Moving Church forward with faith

First Presidency reflects on work of past 10 years

On what President Gordon B. Hinckley described as "a rather historic occasion," he and his counselors had a "conversation with the media" on March 11 to note the 10th anniversary of their administration as the First Presidency of the Church.

President Hinckley and his first counselor, President Thomas S. Monson, and second counselor, President James E. Faust, met in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building with representatives of the four television stations in Salt Lake City. Their conversation covered a number of topics.

Speaking of when the current administration began, March 12, 1995, President Hinckley said, "I had no idea (then) that I'd still be around 10 years later. But we're here."

President Monson, who served as a counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson and President Howard W. Hunter, said, "It has been an interesting experience to be with all three presidents, each one different, each one the man for his time. I could certainly echo that about President Hinckley today. He is a man of vision. He is a man who does not take counsel from his fears. He plans, he prepares, he prays, and with that prophetic influence which comes to him and which he then emanates, moves forward the faith."

President Faust humorously described himself as "the new man on the block." He reflected on his long association with President Hinckley, going back to the time they served as counselors in different stake presidencies. He also spoke of the years during which he has served alongside President Monson, and said that President Hinckley, President Monson and he have spent a good part of their adult lives working together.

"I want to echo everything that President Monson said about the visionary leadership of President Hinckley. He has had foresight and inspiration and guidance, which have caused all these marvelous things to come about in the last 10 years." He said that the decade has been delightful and has gone by very quickly.

The first question from the media was about President Hinckley's health. "I'm fine," he replied. "I'm getting old. I know it. I'm in my 95th year, and that's getting pretty old, but (I am) still going, enjoying life. I feel pretty well, I really do. I wobble a little, but better have this end (pointing to his legs) in trouble than this end (pointing to his head)."

To a question regarding what has sustained him since the passing of his wife last April, he said, "Faith, of course. And keeping busy. The best antidote for loneliness is work."

Asked what the Church's greatest challenges are, President Hinckley said the two major challenges are growth and the training of leadership to take care of that growth. "Those are really wonderful problems. . . . The Church has added 400 new stakes and 4,000 wards and branches in the past 10 years, which is indicative of the growth that we've experienced."

Declaring that the challenges for the future will be the same, he said, "We've moved into areas where we were not serving before. We now have people in some 160 nations, more members outside the United States than in the United States. That all presents challenges and that's likely to continue. More and more, we'll become a world Church."

Some questions dealt with what has been described as a "cultural divide" in Utah between Latter-day Saints and people of other faiths. Responding to the question, President Hinckley said, "We're all sons and daughters of God. We ought to respect, honor and help one another, regardless of our denominational differences. We cannot agree on theology, but we can certainly agree on our relationships, one with another. Frankly, I think the problem is really overstated. I don't think it's as serious as it's sometimes made out to be. We were in a party the other night and we mingled with Bishop Niederauer of the Catholic Church, other Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and had a wonderful time. We have friends all in this community. . . . "

He said that differences come of misunderstanding. "When we get to know one another, when we get to appreciate one another, and when we get to respect one another, then those differences disappear."

Noting that this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, one of the media asked President Hinckley why he thinks Joseph Smith's teachings and messages are still so important.

"Because they are the foundation of our faith," President Hinckley responded. "Everything we have is a lengthened shadow of Joseph Smith. He was the key figure in the restoration of the gospel as we have it, and our foundation of doctrine and practice and procedure all come down from him. He's as relevant today as he was 100 years ago."

Answering a question about the biggest misconceptions of the Church held by others, President Hinckley said: "The biggest misconception is that they say that we're not Christians. I don't know how in the world they arrive at that. We carry the name of the Savior in the name of the Church. The Book of Mormon is a second witness for the divinity of the Lord. We preach of Christ, we talk of Christ. He is the central figure in our religion. His Atonement is a great doctrine of the Church."

