Ezra Taft Benson, June 24, 1975

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-- June 24, 1975
Organizers of the Utah International Women's Year conference wanted it to be a grassroots.

Church Relief Society Barbara Smith proposed to Church leaders that the Relief Society send a letter to the stake Relief Society presidents in Utah urging Mormon women to participate and suggesting that ten from each stake attend. But Elder Benson, president of the Twelve, opted instead to have the bishops in Utah urge the women in their wards to become informed on the issues and “to encourage at least ten women and hopefully many more from each ward to attend the convention.” This letter was distributed through regional representatives and stake presidents to each bishop but was sent in the name of the Relief Society presidency. In hindsight, both the specification of a quota from each ward and the priesthood direction created the impression that this was a call to arms.

The Relief Society general presidency did not instruct women to take any particular position on the issues to be raised. They arranged for a series of articles in the Deseret News to educate readers on the issues, expecting women to study the issues and follow their own judgment, informed by their understanding of Church principles (Barbara Smith urged women to join others “fighting pornography, homosexuality, abortion and other social evils”). But in the absence of other instruction, conservative groups like the John Birch Society, Eagle Forum, and Conservative Caucus filled the vacuum and undertook through “information meetings” to recruit and organize Mormon women to follow their lead in the conference, sometimes implying that they had Relief Society or Church approval.

These groups adopted the basic position that all proposals at the conference had hidden implications that were part of the agenda of extreme feminists and urged that they should all be defeated, even if they looked benign.

On June 24 more than twelve thousand women converged on the Salt Palace, twice as many as in the state of California. Organizers were flabbergasted to find the conference overwhelmed by Mormon women who were there on assignment. Some organizers felt that, although the Church had been asked to encourage attendance, the huge numbers effectively sabotaged the conference. Rudeness, shouting down of speakers, and extreme polarization reigned.

Because the national recommendations included issues such as the ERA, abortion rights, and government-funded sex education, most participants decided the entire slate of recommendations was tainted and simply rejected everything. Votes typically ran seven to nine thousand against the proposals versus one to two thousand in support. Such rejection occurred apparently without regard to the merits of individual items. For example, recommendations for better enforcement of child support, for review of union practices that were unjust to women, and for equal pay for equivalent work were defeated by margins nearly as large as the recommendation for adopting the ERA and abortion rights. Barbara Smith attended but took no active part, although she felt dismayed at the vehement and automatic reaction of so many women, influenced unduly by political extremists.

Utah’s IWY conference was not the only one for which Mormon women were recruited. In Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, and Montana, large numbers of Mormon women attended and sought to influence the state conferences to vote against endorsement of the ERA and other proposals.

The Utah IWY meeting was a public relations disaster, much greater than might have been expected given the relative insignificance of the state meeting and its delegates’ votes in affecting what happened in the national meeting. (1)

-- 23 Jul 1975
First Presidency circular letter authorizes stake presidents to ordain bishops. Previously this was restricted to general authorities. (2)

-- 1975, July 24
The 28-story Church Office Building dedicated, Salt Lake City. (3)

-- 1976
Published Volume - Cross Fire: The Eight Years With Eisenhower. Doubleday (4)

In 1976 a one-volume history by James B. Allen and Glen Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, was published intended for an LDS audience. Elders Benson, Petersen, and Packer were the primary spokesmen for the view that it was not right for church-paid historians to write in a way that they felt inordinately humanized the prophets and underplayed revelation and God’s intervention in human affairs. Elders Benson and Petersen addressed their complaints to the First Presidency. President Kimball acquiesced to Ezra Taft Benson’s and Mark E. Petersen’s strongly negative views about the publication, a book that President Kimball himself liked. (5)

In the 1970s Elders Petersen, Benson, and Packer had highlighted the dangers of secularizing Church history. In 1976 to BYU and to teachers in the Church Educational System, Elder Benson gave talks critical of Church history writing that underplays revelation and emphasizes the frailties of great men. (6)

Benson declined as "impractical and impossible" efforts by "a resurrected 1976 Committee" for him as vice-presidential candidate with former Texas governor John B. Connally as candidate for U.S. president. (7)

-- 08 Jan 1976
David B. Haight is ordained an Apostle, replacing Hugh B. Brown, who had passed away.

-- January 9, 1976
[Benson" warned a small mountain community that its efforts to provide housing for low-income persons is socialistic and will attract "undesirable" persons... [he] urged the Town Council of Heber City to "reject such socialistic programs as subsidized (low-income) housing. Is Heber City prepared to attract into its community undesirable tenants that gravitate toward communities where low-income housing is available?" ... Councilmen said privately that Benson's letter - and the copies he sent to the presidents of two Mormon stakes (dioceses) in Heber City - left them "confused and disturbed. ..." (8)

1 - The Relief Society general presidency sent a copy of President Benson’s letter to stake Relief Society presidents in Utah. Derr, Cannon and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 371; Martha Sonntag Bradley, “The Mormon Relief Society and the International Women’s Year,” Journal of Mormon History 21, no. 1 (spring 1995): 126; Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 366–74; Linda Sillitoe, “Women Scorned: Inside the IWY Conference,” Utah Holiday 6 (August 1977): 26–28, 53–69; Linda Sillitoe, “A Foot in Both Camps: An Interview with Jan Tyler (chair of the conference),” Sunstone 3, no. 2 (January/February 1978): 11; Dixie Snow Huefner, “Church and Politics at the Utah IWY Conference,” Dialogue 11, no. 1 (spring 1978): 58–75; D Michael Quinn, The Mormon Heirarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1997), 378–84 -- as referenced in Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Working Draft)
2 - On This Day in Mormon History, http://onthisdayinmormonhistory.blogspot.com
3 - Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Daniel H. Ludlow (editor), New York: Macmillan, 1992, Appendix 2: A Chronology of Church History
4 - Wikipedia: "Ezra Taft Benson"
5 - Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian, 150 -- as referenced in Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Working Draft)
6 - Sheri Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 454–55 -- as referenced in Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Working Draft)
7 - Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 446 -- 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
8 - "Ezra Taft Benson Condemns Subsidized Low-Income Housing," Provo Daily Herald (In Letter to Heber Council) Jan 9, 1976 (provided by Joe Geisner)

LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson

Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson

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