Beliefnet
Nearly a decade ago, on a hot, windy afternoon in a southern Utah valley, a diminutive, gray-haired man in shirtsleeves walked through the site of the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre, when Mormon settlers slaughtered 120 Arkansas emigrants for reasons unfathomable today. Humble, accommodating and charming; Gordon B. Hinckley was mobbed by the descendents of the killers and killed alike. They reached for his hands, posed with him for snapshots and, as he rose to speak, hung on his every word.

Hinckley spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation, using a signature cadence- the Mormon equivalent of a southern preacher's oratory--that demands of the audience, "Listen."

Today, as president of the 11 million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hinckley speaks in a domed tabernacle, the plain wooden pews packed with dark-suited men and women and millions listening on satellite feeds around the globe. But his delivery is much the same, and it's there again in his new book, "Standing for Something: Ten Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes" (Times Books, 320 pages). Sometimes homespun and anecdotal, sometimes lofty, his tone underscores his message: in a world mined with evil temptations, only faith in God, and all that attends that faith, will prevail.

"We need a new emphasis on honesty, character and integrity," writes Hinckley. "As we build into the fiber of our individual lives the virtues that are the essence of civilization, so will the pattern of our times change. The question that confronts us is: Where shall we begin?" With love, he answers, "the lodestar of life." And honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness and mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude, optimism and faith.

None of these virtues, of course, are singular to the Mormon faith. Hinckley seems to acknowledge this by quoting literary, historical and biblical sources. In fact, he omits any mention of the Book of Mormon or his church's doctrine, often regarded with suspicion by members of other faiths (and many in the book-buying public). He does intersperse Shakespeare and Churchill's wisdom with mentions of Brigham Young, who led the Mormon exodus across the plains in 1847, and J. Rueben Clark Jr., a member of the church's governing First Presidency from 1933 to 1961. But his viewpoint, he wants us to know, is that of a moral leader, not specifically a Mormon. "I am a churchman. I readily acknowledge, therefore, that my perspective is a reflection of my upbringing, my training, the virtues and principles in which I believe, and my personal observations as I near age ninety," he writes.

Ironically, Hinckley is one of the best-known Mormon presidents, and without doubt the most widely traveled, having visited more than 150 countries over the 60-plus years of his church service. He lectured on a soapbox in London's Hyde Park as a young missionary, was in Vietnam several times during the war, and his 1998 African tour took him from Ghana to Johannesburg. Most recently, he jetted to Mexico to dedicate two new temples.

Under his administration, the church has built thousands of its distinctively utilitarian meetinghouses and temples, tangibly bringing the Mormon ethos to neighborhoods and villages around the world. Once a people who considered themselves "in the world, but not of it," Mormons have come to figure in international business and in the U.S. diplomatic corps, valued for their probity and foreign experiences gained from service in the faith's mission fields.

Hinckley himself has been interviewed by most major newspapers, and has appeared in New York's Madison Square Garden, on CNN's Larry King Live, and, as noted by Mike Wallace in the book's forward, on CBS' 60 Minutes in 1996.

But Hinckley is indeed like other ecclesiastical leaders. He is profoundly disturbed by what he describes as challenges that "would have horrified the Founding Fathers" of the United States: pornography, sexual permissiveness, substance abuse, fractured families. Overall, he writes, a deteriorating moral standard "is alarming and devastating to relationships, families and the integrity of our nation as a whole. "We are forgetting God, whose commandments we have neglected and in some cases forgotten, and which we seem reluctant--or too undisciplined--to obey."

But in Hinckley's lexicon, spirituality is more than theory, and prayer more than supplication. Hard work is in order in the heart and in the world. When Hinckley's family labored each spring to clean their coal-begrimed home with brooms, carpet beaters and a spongy pink wallpaper cleaner that turned black as it swept away the smoky residue. "When all of it was done .the house was clean, our spirits were renewed. The whole world looked better," he writes. "Spring cleaning, metaphorically speaking, is exactly what some of us need to do with our lives"

Decades later, Hinckley was in Berne, Switzerland when "tanks were rolling down the streets of a great city [to the east], and students were being slaughtered with machine-gun fire." Throughout Switzerland, he recalls, church bells pealed and everything stopped - every pedestrian, car and train." Finally, after three minutes of prayerful silence, great convoys of trucks began to roll from Geneva and Berne and Basil and Zurich toward the suffering nation to the east. "I marveled at the miraculous contrast of the oppressive power mowing down students in one nation, and the spirit of a Christian people in another who bowed their heads in prayer and reverence--then rolled up their sleeves to provide succor and salvation."

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