Lesson 41: Ezra Taft Benson—A Loyal Servant

"Lesson 41: Ezra Taft Benson—A Loyal Servant," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


Objective

Class members will learn that loyalty to God enables men and women to better serve their country and their fellowmen.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the picture of Ezra Taft Benson in the color section.

  2. 2.

    If it is available, read “President Ezra Taft Benson,”Ensign, Jan. 1986, pp. 2–12.

  3. 3.

    Prepare a poster with the Scout Oath:

    “On my honor I will do my best

    To do my duty to God and my country

    and to obey the Scout Law;

    To help other people at all times;

    To keep myself physically strong,

    mentally awake, and morally straight.”

  4. 4.

    Prepare a poster of the twelfth article of faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12); or obtain the Twelfth Article of Faith chart (65012) from the meetinghouse library.

Suggested Lesson Development

Introduction

Our Church, school, and community activities provide excellent opportunities for us to serve our fellowmen.

  • Why have our Church leaders asked us, in addition to Church service, to participate in community, state, and national activities? (Good people are needed to help in all kinds of government and community service organizations. Also, we can grow from such participation and we can help foster Church ideals within our community and nation.)

Scripture discussion

Read together Ether 2:12.

  • How can we serve the Savior by participating in community, state, and national governments? (Allow varied answers and stress that the influence of a person who lives the gospel can have a great effect on a community or government. Our Father in Heaven is concerned with all of his children and we can prepare ourselves to be effective tools in his hands for blessing others.)

Read Doctrine and Covenants 98:9–10.

  • How can you prepare yourself for selecting honest people to represent you in government? What can you learn now that will help you be wise in your selections later?

Members of the Church should be honest, caring, and concerned about the needs of their fellowmen. These qualities are also characteristic of good public servants.

President Benson Loyally Served in Many Capacities

Discussion

Throughout his life, President Benson served in many public offices; among them are: Franklin County agricultural agent for the University of Idaho Extension Service in Preston, Idaho; chairman, Department of Agricultural Economics and Marketing for the Extension Service of the University of Idaho; secretary of the Idaho Cooperative Council; executive secretary, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C.; United States Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He also served in many national Scouting positions, including being a member of the National Council of Boy Scouts of America. In addition to public, business, and Scouting service, President Benson has also given many years of devoted Church service. All of these activities have helped his community, state, country, and the world, but most especially, the Lord’s Church.

Elder Mark E. Petersen, who served many years with President Benson in the Council of the Twelve, said:

“One of the most notable periods of his life came when he was appointed Secretary of Agriculture in the cabinet of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“It was a responsibility he did not seek. When he learned he was being considered for a Cabinet post, he saw President David O. McKay, then President of the Church. President McKay said, ‘I received a very important telephone call last night’ seeking to learn the attitude of the Church if a Cabinet appointment were offered to Elder Benson. President McKay said, ‘Brother Benson, my mind is clear in the matter. If the opportunity comes in the proper spirit, I think you should accept.’

“Elder Benson said he hardly believed such an offer would be extended, and told President McKay that he wished to carry on his work as a member of the Council of the Twelve.

“President McKay, however, advised him that if [the position] were offered, to have an interview. President-elect Eisenhower asked Elder Benson to come to New York and there told him of the high regard in which Elder Benson was held by the farmers of the nation and urged him to accept his patriotic duty and respond to the call of his government.

“He served [as Secretary of Agriculture] for eight years. The President had told the Secretary that he would like him to remain in the Cabinet the entire period of his occupancy of the White House. This Secretary Benson did” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, p. 7).

Discussion

  • What kind of ethical conduct could President Eisenhower have expected from such a leader as Elder Benson? (Accept varied answers and stress that honesty and loyalty would probably be two expected qualities.)

As Secretary of Agriculture in the United States government, Elder Benson’s decisions were not always popular with everyone.

  • What help could he expect from the Lord in making such decisions? (Allow varied answers.)

Example

“On one of his trips to Russia as Secretary of Agriculture, President Benson had a moving experience revealing the deep religious faith of some of the Russian people.

“He had been conferring with Premier Khrushchev and other high officials of the Russian government as a representative of the United States. Following that conference, he indicated a desire to visit some church where Christians were still permitted to meet. After some persistence, he was taken to a Baptist church in Moscow. The members of the press accompanying him to Russia for his governmental meeting also followed him to this little church.

“It was one of the very few Christian churches still open in that vast city. The congregation was made up mainly of elderly people, many of whom were women.

“As the obviously American group walked into the chapel, the people in the congregation looked almost agape, hardly believing their eyes. One of the Americans, Secretary Benson, was unexpectedly called to the pulpit.

“Choking with emotion, he testified in that city to the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“‘God lives. I know that He lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ and the Redeemer of the world,’ he declared.

