Friday, March 12, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson, the John Birch Society, and the Peace Symbol

It is no secret that the 13th President of the LDS Church, Ezra Taft Benson, thought highly of (and had close associations with) the John Birch Society.

Since Benson had such high regard for the JBS[1], and since he served in Church and State government simultaneously--as both Apostle and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture--questions have been raised over whether (or to what degree) Benson's politics affected his religious ministry, and vice versa.

On October 2, 1970, Apostle Benson declared in a talk given at General Conference:

Have we... "polluted the holy church of God?".... The auxiliaries of the Church are to be a help, not a hindrance, to parents and the priesthood as they strive to lead their families back to God. Do any of us wear or display the broken cross, anti-Christ sign, that is the adversary's symbol of the so-called "peace movement"?[2]

Having received this information over the pulpit during General Conference, some Latter-day Saints assume that Benson's claim about the peace symbol is official doctrine and based on revelation. But where did he actually get such an idea? Benson was evidently parroting over the pulpit the political fear-mongering propaganda that had been published by the John Birch Society (in their official publication American Opinion) only four months before.

Titled "Peace Symbols: The Truth About Those Strange Designs," the article lambasted the peace movement by associating their symbol with a broken cross, Communism, anti-Christ, and a Satanism.

It was the upside-down broken cross. Such anti-Christian and anti-Jewish symbolism is common to Satanists...

The revolutionaries are pushing this business [of Satanism and black magic] like there's no tomorrow. And those 'peace symbols' are a part of it. They are symbols of the anti-Christ!...

[T]he actual origin of this Satanic symbol can be pinpointed....

[I]n America, as thousands of radicalized youths parade that same symbol, the heretics of the Christian have all but adopted the 'sign of the anti-Christ' as their own. And you can be absolutely certain that the Communists planned it that way.[3]

One is left to wonder why any Latter-day Saint would find this article authoritative, since it likewise associates the inverted pentagram and hand clasp with communism and Satanism--both of which are symbols that have been used by the Church. Inverted pentagrams were depicted on the Nauvoo temple (and other buildings). The hand clasp is found on the Salt Lake temple (and other buildings) and is a central part to the temple endowment ritual.

Says the same article quoted above:

Another esoteric symbol of the international socialist movement is the "joined" or "clasped" hands--the ancient sign of the god Fides. Mackey's Symbolism says this design has been used historically to denote fidelity. It is now used by the Freemasons, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and is frequently reproduced in the Communist Daily World to indicate union between Comrades. The insignia is the official symbol of the Communist-controlled Student "Nonviolent" Coordinating Committee, and serves as the logo for the Trotskyite Communists' Workers World....[4]

Bernard Koerner cites the inverted cross as the symbol of "Drudenfuss," or Druid's foot. Standard German dictionaries describe this as a five-pointed star with one point up and two down. That star-shaped figure, which corresponds to the forked-shape runic figure [previously associated with the peace symbol in the article], is known in ancient symbolism as a pentalpha. In his Symbolism Of the Three Degrees, Oliver Day Street comments that "The Pentalpha with one of its points elevated, was a symbol of the pure and the virtuous and a harbinger of good, but with two of its points elevated it became the accursed Goat of Mendes which typifies Satan and foreboded evil and misfortune." One point (or finger) up, symbolized the monogram of Christ, while the inverse of the Pentalpha, or two points (two spread fingers [implying a condemnation of the Peace Sign typically made with the hand]) up, was the sign of Satan.[5]


[1] “I am enclosing [a] copy of the Review of the News (a weekly magazine published by the John Birch Society]. I assume you get it. I believe you should. This has more pertinent information and timely information on the situation today than most any little, inexpensive magazines.” “If you want to get something good, solid, more-detailed articles on various subjects, I recommend American Opinion [the John Birch Society’s monthly magazine]. You should be acquainted with Scott Stanley, the managing editor of these two magazines and one of the most brilliant young editors I know.” Ezra Taft Benson, "Grandfather Benson," signed by his secretary Betty MacDonald, to Steve Benson, 11 February 1982, (accessed 12 March 2010).
[2] Friday Mormon Session of General Conference, 2 October 1970.
[3] David E. Gumaer, "Peace Symbols: The Truth About Those Strange Designs," American Opinion (June 1970), 54, 55, 56.
[4] Ibid., 43.
[5] Ibid., 51.

Clasped hands on Salt Lake City Temple, (accessed 12 March 2010.
Nauvoo Temple Pentagram Window, photo taken by author.


  1. You said, "One is left to wonder why Benson even felt this article was authoritative," but the fact that he read is only assumed. That may be a good assumption, but I think it's a stretch to assume he felt it was authoritative. He did not discuss that article from the pulpit.

  2. President Benson was a nutball.

  3. Re: Anonymous1
    I edited the statement you quoted, to be more nuanced and less presumptuous. Thanks for the feedback. The second part of your comment, however--about you thinking it a stretch (or unlikely) that Benson saw the article authoritative--feel free to explain why you are of this opinion. Considering the timing of the statements, Benson's close relationship with JBS, his high regard for their literature (as shown in fn#1), and the fact that JBS seems to have been the most influential organization to popularize the propaganda, my conclusions (in my view, obviously) don't seem a stretch at all. On the contrary, I think they are well supported. But if you have a better way to explain the correlation, by all means, share it with me.

  4. You put forth a logical fallacy. Benson was warning of the anti Christ peace movement, and speaking of its origins.

    Just because Satan uses other Christian symbols, does not make all Satanic symbols Christian symbols as you seem to insinuate here.

    Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can see how accurate a man of God he really was.

  5. Anonymous: You put forth a logical fallacy. Benson was warning of the anti Christ peace movement, and speaking of its origins.

    Me: I am not following you. What exactly makes this a logical fallacy? Be specific please.

    Anonymous: Just because Satan uses other Christian symbols, does not make all Satanic symbols Christian symbols as you seem to insinuate here.

    Me: Where did I insinuate this?

    Anonymous: Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can see how accurate a man of God he really was.

    Me: Ok. So... is this supposed to convince me of something?

  6. Thanks for giving a citation of the Gumaer article in "American Opinion". This where the rumour that the peace sign has communist, anti-Christian and communist associations comes from. It is a meme that has been spread through the internet, repeated almost word for word and detached from its source. You have done a public service by naming the journal and author where the story originates.

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