- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2020

Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plan to make public later this month the church’s handbook for male-only leaders, the latest in ongoing reforms within the Mormon church over the last two years.

Church officials plan to release on Feb. 19 the “General Handbook: Serving in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” a combination of two current handbooks.

Some observers say the release could help dispel misinformation on church rules and policies ranging from birth control to polygamy. Others say the move is in line with broad reforms implemented by Russell M. Nelson, who became president of the church in 2018.

“This comes as welcome news to me for several reasons,” church member Jana Riess wrote in an editorial for Religion News Services that was published Friday in The Salt Lake Tribune. “First, it resolves an inequity. There is no scenario in the church when I, as a woman, am supposed to have access to Handbook 1, since I’ll never be a bishop or a stake president. Yet there are many policies that are contained only in Handbook 1 that potentially affect my life.”

A “stake” is an administrative cluster of Mormon congregations. Women are not permitted to serve as bishops (who would be called “priests” in other faiths) or presidents.

The LDS church currently distributes two handbooks to its leaders — Handbook 1, which only bishops and presidents can read; and Handbook 2, which other leaders, including women, may read. The handbooks offer spiritual and practical guidance on a variety of topics, like marriage, church discipline and physical facilities.

“And this is not just about women; the majority of men haven’t had access to Handbook 1 either,” Ms. Riess wrote.

Some guidance in the handbooks has been previously disclosed, such as rebukes against handguns in meetinghouses and hypnotism for entertainment.

But Handbook 1 has remained cloaked in secrecy, Ms. Riess wrote.

The LDS church said publishing the previously secret handbook shows “there is room in this Church for everyone.”

“This new handbook is a part of the ongoing Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that began 200 years ago,” said church Elder D. Todd Christofferson.

A church spokesman did not respond to questions from The Washington Times.

Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a blog and clearinghouse for church information, hailed the unprecedented nature of the publication.

“Before, if you wanted to know what’s the church policy on anything, you had to go to the bishop and the bishop would say, ‘Let’s open Handbook 1,’” Mr. Gordon said. “But it was kind of a barrier. Now you won’t need to do that.”

He credited Mr. Nelson’s transformative leadership for the latest change. Under Mr. Nelson, the church has de-emphasized the word “Mormon” as an identifier, reduced the hours of weekly “church work” and equalized leadership roles within congregations. The 95-year-old president has led a campaign of progressive change, like Pope Francis in the Roman Catholic Church.

“He has really taken the bull by the horns,” Mr. Gordon said. “We’re really going through a period of change.”

Mr. Gordon, himself a former bishop, said clergy are not paid and frequently move in and out of leadership positions, so the need to consult the handbooks is great. Members also ask bishops or relief society directors (who are women) various questions, so publishing the new handbook makes sense, he added.

“I think it’ll be received by people positively,” Mr. Gordon said. “If we have different people doing all these different responsibilities, we need to press down these rules.”

Roughly half of the world’s 15 million Mormons live in the United States.

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