Ezra Taft Benson and Politics

In most political discussions in the US church, if one starts to advocate the liberal policies which most liberals feel are abundant throughout our standard works, many of our conservative sisters and brothers will cite Ezra Taft Benson in 'denouncing' such views. While we have a great love for the service President Benson gave, especially while President of the church, we strongly disagree with his political opinions. We often hear that his opinions were not his opinions, but rather 'the truth' or 'doctrine.' In an effort to address the view that Ezra Taft Benson's political opinions were doctrine, we present this condensed (and admittedly cherry-picked) summary of the reactions and interactions of Elder Benson with his church leaders on the topic of politics.

dr_strangelove.jpgBenson was more moderate politically at the beginning of his tenure as Sec. of Agriculture, even criticizing senator McCarthy.[1] By the end of his time as Sec. of Agriculture his ideology was almost identical with the Birch Society, which views were described by such right-wingers as Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, and Ronald Reagan as “ultra-conservative,” “extremist,” “paranoid,” “fanatic fringe,” or “lunatic fringe.”[2] Elder Benson said the following in October 1961 general conference: “No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction.”[3] After this he was chastised by the First Presidency.[4] In the talk he also claimed there was a "secret alliance" between the Social Democrats and the hard-core Communist conspiracy.”[5]

As a result of the Birch Society rhetoric and ideology being used in conference the First Presidency issued a statement saying "we do not think dividing our own people, casting reflections on our government officials, or calling everybody a Communist who do[es] not agree with the political views of certain individuals" and added that church "leaders, or even members, should not become hysterical or take hasty action, engage in discussions, and certainly should not join these [anti-Communist] groups, some of whom, at least, are in for the money they can make out of it.”[6]

Benson and his son (who was employed by the Birch Society and was the head person of the Utah branch[7]) continued insinuating that the Birch ideology was the most in harmony with the gospel, which led the First Presidency again in 1963 to issue this statement:

"We deplore the presumption of some politicians, especially officers, co-ordinators and member of the John Birch Society, who undertake to align the Church or its leadership with their political views.”[8]

Rex E. Lee (founder of BYU Law School and future President of BYU), wrote in September 1963 about the difficulty of separating Benson’s partisan statements from his church position. He observed, “It is regrettable, however, that Brother Benson has detracted from his effectiveness as a Church leader through his active support of the John Birch Society.” He continued, “I have found myself periodically called upon to remind my friends, usually without success, that when Elder Benson acts to promote the ends of extremist organization and leaders he is not declaring Church doctrine.”[9]

In October 1963 Conference Benson called the members to “come to the aid” of anti-Communist “patriots, programs and organizations" contrary to the earlier First Presidency message.[10] As a result, he was called to preside in the European mission starting in December of that year.[11] The day after this call was extended, President Brown of the First Presidency warned BYU students against “extremists and self-styled patriots who label all those who disagree with them as Communists.”[12] In a more obvious allusion to Benson, Brown said that the First Presidency “deplore any attempt made by individuals to ascribe to the Church personal beliefs which they entertain.” [13] The Deseret News also noted that President Brown said to BYU students: “A lot of this nonsense gets disseminated by the professional, self-styled anti-Communists who make a comfortable living scaring people all over the country and who have a financial stake in making the Communists look stronger than we.”[14]

President McKay's son said in a letter:

“We shall all be relieved when Elder Benson ceases to resist counsel and returns to a concentration on those affairs befitting his office. It is my feeling that there will be an immediate and noticeable curtailment of his Birch Society activities.”[15]

At his farewell, Reed Benson complained to BYU president Ernest Wilkinson that his father had been “‘stabbed’ in the back.”[16] Nine days after the farewell Joseph Fielding Smith (then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) said in a letter:

“I am glad to report to you that it will be some time before we hear anything from Brother Benson, who is now on his way to Great Britain where I suppose he will be, at least for the next two years. When he returns I hope his blood will be purified.”[17]

When this letter was picked up by the press he clarified by saying “I meant that when he returned he would be free of all political ties.”[18]

At his farewell 24% of Benson’s talk quoted verbatim from the Blue Book of the John Birch Society and another 10% paraphrased this publication.[19] Benson’s talk repeated such views as the American civil rights movement was “phony” and actually “part of the pattern for the Communist takeover of America.”[20] He predicted that within ten years the United States would be ruled by a Communist dictatorship which “will include military occupation, concentration camps, tortures, terror and all that is required to enable about 3% of the population to rule the other 97% as slaves.”[21] He promised such dire consequences “unless we join with those small but determined and knowledgeable patriots.” He added: “Words will not stop the communists.”[22] Benson said that the U.S. government was becoming so infiltrated that American citizens “can no longer resist the Communist conspiracy as free citizens, but can resist Communist tyranny only by themselves becoming conspirators against established government.”[23]

In 1965 President McKay approved the new official church position that endorsed “full civil rights for any person, regardless of race, color or creed.”[24] However, Elder Benson then said the following in General Conference:

"Before I left for Europe I warned how the communists were using the civil rights movement to promote revolution and eventual takeover of this country. When are we going to wake up?... Now, Brethren, the Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the Church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostasy for the unwary and the unfaithful."

