Thomas B. Griffith: Politics, Religion, and the Laboratory of Christian Living
In his April 2021 general conference talk, President Dallin H. Oaks made a simple yet profound statement: "On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify." In a world that often feels so divided, coming together can feel close to impossible. But Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals in 2005, is a believer that it is possible and the "how" is found within the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this week's episode, Judge Griffith discusses how to bring that gospel perspective as we engage in our communities.
Our political allegiances need to be way down the list in terms of importance. Our allegiance to the Savior and His work needs to be at the top of the list.
President Oaks’ talk: “Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution”
Brother Griffith’s BYU Devotionals:
- “The Hard Work of Understanding the Constitution,” September 18, 2012
- “The Very Root of Christian Doctrine” March 14, 2006
Fireside featuring Brother Griffith: Dialogue Fireside with Thomas B. Griffith: A Latter-day Saint Approach to Politics
(Pls embed if possible: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeaBFfBXZOg)
Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter: Letter from Birmingham Jail
"This truth is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them” (President Boyd K. Packer, “The Mediator,” Ensign, May 1977).
“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” -C.S. Lewis
2:35- Conversion in High School
9:37- Called to Engage
13:27- Moderate and Unify
17:04- The Divine Community and Laboratory of Christian Living
20:58- Christ in All Things
30:00- Building Zion
41:15- Media Literacy
48:21- A Society Where Creativity is Unleashed
52:34- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones Pearson 0:00
This podcast is geared toward an international audience, so I hope you'll forgive me as this week's episode talks a lot about the United States of America. But I think the principles are applicable no matter where you live, and so, so important.
In 2012, speaking at Brigham Young University, Judge Thomas B. Griffith quoted judge Learned Hand who said, "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women," end quote.
Judge Griffith went on to say, “Disagreement is critical to the well-being of our nation, but we must carry on our arguments with the realization that those with whom we disagree are not our enemies, rather, they are our colleagues in a great enterprise.” Today we will discuss what this means for disciples of Jesus Christ.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President George W. Bush in June 2005. Between his graduation from Brigham Young University, where he received his undergraduate degree and his study of law at the University of Virginia, Judge Griffith worked in the Church Educational System where he directed seminary and institute programs in the Baltimore, Maryland area.
Judge Griffith was engaged in the private practice of law from 1985 through 1994. From 1995 through 1999, Judge Griffith was Senate legal counsel of the United States, the chief legal officer of the United States Senate. In that capacity he represented the interest of the Senate in litigation investigations and the impeachment trial of President Clinton. Most recently, he was appointed to the new presidential commission on the Supreme Court of the United States in April 2021.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Pearson and I am so honored to have Judge Thomas B. Griffith with me today. He has requested that I call him Tom.
Brother Tom Griffiths–Brother Griffith, thank you so much for taking the time to be with me. This is such a treat for me and I have been anxiously preparing for this interview. And I think hopefully I have some good questions for us to discuss, but before we get in too much further, I wanted to start with–you are a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tell me a little bit about how you came in contact with the Church.
Thomas Griffith 2:44
Yeah, I'd be happy to. I was a junior in high school in McLean, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington, DC. And I started dating a young woman who was a Latter-day Saint. And she brought me one evening to a party [with] her Church friends and I was very reluctant to go.
I was imagining a group of really self-righteous, holier than thou, Churchy, churchy types of which I was not one. And I–and so I reluctantly agreed to go because she asked me to. And I went, and there were about 15 or 20 high school students, and they were fun. And they were having the time of their lives. And there was no drinking, no bad behavior, they were just high school kids having a lot of fun with one another.
We played word games–the thought that I would go to a party and play a word game when I was in high school, that was just too far beneath me. . . But I had a blast. And they were having a blast. And I realized–these people are experiencing a part of life that I've never seen. Something's going on here.
So that was Friday night . . . or maybe that might have been Saturday night. Sunday night she invited me to what she called a "Fireside." And I had no idea what that was. But I was–I was game and was invited to a fireside at a member's home where the youth had gathered to hear a speaker.
The speaker was a fellow named George Gould, who was a very distinguished looking man. Had silver hair, former FBI agent, and he gave a talk. It was the same group of kids, except this time they were dressed up in church clothes, and they listened respectfully to this man for whom they obviously had great admiration. And that wasn't something I was used to. To see young people look with affection and respect upon an elder.
And so that–once again–that kind of rocked my world again, and then the final blow in some ways was she invited me to attend early morning seminary, the next one. "Well, seminary?" "Seminary–that's where you train for the priesthood." "What? You got high school kids going to seminary?" Anyway, we got across the language barrier. And her mom and her picked me up the next morning at six o'clock or something like that and drove me to the chapel.
