'God is in our nation's principles'

During the November 1992 elections, four Latter-day Saints were elected to Congress for the first time. This is the last in a series profiling these new members of Congress.Ask Sen. Robert F. Bennett his views on government and you likely will get an impromptu American history lesson richly mingled with gospel doctrine.

According to Sen. Bennett, sworn in Jan. 5 to represent Utah, one cannot remove gospel truths from the American theory of government without destroying its essence."We have to be a society open to every shade of opinion, religious or whatever, and I certainly applaud that pluralism," he said. "But we have gone to the point in our national discourse where we are almost anti-religious; in the name of being neutral, we have become committed to a non-religious point of view."

Like the character Winston Smith in George Orwell's novel, 1984, some opinion leaders would attempt virtually to rewrite history and in so doing, remove any mention of God or religious belief from the nation's cherished documents, he lamented.

"God is in our nation's guiding principles; He's there by name. It's not implied, it's specific. Lincoln refers to Him by name; Jefferson refers to Him by name."

In fact, in his campaign materials, Sen. Bennett used a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them."

The senator sees in those words a summary of the truth verified during the war in heaven: that God gave man life and moral agency at the same time.

"The hand of force can destroy you, but ultimately, as the Savior proved, it cannot take away your agency."

Sen. Bennett draws deeply from D&C 134 in expressing his outlook on government. That section is a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general. From verse one, he concludes that he will be held as much accountable for his actions as senator as he was for his recent service as bishop of the Monument Park 20th Ward in Salt Lake City.

The new senator is a product of his background; he fills the seat once held by his father, Wallace F. Bennett, who served four terms and is one of Utah's most venerated statesmen, for whom a federal office building in Salt Lake City is named.

Robert Foster Bennett was born in September 1933. His mother, Frances, is a daughter of President Heber J. Grant. His mother, one of the prophet's seven daughters, would take her turn preparing dinner for her father later in his life one day a week. Thus Sen. Bennett, who was 11 years old when President Grant died, has clear memories of him.

His father was treasurer of the Sunday School general board, and his mother was on the Primary general board. Both served on the General Church Music Committee.

"The old blue hymnbook that was just replaced a few years ago by the green one was put together around our dining room table," he recalled. His mother had broken her hip, and to accommodate her as they were preparing the hymnbook, the committee met at the Bennett home.

By the time he went on a mission to Scotland from 1953 to 1955, his testimony was strong enough that when he read the Book of Mormon completely for the first time and prayed about it, the Lord confirmed to him that it was true and that he had really known it all along.

In the mission field, he was district president in Scotland over five branches. He worked on strengthening the branches, significantly increasing attendance to the point that a sixth branch was organized before he left.

It was in Scotland that he showed the public relations acumen that would later figure in his professional career. The Tabernacle Choir toured Europe the summer of 1955 on the occasion of the dedication of the Swiss Temple. The first stop was to be in Scotland.

"The professional firm that they hired to publicize the concert fell flat on its face," he recalled. "A week before the concert no tickets had been sold. We had booked the largest hall in Glasgow. I brought all of the missionaries in from all over Scotland. We bought a hand-cranked mimeograph machine, and designed a handbill that we handed out. I went around to the newspapers and tried to arrange a press conference for President David O. McKay who was coming over, and that finally got the attention of the PR firm."

At first, he was reprimanded for stepping in to publicize the choir's visit. But a company vice president found he was only doing it because the company itself had defaulted. With Elder Bennett's approval, the company then took charge of the press conference.

"And it was an incredible success," he said. "President McKay was on the front page of all the Scottish newspapers. And the concert was sold out. We got them off to a major start. That set off the alarm bells. The choir started checking ahead and discovered that no tickets had been sold at any of the other concerts either. So the corrective work was started, and of course the choir tour was a success."

After his mission, he married President McKay's granddaughter, Joyce McKay, in the Logan Temple Dec. 27, 1962. They followed the prophet's counsel not to delay their marriage until after he had gone to Washington, D.C., to work for then-Rep. Sherman P. Lloyd of Utah. Instead, he married her and took her with him. The couple has raised six children.

In Washington, after working in the Nixon administration for a time, he purchased the Robert Mullin public relations firm, which had done some work for the Church. One of the employees was E. Howard Hunt, who became famous as one of the conspirators in the Watergate scandal that eventually forced the only resignation in history of a U. S. president.

"So when Watergate occurred, the speculation arose that somehow I was involved too because I had been Howard's employer," he said. He has repeatedly denied any involvement.

"The greatest lesson that came out of the whole Watergate experience for me," he mused, "is the demonstration of just how fleeting earthly power is. I saw people who had held the power of the president of the United States go to jail, people who I had looked up at, not necessarily up to, as being the most powerful men in the United States. I was able to compare that to the eternal nature of the priesthood and the power in the Church that comes from righteousness, living the commandments and standing firm on these eternal principles."

Sacrificing one's allegiance to eternal principles for the sake of earthly power can only bring rewards that are transitory at best, he said.

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