Mormon leader lauds church growth


Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon church president Gordon B. Hinckley praised the faith's exponential growth Sunday, announcing that the church had passed the 11-million member mark.

But he also alluded to the conflict that comes from such growth, especially in Salt Lake City, where residents have protested the church's new park on what used to be a block of Main Street.

The two-acre plaza opened Saturday with little fanfare from the church and with protests from environmentalists, gay residents and animal-rights activists.

The park been at the center of debate since the city sold the stretch of road to the church for $8.1 million in 1998. Since the property is now church-owned, church officials have said they won't allow ``offensive, indecent, obscene, vulgar, lewd or disorderly speech, dress or conduct'' or smoking, sunbathing or loud stereos, and proselytizing will be allowed only by Mormons.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued, claiming the restrictions placed on the area violate the public's free-speech rights.

On Sunday, at the church's 170th Semi-Annual General Conference, Hinckley mentioned the park for the first time since it opened.

``May the desire of the people of thy church to improve and beautify this area be appreciated by all who pass this way,'' he said.

Hinckley, who is considered a living prophet by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also asked that the church be ``hospitable and gracious'' to residents and visitors.

``May we maintain the standards and practices for which we are known and accord to others the privilege of worshipping who, where, or what they may,'' he said.

To that end, church security officers remained hands-off this weekend, allowing protesters to smoke, hand out leaflets and engage in other acts that might later be considered ``offensive behavior'' banned by the plaza's written rules.

``We're going to continue to use public property as proud citizens of Salt Lake City,'' Jana Dickson said after kissing her girlfriend, Gena Edvalson. ``We pay taxes.''

Starting Monday, said church spokeswoman Kim Farah, the church rules will apply.

Hinckley devoted much of his talk to the church's recent accomplishments, including changing Ricks College in Idaho from a two-year to a four-year institution that will be called Brigham Young University-Idaho, and dedicating the church's 100th temple, in Boston.

The 90-year-old church leader recalled Salt Lake City's centennial celebration in 1947, when the church had 1 million members, half of them living in Utah.

``To think that today we have a membership of 11 million is a tremendous and wonderful thing that brings with it the promise of the future,'' Hinckley told Sunday's audience of 30,700.

Other church leaders reminded attendees of the importance of keeping the Sabbath, repentance and missionary work, which brought in 300,000 new converts last year, and warned young people against body piercing, pornography, premarital sex and same-sex relationships.

On Friday, Mormon parents of gay children demanded that church leaders stop distributing decades-old pamphlets they say condemn their offspring as ``latter-day lepers.''

``We feel and understand why some feel we reject them. That is not true,'' said Elder Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the ruling body of the church. He said the church only rejects ``immoral behavior,'' and even those who feel ``trapped'' on a certain path can resist temptation or repent and change.

``We did not make the rules; they were revealed as commandments,'' he said. ``We did not cause nor can we prevent the consequences if you disobey moral laws.''

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