Judge Thomas B. Griffith is an expert in constitutional law. He has served as chief counsel for both the U.S. Senate and for Brigham Young University, and was appointed to a judgeship by George W. Bush on the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals, from which he recently retired. In his church experience he has served as both a bishop and a stake president. He lives in Virginia, practices law in D.C., and teaches at Harvard Law School.

In this collaboratory episode, Kurt Francom and Faith Matters co-founder Bill Turnbull talk with Thomas to explore President Oaks’ most recent General Conference address. President Oaks spoke passionately about the U.S. Constitution and ended with an urgent admonition to end political tribalism and division, insisting that we address this in our wards and stakes. They also discuss what lies behind those divisions—the rapid erosion of goodwill and trust in the American body politic—including among Latter-day Saints. Thomas believes Latter-day Saints can and must play a critical role in healing today’s divides. Leaders especially have a role in helping ward members follow President Oaks’ counsel.

Highlights

2:10 Quote from President Oaks’ talk:

“On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify. … There are many political issues, and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences. Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time. Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.”

3:45 The thought never occurred to him that his political views were driven by his faith commitments
Quote from President Oaks’ talk:

“Such independent actions will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve. That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate. We teach correct principles and leave our members to choose how to prioritize and apply those principles on the issues presented from time to time. We also insist, and we ask our local leaders to insist, that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our Church meetings.”

6:40 What can leaders take away from this: How does this apply to me? How can I change and be a better disciple of Christ based on this counsel?
8:30 Rigid identification with one political party has been a long-time concern with the general leadership of the church
9:45 Polarization is complicated: we sort ourselves with like-minded people and have less interaction with people who think differently, and those interactions are increasingly hostile
11:15 Media, social media, and confirmation bias: living in an echo chamber
13:45 Be introspective and thoughtful, always questioning your own assumptions; Jesus is always challenging us
15:15 Beyond Politics: the role of politics for disciples of Christ; we need to learn how to do politics differently than the political parties do
17:00 The narratives of fear and demonizing the other
18:40 “Bishop Griffith” would quote President Oaks in a talk and instruct his ward to leave politics out of all conversations at church
21:55 Kurt’s experience in a more conservative church meeting
24:40 Political views are separate from religious views; you can have widely divergent political views and be an active member of the Church
26:10 How faith should inform our political views: the purpose of politics is to help “the least of these”
28:00 One thing a leader can do is to give permission to believe differently politically
31:30 Leaders often mistake an ability problem for a motivation problem: individuals more likely lack the skills to do what they have been asked to do
32:30 Thomas’ “ward meeting” after sacrament meeting: allowed him as the bishop to lead a discussion
34:30 We need to do the hard work to understand why other people can do/believe/think the things they do
35:40 Staying out of your echo chamber: read different sources and see what other people are thinking about; changing his religion and his own political views as an adult kept him from falling into demonizing the other
38:00 Bill’s experience with conspiracy theories about people he knows personally
41:25 Thomas’ experience working with people in Washington, D.C.

Links

FaithMatters.org
A Mormon Approach to Politics, by Thomas B. Griffith
Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution, by President Dallin H. Oaks
Beyond Politics, by Hugh Nibley
Handbook links:
38.8.30 Political and Civic Activity
38.8.40 Seeking Information from Reliable Sources
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