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Leonard J. Arrington Diaries – “Ezra Taft Benson”

Below you will find diary entries on the topic of “Ezra Taft Benson.” You can view other subjects here.

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This morning Mamma went with me to work about 10:30. We had dinner at Hotel Utah with Diane Dieterle, a genealogist from Georgia, then back home. Mamma is getting her hair washed. We will probably stay up tonight watching election returns. Mamma and I voted this morning. We voted for all 5 propositions on the Utah ballot, for Richard Maughan for judge, and the straight Democratic ticket for the state and national offices on the ballot. We preferred Owens and Howe, and didn’t know most of the other candidates, so decided to vote a straight ticket on the theory that the state needed a few Democrats in office for a change. The race between Owens and Garn is very close and it is difficult to tell how it will turn out; I will now predict Owens by a whisker. The race between Howe and Harmsen is also very close; I will predict Howe by a whisker. McKay will win by 2 to 1, and I will predict that only 2 of the propositions will win. Garn will lose, I think, primarily because the American Independent and Libertarian parties will draw away from him the most conservative votes. Without the American Party candidate in the race, Garn Wou1d have won for sure (and may anyway). I predict between 5 and 6 percent for Bangerter, the Am. Party candidate for the Senate. Ezra T. Benson introduced Bangerter last weekend here and said the American Party comes closer to the beliefs of the Church than any others. Created quite a stir. The First Presidency issued a slight and mild rebuff without mentioning his name, saying that the Church is non-partisan (really true) and has not authorized anyone to speak for the Church. The Church, except for this incident, has played absolutely no role in the election, except encouraging people to vote. On the propositions I predict the creation of a lieutenant governor and property tax reconsideration will win, the others lose. I predict Maughan will lose, although I wish he would make it. Callister is hopeless as a respectable judge.

[LJA to Children, 5 Nov., 1974; LJA Diary]

Thursday night we went to see “Saturday’s Warrior,” a musical with music by Lex d’Azevedo and lyrics by Douglas Stewart, with a theme like Added Upon by Nephi Anderson.  We enjoyed it very much.  Really a fine production.  An enormous crowd.  We were told that Elder and Sister Ezra Taft Benson had been there the night before and had gotten up and left when the rock music was being played.  But I discount that to some extent.  They were also at our Parley’s First Ward Spring Sing, and they got up and left, and the story got around that they got up and left during the young people’s presentation of a rock number.  But I personally know that was not true; I saw them leave, and they left promptly at 10 p.m. during a preceding number.  I think they just get up and leave at k10 p.m. so they can get plenty of sleep.  And I sympathize with that, though it leads to some false impressions. . . .

[LJA to Children, 29 Jun., 1975; LJA Diary]

Jim Allen was telling me today of an episode involving Elder E. T. Benson.  Seems that the city council of Heber had voted to accept some federal funds to do some housing for skiers.  Benson hears of it, dictates a letter to them, duly typed on Church stationery & mailed, asking them to reconsider.  This is socialistic—asking the gov’t to help them, with all the controls & regulations the gov’t might wish to apply.

The city council meets again, votes to reconsider, votes against the proposal.  But the newspaper reporters now get wind of the letter, quote from it over radio and TV, “and on church stationery.”

They ask the Church if this represents Church policy.  Jerry Cahill is forced to make a statement that the Church has made no statement of p0olicy on this.  Benson’s letter represented his private views as a citizen & property owner in Wasatch County.  He also announces it was a clerical error that the letter was on his official stationery as prest. of the 12.  As one newsman commented, “If that was a clerical error, what was it when he signed the letter as typed on church stationery?”

Anyway, Elder Benson has lost some face, the Church has lost some face, and people are once more wagging their tongues as to what it will be like if and when Elder Benson becomes the Church’s president.

This evening I completed reading Garry Wills, Bare Ruined Choirs.  Brilliant, provocative, intensely interesting to a Mormon who sees Mormon liberals going through the same frustrations Catholic liberals have done.

