Leader broke down barriers, spread good will

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Deseret Morning News archives

A trademark of President Gordon B. Hinckley's tenure as church president was the way he reached out to all people — not just members of the LDS Church — seeking to build bridges and dispel misunderstanding.

He was interviewed on CBS' "60 Minutes," appeared four times on CNN's "Larry King Live" and spoke to prominent press groups. He broke ground by becoming the first LDS Church leader to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His best-selling book, "Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes," was targeted at non-LDS as well as LDS readers.

President Hinckley's philosophy was clear in his first general conference talk after being sustained as church president in April 1995 in which he asked church members to respect and appreciate those of other faiths.

"We must not be partisans of any doctrine of ethnic superiority," he said. "We live in a world of diversity. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become victims of religious bigotry."

During his 90th birthday celebration in June 2000 and again during a Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert in July 2001 in the Conference Center, President Hinckley counseled church members, particularly in Utah, to respect and befriend those of other faiths.

"This city and state have now become the home of many people of great diversity in their backgrounds, beliefs and religious persuasions," he said during the 2001 holiday gathering. "I plead with our people to welcome them, to befriend them, to mingle with them, to associate with them in the promulgation of good causes. We are all sons and daughters of God."

He envisioned the 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City as a community gathering place. In opening remarks in the Saturday morning session of the April 2000 general conference, the first meeting in the new center, he said:

"Not only will our general conferences be held here, and some other religious meetings, but it will serve as a cultural center for the very best artistic presentations. We hope those not of our faith will come here, experience the ambience of this beautiful place and feel grateful for its presence."

Before he was called as a general authority, President Hinckley helped develop what is now the church's Public Affairs Department.

In his priesthood address at the April 1996 conference he pointed out that while interviews with media representatives weren't always enjoyable, they did serve a purpose.

"We have something that the world needs to hear about, and these interviews afford an opportunity to give voice to that," he said.

The Sunday after that same general conference, President Hinckley was interviewed by veteran journalist Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes."

At the conclusion of the segment, Wallace asked President Hinckley about eternal families in heaven.

"We have an assurance of that," President Hinckley said.

"There are a lot of us who don't," Wallace replied.

"But you could," the prophet responded.

"I've thought about it. I've not been able to persuade myself," the journalist said.

"You never thought about it long enough," added President Hinckley in good humor.

Television again offered President Hinckley a forum for a wide range of subjects during a September 1998 interview on CNN's "Larry King Live," during which he answered questions from the show's host and callers about President Bill Clinton, polygamy and the church and other subjects.

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