I fully understand that given Dick Cheney’s offer to speak at BYU’s commencement, BYU and the church would have little choice but feel obliged to honour the sitting Vice President.
Still, it might be useful to have some sense of how Cheney’s appearance at BYU will be viewed. As a British Mormon, I feel obliged to point out that most people in the UK and Europe see Cheney as the architect of a discredited war and abuser-in-chief of many of America’s cherished civil liberties and moral values. When BYU’s Kelly Patterson suggests that Cheney will enjoy a “very receptive and very hospitable” audience, this will sound in Europe as if BYU supports the Iraq war with which Cheney is inextricably linked. Indeed, this is exactly how it is being spun in the British media, namely that Cheney, unpopular everywhere else, will be among friends at BYU.
Universities understandably want high-profile speakers at their commencements, but BYU is more than a university, it is the academic arm of the global Mormon church and as such the views of those of us outside of the US ought to be considered. For some European Mormons, Cheney’s visit may look to them like the church endorses his policies. This would represent a palpable moral blow to the many anti-war European Mormons, and might further encourage a view, rightly or wrongly, that the church, despite claiming neutrality, is in fact in step with the American Republican Party. For many faithful European Mormons, whose political views would tend to the center-left on the American political spectrum, this is a bitter pill to swallow.
Dick Cheney is not just the Vice President. He currently represents much more than that, and for many people, what he represents is wholly negative. I would rather our church, to which we in Europe are faithfully dedicated, not also bear Cheney’s stigma. This could be avoided if BYU would more frequently invite high-profile guests from the other side of the aisle.
Take a deep breath. I don’t have the stomach for a partisan fight here. People are entitled to feel that Cheney is unfairly maligned and that his appearance at BYU will do honour to the university. I am just reporting on how it will look, especially from overseas. Whenever the church and the Republican party come across as inextricably linked (fair or not fair, this is sometimes the impression) it is desperately alienating to many of us and terrible PR to boot. Needless to say, these are my views alone.