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.