The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has accepted an invitation to perform at Donald Trump's inauguration
Raul A. Reyes: By performing for a leader whose beliefs run counter to Mormon Church's, choir will damage its reputation
Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. The views expressed here are his.
A soprano with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has resigned from the group over its acceptance of an invitation to perform at the Trump inauguration. In a letter sent to the choir president, Jan Chamberlin wrote, “Since ’the announcement,’ I have spent several sleepless nights and days in turmoil and agony. I have reflected carefully on both sides of the issue, prayed a lot … and searched my soul.” Chamberlin concluded that resigning was the right thing to do, because “I could never look myself in the mirror again with self-respect.”
Chamberlin sees the choir’s singing for Trump as a betrayal of Mormon values – and she’s right. The President-elect, with his bigotry and braggadocio, personifies nearly everything the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS, teaches against. Not only is the choir damaging its reputation by participating in the inauguration, it risks offending members of the increasingly diverse Mormon Church.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a national treasure renowned for the superb caliber of its singing. Dubbed “America’s Choir” by Ronald Reagan, the group has performed at the inaugurals of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Along with Donny & Marie and Mitt Romney, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are, collectively, some of the most visible Mormons in the world. Yet unlike the Osmonds and the former presidential candidate, the choir is an official arm of the LDS Church. It is this direct link to the church that makes the choir’s decision to perform at Trump’s inaugural troubling.
Consider that a core principle of Mormonism is the importance of religious freedom. That’s because the founders of the church were harassed, driven from their homes and even ordered “exterminated” by US government officials on account of their beliefs. As such, much of the church’s early history was defined by persecution.
Fast forward to 2015 when Trump, in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings, called for a ban on Muslim immigration. The choir should recognize how offensive this was (and is) to many Mormons. In fact, after Trump’s comments, the LDS Church put out a statement, reiterating the church’s commitment to religious freedom and quoted Joseph Smith, who Mormons believe to be a prophet. “It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul,” Smith said in 1843, “civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.”
And if stoking fears of faith wasn’t enough, Trump’s comments about Mexicans, immigrants and refugees should have been yet another reason for the choir to decline to participate in his inauguration.
Trump said Mexico sends the United States “rapists” and drug dealers, but Mexico is home to 1.4 million LDS members. Seven percent of US Mormons are Latino, and Latinos are the fastest-growing group in the Church. Trump rails against illegal immigration, while many Mormons empathize with immigrants because of their own experiences serving as missionaries. And though Trump often demonized refugees, the Mormon Church launched an effort to help refugees earlier this year. “Their story is our story, not that many years ago,” one Mormon leader said.
It sends the wrong message to the church’s members around the world that the choir would perform for a leader so at odds with LDS teachings – and let’s not even get into Trump’s bragging about sexual assault.
Defending the choir’s decision to sing at the inaugural, a columnist for Utah’s Deseret News writes that, “We need to find a way to come together as a nation and look for those things that can bring us together rather than tear us apart. If the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s appearance at the inauguration can help in that process, then it will be well worth it.”
However, the choir’s appearance will likely not be bringing people together. It has already caused a divide within the LDS Church. An online petition asking the choir not to perform at the inaugural has 31,000 signatures, many from LDS members. “Trump is a disrespectful person that does not exemplify what the church has taught me,” writes one signer.
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This controversy is not a matter of politics or partisanship. It is about principles. Utah Mormon voters may have cast their votes for Trump because they saw him as the lesser of two evils. The choir’s choice is different, as it calls their integrity into question.
Ironically, a common maxim of the LDS faith is “CTR,” or “choose the right.” CTR is a tenet taught to all Mormon children. It is a reminder that life is about choices, and that one should always make the right choice. It seems a stretch to make the case that the choir is “doing the right” here. Instead it has cast this idea aside in favor of a turn in the limelight.
Trump’s inauguration will be a sad day for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. By performing for this divisive bully, the choir will only tarnish its once impeccable reputation.