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Friday, July 16, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson and Political Extremism

Yesterday, Mormon Heretic posted "Defining Political Extremism" and in the comments John Willis brought up Ezra Taft Benson's 1968 politics. Well it just so happens that two weeks ago on this blog, I posted Ezra Taft Benson's 1968 talk on "The Proper Role of Government" and an anonymous visitor informed me that President Benson had changed his focus as Prophet, abandoning his politics.

I'm not so sure. Let's look at what President Benson said as Prophet:

"The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ....  It tells in a plain manner of Christ and His gospel. It testifies of His divinity and of the necessity for a Redeemer and the need of our putting trust in Him. It bears witness of the Fall and the Atonement and the first principles of the gospel, including our need of a broken heart and a contrite spirit and a spiritual rebirth. It proclaims we must endure to the end in righteousness and live the moral life of a Saint."  (Ensign, Jan 1988, p.3.)

This message was Ezra Taft Benson's talk to the Regional Representatives on the eve of his first general conference as Prophet in 1986.  He gave the same talk more than twenty times in regional and area conferences during his first year as Church President (see Church News, Dec. 21, 1986, p.3).  He gave a copy of this talk to the general authorities in a temple meeting on March 5th, 1987 (as reported in the Ensign, Mar. 1994, p.61).  He also published this talk as his Jan. 1988 First Presidency message.  Based on the number of times he repeated this talk, it's message should be considered the central theme of his administration. 

And most of us would probably say, "It was!" However, what we remember is only half of what President Benson said.  What he actually said was:  "The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ through two basic means."  Two basic means.  Two.  "First, it tells in a plain manner of Christ and His gospel" and so forth as quoted above.  But what about the second half of his message?  It is, after all, the same talk, the same bringing men to Christ:

"Second, the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.) It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon are similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time....

"The situation in the world will continue to degenerate unless we read and heed the words of God and quit building up and upholding secret combinations, which the Book of Mormon tells us proved the downfall of ancient civilizations." (Ibid; emphasis added.)

Ezra Taft Benson taught that secret combinations include large-scale political conspiracies and this was seen by many as an extremist point of view. Nevertheless, his focus on the Book of Mormon included this extremism. Notice how the Book of Mormon warns about conspiracies:

"If you use the scriptures as a guide, you know what the Book of Mormon has to say regarding murderous conspiracies in the last day and how we are to awake to our awful situation today (see Ether 8:18-25)." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1988, p.81.)

"Observe what we are doing to build up the enemy, this totally anti-Christ conspiracy. If we continue on this tragic course ... the Lord has warned us in the Book of Mormon of the consequences that will follow (Ether 8)." (Ibid., p.614.)

"The Book of Mormon warns us that when we see these murderous conspiracies in our midst, we should awaken to our awful situation (see Ether 8:24)." (Ibid., p.660.)

He gave many political messages during his fifty year ministry, but none was more controversial or persistent than his use of the Book of Mormon to warn about political conspiracies.  And in the last talk he personally gave in general conference, he said:

"Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing.  A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.  (See Ether 8:18–25.)"  (Ensign, Nov 1988, p.86.)

Every individual must decide what he or she will remember about Ezra Taft Benson.  But from where I sat, politics was an important and consistent part of his prophetic message.

18 Comments:

Blogger R. Gary said...

According to President Gordon B. Hinckley, what Benson taught was shaped what he experienced:

-------------- quote --------------
"I was at the Swiss Temple in 1955 when it was dedicated by President David O. McKay. Brother Benson was there. President Harold Gregory of the Berlin Mission was able to bring a company of Saints to the temple on that occasion. I will never forget what I witnessed. When they saw Brother Benson, they ran to him and they embraced one another, with tears rolling down their cheeks and tears rolling down his cheeks. Ten years earlier he had come almost as an angel from heaven with food when they were hungry and with hope when they were desperate.

"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."
-------------- end quote --------------

7/17/2010 03:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that President Benson's experience in Europe after World War II when he saw the evidence of the Soviet Army's atrocities in Germany and Poland influenced his political views for the rest of his life.

The tragedy of President Benson was that he came to believe that the civil rights movement in the United States in the 50's and 60's and the Soviet Army in Germany in 1945 were part of the same "secret combination"

The verdict of history is that President Benson was wrong on the nature of the civil right movement.

George Wallace who President Benson wanted to run with as a vice presidential candidate later in life admitted he was wrong in his opposition to the civil rights movement. I wish President Benson would of done the same.

I sustained President Benson as President of the Church but I did not then and do not now sustain his political, social and economic views.

John Willis

7/17/2010 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

John Willis:  first, according to President Hinckley, what Benson saw in Europe in the 1940s was "the bitter fruit of dictatorship." And his feelings were confirmed and magnified "through the years" as he witnessed over and over "the heavy-handed oppression and suffering" of those who lived under communism.

Seconod, your comment misrepresents Benson's stated opinion about civil rights. In the October 1967 general conference, he said: "There is nothing wrong with civil rights; it is what's being done in the name of civil rights that is alarming."

Third, here is a more accurate rendition of Benson's 1968 activities as a national political candidate:

-------------- quote --------------
"At President McKay's direction, during the regular Thursday meeting of the Twelve, on February 15, 1968, Elder Benson outlined in detail the various movements and attempts to have him nominated to run for high office. He explained that President McKay had asked him not to discuss these matters earlier, and that he had not encouraged any of these overtures." (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, pp.397-398; emphasis added.)
-------------- end quote --------------

Lastly, to the extent that a person rejects what is taught by a Prophet, to that extent he or she only partially sustains that Prophet. I sustained President Benson 100 percent. You can't have it both ways.

7/17/2010 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Hi R. Gary,

I am 100% in agreement with you. The most common result of secret combinations in the Book of Mormon are 1) political violence, 2) unjust oppression of the poor to enrich the wealthy secret combination people. I am fortunate to be currently living in France where 1) the murder rate is much lower than the US and thus political violence is less likely, and 2) much better protection of poor people is afforded by enforced government regulations on predatory business practices, such as high interest loans, pay-day loans, etc. There is also less inequality here. The poor are not in desperate need for health care or food so they are not further victimized by unscrupulous businessmen. In addition, the accumulation and selling of databases containing my personal economic and political activities is forbidden by law. This way I don't have to worry about identity theft or secret combination people collecting information on me. Look at Google in Germany, they are in real trouble for having recorded WIFI traffic! It would be great if the US took similar steps that are in agreement with the Book of Mormon and the gospel. I think for purposes of this discussion it is better to think of France as a capitalist country and not a socialist country since Elder Benson was talking about Eastern Europe and France is currently run by the right-wing party.

7/17/2010 11:31:00 AM  
OpenID heavenlybanner said...

Regarding the central theme of President Benson's administration: According to my notes at the time President Benson gave the talk entitled, "The Book of Mormon is the Word of God," at least 37 times. See: http://ibri.it/YzAwz which links to an excerpt of a "Secret Combination" compilation I made. The entire compilation can be seen here: http://sites.google.com/site/heavenlybanner/sc

Keep up the good work.

7/17/2010 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

The material referenced in the above comment is found here. Thanks, Steven!

7/17/2010 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous wants everyone to know that Benson supported the John Birch Society, spoke at their events, and backed their founder, Robert Welch.

Anonymous must be the only Mormon who didn't already know this. Let me first say that Michael Quinn’s Dialogue article about Benson only proves the truism that we generally see what we’re looking for in others. Prophets have critics, some more than others, but critics can’t diminish a Prophet’s authority.

In 1963, Ezra Taft Benson delivered an address in Boise, Idaho, in which he went into great detail about his support of the John Birch Society. The text of this address was published in his book Title of Liberty.[1]  and in the book Prophets, Principles, and National Survival, a book Benson promoted in two general conferences.[2]

American Opinion

At least three times, Benson asked Church members to read the Birch Society's official magazine, American Opinion:

    1.  In his Oct. 1962 general conference talk.

    2.  In the Church News for Feb. 26, 1966.[3]

    3.  In his book An Enemy Hath Done This.[4]

Gary Allen

Benson's repeated endorsement of the Birch Society's magazine adds significance to the following story.

One of American Opinion's editors was Gary Allen. He and his associates wrote tirelessly about "the conspiracy." In 1972, Gary Allan wrote a book titled, None Dare Call It Conspiracy, published with Ezra Taft Benson's personal endorsement on its back cover. Benson said: "I wish that every citizen of every country in the free world and every slave behind the Iron Curtain might read this book."

None Dare Call It Conspiracy describes how a group of wealthy elite control important parts of our federal government, high finance, and mass media. It tells how this conspiracy uses every form of tyranny, including communism, as part of its plan to control the entire planet by consolidating all nations into one world government.

In 1985, American Opinion changed its name to The New American. A few months later, Then Church President Ezra Taft Benson was again promoting Gary Allen's conspiracy writings by purchasing subscriptions to The New American for his First Presidency Counselors Hinckley and Monson.

Anonymous, there really are two sides to every story. May I suggest you read Benson's own words on this one? Please do that much before you submit any more comments about Benson.

Notes

1.  Mark A. Benson, comp., Deseret Book, 1964, pp. 22-41.

2.  Jerreld L. Newquist, comp., Publishers Press, 1964, pp. 275-295.

    In his October 1964 general conference talk, Benson called this "an excellent book." And again, in the April 1972 general conference, Benson asked Church members to read Prophets, Principles, and National Survival.

3.  This was a 1966 speech given in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square (President McKay authorized the speech and watched it from his Hotel Utah apartment). The film of this talk has been shown to many groups and TV audiences. The speech was also printed in pamphlet form by American Opinion.

4.  Jerreld L. Newquist, comp., Parliament Publishers, 1969, pp.30-45.

7/17/2010 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Mormon Heretic said...

