President Hinckley’s Birthday Conversation with Reporters
On Wednesday, 21 June 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley held an hour-long “conversation with reporters” on the week of his 90th birthday. During the interview, journalists covered topics including President Hinckley’s worldwide travels to be with Church members, how the Church accommodates diverse cultures, his 63 years with his wife, Marjorie, how he derives his strength and energy at 90 years of age, and many more items.
Q: President Hinckley, I don’t know if you make wishes when you blow out birthday candles, but if you do or if you did, what would you wish for this week?
A: I’d wish for continued health and I’d wish for the continued progress of the Church. Those are basic, I think.
Q: President, what do you think is, what is the greatest challenge for the Church, do you think, in relationship to its growth?
A: Well, it is growth and the problems that come of growth. It’s a very serious concern, but what a wonderful challenge that is. That’s what we like. And accompanying that growth, we have twobasic problems that we face. One is the training of local leadership. That’s a very important thingand we carry on a very extensive program–to train local men to preside over activities in theChurch worldwide. The other is the construction of the buildings. Our people have to be housedand provision made for meeting together and things of that kind. So those two needs constantlyarise out of growth. Training of leadership and building of facilities. And thus far, we have beenable to keep up with both.
Q: I wonder if you worry at the same time about–certainly you have had a rather large trip where you have visited as you said “your people”–but do you worry about the Church growing so large that it becomes more distant from the rank-and-file members? Is that a challenge for you, President Hinckley?
A: Well, it’s a challenge for the President of the Church if he wants to meet them. But the Church is organized in such a way that we can grow endlessly and have strong leadership. We have AreaPresidencies comprised of General Authorities across the world who direct the work in theirvarious areas, so that we can accommodate that growth no matter how large it becomes. Now,for the President of the Church to get around with that growth is a different matter. I’ve tried todo that. It’s been one of my hopes, and through the kindness of good and helpful friends, we’vebeen able to travel very extensively. I suppose I’ve traveled more extensively than any previousPresident of the Church. But, to get out with the people is a great thing. I’d rather be inSingapore than here. Here we deal with all kinds of problems–vexatious, some of them–butnot of really great consequence generally. But when you get out among the people you feel a liftand a spiritual power that’s tremendous, wonderful. Noumea, I’ve been to Noumea once before,long ago, but very few of our Brethren go to Noumea. It’s an out-of-the-way place of Frenchpossession, and we don’t have very many members–(we have 1,400 members)–but we had1,200 of them in a meeting the other evening. That’s wonderfully significant to look into the faces of those people and talk with them and get their reaction–it’s great.
Q: President, every President seems to leave a legacy. What do you think your legacy is now that you are building? What will it ultimately be? What will you be known for? What will you be?
A: I don’t know and I don’t care! That’s not my concern. I’m not trying to build some legacy ofsome kind. I’m just trying to move the work forward the best way I know how. And, as I believe the Lord would have it move forward. And let the future take care of itself.
Q: President Hinckley, your administration has been characterized by its openness as evidenced here today, but also amongst other faiths and yet the LDS Church preaches the restored gospel. How do you walk that tightrope between doctrine and staking a claim to being part of Christendom?
A: I don’t see a bit of difficulty in it. We have common ground with some other churches. We can work with them on many items of public concern and interest, but we don’t have to give up our theology; we don’t have to alter our beliefs. We don’t have to soften our ecclesiastical stance in any way. We respect them and we hope they’ll respect us.
Q: How does that play in recent light of, say, the Methodist statement about whether or not they accepted or not that the LDS Church is truly Christian?
A: Well, I think that that was indicative of what is going on perhaps. They have come to realize our position. We’ve known their position. We accept that position on each side. We don’t change our doctrine to fit a pattern of relationships. We work with them in common causes without changing our doctrine in any way. The doctrine remains; the method, the programing, themethodology may alter with particular situations in various times and seasons.
Q: President, what role do you see the Church’s web site playing in the future growth of the Church?
A: Oh, it’ll play a part, it’ll play a part. I can’t foretell that. I don’t know. But we’re geared up totake advantage of it, and we are taking advantage of it, and we’ll continue to do so. I think we’reon the cutting edge of new technology in our programs and in what we’re trying to do.
