President Boyd K. Packer and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve discussed the doctrines and practices of the Church with prominent executives and media representatives in New York City and Washington, D.C., Jan. 27-28.
The Church leaders met in New York City with Peter Jennings, managing editor and anchor of ABC News World News Tonight; Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report; Neil Braun, president of NBC Television; and editors and writers at the New York Times. In Washington, D.C., they met with retired General Colin Powell, the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.Invited into executive offices and board rooms, President Packer and Elder Ballard were warmly received as they were asked questions and had opportunities to explain the history and beliefs of the Church.
These meetings were part of an ongoing effort to more fully bring the Church "out of obscurity" by introducing members of the Quorum of Twelve to opinion leaders and media representatives.
Also while in New York City, President Packer and Elder Ballard spoke to an estimated 1,300 members of the Church and their non-member friends at a missionary fireside Sunday, June 26.
In his office at ABC News, Mr. Jennings told his Church visitors he was familiar with the Mormon pioneer trek and showed great interest in events scheduled for this summer commemorating the pioneer's entry into the Salt Lake Valley.
Mr. Zuckerman and Mr. Braun expressed similar interests. "It is a story that ought to be told," Mr. Zuckerman said in his meeting with the apostles.
The worldwide growth of the Church was another subject of interest to the media representatives. Mr. Jennings was aware that this year Church population will exceed 10 million members. Mr. Zuckerman was especially intrigued by the conversion process and the level of commitment members have to the Church. He observed that it is "no small decision" to join the Church, and asked the apostles whether there are those who have trouble living up to the standards.
President Packer and Elder Ballard acknowledged that testimony, prayer, and commitment depend upon the individual. "Go pray about it" is a common phrase in the Church, said President Packer.
Mr. Braun was also curious about conversion to the gospel. He wanted to know who the Church targets as potential converts.
President Packer and Elder Ballard responded that the gospel message is for everyone. President Packer said the Church's biggest obstacle is getting people to take the time to listen. If they take the time, then they can go to the Lord and ask if it is true, President Packer said.
As they visited with Gen. Colin Powell in his office in Washington, D.C., President Packer and Elder Ballard learned that he had become familiar with the Church's missionary program during his military career. He was also familiar with the Book of Mormon.
Gen. Powell is currently general chairman of "The President's Summit For America's Future," a conference to be held in Philadelphia April 27-29. He said his objective for the conference is "to have a responsible adult in the life of every child. That is where one-on-one mentoring is so important."
Gen. Powell underscored the importance of family and religion in the life of children. He emphasized youth must be taught right and wrong, and that they have a conscience. "The worst form of discipline my mother could inflict on me would have been to tell me that I had shamed our family," said Gen. Powell.
Family was a subject discussed at the other meetings as well. At each visit, President Packer and Elder Ballard presented copies of the "Proclamation on the Family," a statement regarding the importance of the family issued in 1995 by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.
With all the talk of family and "family values" in society today, Mr. Jennings wondered if acceptance of the Church's family message was higher today than in the past. President Packer acknowledged that more and more people are embracing the family message of the gospel. Elder Ballard explained the family home evening program and the importance of family scripture study and prayer to Mr. Jennings.
Mr. Zuckerman observed that one of the biggest problems in the United States is out-of-wedlock births. He was impressed to hear that the Church has such a strong emphasis on the family.
The Church's use of the media in proselyting generated interest at the meeting with the writers and editors at the New York Times.
Elder Ballard noted that today, in many cities and communities, it is difficult for the missionaries to get into housing complexes because of security measures. One of the Church's answers for that has been to use the media – public service announcements and paid direct-response advertisements. A response to an advertisement gives the missionaries an opportunity to make a personal visit to those who call for more information or a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Mr. Jennings wondered if there might be a debate among Church leadership about using the media as a proselyting tool.
The media message is a vehicle that facilitates one-on-one contact with the missionaries. "You cannot teach the gospel without one-on-one contact," Elder Ballard said.
The role of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve was explained at most of the meetings. The auxiliary organizations including the Relief Society, Young Women, Young Men, and the Primary were also highlighted.
The most discussion on the role of the Quorum of the Twelve, the priesthood, and the history of the Church occurred in a meeting with Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, the executive director of the New York Board of Rabbis, and Rabbi Alvin Kass, the president of that board.
In that meeting, President Packer explained the functions of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and the origins of the Church in upstate New York. Study of the Old Testament by youth in the Church's seminary program was also touched upon.
In another meeting at the New York Historical Society, the two apostles were able to do some of their own study of Church history as they examined the Society's Church-related holdings. Representatives there estimate that they have as many as 500 artifacts related to the Church.
At the missionary fireside, President Packer centered his remarks on conversion. He noted that most everyone in the world has had, or will have, a spiritual experience sufficient to build a foundation for conversion.
Elder Ballard, in his remarks, said the Church's position is unique in all of the world. "We testify and witness to the world that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living Church on the face of the earth. That is a bold declaration. It's true," he said.
The fireside was organized under the direction of Pres. John Stone of the New York New York Stake, and Pres. Ronald Rasband of the New York New York North Mission.