The Ethics of Membership and Supporting Organizations

"Oh, but the Klansmen do so many good things! Even though I don't agree with what their national organization does, I still can give to local groups?"

Is this a reasonable position? Let's explore.

For months, I've been an "out gay ally" and have been fighting against the pressures that be (specifically the Catholic Church and Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus) that impede civil rights and marriage for homosexuals. I believe that the marriage of gays will greatly benefit society and allow for gays to solidify their relationships, share the same legal benefits as straights who are married, and diminish STDs and AIDS in the gay community. The benefits of gay marriage are tremendous.

Homosexuals and gay allies will often share the same goals and want to achieve the same ends that I am working toward, but they are being grossly decieved and are stifling my efforts by working against themselves. Personally, I will not benefit from gay rights, but I want to see society flourish, so I "fight." It's quite awkard that gays will undermine themselves and my efforts by supporting organizations that fund and spearhead anti-gay initiatives. I've previously touched in these issues in multiple posts, but I want to expand in this one. I will argue that gays and gay allies are acting in an immoral fashion when they support the Catholic Church and Catholic groups even if the local groups are affiliates of national organizations and even if the local groups don't publicly take a stand on certain issues.

People support a specific club or organization when they give a monetary donation, become members, or give nods of support. This is quite easy to see and very uncontroversial. If I give money to, say, the Red Cross, I'm furthering their aims, keeping them in business, and helping them fulfill their mission. If I become a member of an organization, I'm agreeing with their mission statement, giving the group power and legitimacy, and furthering their aims [unless, of course, I join a group to undermine their efforts, but this is a special exception]. The assertion, "someone legitimizes a group by giving money to it" is controversial, but it probably true, but let's not consider that here.

It follows that if I, for example, give money to a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, I am furthering their aims, keeping them in business, and helping them fulfill their mission. If the KKK's mission is counter-intuitive to my goals, I've undermined what I stand for. If the KKK's goals are harmful to society, I've acted in an immoral fashion. The KKK, for example is in direct opposition to my values because they want to make the practice of homosexuality illegal, stop the government from sending foreign aid, outlaw abortion except for in cases of rape in incest, and they profess that America was founded as a Christian nation. I can't possibly support this group!

Here are some arguments against my position:
Well, if I'm supporting a local chapter of the KKK, I'm not supporting their national organization.
Supporting a local chapter is still furthering the aim of the national organization and the local chapters' aims because local chapters endorse the mission statements of the national organization (otherwise they would not be affiliates).

Well, I understand, but what if the local chapter isn't an activist group and doesn't work to further its aims?

You're still supporting the group which furthers the aims of the national organization by existing to begin with. If there were no local chapters, the influence of the national organization would be greatly diminished. If your local Klan members fundraise and you give money to them, you're keeping them in existence and keeping the national organization strong. Even if your local Klan group is fundraising to help a girl with cancer and giving all of money to them for this goal, the group's donation is being recognized, the members' social cohesion is undoubtedly improved, etc. This is a reason parallel to that of those who refuse campaign contributions; people who refuse money don't want to endorse/legitimize the donor, be associated with the donor, etc. This argument simply does not work.

What about members who just join for the social aspect?

By being a member of the group, as I mentioned, you are furthering its aims. Before joining groups, you should have the responsibility of researching and discovering what the group's goals, mission, and money goes to. Ignorance is no excise. Also "not caring" is no excuse. If you join a local Klan, you have moral blame for supporting the group even if you didn't care or didn't know about the group that was very obvious and easy to find...even if you just want to go to meet people.

What if I don't support the group's mission, but want to join/support them?
Joining or giving money to the group is supporting the group.

I know some of the group's members and they aren't bad people. Although some KKK members may really hate black people, my friends who are members don't! They say they are about heritage, not hate! It's okay for me to donate to the group!

This is a red herring. Supporting the group, regardless of how great some of its members may be, is still supporting the aims of the local and national group.

You may think that your friends don't hate black people, but it's impossible to be confident that all or other members of the group don't hate black people. People often hide motives and won't come out and say what they really mean. You can, I suppose, be very confident that your friend doesn't hate black people, but what about those who you don't know. Either way, this part of the argument doesn't even need to be discussed because it's a red herring.

But the KKK does a great deal of charitable work and makes some people really happy! They offer social cohesion for its members! Even if some Klansmen do bad things, you can't condemn local groups!

This is another red herring. Groups who do charitable work still have other aims that can't be supported and furthered by objectors. They may make members and others happy, but this also doesn't matter. People can find charities that don't do harm or conflict with their values.