And in the back of the chapel, seminary class was being held. And–same group of kids again, right. Same group of kids. And now they're at church at 6:30 in the morning, talking about religion. It was a–it was a powerful experience for me. At the end of the lesson, the teacher, Ivan Keller, approached me and handed me a copy of the Book of Mormon. He opened the Book of Mormon and showed me what I now know of as Moroni's promise it was written in the front part of the Book of Mormon.
I took it to school that day. And my first class was a two-hour long class. It was a lecture class with a large number of students in the class. I normally sat in the front of the class and it was really quite obnoxious. But this day I sat in the back of the class. And I opened my textbook up and in it, inside it, slipped this Book of Mormon. And I opened it, I looked at the pictures, they had the Arnold Friberg pictures interspersed through–it was an old edition–interspersed throughout the text of the Book of Mormon.
And I looked at the pictures, they were odd pictures, didn't recognize any of the figures or stories. But I settled upon a picture, which I now know is the picture of the Brother of Jared having his interaction with the Lord, touching the stones to give them light to cross the sea. Of course, I didn't know any of that, then, but I looked at that picture. And if you recall, it's kind of strange picture. He has a strange headgear on and strange lighting. So my attention was drawn to that.
And then I started reading across the page from that. And I don't remember what verses I read but something happened to me then that was unique. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. And only rarely has it happened since. But I had this overwhelming sense of joy. As I began reading. I also had this sense that what I was reading was ancient–that it was true, that it confirmed the trustworthiness of the biblical account, and that the rest of my life was going to be tied up with this book.
Well, that's a lot–that's a lot to have happen during first period of high school. But it was a–it was an overwhelming experience. When class ended, I went and found the young woman who had taken me to these events, and I didn't have words to express what had happened.
I simply said, "I want to learn more about your church." You know, I don't often tell that story. I do tell it, but I tell it selectively and never to an audience as large as yours because I worry a little bit about . . . I spent a lot of my time in the church teaching young people. And I worry that they think that that experience is going to be the norm. And it's not. It's not. It was an unusual experience and I don't know why it happened to me.
It probably happened to me because I needed to be hit upside the head with a plank, right? And instead of the steady, drip, drip, drip of the Spirit over time, I needed something that hit me over the head, but it did. And so yeah, that's the–that's the beginning of my conversion story.
I like to think that it's an ongoing story. I tell people that recent converts of the church, I tell them, you know, the single most important decision I've ever made was the decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I made that when I was 16 years old. Now, what are the chances that you're going to make the most important decision in your life when you're 16 and it's right. That's–that's risky, right? I said, "But the second most important decision in my life is the decision to stay, and that's a decision that we make every day, right. That's an ongoing, ongoing decision, so.
Morgan Jones Pearson 9:22
Right. Well, and I think that that's true of any commitment, right? We–it's we continue to make and keep covenants and commitments on a daily basis. Judge Griffith–Oh, I'm not good at this, Brother Griffith, I wanted to ask you, so that was when you were 16, and then you went on your mission, and having grown up not far from Washington, DC you were really interested in politics. And I understand that on your mission some opinions were expressed that maybe politics and religion don't mix. And I wondered having now spent a career as a Judge, what is your opinion about that today? Or how would you respond to that now?
Thomas Griffith 10:04
Well, you know, it turns out it's a more complicated issue than I had thought. You're right, I grew up in the Washington DC area and was fascinated by and immersed myself in the culture of our national politics. It was not unusual, where I live, to be friends with sons and daughters of congressmen, senators and Supreme Court justices.
We didn't live in a particularly fancy neighborhood, but those were the people we lived among. It was not, not that uncommon. So I, so I was interested in politics, worked on Capitol Hill as an intern, and assumed that that interest was a good one.
I mean, people of my–we had members of Congress in my ward, I just thought that was, that was all part of the deal. But my mission president who I idolized, one of the greatest men I've ever met–Robert Thorn, as I got to know him, he was really surprised by my interest in politics and asked me about it a lot. And he thought that there was some tension there, maybe some inconsistencies.
And I sort of dismissed his views as, "Wow," you know, "He's a great man, but he's from Utah," you know, "I'm from DC, I'm a little more sophisticated than that." Well, as I–as you said–as I spent my life, most of my professional life in and around the politics of Washington, DC, I'm beginning to see that the old man maybe was a little wiser than I thought.
There is a real tension between the life of a disciple of Christ and full engagement in politics. And we see that playing out in rather stark fashion today, because the politics as they as they have been practiced for a long, long time, it can be divisive, can be toxic, and they certainly are right now.
And so for a disciple of Christ, for a Latter-day Saint in particular to be involved in politics, it's risky. It's a risky business. But I think it's an important one. I'm not in favor of withdrawing and just letting the world go its own way. I don't think that's what we're called to do. I think we're called to engage. But we're called to engage in a different way.
I really believe that we are called to do a different kind of politics. I don't think–I don't think it's just Latter-day Saints in particular. But I think people of faith in general, and Christians in particular, are called to do a different type of politics. A politics that looks to build bridges of reconciliation and understanding.
Look, it was–I think the best explanation I've ever heard of this type of politics came from President Oaks in April, last April general conference where you remember he said to us, "On contested issues, we seek to moderate and to unify."
Now, there's a charge. There's a metric for Latter-day Saints who are involved in politics and I think that should be all of us. We're citizens of a great country that requires our participation. So we all do politics. That's quite a metric. I think each of us–present company–included, needs to ask ourselves, "Okay, is my involvement in politics seeking to moderate and to unify?" And if it's not, well–repent. Change. Because that's, that's a–that's a different type of politics that it's going on in much of the country today.
But I think that's what we're called to do. I mean, I know, clearly, that's what President Oaks told us to do. It's not easy to do, but as Sister Tanner taught us so well, when she was a Young Women's president–we can do hard things. This is a hard thing, but I think it's something we have to do.
Morgan Jones Pearson 14:04
Okay, I love that because my fiancé and I were reading President Oaks talk together and we pulled out that little phrase, "Moderate and unify." I wonder for you, what does that–what do those two words mean?
Thomas Griffith 14:20
Wow. A lot. I mean, I think what it tells us is that to recognize that we live in a community with people who have different views about things. And because we know who they are, right? They're children of God, that by that fact alone, we need to listen carefully and respect their views, even if we disagree with them.
And that the whole idea behind creating community out of diversity is that we should be looking for ways to allow others to live true to their core values. To the extent that we can, I mean, there's some things that you can't compromise on, right? But I think President Oaks has taught us and the Church has shown us, particularly in its working and support of anti-discrimination laws in Utah, that there's a lot we can compromise on. That each of us as a citizen needs to think, long and hard about what is core that we can't compromise on, and then be willing to compromise on things beyond that.
And it takes two to tango, right. And that hope–but hopefully that creates a culture and ethic where people are doing that. They're actually looking for ways to accommodate the deeply held views of others.
Now, look, I'm not naive about it. I mean there are fundamental differences that you . . . that there won't be–we won't be able to compromise on. But I think that those are fewer than we might otherwise assume.
So it requires an approach to living in community that we welcome diversity. Look, what we're trying to do in the United States has never been tried in the world before. We're trying to create a multicultural democracy made up of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, right. And we're trying to create a community like that.
Now, the fact that I just used that scriptural phrase shows you what we're up against. That phrase is used to describe the millennial experience, right? And so yeah, so cynics may say, "Well, it isn't going to happen until then," right. "And those are going to be under very different circumstances that we have now." You know, that may be right, but I don't think that relieves us of the duty to try and create as much of that as we can now.
We're a Zion people, right? We believe that what happens here and now matters, and that we are called to try and build community here and now. I'm a huge admirer of Richard Bushman. And obviously, you know, he's the best historian our people has produced. And I had an opportunity to have a conversation with him a number of years ago, where he said that he thought that perhaps the greatest gift that Latter-day Saints could offer the world–I just pause on that for a second. You know, if I were teaching a class I would say, "Fill in the blank, what do you think is the greatest gift that we have to offer the world?"
And we can think of lots of different things, I think it was really interesting that Richard Bushman said, he thought perhaps the greatest gift we could offer the world is that we know how to build community. We're the people of the beehive after all, right? We know how to build community. We do it in our wards, we've had success, you know, doing it um, you know, coming out to the Great Basin and making the desert blossom like a rose.
But we do it in our wards every week. We take this group of people that–that may not be . . . may not want to have lunch with each other, right? But because they live where they live, they have to go to Church with each other. And, and then it gets tougher, not only do they just sit by each other in the pew, they actually have callings with one another, right.
And so you end up working in the Primary or Young Women's with someone whose tastes in music and politics you may not like, but the miracle of the ward is that as we throw ourselves into those activities, we learn something profound. And that is that the Lord loves that person, every bit as much as he loves me. And the ward is a radical laboratory for Christian living, that I think teaches us the skills that we can, hopefully, take to the world, and help build community beyond the war. At least that's–that's . . . that's sounds kind of pie in the sky, but I actually think that's what we're called to do.
Morgan Jones Pearson 19:10
Right. Well, I love that phrase, you've used that previously, "Ward laboratory of Christian living." And I think that's spot on. I think we have a very unique experience as Latter-day Saints that helps us see how to reach compromises and how to have discussions with people that think differently than us and come from different backgrounds. And there's a plethora of different opportunities that present that opportunity to us.
