Washington, D.C. — Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to the National Press Club about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is influencing change in the world. He is the first Church representative to address the National Press Club since President Gordon B. Hinckley did so in 2000.
With the temple open house in Washington, D.C. drawing national media attention, Elder Bednar offered insights into the building and the Church running it, which press club president Jen Judson called a “landmark and a mystery.”
Elder Bednar began by explaining the structural significance of temples as a representation of an individual’s journey back to the presence of God and its spiritual importance as a place for instruction, sacred rites and meditation. He said he hopes open house visitors will better understand and appreciate the sacredness of temples for members of the Church.
“We are a temple building and a temple loving people,” he said, and noted the important role temples play in helping members grow personally and follow Jesus Christ.
Throughout his remarks, Elder Bednar focused on two types of change and how the Church facilitates both.
“Often the world works from the outside in,” he said. “Changing a person’s circumstances and environment may be considered the best method of changing that person.”
Elder Bednar said that while the Church’s humanitarian efforts or “outside change” are extensive, they are secondary. The Church’s overall mission is to invite others to change from the inside out through faith in God and Jesus Christ, he said. In that process, changing environments and circumstances is often important.
“We strive to do both,” he said.
Speaking of the outside change the Church is working for, Elder Bednar summarized the Church’s recent humanitarian efforts. In 2021, the Church had 3,909 humanitarian projects in 188 countries and spent $906 million on humanitarian work over the year:
— Digging wells and providing clean water.
— Disaster cleanup.
— Assisting refugees in Europe.
— Providing 82 million meals in America in 2020 and 2021.
— 135 mobility projects worldwide.
— 3,000 blood drives.
— 7 major immunization campaigns.
— $20 million donation towards COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers and vulnerable individuals.
“We certainly do not have all of the answers, but we do lock arms with the global community to eradicate hunger, administer lifesaving immunizations, provide wheelchair mobility for those who are immobile and train healthcare professionals to provide physical, mental and emotional support,” Elder Bednar said.
Elder Bednar explained the Church’s education system and the emphasis on secular and spiritual learning. Church schools such as BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, Ensign College, and BYU Pathway Worldwide —which has more than 60,000 students in 188 countries annually— are all a part of the Church’s mission to make education accessible around the world.
“As a church we believe education can lift people both spiritually and temporally,” he said.
In addition to outlining the religion’s fundamental beliefs, Elder Bednar touched on controversies surrounding the Church organization, race, gender and sexuality.
Regarding LGBTQ issues, Elder Bednar talked about the Church’s support for Utah’s 2015 bill against housing discrimination based on sexuality. He said more recently, the Church supported a similar bill in Arizona and is working to advance such legislation on the federal level.
“We are proud to stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” he said. “It is hard work and an objective worth fighting for.”
When asked if the Church will ever perform gay marriages in temples, Elder Bednar replied, “We believe that marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God.”
While the Church and LGBTQ people and advocates may not agree on everything, Elder Bednar said they are “building a foundation of mutual respect and understanding,” and that the Church strives to welcome and love all.
“On the issue of race, we know and teach that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God,” Elder Bednar said.
He talked about the Church’s work with the NAACP to foster unity and help minority communities around the country. This summer, the two organizations are collaborating to provide the Amos C. Brown fellowship, a program which will send 50 young people to Ghana to gain greater insight into racial harmony.
The Church is also using its extensive genealogical resources to connect African Americans with their heritage.
“We are helping the African American community discover their enslaved ancestors through collaborations with the National Archives and the Smithsonian,” he said.
Women in the Church
The Church has a female majority, and Elder Bednar addressed spoken and unspoken questions about women’s roles and rights in the Church. He explained how the Relief Society, one of the Church’s oldest organizations, helps direct the Church’s work worldwide. More than 90,000 women serve in Relief Society leadership roles throughout the world.
“All women and all men in our church have responsibilities to teach, minister and serve our brothers and sisters,” he said.
As abortion rights are being heavily debated across the country, Elder Bednar said the Church believes life is sacred, but considers exceptions to its anti-abortion stance in cases of rape, incest or when the health of the mother or infant are at risk.
The church is no stranger to the media spotlight, and most recently is being portrayed in Hulu’s new series “Under the Banner of Heaven.” The series has been criticized by Church members for its depiction of church beliefs and practices, including temple ceremonies. Misrepresentation in popular culture is nothing new for the Church, from early smear campaigns to modern-day portrayals in “Sister Wives” and “The Book of Mormon” musical.
“We don’t like it, but we don’t spend all of our time responding,” he said.
Elder Bednar also cautioned members of the press against using stereotypes and second-hand information to characterize church members.
“I think there needs to be a little more precision,” he said. “There needs to be a little more listening and asking.”
Watch the full address here: