The Necessity and Complexity of Editing the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church Manuals

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.55.12 PMThe third lesson of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson manual, “Freedom of Choice, an Eternal Principle,” focuses on the importance of one’s moral conscience. It addresses a primary conundrum of modern democracy: today’s liberty allows both the ability to freely practice religion according to your own belief as well as the freedom to practice immorality and disbelief. The potential for a righteous life, then, is tethered to the potential for sin. This makes the stakes all the more fraught. “Life is a testing time in man’s eternal existence,” Benson preached in an excerpt included in the lesson, “during which he is given…the right to choose between right and wrong.” The absence of a strong federal government that dictates moral values both enables religious agency but also accelerates religious dissent. This makes it all the more crucial, he argued, to teach our children how to use their freedom wisely, especially in an age when there are so many corrupting choices and potential evils at every corner.

That particular excerpt, along with seven others included in the lesson, come from one particular book: God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties (1975). The text is a classic embodiment of Benson’s mature political and religious thought, a libertarian blend that was half Book of Mormon and half John Birch Society.[1] The book is one of the most extensive and systematic expressions of that thought, as each section is connected to the primary argument concerning the proper relationship between religion, society, and government. Due to the Priesthood/Relief Society manual’s structure, of course, it only includes brief excerpts from the book, as evidenced by the numerous ellipses.

Here is what closely follows the quote mentioned above, which did not make the manual:

Some of our patriots are losing their children. In our attempt to save our country, we must not let our own homes crumble. Don’t neglect your own. You can’t delegate that divine duty nor neglect it without tragic consequences. Be careful in sending them away from your hearth for additional education. There are worse things that can happen to a young person today than not getting a liberal college degree.

It’s obvious why this extract was chosen to not be included in the manual. For all of the many teachings of Benson that remained a staple within the LDS tradition—a heartfelt devotion to the Book of Mormon text being perhaps the most obvious and endearing of them—his persistent skepticism of higher education, at least of higher education outside the hands of a particular ideological background, is not one of them. But the exclusion of this particular argument, as well as numerous other arguments from God, Family, and Country and other important sermons and addresses, points to both the necessity and the complexity of the way these Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals are constructed: “necessity,” because past discourses were enmeshed in, and thus representative of, a past age that often does not seamlessly fit the present; “complexity,” because by excerpting and de-contextualizing these past discourses we are often appropriating them for our own purposes while overlooking their original intent.[2]

That last point shouldn’t be a surprise, as it is a constant necessity for the survival of a religion.[3] But this broadly experienced phenomenon would have a hard time finding a more salient embodiment than these Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals, as they take paragraphs from sermons given in a particular time, written for a particular purpose, and imagined within a particular mental environment, and are now presented in topical sections, divorced from immediate contexts, and designed for contemporary issues. Benson’s original meaning for many of these excerpts is often lost as the paragraphs are separated from the overall argument based on a particular worldview. Yet since a considerable amount of that particular worldview no longer holds as much relevance today, his message needs to be re-appropriated—or, in a Mormon sense, translated—for 2015’s purposes.[4]

But the manuals’ structure—and the manuals themselves—are both “necessary” and “complex” in yet another, and perhaps even more important, way. First, they are necessary because there is a constant anxiety to remind Church members of the relevance of our inspired and chosen leaders; reading their words twice a month for Sunday meetings is a ritualized catechism that reinforces our devotion to the principle of continued revelation and prophetic leadership. Frequent encounters with the words of past presidents of the Church enable an intimate intellectual relationship with our faith’s founders and caretakers. In that sense, I can neither begrudge nor critique the wish to cultivate such a close relationship, as it is an attempt to correlate a divine experience at the center of our tradition.

But it is still “complex” because, well, we have yet to figure out a way to accomplish such a tough task. While as a fellow saint I can’t begrudge the wish to forge this relationship with the teachings of Church leaders, as a historian who spends much of my time proving the importance of context for understanding words and actions I can certainly cringe at the process we invoke as we seek to do that very thing. Further, I would argue that contextualized meanings and shifting priorities are as crucial to the Mormon tradition as they are to the historian’s craft. But while I believe the historian’s toolbox can offer some help in rectifying this problem of prophetic relativism, I would never venture to say it would be enough to quench the spiritual thirst at the heart of this deeply Mormon desire. That is a religious problem that deserves religious attention.

So though these manuals are deeply paradoxical and problematic, they are merely reflections of the religious tradition from which they were birthed. And though such a dynamic might tempt bewilderment and, at times, even scorn, perhaps the more fruitful realization is how they invite deeper investigation and engagement. Even as the problems are themselves “Mormon” in nature, so are the anxieties. And I would argue that those are not only complex but, in the end, necessary.

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[1] Scholar Patrick Mason, the Mormon Studies Chair at Claremont Graduate University, is currently working on an intellectual biography of Benson that will seek to finally place him as an important figure in the rise of the Religious Right in the post-World War II period.

[2] Yes, by using “original intent” in a post touching on how the original meaning of Ezra Taft Benson’s sermons being lost in the quest to find new meaning in a radically different age is meant to be an ironic joke. I’m a party animal like that.

[3] As BCC emeritus Steve Taysom often puts it, the most important skill of any successful religion is to adapt to changing times while at the same time convincing its practitioners that it never changes.

[4] Another example of Benson’s previously crucial message now relegated to the ellipses of the manual is the importance of mothers staying at home. This issue probably introduces even more anxiety given the heightened tension over gender relations currently in the Church and the fact that much of his teachings concerning domestic life hinge on that point even if the manual rarely—if ever—includes a paragraph that explicitly admits it.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. I’ve been craving some acknowledgement somewhere that this material has been heavily curated. When you still have vivid memories of that which has been excised–the main talk behind Footnote 4 was burned into my then 18 year-old mind–it becomes surreal to sit in RS and experience other, younger sisters experiencing a differently-edited President Benson. I’m certainly open to re-learning some of the teachings that the intensity of “To the Mothers in Zion” obscured for me back then, and today’s fine lesson on prayer was a case in point. But I’ve also accepted that I’m going to get silently queasy from time to time in RS this year, in a way not triggered for me by compilations of other (older) prophets.

  2. “Another example of Benson’s previously crucial message now relegated to the ellipses of the manual is the importance of mothers staying at home.” Whew!

    I didn’t realize Pres. Benson was so opposed to liberal arts education, but then I wouldn’t have been since my bishop at the time Pres. Benson came into that office was a Professor of Education at the local liberal arts college. Awkward.

    I have been glad for the prooftexting of this manual in particular, but when we were in the Joseph Smith manuals, the prooftexting felt a whole lot like a complete fabrication of the facts in some of the lessons. The ellipses tell their own story.

  3. Nice work, Ben. We’ve been at it from the beginning, and of course, we’re not alone.

  4. Senile Old Fart says:

    Don’t see much, if anything, about the evils of godless communism in the manual, either. Hard to study Benson without it.

  5. Geoff - Aus says:

    With the statements on LDS.org, we are trying to be more open and honest. This manual is from the previous era when the idea was to only present the pretty bits. Which is pretty much the same as lying, when it’s supposed to be giving a real picture, as opposed to a sanitised one.

    When we had the first lesson on the life and ministry of ET we had a sweet video, but our HP group did not want to know about his belief that the civil rights for African Americans was a communist plot. That there were communist lead gorilla groups causing the unrest (not that they had real complaints), and that the UN was a plot to take over the US gov. And of course we don’t want to know that he was a racist, and white supremacist.

    If we could accept the truth, and then discuss how he could still be a Prophet as well, we might be able to help each other, but no we (my group) would rather deny that anything but the sanitised version exists. Most of them don’t want to know about the essays on LDS.org either.

    A time of not change.

