Courtesy of CNN
President Gordon B. Hinckley talks to Larry King on CNN in a telecast Sunday from the LDS Conference Center.

War in Iraq, gay marriage and coping with a spouse's death were weaved into Sunday's "Larry King Live" interview with LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, but all contained a common thread: The leader of 12 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints greets the future with optimism.

"(The year) 2005, I think, is going to be a good year," said President Hinckley, who earlier chuckled he sometimes feels "like the last leaf on the tree, and the wind's blowing" when asked about outliving friends.

"I'm optimistic. I think we can look forward with hope and faith. I hope there will be a resolution of the Iraq situation. . . . I hope the economy will be good, and I hope there will be peace across the world. And I'll be traveling — at my age," said President Hinckley, age 94.

His appearance on the CNN talk show is his fourth since September 1998. He also appeared on the program in 1999 and days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The broadcast was taped in advance at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City's Temple Square. It was interwoven with scenes from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas concert and military choirs and orchestras, and punctuated with King displaying a gift from President Hinckley: a tome of King's genealogy, including maps of his parents' European birthplaces, their immigration documents and even what happened to the ships on which they sailed to the United States.

"I can't tell you what this means to me," King said. "This I will treasure more than any other (gift). . . . I'm pleased and honored to accept it."

King, whose wife is a member of the LDS Church, asked President Hinckley an array of questions, from life after death to how he feels about Utah Gov.-elect Jon Huntsman Jr. ("I think he's a good man," President Hinckley said.)

The conversation a few times touched on the church's perceived wealth and how tithing is spent.

Some 400 buildings are erected each year across the world to house members of the growing faith, President Hinckley said.

"They're beautiful. Nothing's too good for the Lord," he said when asked why some of the buildings are "so grand."

"In doing this, we don't neglect humanitarian . . . (or) welfare efforts."

The church this year spent millions of dollars on humanitarian aid and worked with other groups including the American Red Cross and Catholic charities, said President Hinckley, who in October received the Distinguished Humanitarian Award from Catholic Community Services of Utah. The church's perpetual education fund, created via donations, is helping 16,000 people.

"Our concern is to take care of people who are in need (or) help them in their distress," he said.

President Hinckley also responded to questions on several other topics, including:

• Getting on with life after the April death of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, his wife of nearly 67 years: "(It) feels pretty lonely at times. . . . I miss her so much. She was a great lady. . . .You never get over it; of course you don't. The best thing you can do is just keep busy, and working hard."

• The war in Iraq: "We believe in peace. We work for peace. We pray for peace, but we are all citizens of the nation, and we meet that responsibility as that responsibility is defined by our leadership in the nation."

• The war on terror: "I see (terrorism) . . .as the work of a group of misguided (men) . . .not representative of the great body of the Muslim people across the world."

• On civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage, which the church opposes: The church does not favor anything that might lead to allowing gay marriage, President Hinckley said. "We're not anti-gay, we're pro-family. Let me put it that way. We love these people and try to work with them. We know they have a problem; we want to help them solve that problem . . . and bless their lives."

• Women are not lesser than men; having a black prophet would be "within the realm of possibility." As for women working outside the home, "I think we're paying the price for it in family life."

• A personal note: "I've been blessed so abundantly, I can never get over it," President Hinckley said. "I . . .want to extend that to others."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com