Rexburg - A top LDS religious leader gave a rare unscripted fireside to Brigham Young University-Idaho students Saturday.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, focused much of his remarks on how the LDS Church is viewed by nonmembers and the media. He taught students about conveying the message of the LDS faith.
Ballard spoke candidly about experiences with the national news media, specifically touching on his experiences during former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Romney is LDS.
The apostle talked about the challenge of defending and conveying LDS beliefs in a way that could be understood by people not affiliated with the church.
"You remember Mr. (Mike) Huckabee (who was also vying to be the Republican candidate for president), who among other things said that Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil were brothers?" Ballard asked students. "Remember that? It went all over the media.
"Well they are!" Ballard exclaimed to a laughing student body.
"But they (the media and nonmembers) don't understand that, because they don't have the (LDS gospel) restoration. They don't understand the spiritual relationship that ... we are all sons and daughters of God, and that Lucifer was one of those and (that) he chose to use his agency in an unrighteous way."
One question that Ballard says reporters frequently ask is "Why aren't Mormons Christian?" He said evangelicals have criticized that church for not being a Christian faith because the LDS Church does not consider the 4th century Nicene Creed as religious doctrine. Rather, it believes in a modern restoration.
"(We) explain to (reporters) who our Heavenly Father is, who the Lord Jesus Christ is, and who the Holy Ghost is, as revealed to us through the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith," said Ballard.
"It always bothered (reporters) when we would say that we just don't believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was praying to himself when he often prayed to his Heavenly Father for guidance."
Another question often asked by reporters dealt with the secretive nature of the LDS Church.
"We have almost 19,000 chapels scattered around the world, 53,000 full-time missionaries that are trying to drag people into the 19,000 chapels. We don't understand why you would say we are a secret society," Ballard said as he related his response to BYU-Idaho students.
He explained that the secretive stigma had to do with church restrictions on who can enter LDS temples.
"The world has no concept of what a temple is ... they see our temples and think our temples are like a cathedral (and because) they can't go into that cathedral ... therefore we are a secret society.
"We take great joy in explaining to them the purpose of the temple. The temple is not a meetinghouse -- the temple is a house dedicated to the Lord where his children come to make sacred covenants."
Ballard talked about spiritual ignorance or darkness among so many of God's children. He reminded students "how tremendous a thing it is to be a member of the church and to have a knowledge of who we are and where we came from."
"We understand the covenants and the commandments we need to enter into so we can go back to the presence of our Heavenly Father," Ballard said. "We understand that as members of the church. But out there even among those that are writing in religious columns -- they don't get it."
He said LDS church members "have a big job ahead of us."
"We have a tremendous responsibility as members of the church. I think we are going to have to learn to be more aggressive. I think we have to learn to be a little more effective in our ability to share what we know to be true with the world."
He also spoke briefly about the Proposition 8 controversy, and how he had received letters from LDS members questioning why the church was involved. He says the answer was simple.
Speaking of the biblical Adam and Eve, Ballard said,
"They had a charge to multiply and replenish the earth ... that is a marvelous and glorious experience to bring up children, to have and raise a family and that is done between a husband and a wife who are married.
"Marriage is a vital, important doctrine of the church, and we can't do anything about it but stand in favor of it."
He encouraged membership to treat the topic with love but said that the LDS Church cannot succumb to abandoning the "great and marvelous principle of marriage between a man and a women."
Ballard concluded his remarks by urging students not to have an "all is well in Zion," attitude.
He told students to fortify their testimonies of the restoration of the gospel.
"You must be prepared to stand for that -- and in loving, kind, gentle terms, be able to defend it and teach it. That's what the Lord expects of you and what he expects of me."
In addition to Ballard's address BYU-Idaho students also heard from two other high-ranking LDS officials, Elder Robert E. Chambers and Elder Glenn L. Pace.
As of Monday afternoon, official transcripts of the fireside had not been released.