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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 19: Leadership

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 241–51

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

People respond to effective leadership.


One of the marks of great leadership always has been and ever will be the humble spirit.

Just for fun, let’s see how well Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, performed with the character traits talked about in the first half of this chapter. For “humility,” read what Joseph Smith himself was quoted as saying:

“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet” (May 26, 1844, History of the Church 6:408-409).

“God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it” (Teach­ings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 363).

“I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers; and I solve mathematical problems of Universities: WITH TRUTH, diamond truth, and God is my ‘right hand man’” (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons 4:375).

Feel free to look these quotes up, but he really did say these. Joseph Smith’s obvious grade on “Humility”: F

Spiritual strength

Spiritual strength promotes positive thinking, positive ideals, positive habits, positive attitudes, and positive efforts. These are the qualities which promote wisdom, physical and mental well-being, and enthusiastic acceptance and response by others.

Only the wholesome have the capacity to lift and encourage one another to greater service, to greater achievement, to greater strength.

Inspiration is essential to properly lead. … We must have the spirit of inspiration whether we are teaching (D&C 50:13–14) or administering the affairs of the kingdom (D&C 46:2).

OK, let’s put Smith to the test once more using several historical books written by Latter-day Saints:

“Mary Elizabeth Rollins claimed that Joseph had a private conversation with her in 1831; she was then twelve years old. She said Joseph ‘told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife.’ Although she did not become a plural wife of Joseph’s until a number of years later, that early conversation planted a seed that Mary Elizabeth long remembered” (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, p. 65)

“When the Smiths moved to Ohio in 1831, Joseph there met the majority of his future wives. Most of them were still adolescents—the children of close associates” (Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 29)

“In most cases, the women were adolescents or in their twenties when he met them. About ten were pre-teens, others already thirty or above. . .  If other words, for over a decade prior to Smith’s first plural marriages, he met and established relationships with those who would later become his wives” (Ibid., p. 35)

By courting other women who were not his wives—even teens!—Joseph Smith ought to be considered an adulterer rather than a hero. Yet he even lied about his many marriages in May 1844, just a month before he died. He said,

“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” (History of the Church 6:411).

Actually, Smith had between 30-40 wives, as so admitted in the LDS Church-produced Gospel Topics essay titled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” as published on the website.

Integrity? Joseph Smith was not even close. Thus, Smith receives an “F” for “positive habits,” being “wholesome,” and properly lead(ing)” his people closer to God. For more information on this topic, visit the website


A genuine leader tries to stay well informed. He is a person who acts on principle rather than expediency. He tries to learn from all human experience measured against revealed principles of divine wisdom.

One of the best ways for leaders to understand correct principles is to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the scriptures and the appropriate handbook. Most situations have already arisen before, perhaps many times, and policy and procedure have already been determined to handle the problem. It is always wise, therefore, to refer to and be familiar with existing written instructions and Church policy on questions as they arise.

Leaders are counseled to study the doctrines of the Church so as to be able to adequately represent our doctrines to others. To use the Apostle Paul’s phraseology, we expect you to be a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Joseph Smith provided heretical teachings about God. For example:

“I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the begin­ning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an ex­alted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, if the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. Italics in original. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 129).

“We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible” (Teachings of the Prophet Jo­seph Smith, pp. 345-346. Italics in original. See also Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 305).

“If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 373.)

“That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church – Joseph Smith, p. 42).

For his heretical views and lack of knowledge about God, Joseph Smith receives, yes, another “F.” This makes him three for three, so far.


A good leader expects loyalty. He in turn gives his loyalty. He backs up those to whom he has given a job. The loyalty extends to matters beyond the call of duty. He is loyal when honors come to those with whom he serves. He takes pride in their successes. He does not overrule unless he first confers with him whose decision he overrules. He does not embarrass an associate before others. He is frank and open with him.18

You would think a man ought to be loyal to his wife. In Joseph Smith’s case, however, he betrayed Emma numerous times. Consider these quotes when it came to Smith’s polygamous ways:

“Emma took nineteen-year-old Fanny Alger into her home early in 1835. . . .William McLelline told is account of Joseph and Fanny Alger to a newspaper reported in 1875. “[McLellin]. . . informed me of the spot where the first well authenticated case of polygamy took place, in which Joseph Smith was ‘sealed’ to the hired girl. The ‘sealing’ took place in a barn on the hay mow, and we witnessed by Mrs. Smith through a crack in the door! . . . She ‘saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through the crack and saw the transaction!!!” (Ibid., p. 66)

“Joseph kept his relationship with Loiusa Beaman secret from all but a select few. He also kept it secret from Emma. His earlier attempts to begin the practice in Kirtland had presented severe trauma for Emma, and Joseph knew that she would not willingly share him with another woman” (Ibid., p. 95)

“Joseph’s choice of women as plural wives gradually put a wedge between Emma and her friends as long as she remained either ignorant of the practice or opposed it. By late summer 1843p most of Emma’s friends had either married Joseph or had given their daughters to him. . . .  At least five women in her own household were Joseph’s plural wives. . . . As a result, she [Emma] became isolated from her friends and associates, and through the next four years this isolation would become more and more acute” (Ibid., p. 147)

Smith deceived Emma many times and even got caught by her as he and a teenage girl were having sex in the hay. Any man who would do such things to his wife, deceiving her on multiple occasions, is not someone who ought to be trusted, especially for eternity. Hence, when it comes to loyalty, Joseph Smith receives still another “F” grade.


There is a “union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.” (D&C 105:4–5.) Among the required principles and attributes is a unity of mind and heart. “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine,” is the Savior’s injunction to His modern Church (D&C 38:27; John 17:20–23). Nowhere is this requirement more essential than among those whom He has called to preside throughout His kingdom.

“A love of people is essential to effective leadership.”

Love and expressions of confidence

A love of people is essential to effective leadership. Do you love those whom you work with? Do you realize the worth of souls is great in the sight of God (see D&C 18:10)? Do you have faith in youth? Do you find yourself praising their virtues, commending them for their accomplishments? Or do you have a critical attitude toward them because of their mistakes?

Even harder to bear than criticism, oftentimes, is no word from our leader on the work to which we have been assigned. Little comments or notes, which are sincere and specific, are great boosters along the way.

We know … that the time a leader spends in personal contact with members is more productive than time spent in meetings and administrative duties. Personal contact is the key to converting the inactive member.

In the Church especially, asking produces better results than ordering—better feeling, too. Remember to tell why. Follow up to see how things are going. Show appreciation when people carry out instructions well. Express confidence when it can be done honestly. When something gets fouled up, it is well to check back and find out where you slipped up—and don’t be afraid to admit that you did. Remember, our people are voluntary, free-will workers. They also love the Lord and His work. Love them. Appreciate them. When you are tempted to reprimand a fellow worker, don’t. Try an interesting challenge and a pat on the back instead. Our Father’s children throughout the world are essentially good. He loves them. We should also.

People do not like to be forced to do anything, even if it is for their own good. But people do respond to effective leadership.

When it comes to “love for people,” we must wonder why so many people hated Joseph Smith. Whether he was in Kirtland, Ohio (where he skipped town and left behind a failed banking venture), Missouri (the citizens put him in a prison cell for the atrocities committed against the Missourian people), or Nauvoo, where an angry mob ended up killing Smith—could he have fired the first shot? Then he ended up killing two men in the gun battle that, many Mormons argue, ought to be consider a “martyrdom.” (For more on that issue, click here.)  And as explained above, Smith had no problem taking other men’s wives (10 of his wives were married to living husbands) or young teens (a third of his wives were teens when he married them), wedding and then bedding them to make them his. Selfish actions? Indeed. Does this sound like a man who had “love for people”? Hardly. Smith was more about himself than those he supposedly served.

