The Real Elder Price
The Real Elder Price and the Mormon Boys: An Introduction
Whenever an outsider presumes to write about someone else's culture or faith, the insider will always recognize discrepancies. Richard Bushman, one of our most important historians, said, "The Book of Mormon (musical) is like a funhouse mirror. The reflection is hilarious, but not really you."
I agree with Bushman. I do not want to pretend that the Parker/Stone satire is a primer on Mormonism and respond with whiney repetitions of, "Hey, you got that wrong!" Indeed, I want to be as gentle in my critique as Parker and Stone are in their satire.
So I have opted to simply tell about "the real Elder Price."
My husband and I served in the Provo, Utah Missionary Training Center with missionaries bound for French speaking countries. Many went to the Congo-Kinshasa/Cameroon mission—including Elder Brandon Price (who is the "Elder Price" in my series). I wrote to twenty missionaries who served in Congo/Cameroon, and I have the histories of their missions. For many, I was the "other mom," the one they'd talk to about difficult issues like companionship problems, disease, fainting spells, political threats, etc. They all became my adopted sons.
The missionaries in the musical are in Uganda. Of course, each African country is distinctive, but for the purposes of these essays, I often refer to Africa as a whole rather than to the specific countries.
I offer this series of essays as a view of what life is actually like for Mormon missionaries in Africa, not as a direct response to the musical—though there are a few responses. And I offer it lovingly—to Parker and Stone, but especially to "my" missionaries and to those they taught.
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.