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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The politics of Ezra Taft Benson in 2015

Did God Himself establish the Constitution of the United States? Does it belong to all mankind? Should it be maintained today? (See D&C 98:5; 101:77, 80.)


God's word shall not pass away

Ezra Taft Benson was President of the Church from 1985 to 1994. Malcolm S. Jeppsen was a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy from 1989 to 1994.

In 1991, while serving as a Counselor in the Utah North Area Presidency (and while Ezra Taft Benson was still Church President), Malcolm S. Jeppsen was the visiting authority in several stake conferences and gave a talk (click here) wherein he counselled against using the "writings and speeches of President Benson given years ago when world conditions were different."

Specifically, he counselled against using Ezra Taft Benson's writings to warn about "individuals or conspirators in our government as being ready to subvert our constitution."

Malcolm S. Jeppsen gave this talk in my own stake and I heard it in person. I challenged him in writing (click here) about his claim that changes in world conditions had invalidated the Prophet's words. The issue wasn't really world conditions. The issue was whether Ezra Taft Benson spoke God's word in the past.

"Though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away." (D&C 1:38.) The passing away of the heavens and the earth would be an extreme change in world conditions, yet God's word would not be effected.


Ezra Taft Benson and the U.S. Constitution

All Latter-day Prophets, from President Joseph Smith to President Thomas S. Monson (click here), have affirmed God's hand in the founding of the U.S. Constitution. Even if that is viewed as less relevant to members living outside the United States, yet it is based on scripture that has not been rescinded. Specifically, three verses (D&C 98:5; 101:77, 80) declare God's approval of and support for the U.S. Constitution.

What, then, about Ezra Taft Benson's so-called political teachings, those related to the Constitution? For decades, some of us have sidestepped the Constitution and at the same time have accused Ezra Taft Benson of being political. But Ezra Taft Benson has only asked us to do what scripture demands: Maintain and preserve the Constitution which God Himself established.

A significant portion of Ezra Taft Benson's 51-year ministry as apostle and prophet was devoted to defending the Constitution against its domestic and foreign foes. And this is another fact that may be considered less relevant to members living outside the United States. But surely the rest of us dare not just forget Ezra Taft Benson's teachings and watch from the sidelines while the U.S. Constitution is dismantled and discarded.

Dare we?

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Prince and Wright and the Demise of Communism

In their book, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (University of Utah Press, 2005), Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright discuss the Church's 1966 statement on Communism which was issued by David O. McKay. The excerpt quoted by Prince and Wright includes the following:

"We consider [Communism] the greatest satanical threat to peace, prosperity, and the spread of God's work among men that exists on the face of the earth." (p.313.)

Thus, McKay said the greatest threat to missionary work in 1966 was Communism. At the time, Communist governments did not allow missionaries or even Church materials into their countries. McKay's assessment was well grounded.

But what about today, half a century later?


The demise of Communism

On page 321 of their book, Prince and Wright trumpet this heading:

THE DEMISE OF COMMUNISM

The common English definition of the word "demise" is as follows:

demise: noun   1. a person's death. synonyms death, dying, passing. 2. the end or failure of an enterprise or institution. synonyms end, breakup, disintegration, fall, downfall, collapse

According to Prince and Wright, McKay had overstated the threat of Communism. They claim that, although he was "willing to go to war to fight Communism, the war never came." (p.321.)


Throughout the world

And lest anyone think this was merely a regional demise, Prince and Wright emphasize:

"Communism as a successful form of government quickly became discredited throughout the world." (p.321; emphasis added.)

Communism, discredited "throughout the world," would no longer be the greatest threat to missionary work. So what is that threat today?


The greatest threat to missionary work

Contrary to the opinion of Prince and Wright, David O. McKay's 1966 assessment of Communism's effect on missionary work is still accurate today. Consider the following:

The People's Republic of China (PRC) has existed since 1949 when it was founded by the Communist Party of China, the country's sole governing political party.

The reader is invited to visit the LDS Church's "Newsroom" and view "Facts and Statistics" for a few of the countries of the world. The chart below shows "Newsroom" statistics for China and two of its neighbors.