  6. Benjamin Park says:

    “This manual is from the previous era when the idea was to only present the pretty bits. Which is pretty much the same as lying, when it’s supposed to be giving a real picture, as opposed to a sanitised one.”

    I don’t think that’s fair. The purpose of these manuals is not a history lesson, but an attempt to provide content from the past that is applicable for the present. If it was presented as a history of Ezra Taft Benson’s thought, then we could probably expect more engagement with those issues.

  7. Walter Wetwhistle says:

    On its own, the education quote you gave seems to tell us to beware any higher education, but in the context of related teachings, I’d say Pres. Benson was particularly concerned about government run education, not higher education in general. Like in this context, for instance:

    “The tenth plank in Karl Marx’s Manifesto for destroying our kind of civilization advocated the establishment of ‘free education for all children in public schools.’ There were several reasons why Marx wanted government to run the schools.…one of them [was that] ‘It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or agnostics may be.’

    It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.” (In General Conference, Oct. 1970)

  8. Can someone explain please why the elisions and distortions of context in the teachings of the presidents of the church do not come across as extremely sinister to Mormon intellectuals? It seems that there is some person or some group of people in Mormon leadership that is interested in actively deceiving the average Mormon member into believing that the presidents of the church have always, down to the smallest details, agreed on everything and always promoted whatever line of thinking is currently in vogue with the Mormon leadership. This is of course false, as the article above mentions. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples I can remember of trying to fit a church president’s teaching and context into the contemporary world through gross distortion of context is the almost total whitewashing of polygamy from the Brigham Young manual, which was an institution that must certainly have colored Young’s daily lived and political leadership experience profoundly.

    Let us consider that if the church leadership weren’t actively trying to be deceptive, we would have one of two alternate realities to our current one. Either (1) we would have manuals that accurately reflected the agendas, interests, ideas and contexts of the presidents of the church, and perhaps explanations about why things are, according to the principles of modern revelation, different now than in the past, or (2) we would have topical manuals each year (which is basically what the presidents of the church manuals are) that don’t pretend to present the teachings of specific historical church leaders and rather simply present guidance for present-day living as originating from current leadership and/or inspiration.

    To me the teachings of the presidents of the church manuals are highly analogous to 1984’s “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

  9. I don’t think Geoff was far off. The average member naturally assumes that what is printed is representative of that leader’s teachings.

    It seems the objective of these manuals is to show a continuous chain of inspired Church leadership, so that our faith in the current leadership is strengthened. The challenge is that our past leaders, read in context, occasionally sound a little nutty and were sometimes wrong on important issues — issues that they were passionate about. That’s what get’s edited out. So yeah, it does seem a little deceitful.

    I agree it might be inappropriate to try to teach ETB in context. However, instead of using manuals to show that the current leadership is inspired, we could create lessons and manuals that are actually inspiring.

  10. Benjamin Park says:

    Walter: you are certainly correct that much of ETB’s skepticism was directed toward state-funded education, which is naturally an extension of his belief in government overreach = corruption. The quote you shared is an excellent embodiment of that. But that skepticism also spread to other forms of higher education, as I understand it, which was part of a general surge of Religious Right disillusionment with the ivory tower that happened during this period. A complex and fascinating topic for sure; I hope someone gives it the treatment it deserves. (You hear me, Patrick Mason!)

    Big Cow and Dave R: while I share much of your critique, I maintain that “deception” is not the right word, because that assumes a dublicitous nature on behalf of those in charge of the manuals that I just don’t think exists. My most chariable reconstruction of the mental framework behind this manual is threefold: 1) prophetic leaders, when acting as a prophet (to use JS’s phrase), have lessons that transcend their time and have relevance to us today; 2) much of a prophet’s teachings were meant for their particular time in place so, though perhaps not wrong, they are not applicable for today and thus are rightfully excised from these manuals; 3) the canon of truth is exhaustive, unchanging, and self-referential, which means that it makes sense one should be able to excerpt and present gospel truths in a vacuum-like encylopedic format, just the same as it is ok to line up jewels from across the world in an impressive presentation; 4) these manuals are meant to serve as both validations for the Church’s doctrines and beliefs, which again they sincerely feel is unchanging, and springboards for class discussion.

    To echo again: I do not share many of those assumptions, and thus disagree with their approach. But I would not accuse them of being deceitful, just holders of a different approach to understanding the gospel. I would love to see a more contextualized and dynamic approach to gospel, truth, and leadership, but that’s not my stewardship, and thus I just freely opine on blogs without real ramifications. Who knows—I could be very wrong. It wouldn’t be a first.

  11. Not Ben P says:

    These manuals are not primarily for English-speakers, but for all those who have linguistic barriers to accessing the wealth of Church-related material that exists.

  12. Unfortunately, the takeaway for most members in my area–if the full extent of ETB’s quotes were included in the manual–would not be “look, even prophets aren’t perfect.” It would be “well, we better start sending the kids to private school or start homeschooling them, because public schools are clearly evil” and “well, I guess the civil rights movement really was directed by Satan himself.” There are already some here who believe those or similar things. I’d much prefer that the nuttier stuff be left out of the manuals altogether, than that we spend entire lessons discussing how evil socialism is.

  13. Not Ben P,

    That’s an important point. I don’t know how the writers of these manuals would even begin to contextualize the original material in a way that would be meaningful for the global church — beyond what they’ve already done, I mean.

  14. Mance Lotter says:

    A sign of a true prophet is his or her teachings transcend time. Benson…fail. I don’t buy the rationalization.

  15. Certainly in this case, and maybe in all cases, it would be easier if the contents of the manuals were really the “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church” By garnering statements from these men going back to their earliest days as general authorities the compilers are forced to do far more editing than they would need to if they limited themselves to statements made while their subjects were really the President.

  16. I’m gonna second Tim on this one: for most Anglo-U.S. members I know, presenting the full extent of Pres. Benson’s remarks would sadly NOT ignite an enlightening discussion on how a prophet can still be human and flawed, but instead only validate their worst conservative prejudices–about public funding, about civil rights, etc. Far from any sort of malicious cover-up on the part of Correlation, I think these excisions can easily be read charitably: for left-leaning members, it is a comforting (if implicit) acknowledgment by the Church that many of Benson’s views were in fact inconsistent with the gospel, and are best left to the dustbin of history (Trotsky allusion intended); for right-leaning members, it is a gentle rebuke against identifying his more extremist views as true doctrine. Like Paul (who was also an Apostle with problematic views who often spoke “not of the Lord, but of himself”), the manual only “holds fast that which is good,” and, I think wisely, disregards the rest.

  17. It would truly be a challenge to write a lesson manual that more completely encapsulated the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. To me it seems what we are doing is teaching the current iteration of the correlated gospel by selecting Benson quotes that support it. But this gives the false impression that all the prophets since the beginning have spoken with one unified voice. And then when members become aware of the omitted teachings, that can create a sense of betrayal.

    Maybe one solution would be to have a lesson or two focused on the teachings that were left out of the manual. You could provide some background on the cold war, explain that these were matters on which the brethren disagreed among themselves, and give the message that not everything that comes from the voice of a prophet is the word of God. But you could do it in a way that made it clear that these were no longer teachings that were endorsed by the church.

  18. Footnote 3 really makes the entire piece. Nice work

  19. Bored at Church says:

    Given all the inadequacies of the current “Presidents” manuals, how do you make the 3rd hour interesting and enjoyable? In my EQ (which largely consists of return missionaries), we all seem to suffer in silence, as we hear things we’ve heard 100 times before. When I’ve been an EQ teacher, I’ve struggled between “staying true to the manual” vs. trying to go beyond it in interesting ways. Usually I’ve failed.

