General Handbook includes 6 newly rewritten chapters, new policy on prejudice and other updates

Under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, six newly rewritten chapters of the Church’s General Handbook were released on Friday, Dec. 18. Sections of 11 other chapters have been added or revised. 

General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” now includes new or updated policies on prejudice, medical marijuana and other medical care, as well as administrative updates to chapters on stake leadership, ministering, providing for temporal needs and temple work. 

As “a living, breathing, changeable document,” the digital-only General Handbook is framed around the work of salvation and exaltation and is updated frequently to help Latter-day Saints worldwide implement and adapt the Church’s programs, policies and procedures, said Elder Anthony D. Perkins, a General Authority Seventy and Executive Director of the Church’s Correlation Department.

“The purpose of the General Handbook is to provide guidance on Church administration to millions of leaders and members throughout the world. It is intended to foster revelation, so leaders and members can receive direction for their own personal circumstances,” Elder Perkins said. 

“The General Handbook has been made available to anyone who wants to be able to read it. Part of this is to be fully transparent in what the Church does, but also we think it’s very helpful for our members to understand how the Church is administered.”

Policy updates

Prejudice: The Church’s new policy on prejudice (see 38.6.14) reflects recent teachings from President Russell M. Nelson and President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency 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 states. “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.”

Medical marijuana: First published in July 2020, the medical marijuana section (see 38.7.9) 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 continues to oppose the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Medical and health care: An updated section on medical and health care (see 38.7.8) notes that “seeking competent medical help, exercising faith, and receiving priesthood blessings work together for healing, according to the will of the Lord.” 

This section also states that 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.”

Other policies: New policies have also been added on seeking information from reliable sources (see 38.8.45) and dress and appearance (see 38.8.17). Substantial updates have also been made to the policies about professional counseling and therapy (see 31.2.6) and sexual abuse, rape and other forms of sexual assault (see 38.6.18). 

Smaller updates have been made to policies concerning members with disabilities, including information on how leaders, parents and individuals counsel about when individuals with intellectual disabilities receive sacred ordinances (see 38.2.1.8; 38.8.32).

Administrative updates

Chapter 5: “Stake Leadershipincludes 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.

One significant change is that the stake council can now meet monthly, instead of two to four times a year. “Inviting the stake council to meet more often gives all stake presidents more of a voice. We’d love to hear more from the stake Young Women, Primary and Relief Society presidents and having these meetings more often will make that happen,” said Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham.

The Melchizedek Priesthood Committee is now called the Stake Adult Leadership Committee. Participants include the stake presidency, the stake relief society presidency and assigned high councilors. The Aaronic Priesthood-Young Women Committee is now called the Stake Youth Leadership Committee. A counselor in the stake presidency, the stake Young Women presidency and stake Young Men presidency will attend, along with selected youth. Both committees meet as needed to support the work of salvation and exaltation in the wards. 

“These recent changes in the handbook emphasize the importance of men and women serving in the Church together to accomplish this important work of salvation,” added Elder Vern P. Stanfill, a General Authority Seventy serving as an assistant executive director in the Priesthood and Family Department. 

Chapter 21: “Ministering emphasizes doctrine and scriptures related to how members care for others.

Chapter 22: “Providing for Temporal Needs and Building Self-Reliance includes updated guidelines on administering Church welfare and offers an expanded list of available resources.

Bishop L. Todd Budge, newly called second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said caring for those in need has always been a central element in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “What you’ll find in this new handbook version is that it’s more about principles, rather than practices, and more about ministering, rather than administering a program. It’s really about helping us as individuals learn how to reach out and minister to those in need.”

Chapter 25: “Temple and Family History Work in the Ward and Stake includes updated information on organizing temple and family history work in the ward and stake; family history resources; and calling temple workers.

Chapter 26: “Temple Recommends includes updated information on issuing temple recommends. 

Chapter 27: “Temple Ordinances for the Living includes updated information for members receiving their own endowment or preparing to be sealed or married in the temple.

Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and Executive Director of the Temple Department, said many temple-related updates are designed to help members understand the importance of covenants. 

For example, members have often struggled to know how much detail they can say about the ordinances in the temple. “Now, for the first time, included in a handbook are the actual covenants that members enter into in the temple. And they receive guidance on what they can say and what they cannot say,” Elder Duncan said. 

Ongoing revisions

Since the First Presidency announced on Jan. 30 that a new administrative handbook for all Church leaders and members would replace Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 and be available to the public, nearly 60 percent of the handbook has been reworked. The remainder of the handbook will be revised in 2021. 

The Dec. 18 updates are now available in English on the Church’s website and in the Gospel Library app. Other languages will follow in coming months.