[LJA Diary, 12 Jan., 1976]

In the meantime, has appeared Building the City of God, which I haven’t been able to enjoy because (1) the pressure to get out From Quaker to Latter-day Saint; (2) Some flak about Story of the Latter-day Saints.  Some John Bircher has complained to President Benson about some things in the latter.  He has ordered it read and has scheduled a debate in the Twelve on whether we should have someone read all our stuff before it goes to the publisher.  Come to think of it, you better keep this confidential.  Anyway, I’ve had worries.  Feel tired, emotionally drained, ready to sleep the weekend.  Hope Mamma doesn’t have a lot planned for me to do.  Fortunately, I have no appointment Sunday.  I’ve mailed each of you a copy of Building the City of God.  Of course it’s too early to have any reactions, but I feel good about it.  I was invited to talk about it to the district managers of Deseret Book.  They will schedule an autograph party for it and for the Woolley book in Logan in October…

I guess I shouldn’t close without saying that I feel very confident that we will come out all right in the discussion of the Twelve. We’ve had many expressions of approval of our work, and think this will continue. Even President Benson has been very friendly and complimentary to me personally. And of course the entire First Presidency. I saw the Prophet on Monday and he gave me a very warm handshake and patted me on the back and told me how much he appreciated what we are doing.

[LJA to Children, 4 Sep., 1976; LJA Diary]

More than a week ago a friend told me that a critique of Allen & Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints had been prepared, that it was unfavorable, that it was in the hands of President Ezra Taft Benson, who looked dimly upon the history, and that it was to be taken to the Twelve. A few days ago, a friend read to me the complete critique, which consisted of eight single-spaced typewritten pages. The critique had apparently been prepared by William L. Nelson, personal secretary or assistant of President Benson; and it is clear that he had the assistance of some other person, most probably Tom Truitt, who probably made his own critique to begin with and thus called to the attention of President Benson what he regarded as problems of the book. Basically, the critique did the following:

1. Said that Joseph Fielding Smith, ESSENTIALS IN CHURCH HISTORY, should be continued in print.

2. Criticized the bibliography as containing mention of works that were anti-Church: Brodie, NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY; articles in Dialogue, particularly by Poll, Jeffries.

3. Criticized the story of the crickets and seagulls as not bringing God into the picture.

4. Criticized the account of Zion’s Camp which implies that it was a failure.

5. Criticized the account of BYU firing the evolutionists as not being sufficiently anti-evolution.

6. Said the book failed to mention the doctrinal contributions of Joseph Fielding Smith. (Didn’t say what they were.)

7. Said the book was basically a secular history; did not have enough of the spiritual in this account of our history.

8. Said all of our history publications should be routed through Correlation in order to insure that they were doctrinally and historically accurate, and had the right tone and impact.

My friend said this critique was distributed to the Twelve at their meeting on Thursday, September 2, and that they were to come prepared to discuss it and the book on a special Sunday meeting in the temple, September 5. I have not heard the results of that discussion.

I have been hurt by this episode. Although apparently several members of the Twelve have been aware of the existence of the critique, and of President Benson’s support of it (and apparently the support also of Elder Mark Petersen), not a person has called me up or written me, or made other contact to ask me (or Allen or Leonard) how I would defend the book, and our history writing in general.  Elder Howard Hunter told me, as he walked out of our advisors meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 1 that he wanted to talk with me sometime on the subject of running all our works thru correlation, but he has made to attempt to discuss this with me.

It is clear that President Benson will not stand for our “real” history. And since he is next in line, and president of the Twelve, we are in a powerless position, and no one wishes to consider our own rationale. We have certain members of the Twelve who will speak up for us, if they are permitted to do so: Elder Ashton, Elder Hunter, Elder Haight. Perhaps others. There are others (e.g., Elder Packer) whose speeches in the past two or three years suggest that he would agree with the critique. The question with me is, Shall I retain the job (assuming they don’t release me) and try to write history which will be approved by Correlation. Or shall I resign and continue to write “real history”. And what would this do to my associates. I am not clear in my own mind as to the best course to pursue, but feel discouraged, sad, shook. It has been a tough few days for me since I do not dare mention all this to a soul. I recall that Andrew Jenson went through several such episodes, and stuck to it, for the good of the Church. But can I retain my integrity and my reputation, whatever it’s worth, with the “intelligentsia” of the Church and remain on the job under conditions that will almost certainly be imposed upon me? 

[LJA Diary, 6 Sep., 1976]

Late yesterday afternoon I received a telephone call from Elder Frank Gibbons, Secretary of the First Presidency, inviting me to a meeting with them this morning at 8:30 a.m. I asked him if he would care o tell me what the meeting was about or whether there were any materials I should bring or prepare myself on. He said, “No, just come to the meeting tomorrow morning.” For obvious reasons I worried very much during the evening and last night, apprehensive of what they might be wanting to tell me.