His talk was censored as parts referring to LDS “traitors” as well as his assessment of the civil rights movement as Communist and revolutionary were removed.[25]

On 2 September 1965 Reed Benson issued the following memorandum to Birch Society members:

"It is common knowledge that the Civil Rights Movement is Communist controlled, influenced and dominated... Our founder and guide, Mr. Robert Welch, has instructed us that when necessary we must adopt the communist technique in our ever present battle against Godless Communism. It is urged that in the coming weeks the Utah Chapters begin a whispering campaign and foster rumors that the Civil Rights groups are going to organize demonstrations in Salt Lake City in connection with the forthcoming LDS conference... A few well placed comments will soon mushroom out of control and before the conference begins there will be such a feeling of unrest and distrust that the populace will hardly know who to believe. The news media will play it to the very hilt. No matter what the Civil Rights leaders may try to say to deny it the seed will have been sown and again the Civil Rights movement will suffer a telling blow."[26]

In January 1966 Benson endorsed the Birch Society and its program at stake conferences and at the LDS institute in Logan, Utah.[27] He was again chastised.[28] From the First Presidency meeting minutes:

"President McKay suggested that Elder Benson might not be assigned to stake conferences if he referred to the John Birch Society. The President then said that Elder Benson should be instructed not to discuss the Birch Society in any meeting, and that he should not advocate this group."[29]

President McKay then authorized Elder Peterson of the Twelve to publicly attack the Birch Society.[30] In his editorial he proclaimed that the church had "nothing to do with racists, nothing to do with Birchers, nothing to do with any slanted group" and further warned Mormons to "avoid extremes and extremists."[31] Elder Lee, like Elder Peterson, was frustrated with Elder Benson's actions. He told Ernest Wilkinson that Elder Benson labelled as a Communist “anyone who didn’t agree with Brother Benson’s mind.”[32] Elder Lee in 1966 General Conference said: “We hear vicious attacks on public officials without the opportunity being given to them to make a defense or a rebuttal to the evil diatribes and character assassinations.” He added “that the sowing of the seeds of hatred, suspicion, and contention in any organization is destructive of the purpose of life and unbecoming to the children of God.” Then pointedly: “I would that all who are called to high places in the Church would determine, as did the Apostle to the Gentiles, to know and to preach nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “The absolute test of the divinity of the calling of any officer in the Church is this: Is he in harmony with the brethren of that body to which he belongs? When we are out of harmony, we should look to ourselves first to find the way to unity.” Apostles Smith, Lee, and Petersen had already indicated that Benson was not in harmony with his quorum.[33] Elder Lee concluded his talk with this assessment:

“A President of the Church has told us where we may expect to find false leaders: First, the hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth. Second the proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings.”[34]

Elder Lee’s statements were an intentional insinuation concerning Elder Benson.[35]

In October 1966 Elder Benson gave a response to his critics in his General Conference talk:

“There are some who apparently feel that the fight for freedom is separate from the Gospel. They express it in several ways, but it generally boils down to this: Just live the gospel; there’s no need to get involved in trying to save freedom and the Constitution or stop communism. Should we counsel people ‘Just live your religion-there’s no need to get involved in the fight for freedom? No we should not, because our stand for freedom is a most basic part of our religion. We will be given a chance to choose between conflicting counsel given by some,”

and observed:

“All men are entitled to inspiration, but only one man is the Lord’s mouthpiece. Some lesser men have in the past, and will in the future, use their offices unrighteously. Some will, ignorantly or otherwise, use it to promote false counsel; some will use it to lead the unwary astray; some will use it to persuade us that all is well in Zion; some will use it to cover and excuse their ignorance.”[36]

The First Presidency and the Twelve’s president regarded Benson’s conference sermon as a criticism of every general authority except David O. McKay. “From this talk,” Counselor Tanner noted, “one would conclude that Brother Benson and President McKay stand alone among the General Authorities on the question of freedom.”[37] Joseph Fielding Smith “agreed heartily with Tanner’s objections to the talk in general.”[38] Brown added that Benson’s “talk is wholly objectionable because it does impugn the rest of us and our motives when we have advised the people to live their religion and stay away from extremist ideas and philosophies.”[39] Benson asked for approval to “mimeograph his talk for wider distribution” which the First Presidency disapproved.[40]

A few weeks later Benson repeated the talk and added:

“Sometimes from behind the pulpit, in our classrooms, in our Council meetings, and in our Church publications we hear, read or witness things that do not square with the truth. This is especially true where freedom is involved. He concluded, “Some lesser men [have] in the past, and will in the future, use their offices unrighteously. Some will lead the unwary astray... Learn to keep your eye on the Prophet. Let his inspired words be a basis for evaluating the counsel of all lesser authorities. I know I will be abused by some for what I have said.”[41]

When published this BYU devotional was censored.[42]

the_black_hammer.gifAlso in 1967 Benson approved the use of a recent talk as a foreward to an overtly racist book which featured the decapitated (and profusely bleeding) head of an African-American on its cover, titled “The Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence and White Alternatives, Foreward by The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson”[43]

