Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Inauguration

The church has accepted an invitation to sing at Donald Trump's inauguration. The church has a long standing policy of singing at the inauguration of any president that offers an invitiation. There has been 10 inauguration performances since their very first invitation from Howard Taft. The presidents that have offered invites include, Taft, LBJ, Nixon,  Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. However, many critical of the move feel that Trump's rhetoric and arguably racist policy proposals should have led the church to reject the invitation as a sign of disapproval of the incoming president despite a nearly century old policy of accepting all invitations. Such an arbitrary snub would be a mistake, and there are many reasons why.

Political bans for charities and the LDS church - Policies are like bricks in a wall: As a charitable organization, the church is strictly banned from being involved in political activity for or in behalf of any candidate or either political party. However, the church may be involved in political activity in regards to public policy proposals and issues. There is a clear dividing line. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints follows this mandate and they have policies to make sure lines are not crossed and they do not take risks in regards to their charitable status. Policies build a wall against legal challenges that keep the church safe from scrutiny and from losing their ability to function as a charity in the US. If policies are followed, the wall is strong and legal challenges against their charitable status are thrown out as being without merit. If policies are followed and ignored arbitrarily, the wall is weakened and legal challenges may begin to look like they have merit.

For example, during the course of the presidential campaign and other immigration debates in the past, the church openly condemned Trump's anti-Muslim proposals and they have condemned harsh immigration proposals that pursued merciless deportation of aliens without consideration of the damage that such harsh proposals can inflict on families. These political statements are within the parameters of the law and the policies of the church. However, the church annually disclaims political affiliation to its members and to the public and they avoid the appear of endorsing candidates to the best of their ability.

The church regularly faces accusations of political violations because of their involvement in anti-gay marriage campaigns. As a whole these accusations have been rejected by Federal courts as meritless and frivolous for one main reason. The church consistently applies policies of engaging in public policy debates that involve issues that are important to the church, and avoiding the appearance of being involved in political activities for or against candidates or political parties.

Arbitrarily saying no to Donald Trump's invite would arguably be making a political statement. Since he is a candidate, this would also arguably be in violation of the political ban in IRC 501(c)(3). Given the evangelical right wing's embrace of Trump and their everlasting disdain for Mormons, I would venture to bet that there would be a lawsuit (one with merit) if the decision to arbitrarily rescind their agreement to sing at Trump's inauguration was to happen. The once strong brick wall of consistent policy adherence begins to erode and the church would risk more scrutiny on this issue and possibly even risk their charitable status.

I have heard the argument that the church needs to say "they don't like Trump, but they are only singing to keep right with the law". This would still be a statement that violates the church's neutrality policy, and arguably violates the statute. 

Making friends and influencing people (and more importantly influencing policy: Donald Trump is not an ideal president. The man has character flaws that shine as bright as the sun. I wish there was someone else being inaugurated next month with all of my heart. However, he will be the president. There is nothing short of a military coup that can keep him from being inaugurated. 

Those that suggest the church should squander an opportunity to build a positive relationship with the man that (unfortunately) will run public policy in the US and (arguably) the free world are ignoring the political price of such a petty snub. 

Presidents have traditionally asked for the input of religious leaders on policy proposals that can have an effect on families, cultures, and religious groups. The church has built up a reasonable amount of clout in the US as one of the largest centralized Christian churches in the world. 

Of the many publicly discernible character flaws of Donald Trump, his tendency to engage in petty feuds is one of the most visible. He has been known to engage in petty feuds with anyone who criticizes him for decades. His past enemies include celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell and Alec Baldwin, and politicians like Mitt Romney, Marc Rubio, and Utahn Evan McMullin. McMullin ran a barely noticeable independent presidential campaign that was heavily critical of Trump, and McMullin still draws Trump's pettiness to this day (he recently called McMullin, McMuffin at a "thank you" rally).  

Given the fact that Trump will be making major policy changes, I would rather that the LDS Church be one of the religious groups that this buffoon turns to when making decisions like whether or not to go ahead with Muslim registries or deport 12 million individuals.

If the church engages in petty snubs with Trump, we can all guarantee that they will receive petty snubs in return.

Not to mention the fact that pettiness flies in the face of church doctrine. From LDS scripture D&C 121:43, "reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy".  The church has already reproved this world leader and engaging in a petty snub would lead to being esteemed an enemy - not a wise squandering of political capital.

One of the biggest problem in US politics, is that we have become far to willing to be swayed by passions and act rashly in anger and less willing to consider issues dispassionately with reason and wisdom. Assuming the Russian hacking allegations are correct, this is exactly the flaw in the American people that the Russians played upon to help get Trump elected.  I believe my church leaders are being wise by being guided by and in following long standing policies and church doctrines rather than the angers and passions of short-sighted members and the public.