WASHINGTON — Elder David A. Bednar answered questions for 22 minutes here Thursday from reporters with the National Press Club, talking about LGBTQ issues and the financial reserves and media characterizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
First, Elder Bednar spoke for 30 minutes. He began by saying that church leaders and members are “mourning with those who mourn” over Tuesday’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
It was “a senseless act of violence,” said Elder Bednar, 69, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Addressing 135 people in the ballroom on the 13th floor of the historic National Press Building and other reporters and viewers watching live on YouTube, he then gave a broad overview of the church’s beliefs. and her efforts around the world, saying that she:
- Spent more than $1 billion last year subsidizing tuition and providing other financial support to Brigham Young University, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, Ensign College, and BYU-Pathway Worldwide.
- Spent $906 million last year on humanitarian and other aid to people in need in 188 countries, and this year it is providing cash and other aid to help Ukrainian refugees.
- Proudly stands with LGBTQ people to pass federal legislation to protect them from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
“The fundamental purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help people know the nature and attributes of God, to love God, to become disciples of His Son Jesus Christ, and to love and serve our brothers and sisters. said Elder Bednar. “We believe that God can change our hearts and make more of us from within than we could ever do on our own. And we also believe that change, often, is needed from the outside in.
He referenced his list of the church’s international endeavors — including building and renovating temples, anti-racism initiatives, the work of 91,000 current missionaries — when National Press Club president Jen Judson told him. asked to respond to the television series “Under the Banner of Heaven”. .” The show is a biopic which, according to its creator, takes some liberties with its depiction of the murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her infant daughter by Ron and Dan Lafferty in 1984.
The number of liberties needed is debated in social media posts and online reviews.
Judson also asked Elder Bednar about cartoons of Latter-day Saint missionaries and beliefs in the musical “The Book of Mormon” and about fundamentalist “Mormons” in reality shows like “Big Love” and “Sister Wives.” “.
“I’m going to ask a rhetorical question first, considering everything I just described,” Elder Bednar said. “Who has time to watch programs on TV?
The retort drew sustained laughter.
Brother Bednar said he had read reports about “Under the Banner of Heaven.”
“There are discussions about its accuracy, about its fictitiousness,” Elder Bednar said. “It’s not new. Christ has been misinterpreted. We have been mischaracterized since 1830, when the church was restored. This has always been the case. I don’t think it will ever go away. We don’t like it, but we don’t spend all of our time trying to answer it. We have a mission to fulfill and we are moving forward to accomplish this mission.
“Fair enough,” said Judson, who covers ground warfare for Defense News.
Judson read the questions to Elder Bednar that had been submitted prior to the event. One asked about the church’s financial reserves, including stocks, reported without confirmation from the church as having reached up to $100 billion.
“If you look at the stock market, I don’t think it’s 100 (billion) dollars,” Elder Bednar said, prompting more laughter.
“I want to make another comment on this,” Elder Bednar added. “People want to beat up on the church and say, ‘Well, you’ve got all that money in reserve.’ Yes, and it’s a good idea that other people follow this example. We believe that there are — you can read in the Old Testament about seven years of famine and seven years of plenty. It is a good idea to be prepared. These companies that I have described are resource consuming not resource generating. And many people depend on the resource that we provide. And if things are different in the future compared to what they are now, we believe it is prudent and wise to be prepared to maintain this type of support in an uncertain economic environment.
During his keynote remarks, he made it clear that the church was working closely with LGBTQ members, advocates, and groups to pass federal legislation that would both protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and strengthen religious freedom rights. He referenced the church-backed Fairness for All Act in Utah passed in 2015 and similar church-backed laws in Arizona.
About a dozen LGBTQ advocates, whom Elder Bednar described as allies of the church, attended the luncheon. They are part of the Coalition for Equality and Fairness for All’s efforts to bring advocates from 50 states to push for federal legislation in hopes of getting it passed in June.
“We are proud to stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters – some of whom are with us today – in this important effort,” said Elder Bednar. “It’s hard work and a goal worth fighting for. Although we don’t agree on everything, we are surely building a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.
The 114-year-old National Press Building is a quarter mile from the White House and within sight of the top of the Washington Monument. Reporters and other attendees arrived for lunch under overcast skies on a typically humid Washington spring day, dampened by gentle breezes.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo joined Elder Bednar on the dais. Others at the main table included Donna Leinwand Leger, president of DC Media Strategies and former president of the National Press Club, and Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona.
Elder Bednar spoke a few days after returning from Guam. He dedicated the church’s new Yigo Guam Temple on Sunday.
His remarks included information about the church’s temple building and renovation efforts, church growth, and apostolic callings.
Elder Bednar also invited reporters to visit the church’s Washington DC Temple Open House — a regional landmark 10 miles north of the National Press Club — before it ends on June 11. This is the first time the public has seen the interior of the temple in 48 years.
National Press Club Headliner luncheon speakers are selected based on their timeliness related to the issues of the day, their national or international stature and influence, and exclusivity – how available a speaker is to the press.
Brother Bednar provided information on a range of church programs. Nearly one million student learners worldwide are enrolled in Church education system programs, he said. The church has 60,000 instructors spread across four university and college campuses. It also has a global online educational presence in over 180 countries.
The church also has institutes of religion adjacent to 645 colleges and universities, while BYU-Pathway Worldwide’s online education system serves more than 60,000 students a year in 188 countries.
“Interestingly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the few religions where the more education you receive, the more committed you are to the religion,” Elder Bednar said. “Pew Research found that more than 80 percent of Latter-day Saint college graduates describe their religion as ‘very important’.”
He also spoke about leadership opportunities for women (93,000 women lead Relief Society efforts in 31,000 congregations worldwide), family history (1.2 million visits to FamilySearch.org daily ) and race relations.
He also spoke about apostolic callings in response to a question about how many senior church leaders have a business background. Elder Bednar was a business professor and administrator at a college specializing in organizational behavior. He also served as president of BYU-Idaho before being called an apostle in 2004.
“I really tried not to let my academic background influence what I do as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
“In the Book of Mormon there is a verse that says ‘when they are learned they think they are wise and do not listen to the counsels of God.’ So I don’t take my academic background and my experience to impose that on the church. I let the doctrine of Christ influence my way of seeing things. Certainly there are practical benefits to knowing how organizations operate and budget, etc., but I really consider that to be secondary. I try to see what we do and the mission we accomplish through the prism of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Judson asked him if that meant he left that training behind.
“You can’t leave it behind, but we leave our nets,” Elder Bednar said. “The old apostles, they were called together, and they left what they were doing and then they started the work of serving the Savior. That’s what we do. That’s what the members of our church. But it wouldn’t be accurate to say, well, you just leave your experience behind. Of course, we’re influenced by that, but I try not to let it dominate.
Thursday’s event marked the first time a Latter-day Saint leader had addressed the group since the late President Gordon B. Hinckley, then 89, who was the church’s president and prophet when he spoke at the National Press Club in March 2000.
A transcript of the remarks prepared by Elder Bednar is here.
The video with Elder Bednar’s remarks and Q&A is available here.