Early Mormon Responses to the BoM Musical

The “early” in this post title is intended to modify the word “responses,” not “Mormon.” I apologize to anyone who saw the post title and mistakenly thought I had discovered some sort of prophetic statement from the olden days regarding the new musical.

I’ve been watching the various reviews and responses to the new Book of Mormon Musical with interest. I enjoyed Ken Jennings’s “to each his own” response, which interestingly compared the structure of the musical’s plot to the Book of Mormon in a way that made connections I’m sure the authors of the musical never intended or realized. Michael Otterson (the Church’s head of Public Affairs) published his own interesting response column today. Otterson brings up the musical’s idea that Mormons are generally unaware of or naive regarding real-world problems; that they find their feel-goodery religion not enough for real problems in the world. The missionaries in the musical find “their training and life experience…wholly inadequate to the realities of a continent plagued by poverty, AIDS, genital mutilation and other horrors.” Otterson then asks the question: during the 7 or so years it has taken the writers and producers to put this show together what has the Church been doing in Africa? His answers surprised me. Of course, there are a few obvious objections to this line of response.

First: Otterson hasn’t seen the musical. (Response: True. But he is critiquing a generally-known premise of the musical, so we can assess his response to that premise without expecting him to have seen all of the show. The ending may make it seem as though everything works out for the Mormons, but that actually could circumvent needed reflection on the part of Mormons, or any other viewers for that matter, on the subject of lived religion. More on this below.)

Second: Many missionaries are quite naive regarding some of the problems they will face as missionaries. (Response: True, but not by necessity, and not universally. To the extent that the Church can look inward and consider how to better prepare missionaries for difficulties in the mission-field the musical can be helpful to missionary work in general.)

Third: The things Otterson lists are great, but they are not enough compared to what I think the Church could have done. (Response: Could be true depending on the standards to which you hold the Church in terms of humanitarian outreach, etc. which is, itself, a contestable and interesting subject.)

Fourth: Otterson seems like he is bragging about the Church, and I feel uncomfortable with seeing our supposed good works being broadcast like this.

This fourth objection (and there are likely many others) is of particular interest to me here because it identifies an interesting paradox that seems to me to reside at the very heart of Christian religiosity. The objector might reasonably appeal to the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament :

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4, NRSV)

Of course, Otterson might reasonably respond by referring to Matthew 5:14-16 (which, interestingly enough, was a ‘scripture mastery’ selection when I was in Seminary. Is it still? Is Matt. 6:1-4 in there?):

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Again, I think this situation underscores an interesting paradox of living a Christian faith. If it is a false dichotomy to pitch these verses against each other, how would you reconcile them and do they apply to Otterson’s column, or the church’s other efforts to let people know about the humanitarian service the Church provides (wearing t-shirts that match, etc.)?



Ultimately, all of this demonstrates what interests me most about the new musical: its potential to help Mormons and others engage in thoughtful consideration of our faith, the Church, Christianity, and larger cultural issues in the world.

61 Replies to “Early Mormon Responses to the BoM Musical”

  1. My guess is that there is a tension at headquarters between those who wanted to let stand the original statement about the musical, which expressed no judgment, and those who are offended by the vulgarity and blasphemyand who might wish to issue a condemnation akin to the condemnation the Church issued of Jesus Christ Superstar (the only popular play I know of explicitly condemned by the Church in my lifetime–or at least forbidden to be performed http://lds.org/new-era/1971/09/policies-and-procedures?lang=eng&query=superstar).

    So I view the Otterson statement as a compromise between the two viewpoints. An unofficial criticism that was probably reviewed and approved at the highest levels.

  2. I guess I’m a stick in the mud, but regardless of how “sweet” people keep saying it is, I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of blasphemy and obscenity as entertainment. I’ll pass.

