Friday, May 7, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson, Anti-Catholicism, and Church/State Separation

Having recently given an example of how Ezra Taft Benson's politics influenced his church service, perhaps it would be fitting for me to now give an example of how the LDS Church influenced his political service. Benson served both church and state government simultaneously, as LDS Apostle and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

The following entry is found in the David O. McKay Diaries, 1 October 1957:

Telephone conversation with Ezra Taft Benson from Washington, D.C. regarding world tour to include Hawaii, Japan, the Far East, and Near East, and finally Rome, Italy where about November 11 to 15, he will be the representative of the government of the United States at an international meeting. He will be one of the scheduled speakers.

The American Ambassador has suggested to him that a meeting with the Pope be arranged.

Later, the Presidency decided that if he could avoid such a meeting without embarrassment, 'we would prefer that he do so.'

(see telephone conversation with Bro. Benson following)

Wednesday, October 2, 1957

Last evening, October, 1957, Elder Ezra Taft Benson called me by telephone at my home and asked whether or not he should accept a government appointment to go to Rome, Italy. The American Ambassador to Italy there would like to arrange a conference for him with the Pope. I told Brother Benson that I would talk with my counselors this morning and then let him know.


Telephone conversation with Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Wednesday, October 2, 1957.

(Brother Benson was contacted in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.)

President McKay: Can you hear me, Brother Benson?

Brother Benson: Yes. I am in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

President McKay: Regarding the matter we were discussing yesterday, we are all united in the feeling that if you can in honor, and without embarrassment, avoid that conference it would be well for you to do it.

Brother Benson: All right. I think I can.

President McKay: Was it the Ambassador?

Brother Benson: The American Ambassador to Italy.

President McKay: Yes. I see.

Brother Benson: He is the one who has proposed it. But I think I can avoid it, President McKay, because I am going to be in Rome for a very short time. I have to make an important address for a World Agricultural Congress, and I think the shortness of my stay can probably be used as a reason for not doing so.

President McKay: We have in mind particularly the effect upon our own people.

Brother Benson: Yes. That is the thing that concerned me too.

President McKay: And the dignity that you would have to give to such a conference.

Brother Benson: Yes, that is right.

President McKay: And really they have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and we have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Brother Benson: I am in full harmony with that feeling.

President McKay: Well that is good. We are glad of that. We all feel that it would be pretty embarrassing to you, and we are helping you out of what might prove to be a conference that will reflect upon our Church.

Brother Benson: Well, I think it could be embarrassing both to me and to the Church.

President McKay: All right.

Brother Benson: I shall do my best, and I think I can work it out.

President McKay: The brethren all send their love to you.

Brother Benson: Thank you and my love to them, and thank you for calling.

President McKay: Thank you, and good-bye."