    Improving the manuals would help a lot, but that won’t happen anytime soon. What do we do in the meantime? It just seems so sad that, given the “good news” of the Gospel and the Restoration, that my actual experience during the 3rd hour is so mind-numbing and uninspiring.

  20. As I am not a historian, the removing of the quotes from their original context does not bother me that much.

    To be honest, I find it quite refreshing. The church now has no interest in warning people against a liberal arts education. It does not continue to teach that women must always stay home or that any government program equals socialism. If anyone had a problem with the old President Benson teaching on these issues they should be relieved that they are now done away with. I certainly am.

  21. Soltrigger says:

    Isn’t it amazing. So many spend so much time critiquing past prophets and trying to decide if what they had to say and what they believed is relevant today. I guess from the authors point of view lets throw out the entire Old and New Testament as it’s outdated and there is much that is written that is so very much taken out of context.

    I think the problem of all this modern-Mormon talk is everyone is entirely missing the point. Communism is still evil. There are still dangers (much more so today) in institutions of higher learning. There are still robbers of Gadianton. The problem is, I believe, for conscience sake people want to dismiss what these prophets said because it would mean they have to change their world view. The world is on a slippery slope and any enlightened Latter-day Saint knows where it’s headed, and it is not good.

    Thank God for President Ezra Taft Benson. Thank God for mothers who are able to stay at home. Thank God for current living prophets who testify of Jesus Christ. The Holy One of Israel who, according to so many who filter these things through modern lenses, would be so irrelevant today.

  22. Soltrigger: “I guess from the authors point of view lets throw out the entire Old and New Testament as it’s outdated and there is much that is written that is so very much taken out of context.” So, I see you agree with the correlation committee. That’s exactly what they do in the manuals.

  23. Carl Youngblood says:

    There were plenty of manuals in the past that included history lessons along with them to try to place scriptures and revelations in context. I don’t think this would be impossible to do and I think it would increase members’ maturity and awareness.

  24. Re: “There is a constant anxiety to remind Church members of the relevance of our inspired and chosen leaders”
    Perhaps I’m pessimistic, but the more the institution calls attention to itself by insisting and asserting its own relevance, I think: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

  25. Jared vdH says:

    It’s a bit easier to see why, just in this thread, the Christian Church fell apart after the apostles died. Then they probably still had access to actual writings of Paul or Peter or John that didn’t make it past the 3rd and 4th century bishops when they compiled the New Testament.

    I shudder to think the coals we would rake Paul’s words over if we actually had access to all of them, like we do with the modern apostles.

  26. Much of what ETB said on politics and other topics was just as loopy in its proper context as what we are hearing today from right-wing talk radio. Thank goodness Hugh B. Brown was there to set a few things straight. Too bad the current batch of Mormons tend to vote with Benson.

  27. Clark Goble says:

    While I’m about ready to have a PH/RS manual organized by topics independent of topics with quotes & anecdotes about a particular prophet, in many ways the manuals were a pretty great idea. It emphasizes the idea of continuing revelation or guidance and how living prophets are akin to scripture.

    Sure we can critique the selection process but guess what? The process of canonization does the same sort of things. If you only read the D&C or PoGP you’ll get a very different view of Joseph than you would reading Rough Stone Rolling. These manuals are probably in between.

    While I can appreciate those who want people to understand about the fallible side of the brethren let’s be honest. What most members need is to better live the basics of the gospel and these manuals focus on that. If you want to study history (and it’s a great thing to study) we can do that on our own. But that’s not the point of Sunday School, Priesthood or Relief Society. In any case the reason I love EQ meetings so much more than most other meetings is that the lessons usually uses these manuals as a starting off point and then move to a more laid back practical discussion of the principles.

  28. If the manual had been taken just from the sermons Brother Benson delivered during his years as the president or the church, a similar argument regarding editing could be made. Gone were his warnings about communism and government overreach. Instead, the most memorable lessons he taught were warnings about pride and our failure to take seriously The Book of Mormon.

