My two cents: “The Book of Mormon” musical


There has been a lot of talk, for and against, about Trey Parker and Matt Stone‘s Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon.” I’ll start off by saying that I haven’t seen it, so a lot of what I say about the musical is hearsay. That being said, I have a lot more to say about how it has been covered than the musical itself.

Yes, Parker and Stone’s musical is irreverent, offensive and disrespectful. The thing is, that is Parker and Stone’s shtick; it’s what they do. You’ve got to give it to them, the creators of South Park are equal opportunity insulters. Although they are disrespectful to Mormons, I don’t feel that they are any more or less disrespectful than they are to Muslims, Catholics, Africans, Hispanics, women, homosexuals, the disabled or anyone else in particular. You can’t expect much more from the inventors of Mr. Hankey.

But I don’t have the same low expectations for the supposedly objective news media reporting on the musical. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that some reviewers have done better than others. As a social democrat, I feel very odd supporting the Wall Street Journal, but I don’t feel that their review overstepped the bounds of the show’s context to comment on Mormonism itself. But Maureen Dowd of the New York Times uses her review of the show as a chance to make a personal commentary on some of my beliefs.

Her first affront to facts is that “Mormons can’t have caffeine.” I really get tired of explaining this one. I appreciate the person who, in the comments section, said, “The Coke Zero I purchased at a Mormon church-managed restaurant on Temple Square in Salt Lake City last month was missing a lot of things, but caffeine wasn’t one of them.” The Mormon doctrine on health is found primarily in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, section 89, one verse (9) of which reads, “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” Joseph Smith later clarified that by hot drinks God was referring to tea and coffee. Caffeine, though many members choose not to partake of it, is not expressly prohibited, only when it takes the form of tea and coffee. As an avid Dr. Pepper drinker, I occasionally have to explain to people the facts of this doctrine, and I think that Dowd’s comment will only add to the confusion.

Mormons from Liberia in front of the Accra, Ghana temple. From http://www.bsmarkham.com/mission/mission0305.html

Dowd said that “In 1978, beset by protests, the president of the Mormons announced that God had changed his mind about black people [being able to participate in temple ordinances or for black men to hold the priesthood].” I think that many modern Mormons would agree that we are somewhat embarrassed that, yes, that date is correct. As to why black people were ever barred from full participation in the Mormon faith, I have no idea, and I won’t try to apologize for that. Also, I don’t know if these are Parker and Stone’s words or Dowd’s, but either way, they demean the process of prophetic revelation that is unique to Mormonism. I am not entirely sure why 1978 was the year that this practice was changed, but I don’t believe that “God…changed his mind about black people.” I believe that, sometimes, God doesn’t give certain recommendations until you ask the right questions. My thought is that maybe no one until President Spencer W. Kimball had asked God if it was appropriate to extend full blessings to people of African descent. That in itself may be embarrassing, but the truth is, God is not in error and did not flip-flop on the issue, it was the imperfection of man that allowed this sort of discrimination to last in the church as long as it did, and that we have since amended this practice.

As far as Kolob goes, you can read everything that mentions Kolob in Abraham 3 (part of a book of Mormon scripture called the Pearl of Great Price), and if you can make sense of it, congratulations, you are a better Mormon than me. As far as I can understand, Kolob is a star this is near to where God lives. I don’t entirely understand why this matters, and it is not exactly a key doctrine to Mormonism.

Dowd’s paragraph, “The authoritarian Mormon church still does not have equal status for women, blacks and certainly not gays. It provided the majority of the funding for California’s Prop 8 against same-sex marriage,” is what prompted me to write this post. First of all, I don’t feel that “authoritarian” is a reasonable label for Mormonism. Yes, we have a whole lot of rules, but the specifics of those rules, and even whether they are to be followed, are entirely up to the individual. There are very few consequences that the church imposes on people, except in the case of what we view as particularly grievous sins, such as murder and sexual sin. Generally, punishment for sin is administered by God, not by the church. As far as equal status for women, I assume that this is in reference to the fact that women cannot hold the priesthood in the church. Though this is the case, there is an organization in the church (the Relief Society) which is entirely headed by women. Women hold significant positions in the church as teachers, leaders, and organizers. I wouldn’t call the role of women in the Mormon church less than that of men; I would just call it different. If you really want to know, ask my wife.

