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Broadway musical misses the point

By Michael Otterson

Published: Sunday, May 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

None of this includes responses to multiple disasters, like the flooding in Niger, where the Church provided clothing, quits and hygiene items to 20,000 people in six inundated regions of the country.

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.

A couple of weeks ago a review about the musical appeared at the New York Times from a Jewish writer who simply listed himself as Levi. "As someone of Jewish faith," he began, "I take personal offense at this show….I cannot believe that New York, MY New York, where I was born and raised, would ever do such a thing. Shame on you, New York Times, shame on Broadway, and shame on all of us who stand idly by and do nothing while the faith of others is mocked. Religious and cultural Jews need not support such bigotry."

Levi's point was echoed by some reviewers, but by surprisingly few. So why hasn't there been a huge outcry from Mormons?

In my opinion, three reasons. The first is that in the great scheme of things, what Broadway does with "The Book of Mormon" musical is irrelevant to most of us. In the great sweep of history, parodies and TV dramas are blips on the radar screen that come and go. Popular culture will be whatever it will be.

The second reason is related. Jesus's apostle Paul put it rather well when he said that Christians seek out the positive and virtuous things in life. His New Testament phraseology was adapted in the early years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this formal Article of Faith:

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

Finally, if we Mormons really do follow Jesus Christ in our lives and look to him as an example, then it's hard for us to ignore the injunction to turn the other cheek. There were times, to be sure, when Jesus roundly criticized others, but it was almost always for hardened hypocrisy. He dismissed the criticism he received personally and told his followers: "Do good to them who despitefully use you and persecute you."

It takes strength of character to do this, but it's the Christian mandate. 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.

Meanwhile, what of those thousands of remarkable and selfless Mormon missionaries who opted to pay their own expenses during the past seven years to serve in Africa while their peers were focused on careers or getting on with life? They have returned home, bringing with them a connection with the African people that will last a lifetime. Many will keep up their Swahili language or their Igbo dialect. They will keep in their bedrooms the flags of the nations where they served. They will look up every time they hear Africa mentioned on the evening news. Their associations with the people whose lives they touched will become lifetime friendships. And in a hundred ways they will become unofficial ambassadors for the nations they served.

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