Strange Bedfellows

HawkgrrrlAsides, church, Culture, curiosity, diversity, fear, gay, Government, inter-faith, LDS, liberal, media manipulation, mike huckabee, mitt romney, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, politics, questioning, religion, romney, thought 24 Comments

One aspect of the church that makes me nervous at times is the alliances we form when our interests coincide with other groups, whether this is in the political realm (as is often the case), or even at times in interfaith work we undertake. suppose alliances are a necessary evil if you want to get anything done.  Companies do it.  Countries do it.  Even individual people do it.  What are the dangers of these “strange bedfellows”?

  • Association.  Having our views misunderstood or misconstrued by outsiders or even by our own members.  For example, do some members begin to think that we have a different or stronger stance on issues because our associates do?  Also, when an “ally” does something really stupid (many have), does that taint us by association?
  • Motivation.  While our alliances might coincide, often our motives are quite different below the surface from those of our allies.  When those motives differ, our actions are likely to differ as well as our desired outcomes.  Isn’t it also likely that we might be used to achieve ends with which we disagree?
  • Conflict of Interest.  Once an alliance is formed, it’s much harder to separate our interests where they naturally diverge.  There may be pressure by virtue of the relationship to allow our allies greater latitude for things we might otherwise have taken a stance against.

Clearly, there are some groups we have been leery to court as allies because the risk was too high:  the FLDS, staunch pro-life groups, the ERA (not sure that was really under consideration, but just wanted to see if you were paying attention), and the religious right.  But consider for a moment some of the alliances church members have formed.  Some of these are alliances the organization has sought out, and others are more “grass roots” alliances that members have formed, thinking their interests coincide:

  • Prop 8 Allies. Many of these are the same guys who:
    • think we are a cult
    • want to “pray the gay away”
    • make some very hateful and inaccurate remarks about homosexuals
    • supported Huckabee to knock Romney out of the race for POTUS because Romney believed Satan and Jesus were brothers and apparently in each others’ fave five.  (Hey, I guess by that logic we also think Huck and Satan are brothers!)
  • Focus on the Family.  This is James Dobson’s ministry to protect families.  But they ALSO support school sponsored prayer, corporal punishment, abortion intervention, and intelligent design.  Additionally, they are far more politically involved in their causes than we are, and many of their causes are ones on which we have no clear stance or don’t go as far as they do (see the aforementioned items:  we don’t have a stance on school sponsored prayer, we caution against actions like corporal punishment at least within the family, our abortion stance is softer than theirs, and we teach evolution at BYU).
  • Feature Films for Family.  Enterprises like this take a nice idea (clean entertainment that is family friendly) as a starting point.  Often they lack the talent and resources to make it high quality or a good value.
  • Clean Flicks.  This UT-based company that catered to the LDS crowd by removing objectionable movie content was more of a benevolently-viewed off-shoot, but they were certainly viewed as associated with Mormons.  Hollywood didn’t like being edited by do-gooders and sued them over it (frankly these people don’t like to be edited by anyone!  have you ever seen a Director’s Cut?); Clean Flicks discontinued.  Then the owner was implicated in an unsavory pornography scam in Utah County.  In our lovely deseret.
  • Rush Limbaugh. Obviously, this alliance only applies to those Mormons who are also politically conservative Americans, but since that seems to be a very vocal majority, this association is relevant.  Limbaugh emcompasses basic political characteristics:  fat, loud hypocrisy.  Frankly, he’s not doing Republicans any favors either.  Maybe if the NRA cuts him from their Christmas card list, he’ll finally know he’s gone too far.
  • Stockpiling WingNuts. There’s clearly a distinction between the reasonable counsel to be prepared for emergencies and layoffs by keeping a supply of food and money on hand and the wingnuts who are building a bunker in the backyard with a stockpile of weapons in case they have to kill and eat their neighbors.  There are some supposedly “like-minded” individuals out there wearing tin foil hats and selling 72 hour emergency kits to church members.
  • “Obamanation” Armageddon Theorists. This is an unpleasant blend of political conservativism (fine in its own right) and Rapture-mongering (the idea that we can bring the second coming on despite the statements that say “no man knows the hour.”)  Can’t we disagree politically without resorting to religious fear-mongering?

