The Nineteenth-Century Bloggernacle

I’ve been concerned, lately, that blogging encourages a kind of discourse that we wouldn’t otherwise see in the Saints. I was wrong.

The Warsaw Signal was a newspaper published in a small town just a little south of Nauvoo. Initially, it reported neutrally on the affairs of the Saints, but that didn’t last. It finally got to the point where Joseph Smith sent this letter:

SIR–You will discontinue my paper–its contents are calculated to pollute me, and to patronize the filthy sheet–that tissue of lies–that sink of iniquity–is disgraceful to any moral man. Yours, with utter contempt. JOSEPH SMITH

P.S. Please publish the above in your contemptible paper.

It was published, labelled “a highly important revelation . . . forwarded us, from his holiness, the Prophet.” It was followed by something that was also called a revelation: a statement of how much Joseph Smith still owed on his subscription.

quotations and information are from Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman.

64 comments for “The Nineteenth-Century Bloggernacle

  1. October 5, 2005 at 10:59 pm

    Joseph Smith rules. I really want someone to say something to me sometime that I can say that.

  2. October 5, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Now that is snark!

  3. gst
    October 5, 2005 at 11:38 pm

    It brings to mind the published response of Wm. F. Buckley Jr. to a similar request: “Cancel your own [g.d.] subscription.”

  4. D. Fletcher
    October 6, 2005 at 12:24 am

    Tom Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Signal, was the narrator in my “cubist” musical about Joseph Smith. There is literally no reason on earth he turned against the Mormons, except that he sold more papers that way. Our musical was an indictment of the media, nothing new, except that this media was at work 150 years ago.

  5. sam b
    October 6, 2005 at 7:47 am

    Welcome to 19th-century journalism. You think Smith’s little quibble with Tom Sharp is impressive, try out William Smith’s _The Wasp_, ultimately replaced by the _Neighbor_ once things got really grim. There are all these reference to Tom-ASS Sharp, indictments of the disproportionality of his nose, eager and horrifying attacks on his person and integrity. It somtimes gets a little embarrassing to read it (Greg Kofford did a full-size reprint a few years ago).

    Re: selling papers, I doubt that was all. The locals really did fear that they would be completely overrun by the Mormons, this clannish group of impoverished immigrants who voted en bloc as instructed, had secret plural wives, organized the largest militia in the state, took vows of secrecy and group loyalty, claimed God was speaking directly to them (and them alone), and had a secret police called the Danites.

    While the persecution was illegal and sad, I think that many people would have the same response in similar settings. Closer to our time, think about the way that “Communist sympathizers” were treated by the American mainstream and by our LDS community at large. Read Ezra Benson’s anti-Communist stuff and compare it with Sharp’s anti-Mormon stuff. Doesn’t sound so different.

  6. Adam Greenwood
    October 6, 2005 at 9:07 am

    “While the persecution was illegal and sad, I think that many people would have the same response in similar settings. Closer to our time, think about the way that “Communist sympathizers” were treated by the American mainstream and by our LDS community at large. Read Ezra Benson’s anti-Communist stuff and compare it with Sharp’s anti-Mormon stuff. Doesn’t sound so different. ”

    And Communist sympathizers were sympathizing with an expansionist slave empire in Russia, while Mormons were trying to be left alone, but hey! what’s a little equivalency among friends.

  7. October 6, 2005 at 9:24 am


    Things have changed a lot. Back then Smith punched people out and manhandled them if they got too obnoxious for him. You wouldnt see any GA doing anything like that these days. Things were much more rough and tumble back then, and giving someone a good cuffing was considered acceptable, if they “deserved it”. Smith’s comment above does nothing to justify our modern rudeness. In some ways our society is more civil, in others it is less.

    One of my favorite GA snarks is when Brigham Young hammers Mark Twain:

    “He [Brigham Young] was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to ‘draw him out’ on federal politics and his high handed attitude toward Congress. . . . But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail. By and by, I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. . . . When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother: ‘Ah—your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?'” (Mark Twain, Roughing It [Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1872], 112-13.)

  8. October 6, 2005 at 10:42 am

    sam b, #5 and Adam Greenwood #6, regarding “Read Ezra Benson’s anti-Communist stuff and compare it with Sharp’s anti-Mormon stuff. Doesn’t sound so different.”

    Ezra Taft Benson is one of the Church’s fifteen Latter-day Prophets. That you would repeat the absurd, naive criticism of him that has circulated for so many years is beneath you.

    Why do you single out Ezra Taft Benson anyway? What about the many other Church leaders who spoke out against communism even before he did? Consider, for example, this 1946 warning from Heber J. Grant’s First Presidency:


    With great regret we learn from credible sources, governmental and others, that a few Church members are joining, directly or indirectly, the communists and are taking part in their activities.

    The Church does not interfere, and has no intention of trying to interfere, with the fullest and freest exercise of the political franchise of its members, under and within our Constitution which the Lord declared: “I established . . . by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose,” (D. & C. 101:80) and which, as to the principles thereof, the Prophet dedicating the Kirtland Temple, prayed should be “established forever.”