Jesus aimed to exalt the individual. …

Jesus aimed to make of every man a king, to build him in leadership into eternity. On that memorable night after the last supper, He said to the eleven … , “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12.) Through delegating, Jesus desired to lift, rather than suppress, the individual. And all through the Church today, men and women are growing in stature through positions delegated to them.

During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ delegated authority to His Twelve Apostles.

When Joseph Smith died, he left behind no plans for a successor. What ensued over the next two years was a political wrestling match for control. Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young both felt they were the rightful heirs. In addition, Smith’s family stayed behind and eventually the Reorganized Latter-day Saint (RLDS) church was instituted, later led by Smith’s son. A wise leader would have had contingency plans, especially since he supposedly said (as claimed by many Latter-day Saints) that he was “like a lamb led to the slaughter.”

We must remember that … the Church … is not the business world. Its success is measured in terms of souls saved, not in profit and loss. We need, of course, to be efficient and productive, but we also need to keep our focus on eternal objectives. Be cautious about imposing secular methods and terminology on sacred priesthood functions. Remember that rational problem-solving procedures, though helpful, will not be solely sufficient in the work of the kingdom. God’s work must be done by faith, prayer, and by the Spirit, “and if it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:18).

This last part of the chapter is fascinating. “The Church is not the business world,” it reads. The facts say otherwise. For instance, the church’s earnings each year would put it in the upper echelon of a Fortune 500 company. It has land ownings, stocks, buildings, and so much more. It is run like a business, and a well-oiled one at that.

Although the information now dated, the Ostlings had a chapter titled “Mormons, Inc.” in their book Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (Harper, 1999) where they laid out some of the financial clout of this “church.” Reemember, this information covers the mid-1990s (two decades ago from when I write this piece) and wasn’t published until 1999. On pages 114-115, they wrote,

What makes the LDS Church distinctive is not just the amount of money coursing through its congregations each week–though that is also singular for the size of the denomination–but the church’s heavy investments in corporate enterprises. . . . its investments in stocks, bonds, and church-controlled businesses were worth $6 billion as of 1997, and that church-owned agricultural and commercial real estate has a value of an additional $5 billion. . . . The worth of other categories of assets: U.S. meetinghouses and temples, $12 billion; foreign meetinghouses and temples, $6 billion; schools and miscellaneous, $1 billion. The estimated grand total of LDS assets, by a conservative reckoning, would be $25-30 billion. If assets have appreciated as much as they should have in recent times, the figure could go well beyond that.

Of course, a decade and a half has passed since these researchers wrote the above. The church has more than four million more followers since 1999 (more than a quarter of its current membership), as well as close to double the temples and thousands more buildings. What would that number equal today? How is this money being used to further the spiritual kingdom of God?

The LDS Church does not disclose its financial position. It doesn’t have to because it is a “nonprofit” organization. Listen to what the researchers have to say about this:

The strict secrecy with which the hierarchy guards the financial facts is unique for a church of this size. Officials refuse to divulge routine information that other religions are happy to provide over the phone to donors or inquirers. Outsiders’ money estimates always raise disclaimers from officialdom, presumably because of the danger that fat-looking figures might weaken members’ tithing compliance. This has led to a cat-and-mouse game with various journalists who have attempted over the years to unveil the vast empire of corporate Mormonism.

If this secrecy seems strange, it’s because this is not typical with most Christian ministries. The reputable ministries I know have open books and allow audits from agencies like EFCA, an independent auditor. Donors are encouraged to see how the money is spent. Not so with the Mormon Church. The Ostlings continue on page 118:

Typically churches spend most of what they take in and maintain modest “rainy day” margins. Not so the Mormons. Their enterprises range from a $16 billion insurance company to perhaps $16 billion in stocks and bonds, if not more. There a $172 million chain of radio stations (seventh-largest in the country). The church’s more than 150 farms and ranches, including America’s largest cattle ranch, make it one of the largest landowners in the nation. The farms and ranches encompass somewhere in the neighborhood of one million acres, roughly equal to the state of Delaware. The talented church managers run a tight and profitable ship and can spend the cash any way they choose. They are not held accountable to the unquestioning flock in any way.

