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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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LDS official on 'Book of Mormon' musical: Don’t call us naive

Of all the aspects in Broadway's new "Book of Mormon" musical that might be offensive — the blasphemy, vulgarity and religious mockery — the one that most irks the LDS Church's top PR official is the suggestion that Mormons are "blissfully [naive]" about real world problems.

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Is that so? Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the Utah-based faith, asks in an essay titled, "Why I Won’t Be Seeing the Book of Mormon Musical," posted on The Washington Post’s On Faith site.

Noting Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez have said it took them seven years to research, write and produce the musical, the LDS official looked at what the Mormons in Africa were doing in that time.

He then lists some of the LDS Church’s humanitarian efforts in conjunction with other groups from then to now, such as building wells, providing wheelchairs, immunizing against measles, treating eye disease, improving neonatal survival rates and offering AIDS education and treatment.

"Of course, parody isn’t reality, and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny," Otterson writes. "The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously – if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion."

During the exact same time their American peers "were focused on careers or getting on with life," Otterson says, thousands of selfless Mormon missionaries were working on the African continent (including a good many in Uganda, the setting for the musical), facing exactly the kinds of issues the play spells out. They come home fluent in Swahili and other tribal languages, keep the connections alive and follow the politics of the places they grew to love during their two-year stints.

So which group, Otterson implies, is the more naive?

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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