The Real Elder Price
The "Real" Elder Price, Part 1: The Missionary Training Center
That there are naïve Latter-day Saints is beyond question. That there are Mormons who don't understand the hierarchy of gospel principles, and assume that a belief in Kolob is equally important to faith in Jesus Christ, is true. But globalizing and reducing all Mormons to the stereotype of smiley, gullible replicas of each other is using imagination as a flat iron rather than a telescope.
The protagonist of The Book of Mormon Musical, Elder Price, doesn't appear until this Hill Cumorah tableau fades, and then, he's already a missionary.
The real Elder Price, as presented in this series of essays (Elder Brandon Price), agreed to imagine himself and others with a divinely generous imagination when he was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. In that moment, he was told that he now held "the keys to all the spiritual blessings of the church" and that he could "have the heavens opened . . . and enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus" (Doctrine and Covenants 107:18-19). His temple endowment magnified his godly imagination. He entered the temple in his Sunday clothes, and carried a bag that would change his life. In the bag were new temple garments. For the rest of his days on earth, he will wear this "Mormon underwear" as a constant reminder of his consecration. The depiction of garments in The Book of Mormon Musical predictably gets a small laugh—and you can almost hear the audience members whisper, "Oh of course! Magic undies!"—but we Mormons take our garments seriously. As much as a yarmulke or a priest's collar indicates personal commitment in other religions, garments, for us Mormons, serve as symbols of our promises to God.
When the Broadway audience first sees Elder Price, he is in the Missionary Training Center (MTC), and soon meets his socially inept companion, Elder Cunningham. These two, with the "Mormon Boys" (various other missionaries), practice a door approach with repetitions of the enthusiastically sung "Hello." The music is fun and catchy. The MTC experience portrayed on stage is, however, nothing like the real thing.
|Elder Price at MTC|
My husband and I spent two years in an MTC branch—where we met the real Elder Price and various "Mormon boys" on the first day of their missions.
I wrote this about our experience on May 22, 2008:
Yesterday evening, Bruce and I welcomed twenty-one missionaries into our branch at the MTC.
Several of the missionaries come from blended families, where death or divorce has ruptured expectations. At least one young man delayed his mission for a year until he could work through the issues his mother's death had introduced. One missionary was from Scotland. When I shook his hand, I noted his plaid tie. "It's not my tartan, but it's a good one," he said in a thick accent.
I answered, "You're from Scotland, aren't you. Either that or you've mastered the accent."
"I'm from Scotland."
"Well, you have a very good accent."
"Thank you very much," he said. "I've been working on it for eighteen years."
Most of these new missionaries have sung "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission" since they were old enough to carry a tune. But there are exceptions—some who had not considered a mission until recently. One, a musician, gave up an orchestra tour which included Carnegie Hall so he could serve. Another was in a rock band and had the opportunity to do a European tour. He had to choose between that tour and a mission. He sold his guitars. His mission was financed by the money those guitars brought in. One—Elder Jared Wigginton—already had a college degree focusing on international relations, and even taught for a year. He was admitted to law school, and chose to defer his admission for two years. He will be going to Africa. I am eager to see how this mission prepares him for the rest of what he'll do in his life. He will learn about Africa in a way no class on international law will ever teach him.
Margaret Blair Young is the president of the Association for Mormon Letters and has published eight books—six novels and two short story collections. Three of the novels were co-authored with Darius Gray and give the history (documented) of Black Latter-day Saints. She and Gray made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, which is currently under contract with the Documentary Channel and showing nationally. She has written six encyclopedia articles and other scholarly papers on Blacks in the western United States, and particularly Black Mormons. She teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.