As I drove my youngest to a playdate in a nearby subdivision, I discovered one of my dearest friends retrieving her mail and stopped to talk. She had just returned from NYC, so I asked, jokingly, if she’d seen The Book of Mormon Musical.
“Are you kidding?” she said, “I’d never give them my money.”
I smiled and fought the urge to flip my CD player back on. I’d just been singing about Orlando, land of Sea World and Disney and Putt-putt golfing.
She scoffed. “Because.” I knew she didn’t know what else to say. “Its garbage.” Then she added, “Hey, we need to go to breakfast soon.”
The night before, I had said to my husband, “The only song directly about Mormons in this musical that bugs me is that ‘Turn It Off’ song. I don’t think that’s right to say Mormons have a ‘nifty little trick’ to keep us from dealing with the hard things in life.” Oh, the look he passed me before he started rattling off examples, mostly from his own mother’s life.
As I looked at my friend, who’d never seen the musical, heard the music, and had zero idea regarding the show’s plotline (many Mormons I’ve encountered think it is the re-telling of the story in the Book of Mormon), I’m pretty darn sure I literally heard the click in her head as she “turned it off.” The Book of Mormon Musical wasn’t worth her money, her time, her thought.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve no delusion that if she actually saw the musical or knew the storyline, she’d like it. She’d hate it. She despises all things profane, even if encased in sweet. I hold no criticism toward any Mormon for their stand against the production. For me, as the storyline moves toward the profane, it loses its clever edge, but I’m older than 12 and not a male. Someday, when community theaters everywhere are doing this show, I’ll have a chance to actually see a staging, but I’ll likely never get to see how Broadway presented it.
I do, however, have criticism for Mormons who are short-sighted enough to think this musical will form negative opinions about Mormons and, thereby, make it that much harder to teach the gospel.
Storytime: Mentally wend your way back to the late 1970’s, era of belled pants and ironed hair. There was a certain movie–The Godmakers–hopping from evangelical church to evangelical church. If you haven’t seen it, The Godmakers is unabashedly anti-Mormon in the most classic of senses, complete with mock temple rites and deliberate misquotation of LDS scripture. When my non-LDS parents received, and my mother accepted, an invitation to attend a showing at a friend’s church, I figured it was in my self-interest to attend with her, seeing as, at 17, I was the only Mormon in the house.
During the film, the audience gasped at all the right places, and, fortunately, my mother gasped at their gasping. Her anger was palpable because she recognized what was on the screen was ridiculous. So I wasn’t concerned about her. My focus instead was on the back of the room where I’d seen another teenager who, like me, had become a Mormon during high school. He hadn’t been at church lately and now I felt I knew why. I wanted to talk to him after the film ended, but the circumstances allowed nothing more than a “hi” as my livid mother pulled me out the door.
I admit I prayed for my friend all week–and, as it turned out, he was praying for me. I know this because, come Sunday, he was back in a pew at the LDS church. He told me that, yes, his faith had dimmed, until he sat in that showing of The Godmakers. He told me that when the film actually said something accurate about the LDS faith, he felt the classic burning in the bossom and his flame of faith was relit. He became a “re-activated” Latter-day Saint and soon served a mission. I went off to college and lost track of him, but the point is, truth can be buried in a mountain of bull $#!+, but its still truth.
Back to the Book of Mormon Musical. I’m a believing Latter-day Saint, one who doesn’t practice that nifty little Mormon trick of turning off, or turning away from, the unseemly aspects of life. As a Mormon artist, I understand tension and contention. But what I fail to understand is why so many Mormons reject this musical outright.
My prediction: The Book of Mormon Musical will win more converts to Mormonism than it will turn people from the Church. [Quote me Trey Parker and Matt Stone.] Or at least the hit Broadway show will seed conversions. Secularists will enter and leave the theater without a change of opinion. Religious people of all stripes will leave chuckling and a little discomfitted that any religion is dishonored; hence, I believe compassion for the LDS will grow. Compassion breeds tolerance; tolerance, acceptance. The positive message that Mormons are happy and want others to be happy (even if they are naive or deluded) will be what sticks. In other words, all publicity is good publicity.
So to all the Mormons who think this is one of the most disgraceful insults ever leveled at the Church, remember, remember, he who has ears to hear will hear. Furthermore, “all these things give thee experience and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:&). Maybe the lesson we should take from this is that Mormon artists ought to seek the humor in our culture and write our own musicals, daggumit. I’m still waiting for the day I see a big 40’s type production number of the moment Brigham Young learns about polygamy. In other words, I simply don’t see what the fuss is about. There’s no need to apply any nifty Mormon trick to The Book of Mormon Musical. Talk about the play with anyone who brings it up. Ask their reaction to it and breed a conversation instead of slamming negativity in their face. Make the creators of South Park proud: Be happy!
Now, if I were a Ugandan…