By Heather O.
I heard of The Book of Mormon musical while in New York, when I stumbled across it. And when I say that I stumbled across it, I mean that almost literally. My family and I were in line to get into ‘Chicago’, and we lined up for a picture. As I was smiling and saying “cheese”, I saw, across the street, a big bright picture of a Mormon missionary jumping for joy with a Book of Mormon in his hand, and the words, “The Book of Mormon!”. My jaw dropped, and I just pointed. This must have been right at the moment of debut, because my family turned as one to look at the spectacle, and not a one of us had ever heard of it. We couldn’t even talk about it much, because we knew so little about it.
That was in February. We know a little more, but I’ll admit to not paying much attention, so when I say, ‘a little more’, it means that I’ve heard that the story is about some missionaries who go to Africa who don’t know anything about Mormonism, so they start making stuff up. The stuff they make up is so compelling, that they end up converting Africans by the dozens, and everybody is happy. I also know that there is a song called “F*** you God”, or something like that, and that the language is unremittingly filthy. Or so I’ve heard.
I also know, in my capacity as the public affairs rep for my stake, that the Church has responded very, very carefully. They issued a short statement at the beginning of the hullabaloo, which simply re-states our belief in the sacredness and power of the Book of Mormon. They have also launched a campaign in New York City, with simple billboards with normal people on them with the words, “I am a Mormon” on them (again, so I’m told. I haven’t actually seen these billboards). I also read some article somewhere condemning the musical for picking on the only religion that wouldn’t fight back with a firestorm, and calling any Mormon who didn’t stand up and protest the mockery of their religion a coward.
Personally, I haven’t been much fussed about this. I haven’t seen the show, I don’t plan on it, and I don’t live in New York. I also don’t have very many friends involved in theater, and most of my friends are either Mormon, or other stay-at-home moms who don’t have the time to pop up to New York. All in all, it hasn’t affected me on a personal level very much. And I don’t feel like a coward for not protesting something that doesn’t play into my daily life, like, at all.
But then yesterday, I spent a wonderful morning at Busch Gardens with a friend who isn’t Mormon. She’s Jewish, and she’s always been respectful of my religious choices, although I’ll admit that religion doesn’t come up very much. Mostly we talk about our kids, our families, our husbands, preschools, normal friend/mommy stuff. But she asked me about the musical, and what I thought about it.
I’ll confess, I didn’t have a great answer for her.
To my surprise, she was mildly outraged on my behalf. She brought up the fact that there is possibly no other religion that could be made fun of like that without huge backlash, and said, “Can you imagine if it was ‘The Koran—a musical!’” I agreed with her that no other sacred book–the Koran, the Talmud, the Torah, The New Testament–could be as readily mocked as The Book of Mormon. It’s easy to mock Mormons. We are a safe target.
But I’d like to think that not responding with a firestorm speaks well of us as a church. That we have enough faith in our message to let it stand on its own, without having to defend it in the light of ridicule. I’d like to think that there are people, like my friend, who know and respect Mormons, and who, without really understanding all of the ins and outs of our doctrine, understand that mocking somebody’s religious convictions is in poor taste at best. I’d like to think that this musical is simply a distraction because there is nothing else new on Broadway except “Spiderman”, and hopefully the only reason people aren’t going to “Spiderman” is because it’s sold out. (We saw Spiderman on that same trip in February. Awe.some. Can’t express enough how much fun that show is.)
In the end, I’d like to think that this musical will have its day in the sun (which indeed it has–9 Tonys, or something?) and then fade and eventually look as outdated as white actors donning “blackface” in the, um, decade when they did that. That attitudes about Mormons are shifting enough that people will say, “Mocking Mormons? That’s like, sooo 2011. Let’s go see Spiderman!”
Because I’m betting that between the two, the story of nerd turned superhero has lots more staying power.
What do YOU think is the most productive way to respond to The Book of Mormon musical?
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