There have been lots of rumors on the internet that the reason the LDS Church got rid of the temple/priesthood ban was because they were going to lose their tax-exempt status. Is that true? Dr. Matt Harris from Colorado State-Pueblo will answer that question. He will talk about both the Nixon and Carter administrations, and even include a letter from former President Jimmy Carter!
Matt: On the internet, there are lots and lots of chatter about people saying that President Carter had instructed the IRS to crack down on the church. And I’ve seen this i`n probably, I don’t know, half dozen to a dozen places and people are so emphatic about it. [They say] Yes, he did this. One of them even went through his journal which is published and had conjectured that during President Carter’s visit to Salt Lake in 1977. That’s when he laid down the law in 1976-77.
Anyway, it’s just conjecture. That’s all it is. So anyway, I wrote President Carter a note. I asked him, “This is what it’s been said about you, that you used the IRS to crack down on the Mormons and put pressure on them to lift the priesthood ban.” And he wrote back a wonderfully written letter, and he said, “I have no recollection of ever doing that. However, I did help the Mormons with welfare and some work getting them something in Africa.” He didn’t elaborate. So President Carter said that.
GT: This is a recent letter?
Matt: This is three or four years ago.
Matt: Yeah. And I should add too, I have family in Atlanta. During one of my trips to see my brother and my sister years ago, I spent a lovely day at the Carter Library looking for these kinds of things. And there were big thick Mormon files but nothing that dealt with the IRS.
GT: It’s weird to be doing history on living people.
Matt: It is because they fight back. When they’re dead, they can’t. They don’t fight back. So it’s a challenge writing contemporary history. Because they they’re alive. They read it.
Were you aware of this? Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our other episodes with Dr. Matt Harris!
Ezra Taft Benson clearly wasn’t a fan of civil rights and called it a communist conspiracy. But his counselor in the First Presidency, Gordon B. Hinckley, made peace with the NAACP and helped name a state holiday in Utah after King. Dr. Matt Harris tells more about Hinckley’s effects on Benson.
Matt: For years, Dr. King’s been called a commie. Latter-day Saints of at least two generations grew up with this sort of thinking. So, what do you do about this? Well, when the Martin Luther King holiday was proposed in the early ’80’s, of course, the State of Utah just recoiled in horror. They can’t support the Martin Luther King holiday. The idea was, not only is he a communist, but he’s an adulterer and all the other things that these people had said about him. So, what happened was Utah decided they were going to call it Human Rights Day instead of Martin Luther King Day. There are a few other states that had gone that path, too.
Matt: Hinckley is privately befriending members of the NAACP. He’s doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes to really undo, quite frankly, what Elder Benson had spent much of his apostolic ministry doing: denouncing civil rights and Martin Luther King. So, President Hinckley is doing much of this stuff on his own. To finish the story here, that President Hinckley gives his support to rename the holiday after Martin Luther King. He tells the church lobbyist, he says, “Why don’t you go up to the hill and let them know that the church supports the renaming of Martin Luther King Day?” He’d been working in private with NAACP leaders. They have been pushing him hard. “Why can’t the church support this? Because you know, if the church supports this, that the legislature will fall in line.”
President Hinckley thought, “Oh my goodness, why don’t we support this? It serves no purpose in the 21st century, or as the 21st century approaches to not rename this after this iconic civil rights leader.” So, President Hinckley tells the church lobbyist, “Go up to the hill and tell them that the church supports the changing of the holiday.” It was done. And so in 2000, Utah became, I think it was like the 49th or 50th state in the union to recognize Martin Luther King holiday. What that means is that President Hinckley, yet again, is trying to modernize the church and to let Latter-day Saints know that, it’s unchristian to demean people of color and to call them a commie, and to deny them civil rights. That’s really, I think, one of, in my humble opinion, one of President Hinckley’s most enduring legacies is to really open up a new day for race relations with the church. As far as I know, because of President Hinckley, the NAACP has maintained cordial relations with the church hierarchy, because of him.
He also makes some interesting comments about Sheri Dew’s biography of President Benson.
Matt: If you look at Elder Benson’s biography that Sheri Dew did, that was published in 1987–this was during the early years of his presidency, which is really interesting if you look at this. And this is not a fault to Sheri Dew–otherwise I think it’s actually a pretty fine biography. But there’s no mention of the Birch Society, Robert Welch, none of that stuff. These guys were extremely close. And to not mention that in a biography is really extraordinary. Again, not a criticism of Sister Dew, but clearly somebody had prevailed upon her that, you know, “We’re trying to move beyond this stuff. This isn’t good for business.”
GT: So, you think she purposely was told to leave that out?
Matt: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m just speculating of course, but she had access to his papers and she knows how close they are.
Check out our conversation, and don’t forget to purchase Matt’s new book on Benson called Thunder from the Right. My copy arrived on Tuesday and I’m just digging into it!
Here are our other conversations about President Benson!
Many of you are probably familiar with the story of Helmuth Hübener. He was the young German teenager that was executed by Adolf Hitler for treason. It’s a wonderful story and BYU actually turned it into a play in the 1970s. However, Church leaders were upset by the play and decided to suppress it. Why was that? Dr. David Conley Nelson details, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.” This is the story about Hübener you probably haven’t heard.
Elder Monson arrives and he takes in the play and he just doesn’t seem to be as happy according to other witnesses as the rest of them. Word comes down two days later through Dallin Oaks, there will be no more productions of “Huebener Against the Reich.” In fact, Thomas Rogers is prohibited from releasing—it’s his intellectual property, but he is prohibited from giving permission for anybody else to use that play.
David: Furthermore, Alan Keele and Douglas Tobler are “asked” to put a hold on their research and not publish anything. A couple of things have happened. First off the German-American community got to Thomas Monson. They don’t like it, they don’t like it at all because Hübener should not be considered a hero, he should be considered in some of their eyes an example of how not to behave.
What does Dr. Nelson believe?
The fact is, and this is my professional opinion, that Thomas Monson got it wrong because he didn’t know enough about German culture. He was a real great knowledgeable guy about German-American Mormons, but he did not realize that it was in the church’s best interest. If he thought it was the church’s best interest to suppress Hübener, he was just diametrically wrong. It would have been in the church’s best interest to promote Hübener.
Since it’s the end of the year I wanted to ask a special favor. We’re going to do a year-end review of all the fun interviews we’ve done here at Gospel Tangents, and I’d like to hear what was your most favorite interview, as well as what were the most surprising things you learned over this past year on Gospel Tangents? You can email me at Gospel Tangents at gmail dot com or you can also check out this link https://kwiksurveys.com/s/zK1fouUh that I’ve got for a special survey. I would like to include any comments you have in our year-end special. It will be coming next week. Please include that as soon as you can either by email or you can fill out the survey! Thanks a lot. I’d really appreciate it.