Gordon B Hinckley, then church president, was interviewed by Don Lattin on April 13, 1997 for SFGate, the digital home of the San Francisco Chronicle. The interview was in his room at the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel, just before he delivered an address to the World Forum of Silicon Valley. Here is the transcript of the interview as reported on SFGate.com as Sunday Interview – Musings of the Main Mormon, Gordon B. Hinckley, “president, prophet, seer and revelator” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sits at the top of one of the world’s fastest-growing religions.
There are some interesting points in his interview that stand out as misleading or even flat-out false. Looking through past interviews with church leaders such as Gordon B. Hinckley (Hinckley on Larry King Live, Hinckley on 60 Minutes) shows him in a different light; once we know better, we see what he is really doing: PR. He’s lying to the public to make the church look better and keep members appeased. He’s doing this in order to grow the church and keep the profits growing. It’s a corporation to him.
Here are a few highlight quotes from the interview followed by the full transcript below.
This famous and often quoted couplet they are referring to is inspired from Joseph Smith’s own King Follet Discourse where he says “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret…. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know… that he was once a man like us…. Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves… the same as all Gods have done before you”.
Later Lorenzo Snow came up with the couplet that states, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” He’s referring to the idea of eternal progression and the Mormon doctrine that men (of course only men) can become Gods and run their own planets with their harem of wives and spiritual offspring. It logically reasons that this must be how God arrived at his own place in the heavens. It is completely taught by the church and referenced in conference talks, Sunday school, seminary and institute classes. Hinckley knows this doctrine is unaccepted by mainstream Christians, so he wants to downplay it with the lie that “we don’t know very much about;” this beyond it being “more of a couplet than anything else.” But there is extensive reference and examination of the phrase which continues today! This is a lie from the president of the church in a publicly available interview.
Hinckley as the president of the church is in a position, as the church teaches, to receive revelation for the church. He is asked what this is like and his first quip is that we already have so much revelation, “we don’t need much revelation.” He’s showing us first, that he’s not interested in finding out answers to questions, or in explaining the complexities of revelation to a potential non-believer. This is an opportunity for the Lord’s only prophet on earth to teach people about revelation, but he dodges the sincere question with preaching about Joseph Smith. It makes it feel like revelation is not an integral part of his role as church president, he’s just running with things as they’ve been set up before him. He’s making his best decisions as a man, leading the church.
Mormon Temples are always a point of interest and outsiders want to know what is going on in these secretive buildings. Hinckley is quick to correct the question and point out that the temple is NOT secret, but sacred. The question is reiterated, and he states that it can’t be secret because the church holds open house for each temple. But once it is dedicated it becomes sacred and only qualified (temple worthy and temple recommend holding) visitors are welcome. He really doesn’t answer the question, he just dodges the question and talks about temples.
This is a particularly interesting admission by President Hinckley. Just a year later he is interviewed by Larry King Live on CNN where he states the opposite. He claims that “the church does not become involved in politics.” Yet here, he admits that they were involved in action against same-sex marriages. He is referring to Prop 8 among other things the church did to try to influence the politics of specific states in order to bar same-sex marriages from being legally recognized.
Hinckley’s solution to “gay people” is for them to “essentially” lead a celibate life. He claims that lots of people do this, it’s no problem. What a dismissive thing to say regarding a whole group of people. They should just be single and never have a relationship and certainly not a married life. This is saved for a man and a woman, unless of course, you’re an early church leader, because then it can be between a man and many many many women. How can the church preach so much for the “traditional” family when the church was so ingrained with such an untraditional family structure for so many generations and still retains this in their doctrine as what will occur in heaven? This is what they mean when stating that “As God is, man may become”.
Hinckley laughs about the estimated 4.3 Billion dollar tithing income the church receives tax-free. This was in 1997, today that estimate is even more, and the church still refuses to answer these types of questions. They still evade transparency. Presiding Bishopric member Waddell states that the church has “significant resources” but refuses to acknowledge even a similar ballpark estimate regarding Ensign Peak on 60 Minutes in 2023. This is certainly in the ballpark, and Hinckley knows it. In another interview he defended the church’s practice of keeping silent on finances because “that information belongs to those who made the contribution,” though the church still shares nothing with the actual members who are the actual people who make these contributions. So we have another complete lie from a prophet.
