Keep politics out of church meetings, updated handbook tells Latter-day Saints

Utah-based faith says faithful members can belong to “a variety of political parties.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The sun rises on an empty plaza outside the Conference Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City in April 2021. The church has updated its General Handbook.

In the aftermath of a bitter U.S. presidential election that divided even its most devout believers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has added wording on political activity to its General Handbook, urging members not to discuss politics at church and not to “judge one another in political matters.”

Political “choices and affiliations should not be the subject of any teachings or advocating in church settings,” it says in the handbook’s Section 38.8.30. “Leaders ensure that church meetings and activities focus on the Savior and his gospel.”

Although most of its U.S. members lean Republican, the Utah-based faith remains neutral on partisan political matters and says “faithful Latter-day Saints can belong to a variety of political parties and vote for a variety of candidates. All should feel welcome in church settings.”

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Occasionally, the church weighs in on a political issue “when moral issues or the church’s practices are involved,” the guidelines state, and may “engage in political discourse to represent its views.”

Even in those cases, the church “does not ask elected officials to vote a certain way or to take a certain position,” the new wording says. “Members who are elected officials make their own decisions. These officials might not agree with one another or with a publicly stated church position. They do not speak for the church.”

The faith does employ lobbyists, however, to advance its views in the corridors of power, including on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

Many of the handbook changes echo what Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, said in a speech at the faith’s April General Conference.

“We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate,” Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, said. “...There are many political issues, and no party, platform or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The newly updated General Handbook is available online.

The handbook also added a new entry on refugees. Section 38.8.35 says that Latter-day Saints, “as part of their responsibility to care for those in need . . . offer their time, talents, and friendship to welcome refugees as members of their communities.”

The church long has supported refugees, including a relief project organized in 2016 called “I Was a Stranger.”

The handbook entry directs readers to ChurchofJesusChrist.org/refugees. A separate section titled “Immigration” encourages showing the same welcoming attitude to immigrants.

The handbook’s other latest changes cover internal church policies on leadership, structure, ward councils and activities committees.

In February 2020, the church introduced its new “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” — available online for all to read. It spells out the faith’s mission and goals as well as its policies, practices and procedures.

Updates and revisions followed. They included language changes used to describe church actions to help members repent of “serious sins.” Excommunication and disfellowshipment were out, replaced by “withdrawal of church membership” and “formal membership restrictions.”

In December, the church unveiled new wording about social issues from sexual abuse to conversion therapy, cremation to stillborn babies, counseling to HIV infection. An April update included warnings about survivalism and affinity fraud.

The entire handbook is expected to be updated in English, according to a news release, “by the end of the year.”