Shortly before the pandemic turned the world upside down, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a new online-only General Handbook to replace the previous standard “Handbook I (for stake, or regional, presidents and bishops) and Handbook II (for all other lay leaders in the faith),” as noted by Peggy Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune. Significantly, this new general handbook became available for anyone to view online, not just for those in leadership callings.

In February 2020, W&T blogger Bryce Cook reported on the General Handbook changes related to policies on transgender members as well as same-sex relationships and marriage. Today, I’d like to focus on the section about apostasy.

One notable change was that membership councils (the nicer rebranding of disciplinary councils) were made optional in cases of apostasy. The stake president is now expected to counsel with the area presidency before deciding whether to convene a membership council.

The other changes were related to the definition of apostasy itself. Below is the applicable section ( Additions are noted in red.

As used here, apostasy refers to a member engaging in any of the following:

• Repeatedly acting in clear and deliberate public opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, or its leaders

• Persisting in teaching as Church doctrine what is not Church doctrine after being corrected by the bishop or stake president

Showing a pattern of intentionally working to weaken the faith and activity of Church members

• Continuing to follow the teachings of apostate sects after being corrected by the bishop or stake president

• 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.) Apostasy, General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Apparently, the new general handbook became available on February 19th, the same day BYU’s “principle-based” honor code was updated. Many of you are aware of the confusion the honor code update caused by removing a section specifically banning homosexual behavior. A subsequent clarification letter was sent out in March 2020. The reasoning given by Elder Paul V. Johnson in that clarification letter was, “a foundational doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that ‘marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan…” Because “[s]ame-sex romantive behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage,” it is “not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.” Homosexual behavior, basically, is in opposition to the doctrine of (heterosexual) eternal marriage.

What’s significant is that Elder Johnson used this reasoning after the handbook definition of apostasy was amended to include “repeated” and “public opposition” to the church’s doctrines and policies, not just the church and its leaders. It seems that church leaders felt that the General Handbook modifications would adequately cover the same expectations as the previous honor code, without running into potential problems with explicit LGBTQ discrimination in higher education.

What are your thoughts about the General Handbook’s new treatment and definition of apostasy?

The lead image is a screenshot of the General Handbook’s new cover in the Church’s Gospel Library.