Gordon B. Hinckley and the Mormon Church on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace

Gordon B. Hinckley and the Mormon Church on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace

The “60 Minutes” program on the LDS Church
Broadcast on CBS TV, April 7, 1996

Transcribed by: Robert J. Woolley

This is my homemade transcript of the “60 Minutes” piece on the church, broadcast 4/7/96. I have tried to make this as accurate as I could. In some places people spoke very rapidly, and getting their exact words was difficult. But I at least came close. I gained a new appreciation for the people who do transcription for a living. It ain’t easy. I pity my poor secretaries who have to listen to 20+ dictations from me every day.

I have not indicated every tape cut (that would take forever), but I put the indicator “[cut]” where it seemed to me that a significant sentence or thought might have been truncated, where I wanted to hear the rest of what was said.

[Mike Wallace alone in studio, SLC temple as backdrop]

Mike Wallace: If you believe, as a lot of Americans do, that this country is going to hell in a handbasket, spend some time, as we did, with the people who run the Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Right now they are one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, and the 7th-largest church in America, and they are bucking the trend. The faithful Mormon consumes no alcohol, no tobacco, no caffeine, does not engage in premarital or extramarital sex. But isn’t it true that they engage in polygamy? No, not any more. It was once, but they gave it up when Utah became a state more than a hundred years ago. It is rare, almost unheard of, for the president and prophet of the church to open up and talk as freely and easily as Gordon B. Hinckley did to us for this Easter Sunday story, which begins at the beginning in New York state, not Utah, where Mormons believe that God and Jesus appeared one day before a 14-year-old farm boy.

[Hinckley interview]

Mike Wallace: Your church says God and Jesus spoke with your founder Joseph Smith back in eighteen hundred and twenty and told him to start this church. You believe that.

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes, sir.

Mike Wallace: He was 14 years old…

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes, sir.

Mike Wallace: …a backwoods farm boy…

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes, sir.

Mike Wallace: … in New York State.

Gordon B. Hinckley: That’s the miracle of it.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of Marriott corporate offices]: You’d expect the head of the church to believe it, but so does Bill Marriott, chief of the Marriott hotel chain, a hard-headed businessman, and he’s a Mormon.

[Interview with Willard Marriott]

Mike Wallace: Fourteen years old, and God and Jesus come to see him? You believe that?

Willard Marriott: Yes, I do. We believe that the early church of Jesus Christ faded away, and that it came back to Joseph Smith.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of Hatch on senate floor]: And the senior US Senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, believes it, too.

[Interview with Orrin Hatch]

Orrin Hatch: We believe that we know that this happened.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage from the church film “The First Vision”]: Here is how a church film portrays it. And what began with God, Jesus, and a single farm boy [footage of General Conference] has now become a worldwide religion with more than 9 million members. But more than a religion, Mormonism is a lifestyle, an island of morality, they believe, in a time of moral decay. President Hinckley acknowledges it is not easy to follow the Mormon faith. He calls it the most demanding religion in America.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Gordon B. Hinckley: It is demanding. And that’s one of the things that attracts people to this church. It, it stands as an anchor in a world of shifting values.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of Gordon B. Hinckley interview]: Example. Mormons adhere to a very strict health code.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Mike Wallace: No alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee, no tea, not even caffeinated soft drinks…

Gordon B. Hinckley: Right.

Mike Wallace: …eat meat sparingly, exercise…

Gordon B. Hinckley: Right.

Mike Wallace: …get plenty of sleep.

Gordon B. Hinckley: Right. It’s wonderful!

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of people coming to church]: And the result? Mormons live several years longer than most other Americans. Another reason they live longer, Mormons say, is that they suffer less from stress, because they have strong and supportive families. Many Mormons marry early and have lots of children. [Footage of Steve Young.] But Steve Young is still single. The star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers is also the great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young, one of the Mormons’ early leaders. Steve, at 34, says that he’s looking hard for a Mormon mate.

[Interview with Steve Young]

Steve Young: Do you wanna talk about the pressure I feel? Brigham Young once said, right here on these grounds, that anyone over 27 years of age that’s not married is a menace to society. So here’s my grandfather telling me to get with it. You don’t think that I feel the pressure? I guarantee it.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of BYU campus]: As part of the pressure and focus on families, premarital sex, as we said, is forbidden among Mormons. So is adultery. Mormons don’t even go to R-rated movies. But students at Brigham Young University insist that having high moral standards does not prevent them from having a good time.

[Group interview with 7 unidentified BYU students]

Woman: We like to have fun, we like to go on dates, we like to, we like to do just normal things…

Mike Wallace: But you don’t fool around.

Same woman: No. It’s not something that I think is fun. A guy I remember, he told me, he’s like, “You know, you’d be so much fun if you drank, you’d have, you know, you’d be looser and everything,” and I’m like, “You know, I like to have fun knowing what I’m doing, being completely in control, and just having fun with life.”

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of SLC temple]: And while these young Mormons stress self-control, they themselves are controlled to a remarkable degree by the church. In fact, Mormons who break the rules of morality or health are not allowed to enter sacred Mormon temples.

