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Church releases updated handbook; section addressing transgender individuals

FILE: Evening side view of the St. George Temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released its newest version of the church handbook Wednesday, rewriting nine of the chapters and updating a section of another chapter. The complete handbook is only available digitally, except for in areas where that’s not an available option.

The new edition, “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint,” replaces the two previous handbooks: Handbook 1, for stake presidents and bishops, and Handbook 2, for all other leaders.

Why digital?

The church states the version is available digitally to allow for regular updates and changes. Church officials note this is due to their beliefs in the ongoing revelation of prophets and apostles, according to the statement released.

“And that means, in a phrase, that the Church is true and living. It can change,” said Elder Anthony Perkins in a statement. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.”

It will also allow for flexibility in assisting thousands of the church’s leaders worldwide to adapt programs, policies and procedures to their specific circumstances.

The new version contains nearly 80% of the content from the old handbooks, but reordered in a new structure. Church officials plan to release newly-written and updated chapters as they become available.

“It is expected that the entire handbook will be updated by the end of 2021,” the First Presidency wrote in a statement.

The church wrote that many members were not familiar with previous versions of the handbook, prompting the change. Officials said the new chapters reflect new tones and approaches they have been considering for several years.

Changes in the church handbook

The new handbook features nine rewritten chapters, with “significant revisions” in the section on repentance and church membership councils.

Church officials updated the chapter to help guide leaders to help people repent of what they consider serious sins. It also focuses on helping with protection against people they consider physical or spiritual threats.

This section also redefines several terms: for example, disfellowshipped means given “formal membership restrictions” whereas excommunication means a “withdrawal of membership.”

The church also updated a section titled, “Church Policies and Guidelines.” Officials made revisions on policies and procedures regarding a variety of moral issues, updating some old issues while adding some new ones.

Some of these include abortion, abuse, birth control, incest, same-sex marriages, suicide, etc. It also includes a new entry on transgender individuals.

A new policy on transgender individuals

“There are a number of moral policies that we’ve now put on paper of where the First Presidency and the [Quorum of the] Twelve stand,” Elder Perkins said. “One of those moral policies that is new is around persons who identify as transgender. The reason that policy has been added is we’ve had an increase in questions coming from bishops and stake presidents saying, ‘What can a transgender person do? What are the guidelines?’”

The new transgender policy states that the church welcomes everyone to attend meetings — including those who identify as transgender. However, he said the policy clarifies that some of the church’s teachings are gender specific.

The church states it does not take a position on the causes surrounding why individuals identify themselves as transgender. However, they note the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation is to mean “biological sex at birth,” according to the handbook.

The handbooks includes that many of the church’s participation and ordinances are gender neutral — nothing that transgender individuals can be baptized and confirmed. However, it notes that priesthood ordination and temple ordinances are received according to the sex defined at birth.

The handbook outlines that church leaders counsel against elective medical or surgical attempts to transition to the opposite gender. The church states in the handbook that the transition period would be cause for restricting the individual from church membership activities.

Transgender individuals who do not pursue medical or surgical change can still receive church callings, temple recommends and temple ordinances.

Church leaders say they will continue to update and revise the handbook as needed.

You can watch more on the release of the updated handbook below: