Monday, July 26, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson and Political Extremism (part two)

God prepares His prophets. Joseph Smith declared: "I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain;... with all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there, and thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty." [1]  Indeed, the life of every prophet is filled with experiences that help prepare him for his prophetic calling.

So it was with Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994). Reminiscing about his life, President Hinckley said of him: "I am confident that it was out of what he saw of the bitter fruit of dictatorship that he developed his strong feelings, almost hatred, for communism and socialism. That distaste grew through the years as he witnessed the heavy-handed oppression and suffering of the peoples of eastern Europe under what he repeatedly described as godless communism." [2]

Preparation for his prophetic calling included a keen interest in government combined with worldwide experience as a government official. It was not just a coincidence that he presided over the Church during the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. He was this dispensation's Prophet specialist on politics.

Becoming a National Political Figure

In 1939, Ezra Taft Benson became the executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. In this capacity, he was the Council's chief operating officer.

For the next four years, he represented the cooperatives on Capitol Hill. He also coordinated efforts to educate cooperative leaders nationwide about agricultural issues. In addition, he published a monthly bulletin for the Council and attended Council meetings throughout the country.

During this important period of his life, Ezra Taft Benson regularly had close contact with high U.S. government officials and learned to navigate the murky waters of national politics.

When he left Washington in 1943, he had become a national political figure. [3]

An International Statesman

At the end of World War II, Ezra Taft Benson supervised the Church's relief effort in Europe. In just ten months, he traveled more than 60,000 miles and met with high ranking government officials in 13 nations as he delivered food, clothing, and medical supplies to the people of post-war Europe. [4]

With headquarters in London, England, Elder Benson organized Mormon relief efforts in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, and Poland. [5]

Everywhere he went, there was a constant struggle with bureaucratic red tape. Completion of this assignment required his utmost faith and diplomacy. [6]

While he was in Europe, Ezra Taft Benson again represented the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, this time at the International Conference of Agriculture Producers in London, England. Many delegates to this Conference invited him to contact them again when he visited their countries. [7]

He also participated with the American delegation to the Conference of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Copenhagen, Denmark. [8]

By the time he returned from this mission, Ezra Taft Benson had become an international statesman. [9]

United States Secretary of Agriculture

Then came his experience as the first Mormon to serve in the cabinet of a United States President. Newspapers from coast to coast headlined the news that Eisenhower had named the first clergyman in the century to a cabinet post. [10]

In a later article, the New York Times Magazine praised his integrity: "He acts like a man whose conscience is always clear—his testimony [before Congress] today will be the same next week or the week after or a year from now. He doesn't have to remember what he said to an opposition Senator at their last meeting. This is a built-in ulcer-saving device not always found in Washington." [11]

Secretary Benson traveled internationally, as he sought to increase agricultural exports abroad. He visited Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Trinidad, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico. In each nation he met with presidents, ministers of agriculture, and ambassadors. [12]

He represented the United States in Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Italy, and Switzerland, calling on government officials and observing agriculture in these nations. In Rome, he delivered the keynote address at the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. [13]

His work took him to Japan, India, Pakistan, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, and Hong Kong, meeting with such world leaders as Jordan's King Hussein, and Israel's Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. [14]

When Nikita Khrushchev visited Washington, Ezra Taft Benson supervised his visit to the USDA Beltsville Experiment Station in Maryland. [15]

On a trip through Yugoslavia, West Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, Secretary Benson met with Yugoslavia's President Tito and the Soviet Minister of Agriculture. [16]

Toward the end of his service as Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson made yet another trip to Europe and the Middle East. [17]

His last official trip was to the Orient and South Seas. He visited Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and New Zealand. [18]  When it was over he had visited more than forty nations as an official of the United States government. [19]

More International Statesmanship

Three years after his return from Washington, Ezra Taft Benson was back in Europe supervising the Church's missionary work there. As he traveled from country to country, he renewed acquaintances with heads of state, ministers of agriculture, and other high ranking officials. [20]  During one visit to Italy, for example, he was greeted with open arms by the U.S. Ambassador and the Italian Minister of Religion in Rome [21]  and by the time he was called back to Salt Lake City, missionaries were proselyting in Italy for the first time. [22]

During this period of his life he gave his greatest number of talks about freedom and the U.S. Constitution. [23]  It is apparent that everywhere he went, his feelings and concerns about America and freedom were confirmed by what he saw and heard. His political education had been gradual but firsthand. [24]

Patriotism and the Book of Mormon

For Ezra Taft Benson, patriotism and love of country were neither old-fashioned nor incidental—they were an integral part of his ministry.

