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.
I 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?