The interview closes with the topic of excommunication, and Hinckley states that “when somebody goes out and publicly fights the church, opposes the church, then we move in.” The interviewer brings up the dissidents who were exed in 1993 who are today known as the September Six. They were intellectuals and historians who spoke their minds and in one swoop the church kicked them out. This is clearly what happens with many excommunications, but publicly the church states that these issues are always carried out by local leadership only. They infer that the general church leadership in Utah has nothing to do with excommunicating members in other areas. We can see from this statement that the church lies about this, the excommunications are directed from the brethren at the top. They “move in” when the publicity of an outspoken critic starts to make them feel pressure. They want to distance these outspoken people from the church, to keep everyone else in line, and to keep their own authority.
Q: As someone who has worked for years in the Mormon Church’s publishing and broadcasting efforts, you seem to be a president more open to the media than some of your predecessors. Is there a new attitude in the church toward the press and the outside world?
President Gordon B. Hinckley: It may appear that way, but I don’t know that it’s a conscious effort. We’ve enlarged our public communications department. And in that sense, yes, we have more people working at it, and that brings about a larger result.
Q: Do you think there are lots of misconceptions about Mormons?
Hinckley: Oh, sure. (Laughter.) They’ll have some forever, I guess. But that’s gradually dying. It’s changing.
Q: What do you think are some of the main misconceptions?
Hinckley: Well, the greatest misconception is that we’re not Christians. That’s the dominant misconception. And, of course, there isn’t a bit of truth to it. If there’s anybody who believes in Jesus Christ, we do. His name is a part of the name of the church. And we carry that name, we believe in it, we worship him. He’s the central figure of our theology. We are Christians in a very real sense. That’s the big misperception.
Q: My understanding of the Mormon Church is that you see your church as a restoration of the original church.
Hinckley: Right. Not a reformist church but a restored church.
Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?
Hinckley: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.
Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?
Hinckley: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.
Q: What do you see as some of the differences between Mormon theology and other Christian theologies?
Hinckley: Well, in the first place, it’s the restoration itself. The Catholic Church is here, the Protestant churches are outgrowths from the Catholic Church. We are not part of the Catholic Church, and we’re not protesting anything. We say that we are a restoration of the church that existed anciently, and that’s the reason we have the name “Latter-day Saints.” In the early days of the church, back in the days of the Apostles, they were called saints as Christians. We’re the latter-day saints. And that’s one thing that’s different. Modern revelation. We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, we believe he has yet to reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. So, we believe in the principle of continuous revelations.
Q: You are the president, prophet, seer and revelator of the Mormon Church?
Hinckley: I am so sustained, yes. (Laughter)
Q: Now, how would that compare to the Catholic Church? Do you see yourself as Catholics would see the pope?
Hinckley: Oh, I think in that we’re both seen as the head officer of the church, yes.
Q: And this belief in contemporary revelation and prophecy? As the prophet, tell us how that works. How do you receive divine revelation? What does it feel like?
Hinckley: Let me say first that we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we’ve already received.
Now, if a problem should arise on which we don’t have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes. Quietly. Usually no voice of any kind, but just a perception in the mind. I liken it to Elijah’s experience. When he sought the Lord, there was 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 a fire, and the Lord was not in the fire. But in a still, small voice. Now that’s the way it works.
Q: You’ve come to San Jose to speak on the growing global impact and influence of the church. Where do you see the fastest or greatest growth for the Mormon Church?
Hinckley: Well, the church is growing faster, at the moment, in the Spanish-language countries. Mexico, Central America, South America. We have tremendous growth in that area. We’ve passed the point where we have more members outside the United States than we have in the United States. That’s a very significant thing. And that brings with it some problems. With growth comes challenge. We have two great challenges with that growth.
One is the training of leaders. All of our congregations are presided over by local men. They have to be trained. We have that program. Two, providing places of worship. And so we’re constantly building chapels, meeting houses, all over the world — some 350 a year. That’s a very substantial thing.
Q: When The Chronicle did a series last year on the global impact of the Mormons, we spoke to Mormons in Japan, Russia and Mexico, and some say the church has not moved fast enough to give power and authority to Mormons from other ethnic groups.
Hinckley: It’ll come. It’s coming. It’s coming. We have people from Mexico, Central America, South America, Japan, Europe among the general authorities. And that will increase, I think, inevitably. As we become more and more a world church, we’ll have greater world representation.
Q: Like many American religious movements that began in the mid-19th century, the Mormons began with a strong millennial or apocalyptic focus.