  29. “I shudder to think the coals we would rake Paul’s words over if we actually had access to all of them, like we do with the modern apostles.”

    Yep. We set up impossible standards. Without getting too cheesy, it is a blessing to have a living church that follows modern day revelation and learns line upon line and precept upon precept. Yet conservatives among us criticize when the church changes (or liberals when it “correlates”).

    We are blessed to believe that, although imperfect, we all (including prophets) can receive revelation and represent the Lord in our callings, despite sins and imperfections. Yet we criticize prophets if they held loopy political beliefs. (I used to support Ron Paul. I am glad the Lord doesn’t hold this against me when I am considered for callings).

    I think, on some issues, the church can be properly criticized. I just don’t see the refusal to teach ETB’s beliefs on government, working women, or a liberal arts education as one of them.

  30. How long until we run out of prophets for these manuals? They don’t make for good history, they are terrible as teaching resources, and boring to read. How did RS/PH come to this?

  31. Clark Goble says:

    Mark B, I think that’s an important point. There was a very big difference to his talks when the mantle fell upon him. Honestly I’m glad he does has his own manual as those talks he gave as President were amazing. I used to look forward to conference to see what he’d say. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of talks of other prophets and apostles. But there was something very different about conference when Pres. Benson was President.

  32. John Harrison – Probably about done, since the only ones without a manual are Hunter, Hinckley, and Monson. I vote for RS presidents next.

  33. Clark Goble says:

    While I’m not sure covering all the RS presidents would make sense I’d love a manual based on Eliza R. Snow and an other on Zina Huntington. Both are. in my opinion, some of the greatest spiritual leaders and teachers of the restoration.

    Monson would be very hard to do and teach given the type of talks he tends to give.

    Personally I kind of wish they’d return to the manuals from the 80’s and early 90’s even though I know why they made this particular change. Remember the manual where there was two weeks of lessons on the King Follet Discourse? Those were the days.

  34. I don’t think it really matters whose words we proof text and cull into manuals. Why not heads of state or front men in rock bands? Why not CEOs or famous authors?

  35. I teach EQ about once a month and the manual gives me a topic, but that’s about it. Other than that, it doesn’t really enter in except for a quote or two. I find them almost completely useless, being, as they are, without much point other than as a list of topically-arranged out of context quotes.

  36. Jared vdH says:

    Angela C, based on that logic, what’s the point of the entirety of the Bible since it’s just a collection of material proof tested by people 1600 to 2000 years ago? If you’re going to just blanket complain about proof texting, that’s pretty much the definition of every religious scripture ever compiled.

  37. Jared: I’m not opposed to that, and it’s not a complaint.

  38. wreddyornot says:

    Edited however they may be, It behooves all those who use them (whether instructor or student) to engage the subject matters seriously. That is, to make sure to agitate, lather, and bleach as much as possible to get all the dirt and muck out of those in there the washer to be cleansed.

  39. wreddyornot says:

    “there in the washer” not “in there the washer”

  40. rameumptom says:

    The Church has always “likened” scripture to apply to the present day. Nephi did it and encouraged us to do it, as well. It was commonly done anciently. Matthew skewers many Old Testament prophecies in order to make them fit his agenda of proving Jesus is Messiah, because he fulfilled the prophecies (as Matthew saw them). Nephi reinterpreted Isaiah, and adapted some of his writings, to his own purposes as well.

    I don’t have a problem with many of ETB’s beliefs. But they are complex and not easily managed in a Church manual designed to discuss doctrine. ETB’s battle with communism (which engulfed Civil Rights, federal programs, etc) may not apply to the focus the GAs have today. They are less political, and more focused on doctrine. That and we are now a worldwide Church, including many nations that are socialist/communist in nature. The Church wants to preach in China, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere, and won’t be able to if it offends by quoting ETB’s political views. BTW, his political views were not that far from David O. McKay’s views, either.

  41. rameumptom: And both were utterly taken in by the charlatan and lunatic, Cleon Skousen, whose writings are best used for sanitary purposes.

