Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s ‘Other’ Legacy
“Follow the Prophet” is the theme of children’s songs, refrigerator magnets, breakfast mugs, and board games. The then-Apostle Harold B. Lee added politics: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church,” he cautioned. “It may contradict your political views… But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself… the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’”
No leader was considered more in tune with the Lord’s political counsel than the Apostle and Prophet Ezra Taft Benson, who continues to be read and re-read today. A tireless anti-Communist crusader and admirer of the John Birch Society, Benson’s packaging of the message parallels Skousen’s right down to the racial affronts (he claimed that the civil rights movement was a “tool of Communist deception”). And while the Church could distance itself from Skousen, it could not (and still cannot) from Benson. Moreover, Benson’s jeremiads resonated with that of the Church hierarchy generally. Any who disagreed (rumors abounded) failed to speak publicly.
In Benson’s view, the Book of Mormon (considered a record from the ancient Americas) prophesied the communist conspiracies of his day. God had made this record available to us for our instruction, to learn from them and their destruction. He summed it up best in a Conference talk of 1972 by stating, “There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon. It is a conspiracy fact.” Skousen-like, he saw communism as having already penetrated deep into American society.
That any central planning served demonic ends was as evident to Benson as the Soviet Antichrists who practiced it; and it was as easy for him to make the hop, skip, and jump from central planning to federal regulations and redistribution in democratic societies as it is for Beck to draw straight lines on a chalkboard today. Moreover, since we stood opposed to them, our system—capitalism (already ordained by the Calvinist heritage)—stood as God’s alternative to the socioeconomic designs of the devil. Finally it may be concluded that, as with all things godly, the purer the better. Libertarian economics thus intertwined with cosmic reality to animate policy debates. But even this is an older story of rightward bias.
The Church supported right-to-work legislation even before the dawn of the twentieth century. As early as 1886, the Deseret News opposed any binding union activities. The Apostle Joseph F. Merrill, speaking at the 1941 Conference, referred to closed shops as “Satan’s club,” and in 1965, the Prophet David O. McKay wrote to Mormon congressmen urging them to protect right-to-work legislation in the name of “free agency.”