Mormons and Muslims, South Park and Charlie Hebdo: Why the difference?

People who watch The Book of Mormon musical don't fear violent reprisals from angry Mormons; the South Park creators would have more to fear from Muslims.

Mormons, Muslims, South Park Super Friends
Mormons, Muslims, South Park Super Friends

WASHINGTON, January 9, 2015 — Islamist terrorists attacked the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for insulting their prophet, Mohammed. They left 12 dead and four critically wounded in their attempt to make Western journalists shut up.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone dish up scathing satire on their show as well. Like Charlie Hebdo, they’ve mocked everyone from Jews to Scientologists to Catholics to Mormons to Muslims. Unlike Charlie Hebdo, they’ve left the person of Mohammed largely unscathed. They attempted to include him in an episode, but skittish network executives made them turn Mohammed into a giant teddy bear.

The South Park production team seems unafraid of physical reprisals from angry Mormons or Catholics, though Scientologists can be litigious and may hit them with a plague of lawyers.

But the network’s fear of Muslim reprisals wasn’t overblown.

People who go to Broadway to see The Book of Mormon musical don’t fear violent reprisals from angry Mormons. Their greatest danger is that a Mormon missionary might try to hand them an actual copy of The Book of Mormon. Rather than explode in furious indignation, LDS (Latter-day Saint, the church’s preferred term) leaders decided in good humor to piggy back on publicity for the musical and use it as an opportunity to introduce people to actual Mormons.

The difference between the Mormon and Muslim responses to mockery is striking.

In the 19th century, the LDS response to mockery might have been less gentle if it occurred in Mormon territories. Church members were badly persecuted in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois in the 1830s and 40s, until they were forced to emigrate from the city they founded in Illinois, Nauvoo.

The Mormons weren’t always ready to turn the other cheek even before the expulsion from Nauvoo. They occasionally provoked their neighbors with their own brand of unneighborly behavior. But they were more often the persecuted than the persecutors, forced to flee before mobs that burned their homes and churches and killed their prophet, Joseph Smith.

Under the leadership of Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, they began the migration from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake valley in the Utah territory. The place was so desolate — a salty desert surrounding a dead salt sea — that some explorers doubted they’d ever grow so much as an ear of corn there.

Several waves of Mormons crossed the plains over the next decade. Many of them walked all the way pulling handcarts, a trek that left thousands dead. With stubborn ingenuity, they denied the doubters and turned the desert into an oasis and a garden, building a new temple and a city around it.

The Mormons in Utah weren’t in a mood to be shoved around any more. Their anger over the expulsions made many of them much less nice than the naïve elders (Mormon missionaries) depicted on Broadway. Brigham Young established a theocracy in Utah, which they called “Deseret,” with lines of political and religious authority merged.

Surrounded by an expanding and hostile United States, this was a recipe for disaster, and disaster obliged. On September 11, 1857, the Baker-Fancher wagon train traveling from Missouri to California was attacked by Mormons from the Utah Territorial Militia under a flag of truce at Mountain Meadows. Over 100 men and women were killed in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The children were taken in by Mormon families.

Whether Brigham Young knew about the attack beforehand is hotly argued. Even if he did not, he and the church had fostered a climate that made it possible. Mormon anger, their fear of a U.S. government invasion, teachings against outsiders, and the strong, hierarchical organization of the church meant that local church leaders could organize and lead the massacre with little complaint from their followers.

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  • David Baker

    You forgot three critical parts of the story.

    First, in October 1838 Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44, also known as the “Extermination Order.” This made Mormons the only religious group in the history of the Republic to have an official edict that advocating driving them out of a state — killing them, if necessary. Is it possible that Boggs’ order helped add to the Mormons’ unneighborliness?

    As the Mormons (who had been the most persecuted religious group at the time) were preparing to leave the settled states and set out for the territories in order to escape the mobs and killings, the U.S. government had the audacity to approach church leaders and ask for “volunteers” for a battalion of men (who were already in short supply) to march from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego, California. This would have been similar to the federal government asking Japanese-Americans—straight out of the internment camps—to sign up for military service. The church obliged, and nearly 550 men undertook the longest march in the history of the U.S. military. (My great-great-great grandfather, Christopher Layton, was among them.)

    The Mountain Meadows Massacre, which you mention, was a terrible chapter in Utah history, but the entire story has to be considered. According to contemporary accounts, the men in the party that was attacked at Mountain Meadows had been bragging that they possessed the gun that murdered the prophet Joseph Smith. In addition, local church leaders asked for permission to do something about the antagonistic interlopers, and were denied that permission. The massacre itself was a vigilante action by a few, and it was much covered up. When the full truth came out, those found to be responsible were stripped of their church membership and punished to the extent of the law: “In 1874 a territorial grand jury indicted nine men for their role in the massacre. Most of them were eventually arrested, though only Lee was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime. Another indicted man turned state’s evidence, and others spent many years running from the law.”

    It’s also worth also pointing out that today, in spite of the terrible treatment members of the LDS church received from their own government and fellow citizens, Mormons are among the most patriotic of all Americans. Obviously, Parker and Stone chose their target carefully. Had they decided to lampoon The Qur’an instead of the The Book of Mormon, I think it’s safe to say that the Eugene O’Neill Theater and much of Broadway would now be a pile of smoldering rubble.

    • Keenan

      Nice response brother Baker. 🙂 Thank you for illuminating more information on our history as we should be the ones who write it.

      • Me

        We know exactly what we get when ‘you people’ write your own history. Let’s start with the 19th century work of fiction telling an entirely and demonstrably false history of the Americas that’s had several thousand re-writes since it was first “translated” from “reformed Egyptian” (using a magic rock in a hat) on ancient golden plates, discovered in Jo’s back yard in upstate New York, which have since magically disappeared. The same angel which lead your “prophet” to these magical disappearing plates commanded your “prophet” to commence an activity which would lead to your second “prophet” fathering 57 children to 16 different women.