    But communism is not a political party nor a political plan under the Constitution; it is a system of government that is the opposite of our Constitutional government, and it would be necessary to destroy our government before communism could be set up in the United States.

    Since communism, established, would destroy our American Constitutional government, to support communism is treasonable to our free institutions, and no patriotic American citizen may become either a communist or supporter of communism.

    To our Church members we say: Communism is not the United Order, and bears only the most superficial resemblance thereto; communism is based upon intolerance and force, the United Order upon love and freedom of conscience and action; communism involves forceful despoliation and confiscation, the United Order voluntary consecration and sacrifice.

    Communists cannot establish the United Order, nor will communism bring it about. The United Order will be established by the Lord in his own due time and in accordance with the regular prescribed order of the Church.

    Furthermore, it is charged by universal report, which is not successfully contradicted or disproved, that communism undertakes to control, if not indeed to proscribe the religious life of the people living within its jurisdiction, and that it even reaches its hand into the sanctity of the family circle itself, disrupting the normal relationship of parent and child, all in a manner unknown and unsanctioned under the Constitutional guarantees under which we in America live. Such interference would be contrary to the fundamental precepts of the gospel and to the teachings and order of the Church.

    Communism being thus hostile to loyal American citizenship and incompatible with true Church membership, of necessity no loyal American citizen and no faithful Church member can be a communist.

    We call upon all Church members completely to eschew communism. The safety of our divinely inspired Constitutional government and the welfare of our Church imperatively demand that communism shall have no place in America.

    The First Presidency: Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay

    (General Conference, October 1946.)

    Would you say this 1946 First Presidency statement also sounds like Sharp?

  9. Jed
    October 6, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Gary: “That you would repeat the absurd, naive criticism of him that has circulated for so many years is beneath you.”

    What is the “absurd, naive” criticism?

    I think Sam is talking about ETB’s well-documented conflation of communism and the Civil Rights Movement, not his anti-communist stance per se.

  10. Adam Greenwood
    October 6, 2005 at 10:55 am

    There’s no evidence for that at all, Jed. He refers to Communist sympathizers who were condemned in LDS and mainstream press.

  11. Jed
    October 6, 2005 at 11:08 am


    See Ezra Taft Benson, “Civil Rights: Tool of Communist Deception,” adaptation from address of same title, delivered at General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 29 September 1967, reprinted by National Research Group, American Fork, Utah, , pp. 1-4; reprinted again in “The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson” [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1968. For Martin Luther King as a Communist tool, see Ezra Taft Benson, “It Can Happen Here,” in An Enemy Hath Done This, Jerreld L. Newquist, comp. [Salt Lake City, Utah: Parliament Publishers, 1969]; and Ezra Taft Benson, An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 335.

  12. October 6, 2005 at 11:09 am

    N.B., to feel that the treatment of Communist sympathizers was wrong is not to condone Communism. Furthermore, many US Communists, especially during the 1940s and 1950s, didn’t know the full extent of Communist authoritarianism, naively believing utopian descriptions of the USSR. To call these people fools is reasonable, but to call them evil may be a distortion.

    Last but not least, to the non-Mormons of the 19th century, Mormonism must have looked threatening in many of the same ways that the USSR did. Nauvoo-period Mormons believed in theocratic empire, after all.

  13. lyle
    October 6, 2005 at 11:39 am

    Jed: have you read those, or are you just cut/pasting a footnote? If the latter, please provide the source. :)

  14. October 6, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    You can read a good, concise account of Benson’s conflation of Civil Rights movement with Communism in the “Blacks, Civil Rights and the Priesthood” chapter of the new David O. McKay biography, “DAVID O MCKAY AND THE RISE OF MODERN MORMONISM”… the chapter uses some great, clear primary sources.

  15. manaen
    October 6, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    Further off-thread, but I was in Utah during the 1976 presidential elections. For some reason, the Communist Party was running TV ads there. I still wonder why. Did they see us as fellow outsiders? Were we to have some lingering animosity toward the federal govenment? Or were Utah’s low rates all their available capital could cover?

  16. Mike Parker
    October 6, 2005 at 5:49 pm

    Then-Elder Benson made some remarks back in the 1960s that were difficult then and would be considered paranoid today. He made a number of statements regarding the civil rights movement that were deleted from the official transcripts of General Conference. And in a 1P/Q12 meeting, he accused Martin Luther King, Jr., of being a communist agent. The David O. McKay biography has info on all of this.

    What’s amazing to me is not what he said in the 60s, but that he didn’t say anything like that at all after becoming Church President. Instead, he focused on the Book of Mormon and pride, and then quietly slipped away. I attribute that to the Lord’s influence on the man whom He chose to lead his Church.

  17. Adam Greenwood
    October 6, 2005 at 6:30 pm

    Jed, et al.,

    By ‘he’ I meant ‘Sam.’ This should have been clear from my comment.

