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So… I can’t stop thinking about the Book of Mormon Musical (As you know, you can leave the church, but you can never quite leave it alone. Hehe).

To get a flavor of the songs, you can hear the first musical number of the play here. It’s fairly tame.  In fact it’s so tame that this particular song could be sung in the MTC (Missionary Training Center).

Or watch Jon Stewart interview the playwrights Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Is the play good to Mormons or not?  Is it good FOR Mormonism? Is it blasphemy or respect? Is it an anti-Mormon’s wet dream?

It’s human nature to care about what others think of you. On one level you want your image to be accurate.  On another level you don’t; you actually hope you are perceived better than what is actually true.

This is true in every sort of relationship.  Early on you put you best image forward only to relax in stages once you are accepted and appreciated at every level of the learning process. Organizations and religions are no different.  That the Mormon church prefers to portray itself in the best possible light is no crime. Mormons like to answer the dilemma of the glossy outer image contrasted with the messy truth with “Milk before meat!”

What I found hard to swallow in my own Mormon experience was that the meat was never, ever provided.  It had to be hunted down. But Mormon meat hunting is highly discouraged.  Once found, the meat is then denied, called superfluous and irrelevant.  In my opinion, one shouldn’t have to go looking beyond lesson manuals, General Conference talks and scriptures to find the truth.  But explore more you must.

Part of the milk that the Mormon young feed upon is the self-congratulatory idea that Mormons are highly admired and envied for their unwavering faith and dogged compliance to the rules and behavior of Mormonism.

Growing up, I heard countless faith-promoting stories that emphasized this. As the stories go, there is always a faithful Mormon out in the world who encounters temptations or a unique challenge. After much prayer, scripture reading and obedience the stock Mormon path is followed.   This might mean drinking milk at a cocktail party, getting temple married when no family can attend, refusing party invitations on Sunday, not playing with their sport team on Sunday, rejecting a date before the age of 16, refusing a marriage proposal by a non-Mormon, etc…

The end result is that the others “in the world” admire the Mormon for such strong faith and “sticking to what they believe in.” Mormons tell themselves this story regarding how others perceive them over and over again in a variety of ways.

I found reality to be quite different. The truth is that people are polite by nature. I certainly don’t tell my born-again Christian neighbors that I think they’re nuts. If they do something odd I might even say, “Good for you for doing what you say you believe in.” But in the end, I do think they’re nuts.

Here’s how it went down for me. Once I disclosed my doubts or post-Mormon status I invariably encountered a reaction along the lines of, “Congratulations!  Welcome to the real world!” I ran into colleagues at work who I’d had no clue were ex-Mormons.  Others told me stories of their bizarre encounters with Mormons.  In the end there seemed to be this collective exhale of breathe from many around me.  Like they didn’t have to hold in their true feelings of Mormonism anymore. And beyond that, most other people don’t think about Mormonism at all.  I just found a lot of apathy.

So, rather than be concerned regarding the tone or image that the Book of Mormon musical offers Mormons, I think they should be pleased that they are a topic of discussion at all.  When I was a freshman at NYU in the early 80’s not one of my classmates knew anything at all about Mormonism.  NOTHING. It wasn’t a blip on their radar at all. I had known there were folks in communist countries who hadn’t heard of the gospel, but these were my fellow Americans!

And I am not from Utah.

Having grown up in Southern CA I knew a bit about “the world” but everyone on my radar screen at least knew ABOUT Mormons. Not so, with my East Coast classmates. And how little they cared was an eye-opener too. It’s strange that I had that experience, and having lived in Brazil, Japan and other large US cities and still it wasn’t until I left the Mormon church myself that I realized the full extent of other side of the story.  Most people really just don’t ever think of or about Mormonism.  It’s lumped together with other odd American religions such as Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

So, I say Mormons should be celebrating the attention.  There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Suggestions for Family Home Evening

Family Project 1:  Attend the Book of Mormon musical on Broadway as a family.  Pay close attention to the laughter.  What does that tell you about what the audience members think about Mormons? What are they laughing at?  Is it because they don’t understand or is it because they DO understand a bit too well? Can you laugh at yourself?

Family Project 2: Plan an experiment for the following week!  Each family member will pretend to be doubting or losing faith in Mormonism.  Select one or two non-Mormon acquaintances each for whom you will act out your role. Your target has to be someone you know well enough to join you in this conversation, but not someone who knows you well enough to know you must just be pretending.

What do they say about Mormonism when they feel safe to express their true feelings?

To make this work you must not even hint that you aren’t sincerely doubting Mormonism. So, come up with a valid reason or two.

Hint: Pretending to be offended, wanting to “sin” or just being lazy won’t fly in the real world.  Only active Mormons believe that those are reasons real people leave.  No, you have to establish a fake identity.  Study up on the Book of Abraham, Kinderhook Plates, Polyandry, Book of Mormon DNA, or read the Journal of Discourses to prepare with a sincere heart.

Tell your target non-Mormon that you are thinking of leaving the church and why.  Wait for their reaction….

Remember you’re not lying.  You are just playing a role, like any actor on TV or in a movie. Follow the George Constanza method of pretending, “It’s not a lie if you really believe it.” So go do your homework, get out there and live your role for just one week!

Return and report.