The media has spent a lot of time on the Book of Mormon Musical, a Broadway production people either love or hate. The reviews have often demonstrated the biases of the reviewers. One rejoiced that the musical showed that religion believes in a lot of silly things (not just Mormonism, but all religion). Another suggested the message was that blind faith is a sin, with his unspoken message being that religious faith is always blind. A Jewish writer argued that Jewish people, with their great knowledge of the dangers of religious persecution, should speak out loudly against the musical. Other writers have noted that the musical attacks all religions, even though it focused on only one. Some have noticed it is an inherently vicious portrayal of Africans, mocking their poverty and suffering.
The official statement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a single sentence:“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” (Church Statement Regarding The Book of Mormon Musical, 07 February 2011).
Michael Otterson, the managing director of the Mormon’s Public Affairs Department, wrote a less official personal response to the musical for the Washington Post. There he explained he would not be seeing the Book of Mormon Musical. “But I’m not buying what I’m reading in the reviews. Specifically, I’m not willing to spend $200 for a ticket to be sold the idea that religion moves along oblivious to real-world problems in a kind of blissful naiveté.” The Mormon Church’s official statement along with other LDS news and events can be found at the LDS Newsroom.
Brother Otterson took an interesting approach to the topic. He learned it took seven years to create the musical that made fun of African suffering. He wondered what the Mormons were doing in those seven years. Were they ignorant of real-world problems and suffering? He quickly learned Mormons weren’t making fun of Africans during those seven years. They were working diligently to resolve some of the hardships the musical mocks. In Africa, Mormons were bringing clean water to four million Africans who had never had it, providing wheelchairs for 34,000 children, vaccinating millions of children, training 52,000 Africans to resuscitate newborns, and providing emergency supplies to 20,000 people in flooded Niger. In the long run, who had the most important impact on the world in those seven years?
The world has protested the desecration of sacred Muslim texts, as they should, but the same outcry has not really been present for the desecration of sacred Mormon texts through crude language and portrayals in the musical. Mormons have a great respect for sacred things—our own and the sacred things of others.
A Mormon instructor once explained how Mormons could show respect for people of other faiths. He wrote:
“We can treat things that are sacred to them with respect. The yarmulka of an orthodox Jew, the crucifix or rosary of a Catholic, the icon of a Greek Orthodox, the shrines and temples and sacred places of other faiths—we can treat all these things with the tolerance of heart we desire people to have for our way of life. This does not mean that we need to adopt their religious practices: but it does mean that we should not treat lightly these things or their use of them. “
He also suggested, “We must never ridicule another person’s manner of worship. Many of our practices may seem strange to him, too! Though we may disagree with another person’s form of worship, we ought not to make light of it or criticize him for it. For these things represent other people’s sincere efforts to worship God, and though we may make every reasonable effort to give them a fuller understanding in the appropriate setting, these methods of worship are still the outgrowth of the individual’s sincere faith.” (See Gerald E. Jones, “Respect for Other People’s Beliefs,” Ensign, Oct 1977, 69.)
There are some who have suggested Mormons need to see the musical in order to evaluate it. Most people study reviews prior to deciding how to spend their money and reviews make it clear Mormons who practice strict obedience to the commandments and the teachings of the prophets will be unwilling to see the musical. This is not just because of its attacks on Mormons, religion, and Africans, but also because the language and content are labeled vulgar even by those who liked it.
Mormon teenagers are given a pamphlet that outlines the moral standards a good Mormon will follow. It has been made clear these standards are not just for teens—they are for everyone. Concerning media and entertainment choices, Mormons are taught:
“Whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you. Therefore, choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices. It will allow you to enjoy yourself without losing the Spirit of the Lord.
While much entertainment is good, some of it can lead you away from righteous living. Offensive material is often found in web sites, concerts, movies, music, videocassettes, DVDs, books, magazines, pictures, and other media. Satan uses such entertainment to deceive you by making what is wrong and evil look normal and exciting. It can mislead you into thinking that everyone is doing things that are wrong.
Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable,” (“Entertainment and the Media,” For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God, (2001).
From this and other statements, it is easy to discern why good Latter-day Saints simply cannot attend a musical in which “vulgar” is the one word every reviewer uses to describe the script. Mormons subscribe to what are called the Articles of Faith, a statement of thirteen basic beliefs. The last one ends with the following sentence: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Conversely, then, Mormons avoid anything that is not virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.