The Book of Mormon has garnered a wide variety of reactions from members of its namesake faith since its Broadway debut. Some Mormons have been very taken aback by the production written by South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which features more than its fair share of cursing, references to sexual body parts, and viewed through certain eyes seems to be a mockery of the faith. Other Mormon faithful are very lighthearted and open-minded about the musical’s take on their religion and have seen it as a productive way to get a conversation started about Mormonism with the general public.
It should be noted that the Church of Jesus Christ does not formally support the musical, however it also does not boycott it and other religious themed entertainment events like it. Rather members are cautioned to use dignity, decorum, and sound judgment. Perhaps it seems obvious that some members of the faith would consider a musical, containing bad language and a mockery of the Mormon religion, to be a less than appropriate production.
Huffington Post contributor Danielle Tumminio noted a conversation with Mormon missionary Elder Jacob Chapman who shared his first response to the musical. “When I heard about some of the songs that were in it, it did make me a little uncomfortable … It says foul language, and it seems like it has some stuff that makes pretty blatant fun of what we believe, and so that hurts a little bit,” shared Chapman.
Greg Shroud shared his concerns regarding the show with Jenny Kleeman of Vice.com saying, “I’m familiar with it. I think anything that makes fun of sacred ideals is questionable. There are certain parts of the world where, if you make fun of their religious beliefs, it would be chaos. But we’re not that way, of course!” In response to a question regarding any publicity being good publicity Shroud said, “At a certain level I sort of believe that, but I wish there was a little more respect. It’s mocking and making fun of things we don’t think are there to be made fun of. We don’t think it’s wise or appropriate.”
Yet it may be true that all things get better with time. Initially, the institutional Church’s response to The Book of Mormon was: “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.” Now, it seems as though the Church may be more open and receptive to using the musical as a chance to educate others about their faith.
The Church has placed advertisements in the show’s playbill, has used billboards, has placed ads on public transportation, and has advertised in Times Square. The Church has even released a web based series entitled “I’m a Mormon” featuring members of the faith that can be viewed on their official website or on YouTube.
Other members of the faith seem to have grown in their support of the production as time has gone on as well. Music entrepreneur Sherry Vina, management intern Tyler Aitken, and Elder Steven Bennion (a high ranking official in the Church) shared their positive sentiments with Vice.com. Vina stated, “It’s a good thing for the community and Utah in general. People will understand that we’re not such a strange culture. We’ll appear to be a little more normal.” Aitken shared, “I’m not upset by it and I’m not in any way, shape or form against it. If it brings exposure to the religion, to the area, to the culture, that’s fine with me.” Elder Bennion said, “People will become more aware that we’re a Christian church, that we’re not a cult and that we don’t force our views on anyone, but that we’re happy to share them with those who are interested.”
If there is one thing that The Book of Mormon is, it is controversial. The bold, verbally aggressive, and sometimes raunchy musical has drawn attention to Mormonism in a way that many people probably were not expecting. However, many seem to have embraced the production as a way to get people at least mildly interested in the faith. Though some parts of the musical are looked down upon, many people realize that the light-hearted take on Mormonism makes people more open to the faith and humanizes it in a way that it has not been before. Thus, as a whole members of the Mormon community have learned to take the joke and use it as a segue to help people understand and even join the faith.
Author: Diamond Grant