  3. I don’t think charity needs to be kept quiet. There is a difference between:

    1. We did something to help someone. See what good people we are!

    2. We did something to help someone. We’d like to do more, but we need support. Please help!

    I don’t think the church needs to keep its charity under wraps, but most of the time the message seems more like #1 than #2. Especially when it’s coming from the PR department.

  4. Saganist, I think that is a good distinction to make. Perhaps Otterson could have let people know, especially members, how to better help the Church in humanitarian aid. Of course, people could say he is then turning this into an opportunity to ask for donations, so it might be a losing cause that way as well.

  5. Great post and reflects a lot of things I have though. Especially the tension about charity. There’s a damned if you do damned if you don’t point about letting people know what we are doing charity wise.

  6. I think it’s important to note that in this specific case, Otterson is responding to a piece of satire that is making broad claims about the general knowledge of the church (as identified by 19 year old prospective missionaries) with regards to the pain and suffering in the world – Africa. I don’t think a response that essentially states, “Yes, we are aware and are working to help Africans overcome their problems. You are? Singing and dancing and making fun of the people doing the work? Gotcha.”

    The Church (PR department) doesn’t usually do too much to draw attention to the charitable efforts. Certainly not in comparison to the effort put into the proselytizing missions. And when they do it is most often in conjunction with a call to members to do even more.

  7. …should have finished the last sentence in the first paragraph…

    I don’t think that response is out of line.

  8. I actually have the opportunity to see this in the near future, and I’ve decided to give it a pass. My DH loves South Park, and watches it frequently, so I have seen more than a little of the comedic stylings of Parker/Stone. It’s a lot more frat-boy than my taste, but I’ve laughed when it’s really funny. I’m sure I could laugh at some of what I hear about the BoM musical, I’m fairly liberal in what I’ll tolerate in performing arts, and I make no apologies for it. But I draw a line at blasphemy. I don’t find blasphemy funny, and I don’t like it, and I make no apologies for that either.

    It also occurred to me that all green missionaries are naive, and thus ripe targets for mockery, but the Otterson piece at the Washington Post was helpful information for me. I didn’t know the full extent of the church’s work in Africa, and after reading about the variety and utility of those projects and the man-hours spent I could see that such things aren’t done by green missionaries. A newly deployed African missionary will need to shed a lot of naivete rather quickly, and by the end of 2 years, is not going to make a very good target for satirical parody.

  9. Lon, that’s a good point. And say what you will about the satire about Mormons but the satire about Africans is pretty brutal and from what I’ve read near racist at times. Of course this is typical for them – there are lots of times they do this in South Park to make a bigger point. There’s a strong sense of irony in their work that’s pretty characteristic of that whole Gen-X view of the world.

    As for whether they are themselves helping others, I don’t know. There is a funny question though about the self-critique the play when applied to the authors though. That’s a good call and I wonder how they view that. Clearly they have a favorable almost Voltaire like view of religion for atheists.

  10. I’d go see it as well, Matt. I’m interested in the interpretation and the potential questions and puzzles they raise. I’m not a huge South Park fan mostly out of not committing time to it, but I have laughed at an episode here and there.

    I am wondering how many people walk out of the musical and donate some $ to humanitarian efforts in Africa. Wouldn’t it be cool if the producers got some donation stuff going? Or would it be condescending? Or braggardly?

  11. Mommie Dearest, thanks for the comment. You said “But I draw a line at blasphemy. I don’t find blasphemy funny, and I don’t like it, and I make no apologies for that either.”

    I guess I have to admit that, deep down, on principle, I’d like to say the same thing. But in the moment, when it comes down to it there are times when I laugh at a blasphemous joke, or what have you. (A joke about fat people, or other inappropriate stuff.) Doing so generally goes against my “better self” if you will, but I haven’t self-disciplined myself enough to monitor everything I see coming in before laughing. I suspect you might even get caught off guard once in a while. That said, you wouldn’t seek it.

