Ezra Taft Benson and Teachings of the Presidents for 2015: Some Things You Won’t Be Learning This Year

I’m glad to see that the LDS manual for Teachings of the Presidents in 2015 will cover Ezra Taft Benson, the man who was President of the Church from 1985 to 1994 and served as an Apostle beginning in 1943. Though he was often controversial for his views on government, one thing you must remember about him is that he may have more experience with government and politics than any other LDS president or apostle, having served as serving as United States Secretary of Agriculture from 1953 to 1961 under US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also had more to say on government than almost any other Church leader, and throughout his tenure as an Apostle frequently addressed topics such as the proper role of government, the US Constitution, threats to freedom, the existence and goals of secret combinations, etc.

Much of what he said on these topics was said during the Cold War era, so his comments and rhetoric are often directed to communism and socialism, and surely will be offensive to many in our day, especially those who consider socialism as progress. The progress of the US government in size, power, and debt generation since his day surely has been impressive, and is quite in line with some of his warnings. His frequent statements on such topics, however, strike me as thoroughly downplayed in the new manual with his teachings, which may be entirely appropriate given the potential for political divisiveness and distraction from the goals. (The manual is intended for use during adult classes on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of the month, and is used during the 3rd hour of our 3-hour block on Sundays.) But some may interpret the relative silence on such topics in the new manual as the result an official stance that such views are discredited and irrelevant today. I don’t think that’s a justified assumption. On the other hand, his controversial statements while an Apostle quickly became much more toned down once he was President of the Church, though he did not become completely silent or drop his stance, as you may see from a reference I mention below.

Personally, I think much of what he had to say is worth understanding in the context of where the world was then, and in terms of the basic principles of personal liberty. We don’t discuss these issues in much depth any more, I fear, though I hope we will consider these issues in our studies and have a healthy discussion in appropriate forums. The world has changed a great deal since the Cold War, but the conflict of personal liberty versus concentrated power in the hands of conspiring men (or even well meaning men) is still relevant, in my opinion, just as it was when the Constitution was framed. He saw and experienced a great deal about how government works, and I think it is foolhardy to disregard what he learned and saw without seeking to understand him. Further, for those who take the Book of Mormons seriously, it may be a fruitful exercise, regardless of your political views, to compare Book of Mormon teachings with his interpretation of its content relevant to government and secret combinations.

For a little further background regarding his views, see his 1979 General Conference address, “A Witness and a Warning.” Also see his October 1988 talk given as President of the Church, “I Testify,” which makes an ominous reference to Ether 8 in the Book of Mormon and the complex topic of “secret combinations.” If you want to more fully see what made him so controversial and so despised by some, dig up a copy of a book he wrote before he became President, An Enemy Hath Done This.

His tenure as President was a difficult one, touched with controversy not just from his previously expressed views on politics and government, but also with his tenure while ill and incapacitated. His last couple of years were sad and frustrating ones for his family and for the Church.

May the Priesthood and Relief Society lessons in 2015 be worthwhile and helpful, without painful controversy and political divisiveness. For those who didn’t like President Benson or his more controversial views, my scanning of
the new manual suggests it won’t be too difficult of a year for you. There is wisdom in sticking to the basics in our classes, but also much wisdom in digging deeper on our own.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

73 thoughts on “Ezra Taft Benson and Teachings of the Presidents for 2015: Some Things You Won’t Be Learning This Year

  1. Ezra Taft Benson: 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.

    Um, okay, Mr. Political and Spiritual Genius. Then there's this:

    LOGAN, UTAH–Former Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson charged Friday night that the civil-rights movement in the South had been "formatted almost entirely by the Communists." Elder Benson, a member of the Council of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a public meeting here that the whole civil-rights movement was "phony." (Deseret News)

    Yeah, when I want to know about the meaning of the Constitution, I'm gonna channel some paranoid bigot…. It's hard to imagine anyone so blatantly on the wrong side of history and so oblivious to the greatest prophetic call of his own time. If the Church had possessed any sense back then, Benson would have been excommunicated and Martin Luther King granted an honorary membership.

    Advice to anyone aiming to make the LDS look as racist and retrograde as possible: sing the praises of Ezra Taft Benson. As a resource for the quote-mining anti-Mormon, he's almost as good as Bruce McConkie.

