Google the musical, The Book of Mormon, and you'll almost certainly find people using the words “irreverent”, “crass”, and “ridiculously funny” to describe it. It's a show that uses wit and humor to explore faith and in particular, the Mormon faith.
As a musical geek who's listened to the soundtrack for the better part of a year, I was excited to see the Chicago production of it. I knew enough about the show to leave my sensibilities at the door. Having done that, I was not at all surprised that I laughed from the moment the curtain opened until it fell at the end of the last scene.
I was, however, surprised when I opened my Playbill and found a series of advertisements from the LDS church for the actual Book of Mormon, two of which are featured below:
Since The Book of Mormon took Broadway by storm in 2011, I've heard various responses from people of faith to it. While some have enjoyed it, others have been outraged by it's depiction of faith, vulgar language, and sexual references.
As a result of these reactions, even though I had not actually heard anything about the response of the LDS to the musical, I assumed they weren't happy with it. What's more, I mistakingly assumed they had responded to it the same way Christians so often respond to that which angers or offends them: By publicly speaking out against it and then calling on people to boycott it. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead of this, I saw a church seize the moment and evangelize, attempting to reach those in the audience with the real message of their faith.
The more I've considered this, the more I've found myself thinking about the National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal study led by Christian Smith. Among other things, this study concluded that Mormons top the charts in “religious devotion, in overall well-being, in integration of faith and life.” According to Smith, “when belief and social outcomes are measured, Mormon kids tend to be on top.”
In her book, Almost Christian
, Kenda Creasy Dean explores this finding in a chapter entitled, “Mormon Envy”. In it, Dean describes how
- LDS teens are “less likely to drink, smoke, and engage in risky behavior”
- LDS teens have a “more religiously articulated home life culture than evangelical families”
- Mormon teens tend to be the “spiritual athletes of their generation, conditioning for an eternal goal with an intensity that requires sacrifice, discipline, and energy”
- The “premiere rite of passage into Mormon adulthood is missionary service, encouraged for all Mormon males before they finish college” (Indeed, it is this rite of passage that serves as the basis for the musical, The Book of Mormon).
- Mormonism is “not an activity they choose nor a church they attend. It's literally a way of life that affects every choice they make.”
In other words, the LDS church demands more of their teens than many denominations do. Yet, rather than fall short, Mormon teens tend to reach and surpass the high expectations that are set for them.
In light of these findings, the appearance of the ads for the LDS church in The Book of Mormon Playbill seems less surprising. It seems instead it's simply one of many examples of how Mormons use “the tools of the surrounding culture” to further their cause and faith (Almost Christian, 46).
That's something that as a youth worker, I sit in awe of, especially knowing how reluctant people in my own denomination (as well as many others) often are to share their faith with others.
Perhaps, then, we would do well to learn from the Mormons about how to respond to that which bothers us by fearlessly seizing any and all opportunities to share our faith with others – no matter how absurd those opportunities may at first appear to be.