55 years ago today - Oct 25, 1966

Because BYU devotional talks were separately broadcast and published, Ezra Taft Benson decided to repeat his conference talk and expand upon its criticisms of the unnamed members of the LDS hierarchy.

At BYU he made it plain that the context for his remarks was the anti-Birch statements of anyone besides David O. McKay. "Do we preach what governments should or should not do as a part of the Gospel plan, as President McKay has urged? Or do we refuse to follow the Prophet by preaching a limited gospel plan of salvation?" Alluding to the disunity in the hierarchy, Benson affirmed: "We cannot compromise good and evil in an attempt to have peace and unity in the Church any more than the Lord could have compromised with Satan in order to avoid the War in Heaven." He then quoted the church president's April conference statement in favor of anti-Communist organizations, and observed: "Yet witness the sorry spectacle of those presently of our number who have repudiated the inspired counsel of our Prophet . . . It is too much to suppose that all the Priesthood at this juncture will unite behind the Prophet in the fight for freedom." Rather than ascribing this disunity about his anti-Communist crusade to honest differences of opinion, Benson described his church opponents as inspired by Satan:

Now, Satan is anxious to neutralize the inspired counsel of the Prophet, and hence, keep the Priesthood off-balance, ineffective, and inert in the fight for freedom. He does this through diverse means, including the use of perverse reasoning. For example, he [Satan] will argue: There is no need to get involved in the fight for freedom. All you need to do is live the Gospel. . . . It is obvious what Satan is trying to do, but it is sad to see many of us fall for his destructive line.

His next remarks tightened his reference more clearly to the church's presiding quorums. "As the Church gets larger, some men have increasing responsibility, and more and more duties must be delegated. . . . Unfortunately some men who do not honor their stewardships may have an adverse effect on many people. Often the greater the man's responsibility, the more good or evil he can accomplish. The Lord usually gives the man a long enough rope . . . There are some regrettable things being said and done by some people in the Church today."

After quoting to his BYU audience the warning by J. Reuben Clark about "ravening wolves" who "wear the habiliments of the priesthood," Apostle Benson made it clear he was referring to his fellow apostles: "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 in the past, and will in the future, use their offices unrighteously. Some will lead the unwary astray . . ."

At the conclusion of his talk Benson let the BYU students know he was referring to general authorities immediately below the church president in authority. "Learn to keep your eye on the Prophet," Benson said, "Let his inspired words be a basis for evaluating the counsel of all lesser authorities." He concluded this remarkable assault on his fellow members of the hierarchy with the only understatement of his BYU talk: "I know I will be abused by some for what I have said." Even the censored publication of this BYU talk retained many of Benson's critical allusions to presidency counselors and apostles.

However, this BYU address in October 1966 was not simply Apostle Benson's public response to Harold B. Lee's sermon "from behind the pulpit" of April 1966 conference. This was also Benson's answer to Mark E. Petersen's anti-Birch editorials "in our Church publications." It was a warning about first counselor Hugh B. Brown ("the greater the man's responsibility, the more good or evil he can accomplish"). In sum, this BYU address was Ezra Taft Benson's dismissal of the anti-Birch statements of any general authority "in our Council meetings" and against "the counsel of all lesser authorities" beneath President McKay. His counter-assault on his unnamed critics in the LDS hierarchy was even more extraordinary than Harold B. Lee's conference talk against the unnamed Apostle Benson. Benson's BYU devotional talk in October 1966 was the clearest evidence that he saw himself and President McKay as fighting alone in a battle for freedom and anti-Communism against all the other general authorities who had fallen for Satan's "perverse reasoning" and "destructive line."

Benson apparently never actually asked McKay for permission to advocate the Birch Society but merely for permission to speak about "freedom." In Benson's thinking there was no distinction among the principles of freedom, the mission of the church, and the teachings of the Birch Society. He sincerely felt he had "a mandate from the prophet" for all of his political speeches.

[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 in 1992.; 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.; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 372, 385; Dew, "Ezra Taft Benson," in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5 vols. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), 1:102-103. From D. Michael Quinn, Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26:2 (Summer 1992), also in Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), Chapter 3.]

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