By JOE HOLLENBAUGH
President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints answered questions about Proposition 22, politics and school prayer following remarks to journalists, government leaders and other dignitaries at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 8.
The 89-year-old leader spoke to the sold-out luncheon meeting about the role of the LDS Church in society, reading first from prepared remarks before taking questions from the audience.
The first questions referred to the political role of the church, especially regarding Proposition 22 in California, which denies legal status for same-sex marriages and was ratified Tuesday by nearly two-thirds of California voters.
“The church as an institution is not involved in politics, but we do get involved in moral issues. Our individual members have a responsibility to be active and exercise their franchise,” President Hinckley said.
He said the church participated in a coalition to promote Proposition 22, but did not use church funds. All financial contributions came from individuals, he said.
“We are not anti-gay, we are pro-family,” President Hinckley said.
Another question on the role of religion in politics referred to the visit of Texas governor George W. Bush to Bob Jones University, which has been accused of racial and religious bigotry.
President Hinckley replied that the church has been persecuted in the past, but that persecution of the church has largely disappeared.
“We will move forward in our work with a smile … whether people are for us or against us,” he said.
The audience laughed when a questioner asked if it is possible to be a good LDS Church member and a Democrat.
“I don’t see why not. It depends what you believe as a Democrat,” President Hinckley said.
When asked about the issue of school prayer, President Hinckley said he would prefer not to comment, but said that individuals need to “talk with God” in their private lives.
One questioner asked what President Hinckley hoped to accomplish with his new book “Standing for Something.”
He replied that the book was not about theology, but about virtues and values that are part of theology. He said he hoped to “reach out further,” to readers who are not LDS Church members.
When questioned about his secret to good health, President Hinckley replied that he never used alcohol or tobacco.
“But the one rule I always follow is go to bed every night and be sure you get up in the morning,” he said to laughter from the audience.
In both his prepared remarks and in answer to various questions, President Hinckley emphasized the positive influence of the church on society. He said he is optimistic about the future.
“There are problems, but there are also many good people who want to do the right thing,” he said.
He spoke enthusiastically about church education, especially BYU.
“Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is our crown jewel,” he said, noting that 17 current members of Congress are BYU graduates.
He also spoke at length regarding church efforts to provide educational opportunities in developing nations.
“Small amounts are loaned to those for whom a hundred or two or three hundred dollars can spell an actual change in their future,” he said.
He compared such efforts to the Perpetual Emigration Fund used in the 1800s to make loans supporting immigration to Utah.
He said the church is now developing what he called “a perpetual education fund.”
He also said that the church benefits every society by training leaders and creating high expectations for LDS Church members.
“The genius of our work is that we expect things of people. They grow as they serve, and there are numerous opportunities to challenge them,” he said.
In addition, he said the LDS Church missionary program builds bridges between nations and cultures.
“The cross-fertilization of languages and cultures is a tremendous thing. Conflict grows out of ignorance and suspicion. As we learn to know and appreciate those of various cultures, we come to love them. The cause of peace is strengthened in a very real sense,” President Hinckley said.
He also said the church provided more than $55 million in humanitarian aid in 101 countries last year, and is providing more aid.
“We rented two helicopters at great expense to fly rescue missions” in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, President Hinckley said. “Our humanitarian efforts reach far beyond our own to bless the victims of war and disaster wherever they may occur.”
He said the ultimate goal of the church is to improve the lives of individuals.
“We teach, we train, we build, we educate, we provide opportunity. We give hope to those without hope, and there is nothing greater you can give a man or a woman than hope.
“We look to (Jesus Christ) as we seek to improve the world by changing the hearts of individuals,” he said.
For more information:
Full text version of President Hinckley’s prepared remarks at National Press Club luncheon