Thomas Griffith 19:41
Listen, President Ballard has been teaching us about councils for years. And this is one component of it, right? You bring people together and you reach consensus. That's hard work, but it's important work. Now, I should add this–I'm not a favor–I'm not a fan of the two-hour block, okay.
Morgan Jones Pearson 20:03
Thomas Griffith 20:04
I know everyone was cheering for the two-hour block. I'm in favor of a four-hour block, right? No–
Morgan Jones Pearson 20:11
He wants more Church instead of less.
Thomas Griffith 20:13
I want more ward activity, not less. But I realize that puts me–that perhaps reduces my credibility and puts me as an outlier. But no–it's my hopefully funny way of saying the ward matters. What goes on in the ward matters. The frustrations we experience with folks in the ward? No, that's part of the plan to learn how to work through those frustrations and to learn to love people who are very different than you.
Morgan Jones Pearson 20:44
Yeah, well, I want to–I want to kind of set the tone for the rest of our conversation, because I want to continue to talk about this topic of community building. And I want to talk about what politics has to do with that. But I want to–you gave a talk at BYU that I loved. I listened to it the first time probably a year ago, and I sent it to my dad. And I was like, "You've got to listen to this."
So in the talk, you quoted Boyd K. Packer who said, "The Atonement of Christ is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches, and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them."
And you talked about how when you were a stake president, you decided that you wanted to make sure that the Atonement of Jesus Christ was at the root of everything that was taught in your stake. And if it seemed like something didn't, you would, you would kind of challenge that and say, "Well, how does that relate to the Atonement of Jesus Christ?" I wondered, could you tell us just a little bit about what that experience was like for you, how it changed your perception of the gospel and how it affected your stake?
Thomas Griffith 21:59
Yeah, I'd love to. It was a–it was a BYU 9th stake. This is back in 2000–2004. So we had a remarkable group of young people in our stake. And with the permission of the General Authority to whom I reported who was Elder John Groberg, we tried something a little different.
And here's the thing that we tried. It was based on the idea that when we gather together at Church, we need to have really good meetings, right. Now, it doesn't do a whole lot of good, you know, urging people to come to Church, if what happens at Church is boring, and dull and that's counterproductive. So that was the idea, that is that we need to make our meetings filled with life.
And the guide for that was Elder Packer. He suggested that if you–that there's a certain type of teaching in the Church that has no life, no substance, no redemption in them, right? Well, we wanted to avoid that. We wanted to avoid that. And the key was Elder Packer taught that if you want to have life, substance and redemption in your teaching, you tie it to the Atonement of Christ.
So here's what we did. We–the stake presidency, we laid down a law. And the law was to the bishops, first and foremost the bishops, that every sacrament meeting talk was going to be about the Atonement of Christ in a direct and an express way. And we told the bishops, "This is hard work, okay. This is–you need to sit down with the people who are going to give talks, and you need to talk this through with them." "Go ahead, if you want to have a talk on provident living, that's fine. That's a really important topic. But in our stake, that talk is going to be about provident living and the Atonement of Jesus Christ."
And the point was, if you can't make that connection between the topic in sacrament meeting and the Atonement of Christ, you either haven't thought about it enough–which is probably the case–or you've picked a topic that we shouldn't be talking about in sacrament meeting. I mean, we've just taken the emblems of our Lord's suffering, death and resurrection in the sacrament, the primary reason we gathered together, we ought to be able to talk about it next.
There shouldn't be a clean break. We shouldn't–one of my pet peeves is when members of bishoprics get–the sacrament is over and they talk about, "We're now," oh, they say "We're now going to have the sacrament portion of our meeting." Well, that's a pet peeve for me.
Morgan Jones Pearson 24:36
Thomas Griffith 24:36
Sacrament portion of the meeting? The whole meeting is sacrament meeting. So there ought to be a connection between this wonderful experience we've just had sharing the sacrament with one another, and then everything else that happens in–then it was a three hour block. That was the idea. Everything should be an echo of what we've just done together in the sacrament.
So we went to the Bishops and laid down that law. And they got it pretty–they got it pretty well. We then went the next step. We went to all the teachers. And we said, "Okay, in your Sunday school class and your priesthood lessons, your Relief Society lessons–same thing with you, right." "Same thing with you. You've got the curriculum; we're going to follow that."
But then we'd have these workshops on how you take a lesson on education, the need for education, and link it to the Atonement of Christ. We'd have workshops to do that. That was a little less successful, but it was still–it was still successful. And we didn't, you know, we didn't have any reports, or we didn't measure this. But it seemed right. It just seemed right. And I’ve got to say, those meetings were remarkable meetings.
There was a Spirit in those meetings that was powerful and good. One story to finish it out. We'd been doing this for about a year. And I met with all the bishops, and I said, "Okay, we've been doing this for a year. What do you think? What do you think?"
