Los Angeles World Affairs Council
Los Angeles, California
May 26, 2011
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Thank you so much for this wonderful welcome, and I really appreciate these kind words, Curtis. Thank you for this marvelous organization tonight.
I could easily recognize that you have all this done before. This runs really like clockwork. I would say German—no, Swiss—clockwork, right?
Well, let’s stay internationally neutral in this case, and it’s marvelous to be with you. Thank you again, Curtis, for the invitation. Thank you to all of you to come here tonight. Thank you to Rusty Butler, who was one of the initiators, and of course Matt Ball and many, many more.
We saw so many familiar faces, friends, and my wife and I, Harriett and I, are grateful to be with you tonight. It was wonderful to be with you in the reception line and take pictures, and we wish we could spend more time on a one-on-one basis.
I’m deeply impressed and delighted and honored to be with you tonight. It is indeed a privilege to be in the company of such a distinguished international group of community, business, and church leaders.
And I realize and I’m amazed about it and humbled to be in the presence and participating in this organization, which is indeed impressive and provides such a wonderful forum of meaningful dialogue and debate.
The list of past speakers in this group here is just very humbling and especially when I think back and think about our own beloved president, Gordon B. Hinckley, who addressed this forum twice. And I certainly love him and admire him and again give thanks to all of you.
It’s amazing when you stand here as a German kid who was born in Czechoslovakia and then grew up in East Germany and flew some time with the German Air Force and earned his wings, his Air Force wings in the United States Air Force. So, the world is small and nations grow closer together. And I think that is one of the reasons why you are here, assembled in such a group of diverse and united people with good intent.
It is truly—when I met with some of you tonight and you mentioned your place of birth and your home and your nation, my wife and I, we immediately thought, “Boy, yes, we went there when I was flying for Lufthansa.” Many of those destinations we enjoyed and enjoyed not only the beauty of the world, but the beauty of the people. That is the major part of human experiences.
So, thank you again for being here, and sometimes—the kind words of Curtis in regard to my past experience and my responsibilities now—I try to explain it sometimes to people. It’s actually pretty easy; you go from the cockpit to the pulpit; you stay in pits.
So, as a former pilot, as I said, let me begin by making reference to a recent visit my wife, Harriet and I made to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. As a lifelong aviation aficionado, I have had this, for a long time, as an open item on my bucket list.
And finally, we’re there and could check it off, and we all know when you grow older and the hair gets gray, that you, that time flies, and I had to hurry to get this done. Sometimes when I talk to people and tell them that I flew for the German Air Force, the younger ones ask me, “Did you fly in the first or second World War?” And the funny thing is that, young people, when I tell them the joke, they don’t even laugh about it.
So, for those interested in the history of aviation, Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk is a place of great significance for aviation. Over a century ago, on a windy, mid-December day on the outer banks of North Carolina, two brothers—humble operators of a bicycle shop, but men with a vision and a dream—accomplished a feat that changed the world.
On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first successful powered airplane flight. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. I flew the 747 for many, many years as a captain. The 747 is almost twice that long, 232 feet. They did 12 seconds, 120 feet back then, but only five other persons were there to witness this historic event.
Initially, the news attracted little public excitement or attention. It was only much later that the world recognized the significance of this marvelous event.
Fast-forward 100 years and the skies are filled with airplanes that carry millions of passengers and tons of cargo over billions of miles every year. They connect people of all nations. They connect them as individuals, but also collectively as nations. They connect languages and cultures throughout the world. All this came about because the foundational principles of powered flight were put into practical application by two visionary men.
Now let me try to make a connection to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
First I would like to address a couple of thoughts on growth and on general principles the Church stands for and, secondly, on moral and ethical applications of its teachings
The Church of Jesus Christ
It was in April of 1830 when Joseph Smith, a man with a profound and eternal vision, assembled five associates in upstate New York to organize and restore the original Church of Jesus Christ. As with manned flight, the Church’s beginning was modest and simple and humble; only a few people took notice.
Joseph Smith himself came from a humble background. He was the son of a poor farmer. As a child, he worked in the fields and had little opportunity for formal education. But it was from these humble and obscure beginnings that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took root.
Because these events occurred in the United States, people often think of us as an American church. The Church was established in the United States in large part because it was here that the most favorable circumstances—including basic principles and especially the freedom of religion—were there.
Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global Church. The principles and doctrines it teaches have the potential and power to benefit and uplift the people of every nation, race, and culture.
The Church has grown, as you just heard a minute ago, in a remarkable way since its founding with six members in 1830. When Utah became a state in 1896, Church membership totaled around 250,000—in 1896, quarter of a million. It took 117 years, from 1830 to 1947, to reach the one million mark. As a matter of fact, my family joined the Church in 1947—that is, everyone except myself, because I was too young then. I had to wait almost two years to be baptized because we don’t baptize before someone is at least eight years old. Now, the membership doubled to two million, after that, in just 17 years, so another one million in only 17 years. And since 1997, the majority of Church members live outside the United States. That growth continues to increase significantly throughout the world. Global membership now stands at over 14 million. Church members live in 184 countries. They speak approximately 170 different languages. Church materials have been translated, and are translated all the time, into 166 languages.
To provide places of worship for its ever-growing membership, the Church averages a completion of a new chapel about every second weekday. This is made possible through the tithes of faithful members. It comes from observance of the ancient law as mentioned in the Old Testament of the tithe. In Malachi we can read about this. This law is set forth in 35 words in our scriptures. Compare that with the rules and regulations of the IRS!
Building Faith and Temples
But it is important to recognize that the growth of the Church is not merely about numbers of members, languages, and buildings; our mission is to bring souls unto Christ—that is the important part—and thereby improve the lives of our fellowmen. We teach, support, and encourage all men, women, and children to draw near to God and live charitable and honorable lives.
We emphasize the importance of families and declare that “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.” We believe that “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ” and that “successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
While love for family is certainly not unique to Latter-day Saints, as we all know—and you are good examples of these principles—our conviction that families can be together forever has a doctrinal foundation that is unique to the restored Church. Through restored priesthood authority, we unite families together, not only for this mortality, but throughout eternity. And this is what our temples are all about, which you see around the globe. This is the same authority given to the Apostles of old and a distinctive doctrine associated with these specific temples.
A Volunteer Church
Now, as the Church expands throughout the world, there is a great need for local leadership—local leadership. Few people outside the Church know that nearly all who serve in our Church do so without monetary compensation. We have no paid ministry. Our bishops—these are leaders of local congregations of about 400 members—may be plumbers, doctors, truck drivers, teachers, or accountants, or pilots. It may well be that some of thosehere tonight have served or are serving as bishops of these congregations, and you might ask some at your tables.
We offer opportunities for leadership and growth for men, women, and our youth. It is expected that every member contributes in some way. When we assemble, we do not hear a sermon from paid professionals. Ward members—men and women, young and old—teach from the pulpit and in our classrooms.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasizes the importance of continued secular and religious education. The Church’s higher education system—some of you know about this quite well—serves over 40,000 students on its four campuses, which include Brigham Young University in Provo; BYU–Idaho, which is growing greatly, and if anyone comes to Rexburg, it’s worth taking a look at what’s happening there; BYU–Hawaii, which is serving, of course, the Pacific and Pacific Rim and planned to be extended quite a bit; and of course, the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City.
For the second year in a row, Brigham Young University is the most popular university in America, based on the proportion of students accepted to a school who opt to attend. So, students must like it there. BYU edged, in this comparison, out Harvard in this year’s ranking. The BYU Marriott School of Management is consistently among the top-ranked business programs of the world.
And of course, here comes the most important information in regard to our schools. For the 13th straight year, Princeton Review’s survey of 120,000 college students named BYU as the most “stone-cold sober” university in the nation. Students at BYU are chugging more milk and less beer than any of their peers on any other campus.
The Church also provides religious education in high schools and colleges through our seminaries and institutes of religion. Almost 750,000—three quarters of a million—high school and college-age students attend our programs worldwide.
One of the most inspired and inspiring developments of recent years is the Perpetual Education Fund, established to assist young people in parts of the world where opportunities for education are limited.
This fund provides educational loans at minimal interest to individuals so they can receive education and training and qualify for good jobs in their own countries. It’s mainly a vocational help. And our beloved President Hinckley, who has been with you twice, was the initiator of this great program, and some of you know some of those serving, again as volunteers, organizing and managing this great undertaking worldwide.
We receive more and more requests from different nations around the globe to be included in this program. But we’re careful to move forward slowly to make sure that we can fulfill the promises we give. After the student completes school or vocational training, he or she typically repays the loan over an eight-year period. This money is placed back into the fund, which will benefit tens of thousands of future applicants.
Welfare Program and Worldwide Humanitarian Outreach
Many of you might have heard—and Curtis was so kind to mention a couple of those things—of ourwelfare program and our worldwide humanitarian outreach. Just a few days ago, by the way, LDS Charities, which is greatly involved, of course, in this, got a special accreditation as a consultant to the United Nations because of their great experience and successes in this field.