Notice that statistics for Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China are listed by the Church separately. This may be in part because they each have their own money, passports, legal system, and language(s). It may also be due to the fact that LDS missionaries freely proclaim the gospel in Hong Kong but not in China. Even online missionaries are presently asked by the Church to avoid crossing into China:

"Online proselyting should not cross international borders into countries where the Church has chosen or agreed not to proselyte. This currently includes the People's Republic of China." (Official LDS web page, Mormons and China).


Go ye therefore, and teach all nations

Today, nearly 1.4 billion people live in the People's Republic of China, approximately 20 percent of the world’s population. In order to illustrate what it means for one country to have one-fifth of the world’s population, this map divides the world into five regions, each with the same population as China.

Source: The Atlantic, Aug. 14, 2013.


McKay's assessment still valid

In 1966, Communism prevented the Church from reaching a large percentage of God's mortal children. At that time, President David O. McKay identified Communism as the greatest threat to the spread of God's work among men that existed on the face of the earth.

Today, one in five of earth's inhabitants live where missionary work is prohibited by Communism. It seems clear to me that McKay's 1966 assessment of Communism's effect on missionary work is still valid.

And it also seems clear to me that the demise of Communism throughout the world is a Prince and Wright myth.



The image below was added on 2014-11-29 in response to an anonymous comment claiming that "China is categorically no longer a communist country." Anonymous might want to share that critical piece of news with BBC News (among others).

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Prince and Wright stumble over civil rights

Nine years ago, Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright co-authored a 512-page book titled David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (University of Utah Press, 2005). Seven years ago, and again four years ago, my blog accused Prince and Wright (here) of maligning Bruce R. McConkie in their book.

Today we will evaluate a section of the Prince and Wright book that discusses "McKay's Inner Circle" of advisers on civil rights (pp.63-66). According to Prince and Wright:

"Nearly all of the voices [McKay] heard on a regular basis were opposed to expanded civil rights for blacks." (p.63.)


THOSE WHO OPPOSED CIVIL RIGHTS

Prince and Wright name eight of McKay's advisers who opposed civil rights. WARNING: Some of the opinions of these men, as described by Prince and Wright, have been deceptively misrepresented. For this reason, the names are here abbreviated.

1.  Brother C. consistently discouraged the expansion of civil rights, authorized local church leaders in Salt Lake City to join a civic organization whose purpose was to restrict and control negro settlement, and wanted to allow using LDS chapels for meetings to prevent Negroes from becoming neighbors.

2.  Brother M. openly opposed the deployment of troops to an army base near Salt Lake City because such a deployment would likely include two hundred or more Negro families, and spoke strongly against Kennedy's proposed civil rights legislation.

3.  Brother S. had been quoted in a national magazine as saying, "Darkies are wonderful people, and they have their place in our Church."

4.  Brother L. was an outspoken opponent of civil rights and was in favor of barring blacks entirely from Brigham Young University.

5.  Brother B. stated publicly that the civil rights movement in the South had been fomented almost entirely by the communists and that the whole civil rights movement was phony.

6.  Brother P. addressed the issue of civil rights in a CES talk and said, "I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?"

7.  Brother W. said the Lord himself created the different races and urged in the Old Testament and other places that they be kept distinct and to themselves.

8.  Brother D. taught that Negroes had rejected the Priesthood in the pre-existence.


THE LONE SUPPORTER OF CIVIL RIGHTS

After naming eight advisers who opposed civil rights, Prince and Wright name one adviser who was...

"...the sole voice of moderation on the subject of civil rights within McKay's inner circle" (p.65).

This Brother, we are informed, urged the church to speak out in favor of civil rights.


NOTHING WRONG WITH CIVIL RIGHTS

The fifth man named above, Brother B., is Ezra Taft Benson. And according to Prince and Wright, he opposed civil rights. But quote that with caution.

In a paragraph on page 64 that references McKay's personal diary, Prince and Wright point out that Benson was authorized by David O. McKay to address the subject of civil rights in the October 1967 general conference. A few pages later, a quotation from the same diary affirms again that McKay authorized Benson's conference talk on civil rights (p70).