Q: What preparations is the Church making for the Winter Olympics in 2002?
A: Well, we’re going to have an extravaganza here. We’re going to put on a fine show in the newConference Center. We hope that some of those who come for the Olympics will be pleased tohave the opportunity to see it. It’ll be a first-class production. We’re getting ready.
Q: Are you expanding missionary proselyting?
A: Oh, I don’t think we’re working seriously on that particularly. We just keep up our presentactivities.
Q: President, as you become a more global institution, you expand into countries with different rituals, different music, different customs. I wonder, is it difficult to have the Church, is it, I suppose, proper to accommodate different music, for example, different customs in the way the LDS faith worships in different places?
A: Well, we don’t find those changes as great as you might think. You can go anywhere in the world almost on a Sunday morning, and they’ll be singing the same hymns and singing them with enthusiasm. They’ll be studying the same lessons across the world. Those changes are not great. People are essentially the same. You discover that people are basically the same. They have the same emotions; they have the same kind of hearts; they have the same kind of sympathies; they have the same kind of hates and loves. They have, they respond to the same kind of stimuluseverywhere, and people are not so very different. Their beliefs may be different, but they adaptquickly and they adapt well and they adapt successfully.
Q: At the same time, you said, sir, that there is a general misunderstanding, I think, of your Church in the American public and certainly from other churches. Do you feel that’s been part of your mission–to bridge that gap of understanding?
A: Well, we’ve tried to do what we can. And I may say that misunderstanding comes of ignorance. When people get to know you and what you’re doing they don’t, they respect you and I think that’s what’s happened, and we’ve tried to take advantage, we’ve tried to reach out and I think have done so in a reasonably successful way through the good graces of the media to people across the nation, across the world. I hope we’ve brought about an increase of understanding concerning our people, our program, our objectives–things of that kind.
Q: President, on a related topic, a press survey by Dan Jones Associates this past year regarding the Church’s purchase and development of the block of Main Street found that the community was divided almost entirely on religious lines where they favor or oppose that–Mormons thinking that it was a good idea, others not feeling so. Are you concerned at all about religion as a divisive issue in this community?
A: I am very greatly concerned about the divisiveness that we find in this community. I think much of it’s ill-founded. I’m making an effort–I’ve tried to make an effort to reduce that divisiveness. That’s one of the reasons that we’re putting on a birthday on Friday night. It’s for the community It isn’t only for Church members. We’ve invited nonmembers of our faith, men and women of this community who are not, who don’t belong to our Church, with the hope they’ll come. And they will come; many of them will come. They’ve indicated that they’ll come and listen to what we have to say and what we have to sing and see that beautiful and magnificent new Conference Center and in that process develop a better appreciation.
Q: Did you pick the people who’ll perform? A. Yes. Yes. It’s my birthday party. Yes. We could have used many more. I’m sorry that wecouldn’t, but there just isn’t time. But we’ll have a wonderful array of talent there. People who’ve sung in the great concert halls of the world. And our people, good people, very talentedartists–we’re going to have a great program. It’s going to be tremendous, I think. It’ll bewonderful and those who come there will enjoy it. I’m only sorry that we cannot accommodateall who wish to come. We thought we were building large enough when we built a 21,000-seathall, but we’ve had requests for tickets two or three times the number that the hall will hold.Fortunately, it’ll be broadcast. It’ll be on satellite, but that isn’t quite the same as being present inthe hall.
Q: On your birthday, sir, as you’ve looked back on your administration and to reflect, isthere any one thing that you’re most proud of that you’ve accomplished, and on the flip side, any one thing that you regret not having gotten to yet?
A: Oh, I think we’ve done many things of significance in the last few years. I believe the Church has made considerable progress, very substantial progress. The building of this conference hall–this is the first building of its kind since the days when Brigham Young built the Tabernacle. It’s a hall the like of which is not found anywhere in the country, devoted to worship and culture and art. It’s just a magnificent place. The building of temples across the world has been a significant effort. Education, our education program is being expanded–that’s of significance. Our humanitarian effort–reaching out to those not of our faith–goes back to just a few years to our efforts in Africa. I think we’ve done many things in the way of expansion and enlargement of the program of the Church. These have been vital things. These, this has been a great season in the history of the Church. There has never been a better season than this. We’re more highly respected; we’re better known for what we stand for and what we do. We have the confidence of more people. We work more closely with governments in our efforts. When we do our missionary work, we go in the front door–not the back. We go in with the full knowledge of the governments concerned, and that all helps. We’re doing things in a very straightforward way and I believe it’s fruitful of great good. Tremendous good.
