The new handbook for leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (first announced in January) is now available in English online and in the Gospel Library app. Nine of the 38 chapters have been completely rewritten, and one section of another chapter has been updated. See the summary of the changes below. Also see a list of frequently asked questions.
In the version released today, nearly 80% of the content has been transferred from the old handbooks and reordered in a new organizing structure. Why have only nine chapters been rewritten? With changes to several important chapters completed in 2019 (see, for example, here and here), Church leaders decided to expedite the production of a new consolidated handbook instead of updating old resources.
“Our original plan was to completely rewrite the handbook and then translate that. That gave us a delivery date of probably 2022,” said Elder Anthony D. Perkins, executive director of the Church’s Correlation Department, which oversees the creation of the handbook. “But as those first chapters came out, the First Presidency and [Quorum of the] Twelve felt that the updates were important enough to release as soon as possible.” See a letter from the First Presidency about the new handbook.
The Church of Jesus Christ believes in ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles.
“And that means, in a phrase, that the Church is true and living. It can change,” Elder Perkins said. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.”
Many Latter-day Saint women and men were unfamiliar with the Church’s previous handbooks — especially Handbook 1. Each of the updated chapters available today is principle-based and has broad application for all Church members.
“It is so important for members to understand — both men and women — that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency, who was closely involved in the creation of the new handbook. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”
The nine updated chapters (all 38 will be reworked by 2021) reflect a new tone and approach that has been under consideration for several years.
“If you look at the evolution of the handbook over the last hundred years, it’s been evolving from administrative procedures to a more ministerial voice,” Elder Perkins said. “What we mean by that is previous handbooks had been sort of designed for large units — let’s say Alpine, Utah — and we need a handbook that can be applied even in the smallest units.”
Another advantage of a primarily digital handbook is that it accommodates different learning styles.
“Some people learn by reading, others by watching,” Elder Perkins said. “And so the handbook will have embedded videos showing how to do something.”
Below is a summary of the handbook’s new content. Also see this list of frequently asked questions.
Summary of nine rewritten chapters
1: God’s Plan and Your Role in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation
This chapter is new and helps Latter-day Saints understand God’s plan of happiness, the work of salvation and exaltation (the organizing framework for the General Handbook) and the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
2: Supporting Individuals and Families in the Work of Salvation and Exaltation
Saints are taught the role of the family in God’s plan, the central role of the home in the work of salvation and exaltation, and the relationship between the home and the Church.
3: Priesthood Principles
Leaders and members learn about what priesthood is, where it comes from and how it works and blesses lives. This includes the truth that all Latter-day Saints, regardless of their gender or Church assignment, exercise delegated priesthood authority when they are given formal service opportunities in their congregations. “All Church members who keep their covenants — women, men and children — are blessed with God’s priesthood power in their homes to strengthen themselves and their families,” the chapter’s conclusion says.
4: Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ
Members are taught principles of Christlike leadership, including how to prepare spiritually, counsel together and build unity with others in one’s congregation and the importance of delegation.
15: Seminaries and Institutes of Religion
This chapter outlines the Church’s Seminary program (religious education for teenagers) and Institute program (religious instruction for Latter-day Saints ages 18–30). The text also points readers to CES.ChurchofJesusChrist.org for more information about Church primary and secondary schools, BYU–Pathway Worldwide and institutions of higher education.
18: Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings
This chapter includes resource links and instructional videos that show how to carry out many of the Church’s various priesthood rites. More videos will be added over time.
32: Repentance and Church Membership Councils
This chapter (formerly known as “Church Discipline”) has significant revisions. It guides leaders in a more sequential way through key decisions and actions necessary to help people repent of a serious sin. The chapter also focuses on how to help protect others from those who pose a physical or spiritual threat.
Some key terminology has changed. Disciplinary councils are now called “membership councils.” As before, these councils are an expression of love, hope and concern, designed to help Latter-day Saints through their repentance process. Also, instead of being “disfellowshipped,” members are given “formal membership restrictions.” And excommunication is now labeled a “withdrawal of membership.”
“The idea behind these terminology changes is to ensure that we understand that when we make a mistake in our life the Lord is always extending His arms of mercy,” said Sister Aburto.
36: Creating, Changing and Naming New Units
This chapter provides guidelines on the creation and adjustment of stakes, wards and branches.
37: Specialized Stakes, Wards and Branches
Here, leaders and members learn the parameters for creating stakes, wards and branches catered to specific groups. These include those who speak a specific language, are students, are single, live in a care facility or are in some other unique circumstance.
38.6: Church Policies and Guidelines
The Church’s policies and procedures on a variety of moral issues are outlined here. Some policies are new, some have been updated, and some may be updated in the future. These moral policies include abortion, abuse, artificial insemination, birth control, child pornography, incest, in vitro fertilization, same-sex marriages, sex education, sexual abuse, single expectant parents, sperm donation, suicide, surgical sterilization, surrogate motherhood, and a new entry on transgender individuals. In connection with this, content from the Mormon and Gay website has moved to a new portion of ChurchofJesusChrist.org, with a new URL. A new section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org for transgender individuals is also available.
“There are a number of moral policies that we’ve now put on paper of where the First Presidency and the [Quorum of the] Twelve stand,” Elder Perkins said. “One of those moral policies that is new is around persons who identify as transgender. The reason that policy has been added is we’ve had an increase in questions coming from bishops and stake presidents saying, ‘What can a transgender person do? What are the guidelines?’ The transgender policy states that everyone is welcome to attend our meetings and that we should create a warm, welcoming environment for all — including persons who identify as transgender. At the same time, the policy clarifies that some of things in the church are gender-specific.”
Church leaders will continue to revisit and update handbook policies and guidelines as needed.