“I love Mormonism. It’s so young and American!” That’s how the writers of the new hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, explained to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show as to why they decided to write a musical about Mormonism when they are, well, not Mormon. I should make two things clear before we proceed any further with this post. First, when I say “new hit Broadway musical,” that’s an understatement. Critics are gushing and it just won 9 Tony Awards—including best musical. Second, the writers, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are the crude humorists behind the Comedy Central cartoon, South Park. With that bit of background you may be able to guess why the musical is hugely popular with some, while others aren’t so enthusiastic.
Now, back to Mormonism being “so young and American.” When I first heard this, I thought, Really? American? The short-sleeved, black tie, tag-team missionaries that show up at our door steps almost seem foreign. But what I would call foreign, the writers call goofy. “Just from an outsider,” said Stone, “[Mormonism] is goofy. But to an outsider to any religion, any religion looks goofy. We don’t think Mormonism is any goofier than Hinduism or Buddhism.”
For Stone and Parker, Mormonism isn’t American like apple pie, baseball, or shopping malls. No, Mormonism is American religion—or goofy American religion. In other words, everything goofy in American religion is, more or less, represented in Mormonism.
But there is a more serious side to this satire. The plot involves two young Mormon missionaries being sent off to Africa. When they are faced with the AIDS epidemic, hunger, corrupt government, drought, and millions upon millions of orphans, they find that their Mormon (or, shall we say, goofy American religious) toolbox doesn’t carry any real solutions. Parker and Stone’s point, then, is this: the solutions to the world’s real problems aren’t found in religion.
Well, we can’t really give them points for originality, but it’s understandable why it’s so popular.
As Christians, we could come back at the writers of The Book of Mormon and give some sort of evidence for the reasonable concern of the eternal destination of a person’s soul, while also maintaining the importance of caring for their present needs. But there are so many assumptions to overcome that Parker and Stone have about religion and my word limit, now, is in view.
The better use of my space may be to use this as an occasion to step back for a moment and consider the news we have to offer the world. If we are biblical Christians, in order to distinguish ourselves from Mormons, we’ll have to confess that our gospel is for the nations, every tongue and tribe. It’s a gospel that treats all men equal. We’re all dead in Adam. We all need a Savior.
And our Lord promised that the poor will always be with us. So, yes, we should labor to relieve suffering in the world, but we shouldn’t pretend to have the immediate cure. And those who are laboring for its cure are laboring for wages that are stored in a bag full of holes. However, we can offer the hope of a coming age where there will be no more AIDS, no more death, no more famine, and no more tears through faith in Christ. This gospel has the power to content a Christian for his passage, whether he is struggling to pay the mortgage or having to bury his children. Unlike the false hope of a secular utopia, our hope is coming soon—bright and full.
So we shouldn’t thumb our noses at Matt Stone and Trey Parker. We may even use our program to cover our faces as we grin. But as we leave the production, which will sing its chorus in Manhattan for only a few more weeks, we know that our hope is eternal and we should make every effort to spread the news.