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The Evangelical Deflector Shield

Tom - March 16, 2007

When I saw the title for this article on slate.com, “Teams We Hate: Duke, Eastern Kentucky, and 11 other odious schools in this year’s NCAA Tournament,” I got a sinking feeling. I was sure BYU was going to be listed. Slate is a left-leaning secularist publication that loves to sneer at anything and everything, especially the religious and the Right, and the BYU snark practically writes itself: pasty white religioius freaks who go about bothering people in their homes and who would suck if they didn’t have older players and token blacks. Plus, there are plenty of BYU alums to hate on, both in the basketball world (Shawn Bradley, Danny Ainge) and in the political world (Mitt Romney, Kyle Sampson). Add to that my paranoia that stems from my vivid memory of a mid-90′s Sports Illustrated cover that had the phrase, “BYU is Hated,” highlighted in vibrant red, and I was already composing in my head my response for Slate’s discussion forum before I even read the article.

But the BYU entry was absent (good thing, because I was having a hard time coming up with rebuttals for the snark I imagined was coming). However, another religious school, the evangelical Christian university, Oral Roberts University, did get some bile directed their way. After painting Oral Roberts the man as little more than a televangelist con man, author David Roth takes on ORU’s equivalent of BYU’s Honor Code, which bans cursing, gambling, sex, homosexuality, and earrings for males. The entry ends with this sneer, which could just as easily have been written referring to BYU:

Like everyone else, I’m inclined to pull for double-digit seeds. But personally, I’d rather my underdogs be tougher on defense than they are on male jewelry.

I don’t know if in this specific instance the exclusion of BYU from the list of odious teams was due to ORU’s inclusion, but it does seem like ripping on the religious elements of two religious schools would be a bit much, even for Slate. And it also seems, to me anyways, that ORU is even an easier target than BYU. Nobody likes televangelists, plus, compared to Evangelicals, relatively few prominent Mormons are intimately associated in the public imagination with the dreaded Religious Right. Whether or not this case was an instance of Evangelicals taking a bullet that could have just as easily been aimed at Mormons, I have found that having the more extreme elements of the Evangelical movement as such prominent lightning rods has at times made life a little more comfortable for me as a Mormon.

Mormons and the institutional Church may be far enough to the right on a lot of hot button issues of the day that left-leaning media and individuals would find us worthy of being singled out for scorn, and sometimes this does happen, but there’s always some Evangelical group or figure that’s more extreme and more prominent. For every letter from the First Presidency urging members to support a gay marriage ban, there are dozens of louder Evangelical voices bashing gays. For every Conference talk that suggests that there was no death before the Fall, there are a hundred Evangelicals calling evolution of the devil. And as far as prominent leaders go, I’ll just say that Pat Robertson makes President Hinkley look like Noam Chomsky.

What this means personally for me, a moderate Mormon in the secularist Mecca that is highfalutin’ East Coast academia, is that I probably don’t take as much heat for belonging to a conservative institution like the Church as I might if there weren’t more prominent and extreme targets getting more attention. It means that if someone asks what my Church’s stance on homosexuality or evolution is, I can strike a moderate pose by pointing out in my response that it’s not like Pat Robertson’s or creationsensation.com’s. And it means that the less we associate with the Religious Right, the better.


  1. Amen.

    Comment by Jon in Austin — March 16, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  2. “Oral” Roberts University? You can’t make this stuff up!

    Comment by Ronan — March 16, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  3. Oh yes, and Tom, amen.

    Comment by Ronan — March 16, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  4. Good points Tom, but obviously it doesn’t matter how close your school is to God, it doesn’t help in the tourney – both got beat – let’s hope the same thing happens to Notre Dame!!!

    Comment by Don Clifton — March 16, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  5. I don’t know if someone named Ronan should be poking fun of anyone’s name.

    I love that you were already composing a rebuttal in your imagination before even reading the article, Tom.

    When I was a kid my parents decided to remove us from an open-concept, liberal arts elementary school we loved and put us in a private Christian school that I always imagined to be a religious right institution, whether or not it actually was. We were told students had to work on their own in cubicles while listening to instruction on headphones. Like a nightmare, coming from a school where I could go anywhere in the entire building with no supervision for my Language Arts class and work on my own.

    We never did make it into the private school, though, because my mom finally balked at it when the uniform she made me didn’t quite meet their standards and weren’t allowed. The standard was only red, white and blue could be worn. She’d gotten me some red shirts with little yellow flowers on them.

    Comment by Susan M — March 16, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

  6. The problem we’re running into now is that Mitt is trying to look more and more appealing to the christian right. As well, the little time I spent in Utah taught me that many of the Republicans there have no idea that the same christians they are aligning with are the same christians who say we are going to hell(like I wrote earlier in the week). Your observation still rings true(especially in a blue state) but its lost on the mormon republicans I have met.

    Comment by cj douglass — March 16, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  7. I very much agree, Tom, but I also am kinda sad things have worked out the way they have. With the opposition being not so strong, it (in a way) makes it harder to be a good member of the church. It’s harder to wear our religion on our sleeve and be a peculiar people.

    Comment by Bret — March 17, 2007 @ 12:59 am

  8. Don – As a recently converted Notre Dame fan (my son did his graduate studies there) I wish people would stop seeing them as an enemy to God (well, at least to BYU). But now that yesterday’s games are over it looks like you got your wish. ;-)

    Tom – Let me also add an “AMEN” to your final comments. For a minute there I thought you were following a pattern that I see sometimes from church members “Let’s hope we’re getting persecuted in the media, especially the left media.” Despite my self proclaimed “left” status I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in what Slate Magazine has to say about the subject. I think any publication, left or right, that titles an article with the premise of ‘hate’ should be considered questionable. The thing I find interesting about our church is that the social left finds many objectionable things about our ‘conservative’ life style while the religious right objects vociferously to our ‘liberal’ interpretation of the scriptures.

    Comment by lamonte — March 17, 2007 @ 7:19 am

  9. Ronan reminded me that I noticed the “Oral” thing last year around tournament time and I even thought that the coeds must have a certain reputation, whether deserved or not, based on the name of the university. Nevertheless I will say to Ronan: “Get your mind out of the gutter, dude.”

    The unfortunate thing about Mitt cozying up to the Religious Right is that, depending on how nationally prominent he becomes, he could single-handedly create a strong association in the public imagination between Mormons and the Religious Right, despite the fact that neither he nor the rest of the Mormons in Washington are that extreme.

    I think we could be peculiar, and be noticed as such, by believing fervently yet still being tolerant and reasonable. Fervent belief has gotten a very bad rap because it has become associated very much with hatred and extremism. Some people think they are inextricably linked. We can show that they’re not.

    Comment by Tom — March 19, 2007 @ 7:57 am

  10. Oh, and I just noticed that Slate published an informative, yet respectful, article on Mormon athletes and temple garments. Here. It’s probably a little too informative for our tastes, but it’s respectful.

    Comment by Tom — March 19, 2007 @ 8:00 am

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