ST. GEORGE — Following a day spent taking part at worship services in the St. George area, Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson visited the St. George Tabernacle for a “Freedom Fireside.” The visits were a part of Cox and Henderson’s runup to their inauguration set to take place Monday at the Tuacahn Amphitheater in Ivins.
Streamed online for the public Sunday evening due to pandemic restrictions on large gatherings, Cox, Henderson and others shared messages that bore the common theme of “love your enemy” and coming together in unity and understanding regardless of differences in religion, politics, race and so on.
“That was entirely accidental if you believe in accidents,” Cox said, noting that the topics spoken of during the fireside, say for a recorded interview, were not coordinated beforehand. “It was not something that we strategized toward.”
Cox said he felt the nation is in trouble due to the contempt and divisiveness that had taken root in the country, a sentiment that was agreed upon and expounded by retired Judge Thomas Griffith, who served on the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Griffith was unable to attend the fireside in person, and instead was interviewed by Cox in a video that was shared during the program.
Griffith also called for people to have more warmheartedness to those they disagree with, as well as to have what he called “civic charity,” versus simple civility. When certain people call for civility, he said, what they mean is “calm down and know your place.” Civic charity, on the other hand, is the act of finding what unites people and building relationships of trust and cooperation from that foundation.
Too many people today have contempt for one another, particularly when it comes to the main political parties, Griffith said, added that he feared the Constitution itself will not survive much longer in such a climate.
“Civic charity says you treat other views respectfully,” Griffith said. “The constitution is built for vigorous disagreement, but it cannot withstand contempt. It cannot withstand us viewing a fellow citizen with contempt, and that’s the problem that has seeped into our system right now.”
Elder Evan A. Schmutz, a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke to how grateful he was for interfaith traditions and the tone of civility that Cox and his former opponent, Democrat Chris Peterson, practiced during their campaigns.
The divisive vitriol and rhetoric that has seemingly become commonplace in politics should not govern or impede the state or nation’s future, Shumtz said. He added that politicians in general need to learn how to “break bread” with each other again and be willing to learn from each other even if they disagree on certain policies and principles.
Henderson shared thoughts learned from a book she read called “Love Your Enemies,” by Arthur C. Brooks. The book’s author calls for not necessarily agreeing with others, but learning to “disagree better” and with a sense of “warmheartedness” that shows a love toward your fellow man versus a contempt for them.
Before someone feels the need to fix something about others that bothers them, people ought to commit to tending to their issues first while also extending charity to those they have disagreements with, she said.
“My sincere request for all of us in Utah’s faith community — leaders and practitioners alike — is that in this new year we fully rededicate ourselves to the simple yet somehow radical idea to love our enemies and to defeat feelings of contempt by practicing warm-heartedness,” Henderson said.
Shadman Bashir, an Islamic faith representative to St. George Interfaith Council and a professor at Dixie State University, shared remarks that echoed much of what was already said that evening.
“Different does not always equal wrong – just different,” he said.
“Modern politics has become divisive and partisan,” Cox said. “The words and music presented tonight recognize and reinforce that we are all created equal, and that putting people before politics will unify and heal our nation.”
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