We had 12 bishops in the stake. And the first bishop was this wonderful, wonderful man said, "You know, President, with all due respect–" now when you hear that, "With all due respect," you have a pretty good idea that what's coming is not going to be a ringing endorsement.
He said, “With all due respect,” he said, "I think we've kind of overdone it, because I'm afraid that what we've done is we've reduced the Atonement of Christ to a . . . to a slogan, like a bumper sticker." And when he said that my heart sank. And I thought, "He may be right. Maybe we've–maybe we've cheapened the Atonement by talking about it so much? And I just had this awful feeling that maybe he was right.
Then what happened was, for me, extraordinary. One by one, each of the other bishops said, "With all due respect bishop, no, no. Don't change a thing." And these were men in their 40s, and 50s, and 60s, and they all said, "This is the best thing I've ever experienced in Church. I'm more excited about the gospel right now than I have ever been in my life. Don't change a thing."
And each one of them, we went around the room, echoed that. And so as a stake presidency, we thought, okay, we don't have anything else to do, right. We don't–no new programs, this is it. This is our mission. This is what we're going to do. And so we just repeated it, year after year.
Now, here's part of the thinking. We had, I think we had 2500 people in our state, something like that. And we figured we had a turnover about 50% a year. And we knew we were going to be a stake presidency for four or five years, the times limited in Single Adult callings. So we did the math and we figured out that we were probably going to have six or 7000 young people come through our stake during our stewardship.
And our hope was, if we could get 20% of them committed to the idea that when we teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that we focus with a laser-like intensity on the Atonement of Christ–that will change lives, that will change families, that will change wards.
So that, that was, you know, maybe that's a little ambitious, maybe Stake presidencies shouldn't be thinking about that, but we were, and we did, and it was extraordinary. That for me, and I think for others, I–you know, that was a long time ago now, that was 20 years ago now. I still hear from members of that stake, who will send me an email, or I'll run into them in an airport, who talked about that time, and what that emphasis, what it meant and what it means to them. See, so that's why I'm for four-hour church.
Morgan Jones Pearson 29:08
Thomas Griffith 29:08
Four-hour church, where for four hours we're focusing on the Atonement of–you cannot get to the bottom of that well. You cannot get to the bottom of that well. So, anyway. It was a great experience. Thanks for asking me this.
Morgan Jones Pearson 29:20
Well, I love that idea. And I think the reason that I love it so much is for me, it is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that changes us. I think that's the power of the Book of Mormon. I think the Book of Mormon helps us understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ in a way that we could not otherwise understand it. And I think that–so you can have all these other parts of the gospel, but it's that that is going to sink deep into people's hearts and have the ability to change them.
Thomas Griffith 29:51
Morgan Jones Pearson 29:51
So with that, going into–so connecting that back to what we talked about in the beginning. You've previously quoted a Catholic scholar Stephen H. Webb, who said, "Mormonism is obsessed with Christ. And everything that it teaches is meant to awaken and encourage and expand faith in Him." And then you said, "But Webb's description is incomplete. To Latter-day Saints the Atonement of Christ does not only forge a bond between an individual, his or her family and God, the Atonement of Christ is at the center of our efforts to create community." This is something that you've already explained why you think it is so important, but what does community building have to do with the Atonement of Christ?
Thomas Griffith 30:41
Everything. And I'll tell you, I'll tell you, I get this idea from Elder Craig Christianson, who's now in the Seventy. At the time he was a bishop in our stake when we first started rolling this out. And, and so I want to give him a lot of the credit, or maybe the blame, depending on–because he inspired me a great deal on this. And, and he pointed out to me that . . . this sounds a little abstract, a little theological, but it'll, it'll get practical.
He pointed out that in his perspective, the Atonement of Christ had what he called a vertical pull. The idea that it unites us with Heavenly Father, right, bringing us up to him. But he also said it has a horizontal pull, that it unites people together. The concept of sealing is an Atonement idea. Taking things that are separate, and people that are separate and bringing them together.
And so, so in my view, the Atonement of Christ at its apex–at its most magnificent expression, it starts with an individual connecting to Heavenly Father, right. But that's just the beginning. Where it leads is an individual connecting with people around them and forming community.
But one of the earliest revelations that Joseph Smith received after the Church was organized, and when we're studying it right now in "Come, Follow Me" this week, as a matter of fact in "Come, Follow Me," is the story of Enoch and his people. And, and that's a story of a group of people in a city of all places, becoming of one heart and one mind.
Those are Atonement words, right? They dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them. Well, we understand from our study of church history, that idea of the people of Enoch. That was the–that was the idea that fueled the fire of the faith of the early Latter-day Saints. If you were a Latter-day Saint in 1831 and somebody asked you, "Well, what do you believe?" Well, you didn't have the Word of Wisdom then, you didn't have temple sealings then, I mean, all the things that we sort of think of today as sort of our brand. I mean, what's unique is we didn't have those then, but in 1831 if you asked a Latter-day Saint, "What are you doing?" You're building Zion.
