The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced on Wednesday more inclusion pertaining to witnessing ordinances performed both in and outside of the church’s temples.
According to the press release, any baptized member of the church may serve as a witness of the baptism of a living person. Baptisms for the dead inside the temple may be witnessed by anyone holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend. And any member of the church who has received their endowment ordinances may serve as a witness to the sealing ordinance, both as a living ordinance for couples and as proxy for ordinances for the dead.
In the past, only the male holders of the priesthood could serve as witnesses for ordinances, both for the living and for the church’s practice of performing ordinances as proxy for deceased ancestors. This policy change allows all worthy members, including women, to serve as witnesses to these ordinances, which the church considers as saving and necessary ordinances.
In December 2017, the church announced that worthy priests — young men ages 15 and up — could serve as witnesses to proxy baptisms in the temple.
A witness supervises ordinances to ensure proper decorum and instruction are followed, such as full immersion during baptisms and proper wording of prayers and blessings, where needed in certain ordinances.
“Obedience to sacred temple covenants is essential for us to qualify for eternal life—the greatest gift of God to His children,” President Russell M. Nelson, president of the church, said in the press release. “As leaders in the Lord’s Church, we need to understand the eternal truths taught in the temple. We need to know the importance of and the difference between sacred covenants, ordinances and procedures.”
The announcement came as a part of the church’s leadership sessions, held before each of the church’s semiannual general conferences. Church leadership, including the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other organizational leaders, gathered in Salt Lake City on Wednesday to be instructed and informed of new policies and procedures, including instruction on doctrine in the church.
Included in the press release were statements from each of the three members of the First Presidency. While Nelson’s remarks focused on the policy change aforementioned, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, piggybacked on remarks Nelson made at Brigham Young University two weeks ago, specifically with regards to LGBT individuals.
“While God’s commandments forbid all unchaste behavior and reaffirm the importance of marriage between a man and a woman, the Church and its faithful members should reach out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same sex or whose sexual orientation or gender identity is inconsistent with their sex at birth,” Oaks said in the press release. “We do not know why same-sex attraction and confusion about sexual identity occur. ... They are among the challenges that persons can experience in mortality, which is only a tiny fraction of our eternal existence.”
Oaks continued to say that “binary creation is essential to the plan of salvation” and that the statements in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” will not change, though may be clarified as directed, including that the intended meaning of gender in the proclamation is referencing “biological sex at birth,” Oaks said.
“When counseling with any members experiencing challenges related to their sexual orientation, Church leaders should affirm that God loves all His children, including those dealing with confusion about their sexual identity or other LGBT feelings,” Oaks said. “Such members and their families have unique challenges. They should be offered hope and be ministered to as directed by the Spirit according to their true needs.”
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke primarily about the role of church leaders.
“What we desire is to have Church programs serve Church members, not the reverse. We also want priesthood leaders to take into account, prayerfully and carefully, the needs of their members and to focus on meeting those basic needs,” he said.
Leadership meetings continue on Thursday.