What Prince and Wright neglect to mention in their book is that Benson's talk included an important clarification about his position on civil rights:

"Now there is nothing wrong with civil rights; it is what's being done in the name of civil rights that is alarming.

"There is no doubt that the so-called civil rights movement as it exists today is used as a Communist program for revolution in America just as agrarian reform was used by the Communists to take over China and Cuba." (General Conference, Oct. 1967.)


BENSON OPPOSED COMMUNISM, NOT CIVIL RIGHTS

In the same page 64 paragraph, Prince and Wright describe a 1963 Benson talk in such a way as to create the illusion that Benson said something the opposite of what he did in fact say:

"Speaking publicly against proposed federal civil rights legislation in 1963, Benson 'charged ... that the civil right's movement in the South had been "fomented almost entirely by the communists,"' and went on to say that 'the whole civil rights movement was "phony."'" (p.64.)

Here is what Ezra Taft Benson actually said in his talk:

"The whole slogan of 'civil rights' as used to make trouble in the South today, is an exact parallel to the slogan of 'Agrarian reform' which [the communists] used in China. The pending 'civil rights' legislation is, I am convinced, about 10% civil rights and about 90% a further extension of socialistic Federal controls. It is part of the pattern for the Communist takeover of America. 'The whole civil rights' program and slogan in America today is just as phony as were the 'Agrarian reform' program and slogan of the Communists in China 20 years ago."

This is from a speech delivered in the Logan Tabernacle on December 13, 1963. The speech is published on pages 42-60 of Ezra Taft Benson's book, Title of Liberty (Deseret Book, 1964) and the above paragraph is found on page 58 of that book.

Notice that, contrary to what we are led by Prince and Wright to believe, Ezra Taft Benson said he opposed that part of the legislation which was NOT civil rights but was, instead, an extension of socialistic Federal controls.

Now it does not matter whether we agree that the civil rights movement had been taken over by the communists. The important thing is that that is what Ezra Taft Benson believed and taught. He was opposed to the communists using the civil rights movement to take over the United States. He never said he was opposed to civil rights. On the contrary, he declared in general conference:

"There is nothing wrong with civil rights."


BENSON AND THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY

In 1963, President David O. McKay received an invitation from a former U.S. Congressman, asking that Ezra Taft Benson be authorized to give a patriotic speech at a testimonial dinner for Robert Welch, founder of the anti-Communist group, the John Birch Society.

President McKay carefully considered the ramifications of the invitation and then told Benson he should take the talk and that he (Benson) had his (McKay's) permission and blessing.

This talk was perhaps the most controversial speech of Benson's career. Newspapers all over the country expressed surprise that the former secretary of agriculture would call Robert Welch, founder and leader of the John Birch Society, "one of the greatest patriots in American history."

Some Church members and leaders complained that Benson, as a Church official, had no business speaking at the Welch dinner.

According to Prince and Wright, President McKay told his side of this story in a meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Quoting McKay's personal diary, Prince and Wright report that McKay told the Brethren he had given Benson permission to take the talk:

"I mentioned that some people had said that that was one activity wherein Brother Benson went contrary to the counsel of the Presidency and General Authorities. I said that Elder Benson had full permission to give that lecture and he gave a good talk." (pp.301-302.)

Prince and Wright report that Robert Welch contacted President McKay on three occasions, asking McKay to allow Benson to join the National Council of the John Birch Society, but that McKay had all three times denied Welch's request (pp. 294-295, 317-318).


VILIFYING BENSON

With this background in mind, let us consider the following excerpt from the paragraph by Prince and Wright that describes Benson's opposition to civil rights:

"A friend and confidant of Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, Benson tried unsuccessfully to obtain McKay's permission to serve on its board of directors. Undaunted by McKay's consistent refusals, he repeatedly endorsed in public settings the racist agenda of Welch." (p.65.)

These two short sentences contain three vilifications of Ezra Taft Benson:

1. It is astonishing that Prince and Wright would brazenly accuse Benson of endorsing racism. This charge is not substantiated anywhere in their book, nor has such a charge been substantiated anywhere else for that matter.

