‘Mormon Land’: Ezra Taft Benson and his influence on Latter-day Saint politics

(File photo) Ezra Taft Benson

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used to be more evenly split between the two major political parties, supporting Democrats Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson for U.S. president.

But something happened in the 1960s. Latter-day Saints began moving to the right and eventually became a reliably Republican voting bloc, a trend that continues to this day.

Though there were many social factors behind this shift, one high-placed church leader may have helped shape Mormon political views for decades. His name: Ezra Taft Benson.

A Latter-day Saint apostle and onetime church president, Benson held political views that stretched further right than mainstream Republicans. He spoke out against communism — even calling Dwight D. Eisenhower, on whose Cabinet he had served, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Communists” — considered running on a presidential ticket with strident segregationist George Wallace, and wanted to name a member of the right-wing John Birch Society to the faith’s top quorums. But Benson got plenty of pushback for linking politics and religion from other church leaders, including David O. McKay, Gordon B. Hinckley and Boyd K. Packer.

On this week’s show, Matthew Harris, author of “Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right” and a history professor at Colorado State University in Pueblo, discusses Benson and his influence on Latter-day Saint politics.

Listen here: