1260-1263: Major Changes to the LDS General Handbook of Instructions – 2020 Edition
February 19, 2020
The new LDS Church General Handbook of Instructions is now available. Join us as we first provide a general overview of the Handbook changes in Part 1, and then welcome an all-star panel of Natasha Helfer Parker, Gina Colvin, Anthony D. Miller, Kyle Ashworth, Samantha Taylor, and Jana Johnson Spangler for Parts 2-4. Initial analysis of the changes may be found below our audio/video links.
Part 1 – John gives a general overview of the Handbook changes:
Part 2 – The panel provides commentary on changes to church discipline:
Part 3 – The panel provides commentary on changes to attitudes and policies regarding LGBQ believers:
Part 4 – The panel provides commentary on changes to attitudes and policies regarding transgender believers:
More of the General Handbook is publicly available than ever before. Replaces Handbooks I and II (For the most part? Some things till hidden?)
Apostasy/Church Discipline Issues
Disciplinary councils have been renamed to “Membership Councils.”
The Mormon church has officially eliminated the punishments of “excommunication” and “disfellowshipped.” The new term for excommunication is “Withdrawal of church membership.” The new term for disfellowshipped is “Formal membership restrictions.”
Many disciplinary (Membership) councils are now being pushed to bishops (priesthood-holding males included). Bishops must get approval from stake presidents to hold a disciplinary (Membership) council.
Stake high councilmen are no longer required at stake-level disciplinary (Membership) councils, and are now optional.
Apostasy is no longer included in the list of behaviors requiring a disciplinary (Membership) council. But it is still an act that can warrant a disciplinary (Membership) council. Huh?
New additions to criteria of apostasy:
“Showing a pattern of intentionally working to weaken the faith and activity of Church members.”
Formally joining another church and promoting its teachings (Total inactivity in the Church or attending another church does not by itself constitute apostasy. However, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, withdrawing his or her membership may be necessary.)
Behaviors REQUIRING a disciplinary (Membership) council: Murder, Rape, Sexual assault conviction, Child or youth abuse, Violent predatory behavior, Incest, Child pornography, Plural marriage, Sexual predatory behavior, Financial predatory behavior, such as fraud and similar activities, Serious sin while holding a prominent Church position, Any felony conviction
Behaviors where disciplinary (Membership) councils are optional (“May be necessary”): Attempted murder, Sexual abuse, including assault and harassment, Abuse of a spouse or another adult, Adultery, fornication, same-sex relations, cohabitation, civil unions and partnerships, same-sex marriage, Intensive or compulsive use of pornography that has caused significant harm to a member’s marriage or family, robbery, burglary, theft, or embezzlement, Perjury, Serious sin while holding a position of authority or trust in the Church or the community, Serious sin that is widely known, Abortion, Pattern of serious sins, Deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, including nonpayment of child support and alimony, Sale of illegal drugs, Other serious criminal acts.
Financial fraud seems to be elevated as something that is punishable. Finally!
Church is more comfortable using “same-sex attraction” label, vs. “same-gender attraction.” SSA still problematic.
Same-sex sexual activity seems to now be placed at the same level as extramarital heterosexual sexual activity. Both are frowned upon, but disciplinary (Membership) councils are now optional for both. Same-sex sexual activity seems to no longer be classified as more “perverted” or “abominable” than straight, unmarried sex.
Same-sex marriage is no longer listed as an act of apostasy, and is also no longer listed as a behavior requiring a disciplinary (Membership) council. Instead, councils are “optional,” which leaves legal same-sex married couples vulnerable to leadership roulette.
Same-sex marriage is still not approved of.
I cannot find any language regarding the denial of baptism from children of same-sex-married parents.
Blessings and baptisms of children require only one custodial parent to give permission.
I also cannot find any of the past “denunciation” language regarding children of same-sex married couples. This entire policy/doctrine may have totally disappeared.
As long as an LGBTQ member is “striving” to live the law of chastity, they are allowed to hold a calling.
BYU removed LGBTQ language about “homosexual behavior” from Honor Code on the same day.
The word “Transgender” was used for the first time.
Regarding gender and transgender individuals, what’s most important to the church is that one’s gender always remains consistent with one’s biological sex at birth. This is the church’s gender-based “line in the sand,” and that is what must remained fixed for a transgender Mormon to remain in good standing.
The church is OK with a member identifying as transgender. Transgender individuals may be baptized, confirmed, take sacrament, etc.
The church has provided a way for a transgender member to update their preferred name and/or pronouns in the membership record system.
Transgender individuals are discouraged from doing any medical or surgical operations, or from engaging in “social transitions” (changing their gender identity, name, pronouns, dress/grooming styles) as a part of their transition. If they do, “membership restrictions” will be applied for the duration of their transition. (Does this mean that once the transition is completed, they return to full standing?)
Transgender members who have undergone transgender-related surgery are forbidden from temple service or the exercising of priesthood.
Membership restrictions for gender-transitioning individuals (e.g., in the process of changing name, pronouns, appearance, surgery) include receiving/exercising the priesthood, receiving/using a temple recommend, and receiving some church callings.
Transgender individuals considering transgender-related surgery are not allowed to be baptized. Transgender individuals who have undergone such surgery can only be baptized with First Presidency approval, and will be banned from priesthood participation or temple attendance as members.
“For those born with “ambiguous genitalia” or “intersex,” parents or others, with the cooperation of medical professionals, will have to determine their child’s sex. Questions about “membership records, priesthood ordination, and temple ordinances” for those members should be directed to the First Presidency.”
Note at the end of this section: “Some content in this section may undergo further revision.”
Bishops and stake presidents are still not encouraged to immediately notify the police when they are informed about sexual abuse of a child. Instead they are still encouraged to only call the Kirton and McConkie hotline.
Women and the Patriarchy
Young Mormon men are encouraged to serve missions. Young Mormon women, “when they desire,” “may be recommend to serve missions.”
The church softened its stance on surrogacy. Church still discourages it, but sealing surrogate child to parents no longer requires First Presidency approval. (Reiss: “Sternly worded prohibition that is slowly moderated over time. Will likely be moderated over time, like contraception)
The Mormon church still TOTALLY and OFFICIALLY believes in eternal polygamy.
“All Latter-day Saints, regardless of gender or church assignment, exercise delegated priesthood authority when they are given formal service opportunities in their congregations. “All church members who keep their covenants — women, men, and children — are blessed with God’s priesthood power in their homes to strengthen themselves and their families.” Only men and male youths, however, can be ordained to priesthood offices.
“The church “condemns” female genital mutilation, a not uncommon practice in some parts of the world where the faith operates. The handbook notes that “additional policy direction” will be coming on this issue.”
Word of Wisdom section provides a link to D&C 89 for individual interpretation, and the only clarifications it provides are “no coffee and tea,” “no illegal drugs,” and no “harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.” This seems to clear the way for medical legal recreational marijuana to be ok. It also seems to allow members to decide for themselves if wine and beer are acceptable (since they are allowed in D&C 89).
“Ties and white shirts are no longer mentioned as being “recommended” for young male deacons passing the sacrament; now they should just be “well groomed and clean.” The notion that members should “partake” of the bread and water “with their right hand when possible” was added.”
Any display of romantic behavior and/or discussing one’s sexual orientation are discouraged during church services.
“The “four aspects of God’s work” are detailed as “living the gospel of Jesus Christ; caring for those in need; inviting all to receive the gospel; and uniting families for eternity.”
Overall Reflections and Questions
Do Mormons who have been excommunicated and/or disfellowshipped get clarifications or apologies?
What’s the difference between excommunication and “withdrawal of church membership?”
As someone who as been excommunicated, I actually think the change in wording from excommunicated/disfellowshipped to “membership withdrawn” is an improvement.
The list of mandatory vs. optional reasons for a disciplinary (membership) council are pretty much along the lines of: Council required if they break the law, Council option if they don’t break the law
Why in the HE%& are the following behaviors OPTIONAL for a disciplinary (Membership) council?: Attempted murder, Sexual abuse, including assault and harassment, Abuse of a spouse or another adult, robbery, burglary, theft, or embezzlement, Perjury, Sale of illegal drugs, Other serious criminal acts.
Pushing things down to local leader discretion makes many vulnerable to “Leadership Roulette”
Why is one’s punishment more severe if their sin is widely known?
Does the new disciplinary/membership system set up a “Caste System” of sorts? Like we had with People of Color prior to 1978?
Why are elective breast reduction and augmentation allowed, but “top surgery” to reduce gender dysphoria renders you unworthy for temple or priesthood service?\
Since any transgender expression carries immediate church discipline, does that not mean that the church considers transgender expression to be worse than these behaviors wherein church discipline is optional? (e.g., Attempted murder, Sexual abuse, including assault and harassment, Abuse of a spouse or another adult, robbery, burglary, theft, or embezzlement, Perjury, Sale of illegal drugs, Other serious criminal acts).
What does it mean if you are allowed to call yourself transgender, but you are not allowed to change your name, pronouns, appearance, or have any medical procedures to actually express your identity without church punishment?
Are the church’s transgender policies much like its November 2015 LGBTQ policies and other social issues policies in the past….in that they will evolve and become more open and lenient over time?
Does this open the door to same-sex married couples having a place at church?
If so, what about past same-sex married couples who were excommunicated?
If you are an LGBTQ Mormon, how much of a consolation is it to know that even though “….[your] circumstances…do not allow [you] to receive the blessings of eternal marriage and parenthood in this life….[you] will receive all promised blessings in the eternities, provided [you] keep the covenants [you] have made with God”? What type of life does that leave you?
If a gay Mormon puts his arm around his boyfriend or spouse at church is that now forbidden? Is it then also forbidden for a straight Mormon to put their arm around their partner?
Why are Mormon bishops not instructed to IMMEDIATELY call the police or Child Protective Services if they are made aware of the sexual or physical abuse of a child?
Why is polygamy both ex-communicable (or should I say “withdrawal of church membership-able”?), yet also explicitely practiced by our top leaders (e.g., Nelson and Oaks)?
Why the variance in expectations for Young Men vs. Young Women in missions?
Is Diet Coke not a “habit forming substance”?
Where are the apologies for the harm caused by past policies/doctrine that have been eliminated or corrected? My understanding is that many people died as a result of the November 2015 policy alone.If leaders “got it wrong” with past policies/doctrines – sometimes in very harmful or even fatal ways – how do we have confidence that these guidelines are any better, or any more divine?
How much of this is a “Victory” of sorts for Progressive and Post-Mormon critics and activists? Are they the new prophets of the Mormon church?
Are Mormon progressives and ex-Mormon critics basically spending their time as unofficial “service missionaries” dedicated to improving Mormonism?