2. There is no evidence in the Prince and Wright book that Ezra Taft Benson, even once, tried to obtain McKay's permission to serve on the John Birch Society National Council. According to Prince and Wright, it was Robert Welch who made those requests.

3. Benson walked lockstep with McKay through the 1960s as they both promoted freedom and opposed Communism. Prince and Wright have provided no evidence of Benson doing anything that McKay had asked him not to do.


CONCLUSION

I had a personal interview with Ezra Taft Benson in 1967 when I was a missionary in Germany. I had a similar experience again in 1978 in his office at Church headquarters.

I began my collection of his general conference talks long before the days of home computers and I've spent hundreds of hours studying all 114 of them. I own copies of and have carefully studied the following books he authored:

So Shall Ye Reap (1960),
The Red Carpet (1962),
Title of Liberty (1964),
An Enemy Hath Done This (1969),
God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties (1974),
This Nation Shall Endure (1977),
Come unto Christ (1983),
The Constitution, a Heavenly Banner (1986), and
The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (1988).

I've also given careful attention to the authorized story of his life, written by Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (1987).

I am convinced that anyone who studies Ezra Taft Benson the way I have will gain a profound testimony of his unwavering integrity and his prophetic calling, as I have.

Every prophet has critics. And I've decided that those who are the most critical of Ezra Taft Benson have paid less attention to his speeches and books, and more attention to the prejudices and opinions of his earlier critics.

This, I believe, is how it is with Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, who deceptively misrepresent Ezra Taft Benson's views on civil rights in their book, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ezra Taft Benson in 2015: Stand up for the right, especially when it is unpopular

A short quote from the 2015 Priesthood and Relief Society manual will be of particular interest to those who are old enough to remember the early 1960s.

"It is good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, especially when it is unpopular." (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, 23.)

This post will examine some of the background and context for the above statement.


The John Birch Society

Impeach Earl Warren and Get US Out of the United Nations are two campaigns that were launched by The John Birch Society in the early 1960s.

           Impeach Earl Warren        Get US Out

For those who don't remember him, Earl Warren was Chief Justice of the United States from 1953 to 1969. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Warren presided over the Supreme Court "during a period of sweeping changes in U.S. constitutional law." The John Birch Society campaign to Impeach Earl Warren was a protest against the idea that the United States Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means.

The campaign to Get US Out of the United Nations opposes the idea that the United States Constitution should be abandoned and United States sovereignty surrendered to the United Nations.


Especially when it is unpopular

"It is good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, especially when it is unpopular." (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, 23.)

In order to find out where and when Ezra Taft Benson originally made this statement, we can look in the footnotes where the source is given as:

Ezra Taft Benson, in Sheri Dew, "President Ezra Taft Benson: Confidence in the Lord," New Era, Aug. 1989, 36.

But the New Era article doesn't list any of its sources. So we still don't know where and when Ezra Taft Benson originally made this statement.

Fortunately, in addition to being the author of the New Era article, Sheri L. Dew is also the author of Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, published by Deseret Book. And the statement we are looking for is quoted at the end of the following paragraph on page 373 in that book:

"During the early 1960s several books were published by Elder Benson, containing some of his hardest-hitting addresses on freedom and values essential to protecting the American way of life. These included, among others, So Shall Ye Reap, Title of Liberty, and A Nation Asleep. Further, he was delighted when Prophets, Principles and National Survival, a collection of Church leaders' warnings on freedom, was published. More than once he recommended it to the Saints during his general conference addresses. Though some apparently disagreed with his repeated attempts to speak on freedom, Elder Benson explained, 'I feel it is always good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, especially when it is unpopular.'"

This time the footnote refers us to the book Prophets, Principles and National Survival, pages 291, 293, and 294. The short statement quoted in the new manual is found on the last of those three pages. The more complete quotation is as follows:

"Now, in the light of what I have just related, you will understand my feelings when people would ask how I felt about the John Birch Society. Because of the amazingly effective propaganda against them, it has been very unpopular to defend this group. I can remember when it was unpopular to defend my own church....

