Now that South Park bad boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone have announced plans for a Broadway production titled The Book of Mormon, congregants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are bracing themselves for some savage jokes about polygamous prophets, complicated underwear, annoying missionaries and an angel named Moroni. After all, when have folks from Colorado ever passed up a chance to make fun of Utah and all it stands for?
Still, some people who've studied the Parker-Stone oeuvre suspect they may be less bigoted (and dismissive) of Mormon doctrine and ways than their fans might expect. In fact, they've tended to deal with LDS types in a relatively sympathetic light.
All the more reason, then, for the unenlightened to get a crash course in Mormonism before the play opens, the better to sort out fact from satire. And we've found just the right guide for the occasion.
Say hello to The Mormon Story: A Pictorial Account of Mormonism by Rulon S. Howells. The ninth edition, published in 1962, can be found most days languishing in the stacks of the Denver Public Library. This handy picture book is an invaluable introduction to the world of LDS in its shiniest Wonder Bread era, before all the muck-hurling tell-all books and wacky TV shows like Big Love came along to tarnish the temple.
Not that Howells, author of the companion volume His Many Mansions -- which compares Mormonism to "various Christian beliefs" and finds it stacks up nicely -- pulls any punches here. For example, he readily admits in one chapter heading that "Oh Yes, Polygamy is Part of the Mormon Story." But only part, an unfortunate necessity when numbers were few, a practice that served its "worthy purpose" and then was discarded:
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Today, of course, Mormons are numerous. And law-abiding, even when their political leaders are non-Mormons. Did you know that "all worthy male members twelve years of age and over are given some degree of Priesthood or divine authority"? Me neither. But I do know that Utah was one of the first states to give women the right to vote, both in the church and out of it, and that Mormons as a whole tend to be healthy -- and judging, from the pictures, overwhelmingly Caucasian in origin: So okay, maybe things have changed a bit since 1962. You can't be a worldwide religion and have everyone look like Ozzie and Harriet. But it's good to learn that Jesus showed up in the New World shortly after his resurrection, according to the Third Book of Nephi. If a jet-lagged Jew can make it in the jungles of Colombia, a Parker-Stone play about Mormons might do just fine on Broadway. Start spreading the news.