  12. I just had an ichat with someone who went to see it, loved it, and assures me that there is nothing blasphemous in it. Profane, yes. The jokes (I’m told) skewer people and not doctrines, and I find skewering human weakness acceptable. I have to admit, I am curious, and I intend to think it through as thoroughly as I can without actually seeing it. And that’s the rub–in my way of thinking, I can’t pass judgement on it unless I’ve actually seen it. So I guess I’m not as decided as I thought. Meh. Maybe I won’t be able to afford it.

    But my point is that I found Otterson’s information helpful in re-adjusting my image of missionaries from the naive South Park one to a more realistic and admirable one, and for that I’m grateful.

  13. While I do have some curiosity, there is one simple reason why I will not go see it. It was even quoted by Michael Otterson:

    “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

    The only thing it could vaguely have going for it is the dubious title of praiseworthy. But when I consider how many things in this life are much more worthy of my time and praise, I cannot justify money on nor supporting in any way this production. It is not honest, it is not true, it is certainly not chaste in its content, it is not benevolent, it is not virtuous. It is not doing good to all men, nor is it really attempting to do good to any men other than for the pockets of the men who created it. It is not lovely, nor of good report, and thus I cannot deem it praiseworthy and so I cannot seek after it.

    I want to be clear: I read and participate in many discussions on an academic and social level that involve people railing against the church. However, I seek them not for my entertainment, but to dispel myths and confront falsehoods. This show is for entertainment however, entertainment with a price tag. That price tag goes to support further such endeavors, when it could have gone to help the poor and downtrodden, or even to the missionary fund.

  14. Personally, Otterson’s op-ed reminds me of the oft-repeated claim that anti-LDS activities actually cause people to be interested in, and convert to, the LDS gospel. For some odd reason, the LDS Public Affairs Department hasn’t figured out yet that when they put so much effort into “responding” to what they consider anti-LDS books, movies, plays, etc., they actually make people more curious to read or view those works.

  15. I doubt this column is going to substantially increase ticket sales, Nick, though I think there are definitely instances where commenting increases publicity/dissemination.

  16. One thing to remember, one person’s blasphemy is another person’s praiseworthy. I think that Ken Jennings was wonderfully creative in his response, by noting some of the thematic similarities. I also thought that Otterson’s response was good, but seemed a tad testy, as if he was slightly annoyed by having to address the musical.

  17. Nick, I’m not sure Otterson would disagree. I think he’s just contextualizing. I like the South Park’s guys comments on Otterson’s prior comments that it made them love Mormons even more.

    BHodges, the play is sold out through the end of the year. So year, I doubt it’s going to increase ticket sales much. Everyone is saying it’s a shoe in for the Tony Award as well. I think it is Otterson attempting to use the publicity to bring some attention to LDS efforts. However as I noted that’s a tone that’s difficult to get right and seems a damned if you do damned if you don’t sort of thing. I’m not sure what to think on it from a PR perspective. However judging from the comments at the WaPo story there was a lot of ignorance about LDS charity work so I think it ends up being a big positive on net.

  18. I absolutely cannot wait to see it. It has been a long time coming. As an avid South Park fan, this musical is not anything near new news to me. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the most underrated and misunderstood comedic writers ever. If one TRULY watches South Park, they will see the high level of spirituality that is found in it. Matt Stone is an Atheist, but Trey Parker is not. Parker has a profound belief in God, and while he respects Mormons, it is no secret that he is not one. Being able to laugh at yourself is one of the greatest gifts we can have. Missionaries ARE naive, because 19 yr old men and 21 yr old women are naive. Of course those who do not wish to see it are absolutely welcome to feel that way, my problem lies in folks assuming it is blasphemous, or ascribing negative attributes and malice to Parker and Stone themselves.

  19. “Assuming it is blasphemous,” Duckie? The quoted lyrics of one number are the very definition of blasphemy. It isn’t a matter of assumption or interpretation.

    But I do thank you for your permission in welcoming me not to see it.

  20. I am pretty sure I have read all of the published numbers and I didn’t find anything blasphemous in them at all. I would be willing to concede that I may have missed a number, but aside from that, it can always be chalked up to a flat out difference of opinion.

