Saturday, January 03, 2015

Ezra Taft Benson: A Uniquely Prepared Prophet

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 prepare him for his prophetic calling.

So it was with Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994). His biographer, Sheri L. Dew, recently explained: "President Ezra Taft Benson's life is remarkable by any measure—and almost impossible to do justice to in a full-length biography, let alone in one article. Studying the life of a prophet is more, much more, than simply recounting events. It is an opportunity to see the hand of the Lord in action as He prepares and tutors a man to be ready when the moment comes that He anoints him as His mouthpiece on the earth." [2]

Preparation for his prophetic calling included Ezra Taft Benson's 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, Ezra Taft 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

The general officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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 every Latter-day Saint.



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

2.  "2015 Curriculum to Focus on Ezra Taft Benson," LDS Church News, December 3, 2014.

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.


Blogger Steven Montgomery said...

Another Great Post as usual Gary. Thanks for your dedication.

1/03/2015 09:04:00 AM  

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