“This Thing Was Not Done in a Corner,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 48
My dear brethren, we have received good counsel this evening.
Since we met last April, I have been much out among our people. I have determined that for so long as I have the strength to do so, I will get out and meet with the Saints I love, both the youth and the adults. I have in recent months participated in many meetings with more than 300,000 Latter-day Saints in 17 different nations. We have traveled from sea to sea across the United States, and extensively in Asia and in Europe. I do not enjoy travel. I weary of it. Jet lag, for me, is a very real thing. But I do enjoy looking into the faces and shaking the hands of faithful Latter-day Saints, and I thank those who have made this possible.
As I have gone about the world, I have had opportunity for interviews with representatives of the media. This is always a worrisome undertaking because one never knows what will be asked. These reporters are men and women of great capacity, who know how to ask questions that come at you like a javelin. It is not exactly an enjoyable experience, but it represents an opportunity to tell the world something of our story. As Paul said to Festus and Agrippa, “This thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).
We have something that this world needs to hear about, and these interviews afford an opportunity to give voice to that.
One of the most extensive interviews was with Mr. Mike Wallace of the CBS 60 Minutes program. I express appreciation to Senator Orrin Hatch, Willard Marriott Jr., and Steve Young, who participated in this program.
Millions saw the outcome this last Easter Sunday, as Elder Haight said this morning. The editors of the program distilled about 15 minutes out of many hours of filming.
I developed a deep respect for Mr. Wallace. He is a very able professional. He was courteous, respectful, incisive in his questions, one who might be described as a tough, streetwise reporter with long experience, but a gentleman in the best sense of the word.
I first met him at a luncheon at the Harvard Club in New York about a year ago. He then came to Salt Lake City on two different occasions and interviewed me at great length in my office. I have thought this evening to read parts of those interviews as they were recorded—his questions and my extemporaneous answers just as they were given and without editing except to delete areas in the interest of time and add in brackets an occasional needed word. I do so in the spirit of reaffirming the position of this Church on a number of different and significant matters of general concern. For the most part, this is from the material not used in the broadcast.
Here are Mr. Wallace’s questions and my extemporaneous, unrehearsed answers:
Mr. Wallace: “Are you concerned about misconceptions about the Mormon Church?”
My answer: “There are still many ideas that persist concerning us. We are not well known. We have grown up in the West [for the most part]. The Church originated in Palmyra, New York. You have heard of the Mormon migration to the West, … where we established some three or four hundred different communities. … We would like to … let people come to know us for what we are and what we are trying to accomplish.”
Question: “Are there any conflicts between your convictions about families and women’s roles with the family and the aspirations of some women to occupy leadership positions in your Church?”
Reply: “We have a few women who feel that women should hold the priesthood. We have a great women’s organization. I believe it is the largest women’s organization in the world—our women’s Relief Society. They have their own officers who preside over their own organization. They carry forward a tremendous program of education among women. I think they are happy. They are doing a great work. …”
Mr. Wallace: “Since World War II, we seem to be splintering; we seem to be becoming more selfish, more self-absorbed, less community minded. Families don’t seem to mean so much, and morality has gone to hell [his expression] in a handbasket. Why?”
Response: “The basic failure is in our homes. Parents haven’t measured up to their responsibilities. It is evident. A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes. If you want to reform a nation, you begin with families, with parents who teach their children principles and values that are positive and affirmative and will lead them to worthwhile endeavors. That is the basic failure that has taken place in America. And we are making a tremendous effort to bring about greater solidarity in families. Parents have no greater responsibility in this world than the bringing up of their children in the right way, and they will have no greater satisfaction as the years pass than to see those children grow in integrity and honesty and make something of their lives. …”
His question: “Your Church has a very strict code of health. Why is that a part of religion?”
Reply: “The body is the temple of the Spirit. The body is sacred. It was created in the image of God. It is something to be cared for and used for good purposes. It ought to be taken care of, and this thing which we call the Word of Wisdom, which is a code of health, is most helpful in doing that.”
His question: “For some, particularly those who are not Mormons, your teachings demand conformity, rigidity. Those are the complaints one hears.”
Response: “Oh, yes, you may hear those complaints. I don’t think it is so. I don’t think there is substance to it. Our people have tremendous liberty. They are free to live their lives as they please.”
He asked: “Are they?”
Answer: “Oh, absolutely. Surely. They have to make choices. It is the old eternal battle that has been going on since the War in Heaven, spoken of in the book of Revelation. The forces of evil against the forces of good. We all exercise agency in the choices we make.”
Mr. Wallace: “You also have a moral code.”
Reply: “We believe in chastity before marriage and total fidelity after marriage. That sums it up. That is the way to happiness in living. That is the way to satisfaction. It brings peace to the heart and peace to the home.”
Next question: “Some of the students we’ve talked to say that the health code is easy compared to no premarital sex. … They say that not smoking or not drinking is a clear line but that the sexual line is somewhere … [well] they are confused, some of them anyway, about where that line is.”
Response: “Oh, I think they know. Any young man or woman who has grown up in this Church knows where that line is. When you see yourself slipping, begin to exercise some self-discipline. And if it is a serious problem, take it to the Lord. Talk with God about it. Share your burden with Him. He will give you strength. He will help you. They know that. I am confident they know that.”
Mr. Wallace: “Why must only men run the Church?”
Reply: “‘Only men’ do not run the Church. Men have their place in the Church. Men hold the priesthood offices of the Church. But women have a tremendous place in this Church. They have their own organization. It was started in 1842 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, called the Relief Society, because its initial purpose was to administer help to those in need. It has grown to be, I think, the largest women’s organization in the world, with a membership of more than three million. They have their own offices, their own presidency, their own board. That reaches down to the smallest unit of the Church everywhere in the world.”
His next question: “But they don’t have the power.”
Response: “They have office. They have responsibility. They have control of their organization.”
Mr. Wallace: “But you run it. The men run it. Look, I’m not being …”
Answer: “The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.”
Mr. Wallace: “Why is it that Mormons apparently have so many children?”
Reply: “We don’t dictate family size. That is left to the father and the mother, the husband and wife. And we expect them to make of this the most serious business of their lives, the rearing of the family. …”
Next question: “There are those who say that Mormonism began as a cult. You don’t like to hear that.”
Response: “I don’t know what that means, really. But if it has negative connotations, I don’t accept it as applying to this Church. People may have applied it; they may have applied it in the early days. But look, here is this great Church now. There are only six churches in America with more members than this Church. We are the second church in membership in the state of California. We are reaching out across the world. We are in more than 150 nations. This is a great, strong, viable organization with a tremendous outreach. … You will find our people in business institutions, high in educational circles, in politics, in government, in whatever. We are [rather] ordinary people trying to do an extraordinary work.”
Mr. Wallace: “It’s expensive to be a Mormon.”
Answer: “Oh, it isn’t expensive. We are living by the law of the Lord—tithing.”
Question: “But 10 percent of your gross goes to the Church, and you have nothing to do with the way the money is spent—an average Mormon, that is.”
Reply: “The average Mormon has a good deal to do with it. He is a member of the Church.”
Mr. Wallace: “But he has nothing to do with how it is going to be spent.”
Response: “If he is a bishop, he has the expenditures of his ward. A lot of that money comes back to the local units. What is that money used for? It is used for Church purposes.”
His question: “What are Church purposes exactly?”
Answer: “Building chapels. About 375 a year. Think about that. New buildings each year to accommodate the needs of the growing membership. It is used for education. We maintain the largest private, church-sponsored university in the world, Brigham Young University, with its 27,000 students on that campus, as well as other campuses. We maintain a tremendous institute of religion program, where we have off-campus connections with [students in] the major universities of America. You will find institutes at UCLA, USC, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of New York, the University of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and so forth.
