The Importance of Coalitions

I don’t know how many people realize this – But something amazingly shocking has happened this year. There hasn’t been that much press on it, and I think it’s important that it be highlighted for everyone to see.

A Mormon is running for president on the Republican ticket.

Does that make sense to anyone? If you have any background in the Christian religion, especially the more fundamentalist ones, you should be as shocked as I am. The Republican party has historically had a strong fundamentalist backing. In the past, fundamentalists have decried the Mormon faith – Calling it a cult, blasphemous, and many other far more denigrating things.

However, Republicans have done it. Whether it’s forming a coalition against Obama, or uniting under certain social policies, Republicans have been able to convince their constituents that Romney’s religion doesn’t matter. That in spite of his personal beliefs, Romney is capable of protecting those values they hold most dear. The “Reverend” Billy Graham has even gone so far as to drop the “Mormons are a cult” party line. When has Billy Graham ever changed his mind on anything in recent memory?

We aren’t talking about JFK being the first Catholic president, and it being a mark of progressiveness to support him. We’re talking about a conservative candidate, by all rights the Republican party should be tearing him apart on a philosophical basis. But, they clearly aren’t. They are quite willing to accept him in order to support the party.

This is the culmination of the “Big-Tent” policies of the Moral Majority from the 1980s, and however you feel personally about it, one can’t help but be impressed at the party not only gaining acceptance for Romney, but also perpetuating what is now a neck-and-neck race with a president who, objectively, is quite popular.

Christian groups have plenty that they disagree over. But as someone who cares about atheist activism, I think we have no where near the disagreements that they do. And yet, we obsess over things like labels and perpetuating in-group/out-group stereotyping.

This behavior is counter-productive to the secular movement. If we want to succeed, we need to be wise enough to learn from our philosophical opponents. We need to stop treating those we disagree with as something other than human, and start working with people who share our core values and objectives.

Many of us recognize that the Separation of Church and State MUST be absolute, and are working hard to maintain that. We can’t do that if we require loyalty tests to a particular creed before we work on our shared goals. We need to work on coalitions – Even if we maintain disagreements about our unrelated values, we need to work together to accomplish our shared goals. In this country, not all of our rights are protected, and the only way to protect them is with our numbers, working together.

Our ideological opponents have learned from the past. On our side, It’s heartening to see such diverse groups as American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Center for Inquiry working together. If those groups which have historically deep divides can work together, why can’t we as individuals?.

Even groups that have fundamental disagreements can work together (See my example above about fundamentalists and Mormons.) We can also see this in how the Secular Coalition for America (and the Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania) can find a way to work with even religious groups to address the common purpose of keeping church and state separate. Many groups with vastly different ideological viewpoints find ways to work together, and it’s to that purpose we need to focus our time and effort.

As secular activists, we need to reject arbitrarily divisive labels. We need to find a way to communicate our core, shared values without hyping our differences. Of course we need to discuss and communicate with each other those areas in which we disagree, but we need to learn to keep those disagreements civil. Because if we don’t learn to work together, we will certainly lose those rights we’ve worked so hard to protect – together.