When President Ezra Taft Benson turns 90 on Aug. 4, the entire 6.8 million-member Church will have cause to celebrate as it has grown both numerically and spiritually under his leadership.
Family and friends will be with the prophet on his birthday. He will dine with family members early in the day. Later, General Authorities and Church personnel will greet him at an open-house reception in the Church Administration Building.President Benson's life of distinguished service was culminated nearly four years ago when he was called as the Lord's mouthpiece. Under his leadership, the Church's explosive growth has continued and been solidified, and the spirituality of the Latter-day Saints has deepened.
Soon after being ordained president of the Church on Nov. 10, 1985, President Benson established a theme of his presidency with his fervent and persistent admonitions to read, study, ponder and teach the Book of Mormon. It was not a new theme, for he had long been an advocate of that volume of scripture.
"Unless we read the Book of Mormon and give heed to its teachings, the Lord has stated . . . the whole Church is under condemnation," he warned in April 1986 general conference, his first as president.
He attended regional conferences in widespread locations, repeating the counsel: "Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life."
And at the October 1988 general conference, he declared, "We must flood the earth with the Book of Mormon - and get out from under God's condemnation for having treated it lightly." In the same address, he acknowledged that 1988 had been a landmark year in the Church's use of the book. He commended members for responding to his call.
During President Benson's administration, emphasis has continued on the mission of the Church: proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the saints and redeeming the dead. At the same time, those dimensions have been applied to the broad purpose of inviting all of God's children to come unto Christ by making and keeping covenants.
The number of full-time missionaries has expanded from 29,265 at the end of 1985 - when President Benson became Church president - to 36,132 at the end of last year. In the same period, the number of missions increased from 188 to 226. Missionary work has never been more extensive in this dispensation.
Moreover, the quality of missionary work has been enhanced. After stake seventies quorums were discontinued in 1986, stake missions were given guidelines to nurture, support and help members in missionary service. Full-time and stake missionaries were instructed in how to work together to retain new converts as active Church members.
The Church, under President Benson's guidance, has concentrated on using the priesthood quorums to strengthen less-active members and prospective elders. This is in line with the First Presidency's "Invitation to Come Back," issued in December 1985.
While President Benson has been president of the Church, temples have been dedicated in Seoul, Korea; Lima, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Denver, Colo.; and Frankfurt, Germany. Temple dedications are pending in Portland, Ore.; and Las Vegas, Nev. There are now 41 temples operating worldwide.
Church members have been admonished during President Benson's administration not only to attend the temple regularly, but also to search out their own ancestors and perform temple ordinances in their behalf. To that end, new resources and helps have been published by the Church family history department. The calling of ward family history consultants to help members "take ancestors to the temple" has been emphasized. Improved technology and a new family record extraction program have been implemented to help link ancestral lines and provide temple ordinances for the dead.
Guided by President Benson's leadership, the Church has met the continual challenge of growth through such means as the momentous organization of the Second Quorum of the Seventy last April. The number of General Authorities has increased during his presidency, and the number of administrative areas around the world has expanded from 13 to 18.
With love, President Benson has given specific attention and clear counsel to various categories of Church members. He has emphasized the responsibility of fathers to provide for the material and spiritual needs of their families. He has stressed the need for mothers to stay home and nurture, care for and train their children in righteousness.
To young men, he has said they can do nothing more important than serve a mission. He advised young women not to settle for less than what the Lord wants them to be.
Single adult brethren in the Church were reminded by President Benson that honorable marriage is more important than wealth, position and status. He advised single sisters to "keep growing, learning, progressing and serving others."
In the most recent general conference, he taught the children of the Church that they should honor their parents, pray to their Heavenly Father and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
President Benson has not neglected the message of patriotism during his presidency. He delivered a major address on the U.S. Constitution at general conference in October 1987 in connection with the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Under his leadership, the Church was active in that celebration.
Church members have celebrated their own heritage with various commemorations during the four years of his presidency. Among the most significant was the 150th anniversary of the Church in the British Isles in July 1987.
Throughout his four years at the helm, President Benson's approach to his calling could be summed up in a statement from his closing address at the April 1986 general conference: "What a privilege it is to serve in the kingdom of God. In this work it is the Spirit that counts - wherever we serve. I know I must rely on the Spirit."
Church members will gather in more than 2,000 meetinghouses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico on July 30 for a televised program honoring President Ezra Taft Benson. Originating in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, the program begins at 6 p.m. MDT. It will be rebroadcast over the Church satellite network and over KBYU Channel 11 in Provo, Utah, at 8 p.m.