“When it comes to the financial circumstances of the Church, we have all funds carefully audited. We have a corps of auditors who are qualified CPAs who are independent from all other agencies of the Church and who report only to the First Presidency of the Church. We try to be very careful. I keep on the credenza behind my desk a widow’s mite that was given me in Jerusalem many years ago as a reminder, a constant reminder, of the sanctity of the funds with which we have to deal. They come from the widow, they are her offering as well as the tithe of the rich man, and they are to be used with care and discretion for the purposes of the Lord. We treat them carefully and safeguard them and try in every way that we can to see that they are used as we feel the Lord would have them used for the upbuilding of His work and the betterment of people.”
Mr. Wallace: “Young men and women give two years of their lives to serve as missionaries?”
Response: “Young women serve 18 months. The work is strenuous; it is difficult. It isn’t easy to go to New York or London or Tokyo and knock on doors and face people you have never met before. But it does something for you. It does two or three things. It creates in the first place a feeling of reliance upon the Lord. … It builds within [a young man] something of strength and capacity. If he goes to a foreign land, he develops expertise in the language; he learns to speak the language of the people. Wherever he goes, he comes to know the people among whom he serves and brings back with him something of their culture, their way of doing things, with appreciation and respect for them and their conditions and circumstances. There is nothing like it—when you think that we have nearly 50,000 out right now, and that number is constantly rotating so that it touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of these people. … I can walk down the streets of Salt Lake City with you and meet people who speak fluently in Japanese and Chinese and Swedish and Norwegian and Finnish and Spanish and Portuguese, and who have love in their hearts for the people among whom they served.”
Question: “Why are members of the Church expected to keep a year’s supply of food, clothing, and fuel?”
Reply: “We teach self-reliance as a principle of life, that we ought to provide for ourselves and take care of our own needs. And so we encourage our people to have something, to plan ahead, keep … food on hand, to establish a savings account, if possible, against a rainy day. Catastrophes come to people sometimes when least expected—unemployment, sickness, things of that kind. The individual, as we teach, ought to do for himself all that he can. When he has exhausted his resources, he ought to turn to his family to assist him. When the family can’t do it, the Church takes over. And when the Church takes over, our great desire is to first take care of his immediate needs and then to help him for so long as he needs to be helped, but in that process to assist him in training, in securing employment, in finding some way of getting on his feet again. That’s the whole objective of this great welfare program.”
Mr. Wallace: “Why is Salt Lake City so clean?”
Answer: “Well, we hope it is a reflection of the people who live here.”
Mr. Wallace: “It is astonishing to walk down the streets of Salt Lake City.” [He’d just come from New York City.]
Response: “We hope it will stay that way. I hope that it reflects, in some measure at least, some of the teachings of this Church. Look at the beauties of Temple Square right here in the heart of the city, the very core of the city. Look at the magnificent temple and that great Tabernacle. They were built with vision by people with culture, with refinement, with artistry. These are not the work of charlatans. They are the work of people who had a great vision to do beautiful things.”
Mr. Wallace: “The Mormons, Mr. President, call you a ‘living Moses,’ a prophet who literally communicates with Jesus. How do you do that?”
Reply: “… Let me say first that there is a tremendous history behind this Church, a history of prophecy, a history of revelation, and … decisions which set the pattern of the Church so that there are not constant recurring problems that require any special dispensation. But there are occasionally things that arise where the will of the Lord [is needed and] is sought, and in those circumstances I think the best way I could describe the process is to liken it to the experience of Elijah as set forth in the book of First Kings. Elijah spoke to the Lord, and there was a wind, a great wind, and the Lord was not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and the Lord was not in the earthquake. And there was a fire, and the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire a still, small voice, which I describe as the whisperings of the Spirit. Now, let me just say, categorically, that the things of God are understood by the Spirit of God, and one must have and seek and cultivate that Spirit, and there comes understanding and it is real. I can give testimony of that.”
Question: “Why is your Church so aggressive about spreading the word, having missionaries knock on doors where they may not be welcome and where they’re obviously not invited?”