A month after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination Elder Benson gave a BYU devotional in which he accused the US Supreme Court of treason and quoted from the Birch Society’s magazine about “the Communists and their Black Power fanatics.”[44] Ten days later President Brown delivered BYU’s commencement address saying “Beware of those who feel obliged to prove their own patriotism by calling into question the loyalty of others,” and concluded his remarks saying “At a time when radicals of right or left would inflame race against race, avoid those who preach evil doctrines of racism.”[45]

In October 1968 General Conference Benson described US government “welfare-state programs” as a “Communist-planned program of deception.”[46] When a mormon director of a government welfare program asked the First Presidency he was told: “Be assured, however, of this, that what this man said does not represent the position of the Church with respect to the subject of government aid, etc.” and emphasized that Benson’s “statements do not represent the church.”[47]

When President McKay died in 1970, his successors were two apostles who had been privately and publicly critical of Benson’s political ideology. As a result Elder Benson’s political activism was notably muted from 1970 to 1973.[48] When this period of silence began (right after McKay’s death and prior to General Conference), many ultra-conservatives were convinced that an anti-conservative First Presidency had muzzled him. Then many local LDS leaders received letters which began: “There are dangerous sinister trends developing within the church due to the liberal factions gaining control.”[49] The announcement urged all “those of the conservative mind” to “cast a dissenting vote against the liberal factions” of “the First Presidency with its social-democrat thinking” when the church met on 6 April 1970. This would remove from office the new presidency of Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and N. Eldon Tanner, all of whom opposed Benson’s ultra-conservative activism (Tanner was a socialist and served 20 years in Alberta’s Legislature in the Social Credit party which advocated the “alleviation of poverty” through “redistribution of income” and government establishment of “a just price for all goods.”[50])

In place of the First Presidency this proposal claimed that “Brother Benson will sound the trumpet [-] and thousands, yes tens of thousands, will heed his call and stand forth ready to sustain and support the fight for truth, right and liberty.” Thus they hoped that a general conference vote of ultra-conservatives would propel Benson into the office of church president in place of the current president and ahead of other senior apostles.[51]

Rather than dismissing this document as the work of a lone crank and giving it no further attention, Lee publicly denounced it two days before the sustaining vote of April 1970 conference. He told the general priesthood meeting that “there is one vicious story to the effect that one of our General Authorities is allegedly being urged to present himself to lead the Church contrary to the Lord’s revelation.” Lee indicated that this petition and its supporting documents “are finding their way into our Relief Society meetings, into priesthood quorums, firesides, institutes, and seminaries.”[52] President Smith was voted as President and many people noted that for the first time in “many years” Benson gave “his first non-political sermon” which many inferred was a result of specific instruction from the First Presidency.[53]

Henry D. Taylor, an Assistant to the Twelve, told of an incident in which Lee gave Benson an embarrassing rebuke during a meeting.[54] He said that individual apostles were giving formal presentations on various subjects. Benson’s assigned topic was the youth program, but he began presenting charts and quotes to show Communist influence in America and the need to teach anti-Communism to Mormon youth. Lee walked out while Benson was speaking, soon followed by the other apostles. Taylor and the other Assistants to the Twelve were the only ones who remained seating during Benson’s presentation.[55]

However, as sharply as Lee criticized Benson’s ultra-conservatism, he warmly expressed his personal friendship.[56]

When Spencer W Kimball became church president in 1973, Benson’s political crusade re-emerged. During the twelve years he presided at the weekly temple meetings of the apostles as President of the Twelve, Benson shared his political views whenever he chose.[57]

In 1980 Benson gave a BYU devotional on the “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets.” In the talk he proclaimed the right of the LDS prophet to speak and act politically. The First Presidency immediately issued a statement that Benson was misquoted.[58] However it was difficult to finesse his words for the capacity BYU audience in the 25,000-seat Marriot Center or for the thousands of other Utahns who listened to the broadcast on radio and television.[59] Within a week the First Presidency released a statement “reaffirm[ing] that we take no partisan stand as to candidates or political parties, and exercise no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices in these matters.”[60]

President Kimball’s son affirms that the church president bore no ill feeling toward his longtime associate but “was concerned about Elder Benson’s February 1980 talk at BYU.”[61] The president wanted “to protect the Church against being misunderstood as espousing ultra-conservative politics, or-in this case-espousing an unthinking ‘follow the leader’ mentality.” President Kimball asked Benson to apologize to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but they “were dissatisfied with his response.”[62] Kimball required him to explain himself to a combined meeting of all general authorities the following week.[63]

The moral of all this? Benson’s political talks were barely tolerated by church leaders and certainly do not represent the views of the church itself. Even if as President of the Church he had said “Thus saith the Lord...” and proceeded to issue ultra-conservative ideology, I wouldn’t just accept it without investigating it first. This is in harmony with church teachings:

"President Wilford Woodruff is a man of wisdom and experience, and we respect him, but we do not believe his personal views or utterances are revelations from God; and when 'Thus saith the Lord', comes from him, the saints investigate it: they do not shut their eyes and take it down like a pill." -Apostle Charles Penrose (Millennial Star 54:191)

Not only do my investigations and studies lead me to reject Benson’s politics, but even if I felt like he was right, the frequency with which he was rebuked for promulgating such views would give me pause on embracing them myself.

