Monday, February 7, 2011

LDS Church Issues Statement On The Book Of Mormon Broadway Musical, Sees It As A Missionary Opportunity

On February 7th, 2011, the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints issued a short official statement on the Book of Mormon musical being produced by the same people who did South Park, and it looks like they see it more as a prospective missionary opportunity rather than a celebration of heresy.

"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".

The LDS Church also referred readers to an LDS Newsroom article entitled "The Publicity Dilemma", originally posted in March 2009. The most noteworthy aspect of that article is that the LDS Church as an institution does not believe in boycotting such venues:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution does not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences for the series. As Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Robert D. Hales of the Council of the Twelve Apostles have both said recently, when expressing themselves in the public arena, Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness.

The official musical website does not give much information regarding the plot or storyline. However, on September 11th, 2010, the Salt Lake Tribune gave a sneak preview. The play presents the story of two eager, naive, and personality-mismatched LDS men who are called to serve missions in a most unlikely area -- Uganda. Buzzfocus writes that the story involves two Mormons who are getting ready for their first Mission. Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is the clean-cut Mormon, with a heavy-handed tint of arrogance. He’s paired up with Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad, Californication), a kind of slovenly Star Wars-quoting nerd you’d expect in a Revenge of the Nerds flick, and sent to Uganda, Africa to spread the Book of Mormon. With that premise, there'll be a lot of stereotyping for humor that can easily offend.

BroadwayCritic is a bit more critical. They write "I think it’s a major gamble. There’s not one person in the show that’s marquee-worthy and they never had an out-of-town tryout. I heard that the October workshop of this show was an absolute disaster, so I hope they are pulling it together. They are definitely promoting the hell out of it, so it will be around for awhile — plus you have all of those South Park fans".

A number of faithful Mormons expressed their intent to see the play. John Dehlin believes the Mormon musical could be good for the faith, including the notion that the Utah-based church is important enough to mock. “How can they call us a cult once we’re headlining 52nd Street? The Jews got ‘Fiddler.’ The Catholics got ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Doubt.’ It’s our time to shine,” Dehlin said. “Start spreading the news ... Mormons meet Manhattan.” Media coverage of this story also provided by the Deseret News and KTVX Channel 4. Also discussed on Wikipedia.

Previews begin at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on February 24th, 2011 and the play contains explicit language. The official opening night is March 24th. Because it's satirical and contains explicit language, some LDS members might wonder whether or not it would be considered "anti-Mormon literature" for the sake of a worthiness interview. It's common for bishops and stake presidents to ask members whether or not they view "anti-Mormon material" during a worthiness interview. But since this play is not clearly malicious or abusive towards Mormonism, I would not consider it anti-Mormon. Thus, a Mormon who sees it could truthfully answer No if asked if he watched "anti-Mormon material".

Besides, this play is likely to trigger curiosity and questions about Mormonism -- which create missionary opportunities. Every member a missionary!

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