I reported to the First Presidency Conference Room a little before 8:30 and was soon ushered in along with Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Mark E. Petersen, Howard W. Hunter, and Bruce R. McConkie. The complete First Presidency were there: President Kimball, President Tanner, and President Romney. Brother Gibbons, the secretary, was also present. President Kimball smiled warmly as he shook my hand and throughout the deliberations. He actively conducted the meeting.

President Kimball said that serious questions had been raised about two books we had recently published, The Story of the Latter-day Saints by Allen and Leonard, and Buildlng the City of God by myself and two others. He asked Brother Benson to explain his concern. Brother Benson said that he had not read all of either book but that he had read some portions of The Story of the Latter-day Saints. He said that one member of the Quorum of the Twelve had read The Story of the Latter-day Saints all the way through and others had read portions of it. He mentioned the meeting Sunday when he spoke to all the seminary and institute teachers and leaders. He made some criticisms of both books, not naming them I believe, and after the meeting one of the old-time persons in whom he had great respect talked to him candidly about his own concerns with The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Brother Benson then read through his letter of approximately two pages, single spaced, typed, comment and criticism of the book. The comment was general, not specific. The book would cause young people to lose faith; it tended to degrade or demean Joseph Smith; it did not give enough emphasis to important events such as the founding of the Church (only 16 lines and the names of the six persons not given); it had raised questions. It was a rather eloquent letter protesting against the “new history.” Brother Benson made other statements about the book and the problems and dangers and risks and indicated that he felt very strongly that it was a mistake to have published it and that it would do great damage. When he had completed his remarks, which must have taken five or ten minutes, I then asked President Kimball if it were appropriate for me to make a response, which I did. Brother Petersen then expressed his concerns and expressed them very strongly and candidly, and this he did for some five to ten minutes. I then asked if I might respond and did so for a few minutes. Elder Petersen then made additional remarks as did Elder Benson, and I responded to those as well. In general, I was saying (1) we have gotten a number of very enthusiastic and favorable responses, both in writing and by telephone calls and personal visits; (2) we have felt it necessary to keep in mind that this book would be read by non-Mormons as well as by Latter-day Saints, by historians as well as amateurs, by serious students as well as the casually interested, and so we tried to be careful in our statements, provide evidence, and so on; and (3) to their criticism that the discussion of the intellectual and social currents of the time took away the idea of revelation, I responded that we merely were attempting  to show that the Lord was preparing the people to receive the restored Gospel; (4) it was necessary to mention certain things because they were already well known and they had to be put in their proper light–Mountain Meadows Massacre, different versions of the First Vision, negro and the Priesthood problem, the underground, and so on.

President Kimball then asked me to review my understanding of how the sixteen-volume sesquicentennial history was to be screened and approved. I reviewed that for him. He read from some minutes of meetings at which I was present which gave his own understanding of the matter and asked me if this was my understanding. I replied affirmatively. In essence this suggested that beyond myself and assistant historians as screening committee that the manuscripts, chapter by chapter or book by book, were to be read also by a person assigned by President Kimball from the Quorum of the Twelve and the book was not to be published until approved at that level. I told him this was welcomed by me but I thought it very wise not to make this a matter of public knowledge, that so far as the world was concerned mine was the final approval and that whatever suggestions or changes were made by them would be suggested by me in my own name; this for the purpose of not diminishing our credibility as historians and raising the cry of censorship of our works. President Kimball and all present seemed to agree to that arrangement. President Kimball instructed me for all manuscripts which are officially sponsored by our department (I assume he meant book manuscripts) were to be submitted to Brother Howard Hunter who would then submit them to President Kimball for assignment of a reader to convey their reactions to me.

President Kimball also raised the question of the audience. He thought we should be concerned more with writing for a church audience than for the scholars, the professors, the students, the outside world. I bore my testimony as to my belief that a person could write for both audiences successfully, and he and specifically President Tanner expressed agreement with this and suggested that I continue under this assumption. There are other comments by other person present.

