What Did Broadway’s Book of Mormon Get Wrong

Book of Mormon at Eugene O'neill Theatre

By anyone’s estimation, The Trey Parker and Matt Stone creation, The Book of Mormon, has morphed into a theatrical sensation. It has received heavy acclaim for its comedic take on the Mormon missionary experience. Those outside of the Mormon faith could be left wondering just how accurate this comedy is compared to the daily lives of those who actually live it.

A major area where several individuals have found flaws is in the inaccurate representations of LDS beliefs and practices. Writer Hal Boyd of Deseret News points out some minor errors such as “the specifics of how missionaries receive heir proselytizing assignment, LD mission rules, and nuances regarding Lamanites and Nephites in the actual Book of Mormon.” He also notes in his article more serious instances of representation in the musical production such as “misrepresenting Joseph Smith’s history, distorting Mormon epistemology and misconstruing the church’s teachings about the afterlife.” Boyd goes on to list several instances in the show where these flaws are evident. One example he gives is found in the song “All-American Prophet” where there is a failure to mention the signed testimonies of at least 11 people indicating that Smith had shown them the Golden Plates (accounts which are printed in every copy of The Book of Mormon).

Rosalynde Welch, a writer for St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a Mormon herself, also pointed out some uncomfortable mischaracterizations relating to Uganda’s portrayal after going to see the production. She wrote in her article, “I cringed from time to time, particularly at the portrayal of Ugandan society that reproduced ugly stereotypes about African violence and sexuality.” Boyd also commented on this area stating, “Uganda is depicted as an entirely rural place, where many people still practice female genital mutilation (which is actually illegal in Uganda) and no one has a cell phone or access to the outside world. (In reality, between one-third and one-half of Ugandans have cell phones.),” wrote beliefnet blogger Jana Reiss, who is also a Mormon.

Granted, it is worth noting that as a satirical play, some of the distortion is deliberate to induce laughter. Quora contributor Brett Williams emphasized the point that The Book of Mormon is a parody that is meant to capture the “feeling of being on a mission in a satirical, musical way” and that if people are looking for a more realistic portrayal of a mission experience, they should check out Heaven Up Here by John K. Williams. Welch also said along the same lines, ” Most of the inaccuracies I am content to let float away on the tide of infectious enthusiasm that closed the show.”

It is probably safe to say that most people who go to see The Book of Mormon, go into the theatre with a full understanding that the show’s goal isn’t about being 100 percent accurate. While some of the show’s mischaracterizations may prove to be less than flattering to some of the Mormon faith, many of the errors or exaggerations add to the comedic nature of the show. It is likely that without them, the production would not have become the humongous box office hit it is today.

Author: Diamond Grant