They say politics makes strange, er, bedfellows.
Well, here’s proof: The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will each -- and very much separately -- perform in Washington on Inauguration Day, January 20. And just as some Rockettes opted out of performing for President-elect Donald Trump’s celebrations, so, too, did one member of the “MoTab,” as the choir is informally known, decline.
Except the choir member, soprano Jan Chamberlin, did more than drop out of the Washington gig. She resigned from the choir itself, after five years in a much-sought-after position among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have exceptional musical abilities.
Chamberlin compared performing for the real estate mogul-turned-politician with someone “throwing roses [before] Hitler.” The choir’s acceptance of the invite filled her with conflicting emotions. Let’s drop in on how the Washington Post picked up the story:
Ever since “the announcement” -- as Chamberlin called it -- she has “spent several sleepless nights and days in turmoil and agony,” she wrote in a Facebook post that was no longer public by Friday evening. “I have reflected carefully on both sides of the issue, prayed a lot, talked with family and friends, and searched my soul. I’ve tried to tell myself that by not going to the inauguration, that I would be able to stay in Choir for all the other good reasons.”
Ultimately, though, Chamberlin decided that she could not stay in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Salt Lake City Tribune [sic] reported that Chamberlin, a singer in the famed group, is resigning after learning that the choir would appear at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.
“I simply cannot continue with the recent turn of events,” she wrote on Facebook. “I could never look myself in the mirror again with self respect.”
Chamberlin wrote that by “singing for this man” the choir would appear to be “endorsing” tyranny and fascism, and its image would be “severely damaged.” Moreover, she wrote, it would leave many feeling betrayed, as she already did.
But everybody knows that each and every member of the LDS Church is a rock-ribbed, right-leaning Republican. Right? Thus, Chamberlin’s departure from the MoTab ranks is startling, unique, upending even. It's "news," of a sort.
Well, just-retired Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, might bristle as being tagged a de facto GOPer just because he’s a Mormon. Chamberlin told the Tribune she's a registered independent.
The Post omits the partisan breakdown, but mentions that the choir has performed at inaugural events for presidents from both parties. Thus, there is something unique going on with the arrival of Trump.
Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in an email that participating in the choir is voluntary. …
“Response to the announcement has been mixed, with people expressing both opposition and support,” Hawkins said in the email. “The choir’s participation continues its long tradition of performing for U.S. presidents of both parties at inaugurations and in other settings, and is not an implied support of party affiliations or politics. It is a demonstration of our support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power.”
The religious questions arise easily here: The first, as mentioned, is the seemingly widespread impression that Mormons are all of one political persuasion.
Members of the LDS Church are hardly a monolith. I’ve known and worked with a number of church members during the past three years, and they’re of all sorts of political persuasions. Just like the rest of America.
Matthew Bowman, a Mormon, a historian and author of the 2012 study, “The Mormon People,” put it this way when we chatted via Facebook: "I think there's certainly a case to be made here that it's another illustration that Mormonism is more ideologically diverse and internally rambunctious than it is often depicted as being.”
A little of that context in the Post article might’ve given readers a better picture of Chamberlin’s actions.
Also missing -- from the Post and and just about every other media account -- is the Mormon doctrinal concept of “agency,” which the LDS Church teaches is the ability to choose between good and evil.
Journalists, please note: Chamberlin said that she believes performing at this inaugural was a “moral issue,” as the Tribune's redoubtable Peggy Fletcher Stack noted when she broke the news of the singer’s decision. What does that mean? Editors at the Post: Why not give this clear faith component at least a paragraph or two?
I believe there’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye, but the Post and the rest of the media missed an opportunity to better explain Chamberlin’s own “Mormon moment.” Believe it or not, this had something to do with faith, as well as politics.