    I love how people claim to not want to see anything that they deem “offensive to God” yet they are always willing to have snarky attitudes with their fellow men. Awesomely Christ-like!

  21. Hmmm well, since I am a follower of Christ myself, I don’t just randomly have problems with what “Christians say” only when they express faux piety in the same breath as an unwarranted nasty retort. Nice try though 🙂

  22. Funny, Clark (#11), I had “Il faut cultiver notre jardin” at the end of the first draft of my fMh review of the show. I took it out because I didn’t want to be too French-major-nerdy. 🙂

  23. There was a Deseret News “Mormon Times” response that was earlier than Otterson’s that was in same ways similar. Frankly, I think that this musical should be boycotted, and its sad that its sold out and that Mormons who should know better are watching this garbage. It is just as sad that there are South Park Mormon fans. What a disgusting place modern culture has become and that some Mormons have been sucked into it.

  24. Well, this seems a topic that attracts wide attention and comments from different angles.

    A couple of things I’d like to respond to from my own point of view:

    Mormon missionaries (and many Mormons) are naive and unprepared/ignorant of the real world and problems: Sure, living in a people with a different culture and language, I see how unprepared many missionaries are to even face the fact that they can’t understand why people behave the way they do; moreover, they also tend to think that anything that is different is somehow bad (that last bit would be enough for a blog post in itself). My retort would be: “How many middle-class American youth can you find who even know the situation in Africa, let alone can identify with the problems, which is a requirement for being prepared?”

    “Trumpeting your good works”: This is more complicated; I agree that personally, we should not brag about our “good works” although we always talk about how important “good works” are. (Actually, we should not “do good works”, but love our fellow men.) However, as a Church, if we are constantly facing the misconception that is unfortunately prevalent (among non-Mormons, as is witnessed by the Musical, too, but also among disaffected Mormons who don’t even know about what the Church does), that the Church doesn’t fulfill its humanitarian duty (which is contestable in the first place, as the Church doesn’t bear as much responsibility for that as members in their personal lives), it is sometimes necessary to counter it publicly. But it should, naturally, be rare…

    It is actually quite difficult for a Ward or the Church to let their works talk for themselves. I’ve been in some presidencies/bishoprics, and the experience is that we don’t have a working PR system on local levels (for a good reason, I think). Thus, nobody knows how much a Ward does; and what can be counted as the “Ward” doing, anyhow, when it’s families, quorums and Relief Society sisters doing it–only rarely do you find the Ward having an opportunity to go at it together with the Bishop in charge.

  25. The definitions for blasphemy/blasphemous that I find in a few dictionaries are “the scurrilous, deriding or intemperate expression of dissent or criticism of God” — “contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity” — “an impious utterance or action concerning god or sacred things” — “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God” — “profane or contemptuous speech, writing, or action concerning God or anything held as divine.”

    Reviews have described one number that ends with everybody on stage raising the middle finger and shouting an obscene imperative to God. If that doesn’t qualify as blasphemy in the ordinary English meaning of the word, it’s hard to imagine anything that does.

    With that being touted as a highlight of the musical, I think — for me, at least — there is little point in debating “its potential to help Mormons and others engage in thoughtful consideration of our faith, the Church, Christianity, and larger cultural issues in the world.” This show would seem to have as little potential to provoke thoughtful consideration of faith as a dinner served in the swampy vault of an outhouse would to provoke appreciation of subtle seasonings in the main course sauces.

  26. I believe the producers would welcome a boycott Jettboy. When it comes to popular media, a boycott rarely has the effect those participating wish it to have.

