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Arts, Culture & Religion

Latter-day Saints’ Handbook Update Cautions Against ‘Extreme Survivalism’

Photo of grain silos.
Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs a welfare program for its members to give food to those that can't afford it. Some of that food comes from the Church's stockpile of grains.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints updated its official handbook Wednesday, and in it are new policies related to vaccines, affinity fraud and “extreme preparation or survivalism.”

When it comes to emergency preparedness, the new section warns people to avoid “extreme” or “excessive” preparation for “possible catastrophic events.”

But getting ready for emergencies and the end of times is deeply ingrained in the Church, according to Lindsay Hansen Park. She’s the executive director of Sunstone Education Foundation, a progressive non-profit that focuses on Mormon studies.

“It’s part of the theology — it's actually in their title, Latter-day Saints,” Park said. “There's a cultural precedent for this and even the Church has a structural precedent for this. They have Welfare Square, they have all their food stores, they have all these warehouses.”

Park said the Church is trying to modernize their stance, but it will be difficult to shift some people away from extreme emergency preparedness.

“It's a movement. It's a lifestyle for people now, and it was inspired by Mormonism,” she said. “Now it's kind of taken a life of its own, and so I think that they're trying to distance themselves from that to some extent.”

Jana Riess writes about the Church for Religion News Service. She said there’s an overlap with people who consider themselves “survivalists” and white nationalists.

“The Church, I would think, is anxious to preserve what is good about its own heritage and its emphasis on provident living while dissociating itself from the alt-right,” she said.

There have been recent examples of individuals with ties to the Church taking the “end of times” too far, according to Riess. She said the Church is also trying to distance itself from them.

Riess said some Church members may still interpret the new policy in their own ways.

“Even though it's in the handbook, it's possible that some people are not going to get the memo or that they will simply go ahead and do their own thing, even if they know that it's discouraged by the Church,” Riess said.

The Church’s policy directs people to be “motivated by faith, not fear.”

Another addition to the official handbook is guidance on vaccinations. The policy encourages members to “safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.” President Russell M. Nelson, who is 96 years old, publicly received his COVID-19 vaccine in January.

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