“President Hinckley Speaks to Press, Legislators, Diplomats,” Ensign, June 2000, 71–75
On 8 March 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley became the first President of the Church to address the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where more heads of state have appeared than at any other forum in the United States except the White House.
The audience included members of Congress, ambassadors and other diplomats, members of the interfaith community, and journalists from around the world. Following is the text of President Hinckley’s prepared remarks.
My thanks to all who are here today. I am deeply honored by your presence. This is a very large gathering, and it is somewhat intimidating, particularly since I know who you are and what you do.
I have chosen to speak on the Church, giving a sampling of its operations. We now have more members overseas than we have in the United States, and the percentage overseas is growing, although we are growing significantly also in the United States. I believe that no other church which has risen from the soil of America has grown so large or spread so widely.
It was not many years ago that we were largely a Utah church. Now our people are found everywhere across this nation and Canada, and beyond the seas around the world. We are now operating in more than 160 nations. Our worldwide membership is approaching 11 million.
Of these, approximately 4 million are women who belong to what we call the Relief Society of the Church. I think it is the oldest women’s organization in the world and perhaps the largest. It has its own officers and board, and these officers also sit on other boards and committees of the Church. People wonder what we do for our women. I will tell you what we do. We get out of their way and look with wonder at what they are accomplishing.
I think I might capsulize what we are doing across the world by telling you of an experience I had. I was in Mexico City to speak to the graduating class of the school which we operate in that area. I was introduced to one of the graduates, a young woman. Her mother and her grandmother had come for the exercises.
The grandmother had lived in the bush. She had never learned to read or write. She was totally illiterate. Her daughter had received a little schooling, not very much. She could read a newspaper headline or something of that kind. Now came this beautiful young woman. She was in the graduating class. I asked her, “What are you going to do now?”
She replied, “I have received a scholarship to the medical school of the National University.”
That to me was a miracle. From the bush and total illiteracy to refinement and medical school in three generations. She spoke not only her native Spanish, but English as well. She gave full credit to the Church and its programs for what had happened to her.
We all know that education unlocks the door of opportunity for the young. And so we pour large resources into educating our youth. Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is our crown jewel. It is the largest church-sponsored private university in America, with an enrollment of more than 28,000. Its graduates are now found across this nation and even across the world. They serve on the faculties of nearly every large university in America. They are in business, the professions, and in almost every honorable vocation. A substantial number are here in Washington, including 17 members of the Congress, some of whom are here today. We operate other schools. But we cannot accommodate all who might wish to attend these Church-sponsored institutions. And so we operate institutes of religion contiguous to the campuses of colleges and universities throughout the land. Here our youth are involved in religious studies and have a wonderful time socializing together.
In the early days of the Church, when our people were gathering from the British Isles and Europe, our leaders set up what was known as the Perpetual Emigration Fund. The Church loaned money to those who did not have sufficient so that they might gather to Utah. As they were employed, they repaid the loan, and this became a revolving fund for so long as it was needed.
We face a new challenge today. In the underdeveloped countries we have young men and women, many of them of capacity, but without opportunity to improve themselves. They cannot do so without help. We are now assisting some and are working on plans to assist many more to acquire education in their own lands. We are providing a ladder by which they can climb out of the impoverishment that surrounds them to make something better of their lives, to occupy places of honor and respect in society, and to make a contribution of significance to the nation of which they are a part.
We are already engaged in microcredit undertakings whereby small amounts are loaned to those for whom a hundred or two or three hundred dollars can spell an actual change in their future. When given such credit these people become entrepreneurs, taking pride in what they are doing and lifting themselves out of the bondage that has shackled their forebears for generations. From a bread shop in Ghana to a woodworking business in Honduras, we are making it possible for people to learn skills they never dreamed of acquiring and to raise their standard of living to a level of which they previously had little hope.
As the Church moves out across the world and into the future, we face two very serious problems. The first is the training of local leadership. All of our local congregations are headed by local people, volunteers who work at their regular vocations and carry on as they are called to serve, as bishops, for instance, with local congregations.