  27. It seems this topic is being discussed everywhere–in capitalism your money is your voice so I am glad that people are utilizing that voice to make statements. However, sweeping judgments based off of biased reviews and not having seen it *should* be intolerable in every free-thinking person. No one can simply say “No thank you, not interested.” everything has to be a scandal, and be dramatic. Parker and Stone are not busy wasting their time caring whether or not they are hated (especially by people who are only being told what they want to hear) so I don’t understand why everyone is wasting their time hating on them. It is actually comical to me that people are so offended and threatened by a Broadway play. It’s a play!! How on Earth can it be threatening to anyone’s faith? I don’t even get that. My faith is stronger than a Broadway play, so even if it is the worst of what everyone says (which I am not conceding) it still is not anything in the world for me to worry about. There are REAL problems in the world, REAL atrocities. Where is the PR department speaking out against those? Nowhere…exactly.

  28. “There are REAL problems in the world, REAL atrocities. Where is the PR department speaking out against those? Nowhere…exactly.”

    Could be. But the Church is actually *doing* something about many of those atrocities — which is the real crux of this debate.

  29. My, I wonder what happened. Over and over again Mormons have screamed that boycotts of Mormon businesses over Prop 8 contributions constituted persecution of Mormons and a threat to religious freedom. Boycotts of this play however are different. Can someone explain?

  30. FWIW I won’t be seeing the play–I find South Park vulgar. Another thing I wonder about–if Mormons do so many good works, how come I have never seen anything that isn’t accompanied by press fanfare, and have never seen Mormons participate in any charitable giving here in the Bay Area–not once, ever. If there is anything Mormons have done for veterans, the homeless or any other group, I would be interested to hear about it. Plenty of bucks for Prop 8 and plenty for City Creek….

  31. There are REAL problems in the world, REAL atrocities. Where is the PR department speaking out against those? Nowhere…exactly.

    Otterson’s response specifically talks about some of the problems by talking about the Church’s efforts to help solve them. I’d like to hear more of this in regular church meetings too, though.

    ExMoHoMo, can we please have a discussion about the Church without making it about homosexuality? I know it’s part of your pseudonym, but come on man. No one’s calling for a boycott (except Jettboy, who I disagree with anyway) and not all Mormons complained about boycotts based on Prop 8 (I am among those who didn’t).

    I have more response to make, especially to Ardis’s and Duckie’s exchange, but it will have to wait because I need to spend some quality time with the family.

  32. #37 Now I am really confused. I thought Prop 8 was about preserving ‘traditional marriage’. I never mentioned homosexuality.

  33. @Jack, @Diggie, I know that the Church speaks out about some atrocities, I am not saying they are entirely absent but take for an example Reverend Fred Phelps–Seeing as how he is one of the most disgusting and foul people to live in recent memory–I am curious as to why the Church is wasting time on Broadway plays but not uttering a word about him. His very existence is one million times more blasphemous than this play is.

  34. @Jettboy mine too. I won’t be boycotting this play (I want to go but it is sold out) but I have used boycotting in the past in order for my voice to be heard. When I lived in Utah I never gave my money to any establishment that was owned (or in someway profited) Larry H. Miller. It felt good to stand up for what I believed in but without making a huge stink about it.

    On an extremely unrelated note I am going to say something seriously controversial, but people will just need to deal–The Church’s mass gathering of funds to be funneled to the Proposition 8 fiasco is in my opinion the biggest stain on Church history since the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The fact that it is still talked about in meetings unabashedly by some members is shameful.

  35. What does Reverend Fred Phelps have to do with Mormons? It would be more proper for the LDS Church to be speaking out about polygamy and illegal immagration (that they have) than some preacher who is only famous because he feeds off the scandal rags. Most people who have said anything have expressed hatred of him anyway. In fact, I believe that they might have said something about the Koran burning if I remember right. That makes more sense.

  36. I’m sorry to see this thread turn into a bashfest aimed in the general direction of the church and folks’ pet irritants about it, with the occasional opposition sniper who’ll rise to the bait to defend the church from Blog Comment Defamation. I was genuinely hoping for some depth from people with a variety of attitudes who have actually seen the thing, or have something otherwise worthwhile to offer. About the play, remember? The Book of Mormon, the musical Broadway play? from the the OP?