So, what other strange bedfellows are out there?  How do we avoid “the appearance of evil” by associating with those who share a passing interest, but in reality have aims that are far different from our own?  Is this an inevitable problem, or are there ways to more clearly distance ourselves from allies whose agendas differ or even contradict ours on many points?


Comments 24

  1. Great, thought-provoking post.

    I don’t have a whole lot to add at this point, except that I would prefer that the Church be much more hesitant about aligning itself with organizations on the “Religious Right,” even if our interests occasionally overlap. On the whole, the LDS Church is quite conservative (politically and otherwise), but I am grateful that it has taken a much more moderate and permissive stance on such issues as evolution and abortion. Aligning ourselves with James Dobson and company tends to reinforce perceptions (both from outside and within the Church) that, at least when it comes to politics, Mormons are de facto members of the Christian Right–and that LDS Church leaders endorse this alliance.

    Theologically and morally speaking, I think Mormons are far less wedded to Christian Right politics than your average Evangelical church is. There is something to be said for maintaining that distance.

  2. Thanks for writing/posting this. I have a LOT to say about this topic but limit myself to expressing my unhappiness that the authorities make common cause with “Babylon” and make the Saints feel that if they don’t ride along they are doing something wrong. As if we need another excuse to bite each other.

    It is also true that if one lies down in the mire with pigs one cannot help but get dirty.

  3. Great Post – Hawk!

    I think that I enjoy the irony of these associations because we live in Dobsonville, home of Ted Haggard. In many ways, James Dobson is a political figure masquerading as both a minister and a child psychologist, for which he was trained. He loves the limelight and having an effect on politics, which the same as Jerry Falwell did and Rush Limbaugh does.

    To show his true ministerial side, he ran as fast as he could away from Ted Haggard when his problems were made public, even though the two collaborated much of the time and their respective organizations are less than 2 miles apart.

    I also find it ironic that members of the LDS Church embrace and share the political philosophies of people who, if they could, would wipe us off the face of the earth and have condemned us to hell for our beliefs. Whose beliefs are so far away from the philosophies of Joseph Smith himself, as to be funny, if it was not so sad.

    The irony of the Religious Right is that doctrinally we consider them the “Religious Wrong” and yet we seek their approval.

  4. “I also find it ironic that members of the LDS Church embrace and share the political philosophies of people who, if they could, would wipe us off the face of the earth and have condemned us to hell for our beliefs. Whose beliefs are so far away from the philosophies of Joseph Smith himself, as to be funny, if it was not so sad.”

    This is particularly poignant given what Joseph Smith, even Brigham Young, tried to accomplish through the United Order and the “Beehive/Deseret” philosophies. Hardly Conservative in the social considerations.

  5. “Is this an inevitable problem, or are there ways to more clearly distance ourselves from allies whose agendas differ or even contradict ours on many points?”

    Its only inevitable to the extent that Church leadership want to use the Church as a way of carrying out political programs. If the institutional Church chooses not to engage in direct politics, chooses not to advance specific political agendas then its a lot less of a problem.

  6. Can you think of any “Religious Left” groups that Mormons can cozy up to, or are you angry it doesn’t take more Liberal and Humanistic stances? Frankly, I have heard enough vitriol and hate against Mormons from the Left (even more than the Right within the last few years) to believe they also wouldn’t mind making Mormons disappear. These arguments such as this post are nothing more than a plea for Mormons to “shut up!” and get in the back of the political bus.

  7. We ought spend more time at the “back of the bus” with the weak and despised people and things of the world. I often think we keep or attract people looking for an ostentatiously “traditional” lifestyle within an organization that has the economic and political clout to project it to the world. What can we possibly say in the political arena that is worth hearing for anybody but them? Most thing shouldn’t be a special threat to the rest of us.

  8. RE: “Stockpiling WingNuts”, I would totally love to build an awesome bunker in my backyard, or a panic room in the basement. Unfortunately, I don’t have a backyard, and don’t have sufficient funds for a legit panic room. Plus, have you seen costs for firearms and ammunition these days? Stockpiling that stuff is a little out of my budget 😉

    On a more serious note, I don’t consider myself particularly right-wing or left-wing. But I know there are plenty of people here in my Utah Valley community who have expressed disdain for any level of–at least–tolerance (different, mind you, than encouragement) of religious-left perspectives. There are enough people in the general membership of our church with strong enough opinions, and enough people ready and willing to ascribe to us their perceptions of our opinions.