He will be remembered as one of the greatest patriots of our time—a patriot of international stature. [25]  A tribute entered in the Congressional Record called him "intensely patriotic." [26]  In 1965, he was named to the American Patriots Hall of Fame. [27]

Ezra Taft Benson has explained his patriotic motivation as follows: "From the time I was a small boy I was taught that the American Constitution is an inspired document. I was taught that we should study the Constitution, preserve its principles, and defend it against any who would destroy it. To the best of my ability I have always tried to do this. I expect to continue my efforts to help protect and safeguard our inspired Constitution." [28]

He explained his emphasis on the Book of Mormon this way: "What is the essential message of the Book of Mormon that is so vital to our time? It is a witness to our generation. It prophesied the founding of this nation and how we may survive as a free country." [29]

From his early youth, Ezra Taft Benson devoured the Book of Mormon. He read it on trains and planes and late in the evening before retiring. Often, he sent copies of the Book of Mormon to people he met while traveling, to national and world leaders. [30]

It was his stated opinion that "a person can learn more about what is really happening in America from the Book of Mormon than he can from ... newspapers." [31]

A Uniquely Prepared Prophet

I’ve studied President Benson's life and teachings from every possible angle. I made copies of all his general conference talks (eventually 114 of them) and cross referenced them to his Church books. In addition, I have read the books and magazines he recommended in his writings. After years of careful and thorough research, here is what I’ve decided.

The general officers of the Mormon Church do a lot of traveling. They regularly see much of the world as they meet with Church members around the globe.

But Ezra Taft Benson did something most Mormon leaders do not do, something no other Mormon Prophet has ever done. Ezra Taft Benson traveled the world as a political leader. He conducted official Government business with the kings and rulers of this world. He knew them by name. And they knew him.

Any man with Ezra Taft Benson’s patriotism and experience deserves our careful attention. Considering his stature as a Latter-day Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson’s political viewpoint should be important to all Americans.


1.  As quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley in Ensign, Jan. 1974, p.124.

2.  Gordon B. Hinckley, "Farewell to a Prophet," Ensign, July 1994, p.39.

3.  Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, Deseret Book, 1987, pp.143-180; herinafter cited as Biography.

4.  Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith, Bookcraft, 1972, pp.1-190; see also Biography, pp.197-227.

5.  Ibid.; see also New Era, Jan. 1986, p.7.

6.  Biography, p.216.

7.  Biography, p.217.

8.  Biography, p.217.

9.  Biography, pp.420 & 507.

10.  Biography, p.256.

11.  Biography, p.295-296.

12.  Biography, p.303.

13.  Biography, p.305.

14.  Biography, p.325.

15.  Biography, p.338.

16.  Biography, p.340-341.

17.  Biography, p.349.

18.  Biography, p.353-354.

19.  Biography, p.364.

20.  Biography, p.375.

21.  Biography, p.377.

22.  Biography, p.382.

23.  Biography, pp.366-367.

24.  Biography, p.363.

25.  Biography, p.507.

26.  Biography, p.359.

27.  Biography, p.385.

28.  The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Bookcraft, 1988, pp.614-615; see also pp.50-51.

29.  Ibid., p.576.

30.  Biography, pp.59, 195, & 498.

31.  Biography, p.366.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Much of what you have written is to be admired. But, again, context is lacking.

Benson was a significant Mormon on the national scene. But, he certainly wasn't the first or the most influential. Nor, was he the only apostle or future apostle.

Here are a few:

J. Reuben Clark was a leading U.S. diplomat (Undersecretary of State and U.S. ambassador to Mexico) in the early 1900s. Member of the First Presidency.

Senator William H. King -- Rose to position of President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate in 1940-41.

Senator Elbert Duncan Thomas -- In the 1930s was a major sponsor of the National Labor Relations Board, national minimum wage, GI Bill of Rights and pushed President Roosevelt to open the U.S. to war refugees.

Stewart Udall -- leading conservationist in the US House and Secretary of the Interior for Kennedy and Johnson.

Mike Leavitt -- Governor of Utah, EPA and HUD Secretary for President Bush.

John Huntsman Jr. -- US Ambassador to China for President Obama

Ivy Baker Priest -- President Eisenhower's US Treasurer.

Howard W. Cannon -- U.S. Senator from Nevada most famous for his support of 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Panama Canal Treaty.

David Kennedy (Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury).

N. Eldon Tanner was a leader in the Canadian Parliament (as part of a socialist party). Member of First Presidency.

Senator Reed Smoot from Utah was an apostle and significant political figure in Washington for more than 30 years (but ended up a bit infamous for sponsoring the Smoot-Hawley Act that exaggerated the impact of the Great Depression and is considered by many a leading cause). Member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Harry Reid -- Liberal Democrat and current Senate Majority Leader.

It is interesting to note the range of political views and areas of influence -- domestically and in foreign affairs.

7/26/2010 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Anonymous: There have been sixteen Presidents of the LDS Church. Only one worked among the kings and rulers of this world as an official of the U.S. Government. These experiences were part of his preparation.

Long before God called him to be Prophet, Benson made his views known to the Church. He became Church President because of, not in spite of, who he was. No man becomes Church President by mistake.

For more than a decade, all adults in the Church have studied a series of manuals titled "Teachings of Presidents of the Church." By contrast, not one of the individuals you mention, nor all of them together, is as significant to Mormons worldwide as is Ezra Taft Benson.


7/27/2010 01:11:00 AM  

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