The message that Latter-day Saints are Christians regardless of what others might say is a theme LDS leaders have been speaking about all year, and it continued Saturday as the 168th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened on Temple Square.

But President Gordon B. Hinckley said the real measure of true Christianity must also include tolerance for all people, including those of other faiths. In his opening address, President Hinckley urged members to "carry forward our distinctive mission" in a Christ-like way, without any "arrogance or self-righteousness."In the growing church where membership recently passed the 10 million mark, members must be "gracious to those who are not of our faith." To handle the church's burgeoning numbers throughout the world, 13 new church general authorities were also sustained and three other general authorities were reassigned among the Quorums of the Seventy.

Elders Sheldon F. Child, Quentin L. Cook and Francisco J. Vinas, who have been serving in the Second Quorum of the Seventy, have been called to serve in the First Quorum of the Seventy. (See details on A15.)

Church leaders also called a press conference to announce the release of new personal software that will aid members with genealogical research, along with a mass release of historical data on CD-ROM. (See accompanying story.)

During his remarks Saturday morning, President Hinckley reiterated the focus of church members gathered on Temple Square and in meetinghouses around the world: "We are met to worship the Lord, to declare his divinity and his living reality. No one, regardless of what he or she may say, can diminish that love."

Calling members of the church "non-Christian" is a favorite theme among some who criticize the church for believing in continuing revelation to living prophets, scripture beyond that recorded in the Bible and that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are separate and distinct individuals, standing apart from the dogma of the Trinity.

Members of the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirmed their position that the LDS Church is not Christian when they met with the Deseret News Editorial Board on Thursday during an advance planning visit to Salt Lake City. As many as 15,000 Southern Baptists will gather in Salt Lake City in June for their annual convention. Interaction between the Southern Baptists and Latter-day Saints will be plentiful when the Baptists spend two days "witnessing" in the Salt Lake area, much of it door-to-door.

"There are some of other faiths who do not regard us as Christians. That is not important. How we regard ourselves is what is important," President Hinckley said.

President Boyd K. Packer and Elder M. Russell Ballard, both of the Quorum of the Twelve, have spoken on the same subject in recent public addresses, reaffirming the faith as Christ's true church.

It is important, President Hinckley said, that church members be able to discuss doctrinal differences with others without being disagreeable, all the while holding to the faith.

"We can respect other religions and must do so. We must recognize the great good they accomplish. We must teach our children to be tolerant and friendly toward those not of our faith. We can and do work with those of other religions in the defense of those values which have made our civilization great and our society distinctive."

Also essential is an attitude toward others that demonstrates Christianity. "A holier-than-thou attitude is not becoming to us," he said, summarizing stories told to him of LDS youngsters ostracizing schoolmates or acting unkindly to children of other faiths. "I hope this is not true. If it is, I apologize to those who have been offended."

"Let us rise above all such conduct and teach our children to do likewise. Let us be true disciples of Christ, observing the Golden Rule, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. . . . Love and respect will overcome every element of animosity. Our kindness may become the most persuasive argument for that which we believe."

Bishop Richard C. Edgley of the Presiding Bishopric was a speaker after President Hinckley and told of an experience he had professing the church's Christianity, without success, to a business acquaintance.

"It is interesting how the lack of understanding by a few can innocently or purposefully misguide many. Judging another's heart and conscience is probably best left to the righteous judge of us all. Surely the final determination as to who is a true disciple of Christ will be left to the Savior, who said `I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.' "

President Hinckley also admonished young men on Saturday evening to live in such a way that they will be righteous missionaries, husbands and fathers. During the priesthood session, he urged them, "Live worthy of becoming a father of whom your wife and children will be proud."

He said men will find "no greater happiness than that found in your home. You will have no more serious obligation than that which you face in your home. The truest mark of your success in life will be the quality of your marriage."

The conference continues Sunday during morning and afternoon sessions. Speakers are chosen from the General Authorities and general officers of the church, and each choose their own subjects, so themes that emerge show the similarity in the leaders' interests and concerns.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

LDS 1997 Statistical Report

Church units

Stakes 2,424

Districts 649

Missions 318

Wards and Branches 24,670

These wards and branches are in 143 nations and 19 territories and possessions.

Church membership

Total membership 10,070,524

Increase in children of record 75,214

Converts baptized 317,798

Missionaries

Full-time missionaries 56,531

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Expanded conference coverage

The Deseret News' coverage of the 168th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes:

- News of all talks and announcements presented in the Tabernacle and summaries of each speaker's remarks.

- Expanded summaries of each talk, printed in next Saturday's Church News.

- Complete transcripts of conference talks in the Deseret News Web edition as they become available, along with all of the daily news of conference from the newspaper and special conference features that are offered only in the Web edition, at (http://www.desnews.com/confer/main.htm).