Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MoTab Goes to Washington

The choir sings at Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration in 1965.
I haven't blogged much since the election due to time constraints (and the onset of a nihilistic stupor), but I wanted to weigh in briefly on a recent hot topic that concerns both the country in general and the Mormon community in particular: whether the Mormon Tabernacle Choir should sing at the inauguration of Donald Trump. Others have weighed in with thoughts that I partially agree with, but I feel like I need to say what everyone else is thinking but doesn't bother to write because it isn't controversial enough.

Here are my opinions on the three basic issues at hand:

1) Should the choir have accepted the invitation?

Sure, why not.

The choir has sung for other presidential inaugurations and at other events of national importance, including events for members of both parties, as discussed in the official statement from the Church announcing the choir's decision to sing at the inauguration. 

I'm sure the decision was authorized by the highest leadership of the Church. Since the Church as an organization embraces political neutrality, I trust that the decision was based on a regard for the office of the president and out of reverence for the peaceful transition of power, and was not intended to be an endorsement of a politician or party.

After all, even the Clintons, including Trump's most recent political rival, Hillary Clinton, will be attending the inauguration. Are the Clintons endorsing Trump? Or merely engaging in the longstanding tradition of national unity following a presidential election?

That said, if the choir had rejected the invitation, I would have defended that too. It's a free country; they can do whatever they want.

2) Should choir member Jan Chamberlin have quit the choir in protest of the decision to sing at the inauguration?

Sure, why not.

Each choir member has the right to follow their conscience and act accordingly. If Chamberlin truly felt that singing at the inauguration was tantamount to "throw[ing] roses at Hitler," as she put it, then I can see why she would find it necessary to stand her ground and to vocally protest the decision.

Some have argued that Chamberlin is drawing too much attention to herself and is inadvertently casting the rest of the choir in a bad light, implying that they are succumbing to fascism. 

True, but these are unavoidable consequences of living in a free society where everyone is able to follow their own conscience. The same argument has been used to disparage Mormons who choose not to drink or smoke. Does one person's choice automatically invalidate another's? 

But she's not just choosing not to participate; she has also made public statements stating her objection to the choir's participation. "It's okay if you don't drink coffee, but don't tell me it's wrong." So to take the analogy one step further, is it wrong to publicly decry abortion, gay marriage, gambling, or other behaviors you might consider sinful, just because it may imply that people who believe differently are bad? 

I don't think so, though others might disagree. The right to state your opinions (whether religious, secular, political, or intellectual) and preach them far and wide is one of the most important and valuable freedoms we enjoy - it is certainly central to a faith that places missionary efforts among its highest priorities. 

Without this freedom, morality and ethics would stagnate and authoritarian bodies would control the ideology of their subscribers in monopolistic fashion. If you can't discuss religion in the town square, you will only ever hear about your god from your pastor. If you can't share scientific or historical content freely, you will be beholden to the biases of your professors or textbook writers. If you can't discuss politics online, you will consume only the propaganda dispersed through state-controlled media. 

Certainly, our actions and words may influence others to rethink their behaviors and ethics, but ultimately when it comes to subjective matters of conscience, each person answers only to themselves and to God.

3) Should the rest of the choir members sing at the inauguration?

Sure, why not.

I assume that among the remaining choir members, there are many who voted for Donald Trump (enthusiastically or grudgingly), others who voted for Evan McMullin or Gary Johnson, and still others who voted for Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein. Some may even share Chamberlin's view that Trump is comparable to Hitler to one degree or another.

And yet, so far no other choir member has resigned. I don't know many of the choir members personally, but I assume some choose to sing because they are loyal to the choir above all else and don't want to give up their spot. Some choose to sing because they consider this just another gig, indistinguishable from another. Some view the event as a celebration of democracy and of our country, separate from the individual taking the oath of office. Some probably rejoice in Trump's victory and will look on with pride as he puts his hand on the Bible.

Each choir member has the right to sing or not to sing, to express their views or not, as they see fit. I don't judge any member of the choir for their actions.

Neither do I judge people who criticize the choir or its members for their respective choices. Some people believe the choir has a civic duty to "let their light ... shine before" the world. Others feel very strongly that the choir should not be seen anywhere close to Trump given his rhetoric. Both groups have a point.

Personally, as I've said in the past, I'm giving Trump some room to prove me wrong. Four years from now, if he's carried out some of the heinous acts he proposed on the campaign trail, I might have a stronger opinion against the choir accepting an invitation to perform in 2021. Let's hope for one reason or another that isn't the case.


It might sound like I'm saying that everyone can do what they want and I don't care. But that's not quite what I'm getting at, and the distinction is important.

My main point is this: as long as I can help it, I am not going to criticize anyone for following their conscience, ever. And based on all the information I have, everyone both within and out of the choir has done exactly that. 

I will always weigh in with my opinion when I have one, and I might even suggest that someone should act differently than they are if I think it is productive to do so. 

But most of the time, I applaud anyone who actually takes the time and effort to consult their conscience before thoughtfully (and even prayerfully) making a decision.

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