        LDS members hide behind a façade of being really really nice, but scratch the surface and you find deeply imbedded homophobic hatred. The Mormon so called “church” has for the last 3 decades been spearheading a global crusade of hate and lies against the LGBT community and is still today a major sponsor of a number of Anti-Gay hate groups such as the ‘World Congress of Families’ who will this year hold their ‘congress’ (The biggest collection of Anti-Gay Hate groups in the World) in Salt Lake City in the very heart of the Mormon kingdom. Sponsored and supported by Mormons and their “Church”.

        • Fredrick

          Oh, give it up!

          • Me

            Give up the truth, in exchange for what exactly?

          • Spitfire1940

            Give up your unhealthy obsession and live and let live.
            Put down your tar and feathers, pack away your brownshirt and go fishing!

          • Me

            Tar and feathers… Is that a reference to the angry mob who wanted to castrate your “prophet” for abusing exceptionally young girls?

          • Spitfire1940

            Tar and featheings took place long before polygamy. Know your history or step off.

          • More Man

            Please enlighten us to the timeline. o wise one. Please look for context as you present the facts.

          • Me

            “Eli Johnson was more specific he was “furious because he suspected Joseph of being intimate with his sixteen year old niece, Nancy Marinda Johnson, and he was screaming for Joseph’s castration.”
            Unsolicited sexual behavior may have been the immediate reason. The
            attack took place “in the middle of the night,” suggesting a crime that
            would arouse prompt action. Remember the operation was planned in
            advance of the attack by procuring the services of Dr. Dennison, which
            suggests a crime of passion may have been committed.” – Sounds to me like old Jo was screwing teenage girls before the angel with the fiery sword commanded him too.

          • Spitfire1940

            All hearsay at this point.
            And your unhealthy obsession continues.
            Get a life!

          • Me

            There’s very rarely so much smoke without fire. Your founding prophet died with dozens of accusations of sexual impropriety against him, many involving children. It really is no wonder your ludicrous cult is so obsessed with sex. Jo was the Jimmy Savile (or Warren Jeffs) of his day.

        • Spitfire1940

          You’ve left, but now can’t leave it alone.
          Sounds like you aren’t too sure of your decision.

          • Me

            Would you let people you loved continue to drink from a poisoned well?

          • Spitfire1940

            Pick your own poison.
            Nobody’s dying (inside) but you.
            LDS are happy and content….As are the million new members who join every 3 years or so.
            Tis thee who is not….enjoy your own misery!

          • Me

            Million new members… The feeble minded will never be in short supply.

          • Spitfire1940

            And that’s why you’re here.

          • maturallite

            That is a coached response intended to deflect and discredit legitimate criticism. I have never been a member of the LDS church, but as an impartial observer, I have the same concerns and criticisms of the LDS church as Me.

    • More Man

      You forgot about the Danites and Blood Atonement and 2 failed assassination attempts on Gov Boggs. Mormons would happily stab a non-Mormon in the back for petty things like jealousy or money. I know from experience. And to associate Patriotism with the church is laughable. How many Mormons serve their selfish money grubbing church vs joining the peace corps or enlisting in the armed forces? You know those numbers aren’t “faith affirming” of some super natural Patriotism. Mitt had 5 deferments to go to France to wear a nametag while… non-delightsomes were dying for their country in Vietnam. Please pass the green jello and apricot popcorn if you are going to start sugar coating everything.

      • bytebear

        Except that there is no evidence that the Danites had anything to do with the assassination attempts, and in fact the key players were no where near when the attempts were made.

        And plenty of Mormons died in Vietnam.

      • HarryM

        Are you saying Romney’s past is somehow representative of what Mormons are as a people? That Mormons are to be blamed for choices he made?
        You don’t get to pick a famous person of your choice to say whatever you want of a group.
        You might as well pick Thomas S. Monson as your example. At least talking about his past makes some sense in your reasoning. And you probably know that he didn’t serve a mission because he was engaged in military service at the time.
        But you chose to ignore that, for some reason.

        • More Man

          Like self appointed theologians… I pick and choose.

    • More Man

      Mr Patriot wants to be President… My guess is that there is a White Horse with his name on it.
      “Romney was a 19-year-old student at Stanford University in the spring of 1966 when opponents of the military draft occupied a campus building. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the formal name of the Mormon Church) was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, and the clean-cut young Romney protested against the protesters. Photographs show him carrying a placard saying: “Speak Out, Don’t Sit In.”

      Rather than joining the armed forces, however, Romney later that summer chose another path. He obtained a deferment allowing him to avoid military service and traveled to France to work as a missionary for his Church, a traditional form of service for young Mormons. Romney’s five sons all followed in his footsteps, serving as missionaries but not soldiers.”

    • Spitfire1940

      Kicked out of 5 states, property stolen, possessions lost, persecution and forced relocation while thousands of fellow Mormons died, left settlers in Southern Utah vulnerable to rumor and fear.

      Add in Johnston’s Army on the March against them and you had a perfect storm for tragedy. Also add in the dynamic of isolation and random acts of mischief by Missouri Wildcatters and Arkansan’s and the stage was set.

      It was a one off exception to Mormon history and not the rule. Frankly, they had had enough and when the settlers boasted of returning to destroy the So. Utah Mormons, with the California Militia, coupled with Johnston’s Army (already in the state) they snapped!

      Never justified, but certainly one can understand how a group of people could be brought to such a scenario.

  • Kurt

    Good article. Thanks!