    For the Church to stand up for more of these causes has two big problems that I see. First, as you point out, a lot of the moral/political causes out there aren’t fully in line with our beliefs. That would mean having to compromise some of our beliefs, which I somehow don’t think is likely to happen on that large of a scale, if ever. Second, we already have a bad rap and I honestly have a hard time seeing how it will get better anytime soon. Judging by the waves from the few causes we have made a public stand for, I’d say that it’s not a good plan to inject the Church (as an organization) into any more activism than is absolutely necessary.

    To make scriptural comparisons (and before I do, I want to make clear that I’m sure there are flaws I’ve missed in this analogy, as I am in no way a scriptorian or historian; I know there are contextual differences between the two that I’m not presenting here), I would prefer taking the patient approach similar to Jesus writing on the ground “as though he heard them not” approach (though he clearly did hear them) (John 8), over the general chastising and commanding tone I’ve felt while reading in Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians.

    I very rarely see the Savior show much of any outward anger in the accounts we have of his life. The cleansing of the temple comes to mind, but far more often I see him quietly expressing his love, and his sadness and disappointment in the things that some have done, but very, very rarely true anger. I think if we’re going to call ourselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then it’s probably best if we follow the pattern he laid down during his ministry.

  9. Post

    Jettboy – “Can you think of any “Religious Left” groups that Mormons can cozy up to, or are you angry it doesn’t take more Liberal and Humanistic stances?” Not at all. Personally, I would like government small, minds open, and causes to begin and end in your own backyard. I am not a fan of causes, which always seem like an excuse to remake the world in your own image or to take my money to achieve your ends. Whether people want to make peace or war, they all seem to have their hand in my wallet to achieve those ends.

  10. Amway, Pampered Chef, Nutrition For Life, ReVita, Primerica, Pre-Paid Legal, Noni Juice and all other pyramid type schemes. I know of people in bankruptcy from their involvement in commitments to pay into these schemes for so much each month with the lure of passive income or free cars. I know of one case where even the free car was taken away. I thought the satire on this in “The RM” was funny and apparently there is another LDS oriented film where this is the main storyline. So here you have one bedfellow becoming the subject for a second bedfellow!

  11. Post

    Rigel – excellent point about those MLM schemes. It also creates conflict of interest when Mormon connections such as membership information are used in furtherance of one’s MLM scheme.

  12. #7

    Some examples would be good. Since I work with leaders of the religious left all the time here are some things that have been said to me: “how can we help you with your work?”, “Would you consider being a board member?”, “How can we have better dialogue with Mormons?”, “Would you consider speaking at our event?” It’s really ugly! 🙂

    There is a world of difference between the religious left and the religious right. On the religious right making exclusive truth claims that seek to find who is “in” and who is “out” are the norm. The religious left tends to values inclusiveness, and tends to be more ready to partner / accept people who are different. The secular left on the other hand does have plenty of silly things to say about religion in general and the religious left in particular.

  13. A couple years after her mission, my wife’s former mission president wrote to her inviting her to participate in selling an MLM product. She wrote back saying no thanks, and she was disappointed that he was using their church connection to try to sell her something. She hasn’t heard from him since.

  14. “These arguments such as this post are nothing more than a plea for Mormons to “shut up!” and get in the back of the political bus.”

    Perhaps yes and no. I don’t think anyone is asking Mormons to step out of the political process, just the Mormon Church. Frankly I’d prefer to see the Church less politically engaged, from the perspective of Campaigns, though I have no objection to the Church expressing it’s views.

  15. Cowboy, other than the ERA and Prop8 and related, how has the Mormon Church been politically engaged? The MX Missile situation could be borderline, but it was mostly expressing views. Utah may be different, but even then I see it more as expressing views in a state full of Mormons who listen to those views. I think you would be genuinely honest if you would just say, “Frankly, I would prefer to see the Church not engaged at all from the perspective of campaigns,” considering how few causes the LDS Church engages.

    “On the religious right making exclusive truth claims that seek to find who is “in” and who is “out” are the norm.” I think this is the reason the LDS Church can’t do well with the religious left. The philosophies are just not the same. Mormonism is, by its very nature, exclusive and therefore fits better with the religious right. It also holds to hard core moral positions that the left doesn’t. Hardly a perfect fit and I think this post assumes that Mormons engaged with the Religious Right don’t have the same unease. They, speaking of the conservative LDS membership, are very suspicious of the religious right. The sentiment is: What can you do?

