SALT LAKE CITY — Updates to policies about birth control and issues related to fertility treatments are among those published today in the handbook of instructions for leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church released significant updates to five more chapters of “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” continuing revisions first announced in January. Friday’s release also included minor updates to 10 other chapters.
The updates included revisions to the language of a number of church positions in the section titled “Policies on Moral Issues” and “Medical Health Policies.” The subjects ranged from reproduction to medical marijuana, suicide and the occult.
For example, the policy on sperm donation was revised to include the donation of eggs. The handbook update says the decision on donation is left to the judgment and prayerful consideration of the potential donor. The church, however, discourages the donation or selling of sperm or eggs. “The pattern of a husband and wife providing bodies for God’s spirit children is divinely appointed.”
Friday’s update also includes:
- Full new chapters governing three of the church’s major organizations, the Sunday School, Relief Society and Elders’ Quorum, and another new chapter called “Teaching the Gospel.” The chapters on the Elders’ Quorum and Relief Society are now organized around the work of salvation and exaltation, defined as “living the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for those in need, inviting all to receive the gospel and uniting families for eternity.”
- A notable change that stake presidents are to call new stake Relief Society presidents and no longer delegate that responsibility to a counselor.
- Noteworthy changes to some terminology and roles. For example, the chapter on Sunday School does away with the role of class president and changes two familiar church terms. The meetinghouse library and ward librarian will now be known as the resource center and ward resource specialist.
Church leaders announced in January that they were streamlining the faith’s two leadership handbooks into one, reducing the total content by 20% and making the entirety of it available to the public. The new version is digital-only, more accessible and more flexible.
Church leaders and staff revised nine of the previous handbooks’ 38 chapters in its initial release in February. They said the other 29 chapters would be updated in occasional releases and be complete by the end of 2021. Now, 16 of the 38 chapters are complete.
Friday’s updates included a new preface to section six of Chapter 38, “Policies on Moral Issues.”
“A few policies in this section are about matters that the church ‘discourages,’” the new preface states. “Church members usually do not experience membership restrictions because of their decisions about these matters. However, all people are ultimately accountable to God for their decisions.”
Several updates in that section were related to reproduction. While the handbook noted that reproductive technology can help a married woman and man have children and decisions ultimately are left to their prayerful judgment, the church:
- Continues to discourages surgical sterilization, such as vasectomies and tubal ligations, as an elective form of birth control, with the handbook deleting a section about the issue and moving the policy into the birth control section.
- Continues to discourages artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization using sperm from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife. The handbook update merged the sections about the two procedures.
- Includes a section on sex education, encouraging parents to have honest, clear and ongoing conversations with their children about righteous sexuality and to be aware of and appropriately influence sex education taught in schools. The August 2020 edition of the “Ensign,” the church’s official monthly magazine, includes multiple articles on sex education.
- Requires First Presidency approval for a child born to a surrogate mother to be sealed to parents in a temple, a long-standing policy not previously included in the handbook.
The updated entry on the occult says occult practices include Satan worship, fortune-telling, curses and healing practices that are imitations of priesthood power.
The entry on suicide encourages greater sensitivity as leaders minister to those considering suicide. It notes that many are seeking relief from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain and need love, help and support from family, church leaders and qualified professionals.
The entry also notes that while the church’s position is that 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.”
The “Medical and Health Policies” section included a new entry about medical marijuana. The policy provides guidelines for when marijuana may be used for medical purposes and restates the church’s opposition to nonmedical use of marijuana.
The handbook provides instructions to leaders in the church’s 3,437 stakes and 30,940 congregations throughout the world. The updates are intended “to help leaders and members care for one another with love in a growing, worldwide church,” leaders send in a February email to church members.
Minor updates of note included new sections on singing time and nursery in Chapter 12, which outlines the Primary organization. Friday’s release also noted that stake presidents are the primary church spokesman to the news media for stake matters and have the primary responsibility for the church’s good standing in their communities.
The new streamlined leadership handbook replaced Handbook 1 for stake presidents and bishops, which had not been publicly available, and Handbook 2 for all other leadership positions.
The handbook is available at ChurchofJesusChrist.org and on the church’s Gospel Library app. The email said the purpose for the new handbook was “to help leaders and members care for one another with love in a growing, worldwide church.”