Questions from Jack Cushman, The New York Times
President of the National Press Club
National Press Club Newsmakers Luncheon
March 8, 2000
Q. Perhaps the most frequently asked question on all of these cards that I have is what role is politics going to be for the church and its members? Please comment a little bit about political activism among your church members?
A. Well, the church itself as an institution does not involve itself in politics nor does it permit the use of its buildings or facilities for political purposes. Now, we do become involved if there is a moral issue or something that comes on the legislative calendar which directly affects the church. We tell our people who are citizens of this land and other lands that they as individuals have a civic responsibility to exercise the franchise that is theirs so they become very active. But as a church, as I have said, we do not become involved in tax matters or any other kinds of legislation unless there be a moral issue which we think is of great importance or something that may be directed to the church, harmfully as we view it, and then we would become involved. We do very little politicking. We look at Washington and smile. (laughter)
Jack Cushman: We welcome smiles in Washington.
Q. A questioner said the church actively supported Proposition 22, the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage which California voters approved yesterday, and asks does the church take any credit for that result and is this a signal of an activist political posture?
A. I don't think it signals a more active political posture, but we were actively involved there. We were part of a coalition that very actively worked on that matter. We are not anti-gay. We are pro-family. I want to emphasize that. We are very grateful for all who worked so diligently and happy for the outcome of that vote, was about 61-38 (percent), by a very sizable margin that prevailed. We are very grateful because California is a bellwether state, and the fight there was very real. I'd like to add the church put no money into that as an institution. All that we spent was contributed by members of the church as individuals, and they gave of their means and their strength and their energy to win a great victory, I think, in terms of their attitude and position.
Jack Cushman: We will go beyond politics shortly, but we have a couple more.
President Hinckley: It doesn't scare me.
Q. Someone asked: Since George W. Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University elevated this question of religion and politics this year, what is your opinion of his appearance there and the aftermath?
A. Oh, I haven't given it much thought. We have been persecuted a great deal during our history, terribly so. We've endured every kind of insult and difficulty. Fortunately, that has largely disappeared and we are not going to fuss over that. I heard him the other night on the Larry King Show, and I felt a little sorry for him. We'll stand as we have stood all of these years and move forward with a smile on our face and greeting in our hearts for anyone who speaks against us or for us.
Q. The church is sending missionaries into the inner cities in the United States. What kind of sensitivity training are the missionaries given, especially regarding the history of the church and African-Americans?
A. Well, we do have some missionaries working among these people, and they bring out of these people some very strong leaders. It is an amazing and wonderful thing to see how people develop when they are given an opportunity and encouragement and direction. That's happening, and we have no problem with it. It is all part of what we are doing. We are working in Africa, all up and down Africa, with tremendous results. We are grateful for good people wherever we find them, people with tremendous potential when they are given opportunity. We can only say we are happy to have them and do what we can to assist them.
Q. When we stop talking about politics in Washington we starting talking about the Internet. A questioner asks, Could you comment on the growth of the Internet and whether you feel it has had a negative impact on the morality of society as a whole?
A. I don't know much about it. I'm an old man unable to learn, evidently. My grandchildren could tell you all about it, but I am not up to speed to the degree that they are. I don't think that the Internet has contributed greatly to immorality. We're already pretty well sunk down into a morass of immorality, (laughter) but regret anything that leads people to live below good standards, good values, virtue in their lives, causes them to sink down into this lowly business where they make no contribution and do very little and bring only harm to themselves. Now, as for the Internet, it is a great boon. (laughter) As I said, we are getting 8 million hits a day on our family history work.
Jack Cushman: An old man with a big Web page. (laughter and applause)
Q. Why is the church growing so quickly?
A. It is growing because it has a commission to go in the world and teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. We consider that a divine commission, and we are pursuing that very aggressively and at the same time, while in that process, we think we are doing good. We think we are improving people's lives. We think that we are causing them to stand taller, straighter and be better people, and when all is said and done that is purpose of any religion. We are trying to do our part and trying to do it in a very aggressive, but practical and hard-headed, way, if you please, so that we build on a strong foundation for the future.
Q. How should members of the church respond to efforts of some other religious groups to convert them to other beliefs and religions?
A. Well, I say this: We don't downgrade any religion. We recognize the good they all do. I say to those of other faiths: 'You bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.' Now that's our attitude reduced to a very short statement, and it works.
Q. How does one keep family ties strong when church obligations keep one so busy?
A. We must have a member of the church here. That could only come out of a member of the church. I'm glad you're working hard, but keep it up, but do not neglect your families. That is No. 1. You're responsible for your own household. Those children are God's children for whom you have a very serious and sacred responsibility. Do not neglect them. If you are too busy in your church activities to take care of your family, then perhaps we had better find something else for you to do.
