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How Ezra Taft Benson Joined Eisenhower (Part 8 of 13)

Ezra Taft Benson joined Eisenhower to be his Agriculture Secretary in 1952.  Benson didn’t even vote for Eisenhower!  But President McKay allowed apostle Benson to serve for eight years in the Eisenhower administration.  Dr. Matt Harris tells more about the relationship between Ike and ETB.

Dwight Eisenhower has never met Benson before, but yet he wants a churchman into his cabinet because he thinks that will help with religious people for one and for two, he also wanted somebody in the Midwest. Even though, I guess, technically Utah’s not in the Midwest, he thought that that would help him with the Midwest vote. So he calls Benson and Benson says, “Are you sure you want me? I didn’t even vote for you.”

GT:  Oh, really?

Matt:  “I didn’t even vote for you.” So anyway, I won’t go into all the details, but he gets the blessing from President McKay. He gets the green light to take a leave of absence from his apostolic duties to go to Washington. What’s interesting is when he’s going to Washington, this is the era of McCarthyism

We’ll dig deep into Benson’s relationship with President Eisenhower, so you won’t want to miss it.  Please note this is the second half of our conversation with Dr. Matt Harris.  If you haven’t seen our previous interviews on the temple and priesthood ban, please check those out.  But here’s the next conversation with Dr. Matt Harris. Check out our conversation….

President Eisenhower looks on while Ezra Taft Benson is sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture by Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson.
President Eisenhower looks on while Ezra Taft Benson is sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture by Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson.

Check out our previous conversations with Dr. Harris!

161: Bruce R. McConkie Wrote Official Declaration 2! (Harris)

160: How Kimball Persuaded Apostles to Agree on Lifting Ban (Harris)

159: Almost Famous!  1969 Black Ordination Nixed by Lee (Harris)

158: Hugh B. Brown’s Attempt to End Ban in 1962! (Harris)

157: Did Pres. McKay Try to Rescind Ban in 1955? (Harris)

156: When, Where, & Why Did the One-Drop Rule Originate? (Harris)

155: Before 1978:  How LDS Leaders Handled Bi-racial Families in Brazil and South Africa (Harris)


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Bruce R. McConkie Wrote Official Declaration 2!

Dr. Matt Harris has uncovered that apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote Official Declaration 2, which allowed for the first time in 120 years, open ordination of black church men, and allowed blacks access to the LDS Temple ordinances.  This may seem especially ironic, given the fact that McConkie had long justified the ban through the Curse of Cain and Curse of Ham in his book, Mormon Doctrine.

Matt:  President Kimball knows what he is doing.  He needs to get Elder McConkie’s buy-in.  When he gets Elder McConkie’s buy-in that the ban needs to be lifted, I mean he feels that there is a tremendous weight off his shoulders.

This isn’t to take away of course any of the spiritual aspects of the temple and the revelation, and the things that the apostles will recount afterwards about it being the most magnificent spiritual experience of their life.  I think that’s all very authentic and genuine, but it just speaks to President Kimball’s remarkable leadership, that I order to do this, “I’ve got to really work with my associates and massage them and help them to understand that this is the right thing to do.”  To me that is an incredible, remarkable exercise in leadership on President Kimball’s part, because he doesn’t want to create a schism in the Twelve like President Woodruff had under his leadership.

I am sure as the church president that President Kimball could have just done something unilaterally.  But if there is no buy-in, what is the point?  Right?  If people don’t realize that this is the right thing to do, that’s really one of the most remarkable things is that he gets the buy-in from Elder McConkie.  Not only is there buy-in from Elder McConkie, the biggest doctrinal hardliner, but it is Elder McConkie who writes the Second Official Manifesto that will be added to the Doctrine & Covenants.  That is his language.

We will also discuss a candid discussion between President Kimball and an official from the Carter Administration, who expressed displeasure with the ban. 

Matt:  Also, going on behind the scenes is President Kimball’s meeting with a man named Jack Carlson.  He is Ph.D. in economics from Harvard.  He is a liberal Mormon democrat.  He is one of the proud three in the ‘70s!  {chuckles} He works in the Carter Administration.  He calls Jack Carlson into his office, and just has this very candid discussion.  This is in I think ’76-77, somewhere in there.  He calls in Jack Carlson and his wife, just the three of them:  President Kimball and the Carlsons.  He says, “Jack, why do the Carter people hate us so much?”

He said, “President, don’t you get it?

“No, tell me.  That’s why you are here.”

He said, “They hate our views on ERA, our views towards women and ERA.”  This is in the midst of the ERA movement. Of course, Utah was the holdup, arguably one of the states that kills the amendment, to be honest.  The church was against it, and that galvanized opposition.  “The other thing is, they don’t like our views towards black people.”

President Kimball, without missing a beat, says, “We’ve got to change this policy, but I can’t.  I am worried.  I am worried about how the saints in the South will take this policy.”  It’s the same thing McKay had to deal with, you remember?  “I am worried about my brethren in the Twelve.”  That’s what he said.

Matt gets into some other interesting details as well, such as Merrill Bateman’s mission to Nigeria in the early 1970s.  This is an interview you don’t want to miss (in addition to our previous discussion of Pres Kimball!

Did you know Elder McConkie wrote Official Declaration 2?
Did you know Elder McConkie wrote Official Declaration 2?

Check out our conversation….


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How Kimball Persuaded Apostles to Agree on Lifting the Ban

In our next episode with Dr. Matt Harris, we will talk about how President Kimball persuaded the apostles to lift the priesthood and temple ban on black church members.  It turns out the Brazil Temple was a key part of that, as well as Bruce R. McConkie’s change of heart.

Kimball knows the consequences of doing something unilaterally without quorum buy-in.  He sees that in church history, and he experiences it himself during the McKay administration.  So, President Kimball recognizes this is such a delicate task, and that if he is going to make this, arguably, probably the most momentous—not arguably.  In the 20th century, it is the most momentous decision in the church, second maybe only to plural marriage, giving black people the priesthood.

So, he knows he has to have buy-in.  How do you get buy-in from people who have very, very deep-seated racial views?

President Kimball announces the Brazil Temple.  This is a bulwark to help the brethren to come along with this.  He recognizes that you can’t have temple in this heavily bi-racial nation, where the people who sacrificed and do so much to build the temple are shut off from it.  I mean he understands this.

We will also get into more detail on Monroe Fleming’s “almost” ordination in 1969!

Matt:  The “loyal negro” at the Hotel Utah is Monroe Fleming.  He had been working there for years.  Church leaders all knew him.  Of course, it is a church-owned property.  He was a very faithful member.  I think he joins in the early ‘50s, so clearly he is a pioneer in the church.  He comes of age in the church before the priesthood revelation, so he understands the restriction.  But it is not clear if there is going to be an announcement; it’s just that “We are going to ordain this loyal negro man.”  That’s all it is.  I think Hugh B. Brown mentions Monroe Fleming in a different document, but the McKay document that I have, it’s just “a loyal negro member at the Hotel Utah.”

Pres. Kimball Announced a new temple in Brazil to get buy-in to help apostles understand why ban needed to be lifted.
Pres. Kimball Announced a new temple in Brazil to get buy-in to help apostles understand why ban needed to be lifted.

Check out our conversation!  Don’t forget to listen to Matt describe how McKay almost ordained Monroe Fleming in 1969.