The Burden of Being “America’s Choir”

I feel for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir today. I really do!

I mean I feel for their members, I feel for the organists and conductors and I feel for the leaders of my church who have to make tough decisions. Because the decision each of those individuals had to make in these last couple of weeks have been rough. And regardless of what they chose, it was always a no-win situation.

Now before anyone gets upset thinking this is going to be an anti-Trump post, hear me out. I’m not so much speaking about Donald Trump specifically as I am the situation the choir finds itself in.

I’m quite certain that when The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (we’re just going to refer to them as MoTab from here on out for clarity’s sake) accepted the invitation to sing at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1964, it was done so with much joy and appreciation. It undoubtedly represented an opportunity for the LDS church to be recognized and accepted, by the President of the United States at least, as mainstream. It was recognition that had been long, long overdue and I can only imagine the pride those choir members must have felt, as well as church members worldwide, as they sang in Washington D.C. those many years ago.

Unfortunately, they had no idea of the precedent they were setting that would come back to bite them so 50 years later.

You see, since that inauguration, MoTab has sung at four additional inaugurations. When they are called, they answer. It’s a very “Mormon” thing to do. It’s the same attribute I believe Mitt Romney was exhibiting, despite his obvious misgivings about our current president-elect, when he accepted the invitation to Trump Tower (and a high profile dinner in front of the cameras so that Mr. Trump could parade his defeated foe on display) to discuss the job of Secretary of State. If you call a Mormon to serve, more often than not, they are going to show up. It just is.

The problem now is that since LBJ, only Republicans have called. Richard Nixon called, Ronald Reagan called, George H.W. Bush called and his son George W. Bush called. Who didn’t call? Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Does anyone else see a problematic trend developing?

The LDS church has long maintained a stance of political neutrality. Yes, church leaders have weighed in from time to time on specific issues they believe directly relate to Church standards or teachings, but overall, they do not support a party, a candidate or an ideology. But when one adds this string of Republican inauguration appearances to the overwhelming support Republicans enjoy on a national level among latter-day saints, especially in the state of Utah, outsiders might be prone to take away the wrong message. Or even insiders for that matter who might be Democrats…I suppose.

Which brings me back to my feelings of sympathy for choir members and church leaders who had to make the decision on whether or not to sing at the inauguration of Donald Trump. For them, not good options existed. Had they refused, word would have gotten out and I am quite certain backlash from inside the church would have been fierce and ugly. But accepting has been anything but a cakewalk either.

Throughout the final days of the campaign, social media battles were erupting all over the LDS landscape regarding Mr. Trump. Members were arguiung right and left amongst themselves on whether it was right or wrong to vote for someone who personally had exhibited such great disdain for many things LDS members hold dear. It was not an easy decision and although it would appear the majority of LDS Republicans opted to vote for Mr. Trump in the end, for many, it was not an easy decision.

So now we are coming up to the inauguration. Should the choir travel to D.C. and sing? I personally think they should not. I believe that as the church becomes more diverse and more of a world-wide institution, taking part in any activity that might be construed as supporting one candidate or party over another should probably be avoided. And that view has little to do with whether or not the candidate might be considered moral or not.

It’s about trying to be non-partisan or non-political in 2016’s hyper-political environment. I mean, c’mon, let’s be very real with ourselves for just a moment. Do we honestly believe that social media wouldn’t have exploded with negative backlash within LDS circles if Hillary Clinton had won and the choir had been invited and accepted said invitation to sing at her inauguration? Maybe the majority of members wouldn’t have taken to Facebook or Twitter to express their outrage, but a very vocal group would have undoubtedly been infuriated that the church would send its most visible ambassadors to support “that criminal.”

Unfortunately, the opportunity to make the right decision regarding a performance at Mr. Trump’s inauguration was taken away from today’s choir 50 years ago. Despite all the positive press received by the choir (and by extension the church) due to their presence at inaugurations over the years, MoTab probably should have politely declined LBJ’s offer in the name of their political neutrality. It might have led to some negative backlash at the time, but I guarantee that having the opportunity to politely decline today would have been totally worth it.

Having said that, I hope they do well. I hope they sound as good as they do every Sunday morning during The Spoken Word.

But I do have to add, there was some great humor to be found in the situation as evidenced by the hashtag that trended on Twitter following the choir’s announcement. And if you can’t laugh at some of the offerings found under #motabsetlist, then you simply need to get a sense of humor. Some of the best examples were as follows:

  • I Tweet Thee Every Hour
  • Oh Say What Is Truth (No title alteration needed)
  • Let Us Not Speak Kind Words
  • I Thank Thee Oh God For A Profit
  • Or the Primary song, “I Have Two Little Hands”

But my personal favorite was definitely:

  • Because I Have Been Given Much, I Need A Massive Tax Cut

C’mon, go ahead and laugh. You know it’s funny. And in the meantime, I believe I speak for church members everywhere when I say, Good Luck Choir! We love you and feel blessed that you represent us so wonderfully regardless of where you perform.

