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Choir's Performance At Trump Inauguration Divides Mormons

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President-elect Donald Trump's team reportedly has had trouble securing top performers for his inauguration. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is an exception. The booking has divided members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including choir members themselves. From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Nicole Nixon reports.

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: This will be the choir's sixth appearance at a presidential inauguration. It also performed for presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. and George W. Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR: (Singing) Glory, glory, hallelujah.

NIXON: Ronald Reagan was moved to tears by the choir's performance of "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" at his 1981 inaugural parade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR: (Singing) Glory, glory, hallelujah, his truth is marching on.

NIXON: Reagan called the group America's Choir, a nickname it's proudly used ever since. Standing outside the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Mormon and Utah resident Jason Wanlass says when he heard that the choir had been invited to perform at another presidential inauguration, he was excited.

JASON WANLASS: I don't see it as supporting Trump or not supporting Trump. I see it as supporting an American tradition, which is the presidential inauguration.

NIXON: That patriotic sentiment is shared by many Mormons. But Trump was not popular here throughout the campaign. In Utah's Republican primary, he came in third place after Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Trump ended up winning the general election in Utah. But with 46 percent of the vote, he was the lowest-performing Republican presidential nominee in the majority Mormon state in more than 20 years. Erika Munson calls the choir's performance at the inauguration a conflict of principles.

ERIKA MUNSON: Because on the one hand, you have unity and patriotism, but on the other hand, you have the value of love and care for every human being that Christ taught.

NIXON: Munson co-founded a pro-LGBT rights group called Mormons Building Bridges, and she does not want her church to be connected to Donald Trump because of the comments he's made about women, minority groups and immigrants. But Munson's family is an example of how much this performance is dividing Mormons. Her husband sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and will be performing at Trump's inauguration.

MUNSON: For him, he feels like it's his duty to support the Constitution and the inaugural process. And as a citizen, he thinks that's important. He didn't vote for Trump. He doesn't like Trump one bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC HAWKINS: It is a demonstration of our support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power.

NIXON: In a statement, LDS church spokesman Eric Hawkins acknowledged the mixed response among church members and reiterated that the church is politically neutral.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAWKINS: 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.

NIXON: That statement wasn't good enough for at least one choir member. Soprano Jan Chamberlin resigned from the group last week in protest, writing on her Facebook page that the performance would look like an endorsement of Trump and all the divisive rhetoric of the 2016 campaign. For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Salt Lake City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR SONG, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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