After his 30 minutes Thursday speech at the National Press Club In Washington, Latter-day Saint Apostle David Bednar addressed a tally of questions about declining membership growth in the Utah-based church, LGBTQ issues, women leaders and faith representation in recent popular media, including the current FX/Hulu series “Under the Sky Banner.
In his introductory remarks To nearly 100 reporters at the prestigious venue and other online viewers, Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, provided insight into the beliefs and actions of faith around the world.
During the Q&A session, he was asked about a range of issues:
• On declining membership in a number of places, Bednar said, “If you look at the church as a whole, it is growing, which in the climate we find today [when most churches are shrinking]is quite noteworthy.
He pointed to “emigration” from parts of the western United States and immigration from Mexico and Central America.
“I’m confident in the growth,” Bednar said, “but if you break it down state by state, it’s a rapidly moving target.”
• When asked if he could ever imagine the church allowing LGBTQ couples to marry or be “sealed in the church,” the 69-year-old apostle did not answer directly, but merely reaffirmed the faith’s position on marriage – that it is between a man and a woman, which is “ordained of God”.
• In response to a question about his vision for “Banner,” he alluded to all of the works he cited in his official introduction, then joked, “Considering everything I just described, who has time to watch TV programs?
Even so, the apostle pointed to a recent Salt Lake Tribune story that separated fact from fiction on the show.
It’s “not new. Christ has been misinterpreted,” he said. “We’ve been mischaracterized since 1830, when the church was established. We don’t like it, but we don’t spend all of our time trying to answer it.
• Asked if there will ever be a woman president of the church, Bednar said, “We are following the pattern of the old church. … The old pattern was that the apostles were men.
In his prepared remarks, he noted that “women constitute the majority” and lead the female Relief Society in 31,000 local congregations.
“All women and men in our church have a responsibility,” Bednar said, “to teach, minister, and serve our brothers and sisters.”
Faith teaches that it is “the restored church of Jesus Christ,” he said, and that its organization is “the same today as it existed in the early church.”
Bednar explained how the denomination grew from a handful in the 19th century to nearly 17 million worldwide, spread through the work of his volunteer missionary force, which now numbers 91,000 (more than 54,000 full-time proselytes and more than 36,000 service missionaries).
He described many of the church’s humanitarian efforts to provide disaster relief, to help refugees, to provide vaccinations and to provide assistance wherever possible.
“We certainly don’t have all the answers,” Bednar said, “but we are sticking together with the global community to eradicate hunger, administer lifesaving vaccinations, provide wheelchair mobility to those who are immobile, and train medical professionals to provide physical care, mental and emotional support.
On other topics:
• Asked about transgender people who have completed their transition before exploring church membership?
“We all welcome and strive to love them,” he said. “I use the word ‘strive’ because we don’t do it perfectly. People have stereotypes, they have biases and prejudices, but we strive to like everyone.
• In response to a question about the church’s $100 billion in investment reserves, Bednar joked, “If you look at the stock market, I don’t think it’s more than $100 billion.
Having a substantial amount in savings “is a good idea,” he said. “You can read in the Old Testament about seven years of famine and seven years of plenty. … If things are different in the future than they are now, we think it’s prudent and wise to be prepared to maintain that kind of support in an uncertain economic environment.
• When asked to avoid the popular nickname “Mormon,” Bednar said, “[church] President Russell M. Nelson will forever be remembered as a man of remarkable courage to say that we will no longer use a nickname pejoratively attached to us by our enemies, and we invite others to call us what we call ourselves. – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
• Reflecting on the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, Bednar said, “We mourn with those who mourn and pray for all those affected by this senseless act of violence. My prayer and blessing is that we will be guided, comforted and helped in our important work, and that victims, families and nations may enjoy the peace that surpasses all understanding – the peace that comes from Jesus Christ.
Bednar became the first senior religious official to address this respected group of journalists in more than two decades, when in 2000 the then President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a similar speech.