    My interest is not academic. My dh (not a member if that helps you judge him more fairly) is a huge fan of the South Park guys, and I will quite likely be facing the decision to see it or let everyone go see it without me. If I let everyone go see it without me, it will most definitely be because I am on my moral high-horse over it, and I detest getting in that saddle without a darn good reason. I realize there are times when being on your high-horse is called for, but it’s way overdone in Mormondom. Usually badly.

    I think it’s to be expected that some members will go see the play, and I’m quite interested in what their take is on it, and not at all interested in judging them harshly for it, regardless of what their reason was for attending. There are people in the church who are good and contributing members, who do not always have the luxury of easy decisions that can be made with only the information we are given in Sunday School. There are people who can look upon almost anything the world can serve up, and not be tainted by it, but see it clearly. There are people who have a curiosity that must be satisfied. People have an infinite variety of approaches to life, even people in the church, and I’m not qualified, nor authorized, nor have I any interest to judge that. I do, however, very much like to observe it. So I would appreciate it if some of you would simmer down a little and let folks get back to the discussion.

    I’d like to add that none of this is directed at you, Ardis. You have my respect. And your last comment was actually quite helpful to me in my effort of discovery.

  37. I agree, I would sincerely wish to hear from someone who has actually seen it–good bad or ugly. However, I do didagree that that is what this blog post is about. The article referenced was written by someone who has not seen it and that is my very problem with it. If he had actually seen it, I could at least have respected his opinion for that reason. The reason I brought up Prop 8 was because ExMoHoMoDon did. Since it was brought up by another I didn’t feel it was off-topic. I can bring it up another time though if people only want to talk about the musical; I have plenty to say.

  38. Jettboy, for the reasons I mentioned already everyone should seek to speak out against Fred Phelps. Burning the Quran isn’t even in the top 500 of despicable things he has done (even though it was pretty bad) Why would the Church speak out against Polygamy? Do you mean speak out against the abuses of it such as child-brides and forced marriages? That I can see, but not speaking out against Polygamy itself. When practiced correctly ( which I don’t think westerners at least are capable of right now) not only do I not think it is bad, but I honor it as one of God’s most ancient laws. I understand why churchmembers may be squirmy about Polygamy, but not me.

  39. It is the lamest statement in the world when people say things like “Don’t knock it till you try it.” There are MANY things in life that one does not need to experience in order to have a wise opinion of it.

    I haven’t watched the musical, but I can still have a valid opinion on it. Just like I haven’t experienced suicide, or jumping off of a building without a parachute, or drugs, or alcohol. I can still have a valid opinion about those things. If you disagree, please experience suicide first, and then come back and share your opinion of it. Otherwise, get over yourself, and allow everyone else to have their opinions too. {Note. This is sarcasm. Do not actually commit suicide unless you actually believe you can’t have a negative opinion of it without having committed suicide. If you actually believe this, evolution demands you remove yourself from the gene pool.}

  40. @psychochemiker Of course a person can have an opinion on something without experiencing it, my issue with people making sweeping pronouncements on a musical they have never seen. It is not universally offensive and is not even offensive to all LDS. Suicide and drugs have absolutely nothing to do with this and is not even slightly close in scale so your analogy falls extremely short. However, even jokingly encouraging someone to committ suicide says a great deal more about you than it does about me. Good luck with that.

  41. Thanks for the comments and links, guys. Glen Nelson in #54 was spot on helpful, and I appreciate all the contributions (so far) that say something I haven’t thought of.

  42. Sorry everyone, I sort of let all this get away from me when I got sick earlier this week. My brain is back to about 70% capacity so I’ll add a quick comment.

