Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Nelson meets with New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern

By Liesl Nielsen, KSL.com | Posted - May 20th, 2019 @ 8:45am



SALT LAKE CITY — Considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest leaders, New Zealand prime minister and former Latter-day Saint Jacinda Ardern welcomed the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson, to her office Monday.

“I think the world will discover a real leader here,” President Nelson said, according to a Monday news release. “It’s an unlikely scenario; a young mother leading a great nation, a peacemaker, a policymaker, consensus giver. We’re very impressed with her. She’ll have a great future.”

In March, a gunman killed 51 people in a devastating terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Soon after, Ardern garnered global praise after wearing a hijab to honor the victims of the attack and leading sweeping legislation that banned most semi-automatic weapons and some other weapons in her country.

President Nelson expressed his condolences, and the two talked about New Zealand’s diversity and the importance of getting along with those who think differently.

“We have that problem in all the countries of the world,” President Nelson said.

The church also announced that it would donate to the two mosques involved in the attack.

"We're clearly sensitive to what happened there, and our hearts were broken when we heard about the tragedy that took place and the loss of life, and so the church is reaching out ... to lend a hand, to be there for our brothers and sisters who are another ethnicity and another religious group,” Elder O. Vincent Haleck, the church’s leader in the Pacific, said in the news release.

During the attack, the gunman livestreamed the entire shooting on Facebook, and the video spread quickly, despite the tech platform’s efforts to remove it. A day before meeting with President Nelson, Ardern returned from a trip to Paris where she used her rising global recognition to bring several tech giants to the table to discuss combating online extremism, The Guardian reported.

Upon returning from her visit to France, Ardern, President Nelson and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who accompanied President Nelson on his trip to the Pacific, discussed the importance of using social media properly.

“There needs to be a balance between religious freedom and the ability to speak out but also to use it in a way that is responsible,” Elder Gong said.

Ardern was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but hasn't practiced since her 20s, which she has said is mainly because of the church’s stance on LGBT rights.

Ardern mentioned to President Nelson that she was grateful for the details about her family history she received from the church once she became prime minister. During the meeting, President Nelson gifted her with a Book of Mormon, with her name embossed on the cover, during their meeting, according to Deseret News.

President Nelson will return from his nine-day ministry to the Pacific on May 25. He will visit Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Fiji and Tahiti during that time.

About 115,000 members of the church live in New Zealand, and the small island country is home to one completed temple and is the future home of another.

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