  18. GeorgeD
    October 6, 2005 at 7:17 pm

    I grew up thinking ETB was a bit of a crackpot. But then we had the Venona papers etc. Now I think that he may have been a little extreme but not so much as the left (and most wannabe Mormon intellectuals) would have us believe. There were a lot of communists associated with the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we have a permanent underclass in America. We can all applaud progress in voting rights, abolition of Jim Crow and progress equal employment opportunity. But who doubts that socialist ideology is at the heart of our welfare and entitlement system that has crippled black initiative and made almost all of us suspicious of black credentials?

    There was a very active Communist attempt for the hearts and minds of Americans from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. Communism captured the fancy of intellectuals and in general it still finds much sympathy among educated elites who think that theynot market forces should be in control.

    ETB was less extreme than anyone recognizes.

  19. October 6, 2005 at 8:24 pm

    Sheldon #14 and Mike Parker #16, early in the book I noticed two glaring mistakes in the David O. McKay biography and when asked on this blog (see here) about them, Greg Prince never answered. The book lacks credibility for me.

    Jed #9, let the reader judge. Read #5 again. In answer to your question, it is absurd and naive to criticize Ezra Taft Benson for being anti-communist when the First Presidency from 1936 to 1969 repeatedly issued anti-communist statements—it is absurd and naive for sam b #5 to imply that the Prophet Joseph would have criticized Ezra Taft Benson the same way he did Thomas Sharp and the Warsaw Signal. And if Times and Seasons would like to start a thread on Ezra Taft Benson and the civil rights movement, we can discuss that subject also.

  20. D-Train
    October 6, 2005 at 9:03 pm

    GeorgeD, it’s ridiculous to say that the modern welfare state has made us all suspicious of black credentials. We had no modern welfare state whatsoever prior to the New Deal, and yet lynching, “scientific” theories that described blacks as subhuman, and discrimination that any decent human being should cringe at occurred anyway. Doesn’t sound like a lot of trust to me. I’d say that we trust “black credentials” a lot more now than we did before the welfare state.

    My own judgment, based on little evidence, is that “socialist ideology” is not responsible for our distrust of blacks. What is responsible is a genuine deficit in credentials due to a historic legacy of discrimination, grossly inferior educational opportunities, and plain old racism.

    This “welfare state cripples black initiative” crap is little more than a nice new suit for ugly old racism. There’s no evidence to support this. Let’s look to the empirical record. Would black initiative happen to a greater extent absent welfare? We tried that for a hundred years and it didn’t work. Was that due to Jim Crow only? Possibly, but not all that likely. However, it does not seem plausible to say that letting people starve will improve their initiative. Seems likely to create yet more ghettos and yet more crime.

  21. D-Train
    October 6, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    By the way, why isn’t white initiative crippled as well? After all, it isn’t just blacks that can live that majestic, princely welfare lifestyle, is it? We do know that more whites are receving government assistance than blacks. Is it just a ticking time bomb? Guess so.

    Man, I had hoped we’d gotten past this kind of thinking.

  22. GeorgeD
    October 6, 2005 at 9:15 pm

    Someone got detrained. I tied the civil rights movement and implicitly affirmative action with a suspicion about minority credentials. I also tied the modern welfare state (at least in part) to the civil rights movement. But I didn’t tie suspicion of black credentials to the welfare state. I know that I type fast and I don’t edit that carefully but try to be a little careful with the reading or you’ll drive off the tracks my friend.

  23. GeorgeD
    October 6, 2005 at 9:27 pm

    D-Train Where to start?

    1. More whites than blacks getting welfare — of course. How does that make a statistic?
    2. “Would black initiative happen to a greater extent absent welfare? We tried that for a hundred years and it didn’t work.” Are you trying to say that there is nothing you can do about black initiative? Who is a racist?

    Sorry. I am not PC. I can see with my own eyes what social scientists report everyday. By every measure blacks achieve at lower levels than whites. Why? I don’t know. But I don’t think that the welfare state helps anyone especially if it provides what one could get by working all day without working. By any rational expectation someone who worked all day and just got by will have no incentive to work if he can do nothing and just get by. Since historically and for whatever reasons(including racism) blacks worked and just got by at higher rates than other minorities it doesn’t surprise me that the welfare state with its aversion to work will have a greater negative impact on disadvantaged than advantaged people.

    ETB believed in charity not welfare. he also believed that Christ was the way out of the ghetto for individuals. I don’t think he saw a lot of Christianity in the welfare state and it doesn’t surprise me that he saw communism.

  24. S Brown
    October 6, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Wrote long response that some database error deleted. can’t bear to write it again.
    1) Benson seemed a reasonable exemplar of the Mormon anti-communist movement.
    2) Tom Sharp and crew likely saw Mormon Nauvoo in terms very similar to those used to describe the “Evil Empire”. This was my main point.
    3) There were a lot of good people who were simply scared for their lives and livelihood who were part of the Anti-Mormon movement, and if we want to understand people in a meaningful way, it’s not useful just to interact with straw versions of them.
    4) I suspect that Jesus was horrified by USSR. I suspect he is also horrified by US society. USSR at least openly admitted they were against God. We seem to wrap ourselves in a red-white-and-blue shroud of turin to protect ourselves from the realization that we are almost unbearably far from the Christian ideal in our social and economic interactions.
    5) I suspect that heaven will have a lot of welfare mothers and African Americans who took advantage of affirmative action. And the occasional fan of Martin Luther King, Jr. Even the occasional union-member who votes in favor of welfare. Or the rare Swede.

