Ezra Taft Benson (president of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles at the time) gave a talk entitled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” (Address given Tuesday, February 26, 1980 at Brigham Young University).
His claims are somewhat controversial. In fact even some relatively conservative members have given them negative reviews of late, not just the DAMs. It is neither my intention to defend over simplifications he's given, on the one hand, nor to find fault where it doesn't exist, on the other. So I am seeking to do a realistic appraisal of his claims a few at a time.
In looking at his statements I think we have to remember that he was talking at BYU. He wasn't anticipating that his words would be analysed under a microscope on the internet. Also I think the talk was anticipated to be simplistic, not used as a doctrinal backing for a particular line of thought (as has occurred).
Also we need to observe that, except for one, these qualities aren't entirely unique to the president of the church. He has only attempted to inform us what to keep in mind in following instructions from the president.
Brother Benson states the following, "Here then is the grand key — Follow the prophet — and here are fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet." He then qualifies that when he uses the term "the prophet," he means "the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." This qualifying of the title "the prophet" is important to the subject, as we view the claims.
I'm doing these back to front as that way when they are completed they can be read from start to finish. Claims 12 and 13 shouldn't really have much controversy from a church member's point of view. But claim 14 does need some discussion to put it in a more universally understood manner.
Claim Twelve: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
"As a prophet reveals the truth it divides the people. The honest in heart heed his words but the unrighteous either ignore the prophet or fight him. When the prophet points out the sins of the world, the worldly either want to close the mouth of the prophet, or else act as if the prophet didn’t exist, rather than repent of their sins. Popularity is never a test of truth. Many a prophet has been killed or cast out. As we come closer to the Lord’s second coming you can expect that as the people of the world become more wicked, the prophet will be less popular with them."
I don't think that too many would disagree with this. The only thing that I feel some would like to qualify is that it pertains to anyone preaching the gospel of Christ. So all members who speak out must expect the same.
Claim Thirteen: The prophet and his counsellors make up the First Presidency—The highest quorum in the Church.
"In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord refers to the First Presidency as “the highest council of the Church” (D&C 107:80) and says “whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent …” (D&C 112:20)."
I don't think any member would have trouble with this Claim.
It should be remembered that he didn't claim the 14 fundamentals were all unique to the president; only that they should be remembered in following him. But this one is the one that is unique and fully qualified.
Claim Fourteen: The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.
"...In a general conference of the Church, President N. Eldon Tanner stated:
“The Prophet spoke out clearly on Friday morning, telling us what our responsibilities are …
“A man said to me after that, ‘You know, there are people in our state who believe in following the Prophet in everything they think is right, but when it is something they think isn’t right, and it doesn’t appeal to them, then that’s different.’ He said, ‘Then they become their own prophet. They decide what the Lord wants and what the Lord doesn’t want.’
“I thought how true, and how serious when we begin to choose which of the covenants, which of the commandments we will keep and follow, we are taking the law of the Lord into our own hands and become our own prophets, and believe me, we will be led astray, because we are false prophets to ourselves when we do not follow the Prophet of God. No, we should never discriminate between these commandments, as to those we should and should not keep.” (CR, October 1966, p. 98.)..."
I agree with this idea in the main. The only problem with this type of thinking is that it refutes the teaching of even past presidents that we should be getting our own revelation and become a prophet unto ourselves. It blocks a person from personal spiritual progress beyond the point that the president receives revelation for the weak and weakest of Saints (D&C 89:3). It also ignores the point that some members feel the importance of living higher commandments that have been extracted from members generally, because of failure to abide higher laws of God (D&C Section 119 heading).
The Prophet Caiaphas received revelation about Christ. He interpreted its application to mean that they should seek the death of Christ (Jn 11:49-53). Should I have followed the president of the church (the Prophet Caiaphas) had I been there?
1 Kings 13:18 states that a prophet lied deliberately to another prophet, causing his death. The story also demonstrates another prophet disobeying God (verse 26 states that this man was a prophet).
The prophet Balaam got the Israelites to do wickedly. His idea was to make God displeased with them so he could get paid by the king of the Moabites to curse them with God's approval. (Num 22:17,Rev 2:14)
So had I been a Jew at the time of Caiaphas would I have suffered if I didn't follow his council in regard opposing Christ? Was the prophet who was lied to by another prophet blessed because he followed his lie? Certainly not. And could I have supported the prophet Balaam in his wickedness and have been blessed?
Brigham Young stated _
"There are those among this people who are influenced, controlled, and biased in their thoughts, actions, and feelings by some other individual or family, on whom they place their dependence for spiritual and temporal instruction, and for salvation in the end. These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals. 'I do not depend upon any inherent goodness of my own,' say they, 'to introduce me into the kingdom of glory, but I depend upon you, brother Joseph, upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me; your spirit is better than mine, therefore you can do good for me; I will submit myself wholly to you, and place in you all my confidence for life and salvation; where you go I will go, and where you tarry there I will stay; expecting that you will introduce me through the gates into the heavenly Jerusalem.'" (Journal of Discourses: 1:Brigham Young 1853/02/20 : 310)
We have to do a lot more than just sit around like blind fools following another person other than Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. We have to use revelation to gain eternal life (D&C 42:61 and 45:57). This is the thing that makes us different to any other religion claiming to follow Christ. We can talk to God and have him talk back. Either through the Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ or Heavenly Father.
Additionally Brigham stated _
"Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others..." (Journal of Discourses: 1:Brigham Young 1853/02/20 : 310)
From this examination of Brother Benson's talk we should be able to see that his intention was to encourage people to have faith in the person that God has chosen as mouthpiece for him in the church organisation. It is important to members and non-members to be looking to this source of truth. To propose that the president of the church is somehow flawless or that all he says is as if God were speaking, is an extreme, it is true. But to rip Brother Benson apart because he should have been less emphatic seems an even greater extreme to me.