Of course we understand that singing at the inauguration of a president is a boon for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; the choir’s president Ron Jarrett said that the choir would be “honored to be able to serve our country by providing music for the inauguration of our next president.” It is not the first president they ‘sing into office’, and probably not the last one either.
Viewing the change of US president from across the ocean, we from the International Church are puzzled by many aspects. First, of course, the choice of Trump as president, but that is now definitely water under the bridge. Also, to our mild surprise, he was elected by our fellow Mormons in Utah and other areas of the Mormon Corridor, a vote he would never have gotten with the saints in the International Church, not with his track record of racist, sexist, and misogynous remarks, and surely not with his isolationist stand. Once again we realized that there really are two kinds of Mormon churches, the Domestic Church and the International Church, and that we live in different worlds, yet have to live together.
Usually the latter is no problem at all, but now a third issue surfaces: the MTC will sing at Trump’s inauguration. Not only did Utahans snuggle up to Trump, the MTC and by association, the whole church now is doing the same; after all, the choir is an ‘ambassador of the LDS church’. And that church is what we all are! So ‘we’ are all assisting to inaugurate Trump, that is a large lump to swallow! Trump is not ‘our’ president, just the present of the US – in our countries we have our own bunch of populists to hold off.
From his Domestic Mormon standpoint I can imagine why Jarrett accepted the invitation: the choir is honoring an office and a country, his wording is clear. Here a cultural divide shows over the Atlantic ocean. Americans honor the office, with the office holder sharing the positional charisma of his post. For instance in Europe we attribute little positional charisma, one has to earn the respect as office holder. Also, patriotism is a cherished American value, while many parts of the world still suffer the memories of wars fired by patriotism. Once at an MHA conference I cited Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel”, a quote that got an absolutely glacial reception of non-understanding. I can understand that, but the Church should rethink the relation between the Gospel and patriotism.
So the reasons for accepting the Trump invitation are part of Domestic culture, not the ones across the Atlantic. The drive towards the petition not to accept the invitation just was gathering steam, when the invitation already was accepted. In our ward many members signed up, while others fully agreed with the petition but did not want to rock the boat.
Well, I presume that drive now is water under the bridge, again. But what a wonderful gesture would it have been towards the International Church – which happens to be the majority, – to politely and gently refuse the invitation on the grounds of Christian values. What a wonderful signal that patriotism does not trump compassion, that the halls of power are less important than gospel principles. For us in the International Church it would have been a moment of pride, a wonderful Christmas present that would have opened many doors for missionaries, and a clear recognition that we are truly a global church, not an American one. Even some hesitation, a week respite for deliberation and discussion before accepting the invitation, would have been wonderful, but we were denied also that small present. Well, that is all water under the bridge now.