  25. GeorgeD
    October 6, 2005 at 10:00 pm

    24 4) The big difference is that it is our job as individuals to demonstrate our love for Christ and for our fellowman. It isn’t the job of the red white and blue. Christ isn’t going to judge the USSR or the USA. He is going to judge me and you. Those of us who look for the state to do our charity for us (using someone else’s money) won’t get any credit. Capitalism is at least neutral because it defers to the individual. Socialism is insidious because it teaches us expropriation (read that theft). Sorry. ETB was absolutely and prophetically correct about that issue.

  26. Wade Poulson
    October 6, 2005 at 10:08 pm

    Mike Parker #16:

    GREAT COMMENT! I tire of those who criticize prophets.

    I have read the McKay biography. For the most part, it is enlightening. However, a few things are included in the book that, even if true, appear to be there for no uplifting or good reason. The fact that the book opens with a rationalization quote from B.H. Roberts is indicative of its authors’ cognizance of the impropriety of certain statements.

    As for the many self proclaimed “mormon intellectuals”, “their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.” (2nd Nephi 9:28). As evidenced by Nate Oman’s latest post!

  27. D-Train
    October 6, 2005 at 10:45 pm


    “But who doubts that socialist ideology is at the heart of our welfare and entitlement system that has crippled black initiative and made almost all of us suspicious of black credentials? ”

    That sounds like a welfare state tie-in to me. How is this not a direct link? If that’s not what was meant, that’s fine. But I do think that a clear reading of this statement supports my interpretation of it. But, if it isn’t what you wanted to say, then that’s fine and we won’t debate that any longer.

    Your statement that people won’t work to just get by if they can go on welfare to just get by is empirically denied. People are working to just get by in droves. Most people that are working for minimum wage are “working to just get by”. Most people that aren’t making double digits per hour are just working to get by. If your statement were true, there would be a chronic shortage of employees in these positions. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. You can get crummy $6/hour jobs, but the economy isn’t grinding to a halt due to a lack of burger flippers or people greeters. What this suggests is that the “work ethic” or some permutation of it has survived the welfare state admirably. Additionally, any system where giving people food stamps and an overcrowded, crime-infested ghetto apartment is exactly the same standard of living as working would provide has a problem: with the market. When that’s all that the market can provide an honest laborer, I have a difficult time seeing how government shouldn’t step in. But I digress.

    I agree, George, that African-American achievement isn’t what it should be. Your attempt to turn the race card is admirable, but terribly misguided. What I said about achievement without the welfare state is the following:

    1) You argue that the welfare state kills achievement.
    2) For this to be true, we would need to see a demonstrable decrease in achievement following the enactment of the welfare state.
    3) Since African-American achievement relative to the white population (or overall) was low before the welfare state and low (but somewhat higher) after the welfare state, your argument is not supported by the data.

    You’re right that you’re not “P.C.”, but you’re not “just plain correct” either. The data do not support your hypothesis. I’m not calling you a racist, but I am suggesting that your failure to draw relatively self-evident conclusions from unambiguous data does further unhelpful attitudes concerning both race and the welfare state.

    Do I have an easy answer for African-American achievement? No. I’m not that bright. But I can tell you that a legacy of discrimination, lousy educational opportunities, and a vicious cycle of poverty can explain a lot more than an obviously falsifiable argument about the welfare state.

    As for affirmative action, I do agree with you that it doesn’t help people to perceive the positive qualities of an African-American or other minority job applicant. I don’t think, however, that things were any better prior to affirmative action. I’m not fully sold on A.A. either, but I don’t think we can call it an unqualified evil. The data don’t support that either.

  28. GeorgeD
    October 6, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Who called anything an unqualified evil? You jumped all over my comments.I forget at times that I am posting in the heart of Mormon Pharisaism. Every work gets ripped to shreds without any consideration of the sense of what was said. I need to go to Pharisee school before I post here. Everyone is so bright and articulate (and yeah I think frequently off in the weeds tithing mint and cumin) that it makes one a little self conscious. But I am not thinking about stopping. I am not going to measure myself against trained Pharisees.

    My thoughts started with ETB and my response to his suspicions that the CRM had communist influences. That is indisputable and to the extent that communism (i.e. socialism) shaped our responses to race and poverty we have problems that remain today–problems that condemn and even doom blacks to marginal lives. I think that we need to take the prophets seriously even when they are not politically popular. Ezra Taft benson was a prohet seer and revelator and we can see the truth of his prophetic minsitry much more clearly today than we could thirty forty or fifty years ago.

  29. October 6, 2005 at 11:20 pm

    because he was then already a prophet seer and revelator (fifty years ago) and what he said was true.

