Mormon PR leader: 'Why I won't be seeing the Book of Mormon musical'

Published: Friday, April 15 2011 10:50 a.m. MDT

For the longest time, the only "official" response from the LDS Church on the Broadway musical "Book of Mormon" was a concise, single-sentence statement.

"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," said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its website.

Some Latter-day Saints have attended the production — which previewed in late February and opened last month — and blogged with their personal perspectives. But no one "in authority," so to speak, has tackled the topic.

Until now.

Michael Otterson, managing director of the church's Public Affairs department, is a regular contributor/panelist to the Washington Post's "On Faith" forum on religious news and opinion. His "On Faith" post this week is titled "Why I won't be seeing the Book of Mormon musical."

Writes Otterson: "Of course, parody isn't reality, and it's the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously — if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion."

Noting that the creators claimed the musical is the result of seven years of writing and production, Otterson lists some of the LDS Church's efforts in Africa — the play parodies two Mormon missionaries' journey to that continent — during the past seven years. Thanks to LDS humanitarian initiatives in Africa, the results include:

Four million in 17 countries have gained access to clean water.

More than 34,000 physically handicapped children have received wheelchairs.

Millions of children in 22 countries have been vaccinated against measles and other killer diseases.

More than 126,000 individuals have had their sight restored or improved.

Some 52,000 trained in neonatal resuscitation to help struggling newborns breathe.

He also commented on the LDS Church's involvement in combating Africa's AIDS epidemic and responding to disasters throughout the continent, such as the Niger flooding.

Otterson lists three reasons why the Book of Mormon musical — complete with what most reviewers acknowledge as its over-the-top blasphemy and offensive language — isn't a catalyst for "a huge outcry from Mormons."

First, "in the great sweep of history, parodies and TV dramas are blips on the radar screen that come and go."

Second, in referencing both the New Testament apostle Paul and one of the LDS Church's own Articles of Faith, Mormons join Christians to "seek out the positive and virtuous things in life."

And third, it's a matter of following Christ's teaching to turn the other cheek.

"It takes strength of character to do this, but it's the Christian mandate," Otterson writes. "Sure, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pushes back when the record needs correcting or when legal rights need defending, but the world of popular entertainment is more likely to be met with a collective shrug than by placard-waving Mormon protesters."

EMAIL: taylor@desnews.com

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