While on his mission, under Elder David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson helped implement the “every member a missionary” initiative. When he became president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints many years later, Ezra Taft Benson applied this initiative to the whole Church and will long be remembered for it. President Benson realized that, though missionary work is very much influenced by those serving in the mission field, the most effective and important missionary work that can be done is by those who are already members of the Church living their normal lives. By being good examples and by not being afraid to share the gospel with those around them, every member can be a missionary. By referring people they come into contact with who are interested in the Church, members can help missionaries use their time much more effectively by teaching people who are already receptive to the gospel’s message.
Before he became the president of the Church, President Benson had served as the United States Secretary of Agriculture. He had studied agriculture in college and had already implemented several succesful and innovative techniques on his own farm before he was extended this appointment. His service in this department led to even more publicity for the Church and helped improve the Church Welfare Program. He also gained the respect of countless people, both within the Church and without, which made his transition into his administration a smooth one.
There were nine temples dedicated during President Benson’s presidency, only four of which were in the United States.
- Seoul Korea Temple
- Lima Peru Temple
- Buenos Aires Argentina Temple
- Denver Colorado Temple
- Frankfurt Germany Temple
- Portland Oregon Temple
- Las Vegas Nevada Temple
- Toronto Ontario Temple
- San Diego California Temple
President Benson strived to bring less-active members back into full activity. He also strongly encouraged all members to read the Book of Mormon daily and to give the book to non-member friends and people they came in contact with. His initiative was to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon. The year after he became president, he gave twenty-eight major talks on the Book of Mormon. He promised those who would read it that they would be blessed. He taught that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that it has the fulness of the gospel in it, and that individuals could get closer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. He foresaw that his administration would be remembered for its emphasis on the Book of Mormon, which is still true today.
During President Benson’s admnistration, there was a push to share with the media some of the service the Church offered to those not of its faith. There was much public opinion that the Church only focused on its own members and that it was very self-centered. Using the relations already set up between departments of the Church and the media, it soon became clear that the Church was very concerned with taking care of all of God’s children who are in need. In 1986, the Church gave more than $6.5 million to organizations fighting hunger in Africa. This sum did not come from Church funds, but was the result of donations from a special church-wide fast held on January 27, 1985. In 1988, the Church donated $250,000 to provide more than one million polio immunizations for young people in Kenya and the Ivory Coast. Many Latter-day Saints helped clean up from a tropical storm in Hawaii; Hundreds of Saints volunteered to help with the winter olympics in Calgary; the list goes on and on. Several times the Church sent food, clothing, and help after major natural disasters. The people who help are organized and efficient, bringing help to those who need it most. To better organize these efforts, the Humanitarian Services Sort Center was built in Salt Lake City to provide adequate facilities for these endeavors. The complex covers an area the size of several football fields, and much of the labor performed there is acts of service from members. Service continues today both on the large and the small scale. LDS News continues to share stories of those who reach out in service to members of their community.
On January 6, 1986, President Benson met with U.S. President Ronald Reagan. They discussed world hunger and possible solutions for it. They discussed the multi-million-dollar donation the Church had made to the world hunger fund. Again, this money came from Saints who fasted and donated money for this purpose.
In addition to his many spiritual and organizational contributions to the Church, President Benson also approved the purchase of the Hotel Utah and its renovation. The hotel simply could not compete in that venue any more, so the Church remodelled the building to serve both public and private purposes. Renamed the Joseph Smith Memorial Building upon its renovation, the building now contains a chapel which can be used by the Family History Missionaries on Temple Square. Many rooms were converted into classrooms, and the Grand Ballroom was converted into a theater where the film Legacy, a film about the Saints’ trek West, showed for several years. There has since been a film called The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd, which is still showing. Now a film on the Prophet Joseph Smith, called Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration, is also playing. Admission to the films in this building are always free and help share the message of the gospel with visitors. There are several ballrooms which can be rented for private events, and there are two restaurants in the building as well. Perhaps the most significant contribution of this building is the FamilySearch Center which is also open to the public. This center is staffed with experts in family history to help you track down ancestors and get your genealogy done.
President Benson was intimately involved with the workings of government in the U.S. and abroad. He presented many discourses on the dangers of communism, and conspiracy to destroy democracy.