    Jeff Lindsay: The world has changed a great deal since the Cold War, but the conflict of personal liberty versus concentrated power in the hands of conspiring men (or even well meaning men) is still relevant, in my opinion, just as it was when the Constitution was framed.

    Of course, when the Constitution was framed, "personal liberty" was widely held to include the right to own black people. Thank the stars that we no longer live under that constitution, but under the much different constitution that includes the Fourteenth Amendment.

    A general point: securing "personal liberty" is not the be-all and end-all of good government. The real goal is justice. Those who instead stress liberty tend to be those who have not recently been victims of injustice. You know, prosperous white guys like Benson rather than poor black people in Selma. Benson's lack of empathy is amazing, especially for a self-proclaimed Christian. Had he ever gone down to Alabama or Mississippi and actually talked to some poor black civil-rights workers (sounds a lot like something Jesus would do, so I suppose Benson couldn't be bothered), would he have still considered their movement "phony"?

    It's beyond me how anyone can claim to be Christian, yet fetishize liberty at the expense of justice. I mean, don't these guys read the biblical prophets?

    It's also beyond me how anyone can claim to respect the Constitution, and yet fetishize liberty over justice. Don't these guys ever read the Preamble? It's right there: the first substantive purpose of the Constitution, right after that of strengthening the union, is to establish justice. Securing the blessings of liberty is well down the list.

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  2. I think people have a harder time when truth is delivered directly and unrestrained than if it can be taught slowly and smoothly to the parishioners. I think more people had a problem with his method than his message.

    The detractors just couldnt get past the method to see what it was he was warning us of.

    I think we as an american people and american members were and are blinded by our sins and now we are reaping the fruits of our rejection of truths as hard and stern as they were delivered.

    It reminds me of the scripture that all we want to hear are smooth things.

  3. Just what we need, an entire year of classes to help a bunch of white middle class suburbanites feed on their prejudices and their persecution complex.

  4. To more fairly understand that sensational quote from Benson, one needs to recognize the difference between progress in civil rights, which I think all of us should applaud, and the specific details of who led certain aspects of movement and why. It's a question that persists today. I yearn for racial harmony and equal opportunity, but am concerned about the motives of agitators who may exploit situations like that in Ferguson or New York. To question the methods and the leaders, especially those who advocate perpetual anger or even violence, is not deny the need for equality and racial harmony.

    When Benson and other suggested that Communist influence was significant in the Civil Rights movement several decades ago, it was a controversial statement that seemed crazy to many. Actually, today that claim should no longer be all that controversial, for even NPR has helped to reveal that Communists in the U.S. played a leading role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement in the South. See the 2010 NPR story "How 'Communism' Brought Racial Equality To The South." Fascinating. Yes, there's now no question that real Communists worked together to play key leadership roles in the movement, as Benson said. How one responds to that depends on whether one trusts and respects Communists, or not. Were they involved out of altruistic desires, or were they exploiting the Civil Rights movement for some other purpose?

    If an American like President Benson at that time had learned that Communists with links to Soviet Russia were attempting to hijack, co-opt, or lead aspects of the Civil Rights movement, how should he or she respond? The real issue perhaps is why they were doing this. Were they putting so much organizing effort into the movement out of a desire to help blacks gain the right to vote? If Moscow was influencing their Communist allies in the U.S., was their goal to bring democracy here? Or something else? I don't think you are fair in calling Pres. Benson either paranoid or a bigot. In a world of Saul Alinsky's and extremists of all kinds looking to gain power with every social crisis, one has to be extremely gullible to not ask questions about the motives and methods of those rising up to agitate, stir, and organize.

    My life in China has helped me see that neither China nor Communism is a monolithic force that can be painted in one shade. I have good friends who are fervent, loyal Communists genuinely working to make the world a better place, and I have respect for the goals and work of some of China's Communists to lift their nation. There are some really great things happening in that country. I often wish America's Far Left would have the love of country and patriotism that is so typical of China's Communists.

  5. Again, to clarify, not all Communists in America were willing to take orders from Moscow or wanted to create subversion and revolution in our streets. There are both full-fledged Communists and perhaps many more "plain old" socialists whose desires are altruistic and whose means are peaceful. Maybe voting rights for blacks and enhanced prosperity was the real goal for many.

    The prominent role of Communists in a US movement is not one that necessarily demands alarm on our part, but I think it's also fair to recognize that there can at least be a basis for concern, and that being suspicious may not be the result of mere bigotry and paranoia.

