SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released “significant updates” to the general handbook on Friday, including changes to the birth control, suicide, and sex education entries in the “Church Policies and Guidelines” section.
In all, 15 of the book’s 38 chapters were updated Friday, including significant changes to five chapters: The “Elders Quorum,” “Relief Society," “Teaching the Gospel,” “Sunday School” and “Church Policies and Guidelines.”
“The organizing framework for the handbook is the work of salvation and exaltation,” church officials wrote in a news release. “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.”
Among the new changes is the addition of a preface to the "Policies on Moral Issues" subsection in the book's 38th chapter: “Church Policies and Guidelines."
“A few policies in this section are about matters that the Church ‘discourages.’ Church members usually do not experience membership restrictions because of their decisions about these matters. However, all people are ultimately accountable to God for their decisions.”
Covered in the chapter are topics such as abortion, abuse, birth control and chastity/fidelity.
Friday’s updates also contain a new entry discussing the church’s stance on marijuana, saying it opposes recreational use of the drug but supports medical use under certain conditions.
The church also maintained its previous position on elective surgical sterilization — vasectomies and tubal ligations — saying the practice is discouraged, however, this paragraph was added into the birth control section. Notably, the church emphasized "this decision is a personal matter that is ultimately left to the judgment and prayerful consideration of the husband and wife. Couples should counsel together in unity and seek the confirmation of the Spirit in making this decision."
A section on what church officials called a "long-standing policy" about surrogate motherhood was also added into the handbook, requiring First Presidency approval in order for a child born to a surrogate mother to be sealed to parents in a temple. The policy was previously not included in past handbooks.
Changes made to the “Relief Society” and “Elders Quorum” chapters included reducing the sections’ word count by nearly half and organizing them “around the work of salvation and exaltation.”
Similarly, the word count for the “Sunday School” and “Teaching the Gospel” chapters were also “significantly reduced,” church officials said.
Additionally in the “Sunday School” section, the class president position was removed.
New paragraphs were also added to the “Repentance and Church Membership Councils” chapter that clarifies what stake presidents and bishops should do when unable to participate in a membership council “due to unusual circumstances."
A new policy was also added on underaged and unmarried parents, saying they are allowed to participate in Aaronic Priesthood or elders quorum and Young Women or Relief Society, respectively.
“These decisions are left to the prayerful discretion of the young man or young woman, their parents, and their bishop,” church officials said.
The church's section on suicide now "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," a church news release reads. "They need love, help, and support from family, Church leaders, and qualified professionals." The handbook's updated section also notes that while it is not right for a person to take their own life, “only God is able to judge the person’s thoughts, actions and level of accountability" and adds that "those who have lost a loved one to suicide can find hope and healing in Jesus Christ and His Atonement."
The changes come as part of several recent updates to the church’s new handbook including clarification on transgender members after the book's release in February and updates about youth and primary programs in March.
In January, church leaders announced the creation of its new handbook titled the “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” which was digitally released on Feb. 19.
As of Friday, the changes were available online in English and translations into other languages were expected to be made available soon, officials said.