The meeting adjourned at about 10:15. I felt very good about the meeting: (a) in having the opportunity of responding personally to the criticisms that had been made of our publications; (b) that they did not require us to clear our things through Church Correlation; (c) that president Kimball seemed to be supportive and friendly as were his counselors. All were cordial and genial as we disbanded. I think I managed to quiet some of the criticism or at least match some of the criticism with some favorable responses. 

[LJA Diary, 21 Sep., 1976]

Report to Jim and Davis on my meeting yesterday with the First Presidency, and Elders Petersen, Benson, Hunter, and McConkie. We were together almost two hours, talking frankly about our book projects, past and future. Here are some observations.

1. Very much the Prophet, Elder Kimball presided and conducted. Slow, deliberate, quiet, warm and friendly, his manner induced calmness and brotherliness. He never interrupted, everyone spoke his piece undisturbed. I admire him.

2. Elders Benson and Petersen will never accept books written by us, given our understanding of history. They want the glorious stories of the Restoration, unsullied by discussion of practical problems and controversial evidence. They want Prophets without warts, revelation direct from on High in pure vessels. They want faith-promoting stories and moral homilies. They feel strongly and will vigorously oppose all our books, written as we understand history. We must therefore write books which will be appreciated and defended by the other Brethren.

3. We shall not have to clear our books and articles through Correlation. We shall have to work more closely with our advisors. We shall have to go to them more often for counsel and clearance on problems, and they may take some of these to the quorum. This is the minimum alternative to Correlation Committee clearance.

4. We shall continue to have, I believe, the support of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that we have had in the past. But we shall have to be more careful in what we write and say and publish, and be more careful to consult, ask advice, and get suggestions.

5. We shall have to write more directly to the Church membership audience in all books published with Deseret Book. That is, less to the scholar, less to non-Mormons, more to he general membership. And perhaps concentrate more on our unique history and message and not so much on the ecumenical aspect of “putting us in perspective.”

6. I shall have to take full responsibility for all that we do, and I shall have to be more careful, more cautious.  I shall be watched like a hawk. I’m still, ebullient, still optimistic, still determined to do what we must do. But we shall have to give on some little things to preserve our status as screeners of our own materials. Some of the younger historians will think I’m losing some integrity, but that’s part of the price we shall have to pay, and I hope you brethren, at least, can continue to be as supportive and helpful as you have been. The Lord is with us yet!

[LJA Diary, 21 Sep., 1976]

This morning Frank Jonas and his wife came in. He can’t drive a car any longer and so his wife is his chauffeur. She is the sister of Ralph Thompson and a member of the Tabernacle Choir for many, many years. She said that all members of the Choir were very upset with the release of Jay Welch and feel that whatever transgression he had been involved in he surely has repented many, many times and quite sincerely, and if we are Christian we ought to acknowledge that and put him back in the Choir. She said while the Choir members all like Jerry they recognize that Jay is one of the very top persons in the United States and could take the Tabernacle Choir to any level. 

Frank said that when he had finished the manuscript for his book on Stringfellow–The Political Hopes–he sent a copy to Ezra Taft Benson since he had mentioned him, and they had an hour’s conversation which was pleasant. But Frank said he had never mentioned this to anyone else, but he thought I ought to know that Elder Benson had intimated that his wife, Sister Benson, was a strong supporter of Doug Stringfellow and that she had influenced him to support Brother Stringfellow. Frank said this fitted in also with his supposition that Sister Benson is the one in the family who was a strong supporter of the John Birch Society and that it was her influence which caused her husband to make such strong speeches in favor of their ideals and goals, and that it was her influence on her son who became a John Birch Society organizer. When their boy Reed was running for Congress as a Republican against Sherman Lloyd (Reed was not nominated by the party), Sister Benson strongly campaigned for him. The Relief Society of the Stake were having a meeting and had invited her to give then an inspirational talk. It was during the time of their boy’s campaign for Congress, and instead of giving an inspirational talk she spent the whole period, almost two hours, talking about her son Reed, how he had reared the children while she was busy with her husband in social and political affairs in Washington, D.C., how much he had done for the family, how inspirational he had been for the children, what a fine independent boy he was, and so on. She had him there to talk with them also. She spent the whole time talking about him and his campaign. The members of the Relief Society were so angry about this improper use of Church time and a Church meeting that Sister Jonas suspected that not a single woman in that group had voted for her son. There was just no sense of what was proper and improper in a Church setting.

[LJA Diary, 21 Jan., 1977]