    Ardis and maybe others brought up the idea that it wasn’t the best idea to use the musical as a way to “help Mormons and others engage in thoughtful consideration of our faith, the Church, Christianity, and larger cultural issues in the world.” I grant that there are better subjects through which we might accomplish these goals, but the pragmatist in me sees the fact that the musical is getting attention so we might as well see what we can do with it. I am thinking something like what Terryl Givens was able to do with 19th-century anti-Mormon literature in his book “Viper on the Hearth.” This musical is the latest in a long stream of public responses to Mormonism and we can approach it in that spirit and walk away satisfied I think.

    The suicide conversation I thought pretty offbeat. I think it’s entirely valid to give an opinion on a show you haven’t watched or a book you haven’t read depending on the circumstances and the claims made in the comment. It’s an easy out to say “don’t knock it ’til you tried it,” and I don’t buy that argument. And you shouldn’t buy it until you’ve tried to make that argument yourself and found it to be invalid.

  43. PS- if you made a comment directed specifically at me or that you want me to respond to please repeat it below because I don’t have enough time to go through all the comments again.

  44. My understanding is that the full-time proselyting missionaries are _not_ involved in the church’s humanitarian efforts. The purpose of that is make sure that the church does not give the impression that it expects people to convert/investigate in order to receive aid, or that it expects people to convert/investigate after receiving the aid as a form of “payment” or even as a token of appreciation. Yeah, I’m sure church leaders hope the humanitarian aid generates positive opinions of the church. But a “quid pro quo” must be avoided, and I believe the church tries hard to avoid it.

    As I understand it, the Humanitarian division (department?) of the church might utilize the full-time proselyting missionaries as temporary short term (1/2 day) manual labor as part of the 4 hours/week that they are supposed to do as community service.

    But even then, the young full-time missionaries rarely (probably never) are involved in planning, administering or implementing the projects, advertising them, or directing people to go to the projects as recipients of the aid, or in determining who is eligble for the aid. Any involvement in those levels by proselyting missionaries would give off the expectation that the church wants the recipients to join the church, or at least investigate.

    The humanitarian missionaries keep themselves at arm’s length from the proselyting missionaries and the mission structure, so that they can go to the foreign governments and honestly say that there are no strings attached to the aid projects.

    Only in the “macro” level, are the humanitarian aid projects and the missionaries joined, as in they both come from the same church.

    And, let’s also remember that the humanitarian aid projects for non-members of the church didn’t start until 1985. Before that it was directed at members only (or members-first) such as feeding the European saints after WW II. And if any was directed at non-members, it would have been in response to a specific disaster like a war/quake/flood. The immunizations, baby-care, wheelchair and well-drilling stuff didn’t start until about 1985, and for some things, even later.

    So the naivete or disconnect of the proselyting missionaries in regards to humanitarian needs and responses continues past the greenie stage throughout their whole 1.5 or 2 year service.

    And, this Uganda scenario in the musical is nothing new. LDS missionaries going to any 3rd world countries since the beginning have been hit in the face with the grinding poverty, disease, lack of education, etc. The anguish of trying to teach dirt poor, starving and sick people the gospel is nothing new or unique. My first discussion given as a missionary was in a wooden hut with a partial dirt floor, and either a thatched or corrugated metal roof. North American dog houses and barns were better built than that. When my non-member parents saw a picture of that hut, my father wanted to “rescue” me out of the mission.

    Many areas in our mission looked like they were bombed-out. Many of us did agonize over the conundrum of immediate temporal versus longer-term spiritual needs. But many of us also saw how gospel principles helped people better prepare for meeting and coping with temporal needs.

    I noticed that even the missionary efforts of other churches had done a good job of lifting people up out of poverty, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so true, and so powerful, that even if you have a sub-set of the (revealed and restored) whole it gives people self-esteem and hope that empowers and sustains them in lifting themelves up temporally. I saw enclaves of various denominations that had risen above their past poverty, not just LDS.

    I think that that anguish on the part of the missionary is part of the program. In the big picture, looking at a generational level and seeing the overall flow, the gospel does help families eventually overcome those things, even if it takes a generation or two. Both missionaries and investigators/converts who have a testimony eventually realize that.

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