It is likely not surprising that Elder David A. Bednar’s National Press Club luncheon address was followed by some hard-hitting questions, but what might be more surprising is the sense of humor with which Elder Bednar approached his answers.
Elder Bednar answered several questions very directly. For example, when asked whether he envisions LGBTQ marriages and sealings ever taking place within the Church, he replied very directly and simply, “We believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Father’s plan for the eternal destiny and happiness of His children.”
When asked how a trans person would be treated if they had already completed their transition before exploring membership in the Church, Elder Bednar replied, “We welcome all and strive to love them. Now, I use the word ‘strive’ because we don’t do that perfectly and so people have stereotypes, they have misconceptions, they have biases, and they have prejudices. We strive to love everybody.”
He also reiterated a message he shared on the All In podcast two months ago when asked how his educational and professional background influences what he does as an apostle. When the interviewer replied, “So basically you leave behind all of your previous experience and education to focus on…” Elder Bednar interrupted and said, “You can’t leave it behind, but we do leave our nets. 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.”
But some of Elder Bednar’s replies were a little bit more unique, some even drawing laughs from the audience of journalists. Here are a few of our favorite questions and answers from today’s luncheon.
NPC: With over $100B in funds and assets, the LDS Church has more capability than any other Church in the country to help eliminate poverty. What more could the Church do in terms of humanitarian efforts here?
Elder Bednar: If you take a look at the stock market, I don’t think it’s $100 [billion] anymore. And I want to make one other comment about this. People want to bang on the Church and say, ‘Well you have all that money in reserve.’ Yeah, and it’s a good idea for other people to follow that example. We believe, and 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 resources 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. I sound like a business professor.
NPC: On the Church’s website, it says that the Church has responsibility to publicly and clearly articulate its official teaching. In turn, reporters can help inform the public by accurately reporting. But in doing so, reporters should be aware of common pitfalls. What are those pitfalls and where are journalists getting it wrong in your view?
Elder Bednar: I think some of the characterizations. I mentioned stereotypes. You always lose something in the generality of a stereotype so ‘You know, Latter-day Saints are like this’ or ‘They all do this.’ I think there needs to be a little more precision. There needs to be a little more listening and asking. We would never ask for the right to be able to review it but I think they could do a little more than just take someone else’s secondhand view and push it along. There’s a little bit of homework that ought to be done to find out what’s really taking place.
NPC: In 2003, the Church denounced the book Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, calling Krakauer 'a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good.' Now Krakauer’s book has been adapted for TV and is streaming on Hulu. What does the Church think of the Hulu adaptation and more generally, how do you feel about the depiction in media and culture. For example, the musical The Book of Mormon, the tv series Big Love, and the reality show Sister Wives. How is this affecting the Church?
Elder Bednar: Okay. I’ll pose a rhetorical question first. Given all the stuff that I just described, who has time to watch programs on TV? So the most honest answer is you know, I’ve read about this stuff. The Salt Lake Tribune that you’ve already mentioned had as one of their headlines … [Under the Banner of Heaven] Fact or Fiction? There’s some discussion about how accurate is it? How fictional is it? So 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.
► You may also like: When a friend sees temple rites depicted on mainstream TV, how can we respond?
NPC: I’ve noticed you’re not using some words anymore. Mormon seems to not be mentioned as often. LDS, the acronym, I accidentally I think used it several times when asking you questions but can you talk about the decision to really emphasize Church of Latter-day Saints as opposed to calling yourself Mormon or LDS Church?
Elder Bednar: I think that President Russell M. Nelson will be known forever as a man of remarkable courage to say we will no longer use a nickname pejoratively attached to our church by our enemies anymore, and we’re inviting other people to call us what we are called: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You know, we live in a world where everybody is offended about almost everything. And we don’t take offense; we just ask people to respect what to us is very sacred. The name of the Church was revealed. We didn’t have a task force and test it with focus groups. It was revealed by the head of the Church who is Jesus Christ, and we simply are asking people to respect that and call us what we are.
NPC: For my final question, I’m going to make you go way back ,and I’m going to ask you for your favorite memory from your time as a missionary in Germany?
Elder Bednar: We go through a language training process. At the time it was for eight weeks, and I thought I had some rudimentary beginning understanding of German. I remember getting off the train in my very first city and I went to a lady in the train station and in my best German I said, ‘Could you please explain to me how to get out of the train station?’ And she began talking to me, and [I think, 'I must’ve fallen] ... asleep on the train and I’m in Yugoslavia or someplace' because I have no idea what this woman is talking about. There is spiritual help to do things that in your own capacity you can’t do. It wasn’t too long before I could understand and teach and testify. And what I know is I couldn’t do that by myself. It was the beginning of a most important lesson for me [that] there’s only a limited capacity I have. But with the help that comes from God, as we try to honor the commitments that we make to Him, we are blessed with strength to do any and all things that He wants us to do and needs us to do, and I know that’s true.
Editor's note: Some of Elder Bednar's answers have been edited for clarity.