 

Notes:

  1. “Benson Aims New Blast At M’Carthy,” Salt Lake Tribune, 23 June 1954, 1; also see “Joe” McCarthy, McCarthyism: The Fight For America (New York: Devin-Adair Co., 1952); Arthur V. Watkins [U.S. senator from Utah], Enough Rope: The Inside Story of the Censure of Senator Joe McCarthy By His Colleagues: The Controversial Hearings that Signaled the End of a Turbulent Career and a Fearsome Era in American Public Life (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970); Allen J. Matusow, Joseph R. McCarthy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970); Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (New York: Stein and Day, 1982); Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate, 2d ed. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987); Richard M. Fried, Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Diana Trilling, “How McCarthy Gave Anti-Communism a Bad Name,” Newsweek 121 (11 Jan 1993): 32-33.
  2. “Goldwater Disagrees With John Birch Theories, Is Impressed by Members,” Sacramento Bee, 30 Mar. 1961, A-16; Russell Kirk’s statement about “fanatic fringe” appears in his and Benjamin L. Masse, “The Birchites,” America: National Catholic Weekly Review 106 (17 Feb. 1962): 643-45; Barry Goldwater introduced into Congressional Record 109 (1 Oct. 1963): 18453-55 a talk which lumped the Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan with the “so-called radical right” (18454); “Barry Disagrees With 3 Bircher Stands,” Sacramento Bee, 22 Oct. 1963, A-6; William F. Buckley, Jr., “Real Responsibility Lacking Still With Bircherite Members,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 6 Aug. 1965, A-4 [which dropped “paranoid” from his description of Birch “drivel” in his syndicated column]; “Bouquet for Buckley,” Christian Century 82 (25 Aug. 1965): 1028; Buckley [with supporting contribution by Goldwater, Kirk, and others], “The John Birch Society and the Conservative Movement,” National Review 17 (19 Oct. 1965): 914-20, 925-29; Ronald Reagan’s statement about the Birch Society’s “lunatic fringe” is in “Reagan Criticizes Birch Society and Its Founder,” Los Angeles Times, 24 Sept. 1965, I, 3, also quoted in Fletcher Knebel, “The GOP Attacks The John Birch Society,” Look 29 (28 Dec. 1965): 74; Goldwater to Harvey B. Schechter, 31 Oct. 1966, endorsing Schetcher’s pamphlet How to Listen To A John Birch Society Speaker, copy in J. D. Williams papers, Marriott Library. These anti-Birch critics had established their anti-Communist credentials in Buckley and L. Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning (Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1954); Buckley, The Committee and Its Critics: A Calm Review of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (New York: Putnam, 1962); Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (Shepherdsville, KY: Victor Publishing Company, 1960); Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives (Chicago: H. Regnery, 1954); Kirk, The American Cause (Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1957); Ronald Reagan, with Richard G. Hubler, Where’s the Rest of Me? (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1965), 157-84, 192, 199-200, 297-312. The books by Buckley, Kirk, and Goldwater appeared in the lists of “Approved Books” following The John Birch Society Bulletin (July 1961) in The White Book of The John Birch Society for 1961 (Belmont, MA: John Birch Society, 1961).
  3. Ezra Taft Benson, “The American Heritage of Freedom: A Plan of God,” Improvement Era 64 (Dec. 1961): 955.
  4. Hugh B. Brown statements, as quoted and paraphrased in Frederick S. Buchanan diary, 27 Oct. 1961. Buchanan walked into Brown’s office just as Benson was leaving.
  5. Ezra Taft Benson, “The American Heritage of Freedom: A Plan of God,” Improvement Era 64 (Dec. 1961): 955.
  6. Brown to Mrs. Alicia Bingham, 28 Dec. 1961, carbon copy in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”

  7. “Benson Son Leads Rightists in Utah,” New York Times, 19 May 1963, 55; “Benson’s Son Claims He Has Tripled Utah Birch Membership,” Washington Post, 20 May 1963, A-1; T. George Harris, “The Rampant Right Invades the GOP,” Look 27 (16 July 1963): 20; “Benson and Birch: Politics or Religion?” University of Utah Daily Utah Chronicle, 3 Dec. 1964, 2; “Utahn Heads Birch Office in Capital,” Deseret News, 16 Dec. 1964, A-13; Jules Witcover, “Bircher Benson,” The New Republic 152 (8 May 1965): 8-9; “Washington Report…Birchers Settle In,” Life 58 (18 June 1965): 43; “Birch Society Opens Washington Office Friday,” New York Times, 14 Sept. 1965, 20; “John Birch Society Representative Reed Benson,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 19 Sept. 1965, A-6; “Mormons and Politics: Benson’s Influence Helps Keep Growing Church on Conservative Track,” Wall Street Journal, 8 Aug. 1966, 1; “Gets Birch Job,” Salt Lake Tribune, 19 May 1967, B-4; Bryon Cannon Anderson, “Church and Birch in Utah,” senior paper, Univeristy of Utah, June 1966, 20, photocopy, Western Americana, Marriott Library; Reed A. Benson to Dean M. Hansen, 22 May 1967, in Dean Maurice Hansen, “An Analysis of the 1964 Idaho Second Congressional District Election Campaign,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1967, 50,221.