The whole purpose of the Church is to build men and women who will be godlike in their attitudes and in their attributes and in their ideals.

Benson is quoted as saying that the Mormon Church’s “whole purpose” “is to build men and women who will be godlike in their attitudes.” Yet what I find that the church does instill Pharisaical pride in people. General conference plays twice a year where members can hear the “do your best and then do better” talks. Keeping covenants is how a “good” Mormon is measured. Members are interviewed by their leaders to see if they are “worthy” to attend the temple. Only those jumping through the hoops are given the necessary recommend cards required to enter therein. And what is one of the requirements? Paying the tithe–the full ten percent. Consider what the Ostlings wrote on tithing in their chapter “Mormons, Inc.”:

Yet another LDS tradmark is the system of membership tithing that brings in what we project as offerings of $5.3 billion a year, though one knowledgeable source thinks $4.25 billion might be a safer estimate. Stocks and directly owned businesses produce perhaps $600 million more in cash income. The estimated yearly annual revenues total $5.9 billion, or by the more conservative reckoning, just under $5 billion.

Imagine how much more the church receives each year in current times, with more than four million members than there were at the time of that writing! Inflation also ought to be considered. If my own estimates are correct, I think the number of tithing dollars is easily more than $10 billion a year (no question) in 2015 dollars. This church is so good at collecting the tithe that, if a person hasn’t done so, the church can require tithing settlement , which is a payment of back tithes. If this isn’t done, then the member will have to say good-bye to the temple recommend and possibly miss the right for them to see their own child’s wedding!

Based on the information above, money is what makes this church go round. Meanwhile, many hard-working volunteers are not compensated for their duties, including the bishops, who act like Christian pastors and certainly put in several dozen hours (minimum) per week. Asking a man to be a husband while raising a family, keeping a full-time job, and then holding what amounts to another full-time job (running a church of 200 members) is asking for the impossible. And all of this is expected, with no pay. Yet the Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:18, “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.'” And D&C 42:71-73 says that bishops (as well as elders and high priests who assist these bishops) are to receive “a just remuneration for all their services,” while D&C 75:24 specifically names certain men who were called missionaries and states that “it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those [missionaries], and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.” Is there a disconnect here?

Truly, the church’s coffers in Salt Lake City seem to be well lined. Money and investments are piled up to do…what? I can’t see Jesus encouraging Peter and the disciples to build a Fortune 500 company while keeping their finances hidden. Yet the LDS Church membership allows their leaders to stockpile money and investments? Something is wrong.

Contrary to what the Mormon may believe, I believe that the whole purpose of the Mormon Church is to give the elite power while providing no hope for the members by working them overtime and not even giving them any chance to think on their own. In my experience, this “church” completely fulfills Jesus’s words in Matthew 23 when He addressed the Jewish leaders. This is what He said two millennia ago:

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

So much about Mormonism concerns outward appearances. Consider how Latter-day Saints are expected to dress for church: Buttoned (white) shirts, ties, slacks, and dress shoes for the men. Dresses (covering the knee) for the women. They look great on the outside, but will the individual be convicted to work on the inside? This is just a start. I live in Utah and so much in everyday life here is superficial. As long as a Mormon family has a nice-looking yard, doesn’t run its mower or play sports on Sundays, and waves are offered to all the neighbors as they drive by, then everything is fine. Meanwhile, there are people in this church who are spiritually dead in trying to do enough good, desiring freedom from human regulations and the standards of fifteen men living in Salt Lake City. How do I know? I have talked to many, many former Latter-day Saints who have left this life of slavery and discovered an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ that gave them the freedom they were looking for.

I believe the leaders of the LDS Church are much closer in nature to Joseph Smith than they are to Jesus Christ. My prayer is for the Mormon people to recognize that trusting in this organization will get them nowhere.



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