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Inside the newsroom: Don't ignore the important lessons born from tragedy

FILE"” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gets a tour from Philip Tootill at Christ Church, Oxford University Cathedral prior to speaking in Oxford, England on Thursd
FILE"” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gets a tour from Philip Tootill at Christ Church, Oxford University Cathedral prior to speaking in Oxford, England on Thursday, June 15, 2017.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The shooting this week in Washington, D.C., that seriously injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others and the observance of two anniversaries Saturday and Sunday brought about this important observation:

America needs a return to common standards based on unassailable truths.

Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of the break-in by burglars at the Democratic National Committee campaign headquarters at the Watergate office and hotel complex. Sunday marks the same anniversary for the permanent official recognition of Father's Day, though it was first celebrated in 1910 at a YMCA in Spokane, Washington.

How are the events related? I suggest they shine a light on the need for common values by assessing what can be lost when standards are gone. A foundational baseline is needed in government to make progress, and in families to build success.

The Deseret News sent reporter Tad Walch to Oxford, England, this past week to chronicle the remarks of Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was invited to address students and faculty, among others, about his unique view into Watergate.

In 1972 he was the law clerk to Judge John J. Sirica of the U.S. District Court in Washington. As Elder Christofferson describes his role: "This gave me a 'ringside seat' for a little over two years to a unique epoch in U.S. history that enabled me to learn some crucial life lessons at the outset of my career."

What are those lessons? He offered this important observation after walking through the events of Watergate, conceived by men who were not evil, but who made choices that blunted conscience in favor of their own morality.

"This naked self-will derives from moral relativism, which is the enemy of conscience. By moral relativism, I mean the belief that no moral claim can be verified as objectively true or false or better than any other. What results is a chaos of truth claims, a quagmire in which no one has moral confidence to act. This may sound liberating to individuals, but a society can’t run on it. "

Elder Christofferson continued: "Conscience, on the other hand, requires faith in fixed moral concepts and values such as justice, mercy, love, honesty, generosity, self-restraint, and integrity that exist apart from personal preference."

Faith in those principles brings a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. That was on exhibit last week when two Capitol police officers, members of Rep. Scalise's security detail, were injured in the shooting. They sprang to action when shots rang out and are credited with saving the lives of the congressmen practicing at the ballpark where the shooting occurred.

It's noteworthy that the common values of sacrifice, liberty, freedom and concern for those hurt brought Democrats and Republicans briefly together when those values became the focus following the shooting, rather than rancor, self-interest and party-priority that dominates Washington. If those common values could remain, Congress could debate issues from a foundational, respectful place. If self-interest is rejected, trust is built.

When Sonora Smart Dodd conceived of Father's Day, she did so largely from the great respect she had for her own father, William Smart, who served in the Union's 1st Arkansas Light Artillery during the Civil War. Surely all Americans share the value of fatherhood, she thought, just as they do motherhood, which brought about Mother's Day.

Maintaining that respect for motherhood and fatherhood used to be universal. Is it still? Both require sacrifice and putting self-interest aside for others, most importantly, children.

This week, noted New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about fathers under the headline, "Why Fathers Leave Their Children" and pointed out the research that shows most don't want to. "The key weakness is not the father’s bond to the child; it’s the parents’ bond with each other." The foundational principles not present in many are love and committment. He suggests the following to make a difference:

"It would be great if society could rally around the six or seven key bridges on the path to fatherhood. For example, find someone you love before you have intercourse. Or, make sure you want to spend years with this partner before you get off the pill. Or, create a couple’s budget to make sure you can afford this."

Elder Christofferson, in a short book titled, "The Good That Men Can Do" from Deseret Book, offers this simple phrase that supports the need for common values as individuals and as a society, and appropriately ties the theme together on this Father's Day:

"The key for men is to be fathers. The key for children is to have fathers. The key for society is to create fathers."