  42. Frankly, I think most of these teachings of the presidents manuals suck. They are shallow, superficial, and sometimes conflict with what current leaders are teaching us.

  43. When I first looked though the manual I remember thinking this must be a rare time liberal Mormons will be grateful for correlation.

  44. I have to admit that I am not sure if I am grateful for the sanitizing of this manual or not. It seems so dishonest to take someone who was such a racist, and who knowingly gave political talks in direct contradiction to the directions given by other prophets, under whom he served.

    I honestly never quite understood why he wasn’t excommunicated for directly disobeying orders as an apostle. Especially when we talked about the need to send him away so that the priesthood could be extended to all worthy men, and then I read some John Birch literature in my AP history class, I was horrified. (Other LDS members in the class, who left the church soon after turning 18, have cited the realization that a prophet was involved in the John Birchers, was a tipping point for them.) I was confused between the man who focused on reading the Book of Mormon as a prophet, and the person that his earlier talks and writings revealed. The feeling of wanting desperately to wash away the ugliness in his politics has never left me. I have simply decided to take a year off from 3rd hour, as a way to keep myself from having to listen to the expounding and additional content that the women who are teaching the lessons email to us each week, so we can see how much his teachings should be guiding our lives. My testimony in church governance isn’t strong enough to relive that golden era of racist bull $#!@.

  45. Julia, it sounds like you may be mixing people up. Ezra Taft Benson was present for the revelation on the priesthood.

    If you’re having a hard time with President Benson, I’d suggest the book On Wings of Faith by Frederick Babbel. Reading about Elder Benson’s experiences in Europe after the war will provide a complexity to his story that you can’t get by focusing solely and without context on some of his later political views. The experience of seeing Poland and the Russian sector of Berlin right after the war must have been absolutely horrifying. I’ll find a passage from the book. Here’s what Babbel said about the experience in Berlin:

    Earlier we had seen some of the destruction in the Western sectors of this sprawling city, but as we toured the Russian Sector with some of our servicemen that evening, we saw what was incredible. An effort was being made in the sectors we had visited earlier to clean up and rebuild, but in the Russian Sector there was a total feeling of stagnation, hopelessness and stalking death…. And the pervading stench of decaying human bodies made the scenes we witnessed all the more oppressive and overpowering in their spirit of abject hopelessness…

    Even if you don’t like his political views—I never cared for them myself—do realize that they were formed in part by his experience in Europe right after the war and how the people, including members of the Church, were suffering at the hands of the Russians.

    President Benson’s mission to Europe was nothing short of miraculous. I’m of the opinion that it should be included along with the Journeys of the Apostle Paul as one of the greatest stories of apostolic ministry in the history of the world.

  46. Two comments: Benson was a man of black and white, no nuance. I was utterly horrified when he became president of the Church because of his extreme right wing thinking and his virulent anti-communist opinion which, obviously colored his opinion of domestic politics. However, when he became president, …. nothing happened. I thought that it was because he was a president of a world-wide Church and we needed to have good relations with the East Germans, for example. I have changed my mind in this subject: he was merely becoming senile, and thank God for that.

    The problem of the correlated editing of the presidents’ manuals is that they are all the same, as observed above by others. They say nothing new that has not been said in the last General Conference. I suppose, for some (most?) people this is OK. After all Church is not attended for new material, only to reinforce the old. But, instead of just rehashing the old stuff about “agency,” could we not have had a fruitful discussion about the uses, limits, and purposes of agency in living? About the impact of agency, or lack of it, in our relationship to God? The relationship of agency to obedience? All of this possibility drowned in pablum.

  47. I’m late to the party by a long time. I’m doing some research into the genius of Mao Zedong and found that the correlated manuals present the same problems. Mao’s theories are divorced from their historical context and used as essentially a floating buffet of ideas about guerrilla warfare. I appreciated your elucidation of that problem, and found it very applicable in my research. Thanks.