Q. When you watch television and see what is portrayed there, and in films, do you feel you are losing the crusade or the war?
A. No. I don't watch television very much (laughter). No. I don't think we are losing the war. I think we are winning the war. I am an optimist. I think the future looks good. We have a lot of problems to deal with, very serious problems. The American family is in trouble. I think no one could doubt that. We have many troublesome things gangs, drugs and everything else of that kind but, in spite of all that, there are so many good people in this land, so many people who want to do the right thing that I'm totally optimistic about the future. I don't think we are going down to ruin and trouble. I think we're making a little headway and we ought to be grateful for the opportunity and work a little harder.
Q. We hear a lot of talk from the presidential candidates, including the two front-runners, to used faith-based organizations to do work that has traditionally been done by the government. Do you think this is going to let the government off the hook?
A. I don't think anybody is going to let the government off the hook the way things are going. I don't think the government is going to change much in that regard, but I want to say this: We are doing what we can to take care of our own, and that lightens the load of government, and we think that is a benefit to all of the people of the nation.
Q. What is your position on prayer or meditation or moments of silence in public schools?
A. I believe in them and will be glad to get through here so I can have a moment of meditation (laughter). Well, all of us ought to pause once in a while and think of things. We are prone to talk too much and do too little. I think it is a wonderful thing to just indulge once in a while in moments of introspection and see what we are doing with our lives and what contribution we are making and where we could do a little better than we are now doing. I feel we would all benefit from that.
Q. Do you think it is appropriate to have this as part of the daily instruction in public school?
A. In the public schools? I don't know whether I want to comment on that. I think we may have taken a terrible step backwards some years ago, and I don't know whether we'll recover from it. You politicians know better than I do what the mood is to change the law, but regardless of that we teach our people in their own private lives and in our own individual ways to pray, to get on their knees and talk with God and listen for his still small voice and listen for his inspiration and direction in their lives. We bear testimony of the fact that yields great good. I don't hesitate to say that for a moment.
Q. If you'll forgive the levity, someone here really wants to know whether God has forgotten about BYU football? (laughter)
A. That comes from an alumnus. I don't know. I hope not. I think we have got to bring about a turnaround, but they are working on it. They are working very hard on it. I hope that something good comes of it. I like to see a winner. I say that.
Q. What you do you consider to be the greatest challenge the church faces?
A. I just told you training of leadership. Every local congregation in Japan is Japanese. Every local congregation in Hong Kong is Chinese. Every local leader in Sweden is Swedish, Norwegian, etc., etc. These are people who have to be trained in leadership. We carry forward a great program, and the product is wonderful to behold. I think we could even train you, Mr. Cushman (laughter).
Jack Cushman: You are doing pretty well so far.
Q. With more members of the church outside the U.S. than within the U.S. does this present a need for greater decentralization of the administrative functioning of the church?
A. We are doing that. We know we can't lick every postage stamp in Salt Lake City. Of course, we do. So we have established area offices across the world where we have three of what we call our general authorities presiding over an area of the world. We now has such offices in Brazil, in Argentina, in Bolivia, in Chile, in Japan, in Hong Kong and Manila, South Africa and West Africa, and so on. We are decentralizing in that respect. We have to.
Q. A questioner asks whether you see a prospect for missionaries in China?
A. Well, as I have said, we go in the front door. When we go to China doing missionary work, the Chinese government will know about it. Now, there are provisions, as we understand, in their constitution which at this time make that very difficult if not impossible. They'll have to say when, and we'll respond. We have two or three branches of the church in China which are comprised of outsiders who are from the United States and other nations. We have one in Beijing. We have one in Shanghai. Of course, we have strong work in Hong Kong, we have strong work in Taiwan. The Chinese government has its rules and regulations, and we believe in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law, and that's were we stand at the moment.
Q. Please tell us a little about your book and how did you get a tough guy like Mike Wallace to write an introduction?
A. Well, Mike is a good man. I've grown to know him and think highly of him. I have had an experience with him on "60 Minutes," and I didn't know what I was getting into. Friends warned me against him, but he was kind to us. I've had a good relationship with him, and he consented to this letter and that's a good introduction I guess that's what's selling the book.
Q. A questioner writes: Why did you write a book which is not about your church? What are you trying to accomplish through this book?
