In updates to the faith’s General Handbook released this week, Latter-day Saint leaders have spelled out stands on two hot contemporary issues — first, overzealous survivalists, and second, the dangers of affinity fraud.
It is hardly surprising that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be renowned for their skills at food storage during an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic. Maintaining healthy supplies is part of the church’s program for members and has been preached from the pulpit for years.
It is also predictable that many members would be watching for signs of the biblical apocalypse during these scary times. After all, the very name of the Utah-based faith proclaims that these are “latter days.”
Still, the updated handbook says, “church leaders have counseled against extreme or excessive preparation for possible catastrophic events.”
Such views “are sometimes called survivalism,” it says. “Efforts to prepare should be motivated by faith, not fear.”
The church encourages “self-reliance” and being “spiritually and physically prepared for life’s challenges.” However, members should not “go into debt to establish food storage,” the guidelines say, but rather “establish a home storage supply and a financial reserve over time.”
Speaking of finances, the handbook also weighs in on so-called affinity fraud.
Utah has long been dubbed the “fraud capital of the U.S.,” based on the per capita number of ponzi schemes and other white-collar scams.
“Financial crimes based on bonds of trust — known as affinity fraud — occur throughout the United States but are especially prevalent in Utah,” according to a 2017 article on the FBI’s website, “where [Latter-day Saints] often are victimized by savvy fraudsters who claim to be just like them.”
“These are greedy individuals who will stop at nothing,” John Huber, the former U.S. attorney for Utah, a lifelong resident of the state and a Latter-day Saint, said in the piece. “What’s so disconcerting is that these criminals approach us at church or through associations at our work or referrals from friends. They are silver-tongued devils — wolves in sheep’s clothing who will take our money and we’ll never see it again.”
Now the church is pointedly warning members to be wary of such schemes by adding a new handbook section on the crime.
“Affinity fraud occurs when a person exploits another’s trust or confidence to defraud him or her. This can happen when both people belong to the same group, such as the church,” reads the new section, which is available online, along with the entire handbook. “It can also happen by abusing a position of friendship or trust, such as a church calling or family relationship.”
This kind of fraud is usually done “for financial gain,” the handbook says. It “is a shameful betrayal of trust and confidence. Its perpetrators may be subject to criminal prosecution.”
Latter-day Saints who commit affinity fraud, the book says, “may also face membership restrictions or withdrawal.”
The handbook makes clear that “members may not state or imply that their business dealings are sponsored by, endorsed by, or represent the church or its leaders.”
The latest updates also outline the faith’s approach to global evangelizing.
“Missionaries serve only in countries where they are officially recognized and welcomed by local governments,” the handbook states. “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.”
A new section reiterates the church’s support for vaccinations.
“Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life,” the handbook says. “Members of the church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”
The book retains its previous language about missionary vaccinations: “Prospective missionaries who have not been vaccinated will likely be limited to assignments in their home country.”
While encouraging immunizations, the church recently indicated is not requiring its missionaries serving in Utah to be vaccinated against COVID-19, even as the state opened up appointments to all those over 16.
“Under the direction of mission leaders,” a church spokesperson said, “mission medical coordinators have been asked to monitor local availability of COVID-19 vaccines and will inform missionaries when they may be eligible to receive a vaccine.”
The handbook states that “ultimately, individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”
These updates are part of the faith’s process of revising the handbook, which lays out principles and practices for the 16.5 million-member church.
It was begun in February 2020, according to a news release, and is now almost 75% complete.
Earlier changes included new sections about combating prejudice and misinformation and revised entries on sex abuse, conversion therapy and stillborn babies.
“The text guides leaders around the world to better serve with Christlike care,” the release said. “It also helps them implement and adapt the church’s programs, policies and procedures to their circumstances.”