    As for justice versus liberty, yes, justice is a key role of government. But this word "justice" has been co-opted of late to mean redistribution of wealth or to be code for transferring more power and wealth into the hands of the few who want to reshape society and increase their power. I'm curious to know how you would define it.

    It is tragic that slavery existed when the Constitution was drafted, and that it had to be tolerated as part of the compromises needed to give the Republic a chance. That Republic would be able to rise above that terrible social institution and extend liberty to all, or at least take steps in that direction. We still have a long ways to go to elevate the poor and create fairness, but it's amazing we live in a system where large course corrections are possible.

  6. Anonymous, when you speak of "white middle class suburbanites" and "their prejudices and their persecution complex," you reveal an unfortunate thought pattern in which everyone is stereotyped into monolithic classes. Because someone is white and suburban, you imply that they automatically have certain prejudices and complexes. Wrong. People are individuals, not classes. The views and needs of people are not defined by their skin color or social class, and to stereotype people that way is part of the problem, not the solution.

    Neither whites nor blacks at any economic or in any physical location (urban or whatever) have uniform needs and views, and treating them as a class/group instead of individuals is a step in the wrong direction. But those who want to use class or race for their own personal power love playing the class game. It's destructive.

  7. I was entering Young Women when Pres. Benson gave the talk, "To the Young Women of the Church" (online at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1986/10/to-the-young-women-of-the-church?lang=eng). It was a talk that was very influential in my life, and I love Pres. Benson for being the mouthpiece for those direct, inspired words. I am still being blessed for having heard and applied his words.
    I almost wish I weren't working in nursery so I could go to Relief Society this year and learn from this manual, but I really love working with the little children and will just have to read it on my own.

  8. CT. Thankyou for your selfless service in the nursery. No greater work is done there than anywhere else in the church because that is where children are taught the answer to one of lifes greatest questions. "Who am I?" As they are repeatedly told they are Children of God before they know to ask the question. God bless you in your faithfulness and in your love of the prophets as you teach these children.

  9. Jeff,

    I took a peak at the NPR link. It shows communist involvement in Alabama in, predominately, the 1930s. Benson made his claims about the civil rights monitors cement in the 1960s. There is little to back that. It was a John Birch society talking point that FBI did not back.

  10. Sorry, Jeff, but Benson wasn't "suggesting" anything about the Civil Rights movement. He made some very specific claims about it, and those claims are false. He claimed:

    (1) that the civil-rights movement in the South had been "formatted almost entirely by the Communists," and

    (2) that the whole civil-rights movement was "phony."

    I repeat: these claims are false. FALSE.

    The almighty "prophet" was WRONG.

    Furthermore, these claims reveal Benson as decidedly un-American and un-Christian.

    Why "un-Christian"? Because anyone with an ounce of empathy for those unlike himself — anyone with an ounce of empathy for, you know, the people whom Jesus called "the least among us" — would have seen the legitimacy and moral worthiness of the civil-rights movement.

    Benson's claim that the movement was the "phony" product of communist agitation reveals him to be so out of touch with the suffering of the poor and exploited as to be the very antithesis of Jesus.

    Get that? The very ANTITHESIS of Jesus. NOT in any sense a "prophet of God."

    Why "un-American"? Well, um, gee: what is the proper American response to a massive denial of civil rights? The truly American response is to join those fighting on behalf of those rights.

    Benson did just the opposite. He was un-American.

    Get that? At a crucial period in the unfolding of the nation's history, when it was striving to realize its best ideals, Ezra Taft Benson was on the WRONG SIDE.

    To the extent that there was communist involvement in the civil rights movement, the proper American response was to march alongside the communists. (And perhaps also to ask why, in the pursuit of justice, so many people revealed themselves to be morally inferior to communists.)

    A parable: Once upon a time, a certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain Communist, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, who said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' But the host, whose name was Ezra Taft Benson, said, 'With Communists I will have nothing to do,' and promptly turned the wounded man out on the street" (Gospel of Benson 10:30–37).

    And yes, as has been pointed out above, the communist involvement took place well before the 60s. Jeff neglects to mention this, so eager is he to excuse the inexcusable.

    The overarching point here is that Benson was on the wrong side of the great American moral issue of his time. He is thus in no meaningful sense of the term a "prophet." A much better term for him would be Pharisee.

