The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled new wording Friday for the faithful on a host of social issues — from sexual abuse to conversion therapy, cremation to stillborn babies, counseling to HIV infection.
The Utah-based faith also added two significant sections to its “General Handbook” — one decrying “prejudice,” building on recent speeches against it by church leaders, and the other on “seeking information from reliable sources.”
The part on prejudice begins with the declaration that all “people are children of God” and quotes the Book of Mormon, the faith’s founding scripture, which says, “All are alike,” unto the Almighty.
Prejudice is “not consistent with the revealed word of God,” the passage states. “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.”
It then repeats the call that church President Russell M. Nelson issued at October’s General Conference “to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group or individual” and “to lead out in promoting respect for all.”
The handbook urges Latter-day Saints to reject prejudice “of any kind. This includes prejudice based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief or nonbelief, and sexual orientation.”
The section on misinformation warns members about sources that “are unreliable and do not edify,” or even “seek to promote anger, contention, fear, or baseless conspiracy theories.”
It advises members to stick with “only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information,” and avoid those that are “speculative or founded on rumor.”
Throughout the handbook, references to “birth sex” were changed to “biological sex at birth.”
This reflects statements about transgender members made by Dallin H. Oak, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, last year at the faith’s fall General Conference.
All these changes — and more — were all spelled out in revised or new entries in the church’s online handbook, which details the faith’s mission and goals as well as its policies, practices and procedures.
This digital handbook, published in February for all to see, replaces two previous volumes, Handbook I (for stake, or regional, presidents and bishops) and Handbook II (for all other members). The latest updates included six chapters that were rewritten and sections of 11 others that were added or revised, according to a news release. Since the beginning of the year, nearly 60% of the handbook has been reworked. The remainder will be completed in 2021.
Here are some of latest changes:
Burial and cremation
• The entry drops the sentence that “the church does not normally encourage cremation.” Instead, it states that the “family of the deceased person decides.” It notes that some countries require cremation and that, in other cases, “burial is not practical or affordable for the family.”
The guideline states that the body of a deceased member who has taken part in temple rites “should be dressed in ceremonial temple clothing when it is buried or cremated.”
HIV infection and AIDS
• It eliminates lengthy paragraphs about “innocent victims” and those who may have gotten the disease by “transgressing God’s laws” and simply states that members with HIV or AIDS “should be welcomed at church meetings and activities,” noting that they are not “a health risk to others.”
Medical and health care
• This entry adds that medical care works together with faith and a “priesthood blessing” for healing. It further warns against practices like “energy healing,” or “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.”
Stillborn and miscarried children
• The handbook changes “temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children” to stating that such rites are “not necessary for children who die before birth.”
The revised section adds that parents may record information about stillborn and miscarried children in FamilySearch, the faith’s renowned genealogical arm.
The new version eliminates the statement: “It is a fact that the child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.”
Professional counseling and therapy
This section is greatly expanded to underscore the “benefit[s] from appropriate” professional counseling, which “can help members understand and respond to life’s challenges in healthy ways.” Seeking counseling “is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of humility and strength.”
The new wording says specifically that the church “opposes any therapy, including conversion or reparative therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity, that subjects a person to abusive practices.”
This parallels the faith’s recent support of a Utah ban on conversion therapy for minors, and the church says its therapists do not practice it.
• The entry makes a significant addition, telling members that if they become aware of abuse, they are to not only “counsel” with the bishop but also “report it to civil authorities.”
It states that stake presidents and bishops should “provide spiritual counseling and support” to victims, especially to dispel feelings of “shame or guilt.”
The entry on sexual abuse says that it can occur with a spouse or in “a dating relationship,” or anytime a person “does not or cannot give legal consent.”
Dress and appearance
• A new section encourages members to “show respect for their bodies” when making choices about clothing and appearance. That varies according to country and customs. Overall, the entry says, Latter-day Saints should wear their “best available Sunday clothing to show respect for the sacrament ordinance,” and to the temple. Still, the handbook cautions against judging others for their “dress and appearance.”