WASHINGTON, D.C. Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) inaugurated a new faith-based speaker series Jan. 19 at the Milton A. Barlow Center with advice on how to use personal faith to chart a career path.
The "pillars of faith" that have supported him and directed his own decision-making in a varied career and life of public service are built upon gospel principles, eternal perspective, standards of behavior and a sense of optimism, he said.
Noted men and women in government, business and other areas will headline the series. Brigham Young University student interns in the Washington area, as well as institute students from surrounding universities, will be able to meet individuals whose faith has been integral to their achievements. The goal is to encourage students to pursue opportunities in public service and infuse their work with values developed through their faith.
The lectures are sponsored by the BYU Washington Seminar, the Church Educational System and the Office of International & Government Affairs of the Church.
Sen. Bennett, in his third congressional term and currently Chief Deputy Majority Whip of the Senate Majority leadership team, retraced the days when he was a student at the University of Utah after serving a mission to Glasgow, Scotland, and wondered what he was going to do with his life.
He said he first found direction in his patriarchal blessing, which provided him with "guideposts" and significant inspiration. He also sought advice from people he respected, such as Elder Henry D. Moyle, counselor in the First Presidency and a member of his ward, who recommended learning skills that would be useful in any trade or profession, particularly the skill of writing well.
Sen. Bennett's father, Wallace Bennett, who later became a four-term U.S. Senator, counseled that his choice of study didn't really matter because his college pursuit should be to "learn how to think."
After working in the family business at Bennett Paint & Glass, the younger Bennett helped manage his father's successful 1962 Senate campaign, which became the impetus for his own interest in politics.
But it was Elder G. Homer Durham, chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Utah and later of the Presidency of the Seventy, who taught him to "do whatever you would be willing to do even if you starved and you won't starve." Brother Durham motivated him to "connect the dots" in his life by matching his strengths and talents with his true interests in life.
Sen. Bennett explained what he called pillars of his faith. First, he said, maintaining an eternal perspective helped him realize that what he did with his life really mattered.
"Most people who make decisions do not do that," he said. People should try to figure out why the Lord has put them here and "why all the forces come together" at certain times.
Second, Sen. Bennett referred to standards of behavior derived from personal faith which are "guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not." He related an experience in his work as a lobbyist for the department store JCPenney when he "drew the line" and refused to work with another lobbyist whose standards were questionable.
"He was a man I didn't want to be associated with," Sen. Bennett said, emphasizing that it is important to learn how to say "no."
Finally, Sen. Bennett explained that his optimistic outlook is girded by the assurance that God has a plan and that things will work out well in the end for those who follow it. This attitude gave him the confidence, at age 59, to run for office for the first time and still be cheerful about the outcome, whatever the result.
After reading his scriptures on the night of the primary election, he awaited the voting results, comforted by the thought that he was prepared and excited to serve if he was elected; if not, he was ready to serve a Church mission. If he was not called on a mission, then he was "free" to do whatever he wanted. He was at peace that everything would be "OK."
During the question-and-answer period that followed, the senator noted his appreciation for those who immerse themselves in service and who commit to a standard of excellence.
"The Senate is full of extraordinary people," he said, recognizing his colleagues' "great accomplishments, great talent and great character." Despite media stories to the contrary, he believes that most politicians take their assignments seriously, but he cautioned that "power is seductive." He believes that the best U.S. presidents were those "least impressed by power."
Student Sherylin McMurtrey, communications major from Houston interning in the press office of the Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill, applauded the Senator's attempts "to balance his values with his political life, his personal life, and his Church life."
"He admits he's not perfect, but he says that's OK," she said. "We do the best we can. I don't have to feel intimidated or think I need to cut corners in order to be successful."
Chenoa McKnight of Richmond, Texas, an intern with Accuracy In Media believes the Barlow Center Speaker Series can inspire students to become involved and affect change in their communities.
BYU has helped students secure meaningful internships in the Washington area, and since 2002, the Barlow Center has provided housing as well as a gathering place for instruction and social events. It is also site of the area's institute program and the Office of International & Government Affairs.