I have just been down in Mexico, and I am amazed at the quality of leaders we are developing. These are men and women of strength and capacity. They are quick learners. They are devoted and faithful. They have become better husbands and fathers and wives and mothers under the family-strengthening programs of the Church. They are an asset to the society of which they are a part, as will be the generations who come after them. That is the beauty of this work. When you touch the life of a man of this generation, that influence is felt through generations yet to come.
The second problem we face is providing places of worship as we grow so rapidly in these areas. We are constructing nearly 400 new houses of worship each year. It is a huge task. It is a tremendous responsibility. But we must accomplish it, and we are doing so. Some of these houses of worship are relatively small, and many of them are large. They are all attractive. They are well kept. They have beautiful landscaping. They are a credit to every community where they are found. And they become a wonderful example to the people.
Thirty years ago I had responsibility for our work in South America. I recall the first time I went to Santiago, Chile. There were perhaps a hundred members of the Church in the entire nation. We had a little school of about 10 students who met in a tiny building that was little more than a shed. A short time ago I was back in Santiago and spoke to a congregation assembled in a large football stadium with 57,500 in attendance. I could scarcely believe what I saw.
They were well dressed, clean, and attractive. They did not smoke, not one of them. They did not drink, not one of them. They were there as families for the most part, fathers and mothers and children. There is no generation gap among such people. There is love and honor and respect in the family circle. This is the result of Church teaching and Church family programs.
Every good citizen adds to the strength of a nation. With that assumption I do not hesitate to say that the nation of Chile is better for our presence, and the same thing is happening in every other nation where we are operating.
It is my philosophy that everyone who comes into this Church should immediately have a friend who can help him make the adjustment and also a responsibility in the Church under which he can grow.
The genius of our work is that we expect things of our people. They grow as they serve, and there are numerous opportunities to challenge them.
We do not have a professional priesthood. None of us who serve as officers of this Church was ever trained in a religious seminary. We may not have the polish of those who have been, but we bring to our service an enthusiasm for the work and a love for the people that are wonderful to witness and inspiring to experience.
We believe in the old adage that many hands make light work. We have a lay priesthood, and every worthy man is eligible to receive this priesthood. Each bishop of the Church has two counselors, devoted and able men, to assist him. None is a professional, but all are dedicated. Bishops serve for a period of about five years; then they are released and others take their place. The result is a constant development of leadership and a renewing strength of direction. Those who are released as bishops go on to other responsibilities. There is opportunity for everyone to serve according to his or her capacity.
Our tremendous missionary program builds leaders while men and women are still young. We now have nearly 60,000 missionaries serving throughout the world, every one on a volunteer basis. Most of them are young men, some are young women, and we have a few retired couples. They serve from 18 to 24 months.
I met two young women recently. They are both from Mongolia, and they are missionaries of this Church serving in Salt Lake City. We send missionaries from Salt Lake and elsewhere in the states to Mongolia and other places, and some come here from such places and partake of the culture which we have here. They learn English. They see the Church at its strongest. They will return to their native lands greatly transformed from what they were when they came here.
As you know, the Winter Olympics are coming to Salt Lake City in 2002. If requested, we shall have no trouble in offering capable translators and interpreters for the many languages that will be represented.
I can walk down the streets of Salt Lake City and meet people who speak a score or more of languages—Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Russian, Albanian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Japanese, Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese), Mongolian, Estonian, various dialects of the Philippines, and what have you. I think it is a tremendous phenomenon. All have learned these languages while serving as missionaries. And as they have learned the language of the land in which they have served, they have had companions in missionary service who are natives of those lands and who in turn have learned English from them. This cross-fertilization of languages and cultures is a tremendous thing. Conflict grows out of ignorance and suspicion. As we learn to know and appreciate those of various cultures, we come to love them. The cause of peace is strengthened in a very real sense by this tremendous program which we foster.
We now have 333 missions across the world. Each becomes a bridge to better understanding among people, to greater appreciation for other cultures.
