-- 6 Oct 1979
First Presidency vacates office of Patriarch to the Church by giving emeritus status to Eldred G. Smith, ending a hierarchy office in existence since 1834.
-- October 14, 1979
President Ezra Taft Benson states that the rebuilding of Kirtland is to begin and prophecies are to be fulfilled. He prays to lift the “scourge” placed on Kirtland. Ground is broken for the Kirtland LDS meeting house. (1)
-- Feb 1980
After another series of political talks, Benson was sufficiently confident to authorize the Birch Society to publish one of his talks in its February 1980 magazine. (2)
-- 23 Feb 1980
At a meeting of the Freemen Institute on 23 February Benson next gave a major address. (3)
-- 24 Feb 1980
A full- page ad appears in the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE describing Jerald and Sandra Tanner's THE CHANGING WORLD OF MORMONISM. The ad draws attention to changes in the Church's position on such matters as polygamy and the granting of the priesthood to blacks and thereby questioned the consistency of the prophetic leadership of the Church. Two days later Ezra Taft Benson gives a speech at BYU, in which he dismisses the issue of conflicting past and present policies by declaring that the words of living prophets supplant or make moot the directives of past prophets.
-- Feb 26, 1980.
Ezra Taft Benson as president of the Quorum of the Twelve gives a controversial speech at Brigham Young University titled, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets," including: ". The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything. 2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works. 3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet. 4. The prophet will never lead the church astray. 5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time. 6. The prophet does not have to say `Thus Saith the Lord' to give us scripture. . . . 11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich."
J. D. Williams, a professor in the University of Utah political science department, calls "Benson's speech `a plea in anticipation' of his becoming church president." Don LeFevre, public communications spokesman, responding to press inquiries, agrees that "Benson's speech accurately portrayed the church's position that a prophet can receive revelations from God on any matter--temporal or spiritual" and that "the prophet's word is scripture, as far as the church is concerned, and the living prophet's words take precedence in interpreting the written scripture as it applies to the present." However, he denies as "simply not true" a newspaper report which says the president of the church "is God's prophet and his word is law on all issues-- including politics." (4)
-- February 27, 1980
Benson was directly quoted as saying "Those who would remove prophets fro politics would take God ouf of government." LeFevre termed the new interpretation of Benson's speech "misleading." ... In regard to the press account that Benson told the University audience that a Church president must be obeyed even when he contradicts scripture of statements of past prophets, LeFevre said that the prophet's word is scripture, as far as the Church is concerned, and the living prophet's words take precdence in intrepreting the written scripture." (5)
-- 5 Mar 1980
The First Presidency was critical of Benson's 1980 BYU talk. On 5 March the presidency issued a statement that "we reaffirm that we take no partisan stand as to candidates or political parties, and exercise no constraint on the freedom of individuals to make their own choices in these matters." However, the church's official spokesperson claimed that "there is no connection between this [First Presidency] letter and a speech by Apostle Ezra Taft Benson to Brigham Young University" a few days before.
Kimball's son affirms that President Kimball bore no ill feeling toward his longtime associate but "was concerned about Elder Benson's February 1980 talk at BYU." The church president wanted "to protect the Church against being misunderstood as espousing ultraconservative politics, or--in this case--espousing an unthinking `follow the leader' mentality."
In 1980 President Kimball's wife Camilla also described "his displeasure with the speech" to her brother-in-law George T. Boyd. (6)
-- About 6 Mar 1980
A general authority revealed that Kimball asked Benson to apologize to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who "were dissatisfied with his response." Therefore, Kimball required him to explain himself to a combined meeting of all general authorities the following week.
The entire Benson family felt anxious about the outcome of this 1980 meeting. They apparently feared the possibility of a formal rebuke before all the general authorities. Benson's son Mark (a Bircher and the Freemen Institute's "Vice President in Charge of Development") wrote him a note that morning: "All will be well--we're praying for you and know all will be well. The Lord knows your heart." The meeting went well for Benson who "explained that he had meant only to reaffirm the divine nature of the prophetic call." Ezra's biographer indicates that the most effusively supportive general authority in attendance was Apostle Boyd K. Packer: "How I admire, respect and love you. How could anyone hesitate to follow a leader, an example such as you? What a privilege!" (7)
1 - Wikipedia: "Ezra Taft Benson"
2 - Ezra Taft Benson, "A Moral Challenge," in John Birch Society's American Opinion 23 (Feb. 1980): 41-54 -- as referenced in D. Michael Quinn, "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26:2 (Summer 1992) and Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), Chapter 3
3 - "Benson Urges Monetary Step: Re-Establish Metal Standard," Salt Lake Tribune, 25 Feb. 1980, B-2; "Gathering of Freemen Institute Draws Crowd to Arizona Resort," Ogden Standard-Examiner, 25 Feb. 1980, A-12. These are referenced in in D. Michael Quinn, "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26:2 (Summer 1992) and Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), Chapter 3
4 - Anderson, Lavina Fielding, "The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology," Dialogue, Vol.26, No.1
5 - Ogden Standard-Examiner, 27 February 1980, "Benson Misinterpreted" (provided by Joe Geisner)
6 - First Presidency statement, 5 Mar. 1980, Deseret News "Church News, "8 Mar. 1980, 3; "Church Policies and Announcements," Ensign 10 (Aug. 1980): 79; Salt Lake Tribune, 9 Mar. 1980, C-31.; Edward L. Kimball to D. Michael Quinn, 14 Aug., 20 Aug. 1992, concerning discussions with his father in 1980 ; Boyd to D. Michael Quinn, 24 Sept. 1992. These are referenced in in D. Michael Quinn, "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26:2 (Summer 1992) and Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), Chapter 3
7 - In 1980 a general authority reported to George T. Boyd the apologies which Kimball required of Benson. Boyd's letter to Michael Quinn, 24 Sept. 1992, requested that Quinn not identify the general authority for publication. Boyd (an in-law of Spencer and Camilla Kimball) also reported this conversation to BYU professor Duane Jeffery early in 1980. Telephone interview of Jeffery in David John Buerger diary, 14 Aug. 1980, folder 4, box 1, Buerger Papers. These reproofs were also reported in "What Mormons Believe," Newsweek 96 (1 Sept. 1980): 71, in "Thus Saith Ezra Benson," Newsweek 98 (19 Oct. 1981): 109; in Allen interview (with Henry D. Taylor as a general authority source different from the above), 3 May 1984, by Alison Bethke Gayek; and in Quinn interview on 5 Sept. 1992 with Rodney P. Foster, assistant secretary in the First Presidency's Office from 1974 to 1981; Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 469. For Mark Benson's position in 1980, see "Mark Benson Becomes Our New Vice President in Charge of Development," Behind the Scenes (Jan. 1980): (4). These are referenced in in D. Michael Quinn, "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26:2 (Summer 1992) and Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), Chapter 3
LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson
Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson