Although none of these assumptions can be taken for granted, let’s assume that Trump’s presidency will feature more or less what his campaign promised, that his term in office will be limited to
1260 1460 days, and that it will come to be widely derided as a disaster for the country. If we look back at the Church’s dealings with governments around the world during the last hundred years, we can see things in retrospect that the Church and its members should have avoided in the past that suggest things that we should avoid now.
Let’s be clear at the outset, though, that the Church can’t simply avoid all dealings with any government, especially the U.S. government. And it is naïve to think that anyone emerges from life under an oppressive government smelling like roses. The most effective resisters have often been deeply complicit in the system they are resisting. Refraining from joining a protest is not the same as complicity.
And yet there is the potential for active complicity that must be avoided, both for the sake of doing the right thing and for the sake of future generations in need of moral examples. Some of these are hills worth dying on.
Involvement in deportation. In retrospect, it is clear that the Church, like the United States in general, should have done more to welcome refugees in the 1930s and 1940s, even if that would have been an unpopular position during an isolationist time. Since then, welcoming refugees, speaking out for immigrants, and aiding minority religious communities has become one of the Church’s public faces. Official statements urging compassion and restraint should continue. Church members should avoid aiding mass deportations. Above all, members should not provide information about the immigration status of other members or neighbors. History has not been kind to informants.
War crimes. While the Church as an institution is not at risk, the actions of individual members may nevertheless bring the Church as a whole into discredit. A decade from now, few people will accept the excuse that you were merely following orders to take part in torture, the intentional targeting of civilians, or the pillaging of other nations. Church members should avoid planning or carrying out war crimes or anything like unto it.
Campus speeches. BYU: you cannot invite this man to speak or accept an offer from him. You cannot control the message of someone who cannot control himself. There are many other government officials to welcome to campus, but not this one. Sending the choir to sing “America the Beautiful” was perhaps merely a way to avoid a political spat, but it was also a reasonable attempt to preach the words “God mend thine every flaw, / Confirm thy soul in self-control, / Thy liberty in law” to someone who needs to hear them. Perhaps some people were touched by the choir in some positive way, and the cost was worth it. But a sober assessment of the choir’s performance would find, I think, that any intended message was lost in the din of an inauguration that rejected traditional rhetoric of inclusiveness and unity. The Church’s message will be drowned out if it provides a platform for this president.
Dividing against ourselves. I hate how this presidency dominates all news and all forms of media to the exclusion of most other topics. (And I resolve to pause from posting on political topics for a while, world events permitting.) I hate how it divides us into camps of supporters and bystanders and resisters and those who don’t resist enough and those who resist in the wrong way. Unless we find a way to maintain community despite him, the terrorists have won.
There are undoubtedly more things that I have overlooked, and some of my judgments are quite possibly wrong. Maybe there will be something that far outweighs the cost of letting this president speak on campus. I usually hope that Church leaders studiously ignore the opinions of Internet ranters, but if anyone wants to know where I would draw the line, this is what I would choose.