Now another thing. For a long time we have tried to take care of our own who find themselves in distress. We operate large farming projects, not only in the United States, but in other nations as well, to insure against times of economic distress and catastrophes of one kind or another. In our Church welfare program we have dairies, bakeries, canneries, meat-packing plants, and other facilities, modern in every respect, to meet the needs of those in distress. We have bishops’ storehouses that resemble supermarkets, but they have no cash registers. They are to serve the poor. We also are trying to reach out to those who find themselves in terrible trouble because of war, earthquake, flood, drought, and other disasters. Human suffering anywhere and among any people is a matter of urgent concern for us. We have our own Latter-day Saint Charities organization, and we have worked with other nongovernmental agencies in extending humanitarian aid. These include Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps International, the American Red Cross, the Red Crescent, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and other groups across the world.
Today, this very day, as they have been during previous days, two helicopters have been flying rescue and mercy missions over the flood waters of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. When governments in that part of the world said they could do no more, we rented two helicopters at great expense to fly rescue missions. Additionally, we have sent cash; and food, clothing, and medicine are on their way to these suffering people. Those helped are not our members. Our humanitarian efforts reach far beyond our own to bless the victims of war and natural disaster wherever they may occur.
Last year alone we sent humanitarian aid to assist with 829 projects in 101 countries, giving $11.2 million in cash and $44 million in material resources for a total $55.2 million. I would like to suggest that this is no small effort. And the costs would have been much higher had it not been for the voluntary service of the very many who packed the goods in Salt Lake City and to those who unpacked them at the points of distribution.
We have dug wells in African villages, fed people, and supplied them with clothing and shelter. We have given aid in the Mexico fire of 1990, in the Bangladesh cyclone of 1991, in the China earthquake of 1991, in the Bosnia civil conflict of 1992, in Rwanda in 1994, in North Korea in 1996–98, in Central America in 1998, and in Kosovo in 1999, and today we are assisting substantially in Venezuela, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
Time will not permit me to speak of the many efforts we have made to assist those of this nation who find themselves in difficulty. Suffice it to say that we have been pleased to reach out to many Americans who have been victimized by flood, hurricane, and tornado.
One more item. Our family history archives in Salt Lake City are now the largest in the world. Satellite libraries are found in this land and others. They are open to everyone regardless of faith or religious affiliation. More than half of the people who use them are not of our faith. People everywhere desire to learn of their roots. Our family history Web site receives about eight million hits per day. I think we would have genealogical information on every man and woman in this hall. We invite you to visit our family history resources right here in the Washington area. They are found in the chapel near our temple in Kensington and in other locations. You will be made to feel welcome.
As you look into the microfilm reader you may be surprised to find the names of your parents, of your grandparents, of your great-grandparents, and of your great-great-grandparents, those who have bequeathed to you all you are of body and mind. You will feel a special connection to those who have gone before you and an increased responsibility to those who will follow.
We are now completing in Salt Lake City a great new Conference Center. Brigham Young built the famed Tabernacle on Temple Square. It was a bold undertaking to construct so large a hall in that remote pioneer community. But now it has become inadequate to our needs. For the first time our world conference in April will be held in a magnificent new hall which seats 21,000. I know of nothing to compare with it as a house of worship and a place for cultural presentations. It is beautiful and it is magnificent, and from its pulpit our message will be carried by satellite around the earth.
Now, I have had time to touch on only a few of the very many things we are trying to do, but I hope that I have given some small indication of our activities as we move this work across the world. Our desire everywhere is to make bad men good and good men better. Wherever we go, we go in the front door. Our representatives honor the laws of the nations to which they go and teach the people to be good citizens. We teach, we train, we build, we educate, we provide opportunity for growth and development. We give hope to those without hope, and there is nothing greater you can give a man or a woman than hope.
You ask how all of this has been accomplished. It takes money, you say. Where does it come from?
It comes from observance of the ancient law of the tithe. Just as Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, the great high priest of the Old Testament, so do our people contribute their tithes to the work of the Lord. They do so cheerfully with faith in the promise of Malachi that God will open the windows of heaven and shower down blessings upon them. We do not pass the plate. We do not play bingo. We pay our tithing and can testify to the goodness of the Lord.