Some exceptions:

The environment is oppressive and your morality has to take a back seat.
This is a contestable claim that I believe should be left to an individual, I think. I go to a Catholic College, for example, and have faced tremendous consequences for being an active atheist and fighting for seperation of church and state. People hate me. I've been called a "bitch ass trick" and threatened with violence if I visited someone's room. I feel that I can deal with the social consequences. Some friends of mine feel that the environment is too oppressive and they believe that they'd be kicked out of their house and thus feign belief. This makes sense. (They could, though, be an anonymous activist and still support groups anonymously.)

What of the person forced to be a member of Hitler Youth? Can we really find a person blameworthy if his parents would be killed if he refused to join? I think not. This is an extreme case, of course. I don't think, though, that this can be applied to many situations today when your life isn't threatened or social consequences aren't extreme. Perhaps your father is a Catholic fundamentalist and you're an atheist. You can't possibly reveal your beliefs, so you remain a member of some church organization and feign belief. Is this very dubious knowing that the consequences of quitting might be severe?

I don't see how this counter-argument can apply to giving money to groups. Is there a situation that commonly happens in which one would suffer severe consequences if he/she failed to give money? If you give money to the KKK, as I mentioned above, you're acting in an immoral fashion.


After reading all of this, some may be skeptical of my attendance at a Catholic institution, so I'll direct these concerns here and note that I could not possibly afford to change schools (and did not want to) after I became an atheist after my second year.

Hopefully, you'll agree with everything I posted above (and if you don't or I missed something, please comment). Above, I used the KKK as an example (and presumably local KKK chapters just do exist to socialize and not do anything), but these arguments can be applied to other groups/organizations such as the Knights of Columbus or the Catholic Church. Not accepting my conclusions just because "some groups are different" is intellectually dishonest special pleading.

Gays and supporters of gay rights, for example, who support the Knights of Columbus are acting in an immoral fashion by doing so. Recently, the King's College Knights of Columbus chapter had a show fundraiser and some homosexuals and their allies supported the group by purchasing shoes, much to my chagrin. I'm against the Knights of Columbus for several reasons that I have elaborated on in the past. The organization/s is/are against abortion, contraceptives, sexual education, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. Gays should immediately "be sold" on the indisputable fact that the Knights of Columbus are against gay marriage. Gays should not support groups that fight against and undermine gay marriage! You can buy sneakers at a local store instead of giving money to an organization that is part of a national organization which has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay initiatives.

These arguments, of course, work for someone at an individual level. Should groups be openly opposed to other groups that work against them? Regardless of the answer to this question, individuals can still be against the group by not supporting them whether they do this silently (not donating to them at fundraisers) or openly (telling others not to support).


Some other considerations:

The Knights of Columbus and the KKKare so much different! What about other groups who don't have anti-gay agendas?

This is not an argument from analogy. The main points of my argument are this: if a group has unsavory goals that are against your values, you shouldn't support them, become a member, or give them money.

What about political groups and the United States government? They both commit unsavory actions and often have dubious aims.

Political groups are an interesting case. With them, you don't have to vote at all. You can completely abstain from the whole process and not endorse any candidate. I tend, though, to vote for "the lesser of the two evils" because it seems to be a "forced" two party system and no candidates from other parties are typically able to win. With the case of politicians/parties, it's quite reasonable and expected that you don't agree 100% with the people running for office. Regarding other groups, you can totally abstain, it's often not a forced option, and there are other viable alternatives. If you're an environmentalist, for example, you don't need to support Greenpeace because there are many other groups out there.

What about groups that have members who are shady?

You have to ask, does the shafy stuff stem from the mission statement and aims of the group or is this individual failure? Even if it is individual failure, you're not forced to support and can certainly cease doing so.

What about groups who have a goal that will never be reached and/or is unattainable?

I could never find myself supporting a group that, say, like the KKK, wants to make the practice of homosexuality illegal, even if they donated millions to a really good charity and their mission statement is unattainable/will never be reached. Perhaps they can be lauded for their efforts (would this legitimize their actions, though?), but one should still not support or donate money.

How about change that may happen in an organization? Individuals can change groups from within and some individuals can be progressive within a fundamentalist community.

Changing an organization is a good point that I didn't consider. Barry Lynn, the leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and state, for example, is certainly trying to change the minds of religionists from the inside, as a reverend and Michael Dowd's "Thank God for Evolution" is making waves.

The issue of changing has come up within the "atheist community" in the issue of accomodationism vs confrontation. Are we wanting change in the group to moderate them or to get rid of it? I would love to see churches close and have non-theistic humanists who provide care and social support without dogma, but I'm not interested in working to moderate these people (although this may happen in the process unintentionally).

Are you claiming that giving someone money causes one to be responsible for their actions?

I don't claim that one is always responsible for the actions of others by the spending of money, but rather say that those who donate to groups are furthering the goals, etc of the group. The government isn't a group at all and it's a forced choice for Americans, essentially.