Two Varsity Scouts from the St. Anthony (Idaho) 3rd Ward looked uncomfortable sitting on a small folding chair, but their broad smiles showed they didn't mind.
"That's the chair President Ezra TaftT Benson sat on," said Allan Packer, the ward's Varsity Scout coach. "It's not every day you sit down and have a sandwich with the president of the Church."Boy Scout John Marlowe, also a member of the St. Anthony 3rd Ward, shook hands with the prophet and talked with him a few moments. "I want to write down every word he said to me," John noted.
On Aug. 14, President Benson addressed more than 6,000 Scouts and leaders from eastern Idaho and western Wyoming at the Upper Snake River Aaronic Priesthood Scout Encampment 1988. During his 41/2-hour visit at the camp, he had lunch with one of the 214 wards camped across a sprawling meadow at Teton Peaks Council's Island Park Scout Camp. The camp, located about 80 miles north of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was home for nearly a week, Aug. 11-16, to about 5,000 Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Explorers and more than 1,000 Scout and priesthood leaders.
Many of the Scouts said President Benson's speech marked the spiritual highlight of the encampment.
"When the prophet talked it sent chills up and down my spine," said Lyle Pickett, a Boy Scout from the Lincoln 3rd Ward in Idaho Falls.
Lyle's friend Cory Brower of the Ammon (Idaho) 7th Ward added, "You could see the love in President Benson's eyes."
Every place the prophet went at the camp, Scouts flocked in from all sides to catch a glimpse of him or get close enough to shake his hand. "He singled out us Parker (Ward) boys, and all of us got to shake his hand," boasted one excited Scout.
President Benson toured the camp by car with Elder Harold G. Hillam, a regional representative and chairman of the encampment committee. As they drove around subcamps named after Book of Mormon prophets, Elder Hillam asked President Benson if seeing the Scouts made him want to be a Scoutmaster again.
It sure does,' " Elder Hillam quoted President Benson as saying. "I'd do it all over again. If we could save just one boy, it would all be worth it.' "
Elder Hillam said the prophet showed his commitment to Scouting by coming to this out-of-the-way camp and addressing the Scouts and leaders at the Sunday priesthood meeting. Other General Authorities attending the encampment were Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, general Young Men president; Elder Rex Reeve, president of the North America Northwest Area and his counselor, Elder L. Lionel Kendrick; and Elder Robert L. Simpson, recently released counselor in the North America Northwest Area. All are members of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
For President Benson, the hot, windy weather proved to be one of his biggest challenges in delivering his address. As he rose to speak, a gust of wind showered the podium with dust. But President Benson, a native of Whitney, Idaho, only turned his head and waited for the wind to pass.
"That's Idaho," he said, drawing laughter from the Scouts.
The prophet then began his remarks by emphasizing the meaning of the Scout Oath - "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
" `On my honor!' - What do those words mean to you?" the prophet asked. "An honorable man is one who is truthful, free from deceit, above cheating, lying, stealing, or any form of deception. An honorable man is one who early learns that one cannot do wrong and feel right."
He then examined three different kinds of honor, saying that honor is the cure to most of the ills of the country and of each individual:
- Honor to God.
"God has not left man alone to flounder over right and wrong," President Benson declared. "His laws are set forth in the Ten Commandments."
He said the first four commandments reflect honor to God, while the fifth commandment is an example of honoring parents and the last five demonstrate ways to show respect in relationships with others.
"The Ten Commandments are the foundation principles upon which our present civilization and all civilized governments are built," he said. "To disregard them will lead to inevitable personal character loss and ruin."
- Honor to country.
"This nation had its beginning when 56 men affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence," he said. "This document constitutes a spiritual manifesto, declaring not for this nation alone, but for every man, the source of men's rights. It states that all men have inalienable rights. In other words, that these rights come from God."
The signers of the Declaration of Independence, he explained, pledged their lives, fortunes and honor in support of the document. At least nine of them died as a result of the war and its hardships. Twelve had their homes ransacked or ruined, and six more gave their fortunes to the cause.
"There is a Divinity that shapes our ends," he continued. "Because of God's merciful guidance, He quoting the Prophet Joseph SmithT `established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom He raised up unto this very purpose.' Because these founders of freedom were honorable, noble men, you and I enjoy freedom and prosperity unequaled by any modern civilization."
President Benson said the only answer to national problems is individual behavior. "You must keep your honor," he declared. "You cannot speak for the country; you can do little about the national economy or actions of others. But you are responsible for yourself. There are no collective solutions - only individual ones."
- Honor to self.
"You will only positively influence others as you are honorable to the best in you," he said. "Most individuals do not intend to be dishonest, dishonorable or immoral. They seem to allow their character to erode by a series of rationalizations, lies and compromises. Then when temptation presents itself, they do not have the strength of character to do what they know to be right. Wickedness is not happiness. You cannot do wrong and feel right."
After the prophet's talk, he stood up again and spoke to the Scouts when Elder Hillam mentioned the absence of Sister Benson.
"I wish she were here," the prophet said. "I'm grateful for her. We've spent 62 years together. Go thou and do likewise."
He then shared his testimony:
"I struggled through this talk," said President Benson, referring to the windy conditions that made his remarks hard to deliver. "But I meant every word of it. I love the Scouting program, because I've seen young men move on to magnify their callings in the ChurchT."