A. To see if it could be done. Well, we wanted to reach out further to other people. I talk of values in this book, virtues. I talk about America. I talk about a lot of these things that I think are very, very important. I felt that the people of this nation perhaps some of them might be helped by it. Now it isn't a book of theology, but is a book of virtues and values that are a part of theology. The teachings of the gospel bear fruit in the virtuous lives of the people. By dealing with those lives I hope to accomplish some good in reaching out to people who may not be interested in our theology but would be interested in our position and stance on some of these values that are of everlasting benefit to this nation and people across the world.
Q. Do you find when it comes to core values that, basically, all of the religions get it, more or less, right?
A. Oh, I think they all do good. I believe that. I have many friends of other religions, and I am satisfied that they are very conscientious, good people who are trying to good. I appreciate that. I think the world would be much poorer without religion, speaking generally.
Q. Do you find that the image of the church is changing rapidly, slowly? Do you work at bringing about change in the way the church is viewed by those outside the church?
A. Constantly trying to build understanding. As I indicated in what I said in my talk, ignorance leads to misunderstanding. When we don't know how other people act, what they believe, we view them with suspicion. When we get to know more about them that suspicion turns to appreciation, and I think that is what we are trying to do, trying to accomplish. Now compared to 100 years ago, 150 years ago, we live in a world that pretty well understands us and I think appreciates us. We are freed from that terrible persecution of the past. We are living in a new day when the sunshine of good will pours in upon the church and assists us in the spread of our work across the world.
Q. And yet at times you hear even from other Christian faiths, your church is not a Christian church.
A. I know. I can't understand it. I can never understand it. The very name of the Savior is in the name of the church. I can't understand how they can possibly say that. The New Testament is a fundamental scripture for us. We have in addition to that the Book of Mormon, which becomes another witness for Jesus Christ. I can't understand why they take that position, but their position comes of the tradition of their fathers, I think. Our position comes from the Restoration of the gospel. We have some differences. We don't worry much about that. We just go on with our work, talking positively, teaching positively, working affirmatively, making the world a better place to live.
Jack Cushman: I find another political question crept into the deck here.
President Hinckley: I bet you put it there.
Q. It says, Given the platform and positions taken by the Democratic Party, can you be a good church member and a Democrat?
A. Yes, I think so. I don't know why you couldn't. It depends on what you believe as a Democrat in terms of some things. There are some things we don't subscribe to. We've got lots of Democrats in the church, lots of them, and they are good people. I don't worry about that too much. This is Washington. I better be careful of what I say. Well, we've got a Democratic presidency and another candidate marked out for the future.
Q. This questioner says: Catholics are welcome at Protestant church services and vice versa. Do the Mormons invite other faiths to your church services?
A. Oh sure, of course we do. We invite anyone who would like to come. We would wish them to come. Want them to come. We hope they will come. That's the whole thrust of our missionary effort. Yes, very much so. We don't shun them. We love them.
Q. What's the secret to your staying so vigorous. (I have to say it is on several of these cards.) Are the health secrets that come from your religious practice?
A. Sure. We have what we call the Word of Wisdom, which is a religious principle with us, which proscribes the use of alcohol, tobacco and such things and urges people eat grains and such things as that. Now, I have never smoked. I have never drunk, I have never done those things. I don't know that's the reason I am going to be 90 on June 23, but the idea that I try to follow is that you go to bed every night and be sure to get up in the morning (laughter).
Jack Cushman: I'll try to remember that, too.
Q. What is your church's teaching on divorce?
A. Well, we don't like it. We have divorce. We permit divorce. I very much regret that divorce is so rampant in the land. It is indicative of the breaking up of the family. I think it is a very sorrowful thing to witness that we have so much divorce which comes of a disrespect on the part of men and women and the lack of appreciation and unwillingness to give and take a little here and there. If every man would make his prime concern the comfort and well-being of his wife and every wife make her chief concern the comfort and well-being of her husband, we would have very little divorce in the land.
Q. Perhaps it was another journalist in the audience, he wants you to think back to the time when you were considering Columbia University and the School of Journalism. What was it that made you decide that wasn't such a great idea?
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A. That's a long time ago. The fact is when I came home from my mission in England I graduated from the University of Utah before I went and stopped in New York on the way home to inquire at Columbia and so on. I came home and the leaders of the church asked me to come and do some work there, and I ceded to their requests and have been there ever since. Can't get out of the rut (laughter).
Jack Cushman: Neither can I.
Q. With the voice of authority do you think you could convince Sen. Hatch here to stick around and sing a few songs for us?
A. One of our major principles is the sanctity of free agency, and if he chooses to sing I'll stay and listen, but if he leaves I'll go out right behind him.