The time President Gordon B. Hinckley had the National Press Club laughing out loud
Church leader shared his belief in Jesus Christ, prayer and service while having fun at the expense of himself and the nation’s journalists.
If Twitter or Instagram had existed in 2000, reporters at the National Press Club luncheon featuring President Gordon B. Hinckley would have punctuated their posts with LOL emojis.
Maybe it was his willingness to poke fun at himself, but the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints charmed the audience at a Washington, D.C., club, which CBS newsman Eric Sevareid once called the “sanctum sanctorum of American journalists.”
President Hinckley took a shot at his own age when a question was asked about the internet.
“I don’t know much about it. I’m an old man unable to learn, evidently. My grandchildren could tell you all about it, but I am not up to speed to the degree that they are,” he said to laughter.
Another question was about how he had achieved such longevity.
“Now, I have never smoked. I have never drunk, I have never done those things,” he said. “I don’t know that’s the reason I am going to be 90 on June 23, but the idea that I try to follow is that you go to bed every night and be sure to get up in the morning.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” National Press Club president Jack Cushman said dryly.
On Thursday, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will become the first senior Latter-day Saint leader to speak at the National Press Club, which is one block from the White House, since President Hinckley 22 years ago.
Part of the charm of the event in 2000, which can be viewed on C-SPAN’s website, was the banter between President Hinckley and Cushman, a New York Times editor who stood next to President Hinckley and read questions from the audience.
President Hinckley presented a 21-minute sampling of the church’s global operations during which he said the biggest problems it faced were training enough new leaders and building enough meetinghouses for growing congregations around the world.
The subject resurfaced during a 28-minute question-and-answer session when Cushman read a question about the greatest challenge facing the church.
“I just told you — training of leadership,” President Hinckley said. “Every local congregation in Japan is Japanese. Every local congregation in Hong Kong is Chinese. Every local leader in Sweden is Swedish, Norwegian, etc., etc. These are people who have to be trained in leadership. We carry forward a great program, and the product is wonderful to behold. I think we could even train you, Mr. Cushman.”
The sustained laughter that followed appeared to tickle Cushman.
“They seem pretty enthusiastic,” he said of the laughing journalists.
President Hinckley appeared equally delighted when Cushman delivered a punch line of his own. It came after President Hinckley noted for a second time that the church’s Family History websites were getting 8 million page views a day.
“An old man with a big web page,” Cushman quipped.
President Hinckley laughed right along with the audience.
It was March 2000, and he noted the church was days away from holding its first international general conference in a brand-new Conference Center next to Temple Square in Salt Lake City. It also was nearly 18 months before the Sept. 11 attacks, and the church president expressed an optimism for the future that he maintained to his death in 2008 at age 97.
He looked ahead to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which would be held in Salt Lake City, and said “the world would be much poorer without religion, speaking generally.”
President Hinckley also talked about BYU (“our crown jewel”), the Relief Society, the Perpetual Education Fund, missionary efforts and the church’s international welfare and humanitarian work.
The church had two helicopters flying rescue and mercy missions over floodwaters in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where it also had sent cash, food, clothing and medicine, he reported.
“Those helped are not our members. Our humanitarian efforts reach far beyond our own to bless the victims of war and natural disaster wherever they may occur,” he said.
The church had sent humanitarian aid to 101 countries in 1999, he added, “giving $11.2 million in cash and $44 million in material resources for a total $55-plus million.”
President Hinckley also shared some of the church’s beliefs and his thoughts on why it was growing:
- “Our desire everywhere is to make bad men good and good men better.”
- “We teach, we train, we build, we educate, we provide opportunity for growth and development. We give hope to those without hope, and there is nothing greater you can give a man or a woman than hope.”
- “The genius of our work is that we expect things of our people. They grow as they serve and there are numerous opportunities to challenge them.”
- “We are a church in whose name is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We bear witness of him and it is his example and his teachings we try to follow. We give love. We bring peace.”
- “We think we are improving people’s lives. We think that we are causing them to stand taller, straighter and be better people, and when all is said and done that is purpose of any religion. We are trying to do our part and trying to do it in a very aggressive but practical and hard-headed way, if you please, so that we build on a strong foundation for the future.”
His presentation resulted in a standing ovation. You can read a transcript here.
During the Q&A, he responded to questions about politics, gay marriage, other religions and more. A second standing ovation followed. The Q&A transcript is available here.
It includes more funny responses from the church president, including one to a question about his position on prayer or meditation or moments of silence in public schools.
President Hinckley smiled wryly, surveyed the room of tough, nationally known journalists and took the chance to poke some fun at them.
“I believe in them,” he said, “and will be glad to get through here so I can have a moment of meditation.”
The room filled with laughter.