  30. Jared
    October 6, 2005 at 11:41 pm

    Francis Gibbons, long-time secretary to the First Presidency and biographer of Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Spencer W. Kimball, diplomatically puts it this way:

    “After the death of President David O. McKay in January 1970, Elder Benson moderated his public talks, avoiding the strong anticommunist rhetoric of previous years. This was because President Joseph Fielding Smith and his couselors, Harold B. Lee and N. Eldon Tanner, did not share his views about the preeminent importance of this issue.” (Dynamic Disciples, Prophets of God)

    Quinn has covered–perhaps with some hyperbole–the disagreement that Hugh B. Brown and the above mentioned brethren had with Ezra Taft Benson over communism.

  31. October 7, 2005 at 1:57 am

    Mike Parker #16 and Jared #30, it is a misconception that Ezra Taft Benson ever backed away from his anti-communism. Unfortunately, it appears that Francis M. Gibbons allowed his personal feelings to color his judgment of the facts in this case. I’ve posted evidence of this here.

  32. D-Train
    October 7, 2005 at 2:47 am


    I hope I didn’t offend you. If I did, I’m sorry.

    And for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to pay tithing on my last check.

  33. S Brown
    October 7, 2005 at 6:14 am

    re: 25. The idea that we have no obligation to make our society more righteous seems to me to be rather at odds with Joseph Smith’s vision of a Zion Society. While I admit that there is a long history of premillennialists and postmillennialists, and that the pre’s historically were ready for society to explode, I don’t think you can accurately place Mormonism unequivocally in the pre camp. I think we’re both pre and post, and I find in the Book of Mormon fairly strong evidence that people were working to make the society more just, more righteous. “Taxation” is decried when it’s exacted by unrighteous kings, not categorically. The argument that tax-based caring is somehow ignoble smacks of obfuscation.

    To me it makes sense that we would require that every member of our society who is able contributes to the care of those less fortunate. it’s part of participating in society. And as far as God not condemning a nation, that’s not the language that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon used. Nowhere does unfettered capitalism figure positively in any vision of society or moral behavior espoused in Old or New Testaments, Book of Mormon, D&C/Joseph Smith’s early preaching or practice/Book of Abraham.

  34. Mark IV
    October 7, 2005 at 8:59 am

    Julie, thanks for sharing this statement from Joseph Smith.

    My testimony of that man just went up by 200%. I sustain him as a prophet with both hands.

  35. lyle
    October 7, 2005 at 10:39 am

    Dtrain: Your argument attempting to disprove another’s theory only works if the relative rate of income/wealth among minorities increased at a higher rather than prior to the welfare state.

  36. Jared
    October 7, 2005 at 11:22 am

    Gary #31, It’s not a question of backing away, it is one of emphasis. I don’t have the Gibbons reference with me now, and I’ll be out of town for a couple of days, but as I recall Gibbons says that the frequency that his talks in General Conference involved communism went down.

    It’s a slightly different topic, but I would think Gibbons would have first-hand knowledge of the difference of opinion of the leading Brethren on the matter. This is not to say that any of them had any sympathy for communism, just that they “did not share his views about the preeminent importance of this issue.” Quinn’s Dialogue article (Vol 26 No 2) supports this (although I think he plays up the disagreement a bit). Of course, once he became the President, he could say anything he wanted–but even the quotes you provide are more about secret combinations in general.

  37. October 7, 2005 at 12:12 pm

    Jared #36, Ezra Taft Benson knew the importance of followership. During President David O. McKay’s administration, his general conference talks often reflected those of President McKay. During the administration of Presidents Smith, Lee, and Kimball, it was the same. Gibbons, on the other hand and as you’ve correctly quoted him, claims Benson “moderated his public talks, avoiding the strong anticommunist rhetoric of previous years.” Frequency and moderation are not the same thing. The strength of President Benson’s public position regarding the communist conspiracy never moderated.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley gave the Church an honest evaluation of Ezra Taft Benson’s anti-communism at the latter’s funeral:

    It was out of what he saw of the bitter fruit of dictatorship that he developed his strong feelings, almost hatred, for communism and socialism. That distaste grew through the years as he witnessed the heavy-handed oppression and suffering of the peoples of eastern Europe under what he repeatedly described as godless communism….

    The Wall Street Journal in its issue of last Tuesday, May 31, 1994, carried together notice of the deaths of “Ezra Taft Benson, 94, president of the Mormon church since 1985,…” and “Erich Honecker, 81, East German leader who built the Berlin Wall.”

    I cannot imagine two men so different in the causes they espoused, in what they did for mankind, and in the philosophies by which they guided their lives.

    Erich Honecker was the iron-fisted communist ruler of East Germany, the feared and despised builder of the Berlin Wall, the practitioner of the godless dogma of oppression and slavery to the state. He died a refugee from his native land. He was able to leave his country and thus escape prosecution and possible execution because of the serious condition of his health.

    On the other hand, Ezra Taft Benson was the fearless and outspoken enemy of communism, a man who with eloquence and conviction preached the cause of human freedom, one who loved and worshipped the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of mankind. He died in the love of people across the world, a man respected and reverenced, a man for whose well-being millions constantly prayed. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Farewell to a Prophet,” Ensign, July 1994, 39; emphasis added.)

