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 While the LDS study manual places no emphasis on the leader’s outdated paranoid politics or racist behavior, I wonder if he is really the person we want as the current exemplar of our faith.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 By glorifying a sanitized version of President Benson’s message, aren’t we legitimizing his severely outdated political and racial beliefs?