  8. “Church Sets Policy on Birch Society,” Deseret News, 4 Jan. 1963, B-1; also “Mormon Head Clarifies Stand on Birch Society: McKay Lashes at Those Who Try to Align Church With Group’s Partisan Views,” Los Angeles Times, 4 Jan. 1963, Pt. I, 5; “LDS Leaders Reject Any Idea of Link Between Church, Birch Society,” Sacramento Bee, 4 Jan. 1963; “Reprint of Statement From the First Presidency,” The Messenger: Distributed By the Presiding Bishopric of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 1963, 1.

  9. Rex E. Lee to Ralph R. Harding, 30 Sept. 1963, and Ralph A. Britsch to Ralph R. Harding, 8 Oct. 1963, photocopies in fd 2, box 4, King papers.
  10. “Elder Benson To Direct Europe Mission,” Deseret News, 24 Oct. 1963, A-1; Improvement Era 66 (Dec. 1963): 1065; “Mormons to Send Benson Overseas,” New York Times, 25 Oct. 1963, 18; “Apostle Benson Denies Being Sent Into ‘Exile’ for Political Views,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 20 Oct. 1963, A-7; “Mormon Church Sends Benson to Europe,” U.S. News and World Report 55 (Nov. 1963): 12; “Mormon Church Is Gaining in Strength Despite Tensions,” New York Times, 27 Dec. 1965, 18; Hansen, “Analysis of the 1964 Idaho Second Congressional District Election Campaign,” 52; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 372.
  11. “Elder Benson To Direct Europe Mission,” Deseret News, 24 Oct. 1963, A-1; Improvement Era 66 (Dec. 1963): 1065; “Mormons to Send Benson Overseas,” New York Times, 25 Oct. 1963, 18; “Apostle Benson Denies Being Sent Into ‘Exile’ for Political Views,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 20 Oct. 1963, A-7; “Mormon Church Sends Benson to Europe,” U.S. News and World Report 55 (Nov. 1963): 12; “Mormon Church Is Gaining in Strength Despite Tensions,” New York Times, 27 Dec. 1965, 18; Hansen, “Analysis of the 1964 Idaho Second Congressional District Election Campaign,” 52; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 372.
  12. “Church Leader Rebuffs Self-Styled Patriots,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26 Oct. 1963, 9.
  13. “Church Leader Rebuffs Self-Styled Patriots,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26 Oct. 1963, 9.
  14. “President Brown Supports U.N., Hits Extremists,” Deseret News, 26 Oct. 1963, B-1.
  15. Robert R. McKay to Ralph R. Harding, 18 Oct. 1963, photocopy in fd 2, box 4, King papers, and in fd 22, box 5, Buerger papers; quotes from letter first published in “Ike, LDS Leaders Thank Harding,” 1; “Ike Praises Idaho Solon,” A-4; also Anderson, “Church and Birch in Utah,” 12. Robert McKay’s letter was printed in full in “Bill Hall’s Political Scratchpad,” Idaho State Journal, 23 Feb. 1964, 4. For 18 October as the date on which McKay told Benson of his mission assignment, see Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 372. For Robert R. McKay, see Gibbons, David O. McKay, 333; Improvement Era 69 (Dec. 1966): 1131, 1152; Improvement Era 70 (June 1967): 22, 80, 109; Improvement Era 70 (Dec. 1967): 33, 87, 107; Improvement Era 71 (Dec. 1968): 34, 108; Improvement Era 72 (June 1969): 116; Improvement Era 72 (Dec. 1969): 24, 110.
  16. Ernest L. Wilkinson diary, 14 Dec. 1963; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 372, gives a very different view of the Bensons’ reaction to this mission assignment.
  17. Ernest L. Wilkinson diary, 14 Dec. 1963; Joseph Fielding Smith to Congressman Ralph Harding, 23 Dec. 1963, photocopy in fd 2, box 4, King papers, in fd 3, box 42, Poll papers, and in fd 22, box 5, Buerger papers. Apostle Smith’s letter was first quoted in “Ike, LDS Leaders Thank Harding,” 1; “Ike Praises Idaho Solon,” A-4; also Anderson, “Church and Birch in Utah,” 12.
  18. “Ike Praises Idaho Solon,” A-4.
  19. B. Delworth Gardner, N. Keith Roberts, E. Boyd Wennergren preface to an annotated typescript of Benson’s “We Must Become Alerted and Informed,” Utah State Historical Society. In the margins are the page number of the Blue Book from which Benson’s talk quoted or paraphrased.
  20. Ezra Taft Benson, “We Must Become Alerted and Informed,” 10; also “Elder Benson Links Reds to [Civil] Rights Furor,” Deseret News, 14 Dec. 1963, B-5; “Communism Moving In on U.S., Benson Warns,” Salt Lake Tribune, 14 Dec. 1963, 28. Compare Ross R. Barnett, governor of Mississippi, “The Rape Of Our Constitution and Civil Rights,” in the Birch Society’s American Opinion 6 (Sept. 1963): 20-23; John Rousselot, “Civil Rights: Communist Betrayal Of A Good Cause,” American Opinion 7 (Feb. 1964): 1-11.
  21. Benson, “We Must Become Alerted and Informed,” 8,9,10.
  22. Benson, “We Must Become Alerted and Informed,” 8,9,10.
  23. Benson, “We Must Become Alerted and Informed,” 8,9,10.