    Clearly, the strength of President Benson’s public position regarding the communist conspiracy never moderated. And it is absurd and naive for anyone to imply that the Prophet Joseph Smith would have criticized Ezra Taft Benson the same way he did Thomas Sharp and the Warsaw Signal.

  38. Jared
    October 7, 2005 at 1:01 pm


    I see frequency as a component of moderation, but no matter. I think, perhaps, we mostly agree, but are saying it different. (I haven’t said anything about the Thomas Sharp angle.)

  39. October 7, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Jared #38, Sorry. Thomas Sharp was the original thread subject and, somehow, Ezra Taft Benson’s anti-communism came into it. That part of my comment wasn’t directed at you. But, I do think your claim in #36 that Ezra Taft Benson as Prophet talked “more about secret combinations in general” simply tosses a lifetime of apostolic teachings about the relationship between Book of Mormon “secret combinations” and modern conspiracy.

  40. Jared
    October 7, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    Gary #39, I’m not sure what you mean by “tosses”. Perhaps you mean that to interpret Pres. Benson’s later references to secret combinations as broader than communism does not take into account his decades of talking about communism, and is therefore not accurate. Perhaps that is right.

    On the other hand, isn’t the larger issue secret combinations? By the time Ezra Taft Benson was Church President, Reagan was the U.S. President and communism was in decline. Communism is almost a non-issue now (at least in terms of a spreading form of government), but secret combinations remain. If Pres. Benson’s legacy was to refocus our vision on the Book of Mormon, and secret combinations in particular, it seems to me that if we only equate secret combinations with communism then we have a Prophetic warning about a problem just before it largely went away and we will miss the timelessness of the Book of Mormon’s warning.

    I’m not sure that anybody faults Ezra Benson for his warnings against communism–just that he may have seen it where it was not, and painted with too broad a brush.

    (I once heard that one of the reasons Utah had trouble fluoridating its water was that Ezra Taft Benson once said that doing such was a communist thing. Anybody know if that is true?)

  41. D-Train
    October 7, 2005 at 4:13 pm


    That’s not exactly right. In order for the claim that the welfare state destroys black initiative to hold up, it must be shown that there was initiative that was being exercised, but that the welfare state caused some of that to go away. If there was never any or much successful initiative prior to the welfare state due to the factors that I outlined above, those factors seem to be a much more plausible explanation than a claim about the welfare state.

    Additionally, the argument about the logic of the welfare state was never answered. If it’s true that the welfare state undermines the desire to work, two questions necessarily follow:

    1) Why does anyone work for minimum wage or near it? Just go on welfare, right? But there are droves of people doing this…..

    2) If a crappy life on welfare is equivalent to what a lot of people can get for an honest lifetime of work, has the market not failed those workers? I don’t think the success or failure of a market system should be judged entirely on how well it does for the wealthiest of us.

  42. GeorgeD
    October 7, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    Who takes minimum wage jobs? Youth and others who don’t have access to the welfare system. For the youngsters here the Newt Gingrich Republcian majority forced Bill Clinton into enacting welfare reform (after a fashion) that made it necessary for a lot of people to get off of welfare. (They now claim Social Security Disability as much as they can). There are still tons of welfare entitlements such as subsidized housing, medical care etc. that are disincentives to work. (i.e. they are means tested and the hurdle to get over is so high that getting by is still an option for many.

    Let me try to get this a little back on track. We started out with ETB criticism for his views on socialism (i.e. communism) and civil rights. I don’t think any criticism is justified. He saw clearly that legal entitlements were disastrous for the poor. They needed charity and kindness but they also needed Jesus Christ and the principles of the gospel. They also needed to experience the consequences of choice. It doesn’t matter how someone gets into a jam it only matters how the get out.

    It still isn’t politically correct to talk about race and poverty in the language of the gospel but I for one won’t be stifled.

    Especially since I post anonymously :)

  43. B Bell
    October 7, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    Communism is a non issue now because of the anti-communist types like ETB. They saw the evil, Fought against it and triumphed. Their opponents in the US wanted to accomodate communism.

    ETB went to Moscow and preached the gospel of Christ to a group of Baptists in front of the US press. Who was right about Communism? ETB or his political opponents? I would argue that ETB was based on history.

  44. GeorgeD
    October 7, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    Agree with your sentiments B Bell but I do believe that the scourge of communism is not dead. It is just transmuted. As long as there are people who desire to rule over others we must be vigilant against collectivist and socialist outlooks. The particular soft-core porn version of these ideologies we face today is statism. Both of our dominant political parties are infected and all we can hope for is a push on the rudder that can swing us back to a reasonable course as a society.

