This essay was first published in 2010 on the Mormon Expression Website
I heard this phrase the other day while listening to a discussion on NPR. The author, who used the phrase, was discussing the current state of affairs inside the Republican party. Currently, the extreme right via the Tea Party is driving much of the Republican agenda. However, the majority of members of the party are more centrist and find many of the views of the right wing of the party to be alien. But their centrist position has been co-opted and their influence lessened.
The author was arguing that the complacency of the main stream of the Republican party was enabling the ultra-conservative agenda. He held that the majority centrists of the party did “nothing to challenge” the extremist views and did “a great deal to abet” the views by allowing for them to take the stage and otherwise use the already established vessels of Republican communication. Thus the whole party becomes complicit in its implied support of the right wing.
My mind immediately turned to the LDS Church and how this describes the current state of affairs within the Church. Some would suggest that the Church is a big tent organization accepting a wide range of thought concerning politics and doctrine. But what the Church actually does not “challenge” and what it seems to “abet” portrays a different picture. The Church chooses to emphasize its political neutrality and at times insists it is not tied to one political party or agenda, but the truth of the matter is that it supports implicit acceptance or promotion of an extremist view. These actions are transparent and only convincing to insiders.
Operationally, the Church vigorously patrols all organizations it controls. Multiple instances of the Church’s tight control over publishing avenues such as Deseret Book or BYU have been documented. It is clear that every work published under the Church’s label or sold in its bookstore is carefully scrutinized. Thus every work that appears in Deseret Book has a tacit seal of approval given the rigor with which some works have been rooted out and censored. The case of God’s Army is illustrative.
Richard Dutcher’s film God’s Army, a completely positive take on Mormonism and missionary work was pulled from Deseret Book upon Dutcher’s disaffection with the Church. Although this film was entirely supportive of LDS leadership and doctrine, had been heavily promoted by the Church, and is still loved by the membership, it and all of Dutcher’s other works were pulled from Deseret Book’s shelves after Dutcher became dissatisfied with his personal religious involvement.
Dutcher’s purging from Deseret Book can stand in stark contrast to other offerings at the store. Of course, Glenn Becks books are available. Somewhat jarring for me was to see Glenn’s Work “Arguing with Idiots” which, in addition to the inflammatory title, appears with with Glenn wearing a Nazi-esque uniform. This ironically juxtaposed with all of the images of smiling Jesuses looking on from the walls. Lest one think it is just Beck’s Mormon roots, works by Sean Hannity are also sold at the religious bookstore. Likewise, Church owned radio stations in the Salt Lake market have long run right wing radio pundits almost exclusively.
So when one looks at the actual messages that are endorsed, sanctioned and tolerated, a clear picture of right wing political and cultural promotion emerges. Likewise, works in Mormon studies stocked and promoted by the Deseret Book present a view of Mormon beliefs even more conservative than that pushed in conference.
The Church will never be a “big tent” operation as long as it systematically purges, ignores or undermines the more liberal views of the left–even if those views are as compatible with the “gospel” as views from the right. Principles of the left, such as social responsibility, aid to the poor, state funded education and the like are routinely mocked and ridiculed among some LDS thinkers, but there is nothing inherit in these ideas that puts them at odds with traditional Christian ethics or modern Mormon morals. Nevertheless, a clear view of the Church’s political outlook can be had by anyone willing to dig a bit deeper than their image projected in frequent press releases.