    He beholdest the mote that is in the communist's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in his own eye.

    The fact that, in spite of his massive moral failure, the Church could consider Benson a prophet reveals its own moral bankruptcy.

    And the Church will remain morally bankrupt until more members have the courage to do what Jeff seems incapable of doing, namely, facing up to the truths of its history and holding its leaders accountable.

    My apologies if anyone is upset with me for delivering the truth "directly and unrestrained."

  11. "It's also beyond me how anyone can claim to respect the Constitution, and yet fetishize liberty over justice."

    Such a statement is baffling to me on many levels. First, fetishizing the Constitution really means that it's adhered to and used as a standard. Those who demean it are happy writing the rules based on whatever they feel like at the time, usually at the ultimate expense of personal freedom. Then they will complain when the opposite political party does the same exact thing.

    Second, a false dichotomy doesn't need to exist between freedom and justice. You can't have liberty without justice, and vice versa. Like Jeff said, unless your definition of justice has to do with redistribution of wealth or other social agendas, I don't see the problem. Limiting speech, government regulation over private businesses and affairs, taxation, government spying on citizens, unjust wars, debt–all have more to do with the concept of personal freedom than it does justice, so naturally that's what you would hear about first. When these rights are violated, the same people call for justice.

    You can't have one without the other. You can't demand justice if there are no rights (read, liberty). Securing the blessings of liberty is in the same preamble–and in the same sentence, dude. They didn't view the concepts independently, so I don't understand why you would and criticize people for recognizing that there are issues with an expanding government. It's a false dichotomy.

  12. Pierce, please read more carefully. I wrote nothing about fetishizing the Constitution. I wrote about fetishizing liberty at the expense of justice, which is exactly what a lot of right-wingers do. (By fetishize, of course, I mean "to have an excessive and irrational commitment to or obsession with something.")

    In right-wing discourse it's liberty, liberty, liberty. How often do they obsess over the Constitutional charge for the government to secure liberty, promote the general welfare, and ensure the equal protection of the laws?

    As for the false dichotomy, please show me where I posited one between liberty and justice. As for the claim that "you can't have liberty without justice," we need to think a little more clearly. In the context of the Civil Rights movement, one obvious response is to say that, in the 1960s, Ezra Taft Benson had many (and very substantial) kinds of liberty that African-Americans did not. Obviously in this situation there was no justice, yet he had liberty. The logical slippage occurs by confusing the generic and specific uses of the term you. ("You" can't have liberty without justice? Well, "you" can if "you" are white, but "you" can't if "you" are black.)

    Think about the Fourteenth Amendment. Think about why it has to have that bit about the equal protection of the laws: to avoid a situation where the government secures the liberty of some but not others.

    What is it that demands that the government secure the liberty of all, not just some? Justice.

    To Benson the Constitution was about securing his liberty and that of others like him. That the liberty of others ought to be accorded equal concern was just beyond him, and that, I submit, was because of a terrible character defect.

    Also, please note that I never criticized Benson "for recognizing that there are issues with an expanding government." (Again, please read carefully, and play fair!) I criticized him for other things. One can indeed oppose Big Government and yet be a good American and a genuine Christian.

    But since you brought it up, I'll just point out that there are sometimes problems with a contracting government. Just look at what happened when the heavy hand of the federal government was lifted from the South in 1877. White people once again were at (shall we say) liberty to engage in terrorism against black people, and black people were no longer at liberty to run for public office or look at white women, and justice went down the toilet. Smaller does not automatically mean better.

    The larger point still stands: In the midst of a great moral crisis of the nation, Ezra Taft Benson came down on the wrong side. He was the very antithesis of a prophet, and to honor him as one is wrong.

  13. Orbiting,

    I apologize for mis-reading the "fetishizing" statement, you are correct.

    Perhaps our communication is hindered in that you are speaking very specifically about ETB, while I was poking more at what I thought were larger philosophies. You opened this portion by stating "A general point: securing 'personal liberty' is not the be-all and end-all of good government. The real goal is justice." This is a general statement that has nothing to do with ETB, so I feel that my comment stands. Philosophically, this is a false dichotomy since you cannot have one without the other. But specifically in the case of ETB, you may have a point. But I would want to see more quotes or actions from him regarding black people in general before I would be willing to say that he didn't believe in personal liberty for black Americans. So I'll ask you, can you present me with anything more specific to blacks, rather than to a political movement? Because in my estimation it will take more than what you've provided to label someone as a bigot who is the antithesis of a prophet and a dishonorable person.

