Clean up your act online, church tells Latter-day Saints

New handbook additions condemn any “threatening, bullying, degrading, violent, or otherwise abusive language or images” posted by members.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The church's General Handbook has strengthened its language about online posts by members.

Memo to Latter-day Saint social media commenters: Your church has added strong wording to its General Handbook, condemning “threatening, bullying, degrading, violent, or otherwise abusive language or images online.”

No groups or individuals are specifically named, but there is no exception for those claiming to defend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including users associated with @DezNat (or Deseret Nation), who frequently employ harsh rhetoric and drawings of knives and guns to attack church critics or Latter-day Saint progressives.

If online threats “of illegal acts occur,” the new section says, “law enforcement should be contacted immediately.”

Further, members should avoid “all statements of prejudice toward others,” the new wording states. It links to the handbook’s section on prejudice, which says, “This includes prejudice based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief or nonbelief, and sexual orientation.”

Latter-day Saints should share uplifting content, the updated handbook says, and “strive to be Christlike to others at all times, including online, and reflect a sincere respect for all of God’s children.”

Adam Ebberts, who has used and defended the #DezNat hashtag, acknowledged Wednesday on Twitter that the handbook language “is probably a #DezNat inspired policy.”

It doesn’t matter, he went on, “if you think this is a justified critique or not, it’s a [church] policy that we are being asked to comply with.”

Ebberts further tweeted that “there are definitely biases behind it, but there’s also no direct call to knock it off. I feel like we are being warned about the boundaries to the limits we push.”

Calvin Burke, an openly gay student at church-owned Brigham Young University who has been insulted and threatened by some who deploy the #DezNat hashtag, welcomed the addition to the handbook.

“I’m extremely grateful that the church is taking seriously the concerns and experiences of its marginalized members, some of whom have been harassed by these people for years, both online and in person,” Burke said. “I hope this can also indicate a change in the way we Latter-day Saints speak about marginalized communities over the pulpit, and in the way we treat those who are vulnerable at BYU.”

These latest changes to the handbook were announced Wednesday in a news release.

Other changes included:

• Removal of the policy that required a mission president’s approval before baptizing a person “who violated the law of chastity with someone of the same sex.”

Through the years, members have “seen progress and retrenchment on these issues,” tweeted Jacob Newman, an LGBTQ former member, “but this change feels like progress to me, albeit a small scrap to LGBT Mormons.”

• Additional statements about what to do when a member embezzles church funds or steals church property.

• The need for stake (regional) presidents to counsel together if a couple commits a “serious sin” together but live in different wards, or congregations, or stakes to decide whether to impose membership restrictions.

• The need for some people who have broken civil or criminal laws to follow the law and report such matters “when required.”

• An openness to more “culturally diverse music” in church meetings and allowance to use instruments other than a piano or organ.

“Sacred music that is written or sung in culturally diverse musical styles may help unify congregations,” the text says. “Music coordinators and priesthood leaders may include a variety of appropriate musical styles that appeal to members of various backgrounds.”

The church is in the process of producing a new hymnbook.

With these updates, the release notes, the handbook revisions that began in February 2020 are complete.

“We have seen the hand of the Lord in this process,” Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the general presidency of the women’s Relief Society, said in the release. “[God] has actually helped us word by word, line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. And we have just been witnesses of how he takes us by the hand when we look for that revelation.”

Aburto served on the committee of general authorities and officers that met weekly to review every line of the new handbook, which is available on the church’s website.