Monday, January 7, 2008

A Day in the Temple with Ezra Taft Benson--Mother's in Zion

Back in 1987 when we were working on the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson my wife and I were invited to go to the temple with President Benson and his wife Flora. Most Thursdays he would be driven down to the Temple from his Eagle Gate Apartment Building. We were in company with Reed A. Benson and his wife May, Dennis Wardle and his wife Mary. We were to meet the Prophet at eleven o'clock. We all met at Reed's home and were to drive together in Dennis Wardle's car to the Jordan River Temple. Reed was known for being late as he was always doing various things with his nine children or talking to Reid Bankhead on the phone. We had to wait for him to have his breakfast etc. Finally we got on the road and ended up being late for the eleven o'clock session. President Benson on the other hand was a very busy man who was early to things. He didn't wait for us because he had appointments to attend to in the afternoon so he and his wife went on ahead to the session. It was very disappointing as we had anticipated attending with him. I thought we would just turn around and go home but instead we were told to wait for him in a private dining room. After about forty minutes he and his wife appeared. We were all invited to sit down and join him for lunch. He liked the food in the temple where he would eat plump cashews, pink Bach dinner mints and fresh strawberries after his main course. They had a strawberry pie that would rival Marie Callendar. I wanted a second piece it was that good.

There were many people at the time who felt that he was old and becoming senile. Many including his own grandson Steve Benson thought he didn't have the capacity to keep up with the times. They expressed themselves publicly that he was incapacitated. The man who I met that day was nothing like that at all. His mind was alert and quick. What I observed is that he had excellent short term memory. His long term memory was a bit rusty but nothing out of the ordinary for an older person of nearly 88. My own father who was thirty years younger had about as good a memory. On a couple of other occasions when he and I had discussed a particular topic such as Scouting although we repeated the same conversation he said practically the same thing.

That day in the temple we discussed political affairs, culture, art, and history. Having worked in universities with academic professors my whole adult life I was riveted by the man's grasp of the subjects we discussed. He mentioned that he read Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report cover to cover every week. I read Newsweek and Time but not U.S. News and made a mental note to do that. We discussed the current conditions in the world. He discussed the state of things in the former Soviet Union.

May Benson brought up how she had seen a documentary about how they were doing late term abortions in China when babies were five and six months old. President Benson said that he was appalled by how the people of the world including in the United States could kill their unborn children. He said that he thought it was due to selfishness. In fact he said that there was a problem even among the Saints of being selfish and materialistic. He felt that even though there were more children aborted than the Saints could possibly have that there was no reason we couldn't have one or two more children and allow the children of our Heavenly Father to come in to Latter-day Saint homes who might have been born in those countries. He said there were a certain amount of spirits that had to come in to this world before the Savior would come again and we needed to do something about it.

Then he paused thinking very hard. A minute went by in silence. Then he looked at us and said this subject concerns me so much that I am going to address the mother's role in a fireside I am speaking at in a few days. I feel strongly about the subject.

He kept his word in February 1987 he addressed a Parent's Fireside in which he said "I know the special blessings of a large and happy family, for my dear parents had a quiver full of children. Being the oldest of eleven children, I saw the principles of unselfishness, mutual consideration, loyalty to each other, and a host of other virtues developed in a large and wonderful family with my noble mother as the queen of that home.

Young mothers and fathers, with all my heart I counsel you not to postpone having your children, being co-creators with our Father in heaven.

Do not use the reasoning of the world, such as, "We'll wait until we can better afford having children, until we are more secure, until John has completed his education, until he has a better paying job, until we have a larger home, until we've obtained a few of the material conveniences," and on and on." He used David O. McKay on the very subject invoking in the mouth of two or three witnesses.

News of the talk moved quickly through the Church. There were literally dozens of vitriolic editorials in the papers in Utah and Idaho. Women wrote in saying he was a doddering old man who didn't understand the issues of the time. Reed later told me that his father received 100,000 pieces of correspondence. The first forty thousand were mostly negative telling how he didn't know what he was talking about but over time the next 60,000 became more positive as women began to reduce their work loads and go home. My wife and I made a commitment that we would have more children and that she could stay in the home which she did for over twenty years. After he passed on 30 May 1994 until now many people have fallen back to their usual patterns. In October 2007 Julie Beck stirred the waters when she used his talk as the basis of "Mother's Who Know" conference talk. Her talk caused just as big of a furor.

What is amazing to me about that day in the temple was that Ezra Taft Benson said something profound not just about the relevant issues of the time but that told us that "revelation is not formed in a vacuum." Just like prophets during all ages Ezra Taft Benson understood the times in which he was dealing. Prophets are a lone voice in the wilderness. Their words are not always well received. The only way we can silence the prophets is when we don't listen to him. Many people tried to shout him down back then but he still seems to rise up today as his words are remembered. There are many children alive today because he had the courage of his convictions. He stood up and took the heat. I am glad he did. I wouldn't trade any of my children who are here because my wife and I heeded the words of a prophet.


LifeOnaPlate said...

Good principles, but I do still have a complaint. There are a myriad of children in the world who could be adopted and given a great home in an LDS family. I wish the prophets would remember them more often.

Dr. B said...

That is a good point. There are many LDS that I know of who would like to adopt but it is difficult for them to even find children anywhere in the world. Many of them do go to places like Russia and Korea but even then it is hard. Many countries don't like Americans raising their children even though the conditions for the children are better. I haven't explored the idea of getting children from Africa but it would be an interesting thing to find out. I would like to see more diversity in our wards.