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Mitt Romney and a Broadway Show on Mormonism From the 'South Park' Crew

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Given his risk-averse personality, Mitt Romney is unlikely to schedule his formal entry into the presidential race to coincide with the March 24 Broadway opening of the musical comedy "The Book of Mormon," from the creators of the edgy, animated cable series "South Park."

On the other hand, given the unease about Romney's Mormon faith that Sunbelt evangelicals communicated to pollsters in 2008, it might not be bad timing for the former Massachusetts governor. It could demystify the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a little humor.

You can find faith in the funniest places -- and where you would least expect to, like on Broadway or even on a scatological show like Comedy Central's "South Park."

Yet in researching a book and numerous articles on spirituality and popular culture, I found belief in abundance -- along with some of the most perceptive critiques of organized religion -- in the long-running Fox TV hit "The Simpsons." In a later edition I added chapters and wrote essays about the faith dimension of other animated network sitcoms, including "Futurama," "Family Guy," "King of the Hill" and "American Dad," where God and Jesus frequently show up, often with speaking parts.

However, none of these series comes as close in depth and devastating commentary to the way "South Park's" writers approach religious controversy. The show -- nasty, naughty and nihilistic -- features a quartet of pint-sized, potty-mouthed fourth-graders, as crudely drawn as their words are spoken.

The Catholic Church was relentlessly pounded for the clergy sex abuse scandal and for its doctrine and practices regarding the role of women. Even the church's most prominent (if unctuously hyper-sensitive) defender, William Donahue, leader of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, was literally eviscerated in an episode.

"South Park's" searing, two-episode satire of the Church of Scientology made headlines, as did its head-on assault of media timidity regarding Islam and the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. Through two regular characters with cerebral palsy -- Jimmy and Timmy -- the show has even explored the delicate issue of theology and disability.

But in its portrayal of Romney's church, the show has broken the most ground, and may do so again. In March, show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (with collaborator Robert Lopez) will premiere "The Book of Mormon" on the Great White Way. The story recounts the trials and travails of two young missionaries in modern-day Uganda, although those involved in the production have been sworn to secrecy about further plot details.

This is not the first time Parker (whose first three girlfriends were Mormon and who attended church summer camps) and Stone have portrayed the denomination. In 1998, Parker directed and co-starred in an independent film, "Orgazmo," in which he played a naïve Mormon missionary who stumbles into a leading role in a porn movie in order to finance his wedding. (Not a promising sign if you're a Mormon official concerned about the new Broadway show.)

Still, Parker (now an agnostic) and Stone (a secular Jew) grew up among Mormons in Colorado and have a soft spot in their heart for the church. In their comic cosmology, the denomination's founding prophet, Joseph Smith, was always included as an equal in "South Park" episodes that featured Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, Ganesh and (yes) Muhammad. In another episode, a preview of Heaven, Mormons are revealed as the only residents, prompting one observer to say, "Boy, did we guess wrong!"

In a 2003 episode called "All About Mormons," Parker and Stone interwove a modern plot about a Mormon family that moves to South Park, with a flashback to the 19th-century origins of the denomination in upstate New York. Both the modern and the vintage sections poked gentle, knowing fun at Mormons, and gave them a total pass on the issue of polygamy -- normally an easy cheap shot.

Mormons from Orlando to Salt Lake City whom I have interviewed think the episode is funny and not at all mean-spirited (or so distorted historically that it should be discounted). Some admit to sharing DVDs with their friends. More to the point, the episode strongly suggests that Mormons may have little to fear from the new musical.

"We wanted to make this not just cynical and Mormon bashing," Parker recently told the New York Times, "but hopeful and happy, because to me that's what musicals are about."

Despite a willingness to find common cause with Mormons on issues like gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research, as many as a third of middle-class evangelicals in Sunbelt suburbs -- the GOP base -- told pollsters in 2008 that they would be uneasy with a presidential candidate many consider to be a non-Christian.