Mike Wallace [in front of Assembly Hall, continuing as voiceover, with footage of temples and people in church]: Living as a devout Mormon is not easy. In addition to what you cannot do, there’s a lot you are supposed to do. You’re expected to read scripture daily, and to read scripture together as a family at least one night a week. Students attend daily religious courses. Sunday services last three hours. But beyond that, church activities take several more hours each week.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of Ezra Taft Benson, then footage of next group interview]: All of those hours and all of those rules are too much for some Mormons, who fall away. Steve Benson left the church to become one of its most outspoken critics, even though his late grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture, had been a church president. Steve Benson complains that by enforcing conformity the church stifles independent thought.

[Interview with Steve Benson and 3 unidentified others]

Steve Benson: The cultural mindset in the church is when the prophet has spoken, the debate is over.

Mike Wallace: And the prophet is?

Steve Benson: Gordon B. Hinckley would be the prophet. [cut] When he has pronounced the church’s position on any issue, it is incumbent upon the members of the church to pray, pay, and obey.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Gordon B. Hinckley: Well, that’s a clever statement from Steve, whom I know. [cut] Now look, our people have tremendous liberty, they’re free to live their lives as they please.

Mike Wallace: Are they?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Oh, absolutely.

Mike Wallace: Really?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Surely. They have to make choices. It’s the old eternal battle–the forces of evil against the forces of good.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of Gordon B. Hinckley arriving on the dais of a meetinghouse, the chapel filled with missionaries]: The critics acknowledge they represent a tiny minority of Mormons. Still, they say that too many Mormons look and act like they came off an assembly line. But these young Mormon missionaries look that way on purpose.

Gordon B. Hinckley [addressing male and female missionaries]: You all look alike–white shirts, some of them a little wrinkled, ties. I look at you, I look at your faces, and think of your age, and I’m inclined to say, “Well, you’re not much to look at, but you’re all the Lord has.” [Gordon B. Hinckley and congregation laugh.]

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of missionaries working]: Many young Mormons leave college for 2 years, at their own expense, to be missionaries. Every day 50,000 of them go door to door in America and 150 other countries. Steve Young missed his missionary chance in college but…

[Steve Young interview]

Steve Young: I will be a missionary in a remote village at some point.

Mike Wallace: You think so really?

Steve Young: Oh yeah, I think so. Even as a couple. My goal–and this is kind of my own little secret–but when I get married, just to head out and finish football and, and, and be a missionary around the world. Places where Steve Young–not that it’s big really that many places–but places where they have no idea about football.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; more of the church-produced footage of missionaries at work]: This church film demonstrates that missionaries have helped Mormonism achieve its phenomenal growth. Half its members are now from outside the United States. But until its expansion into Latin America and Africa, church membership had been overwhelmingly white.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Mike Wallace: From 1830 to 1978, blacks could not become priests in the Mormon church. Right?

Gordon B. Hinckley: That’s correct.

Mike Wallace: Why?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Because the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine that way. [cut]

Mike Wallace: Church policy had it that blacks had the mark of Cain. Brigham Young said, “Cain slew his brother, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.”

Gordon B. Hinckley: It’s behind us. Look, that’s behind us. Don’t worry about those little flecks [uncertain of that word; can anybody else hear it clearly?] of history.

Mike Wallace: Skeptics will suggest, “Well, look, if we’re going to expand, we can’t keep the blacks out.”

Gordon B. Hinckley: Pure speculation. [Laughs.]

Mike Wallace [voiceover, footage of people in church]: Now that blacks can be priests, the current issue is whether Mormon women will ever be priests.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Gordon B. Hinckley: Men hold the priesthood in this church.

Mike Wallace: Why?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Because God stated that it should be so. That was the revelation to the church. That was the way it was set forth.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of people in church]: Fact is, most Mormon women don’t want to be priests. They accept that men control the church and dominate Mormon society. And this has triggered complaints about how the church handles child sexual abuse. Child abuse among Mormons is surely no greater than among non-Mormons. But a study has found that many Mormon women who went to their clergymen for help believe the clergy were just not sympathetic.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Mike Wallace: The sociologist tells us, at the root of the problem is the fact that men in effect in your church have authority over women, so that your clergymen tend to sympathize with the men, the abusers, instead of the abused.

Gordon B. Hinckley: That’s one person’s opinion. I, I don’t think there’s any substance to it. [cut] Now, there’ll be a blip here, a blip there, a mistake here, a mistake there. But by and large the welfare of women and children is as seriously considered as is the welfare of the men, in this church, if not more so.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; shot of cover of new manual on dealing with abuse]: President Hinckley says the church has been teaching its clergy how to handle abuse more effectively.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Gordon B. Hinckley: We’re working very hard at it. There are cases. They’re everywhere. They’re all over this world. It is a disease, it’s an illness, it’s a sickness, it’s a reprehensible and evil thing. We recognize it as such.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of Jeffery Holland addressing an audience, and Gordon B. Hinckley shaking hands in a corridor]: Mormon clergy are not professionals, they’re not paid. Their church work is in addition to their regular jobs outside the church. Whatever the jobs, just being a Mormon is expensive. Mormons are expected to give ten percent of their salary to the church. Most of them, including Steve Young, say that’s no sacrifice.

[Steve Young interview]

Steve Young: I don’t really look at it as my money. You know, in my terms, it’s the Lord’s money, and I’d be, you know, in effect stealing from him if I didn’t do that.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of meetinghouse under construction]: The church reportedly takes in several billion dollars a year, and has never had a major financial scandal. Most of the money, they say, is spent building 375 chapels a year, all around the world.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Gordon B. Hinckley: We’re reaching out across the world. [cut] We’re not a weird people.

Mike Wallace: A weird people?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes.

Mike Wallace [standing in front of SLC temple]: Mormons know that some outside people think they are weird. Why? Well, for one thing, devout Mormons wear sacred undergarments for protection from harm–cotton undershirts with undershorts that reach to their knees.

[Willard Marriott interview]

Mike Wallace: Do you wear the sacred undergarments?

Willard Marriott: Yes, I do. And I can tell you they do protect you from harm.

Mike Wallace: Really?

Willard Marriott: Uh-huh. I was in a very serious boat accident. Fire–boat was on fire, I was on fire. I was burned. My pants were burned right off of me. I was not burned above my knee. Where the garment was, I was not burned.

Mike Wallace: And you believe it was the sacred undergarments.

Willard Marriott: I do. Particularly on my legs, because my pants were gone, but my undergarments were not singed.

[Steve Young interview]

Mike Wallace: And do you think that the sacred undergarments have kept you from harm on the football field?

Steve Young: I actually take them off to play football. The sacred nature of them, I find that the nature of football, and the sweating and so forth, I actually take them off, and I think that’s probably prevalent with athletics in the church.

Mike Wallace: Really?

Steve Young: But my teammates have enjoyed when, you know, you’re getting dressed and you’re putting your garments on. They, they think they’re pretty cool, a lot of them. And they’re, uh, “Hey, where’d you get those?” And I always tell them, “They’re way too expensive.” [Both laugh.]

Mike Wallace [voiceover; aerial footage of farmland, then of Mike Wallace and Gordon B. Hinckley walking around Temple Square; then Orrin Hatch]: Another curiosity. The church owns more than 3000 acres in northwest Missouri where Mormons believe that Jesus will return for his second coming. Gordon Hinckley prefers not to talk about Jesus returning to Missouri, or about sacred undergarments. He says that those points miss the point. He wants to portray Mormons as mainstream, not extreme. And for that Hinckley has hired a Jewish-owned public relations firm. Mormons hiring Jews to help spread the word? Makes sense to Senator Orrin Hatch. But then he wears a mezuzah on a chain around his neck. A mezuzah is often put at the entrance to a Jewish home as a reminder of their faith.

[Orrin Hatch interview]

Orrin Hatch: It’s typical of Mormon people to love all people, but especially Jewish people. I wear a mezuzah just to remind me, just to make sure that there is never another holocaust anywhere. You see, the Mormon church is the only church in the history of this country that had an extermination order out against it, by Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri. We went through untold persecutions.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of buildings in SLC, then Gordon B. Hinckley greeting people]: To escape the persecutions Mormons moved west, and when they reached Salt Lake, their leader, Brigham Young, pointed and declared it their promised land. And now Temple Square is their Vatican. In Salt Lake City, the church owns a TV station, a radio station, a newspaper, a department store, and a lot of the land downtown. Utah is 75% Mormon, and the church could wield political power if it wanted to. But President Hinckley says, unlike the religious right, the Mormon church does not have a political agenda.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Gordon B. Hinckley: We urge our people to exercise their franchise as citizens of this nation, but we do not tell them how to vote, and we do not tell the government how it should be run.

[Footage of missionaries coming out of chapel, shaking hands with Gordon B. Hinckley]

Missionary: Elder Smith, Houston, Texas. Can I give you a hug?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes. [Tall missionary embraces Gordon B. Hinckley, pushing him backwards.] Look out, you’ll roll right over me! [laughs]

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of missionaries continues]: Gordon Hinckley says he never intended to become president of the church, but that one by one all the other church leaders with more seniority died.

[Gordon B. Hinckley interview]

Mike Wallace: There are those who say, this is a gerontocracy, this is a church run by old men.

Gordon B. 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. [Laughs.]

Gordon B. Hinckley: [Laughs] Thank you for the compliment.

Mike Wallace [voiceover; footage of SLC temple]: Mormons believe that after they die their families will be reunited, and will live together forever in heaven.

[Gordon B. Hinckley and Mike Wallace chatting in lobby of meetinghouse, surrounded by onlookers, apparently the missionaries that have come out of the meeting]

Gordon B. Hinckley: We know it’s there. We have an assurance of that.

Mike Wallace: A lot of us who don’t.

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yeah, I know that. But you could.

Mike Wallace: I’ve thought about it. I’ve not been able to pursuade myself.

Gordon B. Hinckley: You haven’t thought about it long enough! [All laugh.]