Thanks for the link to my blog!

I remember Pres Benson talk about secret combinations in the 1980's. I remember thinking specifically about gangs, drug traffickers, and the mafia. While I was unaware of Pres Benson's politics of the 1960's (especially concerning the Civil Rights movement and John Birch Society), I don't remember any anti-communist agendas while he was prophet. So when we look at his comments over his lifetime, we can see SMALL references to "politics" in his reference to "combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts", I note that he was referring to education, religion, and philosophy. This isn't screaming anti-communism to me.

While I agree that Benson was wrong on the Civil Rights movement, who was the first prophet to call a black Seventy? Yes it was Pres Benson--he called Helvicio Martens. So, I think he grew to embrace the civil rights movement, despite his position of the 1960's.

7/17/2010 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Mormon Heretic: Thank you for visiting my blog. As I've already said, Benson never saw anything wrong with civil rights, only with some of what was being done in the name of civil rights. The rest of your comment is similarly misinformed. In each case, I've already shown somewhere on this thread how each of the remaining points in your comment (except for the point about Elder Helvécio Martins) also contain incorrect information. Nevertheless, I'm glad you stopped by.

7/17/2010 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Steve and MH, it is already crystal clear to me that you don't approve of Ezra Taft Benson. Well I do. And on this blog, that is the end of our discussion.

7/18/2010 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Mormon Heretic said...

R Gary, are you shutting down the discussion? Where did I say I don't approve of the prophet Ezra Taft Benson? Are you saying that I should not disagree with his politics?

7/18/2010 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

MH, you and I agree 100 percent that Ezra Taft Benson was a political extremist. You assume his extremism was wrong. I assume he knew what he was talking about. There are too many silly rumors and outright lies floating around about Benson. Those are not welcome on my blog. And since you've already made it clear that you don't agree with Benson's politics, I don't see what there is to discuss.

7/18/2010 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Heretic, all these years I've been taking it on the chin over Benson's conspiracy theories and John Birch support, and now you're telling me that's the whitewashed version of his politics?

For those who are interested, this is what Mormon Heretic said about my post and comments (the rest of his comment won't be published):

-------------- quote --------------
"It seems you want to discuss a whitewashed version of the politics of President Benson."
-------------- end quote --------------

If someone wanted to whitewash Benson's politics, the John Birch Society and conspiracies to rule the world would be at the bottom of the list of things to talk about.

7/19/2010 12:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I don't see how anyone can excuse Br. Benson's attempted use of the church for political purposes. If he had been a member of the ward I grew up in, my bishop would have tossed him out on his ear.

7/19/2010 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Your bishop would have done no such thing. Neither you nor any bishop in the Church "would would have tossed him out on his ear." Only the Prophet can toss an apostle "out on his ear." It has happened. But significantly, it didn't happen to Benson, he got promoted to Prophet instead.

7/19/2010 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

An Anonymous visitor wishes to point out that there were those whose views were not compatible with Ezra Taft Benson's words of warning about freedom. Some felt that an apostle should refrain from speaking or commenting on what they considered to be political themes. When Ezra Taft Benson was called to preside over the work of the Church in Europe, one of his more prominent critics suggested he was being exiled to get the politics out of his system.

Let's see if the record of what actually happened supports that point of view.

The Benson family arrived in Frankfurt on New Year's Day 1964. While they were assigned to Europe, Elder Benson and his wife made frequent trips back to the United States. While he was in Europe, Elder Benson's stature as a former cabinet member gained many advantages for the work of the Church in Europe. For example, by the time he was called back to Salt Lake City, missionaries were proselyting in Italy for the first time.

During this so-called exile, Ezra Taft Benson never missed a general general conference and his talks were two to one about freedom issues over other subjects. Elder Benson continued to meet frequently with President McKay, repeatedly asking President McKay if he wished him to refrain from speaking on freedom, and in each case, Elder Benson was encouraged to continue. And, in fact, it was during this period of his life that he gave his greatest number of talks about freedom and the U.S. Constitution.

7/20/2010 02:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to put too fine a point on things, but ETB became president of the church because he became the senior apostle and it is a "sacred custom" in our church that the senior apostle becomes the next president. That does not take anything away from the fact that he did try very hard for a number of years to use the church for political purposes. Had President McKay not been both tolerant and somewhat sympathetic to many of his views, he might have gotten himself into some difficulty. Apostles have had their seniority removed in the past.

7/20/2010 06:13:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Re: Sacred custom

It's not a "sacred custom." It's the way God, not man, calls the next Prophet. Since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, He permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership.

Re: Benson's critics

When the Prophet tells you to do something, it simply doesn't matter what anybody else says no matter what position he or she holds in the Church. As I explained earlier, Benson met frequently with President McKay asking if he should refrain from speaking on freedom, and in each case, Elder Benson was encouraged to continue.

7/20/2010 08:44:00 AM  

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