  24. “Give Full Civil Equality to All, LDS Counselor Brown Asks,” Salt Lake Tribune, 7 Oct. 1963, 1; Hugh B. Brown, “The Fight Between Good and Evil,” Improvement Era 66 (Dec. 1963): 1058; Sterling M. McMurrin, “A Note on the 1963 Civil Rights Statement,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 (Summer 1979): 60-63; “Benson Ties Rights Issue to Reds in Mormon Rift,” Washington Post, 13 Apr. 1965, A-5.
  25. “President McKay Emphasizes Individual,” with subheading for Elder Benson’s talk: “Restored Gospel,” Salt Lake Tribune, 7 Apr. 1965, A-5; compare Improvement Era 68 (June 1965): 539. In 1968 Deseret Book Co. published (and reprinted in 1969) Benson’s Civil Rights: Tool of Communist Deception, 3, which stated: “The so-called civil rights movement as it exists today is used as a Communist program for revolution.” The addition of “used as” softened his original words as reported in “Mormon Leaders Heard By 25,000,” New York Times, 2 Oct. 1967, 52.
  26. Reed A. Benson, “Memo to the Utah Chapters,” 2 Sept. 1965, on letterhead of the Birch Society, photocopy in Williams papers; Quinn G. McKay to J. D. Williams, 20 May 1966, Williams papers.
  27. “LDS Apostle Backs Up Birch Group,” Salt Lake Tribune, 16 Jan. 1966, B-14; “Speak Up! Says Ezra to Save Your Soul and Maybe Your Country,” Fact Finder 24 (28 Feb. 1966); Anderson, “Church and Birch in Utah,” 6.
  28. “Copy of First Presidency minutes digest 3-3-66,” in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”
  29. Campbell and Poll, Hugh B. Brown, 259; minutes of meeting on 15 Mar. 1966 with David O. McKay, N. Eldon Tanner, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Mark E. Peterson in Huntsville, Utah. In view of his access to these minutes and those of 3 Mar. 1966, First Presidency secretary Francis M. Gibbons has made the curiously emphatic overstatement that McKay gave Benson “unqualified support, which included agreement with Elder Benson’s strong views about the dangers of international Communism, an agreement that continued without change until the time of his death and that included encouragement for his associate to continue to speak out on the subject” (Gibbons, David O. McKay, 372).
  30. Meeting minutes of 15 Mar. 1966.
  31. “Politics and Religion,” Deseret News “Church news,” 26 Mar. 1966, 16. Although opposed to the Birch Society, Peterson also warned Mormons against “creeping socialism and its companion, insidious, atheistic communism.” See his “New Evidence for the Book of Mormon,” Improvement Era 65 (June 1962): 457.
  32. Ernest L. Wilkinson diary, 13 May 1963.
  33. Meeting minutes of 15 Mar. 1966.
  34. April 1966 Conference Report… (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1966), 64-65,66,67,68. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 372, 385, observes that Benson saw no difference between his religious beliefs and his political convictions.
  35. Telephone conversation, 7 Nov. 1992, between D. Michael Quinn and L. Brant Goates, who described his father-in-law’s April 1966 address as “an insinuation” concerning Benson.
  36. Ezra Taft Benson, reading copy of general conference talk, 2 Oct. 1966, photocopy in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”
  37. N. Eldon Tanner to Joseph Fielding Smith, 31 Oct. 1966, Hugh B. Brown to David O. McKay, 9 Nov. 1966, with notation in Brown’s handwriting of First Presidency decision on 16 Nov. 1966, all attached to Benson’s reading copy of his October 1966 conference talk, and all in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”
  38. N. Eldon Tanner to Joseph Fielding Smith, 31 Oct. 1966, Hugh B. Brown to David O. McKay, 9 Nov. 1966, with notation in Brown’s handwriting of First Presidency decision on 16 Nov. 1966, all attached to Benson’s reading copy of his October 1966 conference talk, and all in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”
  39. N. Eldon Tanner to Joseph Fielding Smith, 31 Oct. 1966, Hugh B. Brown to David O. McKay, 9 Nov. 1966, with notation in Brown’s handwriting of First Presidency decision on 16 Nov. 1966, all attached to Benson’s reading copy of his October 1966 conference talk, and all in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”
  40. N. Eldon Tanner to Joseph Fielding Smith, 31 Oct. 1966, Hugh B. Brown to David O. McKay, 9 Nov. 1966, with notation in Brown’s handwriting of First Presidency decision on 16 Nov. 1966, all attached to Benson’s reading copy of his October 1966 conference talk, and all in “Hugh B. Brown’s File on the John Birch Society.”
  41. Audio tape of Ezra Taft Benson, “Our Immediate Responsibility,” devotional address to students of Brigham Young University, 25 Oct. 1966, available from BYU Media Services.