You're building Zion. You're building a community. Right here, right now. I've been greatly influenced by the writings of a man named N.T. Wright. His initials N.T. Wright, he goes by Tom. I first heard of N.T. Wright in a general conference address that Elder Holland gave years ago where he quoted him.
N.T. Wright is a New Testament scholar, one of the finest in the world. He's also a bishop in the Church of England. So he's got this interesting combination of being a person of faith and an academic. He tells–he, in his study, he believes that the New Testament Christians, when they thought of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it was not primarily a way to get to heaven, that there was–that element was there, but the gospel of Jesus Christ for the New Testament Christians, was centered in the belief that with the resurrection of Christ, a new creation started. And that that new creation, was to transform the world here and now.
We think of the phrase from the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So that for the earliest, the New Testament Christians, what they were trying to do was to change the world, right here right now. We have a word for that, we call it "Building Zion," right. And in my experience, you know, as a bishop and a stake president now you know, teaching YSA Institute, I'm not certain that's the primary motivation for many people.
I mean, I think when I was the stake president and dealing with people who were struggling with things, I would–young single adults, I would ask them, "So, why do you go to church? Why would you even try any of this stuff?" And more often then not the answer was, "Well, I want to live with my family forever." And that's a wonderful goal, right? And it's a powerful insight. And it's something we learn from the Restoration that's good and powerful and strong.
But I'm not certain that's what ought to be at the core. I think what ought to be at the core is we do what we do because we're responding to what Jean England called, "The shock of eternal love" expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We're responding to that. And how does–how does He want us to respond for what He's done for us? He wants us to build a community. He wants us to be sealed. He wants the whole human race to be sealed to one another.
So I don't think you can pick out you know, strands of the Atonement. I think, I think it's one big–one big effort, the big effort starts with uniting us to Heavenly Father, but that's what–that's where it begins. The culmination of that is in us building these, this web of relationships and connections with family and then beyond that to communities. And it's the people of Enoch that are the example of that.
Morgan Jones Pearson 36:31
Absolutely. I wanted to talk–if it's okay with you–about a couple, well, specifically, one thing that I think is very dangerous right now in our society that could prevent us from creating this type of community. In his April 2021, general conference talk, President Oaks said, "We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate."
So in an email to me prior to our interview, you mentioned that we have a special stewardship with regard to the Constitution. And you said, "We are to be builders of reconciliation, not agents of division." You said, "I was recently in a meeting in which Elder Wickman observed that too many of our people have traded their religion for their politics." And then you said, "Partisan politics is dividing families and wards and stakes in the United States. That division blunts our witness of Christ, who told us in John 17, that unity in the church is our greatest witness of his divinity."
So I wondered for you, why would you say that we need to be very careful in presuming that somebody that belongs to a certain political party could not be a faithful member of the Church?
Thomas Griffith 37:54
Yeah, because it goes, it goes right to the scripture that I refer to, in my email to you in John 17. Here, the Savior is praying for His disciples, and He prays that they will be one, as He and the Father are one. And we use that scripture a lot, right? To talk about the nature of the Godhead. But, but maybe we miss the real thrust of it. Because the Savior goes on to say that, that it is that unity of the Church, by which people will come to know that Jesus is the Christ. And so there we have it.
Christ is telling us that our primary witness of his divinity is unity in the Church. Okay, so there–so we need to be unified in the Church. And what I see in my Church experience today and friends report from their Church experience is that of political divisions in the United States of America have worked their way into the Church. And you cited one example that President Oaks called us out on, to think that a Latter-day Saint ought to be a conservative Republican or a progressive Democrat–we need to stop thinking that way. That's wrong.
But a prophet has told us, "Stop thinking that way," right? First of all, it's wrong. And second, it's terribly divisive. Look, I've had political views my whole life. I'm a political junkie. But I have to say this, I have never once thought that my views about marginal tax rates or about, you know, national security issues, or pick your host of political issues–I've never once thought that that was the Lord's view. Those are my views, right?
And yet, there's a temptation for all of us to think that, that our views are the Lord's views. And that's a really dangerous thing to do because it creates divisions within wards and we see this on social media. We see this playing out all the time. And when we do that, when we allow our political views to get in the way of our love and respect for other members of the ward, we just need to realize what we're doing.
