About a week ago I had a dream that I was in the Creationism museum. I’m sure this was inspired in part by the Buzzfeed articles about that dubious family-friendly recreational activity. In the dream, I got separated from my family, and I was struggling to find my kids. I kept passing anti-scientific exhibits and dioramas with mannequin Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs and high fiving penguins. I was worried that my kids would think we as Mormons believe this nonsense, that we are backwards and uneducated, that Mormons are young earth creationists (as they have unfortunately heard at times in seminary or church classes).
As a parent invested in my kids learning to love the gospel as I did growing up, our association with groups whose beliefs on these matters so greatly differ from reality really scare me. As I walked through the museum (in the dream) I was increasingly unsettled at the idea that I had apparently paid admission to this exhibit which meant that it was more likely to remain in business. I had supported it! I panicked thinking that I needed to protect my kids from thinking we agreed with this claptrap.
Frankly, much to my dismay, this dream is at times not too far off the mark from what they’ve experienced in church. As a church, we experience (as do many churches) conservative scope creep, and it’s exacerbated by our affiliation with other conservative religions. A recent Salt Lake Tribune article describes the difficulties faced by political minorities (anyone left of the GOP) in their local congregations and a caution for wards to stay politically neutral.
A recent article from the Mormon Newsroom talked about interfaith work we have done. The article quotes Jana Reiss as mentioning that these interfaith relationships are often with “strange, strange bedfellows” and sects with whom we have an ambiguous or even unfriendly past, although the article was quick to dismiss this concern. This reminded me of a post I did in 2009, that I now revisit for discussion. I speak as a voice from the dust (well, from 2009 anyway).
In that post, I identified several groups that were dubious allies or “strange bedfellows” for the church in recent history:
- Prop 8 Allies. Many of these are the same guys who think we are a cult, want to “pray the gay away,” make hateful and inaccurate remarks about homosexuals, slander our doctrines to win political campaigns and to frighten their parishioners from defecting.
- 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 if not outright endorsed. 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 or listened to the director’s commentary?); Clean Flicks discontinued. Then the owner was implicated in an unsavory pornography scam in Utah County. In our lovely deseret.
- 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. Since I wrote this caution we had yet another example in Cliven Bundy whose membership remained intact despite his kookoo-for-cocoa-puffs-nuttery at exactly the same time whip-smart Kate Kelly was getting the heave-ho. That’s like kicking your wife out of bed and replacing her with Ted Kazinsky.
- “Obamanation” Armageddon Theorists. This is an unpleasant blend of political conservativism 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? Apparently not as evidenced by many Mormons on Facebook.
Since 2009, there have been several other things done by our supposed allies. Evangelicals touted their Purity Balls as a rite of passage to complement their frequently backfiring chastity pledges, and wives were asked to very openly submit to their husbands’ authority in all things. Yes, there is one group out there that hates women more than we do, and it’s no coincidence that they are our interfaith allies.
While alliances are probably necessary to getting things done, there are some real downsides. The old adage would say “Lie down with dogs, get fleas.” But here are some cautions we need to consider whenever we do interfaith work or form alliances:
- Association. Having our views misunderstood or misconstrued by outsiders. Also, when an “ally” does something really stupid (many have), does that taint us by association in the eyes of potential converts?
- Introduction of False Doctrine. What’s worse than others misunderstanding us? Our own people conflating our doctrines with those of our political allies. For example, do some members begin to think that we have a different or stronger stance on issues because our associates do? Do they think we are young earth creationists, that we scoff at science, that we are biblical literalists, that we believe women should be subjects to their husbands? Or perhaps more insidiously, do we just downplay our unique doctrines to fit in? Do we pretend there is no Heavenly Mother or that we don’t believe we are God’s literal offspring with divine potential?
- 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 ultimately disagree, ends that are against our interest.
- 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.
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?