Twenty years ago when I was in the mission field, the Lamanite Generation came to town. It was a big deal at the time, and the powers that be were determined to make the most of this missionary opportunity. So the missionaries received stacks of flyers and were commanded to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth with them. For several weeks, our first contacting efforts centered around passing out these flyers to unwary pedestrians downtown. When the day of the concert arrived, we were also roped into singing “I am a Child of God” in the local language in a bid to ensure that the universal message of God’s love in the universal language of music didn’t get lost in translation.
It was a harrowing moment, but (un)fortunately there wasn’t much of a crowd. There were a few USA fans in the audience–like the guy who put longhorns on his aging Chevy Beauville and drove it around town–who thought the dancing Indians were pretty cool, though in the overall scheme of things, the concert had about as much an effect as a ripple in a pond’s surface. But not for lack of trying. We worked that event for all it was worth, and then some; desperate times called for desperate measures.
In the meantime, I’ve moved back to the mission field. Last January, the stake president announced that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be coming to Europe for the first time in ages. And so it began–six months of working that event for all it was worth, and then some.
You see, when it comes to the Church in Europe, the times are still desperate. There are plenty of reasons why, but one challenge facing Mormons in Europe is that they lack the street cred Mormons enjoy in certain circles in the US as reliable allies of certain causes, economically successful and loyal citizens of the realm. But the Mormon Tabernacle Choir–well, people have heard of that! And even if Europeans hate religion, they are all about culture, so what better way to engage them than with a relatively well-known, generally well-regarded and “unique music organization [that] transcends cultural and generational boundaries and brings together people from around the world through stirring music” that is “is dedicated to the universal language of music that has the power to bring joy, peace, and healing to its listeners”?
The local Church newsroom gave the event lots of coverage (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) and the stake and ward announced it for weeks on end and really, really pushed the missionary angle. And it was a resounding success. At least it sold out in a city that knows a thing or two about music. How many concert-goers weren’t already members will never be known, but dignitaries were invited–and came!–and the concert received positive coverage in the national news. All that’s not nothing in a country where Mormons are mistaken for Jehovah’s Witness as often as they are for the Amish.
Overall, as far as I could tell with my finger to the wind, anyway, it was a worthy outreach effort that I felt a Mormon in Europe could be proud of, and it was an event that lived up to the Choir’s–and Church’s–mission to be an ambassador to the world of the good news.
And so I must confess that I was disappointed when I heard today’s announcement: “Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Sing at US Presidential Inauguration.” You know, the inauguration of the guy who, echoing a famous Mormon teaching, doubled down on his scandalous views on religious freedom just yesterday: “You know my plans all along.” You know, the inauguration of the guy who builds casinos and boasts about groping women.
What business do Mormons have in legitimizing this man’s presidency, when even godless Hollywood types are steering clear of this rattlesnake? His is no message with the power to bring joy, peace, and healing to its listeners. He will transcend no boundaries but will build them higher. This is the Choir that ought to continue building bridges, not shoring up the bulwarks of xenophobia, racism and intolerance. Outreach is hard enough without staining yourself with the very appearance of evil; if we want our choirs to be effective ambassadors in sharing the good news with the world, we must choose well. Let’s not risk losing the message of the gospel in translation. Please, MoTab, don’t sell your birthright for this mess of pottage.
 Topped only by the flyer we passed out that featured “notable Mormon personalities,” with the only European that I recall being Dieter F. Uchtdorf who was even then a minor Mormon celebrity for being an important Lufthansa guy. Not that any German would have known him, but the drowning take the straws they are dealt.