President Ezra Taft Benson . . . Really?

Lately, it seems like the leadership of the LDS Church is becoming increasing tone deaf. For example, during 2015, Mormons worldwide will be studying the sermons of President Ezra Taft Benson.  While the LDS study manual places no emphasis on the leader’s outdated paranoid politics or racist behavior, I wonder if he is really the person we want as the current exemplar of our faith. For President Benson, his religion and his politics were deeply intertwined, and in many cases inseparable.

According to wikipedia (which is surprisingly sanitized) :

Benson was an outspoken opponent of communism and socialism, and a supporter, but not a member, of the John Birch Society, which he praised as “the most effective non-church organization in our fight against creeping socialism and Godless Communism.” He published a 1966 pamphlet titled “Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception.”  In a similar vein, during a 1972 general conference of the LDS Church, Benson recommended that all Mormons read Gary Allen’s New World Order tract “None Dare Call It Conspiracy.”

President Benson also flirted with running for national political office.  According to a write up in the sltrib.com:

Benson never officially committed himself in 1968 [to run for President], but there was heavy flirtation with a third-party run.  A Texas oilman, H Bunker Hunt, gave the Birch Society money to promote Benson at the head of a national ticket, which was to also feature segregationist Strom Thurmond as veep. At the same time George Wallace’s openly racist presidential campaign made no bones about the fact that Benson was high on its list of vice-presidential hopefuls.

In the end, LDS Church President David O. McKay put the kibosh on Benson’s political aspirations.

Let’s acknowledge the wonderful work that President Benson did for the Church, but we need to also consider his paranoid delusions and his flirtations with racism. By glorifying a sanitized version of President Benson’s message, aren’t we legitimizing his severely outdated political and racial beliefs?

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3 Responses to President Ezra Taft Benson . . . Really?

  1. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: A little bit of equality edition! » Main Street Plaza

  2. Parker says:

    I am reading Paul Hawken’s “Blessed Unrest,” and he quotes Our former church president as saying, re Rachel Carson, “Why [was] a spinster with no children so concerned with genetics?”

  3. Susan says:

    My Mother was a wonderful woman who was politically active in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. She was an active LDS woman until the day she died in 2007. And she was a democrat. She saved articles and clippings which I have in turn saved. To this day I love rereading them. Coincidentally, last week I was reading a clipping which she saved from The Salt Lake Tribune Opinion page, dated October 31, 2000. The heading: Mormon Democrats. Included was a few paragraphs referencing Benson, including the following:

    “Church leaders have never declared either party anathema, although some conservative Republican church members like to think so. They recall former church President Ezra Taft Benson, who as a Mormon apostle in the mid-1970s said he thought it would be difficult for a faithful Mormon to also be a liberal Democrat.”

    The editorial continued, “Too easily forgotten is the fact that Benson’s remark was not offered at a general conference session, at a stake conference or in any other church setting, but in a newspaper interview. It was not an expression of doctrine or churchwide emphasis, but the expression of a long politically active apostle of conservative bent who never was known to shrink from offering his thoughts on matters political.”

    So, when I heard that the church would be studying the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson during 2015, I was a bit surprised. Are members prepared to take his teachings in the right (or middle of the road, lol) context?

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