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Leader broke down barriers, spread good will

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

 (Deseret Morning News archives) (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.
 (Deseret Morning News archives) (Deseret Morning News archives)
"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:
President Hinckley is interviewed by talk show host Larry King on the Cable News Network's President Hinckley is interviewed by talk show host Larry King on the Cable News Network's "Larry King Live" in Los Angeles. He was interviewed in September 1998 and on Christmas Eve in 1999. (Ho, Reuters)
"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.
President Hinckley sits next to former President George Bush at Southern Utah University's centennial in 1997. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News) President Hinckley sits next to former President George Bush at Southern Utah University's centennial in 1997. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News)
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.
President Hinckley receives the Catholic Community Services' Distinguished Humanitarian Award from Bishop George Niederauer in October 2004. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News) President Hinckley receives the Catholic Community Services' Distinguished Humanitarian Award from Bishop George Niederauer in October 2004. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News)
In another appearance with King on Christmas Eve 1999, President Hinckley said there was a greater chance of unity among all religions now than ever before. "We have differences, of course we do. But there's a greater spirit of tolerance — I think a greater spirit of acceptance of other religions," he said on the show. Also interviewed at that time were the Rev. Robert Schuller and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"Standing for Something — 10 Neglected Virtues that Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes," released in February 2000, was written for a national audience, President Hinckley said.
He expressed concern that many people had abandoned time-honored and proven virtues, particularly love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness and mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude, optimism and faith.
 (Deseret Morning News archives) (Deseret Morning News archives)
He called for a "return to God," declaring a need to worship him, to acknowledge his power and to seek his guidance.
In November 1999, President Hinckley was honored as Communicator of the Year by two professional public relations organizations. He received the Parry D. Sorensen Communicator of the Year Award at a Golden Spike Awards luncheon of the Intermountain Association of Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America.
At the NAACP's regional conference in Salt Lake City in April 1998, President Hinckley spoke on the need for fathers to take their place at the head of the family and to bridge racial barriers. He commended the NAACP for the efforts its members were making.
The group gave President Hinckley three separate ovations. And when he was finished speaking, Salt Lake NAACP President Jeanetta Williams presented him with a Distinguished Service Award.
In September 1999, he dedicated a gravesite memorial to those who died in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in southwestern Utah in 1857, in which LDS settlers and their American Indian allies attacked a wagon train. He said, "Let the book of the past be closed. Let peace come into our hearts." He said the tragedy was something to remember — not with bitterness but with a spirit of compassion and understanding.
"We now live in a diverse society," he told the congregation at the 2002 Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert. "Without forsaking our own faith, we can and must respect the desire of others. We can practice our own religion without offending others. We can be good neighbors, working together to build our community."

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