    But there are a few things that I'll push back against.

    1. Your statements reflect a cultural bias that is different today than it was in the 1960's. Given the complete mess race has been in this country since it's inception, I think your vindictive comments about your predecessors is a bit inappropriate given yours and their cultural biases. You are more enlightened–I get that. I would tread a little more softly though.
    2. What you quoted has more to do with a social movement more than EBT's assessment of what rights a black person should have. Think about what real bigots were doing at the time. And as Jeff pointed out, those movements may have had strings attached to it, and communism was something that was abhorred by most Americans at the time (for good reason).
    –It's like the Ferguson riots. I believe that there is too much police violence and there is a huge flaw with their training. But I have spoken out against the Ferguson agitators. I would say that the Ferguson riots are a phony. Why? Because there are strings attached that I don't agree with: race-baters like Al Sharpton are leading the charge, they are making a thug like Michael Brown as the poster child and have gotten the facts wrong about it, they are burning down buildings and looting. But if you read my comments about Ferguson, you might think I'm a bigot who doesn't understand anything. I do–but they have picked the wrong hill to die on.
    3. "Smaller does not automatically mean better." Your example suggests that that a more limited government has a direct correlation to racism. That is not correct. Under Benson's "Proper Role of Government" schema, which is really how many libertarians view government, terrorism against black people is a violation of of their rights. It doesn't take a bloated government to figure that out and enforce laws to make sure that doesn't happen. It takes a very limited one that actually focuses on protecting rights.

  14. Extra thought: You can have justice without real personal rights, but you cannot have personal rights without justice. There might be perfect justice in North Korea, based on their laws, but the people might have limited freedom. But you can't have personal rights without justice, since people violate the rights of others all the time. It is, therefore, the end-all be-all of government to maintain things like the right to life, property, liberty, association, speech, etc. with the principle of justice, when needs be.

  15. Pierce, FWIW, when I think of "justice" I'm thinking of it more or less in Rawlsian terms ("justice as fairness," etc.). In those terms (1) liberty is a necessary part of justice and (2) there's very little justice in North Korea.

    And I still insist that Benson's characterization of the Civil Rights movement is indefensible — un-American, un-Christian, the very antithesis of "prophetic."

  16. Oh, won't it be fun to learn how a senile president lead the church in an era when the gerontocracy has, once again, produced a senile prophet!

    I can't wait to see what we learn this time around.

  17. You are certainly free to insist, but not addressing questions keeps your comments surface-level.

    "Benson's characterization of the Civil Rights movement is indefensible" I would like to see you address Jeff's post about Communism without resorting to supporting communism. I also presented a small defense.

    the very antithesis of "prophetic."
    What is your basis for comparison? Examples in the Bible? You'll be hard-pressed. Let's just take one example: Paul–a person who recommended that slaves be submissive to their masters and women to remain silent in church. He also was on the wrong side of history in regards to some social or political issues.

    I'm not going to argue with you about whether or not Benson was on the wrong side of history (I think it deserves a greater investigation than you're giving it), but your idea that an apostle cannot be on the wrong side of history on a socio-political issue is debatable.

  18. Not "apostle," Pierce; I said prophet. But I suppose we will differ on our definition of even that term. I certainly don't consider Paul a prophet; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel — those are prophets, and they are the basis of my comparison. The prophet is not just anyone who claims divine inspiration, but someone who "speaks truth to power" and uses his eloquence to champion the cause of justice and hold his society and its leaders accountable for their moral and ethical failings.

    Nathan, when he said to David "Thou art the man!" was very much a prophet. Ditto for Isaiah's condemnation of insatiable greed, "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field…."

    That's prophecy. And that's a kind of thing we never heard from Benson. We heard it from King.

    I've never understood the propensity for extending the title prophet to include everyone from premodern nomadic patriarchs like Abraham to contemporary manager-bureaucrats like Thomas Monson — it dilutes the meaning of the term.

    I certainly encourage you to engage in some "greater investigation" of the issues I've raised. You seem like a fair-minded man, and if you ever do look seriously into the history of the Civil Rights movement I trust you to draw some fair conclusions.