Asked if there were one event, circumstance or element that stands out as perhaps a defining moment in the past 10 years, President Hinckley said he could think of many but couldn't bring it down to one. He spoke of a few significant events:

  • The expansion of the Perpetual Education Fund. "When we announced that, we didn't have a thing. But through the generosity of our people that corpus has grown to a point where we can now educate some 18,000 young people, lifting them out of the depths of poverty to a place where, with education, they can rise above what they've known all of their lives and their families have known to a far better position and move them forward in life (and) improve their conditions."
  • The construction of the Conference Center. "We didn't know the Tabernacle was as worn out as it is. I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't moved forward on the construction of that Conference Center. Now we can shut down the Tabernacle and take care of that, and we have a wonderful place in which to carry forward our conferences and other meetings."
  • The expansion of the distribution of the Book of Mormon. "Fifty-one million copies of the Book of Mormon have been distributed in the last 10 years. That's tremendous when you look back to the beginning and see the influence and the impact of that book upon our society."
  • The extension of humanitarian aid. "We've blessed people's lives. Most of the recipients of that aid have not been members of the Church. We were honored just the other day because we have made it possible to almost eradicate polio; 12 million children have been inoculated and immunized against polio through a contribution which this Church has made."

President Monson said that another element is the strengthening of the homes of Latter-day Saints. "Family home evening is one of those ways. Where there is a strong home, a strong family where love prevails, then I believe the Church will grow and prosper and communities will be blessed." He referred to President Hinckley as "a great advocate of the family."

A question about the Church's humanitarian and welfare efforts was directed to President Monson, who served as chairman of the Welfare Executive Committee for a number of years and, as a young bishop, presided over a ward that had a welfare load he described as "a little heavier than most wards or stakes in the Church." He has been involved in working with others in the Church and of other faiths in aiding those who are in need. Also, he served on a presidential task force on private-sector initiatives under the direction of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The task force worked to identify and encourage programs and patterns of giving by individuals, corporations and foundations to those in need.

Cooperating with other churches and organizations, he said, "is the symbol that we try to achieve the strength that comes of people working together rather than the isolation of one working alone."

He gave as local examples Latter-day Saints working with the Catholic Church's Good Samaritan program in which they feed the hungry regardless of their faith, and of Latter-day Saints serving through the Catholic Church's St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen. "I think the cooperative effort is alive and well, and I certainly want to give credit to all the other faiths who have joined with us in taking care of the people right here in this valley," President Monson said.

He spoke also of the broader service and contributions of food, clothing, medical supplies and other materials in working with other faith groups and organizations worldwide. Examples he cited were of the Church's quick response to aid victims of tsunamis in southern Asia and the series of hurricanes that struck Florida in recent months. President Monson said that in both instances, as well as in many other disasters throughout the world, "we were there on time, with all that we could supply, cash and otherwise."

He noted that men who are experts in drilling for water go on missions to such places as Africa to drill wells that bring clean drinking water to hundreds of people, and that farmers go on missions to other countries where they teach farmers how to double and quadruple their crops. "The know-how is shared," President Monson said. "That's just one of the many things we do."

The subject of politics, specifically in Utah, arose. President Faust affirmed "the Church has no candidates to the legislature. In every general election and often times in municipal elections, we have had a statement read from the pulpit to the effect that the Church was favoring no political party, no political candidate, nobody was authorized to speak for the Church. We're trying to put an even hand on it as best we can."

Answering a question about the legacy for which this presidency would like to be known, President Monson said, "I believe this administration, particularly President Gordon B. Hinckley, will be known for taking the temple to the people. Rather than having (members) come long distances to attend a holy temple, he has pioneered the concept of the smaller temple located in many places so a temple is available to our membership almost anywhere in the world, with little effort on their part to get there. . . .

"He has also always been a missionary. He's had long years in the Missionary Department and he has emphasized the need for missionaries to be representatives of the Church and to, with love in their hearts, go forward proclaiming our message to other people."

President Faust said, "President Hinckley, when we were first interviewed 10 years ago, said something to the effect that we are going to carry on, we're going to carry on the legacy of our forebears, our forefathers, and continue."

Further, President Faust added, "This presidency can be perceived as being united in what it's undertaking to do under the leadership of our president."

President Hinckley said, "We constitute the presidency, but we have a Council of the Twelve Apostles, and we have the Quorums of the Seventy and we have the Presiding Bishopric. It's a great team, all working together. There's unity, there's peace, there's a direction among us. Out of that unified effort of strong men is coming a tremendous result and will continue to do so.

"Now, as to what we will be remembered by in the future: I don't know. I don't care. We just do our very best today and leave the rest for whatever happens."

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