National TV show focuses on Church: Apostle interviewed; aspects of gospel shared on 'Nightline'

The basic principles and doctrines of the Church were the focus of a recent nationwide program on ABC-TV network, where Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve was interviewed by Ted Koppel, anchor of "Nightline."

Portions of the interview were used Oct. 27, 1994, as part of "Nightline's" profile of the Church, entitled, "On the March."The 30-minute program featured interviews and footage shot at various locations, including California, New York, Utah, Washington D.C. and the Philippines. Elder Ballard's interview was the only one conducted by Mr. Koppel.

Mr. Koppel described the Church as one of the fastest growing religions in the country and rapidly spreading throughout the world. "It is a Christian faith but those who profess it are neither Protestant or Catholic. Its members all but define the term `family values.' " He later added: "The Church's moral, social and financial aid to its members has made it an attractive beacon of stability in a troubled world."

Topics covered in the interview with Elder Ballard included the Church's origin, belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father's plan, the Church's missionary effort, restoration of priesthood authority, the need for continuing revelation, the roles of men and women within the Church, and Church growth.

Though not used in the program, taping began when the "Nightline" producers sent a crew to the Manhattan meetinghouse to cover President Ezra Taft Benson's funeral, which was broadcast over satellite.

"Nightline" producers, originally interested in focusing on the Church in Utah, were encouraged by Michael Leonard, manager of the Church's Public Affairs Office in New York, to capture the international growth and ethnic diversity of the Church.

"Nightline" crews visited Los Angeles where they interviewed the Ramirez family from Guatemala and participated in their family home evening and a youth service project.

"Its not just like a religion, going to church. You change your whole life. You change your way of thinking, acting and just being," said Francisco Ramirez Jr.

The "Nightline" crew also attended a Korean sacrament meeting, and tracted with missionaries. To get a feel for the welfare program of the Church, the crew toured a bishop's storehouse, a Deseret Industries store, and a cannery in the Los Angeles area.

While in Utah, the crew spent time at Pioneer Trail State Park, the Family History Library, the Church Office Building and Temple Square. The crew was treated to a Tabernacle Choir rehearsal and the film, Legacy. The "Nightline" crew also spent time with a local bishop and his family in Scipio, Utah.

To exhibit the international expansion of the Church, producers had a crew in the Philippines follow the missionaries for a day. Accompanied by the Quezon City mission president, the crew obtained footage of a zone conference and missionaries tracting. Interviews were done with the missionaries, the people they contacted, and the mission president. In all, over 15 hours of videotape were reduced to 22 minutes that was broadcast.

With the Washington Temple in the background, Elder Ballard candidly answered Mr. Koppel's questions. The apostle discussed the origin and restoration of the gospel, as well as the doctrine of continuing revelation.

Elder Ballard, agreeing with Mr. Koppel's observation that people have a need for answers in their lives, said: "We believe that Heavenly Father has spoken through a prophet in these latter days, the Prophet Joseph Smith. And in the process of that, many of life's questions have been answered. There are many answers in the Bible, but there is a clarification of many of these answers to life's questions found in the Book of Mormon and in additional revelation received through Joseph Smith and others."

When Mr. Koppel stated that the Church has shown its ability to change, to accommodate to political realities of the day, Elder Ballard replied, "Revelation is a key principle doctrinally for the true Church. Our Heavenly Father can reveal His mind and His will to His children on any subject, on any issue that is important for His children to know."

Asked whether the revelation to give the priesthood to all worthy males was political, Elder Ballard explained that the Church was growing and expanding beyond the borders of the United States. With that reality, the president of the Church was concerned and plead with Heavenly Father to know what His desire would be for the fulness of the gospel to go to all the nations of the earth.

Mr. Koppel then asked, "Why would God change His mind?"

Elder Ballard replied, "There was a process of maturity and building and growing that had to occur in this restoration for the fulness of the gospel to this earth. . . . The biggest problem our Church faces today, bar all other problems, is growth."

Mr. Koppel asked about the Church's stand on homosexuality. Elder Ballard replied, "Our position is that morality is a standard God has established. We interpret chastity to being morally clean or pure before marriage, without any sexual relationships prior to marriage and being totally honorable and true to your companion in marriage. We don't think anything other than that is the law of morality or the law of chastity as our Father in Heaven has put it in place."

Discussing the role of women in the Church, Mr. Koppel asked why women cannot receive the priesthood. Elder Ballard responded, "Because Heavenly Father has given the priesthood to His sons. It is that simple. Women have been given something perhaps even more powerful than that, the ability to be a mother."

The program also featured interviews with former members of the Church who expressed their views on topics including polygamy, Church finances, women and the priesthood, and Church history.

"Nightline" airs weeknights nationwide following local news programs on ABC-TV. The documentary, a departure from the normal live debate-style of "Nightline," received higher ratings than late night programming on other networks, garnering a 19 household share (approximately 11 million viewers) in the top markets, 12 percent above "Nightline's" average share for the October Nielsen sweep ratings.

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