“His words were translated into Russian. With each sentence, nods of assent were seen throughout the congregation. Women removed their head coverings and wiped their eyes. Men rubbed away the moisture that blurred their vision. The hardened news correspondents who came because they felt they were compelled to as a part of the Secretary’s entourage, and who at first had no interest in this religious gathering whatever, now wept with the congregation.

“It was a solemn moment. Hearts were melted. A spirit enveloped the worshippers such as they had never felt before. Hands folded and heads bowed in humble prayer.

“‘I firmly believe in prayer,’ the voice of the Secretary [Elder Benson] continued. ‘It is possible to reach out and tap the unseen power which gives strength and anchor in time of need. Be not afraid. Keep God’s commandments. Love the Lord. Love one another. Love all mankind. Truth will triumph. Time is on the side of truth.’

“The American press then slowly walked down the aisle toward the door with a humble attitude in complete contrast to that with which they had entered. As they passed the pews, anxious hands and hungry hearts reached out to them. Then from thankful lips came the strains of ‘God be with you till we meet again … ,’ although everyone realized that this hope would likely never be fulfilled in mortality” (“A Moving Experience in Russia,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, pp. 12–13).

President Benson might never have had the opportunity for such worldwide service if he had not accepted the call to serve his country as Secretary of Agriculture, even though he was an Apostle of the Lord.

President Benson’s Love of Scouting

At a general conference priesthood meeting when President Benson was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he gave a talk in which he reviewed treasured memories of his days as a Scoutmaster. Since that first Scout service, he has spent a major portion of his life in Scouting. He related:

“I shall always be grateful that almost sixty-five years ago the good bishop of our ward came to me and asked me to be Scoutmaster of twenty-four boys in the Whitney Ward.” President Benson then told about joining a Mutual (MIA) contest for choirs with those twenty-four boys and of winning the Franklin Stake contest and going on to the Logan area contest in competition with six other stakes.

He continued: “Finally the time came that our group was to march up to that platform. As our accompanist played ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ those twenty-four boys went up the aisle single file and formed a half moon on the stage while I crouched down between a couple of benches to try to give them some leadership. Then they sang as I’d never heard them sing, and of course you can imagine that I’d not be telling this story had we not won first place in Logan. …

“In the first Scout meeting following our victory, those boys (never forgetting anything that is of value to them) reminded me that in a moment of anxiety I had promised them that if we won in Logan, I would take them all on a hike over the mountain thirty-five miles to Bear Lake Valley. …”

The boys then challenged each other to wear completely clipped hair so they would “‘not be bothered with combs and brushes on this trip,’” and the Scoutmasters, being told by the barber that he would “shave your heads … for nothing,” were shaved bald.

President Benson said, “It was a glorious three weeks together with those wonderful boys out in the hills and in the mountains and on the lake. I wish I could follow for you the life of each one of those boys from that time until the present. I am proud of them.”

President Benson kept track of his boys. Years later he found all but two had married in the temple and were holding positions in the Church: Scoutmaster, bishop, counselors, clerks, high councilor, etc. Later, he said, “I was down in southern Arizona … and during the meeting I noticed way at the rear of the hall what appeared to be a familiar face. At the end of the meeting, one of the two boys we had lost track of came forward. We threw our arms around each other, and I said to him, ‘What are you doing way down here?’ … He replied, ‘I’m not doing very much, but I’m a Scoutmaster.’ … Then he told me he had married out of the Church, but his wife had since joined the Church. … We started to correspond, and some months later I had the honor of officiating at the sealing of this fine couple and their children in the Salt Lake Temple.

“Sometime later,” President Benson said, “I was speaking at the annual meeting of the Idaho Farm Bureau at Burley, Idaho. Just before the meeting was to start, I … saw a man handing out literature to the farmers as they came in. … [He] was the last of the twenty-four boys to be located.

“After the meeting the two of us had a good talk. He had married in the Church but out of the temple. It was not long before I also had the privilege of sealing this man and his wife and several children in the temple” (see Conference Report, Oct. 1984, pp. 60–61; or Ensign, Nov. 1984, pp. 46–47).

Poster

Display the poster of the Scout Oath. Review each section, explaining how President Benson fulfilled the expectations of that oath, which he revered so much.

President Benson spent almost all of his life in Church and community service. Consider the following questions, accepting varied answers.

  • What are some of the joys he probably received from the various service given in his life?

  • What personal skills do you feel he gained from this service?

  • How did he benefit the communities in which he served?

Testimony and Challenge

Display the poster containing the twelfth article of faith and challenge the class to serve faithfully in their schools, their community, and their country in whatever capacity may come to them. Bear testimony that the twelfth article of faith is part of God’s plan in helping his people.

Testify to the divine calling of President Ezra Taft Benson as a prophet of God. Also testify that if good people, such as President Benson, your parents, and yourselves, are willing to serve in the community, state, and nation, the entire world is blessed.