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LDS members urged to befriend others

Pres. Hinckley speaks out against self-righteousness

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President Gordon B. Hinckley urged members of the LDS Church on Sunday to respect and befriend those with differing religious beliefs even as church members celebrate again the triumphs of their pioneer forefathers.

Speaking to a near-capacity crowd in the church's 21,000-seat Conference Center, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headlined the Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert, a musical tribute to Mormon pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley and much of the Great Basin beginning in the mid-19th century. The program, planned now as an annual event, was seen in hundreds of stake centers via closed-circuit television and rebroadcast on KBYU in the evening.

"This city and state have now become the home of many people of great diversity in their backgrounds, beliefs and religious persuasions. I plead with our people to welcome them, to befriend them, to mingle with them, to associate with them in the promulgation of good causes," President Hinckley said. "We are all sons and daughters of God."

Quoting former church President Brigham Young, who led the pioneers west into the wilderness as they fled persecution, he said, "To be adverse to Gentiles (as the word was then used) because they are Gentiles, or Jews because they are Jews, is in direct opposition to our religion. It matters not what a man's creed is, whether it be Catholic, or Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Quaker or Jew, he will receive kindness and friendship from us."

President Hinckley echoed statements he has repeatedly made during LDS General Conference addresses as well as in local gatherings, saying Latter-day Saints "must not be clannish. We must never adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. We must not be self-righteous. We must be magnanimous and open and friendly. We can keep our faith. We can practice our religion. We can cherish our method of worship without being offensive to others.

"I take this occasion to plead for a spirit of tolerance and neighborliness, of friendship and love toward those of other faiths."

The call for greater tolerance is also being reflected in changes to the annual July 24 Pioneer Day celebrations in Utah, which have traditionally focused almost solely on LDS pioneer themes. Earlier this year, members of the Days of '47 steering committee unveiled plans to make the annual celebration more diversified by including a multi-faith, multi-cultural event that was held Saturday at This is the Place State Park.

Informal surveys by steering committee members during previous celebrations showed that many Utahns have felt excluded from festivities surrounding the state holiday because its theme has been so centered around LDS pioneers. President Hinckley said in order to further the spirit of tolerance and neighborliness, "There will likely be an increasing tendency to emphasize (the state's) diversity in the 24th of July parade and associated festivities" in future years.

President Hinckley said that even as church members reach out to those of other faiths, "we must never permit ourselves to lose sight of the great and singular achievements of those who first came to this valley in 1847" seeking religious liberty.

Quoting extensively from Brigham Young's speeches, President Hinckley spoke of the perseverance of the state's early settlers who began the transformation of a desert valley into a metropolis so large it will now host the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Citing President Young's prophecy that Salt Lake City would become a "great highway of the nations" with "kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the earth" to visit, he noted that hosting the world's premier sporting event and the accompanying visitors will be "marvelous. It was nothing short of the power of God resting upon this man when he spoke those prophetic words."

Today's Utahns and generations yet to come owe a debt of gratitude and remembrance to those early settlers who "on the anvil of adversity were hammered and shaped and tempered. It was the conviction they carried in their hearts, strong and secure and immovable, that God had restored his work in these latter days, and that from this place where the house of the Lord should be established in the tops of the mountains, the work of God would roll forth to the nations of the earth."

That legacy of faith was memorialized in music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square, whose performances provided the bulk of the devotional service. Set amid stage decor representing a mountain-desert scene, complete with a covered wagon, buggy and other pioneer artifacts, the LDS anthems included "High on a Mountain Top," "The Spirit of God" and "Come, Come Ye Saints."

E-MAIL: carrie@desnews.com