Q: President, would you speak a little bit to the history of what has happened in Nauvoo,culminating in the Temple being reconstructed and particularly that your father was involved many, many years ago?
A: My father was president of the Northern States Mission, back many years ago when Nauvoohad its 100th anniversary. He was there in 1939. He recommended to the Brethren at that timethat they restore the Nauvoo Temple. They didn’t feel to do so, and nothing more came of it, butwe’re proceeding now and it’s proven to be a thing of tremendous interest to so very, very manypeople. And people have been very generous and kind and good to help. We’ve had cooperation of the officials of Nauvoo. This will have a very marked effect on Nauvoo–without any question. And, it will create for them some problems, which we’re assisting with. But, thereis a great deal of sentiment attached to the Nauvoo Temple, and the restoration of that temple toa pattern as nearly as we can follow it is being watched with great interest and will result in awonderful conclusion, I hope and am confident. Q. President, there was some concern voiced recently among Church leadership that there isn’t a stronger two-party political system in the state of Utah. Do you share those concerns?
A: I don’t worry about it much. I think those things balance out over the years. We’ve had menfrom both parties as governor. We’ve had men, legislatures gone one way and another over theyears. I think things balance out politically. I hope they do. That’s the genius of America, really; it isn’t only here. It’s this nation. As you travel across the world and see the stability of ourconstitutional form of government. You say that there’s something wonderful about this land andits system. We have lots of problems-all kinds of problems, but, when all’s said and done, we’vedone remarkably well through more than two centuries of time of living under this constitutionwithout ever a coup of any kind, anything of that sort. Other countries, you find those thingshappening all over.
Q: President Hinckley, as you’ve traveled, speaking on that subject, people almost flock to see you and are obviously emotionally touched by your visit. How has seeing them affected you?
A: Well, it’s made me feel very humble, for one thing. You can’t look into the faces, light and dark and of all the many nationalities and many cultures and backgrounds, without having atremendous emotional experience well up, well up within you–over what this work isaccomplishing. We’ve been here and there and everywhere, in the great cities of the world and inthe tiny little forgotten places. Kiribati in the Pacific, for instance, where we stopped and had acongregation there meeting out in the sun. People in that almost forgotten part of the world–Saipan, Tinian, Terola–places of that kind. And, on the other hand, Bangkok–a cityof 10 million–London, New York, what have you.
Q: Are you going to continue traveling here, there, everywhere?
A: Well, I hope to as long as I have the strength. Thus far, things are going fairly well.
Q: President, you say that the Church is in a good season. Seasons change. Are the Saintsready for that when change comes–particularly here in Utah?
A: Oh, I don’t know if there is going to be a change of seasons. The winter is coming. That will be followed by spring and summer. Oh sure, we go up and down, a few, a little bit, one way andanother a little bit, but that doesn’t alter the program of the Church essentially. We have a coursethat we are following, and it’s pretty well mapped out and straightforward.
Q: Church leaders have talked a lot recently about members getting out of debt and livingwithin their means. Do you think that we’ve just had it too good for too long or do you foresee hard times ahead?
A: I don’t know what’s ahead in terms of that factor. But, I think it’s wise to live within one’smeans. I’ve spoken on it in conference. I think it’s good to get out of debt, to not undertakegreat, heavy debt, and to live rather modestly, decently. And then, if hard times come you canface them more easily than if you have a great load of debt that you’re carrying.
Q: I wonder, do you see any negative aspects to the growth that the Church is experiencing. One of the themes that runs through your Book of Mormon is that prosperity often bred complacency and pride, and I wonder if, as you see the growth of the Church, you’re worried about that sense of complacency and pride.