  16. If the church were aligned with left-leaning political activism, it would be far more involved in politics generally. The left tends to see every issue as political, requiring legislative or judicial solutions. The result, however unintended it might be, is more government oversight of every aspect of life. The church’s default position always leans in favor of agency and a principle-based approach to life rather than a step-by-step, Law of Moses guide.

    Throughout the world’s long history, there was no question about the definition of the term “marriage.” However, during my lifetime, those who would like to change that definition had to first identify the issue as a political problem which required a political solution. This was quite a stretch, but the government fell for it and now the church has been forced to take a stand. A moral issue was re-branded as a political issue and now our church stands accused of inappropriate meddling in politics. It’s a vicious trap which, to me, is far more insidious than one church sniping at another over the finer points of doctrine. Prophets, seers and revelators specifically told us that the defeat of Proposition 8 would lead to more restrictions against our religious liberty. I accept that assessment.

    We are told to teach (and learn) correct principles so that we can govern ourselves. None of the organizations or individuals listed at the top of this page should have a strong enough influence to sway us from that course. If so, then we have neglected to learn CORRECT principles.

  17. Hawkgrrrl,

    I really don’t have a lot to say about this subject, but I did want tell you that much of what you write is very well done including this. Thanks for your input on this board! Not that a thanks from me will buy you much around here… 🙂

  18. Thanks, Doug G – that does mean a lot!

    Greg’s point is valid perhaps for the organizational church (that entry into politics is done defensively and reluctantly). However, there is equal harm done when individual members at the grass roots level start forming these alliances. There do seem to be members who are prone to misunderstand our own doctrines (e.g. evolutionary stance, abortion stance) due to these associations; it is a form of mingling scripture with the philosophies of men.

  19. I admit to being somewhat uncomfortable when President Hinckley invited members of other faiths to come and join our church, telling them to bring the truths they learned elsewhere so that we could add to them. Yet, as a historical example, much of the racism in our church in the 19th century was certainly brought in from the outside. We can assess that damage in hindsight. How can you kindly tell a new convert that a particular “truth” they brought from their former church must be replaced rather than enhanced? How can you do this before (or after!) their “truth” is shared with Latter-day Saints who might be inclined to accept it when taught in a formal Sunday setting?

    Of course, our default position is that we’d rather find a way to include you in our church as much as possible than to exclude you. But I remember a few years ago when one ward member’s Baptist-flavored Mormonism was particularly tiresome and he was very convinced of his correctness. Yet we’d rather have him “in the fold” than outside, right? (He moved away. I have no idea what his status is now.)

  20. “I think you would be genuinely honest if you would just say, “Frankly, I would prefer to see the Church not engaged at all from the perspective of campaigns,” considering how few causes the LDS Church engages.”

    As opposed to “less engaged”? I agree that the Church is only involved in campaigns on a rare basis, but what I meant by “less” was not the number of campaigns – rather the level during those campaigns. I can understand that the Church may have a stake in issues, such as the ERA or Prop 8, but I would prefer them to be leading the charge spiritually to win souls rather than effecting law. I am familiar with the debates going around as to whether or not the Church “told” members how to vote, and that their is some disagreement here. recognizing the disagreement, I still think that is a good idea to avoid even the impression, to borrow a phrase here, of bloc voting patterns.


    Congratulations! You are now fulfilling the Bible which says “Come now, and let us repeat together.”
    Be sure to repeat what Walvoord, Lindsey, LaHaye, Ice etc. repeat what their own teachers repeat what their own teachers repeat etc. etc. etc.!
    Repeat that Christ’s return is imminent because we’re told to “watch” (Matt. 24, 25) for it. So is the “day of God” (II Pet. 3:12) – which you admit is at least 1000 years ahead – also imminent because we’re told to be “looking for” it?
    Also repeat the pretrib myths about the “Jewish wedding stages” and “Jewish feasts” (where’s your “church/Israel dichotomy” now?) even though Christ and Paul knew nothing about a “pretrib stage” and neither did any official theological creed or organized church before 1830!
    You should read “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” on the “Powered by Christ Ministries” site to find out why you shouldn’t repeat everything your pretrib teachers repeat.
    Do I have to repeat this?

    [saw the above on a website – Orson]

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