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Rees: Politicians vs. statesmen

October 19, 2018 GMT

“A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation. A politician thinks about the success of his party; a statesman about the success of his country,” said James Freeman Clarke.

I can’t stop thinking about the opportunity that was missed by the four Republican senators from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I keep thinking about what might have happened had they, as a group, stepped forward and called for peace and healing during the recent hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Given the polarization that currently characterizes the Senate, that would have been a surprise to everyone — and a blessing not only for the Senate and the country, but for the church as well. One of the four members of the church on the Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake, did step across the aisle during the antagonistic and acrimonious hearing — and for a brief moment, inspired hope that cooperation and comity might flower among that body.

Had his fellow church-member senators joined Flake in calling for a thorough, rather than cursory FBI investigation, it could have had a powerful effect on the Senate. Instead, most senators doubled down in accusing their Democratic colleagues of demagoguery and duplicity, hardening the already hardened lines between parties.

I keep imagining what might have happened if the night before the hearings, the five Mormon Republican senators (Senators Hatch, Lee, Flake, Crapo and Heller) had invited their one Democratic fellow member and senator, Tom Udall, to join them in prayer, asking for guidance in helping bring the nation together. What if they, together, had read the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants with its compelling warning that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men” to abuse power and authority, which abuse leads invariably to “unrighteous dominion”? That scripture specifies the principles by which members of the church are expected to govern their relations with others including, one would guess, their fellow senators:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained ... only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness ... without hypocrisy, and without guile —

An objective viewer of the Senate hearings would not have found much gentleness or kindness and very little love, except that expressed by Sen. Flake and his friend and fellow senator, Democrat Chris Coons, both of whom tried to interject civility into the deliberations.

“It was our personal relationship that made the politics of compromise that prevailed yesterday possible,” Coons said.

Like other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to look for opportunities to proclaim peace, to speak and act with grace and generosity. If the other Republican members of the church had joined Sen. Flake in trying to break the rancorous, partisan logjam that obtained at the hearings, they would have reminded Americans of our national motto, e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” That includes the idea that out of many opinions and points of view, we need to strive for common cause.

Today, our nation is in serious danger of splitting apart. Although they didn’t seize the moment during the hearings, it is not too late for senators who are members of the church to act as statesmen rather than politicians and employ the principles of scripture, which call on us to abandon accusations and acrimony, to avoid hypocrisy and guile and to manifest grace, generosity and, especially, love in our interactions with others.

Doing so could lead to a turning point, not only for the nation but for all who strive for peace and unity.