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July 27, 2021

In handbook update, church adds policies on vaccinations, affinity fraud — among other changes

SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue to make progress on a long-term update to the faith’s handbook of church policies and have recently completed 75% of the update, the church announced Wednesday.

As part of the update to the handbook, the church rewrote four chapters and revised or added sections to seven other chapters. The update includes new sections on vaccinations, affinity fraud, “survivalism” and callings that can be held by young single adult church members.

The handbook update, which is overseen by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, features a new entry on vaccinations, which the church said is a re-emphasis of what the First Presidency has recommended since at least 1978.

“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.

“Ultimately, individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. If members have concerns, they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.”

In January church leaders also released a statement when senior leaders of the church who were eligible under the guidelines at the time were given the COVID-19 vaccine.

The church said it has “supported vaccinations for generations” and that a “prominent component” of its humanitarian outreach has been to provide vaccines through the world. “Vaccinations have helped curb or eliminate devastating communicable diseases, such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, smallpox and measles.”

Church leaders also encouraged “its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization” as the opportunities to get the vaccine became available, the church added at the time. “Individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”

In a new section on affinity fraud, or the fraudulent act of “using friendship or a position of trust to take financial advantage of someone else,” the handbook says church members should “be honest in their dealings and act with integrity” and that affinity fraud is “a shameful betrayal of trust and confidence.”

“Its perpetrators may be subject to criminal prosecution. Church members who commit affinity fraud may also face membership restrictions or withdrawal,” it reads in part. “Members may not state or imply that their business dealings are sponsored by, endorsed by, or represent the church or its leaders.”

The church, which preaches the need to be self-reliant and to maintain food storage in case of emergency or other need, also added a policy on what it calls “extreme preparation” or “survivalism.”

“Church leaders have counseled against extreme or excessive preparation for possible catastrophic events,” the handbook reads in part. “Such efforts are sometimes called survivalism. Efforts to prepare should be motivated by faith, not fear.

“Church leaders have counseled members not to go into debt to establish food storage,” it adds. “Instead, members should establish a home storage supply and a financial reserve over time.”

And in another update, the church expanded the callings, or areas of voluntary assignments within the church, available to young single adults. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said young single adults are “very needed in building the kingdom of God,” and added church policy “already allows for broad service by single adults — and it could be even broader.”

The section says young single adults may serve in callings such as a counselor in the bishopric, as a member of high councils, as president of the stake Relief Society and as presidents of other various organizations within the church.

“We want you to know that you are loved — and so very needed in building the kingdom of God,” Elder Cook said. “We feel today’s policy adjustments can make a big difference.”

Other changes or additions to the handbook include the following:

  • A new section relating to sharing the gospel in various communities. Church missionaries, it says, will “serve only in countries where they are officially recognized and welcomed by local governments.”
  • A rewritten chapter, called “The Bishopric.” This chapter summarizes the bishop’s responsibility within the church. It also talks about how bishops and branch presidents differ.
  • A rewritten chapter on “Sharing the Gospel and Strengthening New and Returning Members” that focuses on “loving others.” It details the responsibilities of the various organizations in the church to share the gospel.
  • A rewritten chapter on “Missionary Recommendations and Service,” which focuses on ways for individuals to prepare for missionary service, as well as the types of missionary service available.
  • A rewritten chapter on “Meetings in the Church.” The chapter provides a look at the various meetings the church holds, as well as the authorization for local leaders to livestream worship services, if needed.

The updates to the handbook are ongoing and have spanned several months of work. The church said the changes will “align the handbook’s organizing framework of the work of salvation and exaltation” and are simplified and reduced to make the handbook more adaptable to all its congregations around the world.

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