  45. Ben S.
    October 7, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    Constant vigilance! (I wish I had a magic eye I could roll independantly…)

  46. October 7, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    S Brown #33, you are not alone in your opinion that we should require every able member of society to help care for the less fortunate. But please recognize that some people believe the tax-based approach has doctrinal problems. For example, in the April 1978 general conference, President Spencer W. Kimball warned,

    May we be on guard against accepting worldly substitutes for the plan to care for his poor in this, the Lord’s own way. As we hear talk of governmental welfare reforms and its myriads of problems, let us remember the covenants we have made to bear one another’s burdens and to succor each according to his need. President Romney, our dean of Welfare Services, gave good counsel when several years ago he made this statement:

    “In this modern world plagued with counterfeits for the Lord’s plan, we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency. Only by voluntarily giving out of an abundant love for our neighbors can we develop that charity characterized by Mormon as ‘the pure love of Christ.’ (Moro. 7:47.) This we must develop if we would obtain eternal life.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1972, p. 115.)

    No “ism” should confuse our thinking in these matters. (Ensign, May 1978, 79; emphasis added.)

    I think Latter-day Saints accept the basic principle that though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. I also think I like GeorgeD’s comment about this in #42 (para. 2).

  47. October 7, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Jared #40, During the 1960s, it was suggested by some, including Ezra Taft Benson, that Communism was not actually being run from Moscow or Peking, but was being run by a conspiracy of influential and widely respected non-Communists from within the United States and Europe (see here again and maybe this time you could read it more carefully). The conspiracy that ran communism did not die or even diminish in power. It grows steadily stronger. With his last general conference breath, President Benson warned: “A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world. See Ether 8:18-25.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1988, Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 87; italics added. Note: three subsequent general conference talks were read by First Presidency Counselors.)

  48. Julie in Austin
    October 7, 2005 at 8:04 pm


    What I see in that Pres. Kimball quote is (most clearly) a statement that the presence of govt programs doesn’t eliminate our duty to be charitable and (less clearly) those programs may not be the best way to meet needs.

    I’m a less-govt-is-best person myself, so I support your premise, but I think “the tax-based approach has doctrinal problems” is overreading that statement.

  49. October 7, 2005 at 8:35 pm

    Julie in Austin #47, you could be right about an overreading on my part. But I see “counterfeit for the Lord’s plan” being equated here with (tax-based) “governmental or other public agency.” Wouldn’t such a counterfeit be doctrinally problematic?

  50. Julie in Austin
    October 7, 2005 at 8:42 pm

    Gary, I suppose that depends on how you look at it.

    –if a Saint thinks that welfare means they don’t have to be charitable, yes, it is a counterfeit
    –if a Saint thinks that welfare is a better solution than church welfare, yes, it is a counterfeit

    But in the real world, where even all those under covenant don’t help the poor as they should, it may be that govt’ welfare is better than nothing. Now, this doesn’t align with my personal political philosophy, but since there is an actual Democrat in the First Presidency, I have to believe that there is room for the Saints to feel this way without being out of harmony with the teachings of the church.

  51. October 7, 2005 at 9:10 pm

    Julie in A . . .your reference to personal political persuasion, membership in the Church’s most prominent Priesthood Quorum, and a causal relationship with harmony and Church teachings is tongue and cheek correct?

  52. GeorgeD
    October 7, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    What if our capacity for charity is sapped by extortionate tax rates used to fund wasteful government programs? Even covenant people can be drained. Covenant people need to be involved in the political process so that they can retain their freedom and capacity to be charitable.

  53. October 8, 2005 at 9:26 am

    Julie in Austin #50, I see your point. I also see a third counterfeit.

    —if a Saint is forced to be charitable, yes, it is a counterfeit charity.

    Taxes are not charitable contributions. Taxes are mandatory contributions—people who refuse to pay are punished. Government welfare is not voluntarily given. And this is precisely the characteristic of a counterfeit plan that was identified by President Kimball (see #46). The Lord’s plan, he said, involves voluntarily giving.

    Yes, there is plenty of room for Church members to feel otherwise (many do), although I don’t recall any of President Kimball’s successors correcting him on this. And yes, when family and Church resources have been exhausted or aren’t available, it can be argued that a counterfeit plan is better than no plan at all.

    You may enjoy this article titled, “Charity Begins at Home.” According to the author, “the Mormon Church’s work-based welfare program is an excellent example of what can be done.”

  54. sam b
    October 8, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    in re: various.
    I of course understand that other people believe differently than I do. I believe they’re wrong, but by no means do I reject their right to believe otherwise.
    Re: taxes. In a trivial sense (fulfilling one’s civic obligations), paying taxes IS morally meritorious. In a broader sense, paying taxes is different from acts of philanthropy, but so is tithing. Are we paying tithing because we can’t go to heaven without it? loss of celestial glory seems like a much heftier penalty than a run-in with the IRS and a year in a minimum-security jail. But if we can pay tithing from the goodness of our hearts, why can’t we pay taxes from the goodness of our hearts?
    And why is philanthropy such a wonderful thing (I mean vis-a-vis taxes)? Philanthropy tends to be used (although not universally) to justify the accumulation of wealth. Many of the big names of philanthropy have a history of decidedly un-Christian activity which was mitigated in the public mind by their giving a small portion of the money they had received through an inequitable economic system. And philanthropy tends (unless anonymous) to claim credit to the giver, to be used as a method of establishing moral superiority. Philanthropy also tends (perhaps more so than government though that’s an empirical question I don’t know the answer to) to be faddish and to focus on popular or high-profile causes, precisely because the agents of good have to justify their behavior to the funding sources, whose often sole credential for dispensing charity is that they have profited immensely from our economic system, sometimes quite unethically.

