Ezra Taft Benson: The Thirteenth President of the Mormon Church
Ezra Taft Benson was called as prophet and seer for the Mormon Church in 1985. His contributions and influence on the Mormon Church had a tremendous impact on the Church’s direction. His career as a leader extended outside his Mormon Church service. He also held various governmental offices as well. He was an admired and respected leader within the Church and throughout the world.
Ezra Taft Benson was raised in Whitney, Idaho. Benson came from a large family of eleven children, of whom he was the eldest. His ancestors were of noble pioneer stock and his grandfather, Ezra T. Benson was a Mormon Apostle under Brigham Young. He spent much of his childhood doing chores on his father’s farm. At an early age, he developed a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility as the eldest child in the household. After his primary schooling, he served in the army during World War I. Beginning in 1921, he served as a Mormon missionary in Britain. Years later, he studied at Utah State University and later graduated from Brigham Young University.
During his years at Brigham Young University, he married Flora Amussen in the Salt Lake Temple in 1926. The two then lived in Iowa, while Benson pursued a master’s degree at Iowa State University. During his college years, he studied agriculture. He went on to pursue a career in agriculture, leading him to serve in many church and governmental jobs.
He served as the stake president in Boise, Idaho, for years. During this time, he also worked for the University of Idaho Extension Service. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he became secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. During his time in Washington D.C., he became the first president of a new Mormon stake. Benson spent most of his life serving as a leader in the Church before becoming prophet of the Mormon Church.
In 1943, Benson was ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by then prophet Heber J. Grant. Being an apostle for the Church is a full-time, life-time position, necessitating most men to retire in order to fulfill their calling. Benson resigned his post at the Nation Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and moved his family to Salt Lake, to be closer to the headquarters of the Church. He spent years fulfilling his duty as an apostle for the Mormon Church.
As an apostle for the Church, he was called to direct an LDS church humanitarian project in Post-World War II Europe. He saw the difficulties caused by socialism throughout his travel in Europe and it reaffirmed his dislike of socialism. He facilitated the church aid into the war-devastated European countries.
In 1953, only ten years after he was ordained as an apostle, President Eisenhower appointed Benson as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. He served as secretary of Agriculture and acted as a member of the quorum of the twelve throughout Eisenhower’s two terms in office. Eisenhower’s selection of Benson as the secretary of agriculture surprised many people. One reason is that Eisenhower didn’t have the most conservative views, while Benson was very conservative. In the primaries, Benson supported Robert Taft to run on the republican ticket. President of the Mormon Church, David O’McKay, encouraged Benson to take the position. As the U.S. secretary of Agriculture, he was best known for his opposition to government aid to farmers and government price supports. He was once quoted saying that farmers “need more freedom, not more control.” He couldn’t understand how farmers were once the most economically stable and independent groups of people and now they were struggling to make ends meet. He was also well-known for his strong, anti-socialist stance. In fact, Benson was not a fan of the ever-popular Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He felt that the New Deal oversteped its boundaries and resembled socialism. He was extremely fearful of government control and powers; especially the power of the president’s to use wartime emergency measures. This extreme hatred of socialism made him unpopular with some. Congressman Eugene McCarthy was quoted saying “Benson is like a man standing on the bank of the river telling a drowning man that all he needs to do is take a deep breath of air.” One journalist was certain that Benson would be the first cabinet member in American history to resign from his post. He was unpopular in congress. However, he was well-liked and supported by many farmers. Benson was well-respected by his fellow cabinet members and President Eisenhower. He was not shy about sharing his devout faith in Mormonism. He suggested the cabinet pray together before meetings. This practice was soon adopted by the president.
Prophet of the Church
Ezra Taft Benson was called as Prophet of the Mormon Church in 1985, following Spencer W. Kimball. He was eighty-six years old when he was called as prophet. Throughout his early political and church career, he was known for his extremely conservative viewpoints. As he became Prophet of the church, he became more moderate. He was especially encouraging of members to read the Book of Mormon and to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon. He built bridges between the government and the Mormon Church by personally delivering ten million dollars to President Ronald Reagan to be used to procure food for the world’s hungry.
Unfortunately, President Benson suffered from poor heath near the end of his years as Mormon prophet. He experienced blood clots in the brain, multiple heart attacks, and strokes. Because of his poor health, Gordon B. Hinckley assumed many of his responsibilities as president during this time. Because he was so sickly, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson were given the right to act on behalf of President Benson in making decisions for LDS corporate affairs. He did not appear in public during most of this time. At his 90th birthday celebration, Ezra Taft Benson was awarded with the Presidential Citizens Medal, given to him by President George Bush Sr. He lived an enriched life, as a husband, father, government official, and prophet of the Mormon Church. He passed away in 1994.