These programs were established to improve the lives of our fellowmen. To that end, we teach our members to become self-reliant—self-reliant, not dependent—and reach out to bless others. Being continuously engaged in improving the lives of our fellowmen is not just theological theory, which it easily may become, but rather an application of the gospel’s core doctrines. The more our hearts are inclined to God, the more we desire to relieve suffering and help others become self-reliant.
It was 75 years ago—this year—75 years ago during the Great Depression, when the Church formed a welfare program for our Church members—for our own Church members—in which the strong help the weak and together they all learn how to help themselves. That initiative gave birth to our farms, to our canneries, to our storehouses, to our employment services, and to our counseling services all around the globe.
In 1985, when a famine ravaged Africa, the Church’s humanitarian program was created, reaching far beyond the membership of our faith. This program has blessed the lives of more than 27 million people in 178 countries throughout the world, regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or politics.
We try to follow the counsel of Joseph Smith, who taught already in 1840 that “a man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”
The Church does not wait for a disaster to strike before it mobilizes pallets of clothing, blankets, food, medicine, bandages, cleaning kits, shovels, and tarps—which are always being prepared for the next earthquake, flood, famine, or fire. In just the last few days our people were on the road again. Over the last 25 years, the Church has responded to almost 2,000 emergencies worldwide. And we try not to just come in as long as the cameras are there. We like to stay until the job is done.
We have learned that we are most effective in our humanitarian efforts when we focus on long-term goals. After careful review, we have chosen as core projects, not just emergency, but core long-term projects in humanitarian efforts eye or vision care, wheelchairs, training for medical professionals to save the lives of newborns, clean water, and immunization.
And you can find on the websites of the Church a lot about these projects. As the Church goes about relieving suffering and helping those in need, it attempts to leave the people in a better position to help themselves so that they are less dependent on others; that’s the important part there.
One typical example is a water project, which I want to mention, and there are many other ones I could mention to you, of a water project in central Kenya, and I just saw today the general consul from Kenya—beautiful country, most beautiful country and my wife and love it dearly: 55,000 people in 60 villages benefited from this effort. The great need in this area was for clean, sanitary water—countless people had become sick, and many had died as a result of polluted or infected water. The Church agreed with village leaders to provide the labor—the expertise by the Church and the labor by the village. And the materials would also come from the Church.
Village volunteers dug wells using very basic tools, sometimes hammers and chisels. This was not an easy task, as one well takes three to six months, six days a week, ten hours a day to dig. So they had to work hard and they did. After the digging was completed, a water pump was installed. The Church provided the water pump and the expertise. A crucial part of the Church’s participation was to help the local people learn to manage the operation, maintenance, and repair of the wells. In the future, those sophisticated pumps would not sit there without being repaired when there was a need. This partnership created a self-sustaining project that not only blesses the lives of the villagers today but will benefit them for decades to come.
The Church and its members try to follow the Savior’s admonition to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and otherwise care for the less fortunate. One hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s Humanitarian Services Fund are used for relief efforts—100 percent. The Church absorbs its own overhead costs. So, all donations go 100 percent to the wonderful programs and relief efforts.
Moral and Ethical Application of Gospel Values
Now, let me share a few thoughts on applications on gospel principles and teachings of the Church.
A wise man once said:
Conquer the angry man by love.
Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness.
Conquer the miser with generosity.
Conquer the liar with truth.
These values are urgently needed in a time of serious challenges and uncertainty worldwide. They are deeply rooted in the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In my lifetime I have experienced and worked in times of grim challenges and uncertainty. I was a refugee twice, and I have witnessed how opposing political systems impacted the life of a large number of people in very divergent ways. I am indeed grateful for my friend, our German general consul here in L.A. who can relate with me in what Germany had experienced during the time when it was divided. I learned by experience how important highmoral and ethical values are in leadership, irrespective of political systems.
We need only to open a newspaper to realize that we are living in a cynical time. Trust in public institutions, corporations, and organized religion is declining. Almost daily, media reports describe the decline of moral decency and the erosion of basic ethical conduct.
In this time of uncertainty, mistrust, fear, rumors of war, and political road rage, is there still hope for integration and openness across different cultures, different religions, societies, and political interests? Is there still hope for virtue, moderation, and divine moral principles?
My dear friends, my answer is a clear and a very resounding yes, there is!
But I am also convinced that the axiomatic and eternal principle of moral agency demands that there be “an opposition in all things” to ensure that meaningful choices can be made—choices not only between good and bad, or evil, but also from among multiple righteous alternatives.
Moral agency refers not only to the capacity to act for ourselves but also to the necessity of being accountable for those actions.
I believe one reason for today’s decline in moral values is that the world has invented a new, constantly changing, undependable standard of moral conduct often referred to as “situational ethics.” Some consider good and evil adjustable according to their own situation and interest. They wrongly believe that there is no divine law and, therefore, no sin. They convince and play with words and dissemble truth. They convince themselves that ends justify means and that agendas or ideologies must be advanced regardless of collateral damage.
This delusion is in direct contrast to the God-given standards. The Ten Commandments and other divine laws constitute the commandments of God, our Heavenly Father. These divine laws are instituted by God to govern His creations and to prescribe behavior for His offspring, His children, us.
The members of our Church throughout the world accept and try to live by ethical principles reflected in our Articles of Faith. I quote part of it: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent . . . and in doing good to all men. . . . If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
This basic declaration is part of our theology and describes the principles and ethics of our desired behavior. We are far away from being perfect. We know this, but our goals are high, our aims are high, our ideals are high.
If such values would be adopted by all men, courtesy would overcome cursing; dignity would replace disgust; hate would diminish; love and respect for one another would increase across geographic and ideological boundaries.
It takes courage and humility to put away old hatred, and I must say again, I come back to my own history as a German: two different countries, two different nations, two totally different systems, myself serving in the Air Force, German Air Force, combat ready, targets for immediate response in Eastern Europe, even in my own other part of my homeland. Things change. They can change. Miracles happen. We’re united. It takes courage, I say again, and humility to put away old hatred, divisions, and traditions that constrict and confine people into a blind succession of destructive behavior toward others. I believe with all my heart it is within our reach to breach barriers of hate and build bridges of brotherhood and understanding between opposing cultures, beliefs, religions, and world views.
Today, the power of Christ’s teachings can again bring to pass the kind of miracle Paul described to the Saints at Ephesus, who certainly lived in a time of great divisiveness. I think it was a bad time back then. And he said: “Without Christ, [we were] aliens, . . . having no hope. . . . But now in Christ Jesus . . . we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
Too often the teachings of our respective faiths—of our respective faiths, are kept in an abstract religious box, cautiously separated from personal conduct. Divine leadership principles are based on the commandment “that ye love one another,” and that is irrespective of religion. By reemphasizing this commandment, the Savior has made feeding His sheep one of our ongoing responsibilities which cannot be dismissed. Leaders whose leadership reflects integrity and goodness could do much to create a better world for our children and grandchildren.
Adherence to eternal principles—the unwavering commitment to truth revealed by God—has been one of the reasons The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown from six members in 1830 to more than 14 million today. That is my firm belief.
My dear friends, since the days of the Wright brothers, airplanes have connected people in places all over the world. And since the days of Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has connected men and women around the world with their Heavenly Father and with His Son, our Redeemer, in a profound and spiritual way.
The Church of Jesus Christ will continue to focus on strengthening families, building righteous societies, and helping our brothers and sisters improve their lives the world over, regardless of culture, language, or religious beliefs. I believe that these are worthy and righteous goals. We invite all to be part of these efforts. And there are many ways to be part of that.
Many of you are exemplary bridge builders. You have created bonds between nations, cultures, and religions. The world needs builders, especially bridge builders, not destroyers.
Today I thank especially the consuls and the representatives of the consulates for your hospitality and generosity in providing visas to our missionaries who go to your home countries. We have nearly 60,000 missionaries serving worldwide—young and old—all volunteers. These missionaries are men and women who serve the people of your nations on their own time and their own money. When these missionaries return home, they will become enthusiastic ambassadors for the countries where they have served.
I believe that many of those who served in Germany as missionaries are almost more German than I am. And Wolf, I think that is almost as true for you too, right? Yeah.
When we come to your countries, we come with a message of hope, peace, and neighborly love. We do not tear down other religions but work with them to improve the world by changing the hearts of individuals. We will always enter a nation through the front door. We have nothing to hide. Our members honor the laws of the nations in which they live. Though members of our Church are human and thus make mistakes, they are men and women of integrity and honesty, reaching out to the hungry, the grieving, and those in distress—the needy. They are good citizens in any nation, political system, culture, or economic environment. They will work hard to make their families, schools, communities, and nations better.
My dear friends, it has been a pleasure to be with you. Let me close with a request and a blessing. Let’s never forget, God is not merely an abstract concept; He’s not. He lives! As we trust in God and listen to His voice, regardless of our faith and our religion, He will help us personally and collectively in these challenging times. There’s hope. There’s a great future ahead of us. It is in our hands to make it happen. Of this I bear witness as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you, and may God bless you all. Thank you so much.
1 J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization (1924), 42; see also Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116.
 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 129.
 Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 4:227.
 2 Nephi 2:11.
 See 2 Nephi 2:26.
 See 2 Nephi 2:13.
 Ephesians 2:12–13, 18–19.
 John 13:34.