Friday, November 26, 2010

Sheri L. Dew on criticism of Ezra Taft Benson

[Sheri L. Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book, is author of the book, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, Deseret Book, 1987. The following excerpts illustrate her reaction to President Benson's critics.]

1. (p.vii) I believe that you will find in this biography the story of a truly great man. Not a perfect man, nor a man who hasn't faced and even struggled with mortality's challenges. But a man of conviction and courage. A man who has remained true to the principles in which he deeply believes — despite criticism, at times.

2. (p.viii) There are episodes and elements of President Benson's life that have been left out of this biography. It is no secret that his unequivocal and vocal support of freedom and the U.S. Constitution, and his condemnation of communism, socialism, and, in fact, anything that he has perceived as a threat to man's freedom, has aroused controversy and prompted certain critics to oppose him over the years. By and large, these episodes have not been detailed in this biography. While some may wonder if these omissions point to the fact that President Benson feels uncomfortable about his past or has reversed his stand on some of these issues, nothing could be further from the truth.

3. (p.ix) Even during times when he was most vocally criticized for his patriotic activities or philosophies, he repeatedly responded to his critics with kindness and tolerance. President Benson has requested that those who have opposed him over the years not be treated critically in his biography. Yet, a full and accurate telling of some incidents involving his critics would likely reflect negatively on those individuals, so the episodes have not been included.

4. (p.252) "If I come in for criticism, so be it," he wrote in his journal. Criticism was the least of his worries. Popularity was not a priority, but principles were.

5. (pp.276-277, quoting Harold B. Lee) "There will be many who will belittle [Brother Benson] and will try to destroy him and destroy his reputation and destroy his influence in his high place.... Those who do will be forgotten in the remains of Mother Earth, and the odor of their infamy will ever be with them. But the glory and majesty attached to the name of Ezra Taft Benson will never die so long as Brother Benson continues to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.... And you and I who are in this congregation will live one day to see what I have said verified."

6. (p.295) At a congressional hearing Senator Hubert Humphrey, an outspoken critic, said, in words to this effect: "Secretary Benson, we hear much about exploration in Antarctica. Your stocks of surplus wheat would probably keep very well down there where it is so cold. Have you thought about shipping your wheat down there for storage?" "Yes I have, Senator," Ezra replied. "And I've thought of sending you down there to oversee the operation." Senator Humphrey laughed louder than anyone else.

7. (p.348, quoting Ezra Taft Benson) "As for our critics, I have no personal bitterness toward any man and I hope no one is bitter toward me. As I have said before, I love all God's children — but I love some more than others."

8. (p.371) There were those whose views were not compatible with his words of warning. Some felt that an apostle should refrain from speaking or commenting on what they considered to be political themes.

9. (p.373) "It is amazing to me," he wrote in his journal, "the lack of courage some of our brethren have in this serious controversy involving the future freedom of our people."

10. (p.373) 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."

[Sheri L. Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book, is author of the book, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, Deseret Book, 1987. The above excerpts illustrate her reaction to President Benson's critics.]


Anonymous Mark D. said...

By and large, these episodes have not been detailed in this biography

What's the point of writing a biography if you leave out the most eventful parts of a person's life, in particular the parts the individual obviously devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to?

That is a rhetorical question, of course. The reason why they were left out is the author/publisher clearly wanted a religious biography rather than a political one.

11/26/2010 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Mark D. I strongly disagree that Sheri Dew left out the most eventful parts of President Benson's life.

I also disagree that any events in his life were left out purely because they were political in nature. That would not have been possible anyway. For more than 50 years, Ezra Taft Benson's political thought was an important and consistent part of his prophetic message.

The subject of politics is mentioned 112 times in Dew's Benson biography. Government wasn't avoided either, being discussed 111 times. Freedom is discussed 107 times and the Constitution is discussed 43 times. And remember, the Benson biography is only 580 pages.

At the same time, some episodes were left out, according to Dew, so the book wouldn't reflect negatively on certain individuals (see quote 3 above).

11/27/2010 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I think many in the church, including Dew, prefer to gloss over some of the extremism present in Benson's political views. I think this is done for at least two reasons--first, many (including church leaders) are uneasy about how extreme some of his views were. Second, many (including church leaders) don't want to give lay members the idea that Benson's more extreme political ideas had anything to do with his calling as a prophet; they don't want members feeling like they must adopt Benson's politics.

I do appreciate the fact that Dew says Benson was not perfect. Too often we forget that prophets are not perfect. We forget about Jonah, or about Peter, or the disagreements between general authorities in the past. Good men? Prophetic men? Yes. But not everything they say is prophetic or true. Man has landed on the moon, and blacks do have the priesthood.

11/27/2010 04:37:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Tim: It sounds like you disagree with the author of the book as to why some episodes of President Benson's life were left out. She said it was so the book wouldn't reflect negatively on certain individuals who had been critical of him (see quote 3 above). I think she was being honest.


Stan Beale: your characterization of Dew's book prompts me to quickly review my comment policies (click here).

On this blog, we explore issues without looking for flaws in the Church or its leaders. We acknowledge the sincerity of those with whom we politely disagree, and we speak of principles rather than personalities.

