Mormon Leader Advises 16,000 Teens in Anaheim

Times Staff Writer

Mormon Prophet-President Ezra Taft Benson on Sunday exhorted about 16,000 young Mormons in Anaheim to lead moral, productive lives and called some novels and publications "corrupters" and "distorters of truth."

In a rare Southern California appearance, the frail, elderly Benson gave harsh, far-ranging advice on such teen-age topics as what to--and what not to--read, how to find a job, whom to date, how much to sleep and how to exercise, supplemented with quotes from the Bible, the Book of Mormon and Poor Richard's Almanac.

"Many novels and modern publications are corrupters of morals or distorters of truth," Benson, 87, said in a 50-minute speech to Mormon students who came to the Anaheim Convention Center from throughout the Southland. He did not elaborate on specific novels or publications, however.

"Disease, fevers and unexpected deaths are some of the consequences directly related to disobedience," he told the audience. Again, Benson was not specific in his remarks.

Benson's speech Sunday marked only his third appearance in Southern California since he was named "prophet" of the 6-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in November, 1985. Benson, who served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's secretary of agriculture, succeeded Spencer W. Kimball, who died at age 90.

An estimated 350,000 Mormons live in Southern California, the church says.

Benson "came down for this (the meeting with students) alone because he is concerned for the young people," said Kit Poole, a church spokeswoman. She said Sunday's audience was made up mostly of students aged 14 to 25.

Although many religious leaders have come out strongly against drugs in the recent effort to warn youths of their dangers, Benson did not directly mention the war on substance abuse. Rather, he emphasized Mormon doctrine, and urged youths to follow its teachings against the consumption of tea, coffee, tobacco and alcohol.

Benson also underscored the more traditional teachings of the American-born church, as they relate to marriage and gender.

"Young women," he told the group, "you are not required to lower your standards to get a husband. Keep yourselves attractive, maintain high ideals, place yourselves in a position to meet worthy men and be engaged in constructive activities."

He told the young men in the audience that "it will be your role to be the leader in the home. You will be the provider, and so you must carefully and prayerfully choose a career."

Reaction from Benson's young audience ranged from the devout to the disinterested.

Kristin Gibbs, a Fountain Valley high school student chosen to present Benson with a souvenir of his visit, was tearful and light-headed as she stood on the podium.

"I feel so lucky to be here today," Gibbs said, choking back tears. "Last night and this morning I wasn't able to stand up, I felt so sick and dizzy. . . . But I know without a doubt that the Book of Mormon is true and President Benson is the true prophet."

In contrast, Kevin Riggs, 17, of Lakewood, was one of the first to leave the packed arena.

"It was pretty good," he said of Benson's speech. "I'd be at the beach, but I'm here."

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