"Live as your country's servant, but God's first." Paraphrasing the final words of Sir Thomas More, the martyred Catholic saint, Judge Thomas B. Griffith of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit gave advice to students attending the first national conference of the BYU Political Affairs Society in Washington, DC, May 16-18.
The event brought together more than 200 students and alumni from BYU-Provo, BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii to examine politics and public service. Other featured speakers included John Podesta, chair of the Center for America Progress, and U.S. Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ).
Brother Griffith, a convert to the Church, focused his remarks on the characteristics of a good public servant, based on his years in Washington as an attorney, the chief legal officer of the U.S. Senate, and a judge on the court many refer to as "the second most important court in the nation."
The heart of his message was a quote from Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana: "Our first thought is always for those on life's first rung, and how we might increase their chances of climbing."
Noting that some in public life seek primarily power and position, Brother Griffith counseled the students that unless their involvement in politics is driven by a passion to help those on the lowest rung, they should reconsider their career choice. "Otherwise, you may lose your soul," he warned.
He offered three suggestions for LDS students pursuing a career in politics: be humble, be nice and be fully involved in their wards.
Concerning humility, Brother Griffith recommended that people consider the possibility their political views may be mistaken, and he recommended reading and watching a variety of media with differing points of view. He likewise counseled the students to become good at what they do.
"Get the answer right," he stressed.
Observing that being nice to others may seem obvious, he believes it is all too rare in the rough and tumble of politics.
Church service is also key. "Being fully active in your ward provides opportunities to serve and learn from others who have had different life experiences," he said.
As a former bishop and stake president, Brother Griffith recognized the difficulty of balancing family, church and professional obligations.
Of necessity, there are times when work dominates, but he cautioned the students to remember that "the primary reason we are here is to help build the kingdom of God."