Ezra Taft Benson Chronology (Part V): January 23, 1970 to November 10, 1985 (Apostle, President of the Quorum of the Twelve)
Ezra Taft Benson
Under the presidencies of Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson’s promotion of ultra-conservative politics went into decline, in part due to more assertive presidents who were opposed to Benson’s politics, and also due to the demise of the threat of communism. Some of his public pronouncements were considered inappropriate and met with a gentle rebuke, or with clarifying statements from the First Presidency. Other correctives were more direct. Kimball was more lenient towards Benson than Smith and Lee.
Some ultra-conservative members of the church were unhappy that Benson’s pronouncements had been restricted. For example, in the 1970 General Priesthood meeting, Harold B. Lee denounced a mass mailing to local LDS leadership calling for a “a dissenting vote against the liberal factions” of “the First Presidency with its social-democrat thinking.” In 1976, a 3rd proposal was made to have Elder Benson run as part of a presidential bid, but he declined the offer as impractical.
Benson felt gospel teachings trumped secular ideas, and he declared “false” the theories of men like Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx. He also forwarded materials to President Kimball that he felt were too liberal, or critical of the church. Later, he (and other apostles) directed reading assignments to monitor and flag potentially objectionable materials. Benson also forwarded to President Kimball materials expressing the concerns of ultra-conservatives about the subversion of democracy.
Benson was concerned about some materials being published by the professionally staffed church history department. Upon the publication of a book on the history of the church, Elders Benson, Peterson and Packer took issue with it, and it was pulled from the shelves of Deseret Book, as well as removed from the Institute of Religion’s reading list. He warned CES personal about subscribing to, or owning “apostate” materials, and instructed that they should publish faith-promoting articles only. In the early 1980s, a multi-volume history of the church was cancelled and the church history department was reorganized with the church historian being quietly released. Newsweek subsequently covered tensions between historians and conservative apostles.
Ezra Taft Benson organized efforts to have LDS women attend the International Women’s Year conference in Utah. He encouraged bishops to meet or exceed per-ward quotas of attendees. Conservative groups such as the John Birch Society and Eagle Forum held information meetings suggesting the conference had an extreme feminist agenda, and encouraged LDS women to follow their lead at the conference. Attendance far exceeded expectations, and a polarized atmosphere prevailed. Common sense resolutions such as better enforcement of child support, and equal pay for equal work were voted down along with liberal issues such as abortion rights and government funded sex education. LDS women were also mobilized in six other states to participate in this conference.
In 1977, another BYU spy-ring was organized by Elder Benson, and ran by William O. Nelson, a secretary to Benson. It was uncovered when a report intended for Benson ended up on Elder Peterson’s desk. BYU President Dallin Oaks referred to it as “that Birch Mafia that surrounds ETB.” President Kimball personally ended this spy-ring.
President Kimball expressed (before the revelation on blacks and the priesthood) that if he didn’t give priesthood to black members of the church, “my successor won’t.” When the revelation was received, Elder Benson recorded: “Following the prayer, we experienced the sweetest spirit of unity and conviction that I have ever experienced. . . . Our bosoms burned with the righteousness of the decision we had made.” He also said he “had never experienced anything of such spiritual magnitude and power.”
As president of the Quorum of Twelve during the presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, Benson worked to streamline church policies and procedures. He guided the Quorum effectively in dealing with various issues, helping the church move into the modern era and accommodating international needs. Reflecting his past humanitarian mission to post-WWII Europe, Brigham Young University honored him by establishing the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute.
Elder Benson gave a talk called the “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets.” It may have been in response to a full page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune taken out by the professional anti-Mormons Gerald and Sandra Tanner. Their book, promoted by the ad, called into question consistent prophetic declaration. But Benson’s talk was interpreted by many as a precursor to own ascendency as prophet of the church, he being next in line. President Kimball apparently asked Benson to issue an apology to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and then to a meeting of all general authorities. Continue reading “Ezra Taft Benson Chronology during the Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball administrations” »