Former federal judge teaches how to address political polarization in the Savior’s way

Judge Thomas B. Griffith was a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2005-2016. Photo credit: Abigayl Finch

Former federal judge Thomas B. Griffith spoke to students in the Thomas E. Ricks Building on Thursday about how to fight against political polarization and partisanship and build trust in democracy as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Griffith opened his remarks by saying the current political condition is the worst he’s seen in his life. He cited social scientists who said the country is at its most polarized since the Civil War.

“Do not think that this is normal,” Griffith said. “This is not normal. This bears the signs of a society that is in deep distress.”

Griffith proposed two solutions for Latter-day Saints wanting to honor their stewardship of defending and protecting the Constitution.

First, build trust in and faith in our election system.

Griffith collaborated with senators and other judges and published “Lost, not Stolen: The Conservative Case that Trump Lost and Biden Won the 2020 Presidential Election” in July 2022.

“One of the great stories in the last 20 or 30 years that’s untold and unknown by many Americans is just how good our election administration system is,” Griffith said. “It’s bipartisan, filled with professionals who operate by the highest standards. Are there problems? Of course there are. It’s a human endeavor there are going to be problems, but there was no fraud on the level to change a single outcome in a single precinct in all 50 states.”

When Fox News interviewed Griffith he learned his interviewer had been working on a documentary showing Biden had won the 2020 election, but higher-ups had pulled the plug on it.

“In frustration, I said, your viewers need to know that,” Griffith said. “Many of your viewers believe the election was stolen. And for that reason, they’re losing faith in democracy. You have an obligation to set the record straight when you know what really happened. His response was if we do, we lose our viewers. I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked.”

Griffith believed the most effective way to increase faith in the election system was to learn about how the system worked.

“The more you learn about the way our election system is run and administered, the prouder you will be of our system,” Griffith said.

Practicing civic charity

The second thing members of the Church can do is practice civic charity. Griffith looked back to the constitutional convention to show examples of civic charity. Griffith said the nature of the contention required attendants to practice civic charity.

“It wasn’t that they were just people who loved one another and always were kind — they had to do it,” Griffith said. “It was the only way they were going to succeed. They had to have this spirit of love and mutual deference.”

Several rules of the constitutional convention helped foster this spirit.

For example, when someone was speaking on the floor, you had to give the person speaking your full attention. Griffith said the convention never took record of the votes, which allowed those in attendance the freedom to change how they voted on an issue.

“They had this crazy idea that if you got everybody together, and if you listened to one another, you could actually be persuaded by someone from a different part of the country,” Griffin said. “That was their dream. They set up the rules to do that”

Moderate and unify

Griffith quoted President Dallin H. Oaks’ talk from the April 2021 General Conference “Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution” when Oaks said, “On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.”

Griffith said Oaks’ talk serves as an example of how members of the Church should conduct themselves in political discussions.

“There is your standard you want to get involved in public life,” Griffith said. “Do we need to be involved in public life? We need to love the world. We’re called to bless the world. We’re not going out to the desert anymore. Now we’re leaning into the world. We’re becoming part of the world.”

He shared the example of a stake relief society president from his time living in Loudoun county in Virginia. She witnessed many school board meetings where people would yell and scream at each other. She wanted to find a better way of going about these polarizing issues and build bridges between people of faith and the LGBTQ activists in her community.

“What she did is she managed to persuade representatives of the LGBT activists, representatives of the evangelical community and other groups to come together to talk about some way that we can find some common ground,” Griffith said.

During their first meeting, they didn’t talk about politics at all. They just spent time getting to know one another on a personal level.

“At the end of that meeting, nobody had changed their mind about anything except for one thing,” Griffith said. “They realized that these people that they yelling and screaming at were good people. They just had different views about their children.”

The second meeting allowed people to get up and share their position. A person wanting to comment would have to restate the argument in a satisfactory way before being allowed to do so.

“That is a magical way to communicate,” Griffith said. “People feel understood. They feel listened to.”

At the end of these meetings, these groups proposed 12 proposals to the local school board with the board ratifying ten of them.

Even though Griffith is worried deeply about the state of the country, he said he hasn’t completely lost hope. He closed his remarks by encouraging students to take classes in peace-building and find ways to build bridges in their communities.