There are a lot of people trying to convince Mormons the Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway is actually very nice to Mormons and very sweet. If you’ve read any reviews, you probably realized that is not true. Not only is it not nice to Mormons, it is also not nice to Mormon missionaries or religious missionaries of any religion. What’s more, it’s not very nice to young people.
Mormon missionaries are usually 19-21 years old. By treating them as stupid and incompetent, it leaves the idea that young adults aren’t mature enough to do anything important, to be smart, or to make a contribution in the world.
In the musical, two young missionaries are sent to Uganda, in Africa, to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, they learn their training is no help when they face the poverty and hardships there. One of them doesn’t even really know anything about his religion, so he just makes up things, using Star Wars and Lord of the Rings mythology as if it were the Book of Mormon teachings.
Now, here’s where they show they don’t know how to do their homework. Mormons probably have the best youth education program around. Studies show Mormon teens can intelligently discuss their religion better than kids from any other religion. If you’ve ever gone to church with a Mormon friend, you can probably guess why that is. Not only do they attend a basic worship service aimed mostly at adults, so it isn’t watered down into feel-good religious teachings, but they also speak in those meetings. Anyone twelve and older can be asked to give a sermon, which Mormons call talks. You see, Mormons are a lay church. That means everyone is a volunteer. Since the bishop (like a lay pastor) has a family and a regular non-church job, he doesn’t give a sermon every week. Instead, two adults give talks, and the teenagers also speak once a year or more. If there are enough teens, there are teen speakers every week. If not, they are assigned periodically throughout the year.
Giving a talk means the teens have to study the assigned topic in order to write their own talk. In addition, they are often asked to teach their youth classes, which requires a lot of study and preparation.
Then there are the classes. Every Sunday, teens attend the basic worship service, a Sunday School class that focuses on the scriptures in a four year rotation (two years are spent on the Bible, one on the Book of Mormon, and one on Church History and the Doctrine and Covenants) and one Young Men or Young Women class. This last class is often more focused on practical application of Christian living.
Every weekday morning during the school year, Mormon teens study the gospel in an academic-style religion class, usually held very early in the morning before school. In addition, they have a weeknight activity where they put gospel principles into actual practice. For instance, if they learned about service on Sunday, they might do a service project on Wednesday. If they learned to dress modestly on Sunday, Wednesday might be devoted to learning how to sew modest skirts. Then there are weekend activities, youth conferences, and spiritual camps.
If that isn’t enough, each family teaches the gospel on Monday nights to their own families, with family members taking turns doing the teaching. They have a daily scripture study as a family and regular prayers.
Once they finish high school they attend the academic-style seminary, where they study the gospel in great depth most days. These are often held on or near college campuses.
Before leaving on a mission, a young man or woman must be interviewed and shown to know his religion and to be living it. He attends training before he goes.
Does it seem likely to you a Mormon nineteen-year-old is going to get to Africa not knowing the difference between the Book of Mormon or Bible and Star Wars? Just a few minutes of homework would have told the creators of the show that they were on the wrong track. Very few religions put their children, teens, and young adults through such rigorous training. Not only do they have to have read their scriptures all the way through multiple times, but they spend more time studying and practicing their religion than do most people.
Mormons trust their young adults with the very important work of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even a three-year-old can be asked to give a talk to other children and by the time they are in college, they are considered mature and responsible enough to do the most important work there is–testifying of Jesus to the world. The creators of the musical seem to think young adults are only silly kids who can’t do important work properly, can’t know what they believe, and can’t be trusted to share Christ’s gospel. Othewise, they wouldn’t have portrayed them as people who know nothing. Whether you’re Mormon or not, if you’re a teenager or young adult, you should be offended by this attitude.
The musical gets a whole lot more wrong than just the missionaries or even the Mormons. Next article we’ll talk about how they get Christianity wrong in general.