  19. The civil rights movement is absolutely a tool of the power hungry. Liberalism, Socialism, Communism, Progressivism, it has many titles, but it's goal is the same: power. Look at Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, look at those in power kindling the flames to incite riots across the country over imaginary police killing of blacks. Sure, there have been a few noble, pure-hearted civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King. But the vast majority are out to take advantage of it for themselves.

    The evils of centralized government is one of the main themes of the Book of Mormon. In fact other than the testimony of Jesus Christ, I'd argue that the virtues of liberty, democracy and decentralized government is the biggest message of the Book of Mormon.

    It also permeates the Doctrine & Covenants and our Articles of Faith. To run or hide from that is to deny much of modern day LDS Scripture.

    It's sad to see the Church become so passive and afraid to offend wicked people. We have the power of the Lord behind us, is the Lord going to abandon us when we speak righteous truths boldly, nobly, and independently? When our people proudly stood for it in Ohio, Missouri and Nauvoo, and they were driven out did the Lord abandon us then? No. He made us stronger.

    Are these people going to stop the hate and anger toward us if we simply cow-tow to their demands? Of course not, Satan will stop at nothing to destroy us if he can. Hiding truth and goodness won't make it go away.

    I'm tired of the "We're Mormon and we're exactly like you" movement in the Church. Let's get back to, "We're Mormon and we're a peculiar people". We stand for things that, in the prophesied latter day world, is considered crazy. And we're okay with that…

    Because "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"

  20. The civil rights movement is absolutely a tool of the power hungry. Liberalism, Socialism, Communism, Progressivism, it has many titles, but it's goal is the same: power. Look at Sharpton, Jesse Jackson….

    Did it ever occur to you that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson actually have very little power? They have only the simulacrum of power, the ability to get in front of a TV camera and entertain us. If you think that's power.

    And suppose you're right. Suppose it's true that the Civil Rights movement became a tool of people you dislike. Did you ever wonder how that might have happened? Do you suppose that would have happened if people like Ezra Taft Benson had stepped in and joined the fight for equality, instead of standing aside and letting their enemies be the ones to do the right thing?

    To see what I'm getting at, please read my revision of the Good Samaritan parable above.

    In order to get a better idea of where Benson got some of his stupidest ideas, I read a talk given by Mark E. Petersen at BYU in 1954, a couple months after Brown v. Board of Education. (Now, Thurgood Marshall — he had power, the kind of power Sharpton and Jackson only dream about.) Peterson's talk is a real lulu, replete with all the stomach-turning Mormon nonsense about black people deserving their oppression because of their premortal behavior, etc.

    It's revolting trash, and it's an excellent example of Mormonism's hijacking its own theology in the defense of rank evil, but it does help me understand Benson a little better. Had he not been so obedient a Mormon, he might have seen through the astounding bigotry of his churchly milieu, but no. To paraphrase the old programmer's dictum: Mormon Garbage In, Mormon Garbage Out.

    During the great moral crisis of his day, Benson chose evil over good. But feel free to honor him as much as you like. In the meantime — here's to the great truths of Mormon belief and history! May the whole world come to know them! Let us all study the exemplary Ezra Taft Benson!

  21. Did it ever occur to you that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson actually have very little power? They have only the simulacrum of power, the ability to get in front of a TV camera and entertain us. If you think that's power.

    You're blind as a bat if you don't believe that's real power. That's the only kind of power there is: When we're entertained while it's happening.

    Bread and Circuses, and you're eating it up.

  22. No, power implies the ability to get something done, to implement one's own agenda (or keep someone else from implementing theirs). Anyway, you're misapplying the "bread and circuses" idea here. The idea is that the clowns divert our attention from real politics in a way that allows the elite to do its thing behind our backs. In the bread-and-circuses model, Sharpton and Jackson don't have power, they serve power.

    If you have the stomach for some unpleasant realities and want to see a more visceral kind of power in action, check out these photos of black people getting what Mormons like Mark Petersen said they deserve (warning — real photos of lynchings*):



    This sort of thing was very much a known part of the America of Ezra Taft Benson, but neither he nor the Church ever considered it anything worth getting worked up over. If the communists did join the fight against this sort of thing, that just shows their moral superiority compared to Benson.

    Anyway, check out the photos, and maybe study up on the real history of the Civil Rights movement, and then tell me that the movement was "phony."

