WASHINGTON — Elder David A. Bednar took questions for 22 minutes here Thursday from journalists at the National Press Club, talking about LGBTQ issues and financial reserves and media characterizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Bednar first spoke for 30 minutes. He began by saying that church leaders and members “mourn with those who mourn” over Tuesday’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

It was “a senseless act of violence,” said Elder Bednar, 69, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Latter-day Saints mourn over ‘senseless’ shooting in Texas, Elder Bednar tells National Press Club

Speaking to 135 people in the ballroom on the 13th floor of the historic National Press Building and additional reporters and viewers watching live on YouTube, he then provided a broad overview of the church’s beliefs and its efforts around the world, saying that it:

  • Spent more than $1 billion last year subsidizing tuition and providing other financial support at Brigham Young University, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, Ensign College and BYU-Pathway Worldwide.
  • Spent $906 million last year on humanitarian aid and other aid to those in need in 188 countries, and this year is providing money and other aid to help Ukraine’s refugees.
  • Proudly stands with LGBTQ people to pass federal legislation to protect them from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
See how much was spent on charity in 2021 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 26, 2022. | Joshua Roberts, for the Deseret News

“The basic purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help people learn about 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,” Elder Bednar said. “We believe God can change our hearts and make more of us from the inside out than we can ever make of ourselves. And we also believe that change, many times, is required from the outside in.”

He referred to his list of the church’s international undertakings — including temple building and renovations, anti-racism initiatives, the work of 91,000 current missionaries — when National Press Club President Jen Judson asked him to respond to the TV series “Under the Banner of Heaven.” The show is a biopic that, its creator has said, takes some liberties with its portrayal of the murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her infant daughter by Ron and Dan Lafferty in 1984.

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How many liberties it takes is being debated in social media posts and online reviews.

Judson also asked Elder Bednar about caricatures of Latter-day Saint missionaries and beliefs in “The Book of Mormon” musical and of fundamentalist “Mormons” in reality shows like “Big Love” and “Sister Wives.”

“I’ll pose a rhetorical question first, given all the stuff that I just described,” Elder Bednar said. “Who has time to watch programs on TV?”

The retort drew sustained laughter.

Elder Bednar said he had read news accounts of “Under the Banner of Heaven.“

“There’s some discussion about how accurate it is, how fictional it is,” Elder Bednar said. “This is not new. Christ was mischaracterized. We have been mischaracterized since 1830, when the church was reestablished. That’s 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 respond to it. We have a mission to fulfill, and we’re moving forward to accomplish that mission.”

“Fair enough,” said Judson, who covers land warfare for Defense News.

Judson read questions to Elder Bednar that had been submitted before the event. One asked about the church’s financial reserves, including stocks, reported without confirmation from the church as having reached as much as $100 billion.

“If you take a look at the stock market, I don’t think it’s $100 (billion) anymore,” Elder Bednar said, prompting more laughter.

Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, left, speaks with Jen Judson, president of the National Press Club, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 26, 2022. | Joshua Roberts, for the Deseret News

“I want to make one other comment about this,” Elder Bednar added. “People want to bang on the church and say, ‘Well, you’ve got all that money in reserve.’ Yeah, and it’s a good idea for other people to follow that example. We believe that there are — you can read in the Old Testament about seven years of famine and seven years of plenty. It’s a good idea to prepare. These undertakings that I’ve described are resource-consuming, not resource-generating. And a lot of people depend on the resource that we provide. And if things are different in the future than they are now, we think it’s provident and wise to prepare to maintain that kind of support in an uncertain economic environment.”

During his main remarks, he made it clear that the church is working closely with LGBTQ members, advocates and groups in an effort to pass federal legislation that would both protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and strengthen religious liberty rights. He referred to Utah’s church-supported Fairness for All law passed in 2015 and similar church-backed laws in Arizona.

About a dozen LGBTQ advocates, whom Elder Bednar described as the church’s allies, attended the luncheon. They are part of the Equality and Fairness for All Coalition’s effort to bring advocates from 50 states to lobby for the federal legislation in hopes of bringing it to a vote in June.

“We are proud to stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters — some of whom are with us today — in this important effort,” Elder Bednar said. “It is hard work and an objective worth fighting for. While we may not agree on everything, we surely are building a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.”

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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 participants arrived for the lunch under overcast skies on a typically humid Washington spring day alleviated by merciful breezes.

Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, rights, greets Navy football head coach Ken Niumatalolo at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 26, 2022. | Joshua Roberts, for the Deseret News

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 past president of the National Press Club, and Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona.

Elder Bednar spoke 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 journalists to visit the open house of the church’s Washington D.C. Temple — 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 been able to see inside the temple in 48 years.

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National Press Club Headliner lunch speakers are selected based on newsworthiness related to issues of the day, national or international stature and influence, and exclusivity — how much a speaker is available to the press.

Elder Bednar provided information about an array of church programs. Nearly 1 million student learners worldwide are enrolled in the programs of the Church Educational System, he said. The church has 60,000 instructors across four university and college campuses alone. 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 delivery system serves more than 60,000 students annually 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 over 80% of Latter-day Saint college graduates describe their religion as ‘very important.’”

He also talked 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 each day) and race relations.

Church provides millions to NAACP, UNCF for scholarships and humanitarian aid
David A. Bednar, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on May 26, 2022. | Joshua Roberts, for the Deseret News

He also talked about apostolic callings in response to a question about how many of the church’s senior leaders have business training. Elder Bednar was a college business professor and administrator with expertise in organizational behavior. He also served as president of BYU-Idaho before he was called as an apostle in 2004.

“I have tried really hard not to let my academic training influence what I do as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.

“In the Book of Mormon, there’s a verse that says ‘when they are learned, they think they are wise and hearken not unto the counsel of God.’ So I do not take my academic background and experience and impose that on the church. I let the doctrine of Christ influence how I see things. Certainly there are practical advantages in knowing about how organizations run and budgeting and so forth, but I view that really as secondary. I try to view what we do and the mission we fulfill through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Judson asked him if that meant he left that training behind.

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“You can’t leave it behind, but we do leave our nets,” Elder Bednar said. “The ancient apostles, they were summoned, and they left what they were doing and they then began the work of serving the Savior. That’s what we do. That’s what the members of our church do. But it would not 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 senior 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.

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A transcript of Elder Bednar’s prepared remarks is here.

The video with both Elder Bednar’s remarks and the Q&A is available here.

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