The Associated Press talked with Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he prepared to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the LDS Church.

Associated Press: What does it mean to be a Latter-day Saint?

President Hinckley: It means to be a member of this church in the first place and, in the second place, to conduct one's life according to the doctrine and tenets of the church.

Associated Press: The church through its Doctrine and Covenants lays out a pretty clear and some would say rigid path for living. Is Mormonism a culture as much as it is a religion?

President Hinckley: Out of religion grows a culture. Culture is an expression of behavior, and behavior comes of belief.

Associated Press: How do you hang onto that culture, those ideals in a world that is so rapidly changing and where social standards are changing?

President Hinckley: That's the big challenge. That's also our great opportunity . . . to teach people, to provide for them something of stability and strength and solidarity in a world of shifting values.

Associated Press: From the time the church was founded, it's been maligned, misunderstood and its members persecuted. On some level will the work of getting the rest of the world to understand you always continue?

President Hinckley: To a measure, I suppose. Understanding and appreciation come of knowledge. The more people come to know us, the better they will understand us.

Associated Press: So will they find you a little less peculiar?

President Hinckley: Oh, I don't mind being called peculiar. We are a little peculiar. We're a little different. We don't smoke. We don't drink. We do things in a little different way. That's not dishonorable. I believe that's to our credit.

Associated Press: Why do you think the Mormon Church is not perceived as a Christian church?

President Hinckley: Of course we're Christian. The very name of the church declares that. No one believes more strongly in the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. No one believes more strongly in the power of his redeeming sacrifice. The Book of Mormon is another witness for the divinity and reality of Jesus Christ. The more people see us and come to know us, the more I believe they will come to realize that we are trying to exemplify in our lives and in our living the great ideals which he taught.

Associated Press: In the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith says the church is "the only true and living church upon the whole Earth." Where does that leave other denominations?

President Hinckley: This is what he said: "This is the only true and living church upon the face of the whole Earth which I, the Lord, am pleased." Now, where does that leave other churches? We believe that all churches do great good. We believe in the virtue in the lives of other people in other churches. We acknowledge the tremendous accomplishments of other churches. Our position is simply this, we say, you bring all the good that you have, wherever you have acquired it, and see if we may add to it.

Associated Press: The ordinance of baptism for the dead has been a source of controversy. What is it that people don't understand about it, and can you appreciate that some might see it as a form of religious imperialism?

President Hinckley: Well, if they wish to so regard it. But they must realize the performing of the ordinance does not mean acceptance of the ordinance. Those for who the ordinance is done do not necessarily have to accept it.

Associateds Press: On the other side?

President Hinckley: On the other side. So there's no injury done to anybody.

Associated Press: The church seems to have difficulty distancing itself from its history of polygamy. You've said there are no fundamentalist Mormons, but these groups still practice polygamy and still claim Joseph Smith as their own. How do you resolve that dilemma?

President Hinckley: Well, let me just say this, the doctrine came of revelation and was discontinued by revelation. We believe in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law. And so, we have very little sympathy with those who disobey the law in this manner.

Associated Press: Some scholars say historical records point to discrepancies with the official church history. How do you reconcile the differences? And what is the church's position on historical scholarship?

President Hinckley: Well, we have nothing to hide. Our history is an open book. They may find what they are looking for, but the fact is the history of the church is clear and open and leads to faith and strength and virtues.

Associated Press: If that's so, why have some people either been disfellowshipped or excommunicated for the things they have written?

President Hinckley: There have been very few of them. It's only when they begin to teach what they believe to try to influence others that action is taken against them.

Associated Press: Because by extension they try to damage the church in some way?

President Hinckley: Try to damage the church, yes.

Comment on this story Associated Press: The First Presidency's Proclamation on the Family issued 10 years ago set the nuclear family — husband, wife and children — apart as the ideal. But family structures are changing, and some of those include gay and lesbian Mormons who are parents. Is there room in the church for those families?

President Hinckley: Let me put it this way. Our hearts reach out to those who have this problem. We try to help them. Friendship them. Love them. Work with them. But if they violate moral standards, then they are just like anybody else. They have done that which causes the church to take action, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual.

Associated Press: The church fought against the (Equal Rights Amendment) in the 1970s, has put some weight behind gay marriage laws in California and other states, and in Utah, you have weighed in on alcohol law and tax reform. What is the church's position on political involvement, nationally or locally?

President Hinckley: We do not endorse any political party. We do not endorse any political candidate. We do not permit the use of our buildings for political purposes. The only time the church gets involved in what might be termed political matters is when there are moral issues at stake or when some proposed action directly impinges upon the program of the church.