Hinckley: I hope we still have a millennial view.
Q: That’s what I wanted to ask you. It seems like that’s not played up as much as in the early years of the church.
Hinckley: It may not be, but I think we have a tremendous vision of what this church ought to be. And in light of that vision, we’re moving across the world. In a very remarkable way, really. We’re now in 165 countries. We have a membership of about 9,700,000. We’re carrying this message far and wide — as widely as we have the capacity to do so.
Q: One of the other things I think people are curious about in the Mormon Church are the temple rites, and why they are kept so secret.
Q: Sacred, but closed off to outsiders. I can’t think of any other religion that has such secrecy about its temple rites.
Hinckley: When we build a temple, we invite people to come. They come in large numbers. We’ll be dedicating the St. Louis temple this coming May. Before we dedicate that, we’ll have an open house. There will be hundreds of thousands of people go through that temple. Anybody and everybody. (Laughter) The curious and everybody else. And they are free to ask any questions about it, anything they’d like to ask. After it’s dedicated, then it becomes endowed with a particular sanctity, as we view it. And it becomes available then only to those who are qualified to enter the temple.
Q: One of the Mormon rites that’s gotten a lot of attention is baptism of the dead. As you know, some Jewish groups were upset to learn that Holocaust victims were being baptized in your temples. Do you think that was a mistake?
Hinckley: We’re trying to search out our own dead. That’s our basic premise. That’s the basic responsibility. We reached an accommodation with the Jewish people on the matter of those Holocaust names. We’re not doing them. We were sensitive to their sensitivities over this thing. And I think that we’ve reached that accommodation and it’s going along very well.
Q: Why does the church feel the need to baptize the dead? I don’t know of any other church that does that.
Hinckley: Paul speaks of it. In Corinthians. “Else what shall they do, which are baptized for the dead? If the dead rise not at all, why are then they baptized for the dead?” He’s very specific about it. We believe that it was that way in the ancient church; we believe that it should be that way in the modern church.
Q: Is the idea that people who lived before the time of Joseph Smith need that opportunity?
Hinckley: They need the opportunity. And there is the election. They can accept it or reject it. There’s nothing mandatory about their accepting it. It’s a matter of election. Free agency.
Q: Another Mormon practice people are curious about is the garment. What’s the spiritual significance of that piece of underclothing?
Hinckley: We have a sacred garment just as some other people. The Jews, the Orthodox Jews, wear certain clothing. There’s nothing mysterious about it. It’s a sacred thing to us, and we so regard it.
Q: Is it a sign of your baptism?
Hinckley: No, it’s a sign of having been to the temple.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about some political issues.
Hinckley: (Laughter.) I watch those pretty carefully . . . I stay away from those.
Q: The church has issued a statement concerning the campaign for legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Hawaii and other states. And the church has asked its members to write to their legislatures opposing this.
Hinckley: Yes. We’ve been involved in some action against same-sex marriages. Now, we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people — provided they don’t become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we’d do with heterosexuals who transgress.
We have a very strong moral teaching concerning abstinence before marriage and total fidelity following marriage. And, regardless of whether they’re heterosexuals or otherwise, if they step over that line there are certain sanctions, certain penalties that are imposed.
Q: What about gay people who feel God made them that way? You’re saying they must lead a celibate life?
Hinckley: Well, yes, I suppose, essentially. A lot of people live a celibate life. Lots of them. A third of the people in the United States are now single. Many of them live a celibate life.
Q: But what homosexuals say is they don’t have the opportunity to marry and be monogamous and faithful.
Hinckley: We believe that marriage, of a man and a woman, is that which is ordained of God for the procreation of children. That’s a very sacred thing and is ordained of God and ought to be observed.
Q: On another issue, what is the Mormon position on abortion? Are you against it in all cases, or is it more nuanced than that?
Hinckley: Well, we make some allowance in terms of the health of the mother, when that’s determined by more than one physician, and so on. We make exception in terms of that. We make an exception in terms of rape. We have a narrow window of exception. But by and large, we’re opposed to this wholesale business of abortions. And particularly to this practice that’s come to light recently of . . . what do they call it?
Q: Partial birth?
Hinckley: Partial-birth abortion. It’s a heinous thing. It’s a vicious, evil thing. Life is precious. Life is sacred. And it ought so to be observed.
Q: Of course, the Roman Catholic Church has that same feeling. They also extend that to include their opposition to the death penalty and euthanasia. What are the Mormon Church’s teachings on those two issues?
