So, according to Ezra Taft Benson…

I don’t have a Benson quote for this post (although I did read Beware of Pride this morning and felt a bit like I do when I read Alma 5 (chastened)). Instead I have a concern regarding the usefulness of past prophets?

Why do we feel like we can set aside the counsel of past prophets? Admittedly, we don’t ususally look at things this way, but we tend to get so caught up in the interests/inspired counsel of the current prophet that we just don’t seem to ponder the former prophets like we used to.

Does continuing revelation make us a denomination that will forever be living in the now? Possibly.

And please, don’t talk to me about the “Presidents of the Church” manuals. I appreciate them (heck, I may actually love the things)). But the powers that be have sifted through all the prophetic material in order to find the stuff that the current president (and the guy in charge) think is important. I don’t think that we are always getting a representative sample of the actual concerns of the past president (which is fine, we shouldn’t necessarily expect the beliefs and problems of 40 to 150 years ago to match ours).

So, we get the following: President Benson’s concerns were (perhaps) inspired by a much more literal reading of the Bible than President Hinckley’s. President Benson’s rhetoric is therefore much more millenarian thatn President Hinckley’s. President Hinckley never explicitly says (nor implicitely implies) that President Benson was a wacko John Bircher (at least on the millenarian front). Yet, because President Hinckley’s emphases are elsewhere, we feel like we can safely ignore what President Benson had to say (or, at least, set it aside). So, we’re no longer millenarian (also, there’s the cold war thing).

Is this a fair description of the process? Is this appropriate? If not, what can we do about it?

4 Replies to “So, according to Ezra Taft Benson…”

  1. John: While Kaimi (correctly?) re-framed your post as: (When) can we set aside the counsel of past prophets?My answer is to draw an analogy (calling Jordan Fowles, analogy buster) between the Prophets and Scripture. While a “canonization” process does exist, its lack of use and continual emphasis upon LDS reliance upon modern revelation/living prophets, leads me to treat the words of the prophets as scripture. So, to recast the recasting: (When) can we set aside the counsel of scripture? Regardless of whether you like the analogy or not; my answer is that we can’t; unless it is explicitly altered or superceded by latter scipture/prophetic counsel. As you point out, the current Prophet/Apostles probably magnify/repeat or omit some prior scripture/counsel to varying degrees. But, omission/silence doesn’t really speak to efficacy or validity. One can _infer_ that it does; but its not explicit. And when in doubt…I’ll follow Pascal’s wager and take it on faith that it still counts.  Posted by lyle stamps

  2. lyle, I suppose my question is actually more along the lines of “why do we set aside the counsel of past prophets?” I think that you describe our opinion of what we ought to do. Err on the side of caution. But I don’t get the impression that we actually do. To be honest, I only have anecdotal evidence for this but, in the US, how many LDS have gardens, two-years of food storage, refrain from hunting for sport and so forth? Were the percentages higher when the Prophet was President Kimball and he was talking about these issues on a regular basis? On the other hand, how many members are now attending the temple more often, battling addictive behaviors, reaching out to members of other denominations, and becoming politically active? Our doctrinal interests tend to reflect the presidential interests in the church.I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I am saying that this might a root cause for the issue.

  3. President Harold B. Lee: “If you want to know what the Lord would have the Saints know and to have his guidance and direction for the next six months, get a copy of the proceedings of this conference, and you will have the latest word of the Lord as far as the Saints are concerned.” Ensign, Jan. 1974, 125. I suppose the emphasis on listening to, and studying, the latest word of the Lord by His current prophets and leaders leads to an implicit deemphasis on studying the word of the Lord in earlier times. This is not to say that we toss the Ensign from prior conferences, but it does imply that we spend less time with them, and less time analyzing and attempting to apply the counsel from those times than we do the most recent counsel. Posted by DavidH

  4. David, But we are selective about what counsel we keep. President Hinckley discusses moral issues, so we continually harp on Pres. Benson’s R-rated movie comment. Pres. Hinckley discusses family issues, so we perpetually quote Pres. McKay’s quote about success and failure in the home. But do we really engage Pres. Benson’s millenarianism or Pres. McKay’s love of scholarship? Not as far as I can tell. To me, these are essential elements of the rhetoric of these prophets. Is it appropriate for us to discard them because it doesn’t match the area of interest of the current prophet? Possibly (but why does it seem wrong to answer that question definitively). Posted by John C.

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