SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH-As President Gordon B. Hinckley approaches his fifth anniversary as LDS Church prophet, the Salt Lake Tribune's Peggy Fletcher Stack interviewed him on the last five years and on what he expects for the Church in the future. President Hinckley was set apart as LDS Church President and Prophet on March 12, 1995.
The interview covers a wide range of subjects, including the positions the Church has taken on moral issues, which have injected it into both national and local politics. He also spoke about the Church's efforts to be seen as Christian and about the possibility of future changes in the status of women and the scriptures.
The interview, portions of which were published verbatim in the Tribune, also covers the strains on leadership and finances that the growth of the Church causes. Hinckley told Stack his feelings about the Church's history and its continuing growth.
As always, Hinckley was modest in the interview, playing down his personal accomplishments. He says he is in good health, and that he hasn't set out to define his presidency in any way, unlike President Benson's emphasis on the Book of Mormon. While he has many notable accomplishments, he was reluctant to name anything as his greatest accomplishment, instead saying that his ambition has been to get out among the members of the Church around the world.
In spite of this modesty, Hinckley has dedicated 24 temples as President of the Church, and 22 more before that-more than everyone else. He is also the source of the brilliant idea to build smaller temples, rapidly expanding access to temple blessings around the world. He has also presided over the building of the LDS Church's new Conference Center and the issuing of the "Proclamation on the Family."
As far as getting "out among the people of this church across the world," Hinckley has visited more than 100 nations where there are members of the LDS Church, "Wherever we go we see local leaders of various nationalities speaking various languages with different skin colors all acting as if they've been in the church for 50 years," Hinckley said. "It lets them see we are one with them and we're all one great big family working together for the same common cause."
The interview also squelched some long held rumors, such as the claim that the LDS Church will adopt the "Proclamation on the Family" or the more recent "Testimony of the Apostles" as scripture. "We've never considered it," Hinckley said. He also said there was no need to shorten or eliminate Sunday School from the standard 3-hour block of LDS meetings, "It's not a serious problem to go for three hours," he said. "If you are at a university, you are in class after class all day long, five days a week in some cases."
Hinckley went on to say that many of the predictions about the LDS Church's growth are speculative. In response to a question about BYU President Merrill J. Bateman's suggestion that the Church would have 1000 temples by the year 2025, he said that he didn't know what the Church would do, "He made the statement, you ask him."
On the Church's role in issues like same sex marriage and the Equal Rights Amendment, Hinckley defended the Church's involvement, saying, "What's a church for if it isn't to fight for values, to take a stand and face up to these moral issues?" While he says that the Church classifies as moral issues are "those things which directly affect the welfare of the church," he notes that the Church's involvement with California's proposition 22 is as part of a coalition, and that the Church didn't contribute financially, instead encouraging members to contribute.
Stack asked him then if the Church weighed public opinion before taking a stand on an issue. Hinckley said no, ". . . this church is not run by polls, . . . we don't pay any attention to polls." But he said that the leadership of the Church is out among the members of the Church and is constantly aware of what the feelings of the people are.
He told the Tribune that he had expected some resistance on the purchase of a one-block section of Main Street from Salt Lake City. While emphasizing the Church's actions were above board and open so that the public knew about the sale, he said that the reason for purchasing the street was for control, "The only reason we own property around here is so that we can control the use of it. Really."
On the position of women in the Church, Hinckley said he foresaw no changes in their organizational roles, "Those women sit on other church boards, they sit with us in other deliberative bodies and they make a tremendous contribution. Now, are they in second place to us? No, I don't think so. We walk side by side."
But he did say that the Seventies are likely to keep expanding as the Church expands, "The church is organized in such a way we could go on expanding the Seventies limitlessly," he said.
In one particularly interesting part of the interview, Hinckley listed some of his favorite authors. The first mentioned was Charles Dickens, who's "Life of our Lord" is an oft-quoted favorite. Hinckley was recently given a first edition copy of the 1834 book. He also expressed an admiration for pulitzer prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, who was a classmate at the University of Utah. Hinckley said he admired Stegner's account of the Mormon pioneer trek, "The Gathering of Zion," calling it "a very moving book." "He's done a good job, and I have enjoyed it. I've quoted on it, extensively at various times." Hinckley also mentioned biographer William Manchester, saying he particularly enjoyed his "Life of Churchill."
Hinckley also hinted that he as a surprise for the community coming this summer. He will turn 90 on June 23rd, and when the Tribune asked if he had any special plans, he said, "Yes, but I'm not going to tell you. I'm a man who doesn't need anything. On my birthday, I'm going to try to give something to the people of the community."
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