section called “Home-Centered Gospel Learning and Teaching” has been added for emphasis, and a new section about teacher council meetings replaces information about the course on teaching the gospel. Also, suggestions have been added that give Primary leaders flexibility in how and when their teachers attend teacher council meetings, including the options to hold such council meetings for Primary teachers before or after church meetings or on a day other than Sunday.
  • Chapters 13 and 17; Sunday School, Teaching the Gospel: Both chapters detail teacher council meetings that can be held for parents in helping them fulfill their responsibility to teach the gospel in the home.
A screenshot Gospel Library shows Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 are now obsolete.
A screenshot Gospel Library shows Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 are now obsolete. Credit: Screenshot Gospel Library

Chapter 38: Church Policies and Guidelines

For the second time this year, updates were made to Chapter 36: Church Policies and Guidelines. Several updates also include doctrinal explanations to help people understand why the Church takes its position on such issues. Additional details and information are available in the online handbook.

  • Unwed Parents Under Age 18: The added policy allows unwed young men who will become fathers to participate in their Aaronic Priesthood quorum or elders quorum and unwed young women who will become mothers to participate in Young Women or Relief Society, with these decisions left to the prayerful discretion of the individuals, their parents and their bishops. 
  • Preface to Policies on Moral Issues: The following has been added at the section’s beginning: “A few policies in this section are about matters that the Church ‘discourages.’ Church members usually do not experience membership restriction because of their decisions about these matters. However, all people are ultimately accountable to God for their decisions.”
  • Birth Control: This entry now includes information about surgical sterilization — with the “Surgical Sterilization” section from previous handbooks removed — but the policy is otherwise unchanged. The Church continues to discourage surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control, noting that because bearing children is the privilege of married couples who are able, husbands and wives are encouraged to “counsel together in unity and seek the confirmation of the Spirit” when considering permanent birth control procedures.
  • Donating or Selling Sperm or Eggs: The policy on sperm donation has been revised to include the donation of eggs. The Church discourages donating sperm or eggs but leaves decisions to the judgment and prayerful consideration of the potential donor. The Church also discourages selling sperm or eggs.
  • Fertility Treatments: This merges previous sections on artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, with the text noting that reproductive technologies such as these can help a husband and wife fulfill righteous desires to provide bodies for God’s spirit children. While the Church continues to discourage the use of such resources with the sperm from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife, it is a personal matter ultimately left to the judgment and prayerful consideration of a lawfully married man and woman.
  • The Occult: This entry says the occult includes — but is not limited to — Satan worship, fortune-telling, curses and healing practices that are imitations of priesthood power.
  • Sex Education: The revision encourages parents to have honest, clear and ongoing conversations with their children about righteous sexuality. It also counsels parents to be aware of and appropriately seek to influence sex education taught in their children’s schools.
  • Suicide: The entry encourages greater sensitivity in ministering to those considering suicide, many of whom are seeking relief from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain and who need love, help and support from family, Church leaders and qualified professionals. The section also notes that while it is not right for a person to take his or her own life, “only God is able to judge the person’s thoughts, actions and level of accountability.”
  • Surrogate Motherhood: Now included is a long-standing policy that children born to a surrogate mother can be sealed to parents in a temple only with First Presidency approval. Bishops are counseled to provide ecclesiastical support and to help members obtain immediate professional help as needed.
  • Medical Marijuana: The new entry says, consistent with previous statements, that the Church opposes the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. The policy also provides guidelines for when marijuana may be used for medical purposes.

Ten chapters with minor changes

  • Chapter 5, Stake Leadership: The role of stake presidencies in relationships with civic and community leaders in their area is clarified, as is the coordinating council meetings being chaired by an Area Seventy, who may invite stake Relief Society presidents and other stake officers to attend as needed.
  • Chapter 12, Primary: Following March’s significant rewrite to this chapter, minor changes include new sections on singing time and nursery, an expanded purpose for Primary — to help children “feel their Heavenly Father’s love and learn about His plan of happiness” — and clarifications that Primary activities, including day camps, do not include overnight stays.
  • Chapter 15, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion: A paragraph about class options was added to the chapter that was significantly rewritten and published in February.
  • Chapter 18, Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings: The chapter now notes that, when necessary, approval for some Church ordinances and blessings may be given by a counselor in a stake presidency, mission presidency, bishopric or branch presidency.
  • Chapters 24 and 26; Preparing and Recommending Missionaries, Temple Recommends: Both of these chapters now include clarifications that mission presidents can authorize counselors to interview prospective missionaries and release missionaries as needed.
  • Chapter 29, Meetings in the Church: A new section at the end of the chapter explains the purposes of coordinating council meetings and those attending the meetings.
  • Chapter 20, Callings in the Church: The Chart of Callings has been updated, reflecting the changes throughout the General Handbook.
  • Chapter 32, Repentance and Church Membership Councils: Two paragraphs clarify what a stake president or bishop is to do when unable to participate in a membership council due to unusual circumstances.
  • Chapter 35, Physical Facilities: Added the conditions under which leased buildings may be dedicated for worship.

CORRECTION: This article clarifies that in Chapter 9, the stake president issues the call of a stake Relief Society president. A previous version did not include the “stake” designation prior to the Relief Society president title.