Fall Culture Guide

Mormons React to ‘The Book of Mormon’

I BELIEVE…SORT OF: Local congregants share their thoughts on some choice lyrics from the musical

The forthcoming The Book of Mormon seems destined to be the biggest thing to hit Chicago’s theatrosphere since, well, ever. But how do devout Mormons feel about the way that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone portray the tenets of their church? We asked two Chicago congregants—Summer Naomi Smart (catch her this fall in My One and Only at the Marriott) and Kymberly Mellen (a Writers’ Theatre regular)—to share their reactions to some choice lyrics from the second-act anthem “I Believe.” broadwayinchicago.com. Opens Dec. 11

“Ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America.”
Tickled. Says Smart: “He’s talking about the book of Nephi, when a man named Lehi and his family were commanded by God to leave Jerusalem because it had become wicked. Where they went, how many boats they used—that’s all open to interpretation.”

“I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob. I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.”
Skeptical. Says Mellen: “We don’t really talk much about Kolob. There are probably not many Mormons who are even aware of it. There’s a scripture that talks about a star that’s near the throne of God; that could be Kolob, but whether Jesus is actually living there—I personally don’t believe that’s the case.”

“In 1978, God changed his mind about black people.”
Ashamed. Says Mellen: “[Church founder] Joseph Smith was an outspoken abolitionist, and there were black priests in his time. But that stopped with [19th-century church president and Salt Lake City founder] Brigham Young. Young was racist. There were no black priests in his time, and that didn’t change until 1978. I’m embarrassed that it took so long.”

“Dang it, a Mormon just believes.”
Offended! Says Mellen: “It sounds like Mormonism is based on blind obedience—which for me it’s not. People ask me why I stay in a church that doesn’t allow women priests or gays. Because I continue to believe it is a church that will grow and change. And if I’m vocal as an individual member, maybe I can help bring that change about.”

 

Photograph: (The Book of Mormon) Jeff Christensen/AP

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