    * Considering the fate of Joseph Smith, you'd think the Church might have been especially sensitive to the injustice of lynching. But apparently not. Note also that the first of these photos is actually a postcard, which says something (I'm not sure what) about the moral depravity of the "good old days."

  23. Anyway, check out the photos, and maybe study up on the real history of the Civil Rights movement, and then tell me that the movement was "phony."

    I did. It's phony.

    What else do you have?

  24. "Not "apostle," Pierce; I said prophet.
    Well, most of your quotes and comments come from Benson's time as an apostle vs. time as church president. So there's that.

    Secondly, there are different schools of thought in Mormonism about what a church President is. I personally believe that the President has the keys of prophesy and revelation for the church, but I don't see them authoritatively exercised very often. So in some way, we are in agreement that Thomas Monson has not demonstrated the kinds of prophesying that Isaiah did, and that the word prophet is overused. But not all prophesied, and not all prophesied all of the time. Our current model seems to fit more with the NT model of Apostles and successors rather than the OT prophets you named.

    For the sake of argument though, would you consider Jonah a classical prophet? Was he not on the wrong side of history as well with his feelings towards decent people in Ninevah? Your own standard of perfect biblical prophets falls down on itself if you think the people that you mentioned did not have their own cultural biases. It was a constant struggle that Yahweh dealt with.

    "And that's a kind of thing we never heard from Benson. We heard it from King."
    Personally, I believe that MLK was called by God to do what he did and was a prophet to the black community. Benson's calling was different.

    "Do you suppose that would have happened if people like Ezra Taft Benson had stepped in and joined the fight for equality, instead of standing aside and letting their enemies be the ones to do the right thing?
    Comments like this and others only demonstrates your cultural and historical bias and turn your position into self-righteous balderdash. Ok, Benson didn't trust the Civil Rights movement. He saw it being exploited by his enemies and called it out. In the end, the Civil Rights movement was successful in granting rights to black Americans and so we now celebrate it.

    He, along with many others, were probably peppered with biases that they inherited, and the 60's was a revolution–a turning point. I don't find all people to be below contempt for not pioneering revolutionary thinking. I am happy for and am proud of the people that did. For you, however, it seems that everybody in the past must be as forward-thinking as you currently are or else they are contemptible trash.
    See my comment about Ferguson. Say it sparks something that brings about change in police training and culture. My comments about the riots and protests would put me on the wrong side of history. Yet I don't currently think I am unreasonable in my feelings. I would be happy with the possible future outcome, but I don't support the current movement because of the strings attached. Hopefully future people like you can cut me slack.

  25. "Considering the fate of Joseph Smith, you'd think the Church might have been especially sensitive to the injustice of lynching. But apparently not."

    Now the collective church supported lynching. And you base that off of Benson's beliefs in the Communist ties to the civil rights movement, as well as Mark E. Peterson's belief in segregation and his notions of pre-existence determining one's race and place of birth (which most people today disregard). You're making some fabulous points.

    P.S. You're welcome to back up your assertion that Peterson claimed that blacks deserved to be lynched. I've never read anything of the sort, and his apparent racism did not ever seem to cross that line. And I don't need to see a barrage of questionable quotes from him–I don't agree with a bunch of stuff he said. Let's talk specifically about lynchings since you brought it up.

  26. For what it's worth, OK, ETB seemed to reel in the rhetoric pretty sharply once he was president of the church. Whether he did the reeling himself, was reeled in by the greater Church leadership, was prompted by the Lord, or some combination of all these, we don't know. I can handle an Apostle spouting the things that he did–a President of the Church in the modern era, not quite as much.

    Illuminated, I will try to keep this as civil as possible, but: had the rhetoric of 1960s LDS leaders like ETB and Mark Petersen won the day, I would not have been able to be sealed to my wife in the temple. I don't pretend to impose our modern sensibilities of racial equality and justice on past leaders, but by the same token, we cannot put blinders on and try to put a positive spin on their views. They spoke from behind a glass, darkly, and we just the tiniest bit more light now.

  27. Well, just found a disagreeable quote from President McKay during his tenure, but at least it was framed as an opinion. I stand by my statement: I don't expect President McKay to have the racial sensibilities of a current leader, but I won't pretend he didn't say something repugnant, either.

  28. Pierce, maybe one difference between us has to do with sins of commission vs. sins of omission. I'm talking about the latter, you're talking about the former.