Hinckley: We have the death penalty in the state of Utah. That’s a matter for the civil government. And it’s so handled. With reference to euthanasia, no, at this point at least, we haven’t favored that. I’m not a fan of Jack Kevorkian. But we’re sensitive to the feelings of people, when they have conditions that seem terminal or hopeless. But we want to keep them alive and as comfortable and as well and as happy as we can.
Q: What about this business of cloning?
Hinckley: This business of cloning is getting so complicated now.
Q: Yes, and people are looking to the churches for guidance.
Hinckley: My position on that is simply that God ordained that a man and a woman should become the creators of children. A man and a woman properly married should become the fathers and mothers of children. I can’t quite understand why or how you are going to pick the right one to clone? Who’s he going to be? What are his particular characteristics that you want to clone? I don’t expect to see anybody try to clone me. (Laughter)
Q: One of the impressive things about the Mormons are their extensive welfare program for members in the church — from farms to growing food, processing it, distributing it.
Hinckley: We’re trying to take care of our own. We feel that’s an obligation of the church to do that. And in a very simple but remarkable program that we follow, of a fast offering. Refraining from two meals a month — which doesn’t hurt any of us. And contributing the value of those meals for the care of the poor.
Now, not only do we have this vast welfare enterprise, we’re reaching out to help others. The last five years, we’ve given $138 million in humanitarian aid across the world. To people not members of the church, much of it distributed by Catholic charities, relief.
Q: In addition to that, the church owns a lot of businesses, like insurance companies, retail stores, even a pop music station in San Francisco, KOIT. Why does the church have so many secular businesses?
Hinckley: Well, let me talk to you about the broadcasting business, for instance. The church got into the broadcasting business through the Deseret News, our newspaper, back at a time when newspapers were encouraged to get into the broadcasting business.
That was clear back in 1922. And from that we’ve grown into this Bonneville International Corp., which I served as chairman for many years. That helps us with our communications, it helps us with expertise, it makes us a part of the broadcasting fraternity, which assists us in our work of spreading the gospel. Now these are commercial stations, but we have on the FM sideband the LDS Radio Network. The FM station has a sideband. And we broadcast on that our own programming to our people who have receivers who can pick up that sideband signal.
We have a bookstore, a publishing company to take care of church publications. We have a real estate arm to assist in seeing that we keep downtown Salt Lake livable.
And this company is now building a big building across the street from Temple Square. These are all things that impact the work of the church.
Q: Many people see the Mormon Church as a church of tremendous wealth. I’ve seen estimates back in 1990 where it was estimated that the church brought in $4.3 billion a year in tithing. That’s a lot of money.
Hinckley: That’s excessive. (Laughter.) I can tell you that.
Q: That’s not in the ballpark?
Hinckley: No, that’s excessive. But we believe that tithing is the Lord’s law of finance. That that’s the way a church ought to be financed. Not with a plate or a platter or a bingo game. Things of that kind. But with the law of tithing, which reaches back into the Old Testament. And it works. It’s a wonderful law. It works. And it makes possible all that we’re trying to do across the world.
Q: You could build a couple temples just with 10 percent of (San Francisco 49ers quarterback) Steve Young’s salary.
Hinckley: (Laughter.) I don’t know what Steve makes. That’s one thing we don’t do. We don’t investigate the amount. That’s confidential between a man and his bishop.
Q: What about Steve Young? He’s a great spokesman for the church, isn’t he?
Hinckley: Steve is a good fellow. I enjoy Steve very much. He’s a fine man.
Q: One more question: A few years back, the church excommunicated some dissidents. Is the church large enough to put up with having a loyal opposition?
Hinckley: It has always had that. We believe in intellectual curiosity. We carry it on constantly. We maintain the largest church-owned university in America. We believe in education, in thinking, in doing things. But when somebody goes out and publicly fights the church, opposes the church, then we move in.
Now, we had six excommunications, as I remember. That same year, in the state of Utah, we had more than 5,000 convert baptisms. Six versus 5,000 convert baptisms. Now that’s the picture. But these are blown all out of proportion. They attract the media.SUNDAY INTERVIEW — Musings of the Main Mormon Gordon B. Hinckley, `president, prophet, seer and revelator’ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sits at the top of one of the world’s fastest-growing religions. April 13, 1997. Don Lattin Interviews Gordon Hinckley
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