Mormon president’s TV comments spark criticism by NAMB officials

ATLANTA (BP)--Robert E. Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, has expressed surprise and disagreement over comments on a cable TV show by the head of the Mormon church.

Gordon B. Hinckley, 88, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, granted a rare public interview on the Sept. 8 edition of "Larry King Live."

King, whose show airs on the Cable News Network, asked Hinckley how people should pray for President Bill Clinton, who has publicly admitted an improper relationship with a former White House intern.

"I don't know," Hinckley replied. "I haven't given that a lot of thought. But it would -- pray for strength in these difficult circumstances."

Reccord suggested he was shocked at Hinckley's apparent lack of knowledge on how to pray for Clinton.

"I was just floored that this spiritual leader of millions apparently has not been praying for Clinton and didn't know what to pray for," Reccord said. "Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders, and there is so very much to pray regarding the President's situation, his family, the country and all those affected."

Hinckley refused to call for President Clinton's resignation, saying, "I think he must make his own decision and the Congress must make their decision."

NAMB leaders noted Hinckley's avoidance of doctrinal differences between Mormons and Christians.

Phillip Roberts, NAMB's director of interfaith witness, said the interview was "typically superficial.”

“The most critical issue related to Mormon theology was glossed over, and that is the question, are Mormons Christians," Roberts said. "Interestingly, President Hinckley recently voiced in a major address that he doesn't believe, and Mormon doctrine doesn't teach, the traditional concept of the Jesus of biblical Christianity. Hinckley, in fact, said that he believes the Jesus of LDS revelation is not the eternal Christ of Holy Scripture."

During the entire interview, Hinckley minimized the differences between the LDS church and biblical Christianity."

Hinckley did tell King Latter-day Saints regard the Book of Mormon as Scripture. "The Bible is, as I see it, the testament of the Old World," Hinckley said. "The Book of Mormon is the testament of the New World, and they go hand in hand in testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ."

A caller on King's program asked whether someone who only preaches the New Testament is in error.

"Oh, I don't know they're in error," Hinckley said. "They're going as far as they feel disposed to go."

Asked by King if he regarded the Old Testament in the same fashion, Hinckley said yes.

Reccord said Hinckley is seriously mistaken. "The Bible is clear that God's total revelation of himself is in his Son, Jesus, and his Word, the Bible. Therefore, another testament (the Book of Mormon) is not only unnecessary, it's anti-biblical."

King did engage Hinckley in a discussion of polygamy, which was practiced by 19th-century Mormons with the endorsement of their church.

"In 1890, that practice was discontinued," Hinckley said. "The president of the church -- the man who occupied the position which I occupy today -- ... had received a revelation that it was time to stop, to discontinue it then. That's 118 years ago. It's behind us."

Hinckley denied any connection with Utah polygamists who may claim to be Mormon. "They have no connection to us whatever. They don't belong to the church. ... Any man or woman who becomes involved in it is excommunicated from the church." King asked Hinckley whether he would like to see Utah authorities "clamp down" on polygamists with arrests.

"I think I leave that entirely in the hands of the civil officers," Hinckley said. "It's a civil offense. It's in violation of the law. We have nothing to do with it. We're totally distanced from it."

Pressing further, King asked Hinckley whether the Mormon church should be "more forceful" in speaking against polygamy and encouraging the state to prosecute it. "I don't know," Hinckley responded. "We'll consider it."

"I'm giving you an idea," King said.

"Yes," Hinckley replied, adding: "As far as I'm concerned, I have nothing to do with it. It belongs to the civil officers of the state. ... I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal."

Tal Davis, NAMB interfaith witness associate, acknowledged Mormon leaders have distanced themselves from polygamy but noted the doctrine has never been excised from Mormon scripture.

"The revelation authorizing polygamy is still a part of Mormon doctrine in the book 'Doctrine and Covenants'," Davis said. "The Mormons never retracted or disavowed the teaching. They just declared it was against civil law. In fact, those Mormons who still practice polygamy say they are the ones being faithful to their scripture."

Asked if the overall gentleness of the interview may have been prompted by King's current marriage to a Mormon woman, whose brother is presently completing two years of Mormon missionary service, Reccord said he would not question King's motives.

"However, I was disappointed that King didn't ask the kind of tough questions he asks evangelical leaders," Reccord observed.

During the interview, Hinckley made comments on a variety of other topics, including:

-- excommunication. King asked why some people are thrown out of the Mormon church.

"Doing what they shouldn't do, preaching false doctrine, speaking out publicly," Hinckley answered. "They can carry all the opinion they wish within their heads, so to speak. But if they begin to try to persuade others, then they may be called to a disciplinary council. We don't excommunicate many, but we do some."

For his part, Davis said he wished Hinckley had elaborated further. "I'd like to know -- and I'm sure LDS members would be interested in -- which doctrinal issues they are not allowed to discuss critically in public."

-- possibility of women in the Mormon priesthood. King asked Hinckley if there was a chance women eventually would be permitted to become priests in the Mormon church.

"It would take another revelation to bring that about," Hinckley explained. "I don't anticipate it. The women of the church are not complaining about it."

-- role of fathers. "Families need strengthening," Hinckley said. "That's our great undertaking -- one of many -- (to) strengthen the families (and) put the father at the head of the house again."

-- non-Mormon churches. "I say this to other people: You develop all the good you can," Hinckley said. "We have no animosity toward any other church. We do not oppose other churches. We never speak negatively of other churches. We say to people: You bring all the good that you have, and let us see if we can add to it."

-- meaning of Mormon temples. Asked by King to explain the temples, Hinckley said, "Those huge temples are monuments, if you please, to our belief in the immortality of the human soul."

-- role of the Mormon church president. "My role is to declare a doctrine," Hinckley explained. "My role is to stand as an example before the people. My role is to be a voice in defense of the truth. My role is to stand as a conservator of those values which are important in our civilization and our society. My role is to lead people."

King asked Hinckley whether he ever doubts his faith or if resisting temptation is

difficult.

Hinckley replied no to both questions but then seemed to contradict himself as he added: "What does the Proverbs say? It is easier -- it is more difficult to control the spirit than to rule over a city. Self-discipline is not easy. It requires effort. It requires strength. It requires thought. It requires prayer sometimes, maybe."

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