As far as equal status for black people, as I have covered above, we’ve had a checkered past, but I can’t think of anything in the modern church that doesn’t give people of African descent the same access as anyone else.

As for gays, Mormons don’t have a doctrine as to whether or not people can be born with an attraction to someone of the same sex (my personal belief is that they can); however, acting on those urges, whether natural or fabricated, is against the tenets of the faith. While this is generally seen as an arcane view, especially among my fellow liberals, like it or not, it is a standard of the church that has been reaffirmed by modern revelation. As far as Prop 8, I have often wondered why the church put so much effort into California legislation when they put so little into legislation in Massachusetts, Iowa, Arizona, Hawaii, or any other state that has voted on similar legislation. Although I think we are approaching the question from the entirely wrong angle (I agree with the authors of Nudge and think that marriage should be privatized), you have to understand that the prophet of the church does not direct members to act unless God directs him to, otherwise he will be removed from his office as according to Official Declaration 1. Because of this, while I would regularly disagree with legislation such as Prop 8, I believe that, for one reason or another, God has made a special case in California. I don’t know why California is so different from other states, but that’s all I can say.

I should note that the opinions expressed in this article are only my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the majority of the members thereof; they are my views based on my interpretation of Mormon doctrine.

Parker and Stone have every right to make their play, and as comedians and satirists, they are allowed a certain leeway with the truth and respect. Journalists, on the other hand, don’t have that leeway, and I hope in the future they will give a more equitable view of my beliefs.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

6 Responses to My two cents: “The Book of Mormon” musical

  1. Jettboy says:

    “My thought is that maybe no one until President Spencer W. Kimball had asked God if it was appropriate to extend full blessings to people of African descent.”

    This one would be wrong. It has been documented that Pres. David O. McKay asked in prayer that the ban would be lifted and his answer was that the time wasn’t right. Not sure if there was any before or after him until Kimball.

    “I don’t know why California is so different from other states, but that’s all I can say.:

    There are two reasons I can think of. The first is that, outside of Utah, California has the largest membership in the United States. Second is an almost provable proverb that what happens in California becomes the Law of the Land with major issues. There are those who say that in the end prop. 8 will be a losing proposition. However, what its passage did do is assure states rights to decide if precedence of the effects of California hold any validity.

  2. Heidi Van Woerkom says:

    Thanks for sharing Dave. Excellent perspective on all counts. I heard of the musical before it started and wondered how long it’s life on Broadway will be. After it’s opening I’ve heard several reviews that said it is irreverent and distasteful, but also very moving and sensitive. I wonder how both are possible and I guess I’ll have to read more reviews than just listen to hearsay.

    As Jettboy said, Pres. McKay did also pray about the question of extending temple blessings to all people regardless of race. I remember that from my youth. But I too don’t know if any other prophet did the same, though I would almost bet they did.

  3. StevieD says:

    “… it was the imperfection of man that allowed this sort of discrimination to last in the church as long as it did, and that we have since amended this practice.”

    So now you are blaming the church leaders and not God for this practice. If our Heavenly Father can’t direct his Prophet, then where does that leave the rest of the Church?

    Also, back in the 70’s just try even seeing the words “Coca-Cola” any where near a Church sanctioned event. Seems now that the mighty Atlanta corporation as invaded Utah, and Starbucks is making inroads as well.

  4. Steve Knickerbocket says:

    Generally speaking, I found your “two cents” an appropriate response, it is great to see and read a socially responsible, and sound view from a member of the Church. I hope going forward that the Prophet will start asking the right questions of God so that the Church policies regarding Women and Gays will come into alignment with his ultimate nature (my opinion).

  5. Pingback: church of jesus christ of latter day saints | your resource for images of Jesus

  6. Stella Fitzgibbons says:

    Oh, thank you for putting me onto a group that agrees with me on privatizing marriage! I thought I was the only person in the country who thinks that marriage is religious, social and private instead of something to be legislated.

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