In a news release on July 31, 2020, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published updates to 15 chapters in its General Handbook. Eleven chapters have been updated and four new chapters have been created.
To date, 16 of the book’s 38 chapters have been completely reworked, and minor changes have been made to several other chapters as part of an ongoing revision under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The organizing framework for the handbook is the work of salvation and exaltation. The chapters are designed to help leaders around the world serve with Christlike care when implementing and adapting the Church’s various programs, policies and procedures to their circumstances.
Below are the largest changes to the handbook in this update:
- New chapters for the Elders Quorum, Relief Society, Sunday School, and Teaching the Gospel have been created.
- Stake Relief Society presidents and other stake officers may be invited to coordinating councils by Area Seventy chairs.
- The stake president calls the Relief Society president and does not delegate this responsibility to a counselor.
- 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.
- Clarifies that mission presidents can authorize their counselors to interview prospective missionaries and release missionaries as needed.
- A policy has been added on unwed parents under age 18. Unwed young men who will become fathers may participate in their Aaronic Priesthood quorum or elders quorum. Unwed young women who will become mothers may participate in Young Women or Relief Society. These decisions are left to the prayerful discretion of the young man or young woman, their parents, and their bishop.
- A new section on fertility treatments merges previous sections on artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. The text notes that reproductive technologies such as these can help a husband and wife fulfill their righteous desire to provide bodies for God’s spirit children. The Church continues to discourage the use of such technologies with the sperm from anyone but the husband or an egg from anyone but the wife. However, this is a personal matter that is ultimately left to the judgment and prayerful consideration of a lawfully married man and woman.
- The section on the occult says this includes (but is not limited to) Satan worship, fortune-telling, curses and healing practices that are imitations of priesthood power.
- The section on sex education encourages parents to have honest, clear and ongoing conversations with their children about righteous sexuality. The section also counsels parents to be aware of and appropriately seek to influence sex education taught in their children’s schools.
- The section on suicide encourages greater sensitivity in ministering to those who are considering suicide. Many who have thought about suicide are seeking relief from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain. They need love, help, and support from family, Church leaders, and qualified professionals. Bishops are counseled to provide ecclesiastical support and to help members obtain immediate professional help as needed. The text 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.”
- A new section about medical marijuana 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.