SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pleaded Sunday for peace in Iraq while assuring church members that God would not hold soldiers responsible for following the orders of the nation's secular leaders.
The church prays for an end to the conflict, "an end that will result in a better life for all concerned," said Gordon B. Hinckley.
Hinckley, 92, is considered the living prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He made his comments during the 173rd General Conference to more than 20,000 members at the church Conference Center here and to millions more around the world via satellite feed.
Hinckley said he recognized the tension of his church's teachings, which renounce war but also declare the faithful are bound to obey their secular leaders.
The life and death of Staff Sgt. James W. Cawley, a Marine reservist from Layton and former LDS Church missionary killed March 29 near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, "seem to represent the contradictions of the peace of the gospel and the tides of war," Hinckley said.
But one of the church's Articles of Faith, he said, holds that members must submit to "kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law."
Quoting from Doctrine & Covenants, one of the church's four books of scripture, Hinckley said that the faithful "are to renounce war and proclaim peace."
Hinckley called the passage "modern revelation."
"In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace," he said. "There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out, and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they are doing so legally."
However, clearly "there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat and oppression," he said.
Hinckley expressed sympathy for the war's victims. "There are other mothers, innocent civilians, who cling to their children with fear and look heavenward with desperate pleadings as the earth shakes beneath their feet and deadly rockets scream through the dark sky."
To the military troops in harm's way, he said, "We know that you are not in that land of blowing sand and brutal heat because you enjoy the games of war."
On Saturday, the church announced it increased its membership rolls by 283,138 last year to 11.7 million. The church credited the work of 61,638 missionaries for the gain.
Apostle M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve reminded members that missionaries and other church members that conversion required further commitment to keep the new members from drifting away.
"Remember, my brothers and sisters, we are not marketing a product," Ballard said Saturday. "We are not trying to impress anyone with our numbers or our growth."
Rather, he said, members were to bring to the church "all those who are seeking to know the truth."
For the first time, conference attendees had to go through a security magnetometer before entering the conference building. During the 2002 Olympics, magnetometers were set up at entrances. At last weekend's young women's conference, the metal detectors also were used for the first time.
There had also been concerns that ongoing contention over free-speech rights on the Main Street plaza, which flanks Temple Square, might disrupt the conference. Police said there were no serious incidents or arrests.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)