A: Oh, there is a danger in that, of course. And there is some effect of prosperity upon somepeople. But, by and large, we have people who are rather prosperous who are very active, veryfaithful, very generous, who serve the Church wherever they’re called to go. Many of them haveresponded to calls to preside over missions, to preside over temples. They’re just as faithful aspeople can be, and they’re wonderfully generous. And I never discount the widow’s mite. That’sthe backbone of the finances of the Church. The modest offerings of the people according to thelaw of the tithe, but I find among the affluent faith as great as I find among others. That to me is avery salutary and wonderful thing and bodes well for the future.
Q: President, through your many, many years of Church service, I would assume even for the President of the Church there are trials and tribulations personally. What for you personally has been the most challenging?
A: Oh, I don’t know. We just take things in stride, deal with them. I don’t know that anythingstands out particularly. We have many problems to deal with constantly. It’s a big, worldwideorganization that’s, we’re in all kinds of cultures, all kinds of situations. In contrast, the people ofEurope, who are prosperous, with the people of Central America, who are not so prosperous.But you find the same faith, the same willingness to do what they ought to do, the same desire. And that’s one of the great, significant, and satisfying things that we find.
Q: President, you spoke a little while ago about the early ages of the Church to Africa andstarted getting to others. There is a common misunderstanding that I hear quite often that the Church is good at taking care of its own. Can you speak a little bit about how the Church goes beyond its own boundaries, its own faith?
A: I hope the Church is good at taking care of its own. I believe it is. It has a responsibility, sure and certain, that we must take care of our own and assist them with their problems. But we reach out beyond that in a very significant way. We’ve contributed millions upon millions, upon millions of dollars to assist the unfortunate people of the earth who find themselves in the worst kind of difficulties. With starving people in areas of Africa, people who are victims of floods in such places as Honduras, and other areas of Central America. People who face drought conditions in such places as Mongolia. We’ve reached out to so many nations now–given so much. We’ve sent welfare supplies, medicines, school supplies, clothing, and cash, and we not only handle this material ourselves through our LDS Charities, but we work with others–with the Catholic Relief Organizations, with the Red Cross, and the Red Crescent and others in accomplishing that which we’re trying to do. And that’s been, we’ve been very successful. And I think we’ve done immmeasurable good in those areas where we’ve assisted.
Q: Of your birthdays, President, what is your earliest recollection? I think that we all remember one of the first memories that you can hearken back to at 3, 4, or 5 years old. Now that you are turning 90, what’s your earliest recollection?
A: I have a very distinct early recollection. My father, when I was a little boy, I had whoopingcough. The doctors said I ought to get out in the clean air, because this valley was filled withsmog in those days–everybody burned coal. Chimneys belched forth great clouds of smoke,and we had a lot of environmental difficulties. So anyway, he bought a place in the country and Ican remember when I was three years old, in the house that he was building, watching the masonlay up the rock fireplace. I can still see that mason laying up those great stones into a fireplace,which still stands, incidentally.
Q: Well, you don’t look 90. Do you feel 90?
A: No, I don’t feel 90. I never dreamed that I’d be 90. Never dreamed I’d live that long. And, butI’m here, I’m still here. I don’t know how long I’ll last. Neither do you.
Q: President, every child when they have a birthday party there’s a small twinge of doubt that no one will come when the invitations go out. Was there ever a time when you could envision that someone would need a ticket to come to your birthday party?
A: I thought the way we’ve structured this program that people would come–yes. It’s going to be a great night of entertainment. Very little speaking–a lot of great music.
Q: Will you be speaking at the party?
A: I’m going to host the party and introduce the numbers.
Q: How much of a strength is your wife to you?
A: Well, she’s a great strength to me, and I hope I am at least a little of a strength to her. Every wife ought to be a strength to her husband, and every husband ought to be a strength to his wife.
Q: President Hinckley, the Church took an active involvement in Proposition 22 in California, the same-sex marriage initiative. Do you see the Church continuing to pick and choose which issues it becomes actively involved in, and what governs that choice?
A: The importance of the election or the referendum or the initiative or whatever it is–theimplications of that. California was a key state–it has been for a long time, a key state–inlegislative matters. We became involved there. We uphold the standards of the family.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.