  42. Ezra Taft Benson, “Our Immediate Responsibility,” Speeches of the Year (Provo, UT: Extension Publications, Division of Continuing Education, Brigham Young University, 1966), esp. 8, 13-14.
  43. Wes Andrews and Clyde Dalton, The Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence and White Alternatives (Oakland, CA: Desco Press, 1967), 13, copy in library, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  44. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon Warns America,” address at BYU devotional, 21 May 1968, transcript, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, Vertical File, Special Collections, Marriott Library, and transcript in Moss papers; also “Road to Anarchy: Benson Blisters Supreme Court,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 22 May 1968, A-11; “Benson Warns on Commies in Talk at BYU Assembly,” Provo Daily Herald, 22 May 1968, 24.
  45. Campbell and Poll, Hugh B. Brown, 259-60.
  46. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Proper Role of Government,” Improvement Era 71 (Dec. 1968): 53.
  47. Hugh B. Brown to Philip D. Thorpe, Director of the Community Action Program in Provo, Utah, 18 Oct. 1968, carbon copy in Campbell papers, with attached copy of Benson’s October 1968 conference address, “The Proper Role of Government,” Improvement Era 71 (Dec. 1968): 51-53, with underlined passage (53), also typed copy of letter in fd 1, box 51, Poll papers.
  48. However, the Mormon-Birch Utah Independent announced Benson’s addresses at Boston rallies “for the American Idea” in 1970 and 1972 where all the other speakers were either staff members of American Opinion or longtime authors of its articles. See “Benson, Skousen Speak at New England Rally,” Utah Independent, 9 July 1970, 1, and “Benson Is Guest of Honor,” Utah Independent, 30 June 1972, 8, and compare to table of contents pages in previous issues of American Opinion, also list of the Birch Society’s national council in “The John Birch society: A Report,” Advertising Supplement to Los Angeles Times, 27 Sept. 1964, 7.
  49. “TO ALL STAKE PRESIDENTS INTERESTED IN TRUTH AND LIBERTY THIS CALL IS MADE,” photocopy of typed document, undated, in fd 22, box 5, Buerger papers, with signed copies by J. Wilson Bartlett in LDS archives, and in fd 3, box, 124, Hinckley papers.
  50. G. Homer Durham et al., N. Eldon Tanner: His Life and Service (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982), 57-89; Encyclopedia of Canada, 6 vols. (Toronto: University Associates of Canada, 1948), 6:41; Encyclopedia Candaiana, 10 vols. (Ottawa: Canadiana Co./Grolier Society of Canada, 1957-58), 9:353.
  51. “TO ALL STAKE PRESIDENTS INTERESTED IN TRUTH AND LIBERTY THIS CALL IS MADE,” photocopy of typed document, undated, in fd 22, box 5, Buerger papers, with signed copies by J. Wilson Bartlett in LDS archives, and in fd 3, box, 124, Hinckley papers.
  52. Harold B. Lee, “To the Defenders of the Faith,” 4 Apr. 1970, Improvement Era 73 (June 1970): 64.
  53. Frederick S. Buchanan diary, 21 July 1970; Ezra Taft Benson, “A World Message,” Improvement Era 73 (June 1970): 95-97, whose only political reference was prophetic: “The time must surely come when the Iron Curtain will be melted down and the Bamboo Curtain shattered.”
  54. Statement of Henry D. Taylor to his friend Mark K. Allen as reported in Allen interview, 3 May 1984, by Alison Bethke Gayek.
  55. Statement of Henry D. Taylor to his friend Mark K. Allen as reported in Allen interview, 3 May 1984, by Alison Bethke Gayek.
  56. Harold B. Lee to Ezra Taft Benson, 12 Feb. 1972, in Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 422.
  57. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 439.
  58. Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals In Following the Prophets,” transcript, 26 Feb. 1980, fd 24, box 5, Buerger papers; Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year: BYU Devotional and fireside Addresses (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1981), 26-30; “Prophet’s Word ‘Law’ Benson Tells Group,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26 Feb. 1980, A-2; “Benson Backs Prophet on Politics,” Salt Lake Tribune, 27 Feb. 1980, B-3; “Mormon Leader’s Word Is Law-Benson,” San Jose Mercury News, 27 Feb. 1980, A-2; “Interpretations of Speech Not Correct, Church Says,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26 Feb. 1980, C-1; “Mormon Professor Says Benson Speech Was Plea Anticipating Rise to LDS Presidency,” Idaho State Journal, 28 Feb. 1980, A-2; “U. Teacher Replies To Benson” and “Savant Hits ‘Theocracy’ He Says Benson Wants,” Salt Lake Tribune 28 Feb. 1980, B-1, B-3; “Pres. Benson Outlines Way to Follow Prophet,” Deseret News “Church News,” 1 Mar. 1980, 14; “No. 2 Mormon Says Leader’s Word is Law,” Los Angeles Times, 1 Mar. 1980, Pt. I, 35; “Benson Speech Stirs speculation on LDS Changes,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 2 Mar. 1980, A-1, A-5; Sterling M. McMurrin, “Case for Vigilance,” Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Mar. 1980, A-9; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 468-69.
