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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Donald Trump: What can we learn?

A guest post by Michael E. Nielsen

When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced that it would participate in the inauguration ceremony of Donald Trump, some Mormons were eager to see their choir sing at the ceremony, while others reacted in horror.

Although LDS Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins indicated that the church did this to support “freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power,” at least one member of the choir publicly announced she would no longer sing with the group.  She saw the participation as a moral issue, and endorsement of Trump. She is not alone, as tens of thousands Mormons signed a petition that urged the choir to stay home. Of course, it did sing, and the issue is in the past.

Still, do you wonder, like me, at how people reach such different understandings? Reactions to the choir's performance are informative. It is more than simply a question of politics, and sore losers. People in good faith sometimes reach very different decisions.

The-Righteous-Mind-Cover1Research shows that in making moral judgments, people use six different frameworks to guide their judgments (Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind):

  • Harm & suffering
  • Fairness & justice
  • Authority
  • Liberty
  • Loyalty
  • Sanctity

Haidt describes these as forming the basis for people’s judgments about moral issues but points out that people differ in how they balance these six aspects.

All in good faith, this leads us to very different decisions regarding moral issues. This is one important part of what's happening in people's reactions to the choir's singing at the inauguration.

Another factor is group membership. People who are within the group (US Mormons) and who rely on the moral dimensions of loyalty and authority, see things consistently with the way that their church does. The choir’s participation supports groups they are part of, and upholds cherished moral values.

More common are LDS Church members who emphasize justice and fairness. From this perspective, the choir is participating in the inauguration of this president just as it has done when it was invited by other presidents. It is not a question of loyalty to political party or to church affiliation, but a matter of supporting the electoral process, just as Hawkins describes.

But not everyone sees it this way. People who are not members of the group (U.S. residents who are not LDS) and who draw on other dimensions of morality, reach a different conclusion. To them, the conflict between religion’s professed values against harm and suffering collide against Trump’s statements regarding women, racial minorities, and certain religious groups. Given Mormons’ reputation for voting Republican, it is easy for people to conclude that the choir’s participation represents something of an endorsement.

There are other groups, of course. U.S. Mormons whose morality relies more heavily on issues of harm and suffering are left feeling at odds with their church on this matter. From their perspective, the values they uphold most strongly are fundamentally inconsistent with Trump’s rhetoric. The sensible, but regrettable, conclusion for them is that the choir’s participation is motivated by something other than morality.

That’s also true for many Mormons outside the U.S. The online posts I've read from such people are mixed, but the great majority suggest that if the church is a worldwide church, participating in a US government function makes it seem more parochial than international. Instead, they are more likely to perceive it as either inconsistent with church ideals, or with the morality that they espouse as individuals.

From these perspectives we reach very different outcomes in terms of whether the choir's participation was a missionary opportunity, an endorsement, or an act in conflict with LDS morality. People in the LDS Church whose moral frameworks rely on justice and fairness, or on loyalty and authority, are more likely to conclude that the choir’s performance supports the office of the president, and that it is a missionary opportunity. Those who don’t see it so favorably include Non-Mormons, Mormons who live in other countries, and Mormons who emphasize harm and suffering over other moral frameworks.

People in good faith reach different conclusions about the morality of one another because humans are not clones and morality is multifaceted, not monolithic. We come to questions of right and wrong with different understandings.

What to do about it? Seek out someone you know and talk to them, face-to-face, listening to what they are saying and trying to understand their perspective. Listen to their hopes and fears. Describe yours, too. Deliberately and carefully extend your conversations outside of your echo chambers, and increase your understanding of other people. Break away from your internet bubble. Opening hearts and minds is hard work, but these in-person conversations are worth it.


Michael E. Nielsen

Michael E. Nielsen

Mike Nielsen is a social psychologist who has served as president of the the Mormon Social Science Association and the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.



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  1. “U.S. Mormons whose morality relies more heavily on issues of harm and suffering are left feeling at odds with their church on this matter.”

    I’ve never heard the Choir sing so I honestly don’t know: are they really that bad?? Does their singing cause harm and suffering??

    If not, I don’t get how participation would offend those two moral alignments.

  2. ” at least one member of the choir publicly announced she would no longer sing with the group. She saw the participation as a moral issue, and endorsement of Trump. She is not alone, as tens of thousands Mormons signed a petition that urged the choir to stay home.” So, where were these same people when Christians were forced, or sued because they would not endorse a homosexual ceremony where they thought they were getting married? They must agree that forcing someone to endorse immorality is wrong. So let’s get supporting these bakers, florists and photographers. (edited)

  3. It seems to me that you would have achieved a more balanced presentation of the way people responded to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s decision to sing at Trump’s inauguration if you had mentioned Cristi Ford Brazao, an African-American choir member who chose to perform partly because of the healing power of singing. Her video is very thoughtful and well worth listening to. Personally, as a Never Trump voter, I worry that our society has become way too polarized if performing at an inauguration is viewed as an endorsement. Nobody complained that Hillary Clinton was endorsing Trump when she showed up at the inauguration. She was simply trying to support American democracy. By firing up Trump supporters, those who publicly turned down a request to perform may have actually been the ones who provided the strongest endorsement (support) to Trump on inauguration day.

  4. Growing up Mormon and growing away from Mormonism as an adult, I watched the inauguration with a degree of resigned dread. I was mostly pleased that the Donald did not talk too long or too much about himself. Seeing powerful Democrats there gave me some comfort in someone else sharing my sense of resigned awfulness. When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang, I mostly ignored them and watched the screen. Their presence was a net zero to me, neither a positive nor a negative. Mormonism is now just a slightly less dreadful form of wrong-headed fundamentalist “Christianity,” akin to all the other hateful Bible-thumpers in America that put President Trump in office. They had better be happy with their pick.

  5. they shouldnt have played and will regret it for decades. Dont worry, people like me will never ever ever forget that when the church was handed a moral challenge practically gift wrapped given every possible way to show the planet that they actually care about non-mormons.,…..they blew it.

    Fairness and other drivel matter not. What matters are the facts.

    A. the majority of mormons voted for him
    B. He won Utah
    C. he has admitted to committing multiple acts of sexual assault
    D. he has called for a ban of muslims from entering the US and for a registry
    E. The choir has not performed at an inauguration for a democratic president in 54 years.

    These are the facts. The only possible interpretation of these facts is that they endorsed him. Nothing else.

  6. > if performing at an inauguration is viewed as an endorsement.

    it is one. Has been forever.

    >She was simply trying to support American democracy

    you mean like when she refused to honor the results if they didnt go her way, or when the russians backed her via email hacking and fake news, or when it came out that they had blackmail on her, or when she was in office she made up fake claims of 5 million invalid ballots?

    >She was simply trying to support American democracy.

    become a poll worker. Its simple. You dont support our democracy by endorsing Russia’s candidate.

  7. SPEAKING of Fake News…

    Take it from me, a computer scientist who actually READ the report released by the government: The idea that Russia “hacked” anything election related IS FAKE NEWS.

    Everything but one half of one page is just “Russian media expressed their opinions on things!!” and the remaining thing is about the DNC leaks.

    The DNC leaks was not an act of hacking. Seriously, for the amount you non-computer people sling around that word you all have NO CLUE what it even means. No hacking occurred. Stop using the word. It is the fake news you are railing against!!

    And as for the DNC leaks, the FBI, CIA, and NSA is only willing to attribute a 70% chance that the guy behind the leaks was Russian by nationality. Russian nationality, of course, doesn’t even guarantee connections to Russian intelligence, but even assuming it does, the WHOLE extent of Russia’s involvement boils down to Russian media and politicians saying things about foreign politics (and if you have a problem with that, you’re a hypocrite, American politics and media does this ALL THE TIME, and yet no one says America “hacked” Brexit), and the mere POSSIBILITY that they were behind one leaking operation. A leaking operation that, according to the FBI, CIA, and NSA, has only a 70% chance of being tied to Russian people at all, and which was (again, according to the released paper) 100% accurate.

    Cut the Fake News. Russia hacked nothing. Russia ~may~ have leaked something, but that’s ~far~ from certain. Seriously, what’s with this stupid Neo-Red Scare??

  8. >Take it from me, a computer scientist who actually READ the report
    released by the government: The idea that Russia “hacked” anything
    election related IS FAKE NEWS

    Computer scientist? Right. So tell me I am dealing with a nasty polynomial series with power term of 100 what should I use to speed it up? Assume a fetch time = 2 with a multiplication time = .5 . Also, what is the big-o of your idea? Also, assume 1 is prime what important property does this break with prime factorization? Lastly, when does bubble sort actually make sense?

  9. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing at Donald Trump’s inauguration is no more an endorsement of Donald Trump, than the fact that he asked them to sing, is his endorsement of the Mormon church!

  10. Russia’s candidate? Ha Ha Ha I suppose you would have been happier with World War III Hillary? Miss the Cold War? Apparently, because she would bring it back with a vengeance. Who is surrounding who with a military alliance and being threatening? Would you feel threatened if Russia brought tanks and moved them across the Rio Grande? NATO expands right up to the Russian heartland and you expect them not to feel threatened?

    As for elections, the US has interfered in more elections then the Russians have. Even assassinated a few when they wouldn’t leave when we told them. And we are going to act all righteous to Russia. What a joke!

  11. Question: What religion are 99.9% of the terrorists? So let’s let them all in, when we have no way to vet whether they are terrorism-inclined or not? Tell you what, we’ll send them all to your neighborhood. How’s that?

  12. So if you think email leaks is “hacking” then, son, you don’t know what anything you just said means.

    “So tell me I am dealing with a nasty polynomial series with power term of 100 what should I use to speed it up?”

    Just get a better programmer. You probably did something wrong. I assume COMPETENCE will speed up the execution tremendously.

    Because seriously son!! Leaking emails IS NOT HACKING and if you know HALF of what you just said YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT.

    What, you want me to do a bunch of math you don’t understand to amuse you or something?? What’s the point when you can’t verify it??

    “Lastly, when does bubble sort actually make sense?”

    Whenever it works in a way that doesn’t cause too much processing time for the user.

    Be honest, you just googled and copied some CompSci homework from somewhere, didn’t you?? It’d be expected since all your questions are just about optimization and speed.

    Finally HERE Mr. Supposedly Knows What He’s Talking About. Here’s the report!! Go read it!!

    If you can tell me what is actually hacking outlined in this document, I’ll go through the effort of answering your stupid answers.

    You idiots think anything that involves computers and is scary is “hacking”. ~Idiots~. You freaking used the term “email hacking”. Son, unless you’re talking about actually modifying the functionality of Microsoft Outlook, there ISN’T ANY SUCH THING as “email hacking”. AGAIN you people think ANYTHING SCARY involving computers is “hacking”. Leaking?? Sure. Phishing?? Maybe, the government’s not clear. But hacking?? If you know HALF of what you purport to know you should be as sick of the overuse of that term as I am.

  13. >Be honest, you just googled and copied some CompSci homework from somewhere, didn’t you?

    Not really. Electrical Engineering, minor in computer science. Read thru volume 1 of knuth’s book and part of volumes 2,3,4a. Design embedded software and work with single-board computers for a living.

    You said you are a computer scientist these are some basic questions a computer scientist should be able to answer. You are a computer scientist, right? When you have a chance could you tell me how you would find the determinate of a matrix with error bars in an arbitrary amount of terms. Would you use successful approximation or something else? An actual problem I am dealing with at work right now.

  14. >What religion are 99.9% of the terrorists?

    When it is a christian who does the deed we dont call it terrorism. We call it a mass shooting.

    >So let’s let them all in, when we have no way to vet whether they are terrorism-inclined or not?

    I am not sure what logical fallacy this is. Either Bifurcation or Strawman. Maybe both.

    >? Tell you what, we’ll send them all to your neighborhood. How’s that?

    We have plenty of immigrants in the NYC area as it stands.

    Anyway, your anti-islamic bigotry aside it is irrelevant. The point is the mormon faith strictly forbids religious persecution. A principal they have violated by endorsing Trump. It is amazing how fast they went from being oppressed to becoming the bullies. Much faster then the catholic church did.

  15. ….ok way to ignore everything I write and concentrate on the one thing you feel like you an argue with. It is quite riveting really. Like watching someone play solitaire.

    In any case all your arguments, such as they are, wont change what they did. You cant justify bad behavior with worse behavior

  16. > it is one. Has been forever.

    History would disagree. As one example, Jessye Norman sang at inaugurations for Reagan and Clinton. It’s highly unlikely she was trying to endorse Reagan.

    > you mean like when she refused to honor the results if they didnt go her way

    Since there were more choices than Clinton and Trump, I didn’t vote for Clinton either. However, I am still willing to admit she did the decent thing by attending the inauguration. She also did the decent thing by sending home her supporters late on election night (technically Wednesday early AM) and then calling Trump to concede.

  17. >It’s highly unlikely she was trying to endorse Reagan.

    are you claiming this was a normal election? Who cares anyway? Reagan was a lot less controversial. Bit like comparing Tylenol to opium.

  18. So does that mean that all the Democrats that attended the inauguration have endorsed Trump?

  19. And yet you don’t know what the word “hacking” means. Give me a break.

    Again, if you are what you claim. Explain for me where in that document is ANYTHING that constitutes “hacking” by the actual definition of that term. Put forth the effort to do that and I’ll put forth the effort to do your homework.

    There’s ~nothing~ in there. If you are what you claim you’re either knowingly spreading ignorance about “hacking” and all the absurd media scares that come with that term, or you refuse to read the document YOURSELF but demand I jump through a bunch of hoops to prove my profession.

    As for me, I’ve EXPLAINED what’s in there. I’ve explained that the leaks, as described, are not “hacking”. I’ve described there’s no such thing as “email hacking” as you mean it. Running twitter accounts is not hacking. Media opinions isn’t hacking. And leaking is not hacking. If you have the credentials you claim: then what in that document is hacking?? It should be an easy question, as the definition of hacking isn’t all that complex as the things your copy-pasting to try to show off some sort of intellect.

    “determinate of a matrix”

    Do you mean determinaNT?? Yeah you’re not what you claim.

  20. … says the man who ignores the question of “where is any proof of hacking” to demand people do arbitrary homework for him.

    Again, where’s the proof of “hacking” in the released documents?? Don’t get mad at people ignoring your points while you ignore other people’s.

  21. shouldnt you be busy doing “computer science” somewhere?

    Pro-tip: next time you falsely represent yourself do your homework first, son.

  22. >Do you mean determinaNT?? Yeah you’re not what you claim.

    yes, a small spelling mistake, Mr. “Computer Scientist”. My question stands, btw.

  23. yes, it is an endorsement. Here, I will make you a simple guide:

    Are you singing for someone during a party where they celebrate an accomplishment?
    If YES—-> endorsing them
    IF NO —> not endorsing them

  24. It would if those Democrats never attended a Democratic President’s inauguration.

  25. Clever! What if someone is PAYING them to perform?! I’m guessing that all the entertainers performing for Donald Trump’s inauguration were paid, had their expenses paid or at least were offered pay. Those Mormons don’t do anything for free!

  26. if they are paying you just add this step:

    Do you really need the money?

    if yes: not endorsing, just prostitution.
    if no: endorsing.

  27. Emotions aren’t valid arguments and are the reason many are not taken seriously in political discourse.

    Trump is a New York, American School of Economics, Christian, businessman with a Jewish family that came from a happy upbringing.

    That’s about as anti-Hitler when you realize that was a failed half Jewish Austrian painter and community organizer and came from an unhappy upbringing.

    The rising tension is from a large group of disenfranchised young men that have lost hope in finding a loyal wife, a good job, a safe home, and some good kids.

    I am not one of them but as an economist and a Mormon, this is a cycle that has always existed.

    Unless women drop militant feminism and its belief in female superiority, their promiscuity, their support of violent immigrants and thugs, and look forward to motherhood, you will see the Daughters of Zion scripture played out in our lifetime.

  28. Bill in the White House had secret affairs with many women and you supported Bill ! Wow. And Hillary blamed the women for the secret affairs and did everything to degrade them in public. Can you imagine if Hillary were president, and Bill back in the White House alone when she is in all those meetings, he would . . . . . And Would he follow her on trips throughout the world as the First Lady “Man”. How embarrassing as she would need to watch him, and they would need to help each other up the stairs in front of millions. And she would need her afternoon naps. So much more . . .

  29. Have you read the news? And you think this is better? Plus, you sound like a complete misogynist. It is not the Women’s fault. Trump is destroying America as we speak. The wall? LOL. Have you read the news? Try MSNB, ABC.

  30. The first inauguration the choir ever performed at was that of Lyndon B. Johnson. Since then they’ve only performed at Republican inaugurations (Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes and of course Trump), but I suspect that’s because those are the only ones that asked them.

  31. Good Point. The Choir endorsed the Event, and the President endorsed the Choir.
    Nothing more

  32. >An inauguration isn’t the celebration of an accomplishment, it’s a ceremonial event

    Like a wedding or graduation?

    >the public witness of a peaceful and democratic transfer of authority.

    If you want to be a poll watcher or a poll worker I would be happy to encourage you.

    >your attempt to alter its meaning suggests you either don’t understand it or you are looking for means to confirm your own bias.

    My attempt? Nearly every other professional performer and 10,000s of petition signing Mormons did interpret it that way. An interpretation that they knew would happen.

  33. >Like a ceremony that has been going on for generations, and has to do
    with the US, not the candidate. It has always been that way.

    it has always been about the candidate. Why havent they played for a democrat in 54 years? A wedding is for the couple, a graduation for the students, and an inauguration is for the candidate.

    >which we should lament

    yes, it is lamentable that a candidate won by dividing us against latinos and muslims.

    >It’s not surprising they sang at this one, nor is it surprising that
    they continue to interpret a performance the way it always has been

    the fact that 61% of mormons voted for him having nothing to do with this?

    >and it’s not wrong either.

    hypocritical and wrong

  34. > then why do all the living ex-presidents and their spouses attend

    To endorse the new candidate.

    >How about the Clintons? The vast majority of congress?

    The clintons because they have class, and you have to say majority because so many democrats refused to endorse him this year.

    >It has always been a nonpartisan event.

    Like a high school graduation is an event that has nothing to do with the students?

    >The evidence is against your assessment that it’s about the candidate.

    The evidence is in favor. Who gets invited and who comes is political, since it is is a political event.

    >That so many Mormons voted for them appears to be irrelevant given that
    they perform at every inauguration in which they’re asked to perform and
    do so because of the event’s history of political neutrality

    yes nod nod wink wink, say no more.

    By the way, the new Mormon best friend just banned muslims from entering the US. You must be so proud.

  35. not all showed up, many did not such as Booker.

    Do you still stand by your argument?

  36. personal attack aside, you have to respond to my comment in order for it to show up as a notification.

    Best of luck to you.

  37. Simple…rasism is a problem in the lds church….it has been and still is….specially in Utah

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