Answer: “We believe that the Lord meant what He said when He said, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’ [Mark 16:15]. We believe in that mandate. We think it rests upon us to try to fulfill it. We are doing that with all of the energy and resources that we have.”
Mr. Wallace: “How do you view non-Mormons?”
Response: “With love and respect. I have many non-Mormon friends. I respect them. I have the greatest of admiration for them.”
Question: “Despite the fact that they haven’t really seen the light yet?”
Reply: “Yes. To anybody who is not of this Church, I say we recognize all of the virtues and the good that you have. Bring it with you and see if we might add to it.”
Mr. Wallace: “Tell me about Brigham Young.”
Reply: “Brigham Young had a prophetic vision. Can anyone doubt it who looks around here today? No. And that’s the way it is with this Church. It has been led by revelation. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God for the blessing of His sons and daughters wherever they may be found.”
Question: “As you know, some skeptics say that major changes in Church policy have come from political pressures, not necessarily as revelations from God. For example, the business of ending polygamy, say the skeptics, wasn’t because it was revelation but because Utah wanted to become a state.”
Response: “One of the purposes of a prophet is to seek the wisdom and the will of the Lord and to teach his people accordingly. It was the case with Moses when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt. It was the case for the Old Testament prophets when people were faced with oppression and trouble and difficulty. That is the purpose of a prophet, to give answers to people for the dilemmas in which they find themselves. That is what happens. That is what we see happen. Is it a matter of expediency, political expediency? No! Inspired guidance? Yes!”
Mr. Wallace: “How big a problem, Mr. President, is child abuse in the Mormon Church?”
Reply: “I hope it isn’t a big problem. … This is a serious phenomenon that is finding expression all over the world. It is a terrible thing. It is a wicked thing. It is a reprehensible thing. It is a thing of which I have spoken time and again.”
Question: “What are you doing to reduce it?”
Response: “We are doing everything we know how to reduce it. We are teaching our people. We are talking about it. We have set up a course of instruction for our bishops all across the nation. All last year we carried on an educational program. We have set up a help-line for them where they can get professional counseling and help with these problems. We have issued a journal dealing with child abuse, spouse abuse, abuse of the elderly, the whole problem of abuse. We are concerned about it. I am deeply concerned about the victims. My heart reaches out to them. I want to do everything we can to ease the pain, to preclude the happening of this evil and wicked thing. … I know of no other organization in this world that has taken more exhaustive measures, tried harder, done more to tackle this problem, to work with it, to do something to make a change. We recognize the terrible nature of it, and we want to help our people, reach out to them, assist them.”
Mr. Wallace: “One sociologist tells us that the root of the problem is the fact that men, in effect, in your Church have authority over women so that your clergymen tend to sympathize with the men being abusers instead of with the abused.”
Response: “That is one person’s opinion. I don’t think there is any substance to it. I think that the men of this Church, the bishops of this Church, the officers of this Church are as concerned with the welfare of the women of the Church as they are with the men of the Church and with the children of the Church. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that for one minute. I am confident of that. I have been around a long time. I have known this Church from the ground up, inside and out, over a very, very long period of time. I am 85 years of age now and I’ve lived with it all my life and I think I know how it functions. I think I know the attitude of our people. Now, there will be a blip here, a blip there, a mistake here, a mistake there. But by and large the work is wonderful, and vast good is being accomplished, and the welfare of women and children is as seriously considered as is the welfare of the men in this Church, if not more so.”
Well, brethren, that’s enough for this occasion. Needless to say, we were blessed of the Lord. Now in conclusion I wish to say that none of us ever need hesitate to speak up for this Church, for its doctrine, for its people, for its divine organization and divinely given responsibility. It is true. It is the work of God. The only things that can ever embarrass this work are acts of disobedience to its doctrine and standards by those of its membership. That places upon each of us a tremendous responsibility. This work will be judged by what the world sees of our behavior. God give us the will to walk with faith, the discipline to do what is right at all times and in all circumstances, the resolution to make of our lives a declaration of this cause before all who see us, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.