  59. Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals In Following the Prophets,” transcript, 26 Feb. 1980, fd 24, box 5, Buerger papers; Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year: BYU Devotional and fireside Addresses (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1981), 26-30; “Prophet’s Word ‘Law’ Benson Tells Group,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26 Feb. 1980, A-2; “Benson Backs Prophet on Politics,” Salt Lake Tribune, 27 Feb. 1980, B-3; “Mormon Leader’s Word Is Law-Benson,” San Jose Mercury News, 27 Feb. 1980, A-2; “Interpretations of Speech Not Correct, Church Says,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26 Feb. 1980, C-1; “Mormon Professor Says Benson Speech Was Plea Anticipating Rise to LDS Presidency,” Idaho State Journal, 28 Feb. 1980, A-2; “U. Teacher Replies To Benson” and “Savant Hits ‘Theocracy’ He Says Benson Wants,” Salt Lake Tribune 28 Feb. 1980, B-1, B-3; “Pres. Benson Outlines Way to Follow Prophet,” Deseret News “Church News,” 1 Mar. 1980, 14; “No. 2 Mormon Says Leader’s Word is Law,” Los Angeles Times, 1 Mar. 1980, Pt. I, 35; “Benson Speech Stirs speculation on LDS Changes,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 2 Mar. 1980, A-1, A-5; Sterling M. McMurrin, “Case for Vigilance,” Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Mar. 1980, A-9; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 468-69.
  60. First Presidency statement, 5 Mar. 1980, Deseret News “Church News,” 8 Mar. 1980, 3; “Church Policies and Announcements,” Ensign 10 (Aug. 1980): 79.
  61. Edward L. Kimball to D. Michael Quinn, 14 Aug., 20 Aug. 1992. In 1980 Kimball’s wife Camilla also described “his displeasure with the speech” to her brother-in-law George T. Boyd (Boyd to Quinn, 24 Sept. 1992).
  62. In 1980 a general authority reported to George T. Boyd the apologies which Kimball required of Benson. Boyd’s letter to Quinn, 24 Sept. 1992, requested that Quinn not reveal the source. Boyd (an in-law of Spencer and Camilla Kimball) also reported this conversation to BYU professor Duane Jeffery early in 1980. Telephone interview of Jeffery in David John Buerger diary, 14 Aug. 1980, fd 4, box 1, Buerger papers. These reproofs were also reported in “What Mormons Believe,” Newsweek 96 (1 Sept. 1980): 71, in “Thus Saith Ezra Benson,” Newsweek 98 (19 Oct. 1981): 109; in Allen interview (with Henry D. Taylor as a general authority source different from the above), 3 May 1984, by Alison Bethke Gayek, and in Quinn interview, 5 Sept. 1992, with Rodney P. Foster, assistant secretary in the First Presidency’s Office from 1974 to 1981.
  63. In 1980 a general authority reported to George T. Boyd the apologies which Kimball required of Benson. Boyd’s letter to Quinn, 24 Sept. 1992, requested that Quinn not reveal the source. Boyd (an in-law of Spencer and Camilla Kimball) also reported this conversation to BYU professor Duane Jeffery early in 1980. Telephone interview of Jeffery in David John Buerger diary, 14 Aug. 1980, fd 4, box 1, Buerger papers. These reproofs were also reported in “What Mormons Believe,” Newsweek 96 (1 Sept. 1980): 71, in “Thus Saith Ezra Benson,” Newsweek 98 (19 Oct. 1981): 109; in Allen interview (with Henry D. Taylor as a general authority source different from the above), 3 May 1984, by Alison Bethke Gayek, and in Quinn interview, 5 Sept. 1992, with Rodney P. Foster, assistant secretary in the First Presidency’s Office from 1974 to 1981.

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  • commented 2014-10-05 22:29:01 -0700 · Flag
    You’re wrong and got it all wrong, you need some Semantics and overall English courses. Elder benson was rebuked for promulgating his personal political views, for promulgating them!!! Not for having them, you said it yourself in a personal context they were friends but when representing the church it was a whole other story. Now I can only picture you as one of those persons the pick the bits and pieces of whatever meets their criteria because unless you also disagree with his view of the Vietnam war, and his predictions about education and healthcare and agree with all the mess happening right now (which is partly a fulfillment of such predictions) I can’t understand why’d you reject his political views, elder tanner wasn’t socialist Americans viewed his political party as socialist but he wasn’t, anyway I hope not too many people read this absurd post.

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