We are sowing division in the Church. And again, I think Elder Whitman nailed it. You read exactly what I said, he's–it was striking to me, he said, "Too many of our people have traded their religion for their politics." That's a call to all of us to take a step back. You know, dial it down a little bit. Your politics, they're important, but they're not nearly as important as what we're trying to do in building unity in the Church, to take the gospel to all the world. That's our primary. That's clearly–it is by covenant our primary obligation. And certainly what we're–what we're being taught. Our political allegiances need to be way down the list in terms of importance. Our allegiance to the Savior and His work needs to be at the top of the list.
Morgan Jones Pearson 41:12
I agree completely. Another thing that I really appreciated that you talked about, and maybe it's because I have worked in media at kind of a local level and within the Church, but you've talked about the dangers of just consuming news from a particular news source or from network news. And you said in a BYU devotional, "Being a citizen is a great honor with significant responsibilities. Responsibilities not discharged by merely watching the Daily Show. To be sure, Jon Stewart should be part of the mix of the information you ingest. But so also should be reading the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The National Review, The New Republic, and other journals of opinion and analysis in which the serious debate about our nation is carried on. It's a lot to do, I know, but citizenship is serious business that requires effort."
I wondered what your advice on–and that, obviously, kind of gives some advice, but what your advice in terms of consumption of news would be and what you think about how citizenship is serious business? Because I love that–I love that statement.
Thomas Griffith 42:26
So first of all, get off cable. I mean, seriously, if your primary source of news is cable, or social media–I'm not saying don't ever watch it, but just realize that that's not news, right? That's entertainment, and that you're being played. Now we know this. We know this. We know there are algorithms at work on social media. And we also know that on cable, they have figured out how to get eyes on the set. And here's how they do it. It's–Arthur Brooks called this, "The outrage industrial complex." Cable news is built around the idea that there is breaking news every 10 minutes, because that grabs your attention, right? And it's outrageous, that gets you–that gets you fired up.
And what's the point of all that? It's not to give you information as a citizen, it's to get revenue from the ads. That's really what's happening there. So if you want to watch Fox News, go ahead. If you want to watch MSNBC news, go ahead, but realize that you're being played, okay, that you're being played. So here's the bad news here, if you want to stay informed, it takes hard work.
You know, it does, that's the nature of being in a democracy, you know, we could have opted for another system of government where we have, you know, 10 wise people or one king or queen rule us and make all the rules, and then we don't have to worry about those sorts of things, right? Yeah. But we've decided we wanted to do something different. We decided we wanted to have a country where we the people make the rules.
Now, I like that–but there's responsibility that comes with that, right? The responsibility to stay informed. And that's–I once had a good friend ask me if there's someplace I can go and just, I only have 15 minutes a day where I can read because she had lots of responsibilities. She had family, she had other responsibilities. She says, "I just don't have the time to do it. Is there someplace I will go for 15 minutes a day, and get caught up?"
And my answer to her was, "Actually I'm afraid not. I know I wish there was, but it just doesn't–it just doesn't work that way." And so I think, you know, my advice to people is I say, don't really–don't waste your time on cable or social media for news. Just don't. If you want real news, you know, you go to the places that have over the years have established a track record of being mostly reliable. They're not–none of them are perfect. Everyone's got a perspective. But in the world, which I live, everybody reads the New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, you got three different perspectives on things. But you read those.
Let me put in a plug for the Deseret News. I love the Deseret News. I used to go to the Deseret News just because it was the best place for BYU sports. But no, it is a really fine publication. I–you know, I'm not just giving you guys a plug here. I'm serious. That's the first place I turn to. I look at the Deseret News, see what they have to say about things. Then New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, I'm a big fan of The Atlantic, they have all sorts of different views portrayed, and many of their writers are centered left, but I'm not, you know, I'm centered right, it's good for me to know what thoughtful people are saying who have different views than I do.
And so that's part of it. I mean, the real danger is just to consume information that reinforces what you already think. That's all–it's confirmation bias, right? And I think as citizens, it's incumbent upon us to–and I can even say as Christians, beyond that, to learn what other people are thinking about things.
My favorite quote, of all comes from C.S. Lewis, and it was in maybe the greatest sermon he gave, called, "The Weight of Glory." And at the end–near the end of his talk, he has this phrase, he says, "Next to the blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." I love that thought. And if we–now I wish I practiced that, you know, I'm trying to but, you know, failing all the time, I'm certain.
But if you really believe that about others, then you'd be interested in what people who have different views think. And you'd allow them to challenge your views. Anyway. So I think it's important to sample broadly from sources that have good track records.
Morgan Jones Pearson 47:25
Thomas Griffith 47:26
And it's not cable news and it's not social media. Have I made that point clear enough?
Morgan Jones Pearson 47:29
Right. Well, I chuckled a couple of times as you were talking one, because I'm like, says the guy who's regularly interviewed on cable news so–
Thomas Griffith 47:37
No, no, no–yeah. Yeah.
