SALT LAKE CITY — Ten years ago, the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints raised their hands in support for Gordon B. Hinckley as the newly ordained “seer and revelator” and 15th president of the church.
“He is our prophet today. He is wise. He is caring. He speaks for the Lord. His is the voice to which we should now respond,” Robert D. Hales of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at the time.
As the LDS faithful opened their 175th Annual General Conference here this weekend, Hinckley — along with First Presidency counselors Thomas Monson and James Faust — have quietly marked their March 12 anniversary shepherding the church through a time of unprecedented growth around the world.
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More than 100,000 people were expected to attend the five sessions of the two-day semiannual conference. Millions have access to the proceedings through television, satellite and radio broadcasts, translated into 75 languages.
On Hinckley’s watch, the LDS Church has grown to include more than 12 million members, with 26,200 congregations, and 60,000 missionaries around the world. Also in that time some 51 million copies of the faith’s primary text, the Book of Mormon, has been distributed around the world, published in 175 languages.
Hinckley, Monson and Faust noted those accomplishments, along with the creation of the church’s perpetual education fund and the Latter-day Saint Charities, including their donation of $641 million in humanitarian assistance.
But Monson said his belief is that the triumvirate will be best known for building dozens of small temples around the world and allowing church members to perform the sacred temple ceremonies that are so central to LDS beliefs.
Monson credited Hinckley with the temple initiative and called him “a man for his time.”
“He’s a man of vision. He’s a man that does not take counsel from his fears,” Monson told reporters on the eve of the 10-year anniversary. “He plans, he prepares, he prays and then with that prophetic influence which comes to him and which he then emanates, we move forward with faith.”
Church-watchers both in and outside of the LDS faith say Hinckley’s first 10 years have proved him a leader both pragmatic and insightful, albeit one who predictably protects his church when he sees the need and avoids some of the tougher topics, like polygamy, homosexuality and the role of women in the church.
Media-savvy, but warm and personable, Hinckley has been able to connect with LDS members in a way that is authoritative, but not off-putting.