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Ezra Taft Benson, 13th Church President : Mormons Embrace Their ‘Prophet, Seer, Revelator’

Times Religion Writer

In a solemn ceremony Sunday, thousands of Mormon faithful officially supported Ezra Taft Benson as their “prophet, seer and revelator” and pledged loyalty to him despite adversity and criticism predicted for their church.

Benson, 86, was ordained the 13th President of the 5.9-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints five months ago after his predecessor, Spencer W. Kimball, died at age 90. But formal confirmation of Benson’s appointment was reserved until the closing hour of the church’s two-day annual conference. The vote by a show of hands was apparently unanimous.

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor to Benson, said that God had “tested and disciplined, schooled and prepared” Benson over the years to take charge of the fast-growing church.

“Although storms of adversity have raged against it, (the church) continues to move steadily forward along the course the Almighty has outlined . . . quietly and without great noise and fanfare,” Hinckley said.

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“No power under the heavens can deflect it. . . . We may expect that there will be some who will try. Their efforts will be like chipping away at a granite block with a chisel of wood. The stone will not be damaged, but the chisel will be broken.”

About 8,000 Mormons overflowed the domed Tabernacle on downtown Temple Square and jammed adjacent buildings Saturday and Sunday. Tens of thousands more watched the 156th annual conference by television satellite in local meeting halls throughout the United States and Canada.

Benson was a member of the church’s Council of Twelve Apostles--which is under the first presidency of three leaders--for 42 years. He served 12 years as president of the council under a leadership system based on seniority. Church doctrine holds that the Council of Twelve president is next in line to become the church president.

Benson was expected to name a new member to the Council of Twelve, filling the vacancy left by Kimball’s death and the appointment of Benson in his place last November. But Benson left the position open, surprising many at the conference. No reason was given for the decision.

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The overall theme of the conference hewed to the basics of Mormon doctrine and accented traditional moral values. Speaker after speaker urged the faithful to shun such things as spouse and child abuse, profanity and pornography.

Hinckley warned of the “quagmire of immorality” awaiting those enticed by pornography. He also called any Mormon who had indulged in spouse or child abuse to repent and confess it “to his or her bishop.” Child abuse is cause for church excommunication, he reminded that gathering.

Benson admonished youths to keep themselves “morally clean” and not “sow . . . wild oats.”

He quoted his predecessor, Kimball, denouncing “necking and petting” as leading to the “ugly sins” of fornication, pregnancy out of wedlock and abortion.

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Benson also warned young male members “not to take the chance of dating non-members” and not “to pollute your minds” with “suggestive and lewd” movies, television programs, music and literature.

Reports submitted here showed that the Mormon Church worldwide grew nearly 5% between 1984 and 1985, up from 5.65 million members to 5.92 million. The new figures show church growth of 66% over the last decade; 3.57 million members worldwide were reported in 1975.

Nearly 200,000 converts were baptized during 1985, and 95,000 new births to Mormon parents were reported. In the same year, 37 Mormon temples were in operation--up from 31 the previous year. Another 10 are planned or under construction, according to the report.


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