    I occasionally wince when I realize how much money I pay in taxes. I also occasionally wince when I realize how much tithing I pay. It’s our nature to be greedy and self-absorbed. But then I pray a little and think about the message of the scriptures, and I feel glad to be reminded that nothing that I have is truly mine, even if it’s an occasionally painful lesson.

    It seems like the undercurrent is about trust. People seem to trust the church leaders to spend their money in ways they want but don’t trust government to do so. This despite the fact that any given individual has a higher chance of being able to change the government than to change the church. If you don’t like how taxes are spent, then you should be active about it and try to shape government behavior.

    What would Jesus do? Feed the multitude. Pray with them, counsel them, certainly. But he also fed them.

  55. manaen
    October 8, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    sam b, thanks for your thoughts. At the end of the day, and your posting, “Feed the multitude. Pray with them, counsel them, certainly. But […] also fe[e]d them”

    A caution about “I also occasionally wince when I realize how much tithing I pay.” Someone once razzed me about this expensive club to which I belong — the Church. For your own peace of mind, do NOT do what I then did: calculate your cost per hour in the building!

  56. GeorgeD
    October 8, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Paying taxes is morally meritorious? How can it be? You don’t have any choice. Wow and when you’re done paying taxes you get to say I have done my duty to the poor? I wish it were so. I would be done for life now. Unfortunately I have no sense that God cares about my tax return nor due I have any sense that he has a reqard in store.

    I can see it now. The Savior revises the parable. “Thanks to tax rates all rich men can fit through the eye of a needle.”

  57. October 8, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    sam b #54, said “People seem to trust the church leaders to spend their money in ways they want but don’t trust government to do so.”

    Some of us don’t care how tithing is spent. It is no longer our money anyway. Some of us have faith that tithing will be spent the way the Lord wants.

    And by the way, it isn’t important to me whether you and I agree about anything. What interests me is what the Living Prophets teach the Saints.

    p.s. Well said GeorgeD #56.

  58. gst
    October 9, 2005 at 12:58 am

    Julie in Austin (#50): I’m concerned about this alleged Democrat in the First Presidency. Smoke him out!

    Kidding. Anyway, who is it? I had thought there were at least 2, actually–James Faust and Gordon Hinckley. And why are we confident that Thomas Monson is not a Democrat?

  59. Julie in Austin
    October 9, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    I’ve seen in print (in Hugh Nibley’s bio and one other source I cannot place right now) that Pres. Faust is a Democrat. Can’t speak to the others. . . I just assumed . . .

  60. October 9, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    Julie and gst,

    Former Utah Governor Cal Rampton, in his contribution to the volume God and Country:Politics in Utah (review forthcoming!), states that while he’s never heard so much as a smidgen of politics from Gordon B. Hinckley, the Hinckley family in Utah has historically supported the Democratic party. He documents similar sympathies for Democratic candidates and causes among not just the Fausts, but also the Romneys (part of the family, anyway), Browns, McConkies, Packers, Tanners, and other general authority-producing families. Of course, what with the politicization of abortion and other cultural/moral issues, the Democratic party such Mormons supported was pretty much a thing of the past by the mid-70s, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that some prominent Mormon leaders apparently decided that the welfare policies of the New Deal and the Great Society were, to say the least, not necessarily antithetical to Mormonism.

  61. Julie in Austin
    October 9, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks, Russell. I’ve seen the same phenomenon in my own (Catholic) family: generations-long Democratic party supporters having to swallow hard and vote Republican.

  62. Kristine
    October 9, 2005 at 7:21 pm

    GeorgeD, and others who think gov’t. welfare is soft-core evil Communism, do you have any explanation for why church policy encourages people to seek assistance from gov’t. programs for which they are eligible before receiving church welfare?

  63. Adam Greenwood
    October 9, 2005 at 7:34 pm

    If that’s the case, I’d think its a simple matter of economics, KHH. What church members pay in taxes cannot be used to support the Church’s own programs. I imagine that in Communist bloc countries Church members were instructed to use their ration cards, etc.

  64. October 9, 2005 at 7:45 pm

    Kristine #62, when did this change?

    Occasionally, we receive questions as to the propriety of Church members receiving government assistance instead of Church assistance. Let me restate what is a fundamental principle. Individuals, to the extent possible, should provide for their own needs. Where the individual is unable to care for himself, his family should assist. Where the family is not able to provide, the Church should render assistance, not the government. (Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, April 1977, Ensign, May 1977, 84.)

    Can you quote or link to an updated policy statement? One that says members should “seek assistance from gov’t. programs for which they are eligible before receiving church welfare”?

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