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LDS Church is smart to reach out to 'Book of Mormon' musical audiences, priest says

Published: Thursday, May 16 2013 2:25 p.m. MDT

Morong on her baptism day, Dec. 31, 2011, with Elder Boardman and Elder Ahlstrom. (Liza Morong) Morong on her baptism day, Dec. 31, 2011, with Elder Boardman and Elder Ahlstrom. (Liza Morong)

Watching two Mormon missionaries passing out free copies of the Book of Mormon to playgoers outside a theater in which “The Book of Mormon” musical was being performed piqued Danielle Tumminio’s curiosity and led her to believe “that maybe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was doing something really smart in cultivating relationships with people who saw the musical.”

“Yes, the musical might make fun of Mormons,” Tumminio wrote recently in her Huffington Post blog. “Yes, the musical has a message that Mormons probably shouldn’t embrace if they want to remain true to their tradition. But that doesn’t preclude it from being a vehicle that God uses to speak into people’s lives.”

Tumminio is an Episcopal priest and the author of “God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom.” She said she was intrigued when she saw the missionaries at work outside the theater when she went to see "The Book of Mormon."

Sister Jenna Davis and Richard Marcus while he was investigating the LDS Church.  (Jenna Davis) Sister Jenna Davis and Richard Marcus while he was investigating the LDS Church. (Jenna Davis)

“I was curious about why they chose this place to market their religion, given that the folks who purchased tickets were walking into a show written by ‘South Park’ creators that involves a liberal dose of cursing and reference to sexual body parts,” Tumminio wrote.

When she spoke to the two missionaries, Elder Fenn and Elder Chapman, they confessed that they were originally hesitant to proselyte outside the theater.

“We were actually really reticent about it,” Elder Chapman told Tumminio.

“When I heard about some of the songs that were in it, it did make me a little uncomfortable,” Elder Chapman continued. “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.”

The missionaries needn’t have worried. According to Tumminio, “they handed out 40 copies — an entire box — of the Book of Mormon in under an hour.”

“One girl ran up to them to get her picture taken once she realized that the missionaries were real Mormons and not actors,” Tumminio wrote. “Later a member of the cast named Kevin Mambo tweeted a photo of the three of them taken by a security guard. The missionaries forwarded it to their families.”

In addition to talking to the missionaries, Tumminio also spoke to Liza Morong, one of two people — the other being Californian Richard Marcus — whose recently reported conversions to Mormonism were launched, or at least positively impacted, by attending a production of “The Book of Mormon.”

“I asked Liza if she thought she would have become a Mormon if she’d never set foot inside that Broadway theater,” Tumminio wrote. “I thought it would take her awhile to answer, but she responded quickly, confidently, saying, ‘I believe that if the Lord wanted me to find the gospel, I would have found it eventually.

“ ‘I’m really happy that it happened the way it did,’ ” Morong continued, “ ‘because it goes to show you how well he knows me as a musical theater major. He’d be like, ‘I got her!’ ”

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