A Prophet at Wartime

Some things can be difficult to find, much less remember just six years later; but there’s a round-up of local news covering the 95th Birthday celebration of then Mormon Prophet and Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley. Included is the transcript of a July 22nd 2005 KSL broadcast reporting on the attendance of Mike Wallace, a friend of the Mormon prophet:

The community birthday party for President Gordon B. Hinckley is just hours away. His ‘old friend’, and that’s what they call each other, Mike Wallace from ’60 Minutes’ is in town to pay tribute.The relationship between Pres. Hinckley and Mike Wallace began with a huge dose of skepticism from each one. All of that changed to what has now become a lasting friendship.

Mike Wallace: “This is a church run by old men.”

Pres. Hinckley: “Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head? A man of judgment who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?”

Mike Wallace: “Absolutely, as long as he’s not dotty.”

Pres. Hinckley: “Thank you for the compliment.”

Mike Wallace was surprised then by the unprecedented access to the leader of a worldwide faith. Now, the depth of feeling for his interviewee has only grown. His perception of the faith, Wallace says, changed from skeptical to intrigued. So, is he interested in joining?

Mike Wallace: “I’m not a particularly religiously-oriented person. I’m Jewish, so maybe I’m one of the lost tribes.”

Mary and Mike Wallace made the trip; he joins other guest artists in a celebration of President Hinckley’s life. He will narrate, reading a church-written script. He was a bit concerned.

Mike Wallace: “Patsy to the Mormon church, me? Well, because I have the feeling that I do about Gordon B. Hinckley, I figure I’ll get a pass on this.”

They met this morning without the cameras, but ever the newsman, Wallace asked the president how he felt about the war in Iraq.

Mike Wallace: “He’s unhappy about what has happened there, what continues to happen there. He deplores what is going on there.”

But the occasion is social he insists, so to reporters he posed a question.

Mike Wallace: “He’s an extraordinary man, don’t you agree?”

When Tabernacle Choir leaders told Pres. Hinckley Mike Wallace had agreed to come, he got tears in his eyes. Other guest artists include Gladys Knight, Donny Osmond, The 5 Browns, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The next day Salt Lake Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack recognized the news behind the news, starting her report with:

LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley “was not and is not happy with the war in Iraq,” CBS newsman Mike Wallace said Friday. “He deplores what’s going on there.” The longtime reporter, who interviewed Hinckley for “60 Minutes” in 1995, was in Utah to participate in Hinckley’s 95th birthday gala at the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

“It wasn’t an interview situation, so I didn’t press” Hinckley, Wallace told a half-dozen or so reporters. “But I was sorry I didn’t have a camera.”LDS spokesman Dale Bills was quick to say the church “has no position on the war in Iraq” and that Wallace’s comments were “his own characterization of a private conversation.”

When I read this I am reminded of how I have personally experienced the wars and military campaigns coincident to my lifetime. I was raised (or perhaps this was just my own interpretation?) to see US wars as justified if not glorified by the context of Captain Moroni and many other Book of Mormon depictions of righteous people fighting, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” However, by 2003 my mind and heart had changed and for the first time in my life I was open to questions …

What does this Prophet deplore in war? The actions of the enemy? The actions of the US-led coalition? War in general? It’s hard to tell and this appears to be by design and consistent with the LDS church’s oft-stated mantra that it avoids making political statements (with a few notable exceptions).

War certainly has its political aspects but in my mind, one raised on Book of Mormon teachings, war is a moral issue par excellence. It disturbs me now that a man sustained by millions as a Prophet and witness of Jesus of Nazareth would fail to publicly condemn war, especially at a time when doing so could actually sway the course of history. Seeming prophetic neutrality in the lead-up to Gulf wars I and II strikes me as a particularly poor representation of Christ. But in the Spring 2003 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as America was plummeting into that “six-month campaign” become a generation-spanning military occupation, I heard the Prophet speak words of shrewd political acquiescence rather than condemnation.

So what of such reports of personal conversations like this by Mike Wallace? Hearsay! It means nothing to me that a man with such an appointment of moral authority and influence might have privately expressed some concerns — only after the moment of his calling had past and the moral implications of war become obvious to all. I witnessed this passing of times and events and my faith suffered for it.

My faith suffered at the hands of a pragmatic church. This fact only became clear to me after I’d been jolted to waking. And I’m okay with the church existing in waking reality as it does, but only because my belief in it as the seat of a just and loving god was shattered. Power, as it turns out, provides its own system of morality. And in the case of “prophets at wartime” this morality clearly gravitates around the source of power: the membership, and the larger body politic.

Again, I lost my worldview virginity and found that, at least from the perspective of human morality, the world is not governed by a universal executive of divine qualification, but is indeed a fundamentally human endeavor.

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  • The KSL report is no longer available online but the quotes relevant to this post are supported by the Peggy Fletcher Stack article.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune article is currently only available via archive subscription. Here’s a full reference:
    • Wallace: CBS’ icon visits a friend whose “courage and imagination” he admires
      Date: July 23, 2005
      LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley “was not and is not happy with the war in Iraq,” CBS newsman Mike Wallace said Friday. “He deplores what’s going on there.”The longtime reporter, who interviewed Hinckley for “60 Minutes” in 1995, was in Utah to participate in Hinckley’s 95th birthday gala at the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.”It wasn…
      Author: Peggy Fletcher Stack The Salt Lake Tribune
      Page: A1
      Word Count: 580
      Publication: Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT)
      Article ID: 10B96AB71A59CDC8


[Image credit: President Bush meets with First Presidency of LDS Church, via Wikimedia Commons.]