This law is set forth in 35 words in our scripture. Compare that with the rules and regulations of the IRS.
We are a church, a church in whose name is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We bear witness of Him, and it is His example and His teachings we try to follow. We give love. We bring peace. We do not seek to tear down any other church. We recognize the good they do. We have worked with them on many undertakings. We will continue to do so. We stand as His servants. We acknowledge that we could not accomplish what we do without the help of the Almighty. We look to Him as our Father and our God and our ever-present helper, as we seek to improve the world by changing the hearts of individuals.
Thank you very much, my dear friends.
A question and answer period followed President Hinckley’s address. The New York Times’ Jack Cushman, president of the National Press Club, read questions submitted by members of the audience. Included here are excerpts from some of those questions and answers:
Q. Perhaps the most frequently asked question … is what role is politics going to be for the Church and its members?
A. Well, the Church itself as an institution does not involve itself in politics, nor does it permit the use of its buildings or facilities for political purposes. Now, we do become involved if there is a moral issue or something that comes on the legislative calendar which directly affects the Church. We tell our people who are citizens of this land and other lands that they as individuals have a civic responsibility to exercise the franchise that is theirs, so they become very active. But as a Church, as I have said, we do not become involved in tax matters or any other kinds of legislation unless there be a moral issue which we think is of great importance or something that may be directed to the Church.
Q. Why is the Church growing so quickly?
A. It is growing because it has a commission to go in the world and teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. We consider that a divine commission, and we are pursuing that very aggressively and at the same time, while in that process, we think we are doing good. We think we are improving people’s lives. We think that we are causing them to stand taller, straighter and be better people.
Q. When you watch television and see what is portrayed there, and in films, do you feel you are losing the crusade or the war?
A. No. I don’t think we are losing the war. I think we are winning the war. I am an optimist. I think the future looks good. We have a lot of problems to deal with, very serious problems. The American family is in trouble. I think no one could doubt that. We have troublesome things—gangs, drugs, and everything else of that kind—but, in spite of all that, there are so many good people in this land, so many people who want to do the right thing that I’m totally optimistic about the future. I don’t think we are going down to ruin and trouble. I think we’re making a little headway and we ought to be grateful for the opportunity and work a little harder.
Q. Please tell us a little about your book [Standing for Something]. … Why did you write a book which is not about your church? What are you trying to accomplish through this book?
A. Well, we wanted to reach out further to other people. I talk of values in this book, virtues. … I talk about a lot of these things that I think are very, very important. … It isn’t a book of theology but is a book of virtues and values that are a part of theology. The teachings of the gospel bear fruit in the virtuous lives of the people. By dealing with those lives I hope to accomplish some good in reaching out to people who may not be interested in our theology but would be interested in our position and stance on some of these values that are of everlasting benefit to this nation and people across the world.
Q. Do you find that the image of the Church is changing rapidly or slowly? Do you work at bringing about change in the way the Church is viewed by those outside the Church?
A. Constantly—trying to build understanding. As I indicated in what I said in my talk, ignorance leads to misunderstanding. When we don’t know how other people act [and] what they believe, we view them with suspicion. When we get to know more about them, that suspicion turns to appreciation, and I think that is what we are trying to do, trying to accomplish. Now, compared to 100 years ago, 150 years ago, we live in a world that pretty well understands us and I think appreciates us. We are freed from that terrible persecution of the past. We are living in a new day when the sunshine of goodwill pours in upon the Church and assists us in the spread of our work across the world.
Q. And yet at times you hear, even from other Christian faiths, your Church is not a Christian church.
A. The very name of the Savior is in the name of the Church. I can’t understand how they can possibly say that. The New Testament is a fundamental scripture for us. We have in addition to that the Book of Mormon, which becomes another witness for Jesus Christ. I can’t understand why they take that position, but … our position comes from the restoration of the gospel. We have some differences. We don’t worry much about that. We just go on with our work, talking positively, teaching positively, working affirmatively, making the world a better place to live.