In 2008, American popular culture did little to allay their concerns: HBO's "Big Love" focused on a contemporary, breakaway Mormon sect's embrace of polygamy; the feature film "September Dawn," starring John Voight, highlighted the dark side of Mormon history in Utah -- the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Although "Family Guy" took a shot at church hypocrisy this past Sunday, with any luck "The Book of Mormon" may actually give Romney's candidacy a boost, however unlikely a vehicle it might seem.
Filed Under: Religion, 2012 President

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9 Comments

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phixias818

I would like to say this,that no one person on this earth has any right at all to judge another religion,and its faith,unless you have perfected yourself like unto Jesus Christ ..If you do then you as a christian sin,for our Savior tought that,Judgment is Mine,we are commanded to love one another and to serve our fellow man,not to judge, jury,and excutioner..For those that do this sin and not repent this same judgement will fall on that sinner,says our Savior....Mormons,are true to the core Christians,they belive in the Holy Trinity,God the Father,Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost..We get stuck on their nick name and not truly realize that in their true name of their church,it says The Church of Jusus Christ,how can anyone despute their faith in Christ??Our forefathers came to this country to have religios freedom,not blind intorlerence from self rightoes hypocrites,who know little or nothing of what they are talking about...The Savior said You will know them by their works,that being aid,let look at the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,if there is an natural disaster they are there to work and to serve,in FL,during the hurricain the Mormons were theirby the thouands,working giving aid,serving their fellow man,and in MS,LA,DURING KATRINA,THE MORMON church gave 30 million to the relif aid to the Katrina victoms,AND Indonisia,they sent thouands of pound to food the victom and local mormon erved and helped the victoms,and this is just a small example of the Christ like service that this Christian church does,please before you judge,get the truth,ask a member of the Mormon faith about what is truth and what is a lie or rumor about their CHURCH

March 08 2011 at 6:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fpfp040408

God Bless President Obama , a true Christian.

February 26 2011 at 9:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fpfp040408

Glen Beck is a Mormon

February 26 2011 at 9:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Chris

As a "Mormon", I have first hand knowledge of the faith and it's works. We know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and the Redeemer of the world. Our works revolve around our knowledge that we serve God as we serve our fellow man. What puzzles me is why we seem to receive so much criticism. We harm no one. We respect the free agency of all, and recognize the right of every person to worship God as they see fit. But alas, we are in good company. Jesus was crucified, not because He was too bad, but because he was too good.

February 25 2011 at 5:43 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
jimmckin333@gmail.com

I am always bothered when people tell me that because I am a Mormon, I am not a Christian. I have a deep belief in, and love of Christ, and believe the Bible is the word of God. On the other hand, criticizing people's beliefs doesn't seem very Christ-like to me.

February 25 2011 at 4:54 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Warrior's Sqaw

In the way that many Christians are tired of how a few Christians believe they speak for all Christians, I'm sure there are Mormons who are tired of having themselves represented, in the minds of non-Mormons, by one Mormon who happens to be a politician. I'm Christian, and I have had very positive and uplifting experiences among Mormons. The Mormons I know are kind, considerate of others' beliefs, welcoming, and willing to educate those who know little of their faith. Among them, I found those whose faith is strong and which, in a final analysis, can only be the experience of God's true pure love. Why don't we leave faith out of the political arena? It's a little like bringing God down to our level, don't you think?

February 25 2011 at 4:35 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

I hope that the play makes it clear that Mormons are not Christians. Christians do not believe that God the Father has a wife nor do Christians believe that they can die and become a god of their own universe.

February 25 2011 at 4:10 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment
Chris

My friend, If we have a Heavenly Father, and we are His children, logic tells us that......we have a Heavenly Mother too. Like all children, we inheret attributes from our parents and have the ability to become like them, eventually. Thanks!

February 25 2011 at 5:50 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jtdancernh

"With any luck "The Book of Mormon" may actually give Romney's candidacy a boost..." Are you KIDDING?? What kind of "luck" would that be? When Romney ran for Governor in Massachusetts, it was clear from the start that his only interest in Massachusetts was as a stepping stone to bigger things, and because of that, it became very clear very early on during his one term that he had no interest in actually GOVERNING, only in BEING GOVERNOR, because it looked great on his political resume. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney did NOTHING because he was too busy running around the country giving interviews commenting on things that had nothing to do with the people of Massachusetts and trying to build support for his run for the Presidency. Oh, wait, he did do one thing--he passed legislation REQUIRING every Massachusetts resident to have health insurance--the very same thing the Republicans are lambasting Obama for. Guess socialized medicine isn't such a bad idea when it's YOUR team that comes up with the idea. If Romney runs for President on 2012 and actually wins, God help us all.

February 25 2011 at 11:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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