Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should join in legal and political efforts in the battle against AIDS, while protecting themselves through strict obedience to the doctrine of chastity before marriage, fidelity after, and abstinence from all homosexual behavior, the church's First Presidency said Friday.The First Presidency is the governing body of the 6.5 million-member church.

In a two-page statement, the three-member First Presidency also admonished members to extend compassion to those who are ill with the fatal disease.

"We express great love and sympathy for all victims but particularly for those who have received the virus through blood transfusions, babies afflicted from infected mothers, and innocent marriage partners who

have been infected by a spouse," the statement read. "In the Lord's eternal plan, those who endure such suffering, pain and injustice, not of their own doing, will receive compensatory blessings through the Lord's infinite mercy."

According to church officials, the statement was released after careful consideration, including review of available scientific and medical information.

The statement, issued to educate as well as counsel church members, said acquired immune deficiency syndrome damages the body's natural ability to defend itself against disease.

"Unlike some major epidemics of the past that were transmitted by polluted water, insect bites and casual skin or respiratory contact, AIDS is transmitted through sexual intimacy with infected persons, through illegal intravenous drug use, from infected mothers to babies before or during birth, and to persons receiving infected blood or blood products," it said.

The statement emphasized that the AIDS virus (HIV) is not transmitted through casual contact in homes, schools, churches or at places of work. "People who are obedient to divine commandments need not unduly fear the affliction although AIDS has infected innocent victims, including unsuspecting marriage partners, babies and those who have received infected blood."

It quoted from a 1987 sermon in which President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, urged people to rise above carnal attractions that often result in tragedy.

"We, with others, hope that discoveries will make possible both prevention and healing from this dread affliction," President Hinckley said during the April 1987 General Priesthood meeting. "But regardless of such discoveries, the observance of one clearly understandable and divinely given rule would do more than all else to check this epidemic. That is chastity before marriage and total fidelity in marriage.

"Prophets of God have repeatedly taught through the ages that practices of homosexual relations, fornication and adultery are grievous sins," he said. "Sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage are forbidden by the Lord. We reaffirm those teachings . . . each of us has a choice between right and wrong. But with that choice there inevitably will follow consequences. Those who choose to violate the commandments of God put themselves at great spiritual and physical jeopardy . . . we plead with people everywhere to live in accordance with the teachings of our creator and rise above carnal attractions that often result in the tragedies that follow moral transgression."

President Hinckley added, "The Lord has proclaimed that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and is intended to be an eternal relationship bonded by trust and fidelity. Latter-day Saints, of all people, should marry with this sacred objective in mind. Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices, which first should clearly be overcome with a firm and fixed determination never to slip to such practices again.

"Having said this, I desire now to say with emphasis that our concern for the bitter fruit of sin is coupled with Christlike sympathy for its victims, innocent or culpable," the church leader said. "We advocate the example of the Lord, who condemned the sin, yet loved the sinner. We should reach out with kindness and comfort to the afflicted, ministering to their needs and assisting them with their problems. We repeat, however, that the way of safety and the road to happiness lie in abstinence before marriage and fidelity following marriage."

The First Presidency encouraged members to become informed about AIDS and to avoid actions that place themselves or others at risk.

"Laws and policies dealing with attempts to control the spread of AIDS are being adopted in many countries throughout the world. Members should become familiar with the laws and policies in their own land and join in wise and constructive efforts to stem the spread of this debilitating and deadly affliction," the statement said.

"The Lord has not left mankind without clear guidance on matters that affect our happiness. That guidance is chastity before marriage, total fidelity in marriage, abstinence from all homosexual relations, avoidance of illegal drugs, and reverence and care for the body, which is the `temple of God' " (I Corinthians 3:16).