The latest update in the project to streamline the handbook of policies and instructions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reemphasizes the First Presidency’s long-standing support for vaccinations.
“Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life,” the handbook says in a new section added Wednesday to the General Handbook. “Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”
The handbook update also outlines new callings available to young single adults in YSA congregations and adds both a new section on affinity fraud and a new policy against extreme preparation and survivalism.
The handbook statement on vaccinations is not a new policy. It reemphasizes consistent First Presidency direction since at least 1978, according to a news release.
The current First Presidency has modeled its position in recent weeks. The three members of the church’s leading body received COVID-19 vaccine shots on Jan. 19.
“We have prayed often for this literal godsend,” President Russell M. Nelson said in a message published that day on his Facebook and Instagram accounts after getting his shot at the Salt Lake County Health Department.
The new section also states that prospective missionaries who are not vaccinated will likely serve assignments in their home country.
“Ultimately,” the new section in the Handbook says, “individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. If members have concerns, they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.”
The church recently gave $20 million through Latter-day Saint Charities to support COVAX, a global campaign to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines to people in low- and middle-income countries. Latter-day Saint Charities has supported vaccination campaigns for decades that have eliminated deadly diseases in countries around the world.
Latter-day Saint Charities was a partner in the vaccination project that eliminated polio in Africa last year, when the World Health Organization officially declared that continent free of the wild poliovirus. It is a partner in vaccinating to eradicate the virus in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the last two polio-endemic countries in the world.
Wednesday’s handbook update includes four rewritten chapters and seven other chapters with added or revised sections. Key adjustments include:
- The added section on affinity fraud says leveraging friendship or a position of trust to take financial advantage of someone else 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.”
- The new policy on extreme survivalism 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.”
- Expanded callings for young single adult and single adult congregations are designed to eliminate perceptions that church service is limited for those who are not married.
Single adult men under 30 now may serve in YSA wards and stakes as counselors in stake presidencies as well as bishoprics, on high councils and as stake Sunday School presidents and counselors. Single adult women in YSA wards and stakes can serve as Stake Relief Society presidents and counselors.
“In recent months, our minds have been drawn with particular focus to Latter-day Saints who are single adults,” Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a news release. “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.”
- Another new section addresses the ongoing need to respect local restrictions on missionary work. 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.”
The church announced in January 2020 that it was combining what had been Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 into a single, streamlined, universally accessible, flexible, online General Handbook with 38 chapters. The revisions are being made under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The project is being done in chunks. Tuesday’s was the fifth section of updates released in the past 14 months. The project is now 75% complete:
- The first release in February 2020 included nine reworked chapters that reflected the church’s recent emphasis on ministering and home-centered gospel living and teaching. It also defined transgender policies for the first time and changed the name of disciplinary councils to membership councils and updated their procedures
- A second update in March 2020 completed an additional three chapters focused on Aaronic Priesthood quorums and the Young Women and Primary organizations.
- The third update in July brought updates to policies about medical marijuana, birth control and issues related to fertility treatments and completed four more chapters.
- The fourth update in December codified recent statements against prejudice made by President Nelson and his first counselor in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks.
The handbook, including Wednesday’s update, is available to the public in English both online and in the church’s Gospel Library app. It will be available in other languages in coming months.
The overall handbook project is expected to be completed in English by the end of 2021.
Newly rewritten chapters released Wednesday are:
Chapter 6: The Bishopric. This chapter was previously called Ward Leadership. The name is changed to better reflect the content. It summarizes the bishop’s responsibilities for the work of salvation and exaltation. It also explains differences between bishops and branch presidents. It includes information about the ward executive secretary. Chapter 23: Sharing the Gospel and Strengthening New and Returning Members. This chapter focuses on loving others and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It emphasizes the responsibilities of elders quorum presidencies, Relief Society presidencies, and others for sharing the gospel and strengthening new and returning members. It also includes updated information about the callings of ward mission leader and ward missionary. Chapter 24: Missionary Recommendations and Service. This chapter includes updated guidelines on preparing and qualifying for missionary service. It also clarifies the different types of missionary service, updates policies on maximum age limits for young sister missionaries, and updates policies on setting apart senior service missionaries. Chapter 29: Meetings in the Church. This chapter includes brief overviews about each kind of meeting the Church holds. It also explains that bishops and stake presidents may authorize the streaming of meetings and holding virtual meetings when appropriate.
The handbook also provides updates about members with disabilities with information on performing temple work, organizing special classes or congregations and calling congregational disability specialists.