    I never said the Church actively supported lynching (where did that come from?), only that it knew about lynching and didn't see it as worth its attention.* Compare to the way the Church mobilized against the Equal Rights Amendment and gay marriage. I find these sorts of choices revealing.

    Maybe this is one reason I brought up the Parable of the Good Samaritan — because it characterizes sins of omission as un-Christlike.

    I bring up lynching as a graphic example of just why there was a Civil Rights movement in the first place. Benson says it was because of communist agitation and had no legitimate basis; it was "phony." I'm saying no, it was an authentic movement and had an obviously legitimate basis — just look at the photos. Would black people really need the prompting of outside agitators to mobilize against such horrific injustice? To think so is ludicrous, yea, even contemptible.

    To the extent that communists did get involved, then hey, they got one thing right, and shame on everyone else for not pitching in to make this a better country. And shame on Benson for using communist involvement as a pretext for staying on the sidelines; no, worse than that, for harming the movement by delegitimizing it.

    FWIW, I don't consider Benson to be utter trash. I just don't think he deserves our respect as a moral leader. What's contemptible is the idea that we should look to him for moral guidance. Here the main difference between you and me might be that I see his Civil Rights stance as staining his entire moral character (basically by revealing a larger lack of Christian empathy for the least among us), whereas you see it as separate from his other qualities.

    As for Jonah, he's a strange case. He does the right thing, but only under duress. And he seems less concerned with improving the moral climate of Nineveh than with seeing other people get whacked. Is he admirable? Not all that much.

    Here I would add to my definition of "prophet" the idea that the prophet is motivated by a genuine concern for justice. The Book of Jonah doesn't address this question directly, but it certainly suggests that Jonah's primary motivators are things like fear and a desire for revenge.

    FWIW, I would suggest also that the Book of Jonah is not really a book of prophecy, but a book about a prophet. The prophecy itself is not the theme. Unlike the Book of Isaiah, etc., in the Book of Jonah there's hardly any actual prophesying going on. What is Nineveh doing that is so bad? The typical prophetic book would have catalogued its sins exhaustively, but all we're told here is that the Ninevites are wicked. The fact that we aren't told any more than that suggests the book is not itself a prophetic book.

    So, no, I don't consider Jonah a prophet. He's a literary construct, a prophet-character created not to deliver prophetic truths but to play a role in a story about individual repentance and forgiveness. He's not really a prophet, he just plays one in a story.

    * And where did I ever say "Peterson claimed that blacks deserved to be lynched"? I have to say, that sort of misrepresentation of my position is really beneath you.

  29. Here is the quote that I found questionable:

    "If you have the stomach for some unpleasant realities and want to see a more visceral kind of power in action, check out these photos of black people getting what Mormons like Mark Petersen said they deserve (warning — real photos of lynchings*)"

    I don't see my challenge as a misrepresentation, based on your wordage. You asserted that Mark Petersen said they deserve lynching. What did I miss?

  30. "Here the main difference between you and me…

    Indeed, we do disagree about this. You can pick a philosophical flaw, a personality flaw, a political view, an action, or a sound bite and rest everything on that and let that entirely discredit someone. Sometimes it may be appropriate. My own wisdom tells me, however, that it is rash to do so. We start getting into the "perfect person" bit. You are free to say that ETB could not be a moral leader because he didn't support the Civil Rights movement. Another person could say that MLK should not be viewed as a moral leader because he had extra marital affairs. At some point, a person is going to be wrong about something or do something wrong. Is that person no longer credible? We will all answer that differently. But do you really think that a person's opinion on one thing discredits his ideas about an unrelated thing, despite the wisdom of it? I don't.

    My opinion is that you are obstinate about people who weren't excited about the civil rights movement during a really polarizing time. Your criteria is just not realistic.

    There's also a whole other discussion about whether or not people hold up apostles, prophets, church presidents, etc. as upstanding moral role models, or if they are imperfect vessels that the Lord uses to accomplish his purpose. I think Jesus is the upstanding moral role model, and they are merely witnesses of him and have authority in the church.

    So far you have found reasons to excuse two biblical prophets/apostles. It seems like a double standard to me. How about Hosea. Is it ok to marry a prostitute to teach people a lesson? Should we reflect his example? Or is that perhaps a reflection of his culture and time?