"When my son, Reed, was invited to be a state coordinator for The John Birch Society, he asked me if he should accept it. I had read the Blue Book and other basic materials of the Society. I had met Mr. Welch and other leaders and members. I had read Mr. Welch’s famous letter which has since been published in book form entitled The Politician. I knew Reed would be enrolling in an unpopular cause. I also knew he would receive a certain amount of vilification if he took this job. Nevertheless, I told him to go ahead if he thought this was a most effective way to defend the Constitution and fight the Socialist-Communist menace. I would have given him equal encouragement if he had been considering the FBI or any of our national patriotic organizations dedicated to the fight against the Godless Conspiracy which threatens all we hold dear.

"When he joined I expressed my opinion that I was convinced that The John Birch Society was the most effective non-Church organization in our fight against creeping socialism and Godless communism. I also stated that I admired Reed’s courage and applauded his decision.

"Some people have told me this was not good strategy, but I disagree. I feel it is always good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, ESPECIALLY when it is unpopular."

(From an address given at Boise, Idaho, Dec. 19, 1963, as quoted in Prophets, Principles, and National Survival, 291, 293-4; emphasis in the original.)

Standing up for the right is always good strategy. It is good strategy for us today and it was good strategy for Ezra Taft Benson in 1963.








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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When Family History and Evolution Collide

A large part of family history work involves identifying our ancestors and giving them the opportunity to accept gospel ordinances. For years, however, my biologist friends have insisted that if I trace my genealogy back far enough, I will find chimpanzees and eventually even fish. So my question is this: If that is true, why do we not anticipate someday doing temple work for those chimps and fish who are our ancestors?

And the answer to that question is simply this: According to our faith, the beasts of the field and the fish of the sea are not our ancestors. The following teachings make that clear and they have never been contradicted in Church media by anyone holding apostolic keys:

1. Boyd K. Packer: "An understanding of the sealing authority with its binding of the generations into eternal families cannot admit to ancestral blood lines to beasts." ("The Law and the Light," 1990.)

2. James E. Talmage: "Man is the child of God, he is born heir to boundless possibilities, the inheritor of the eternities to come. Among mortal beings, the law holds true that the posterity of each shall be after his kind. The child therefore may become like unto the parent; and man may yet attain the rank of godship. He is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation." ("The Earth and Man," 1931.)

3. Boyd K. Packer: "In the countless billions of opportunities in the reproduction of living things, one kind does not beget another. If a species ever does cross, the offspring cannot reproduce. The pattern for all life is the pattern of the parentage.

"This is demonstrated in so many obvious ways, even an ordinary mind should understand it. Surely no one with reverence for God could believe that His children evolved from slime or from reptiles. (Although one can easily imagine that those who accept the theory of evolution don’t show much enthusiasm for genealogical research!) The theory of evolution, and it is a theory, will have an entirely different dimension when the workings of God in creation are fully revealed." (Ensign, Nov. 1984.)

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to mix LDS theology and human evolution

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that man is a dual being, with a body and a spirit, and that man is a child of God. None of this is based on science, in fact it contradicts science.

Boyd K. Packer: "Secular doctrine holds that man is not a child of God, but basically an animal, his behavior inescapably controlled by natural impulse, exempt from moral judgments and unaccountable for moral conduct." (Ensign Nov. 1986.)

Boyd K. Packer: "No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals, compelled to yield to every carnal urge." (Ensign, May 1992; see also Ensign, Jan 2005.)

These ideas, that man is basically an animal and that humans are only advanced animals, are both scientifically correct. But these ideas deny that "there is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8) and that "we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16).

In order to harmonize evolutionary science with LDS theology, some people claim knowledge that is superior to science and superior to religion. In other words, their harmony is achieved by modifying both science and theology. Consider the reasoning of BYU Biologist Steven L. Peck:

"Since Homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago, the first spirit child of God must have been placed in one of these human bodies long after the bodies appearance on the Earth. The first man was the first time a spirit child of God was placed in one of these bodies."

This is not science and it is definitely not LDS theology.

So how do you mix LDS theology and human evolution? Simply modify them both until they comfortably merge. Unfortunately, after that happens you no longer have either LDS theology or science.

Bruce R. McConkie said it this way: "There is no harmony between the [unmodified] truths of revealed religion and the [unmodified] theories of organic evolution."

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