After 5.5 years and some 1,500 comments, this is still a private forum, not a free-for-all. Sorry.

11/27/2010 04:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I find it surprising that you all are considering Tim's comment a negative one. I consider it a very well-balanced thought which is neither disrespectful nor disparaging. It reflects an accurate description of the historical record and reflects the honesty and reality needed for a mature testimony of our Prophets and Apostles.

11/27/2010 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But not everything they say is prophetic or true. Man has landed on the moon, and blacks do have the priesthood."

And 100 million or so have been brutally murdered by communist regimes.


11/27/2010 11:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

As an apostle and church president, Ezra Taft Benson needs no defending, neither from you nor from Sherri Dew. But as a practitioner of paranoid politics, he will, I'm afraid, always be seen by even the most fair-minded among us as an extremist. Communism now lies on the ashpile of history and we did not have to turn our country into a paraoid police state to see it happen.

11/29/2010 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

About one fifth of the world lives in China. By comparison, about one third of the world is Christian and about half of all Christians are Catholic. In other words, there are fewer Catholics in the world than there are people who live under Chinese Communism. Does Catholicism also lie on the "ashpile" of history?

11/29/2010 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Sources: What percent of the world's population lives in and China? and What percentage of the world's population is Catholic?

11/29/2010 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Don: last summer on this blog there were two discussions about Ezra Taft Benson's extremism (here and here). I invite you to read them and comment.

11/29/2010 08:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert on China, but I have at least been there and do have several friends who are experts on China (including a member of the area presidency in Asia who spent the majority of his professional life there) and they all assure me that China is communist in name only. Chinese "communism" has only survived because it has been so adaptable to capitalism.

They tell me that many things we, as outsiders, ascribe to communism (or an authoritarian regime) are actually just elements of traditional Chinese culture. They describe the Chinese economy as "a free market with Chinese characteristics."

So, just because there are more people in China than there are Catholics in the world does not mean that communism isn't on the ashpile of history.

11/30/2010 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

"Mormonism is not an officially recognized religion under current Chinese law; this severely restricts LDS activity in that country. With the exception of once British-controlled Hong Kong, the LDS church owns no property or buildings and is not permitted to send proselyting missionaries to the region, as it does to most other areas of the world." (Read more here.)

By contrast, there a dozen or so proselyting missions of the Church in countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc.

I think these numbers tells us what we need to know about China.

11/30/2010 06:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's all very well, but I'm not sure where you're going with that, Gary.

First you seemed to imply that the fact that China is still "communist" and very populous justifies ETB's political views -- presumably because the sheer number of "communists" left in the world would validate his crusade against them, i.e. "he was right all along." (I say this without passing any judgment one way or the other on ETB's views.)

I questioned whether China is really communist in the traditional sense (I don't believe it is), and you followed that up with quotes about China not recognizing the Church while noting that it has gained some footholds in former Soviet-bloc countries. I can only suppose you're trying to use the presence of the Church as evidence of a place not being communist.

If I've understood you correctly (and perhaps I have not), you'll excuse me for saying that doesn't make any sense. Questions of China -- or any country -- being truly "communist" or communism being on the "ashpile of history" do not rise and fall on whether they allow / recognize the Church.

Now, you're entitled to think what you will about ETB, communism, etc., but I don't think bringing up China helps what you're trying to say in any way.

11/30/2010 07:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, after clicking through to the last link you posted (with the quote about the Church not being recognized in China), I'm even more confused. The article actually says that relations between the Church and the Chinese government are improving.

So, by your own line of reasoning, China is becoming less communist. How does that help your position?

11/30/2010 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

I appreciate the tone of your recent comment. Let me explain my own feelings in more detail.

Prior to 1990, there were no missionaries in the countries of the Soviet bloc and none in China. It was claimed in an earlier comment on this thread that Communism is dead. Period. But that is not true. The Church is officially recognized and has missionaries in one of those areas but not the other. China is Communist in name AND in not allowing missionaries, now as before.

More than a quarter of a century before the so-called fall of Communism, Ezra Taft Benson warned of the conspiracy's plan to have America "move to the left" while the communists "move to the right" so we could meet at the center of the "socialist-left." (Prophets, Principles and National Survival, p. 282).

These prophetic words are being fulfilled. The growth of the size and scope of government in this country testifies that Benson was indeed a prophet, we are moving to the left. The opening of the Soviet bloc to missionary work, along with other movement away from Communist totalitarianism testifies that Benson was indeed a prophet, they are moving to the right. Even the smaller but hopeful changes that are occuring today in China testify that Benson was indeed a prophet.

By the way, did you click through the two earlier discussions about Ezra Taft Benson's extremism (here and here)?

The claim that Benson was a Prophet on one hand and a practitioner of paranoid politics on the other is a classic false dichotomy. Benson WAS Prophet, speaking AS Prophet, when he testified that "a secret combination is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world."

11/30/2010 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

I just found a "That's all very well...." comment in Blogger.com's spam filter. I'm not sure why that happened, but I believe my most recent comment above provides an adequate response.

11/30/2010 10:32:00 PM  

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