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5 thoughts on “The Burden of Being “America’s Choir”

  1. Robert Layton

    I disagree with your opinion that the MoTab should have declined the invitation. To accept an invitation in celebration of the peaceful transition of power in the free-est of all societies (that I know of) is an unequivocal honor. On the contrary, to reject such an invitation, without a really good excuse, politicizes the situation. This has been most evident in the declaration of some liberal celebrities to decline an invitation before being asked. This public rejection only serves to divide fellow citizens into “likers” and “haters” and does nothing to promote “e pluribus unum” (sic). The Church (and Utah) could suffer no more injury than that brought on by Mitt Romney or that ex-cop who sought his 15 minutes of fame by running for president in Utah thinking that he could influence the outcome of a nationwide election. This current dust-up was initiated by a member of the MoTab who chose to take her political disappointment and make that an issue of divisiveness on social media. My opinion is that her choice was a poor choice of judgment, not a choice of a moral issue. It is our responsibility to not judge, but to love everyone, even sinners, as God loves us. I believe that it is better to do service for a sinner than to reserve our good works only for those we perceive as righteous. The sinner needs the service more. I will shut up now. I need to take my medications and go to bed.
    Always your friend.

    1. Ryan Rapier Post author

      Robert, I want to clarify one thing. I wish the choir was in a position where they didn’t have to go. My distaste for Mr. Trump is such that I would prefer they not be there. Having said that, I apologize that I was unclear with regard to the actual invitation. I believe they should accept the invitation because precedent dictates they should. I feel strongly that it would be in very poor taste to decline since they have appeared at previous inaugurations regardless of how I might feel about this individual. Had Hillary won and invited the choir, I would feel the same way. I would prefer they not be there as a general sentiment, but would feel they should accept her invitation if it were offered.

      On the other matter of Mitt Romney and Evan McMullin, I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more. I am still so very proud that Mitt Romney had the guts to get up and say in front of the nation and the world every single thing I was feeling about Mr. Trump. Furthermore, all evidence I have seen suggests to me that everything he said about Mr. Trump is true. He is a con-man (see: Trump University, Trump Foundation, etc.) He is a phony and a fraud (see: TMZ tape, backtracking on multiple campaign promises before even being sworn in, actual charitable giving vs. claimed charitable giving, etc.) He is very, very not smart when it comes to foreign policy (see: Russia, Sec. of State nominee Tillerson) I know many see Mr. Romney’s comments as self-serving and for the benefit of the establishment. I don’t. I see them as an effort by a principled man who was desperate for his party not to sell-out to a sideshow huckster. They did anyway. And he won. Good for him. And now he has already sold us out to the labor unions. I’m glad for those individuals whose jobs are staying, but I am glad I am not a Ford guy as I would not look forward to paying the additional costs that will now be associated with Ford vehicles. I voted for Evan McMullin. I would do so again in a heartbeat. Not because I ever believed he had a chance to win, but because I believed him to be a principled man rather than the shameless criminals (yes, criminals, again see: Trump University, Trump Foundation) who headed the tickets of both major parties. What I find most discouraging is that anyone who speaks out opposing Trump out of conscience immediately has their motives called into question by so many on the right. In this situation, yes, I believe the member of the choir who resigned did not need to make such a public spectacle in her departure. But that said, I will stand by three members of my faith who express their deeply held concerns rather than disparage them in favor of defending a man who has said and done so many things that are utterly defenseless.

      Robert and Jay, I know we are miles apart on this issue. I don’t expect we will ever change each other’s minds, but I do appreciate your input and the open dialogue knowing that we can walk away friends and brothers when we’re done.

  2. Patrick

    I am a non-American Mormon who sees (like almost all in my country) Trump as a sexist, racist, willfully-ignorant populist. I understand how it all happened, the poor choice on offer etc. But I was disappointed when so many Mormons backed him anyway. Mormons outside the US really aren’t as right wing – often voting is split like the general population in my experience. I think US Mormons mainly voting right wing is more to do with pioneer culture than the gospel teachings. I think Ryan is right that the choir, as good Mormons, will always answer a call to serve their nation, but overseas this just looks like Mormons agree with Trump and all his woman-groping, foreigner-hating shenanigans. Another awkward question for this Mormon to answer at the watercooler. All that said, I do wish the Choir well.


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