Morgan Jones Pearson 47:39
Thomas Griffith 47:39
Um, I wouldn't say regularly, but yeah, okay. You caught me.
Morgan Jones Pearson 47:45
But no! No, but I love that you said that, like, because there's an honesty associated with like, "Don't just watch these things." But I also got a good laugh, because I have been guilty of saying the same thing that that woman asked you about, you know, "I only have 15 minutes. I want like, give me the Reader's Digest version."
But the funny thing is that I feel like a lot of people these days, we camp out in front of a TV watching network news for hours, you know, and I think–so to your point, it's like, take that time and spread it around. I want to really quickly before we get to our last question, I wanted to quote one more thing that you said that I just thought was brilliant.
You said, "From Enoch city"–which you already talked about–"To King Benjamin's city, we learn that we are engaged in the highest form of spirituality when we work to make the effects of Christ's Atonement radiate beyond ourselves and our families to build communities. The work of community building is the most important work to which we are called. All other work is preparatory, the rule of law is the idea of staggering importance in the progress of humankind, that a community should be organized in a way that reflects the reality that each person is created in the image of God and by virtue of that fact alone, is entitled to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness."
And then I love this last line, you say, "Communities so organized create conditions of liberty and security that unleash human creativity and goodness." For me, when I hear that I'm like, that is what we need. We need a society in which people feel safe, in which they feel like they can unleash that creativity that ultimately is what created America. And goodness–we need goodness. So I wondered, why do you believe that to be true that if we're organized in this way it would unleash human creativity and goodness and create a place of liberty and security?
Thomas Griffith 49:50
Well, I think because when we've approached those ideals–and those are ideals, right, I mean, we only have, you know, a couple of places in scripture where that was realized.
Morgan Jones Pearson 50:03
Like, "They did that," yeah.
Thomas Griffith 50:04
Yeah, the city of Enoch, you know, people in the Book of Mormon for a while, and they did that, right. I mean, if you look at Fourth Nephi, the description of that culture, they did that. So we know from the scriptural record that it can be done. And in our own experience in the United States, as we've approached those ideals, we have unleashed a powerful forces for good.
The most recent, or maybe not most recent, but maybe one of the most powerful is the American Civil Rights Movement. And it's really interesting, if you look, we just celebrated Dr. King's birthday this week and I went back and I hadn't read the letter from Birmingham jail in quite some time. So I read that, and I was, I was struck again, by how rooted and grounded his message was in non-violence and in love of neighbor.
And, and he eschewed those voices who were urging him to be violent, to be–I was going to say to be more hateful, but I mean, to use more–to use more invective to get people angrier at other people. And he wouldn't do that. He refused to do that. His model was Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus. And so you know, it can be done.
And we have–we've got a long way to go. And these are aspirations. But you know, what was the quote from Browning, you know, a person's reach should exceed their grass, else what's a heaven for? We got to be reaching for something. And I just, I just worry that too often, we lose sight of that goal of community building, of Zion building, and are willing to settle for something so far, so far, so far less.
So this isn't easy stuff. I realize it's kind of sort of pie in the sky quality to it. But I don't think we can give up. I hope we don't give up on these ideals. Because if we do, America will be a far diminished place then what it has been and what it can–what it can yet be.
Morgan Jones Pearson 52:09
Thank you so much. Well, Brother Griffith, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your time. I appreciate you sharing the things that you have put in the work to learn. I think that's one of the most fun things for me about hosting this podcast is to get to talk to people that truly have put in that work to be able to speak to these different topics that we discuss. My last question for you is what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Thomas Griffith 52:41
Well, you've been very generous in quoting me today. And so I'm going to quote someone else. I've been thinking about this question, since you told me you're going to ask it, and I think, for me, the best expression that I've ever heard of what it means to be all in comes from Rob Daines, who is the president of the Menlo Park stake of the church, when he was called the stake president a year and a half or so ago in his maiden address to the stake.
This is what–this is what he said, "To work in this Church is to stand in the river of God's love for His children. And as you serve in the Church and try and help his children, some of that love will splash on you. This Church is a work party, people with picks and shovels trying to help clear a channel for the river of God's love to reach His children at the end of the row. Single, married, gay, straight, Black or white or brown or anything, any race, every class, every person, every political party, there is room for you in this Church. Grab a shovel and join the team." I think that's the best expression I've ever heard of what it means to be–what it means to be all in.
Morgan Jones Pearson 54:15
Thank you so much. That was beautiful. I'm getting teary eyed listening to you read it. So thank you. Thank you again very, very much.
Thomas Griffith 54:23
Thank you, Morgan. Thanks for what you're doing. Appreciate it.
Morgan Jones Pearson 54:27
We are so grateful to Judge Thomas B. Griffith for joining us on today's episode. Big thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode. And thank you all so much for listening.