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‘The Political and Economic role of the Church in Utah’ — by President Gordon B. Hinckley

The Church News, September 18, 1988

Criticism of the Church of Jesus Christ will not benefit Utah

Criticism of the Church will not benefit Utah, President Gordon B. Hinckley said Sept. 7 at a Governor’s Conference on Utah’s Future.  Speaking at the University of Utah, President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency said, “We will not build Utah by spending our time speaking critically of the Church and of supposed Church domination of the state and its political process.”President Hinckley urged that Utahns have a positive attitude regarding the state’s people, opportunities and institutions.  “Attitude can make a greater difference than all else,” he declared. “It troubles me to see the uncalled for divisiveness between people of this state. There is no need for it. There is no factual basis for it. It comes of prejudice and negativism.”

The member of the First Presidency verified early in his address that he was speaking as an officer of the Church. He devoted much of his speech to pointing out the positive economic impact the Church has on the state and its economy.  Speaking candidly, he addressed criticisms occasionally leveled at the Church regarding its alleged influence on public policy in Utah.  “We will not build Utah by spending time and media space decrying Utah’s liquor laws,” he said. “To put it simply, they represent the expression of the majority of the people of the state, and numerous surveys have shown their (economic) effect to be minimal.”  (Utah law restricts the sale of liquor at restaurants and other commercial establishments. In the past, voters have rejected proposals to remove the restrictions, although the Legislature did ease the restrictions some what in a new law effective last April.)

It is not constructive to speak of supposed political domination by the Church in Utah, President Hinckley said. “We, as well as anyone in this room, recognize the blessing of the separation of Church and State, and we have been most careful to restrict ourselves to speak out only on moral issues and those issues which directly impact the Church, and not to speak out upon other matters, although we are put under terrible pressure to do so by those on each side of almost every issue,” he said.  President Hinckley said the Church has no desire to control state or city government or public educational institutions, but added it does encourage members as citizens to be involved in public affairs.  “There is no legitimate reason why local officers of the church should not be involved in public office,” he asserted. “As citizens, they are entitled to and they have a public duty to do so.”  He then declared: “If there be wounds over such matters, I want to heal them. There is no need for them. We are all essentially people of good will and generous hearts who must work together to strengthen not only the economy but every other important facet of the environment in which we live.”

President Hinckley recalled his 11-year leadership over church work in Asia and praised the “economic miracle” of Japan.  “I have seen that nation rise from the ashes of war to its present economic summit,” he said. “Its secret has not been in its natural resources. It must import every quart of oil, every pound of iron ore. Its secret lies in the attitude of its people.”  Similarly, Utah’s future depends on the attitude of its people, he said, pointing out that unlike Japan, the state has the advantage of abundant natural resources.

Earlier in his speech, President Hinckley observed that the Church has become “a great, multi-national organization with its headquarters still in Salt lake City, where, I’m confident they will remain and continue to grow for the foreseeable future.”  Although it has divested itself of such enterprises as sugar refineries, banks and the Hotel Utah, the Church is till the fourth-largest taxpayer in Utah, President Hinckley said.

He then described at length the economic impact the Church and its businesses and institutions have on the state.  Regarding the economic benefit of BYU to the state, he said the university spent more than $104 million for goods and services purchased in Utah in 1985, that it had a payroll expense of nearly $100 million in 1986, that BYU personnel had withheld $17.8 million in federal income taxes, $5.8 million in state income taxes, and $1.6 million in state sales taxes. Students spent nearly $30 million in the Provo-Orem area, excluding what they spent on campus, and the total direct expenditure impact of BYU in Utah County was about $142 million.  Pointing out that BYU educates some 9,000 Utah residents, President Hinckley quoted Brigham Young University President Jeffrey R. Holland as saying that if the school were to close, and 80 percent of those residents were to seek education at state institutions, that would put 7,200 more students into the state system, and they would be entitled to state support costing more than $14 million.

Mentioning Church seminary classes, which are taught in Utah on released time from school, president Hinckley said that if the seminary students were in public school during the hours they spend in seminary, the state would be put to a tremendously greater cost.  President Hinckley spoke of Temple Square, the most popular tourist attraction in the state. He said that a recent survey showed that 66.2 percent of Temple Square visitors stayed at least one night in Salt Lake City, and that an estimated $6 million was paid to hotels or motels in the Salt Lake Valley by Temple Square visitors during June, with resultant taxes of about $618,000.

As the Church grows, some decentralization will be necessary, President Hinckley said, but Salt Lake City and Utah will become an attraction for ever-growing numbers of people across the world.  “We were criticized for taking the Hotel Utah property off the tax rolls, but little or no recognition was given to the fact that while doing so we added the beautiful new Eagle Gate Plaza office building, the Eagle Gate Apartments, and the Gateway Apartments,” he said.  “You are familiar with the strident criticism we have received incident to the closing of the Hotel Utah,” he said. “It (the hotel) is contiguous to Temple Square. The visitors to Temple Square are stretching its space and facilities to the limit. We must expand to accommodate them. Some of the space in the Hotel Utah building will accommodate a part of that needed expansion. The incomparably beautiful lobby and other public areas will accommodate visitors and make their stay here more impressive and more inviting.”

The Family History Library, dedicated in 1985, also is heavily used by visitors to the state, and space in the hotel building will be used to make the library’s data more readily available, President Hinckley said.

Mormon meetinghouses are in every community throughout the state, he noted, but “buildings do not last forever and congregations continue to grow.” There were more than 500 significant Church construction projects in the state during the past five years, he said, adding, “We fully anticipate that this will continue in the years to come.”  President Hinckley noted that the Church itself and its various businesses have contributed substantially to hospitals, community charities, and cultural arts, that the Church is one of the largest employers in the state, and that the Church welfare plan saves the state millions of dollars in tax money.

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