The Book of Mormon Musical is coming to Nashville. Since I live in Nashville, make my living directing plays, mostly musicals, and since I am a Mormon*, I've had several people ask me what I think about this.
It goes a bit deeper than this for me because I currently have children out serving two-year stints as missionaries, and I have dear friends who also have children out--and dear friends who are themselves working as missionaries.
I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I really like the way the Church has responded to this. I think it's fair to say that the musical is not terribly flattering to Mormons and what they believe. But the Church hasn't called for boycotts or made threats or tried to shut things down, gone after the sponsors, etc. In fact, the Church bought an add in the playbill (the photo above). Well played, in my opinion. I'm a bit tired of the constant outrage in which our society seems to live these days, so I find this refreshing.
At any rate, here's my take. To me, The Book of Mormon is a sacred book. We read and believe in the Bible, but the The Book of Mormon (BOM, hereafter) is an additional book of scripture. It tells the story of a group of people who left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and travelled to the New World. Like the Bible, it records prophecies and religious teachings. The culminating part of the book is when a resurrected Jesus appears to the believers in this part of the world, who have long been expecting him.
I love this because the message is that God is a personal God. He knows and loves his children everywhere, and that he actively and regularly intervenes in the lives of those who love and seek to follow him.
I love the idea that he knows everyone, that he speaks to all nations through their own prophets, and that his dealings with humanity wasn't limited to one region of the world.
I love that the account of Christ's visit shows him personally healing and caring for and loving a huge multitude. One by one, he heals and blesses them.
I could go on and on, but if the Bible is peanut butter, the BOM is chocolate. Or ice cream and hot fudge. You get the idea.
I do wonder a bit at the drive to make fun of something that people hold sacred. I've never quite understood that. But, I'm an absolutist about the First Amendment and free speech. The same freedom that allows me to worship according to my beliefs gives others the freedom to poke fun of them. You can't have one without the other. I had a high school teacher who drummed into me the idea that, "I may not like what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I really believe that.
As a musical theatre lover, I do feel a bit wistful that Jews got Fiddler on the Roof and Catholics got The Sound of Music while Mormons got this musical. Those first two respect the religious traditions instead of poking fun at them**. As someone who loves musicals, I think it would be cool to have an iconic show that treated Mormon faith and culture serious. But, that's life, and some Mormon needs to write one.
Finally, I'm concerned about our culture. I think it is coarse and getting coarser, and I don't think that's a good thing. So all the profanity in this show concerns me on those grounds.
For those reasons, I won't personally be going to see it. But I don't begrudge those who do go see it. So, go see the musical--but let me know if you want a copy of the book. And let's talk.
*The official name of the Church is: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Mormon" is a nickname and most of us have sort of embraced it. It's a lot shorter than saying, "A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint."
** I understand that there are other satirical musicals about these faiths. My point is that there are no warm-fuzzy analog to those plays for Mormons.
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