Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

LDS Church responds to the Book of Mormon musical in Cincinnati

the_book_of_mormon_musical1-284x300The Book of Mormon musical is coming to Cincinnati, where I live. (And no, I wasn’t able to get tickets for dates we’ll be in town, but I saw it three years ago in NYC when it was still in previews, and it was great fun. You can read my 2011 review on Beliefnet, or the follow-up interview I conducted with the show’s lyricist, Bobby Lopez, most recently of Frozen fame.)

I’m proud of the way my church is handling the extra attention that the show has brought Mormons in the tri-state. It would be easy to adopt a defensive posture, to hunker down and grumpily criticize this good-hearted but foul-mouthed piece of theater.

Area Mormons are not doing that. We are making lemonade, as the old adage goes. Here are some things that are happening this month in Cincy:

  • The Church has taken out full-page ads in the show’s Playbill. I haven’t seen this ad in particular, but if it is similar to the ones used in other cities where the production has toured, it will emphasize that “the book is always better,” and that people seeing the show should consider actually reading the text of the Book of Mormon. I think this is a classy approach.
  • On Friday of this week, the Cincinnati Public Library will host an interfaith lecture by Daniel Peterson, professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU, in conjunction with an  exhibit on the library’s holdings in ancient manuscripts. The exhibit includes an early 16th-century Jain manuscript and an 1835 copy of the LDS Doctrine & Covenants. (Note: the Cincinnati library also owns a first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon — yes, seriously! — but it is not on display in this exhibit.) The two lectures, which celebrate the importance of sacred texts in all the world’s religions, are at 1:00 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, January 17, in the Main Library’s Huenfeld Tower Room. I’ll be there.
  • Librarians will lead short guided tours of the exhibit at 12:30, 2:00, and 4:00.
  • Later — at 7 p.m. on Friday evening — Dr. Peterson will speak at an LDS Church fireside in Montgomery (8250 Cornell Road, Montgomery, OH 45249). Unlike the interfaith event at the library in the afternoon, this fireside is specifically about the Mormon faith and is for church members and their friends who are interested in Mormonism.
  • The Church’s area public affairs people have been encouraging the missionaries serving in our city to share their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. (What is missionary life really like, and how does it compare to the way the show depicts it? What do Mormons believe? Etc.) So the Cincinnati Enquirer did a feature story on one such missionary, James Kimball from American Fork, Utah. I was actually a couple of paragraphs into the story before I said, “Oh my gosh! This kid is the son of my friends Tom and Page!”

(Yes, it’s a small Mormon world, even in a church with fifteen million people.)

This month “Elder Kimball” is dealing with one of the coldest winters on record in our area and some of the saddest stories of the human condition. I think the Enquirer article really gets to the heart of some of the challenge of missionary work:

The missionaries in Greater Cincinnati have seen military veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome. Heroin addicts. Young and overwhelmed parents. People so alone there are no other taps on their door.

“We’re dealing with lots of people, real-life problems,” Kimball says. “We seek out the darkest spots in the Cincinnati area and try to help them see the light.”

Well said, Elder Page.


About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • The LDS Church has had a fruitful relationship with Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Mormons have been featured prominently and positively in various works by them (if not in a reverential or tasteful manner).

    Attacking them would produce bad publicity. Parker and Stone have produced works which are ultimately positive to the LDS, but have cultural credibility since its not their religious beliefs. Audiences tend to turn off when Christians blatantly promote their beliefs in popular culture]

  • From the article: “ will emphasize that “the book is always better,”…”

    The musical isn’t really about the book, you know — more about the books legacy.

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