“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. What he was trying to say is those religions that hold their beliefs strongly can laugh at the world, their predicaments and themselves. Those without confidence in their beliefs cannot laugh at all, for fear the whole thing will come tumbling down.
I give the Mormon church some credit when it comes to laughing at its self. I think they did very well with how they handled the Broadway show “The Book of Mormon”. They didn’t try to sensor it from its members (don’t go watch it!), and they didn’t really say anything bad about it, but instead purchased advertisements on NYC taxies with the “I’m a Mormon” campaign on them (small victory for Satan). They even targeted some of the ads with “You’ve seen the play, now read the Book”, and went to far as to buy ad space on the musical’s playbill.
There was some films in the mid 2000’s that were made by Mormon’s that poked fun at the funny stuff we do. “The Singles Ward” from 2002 made fun of LDS culture, silly ward activities, and the desperate quest for an eternal mate. Other similar movies include “The R.M.” and “The Home Teachers.”
But as a whole I think the world sees Mormon’s as a pretty sober bunch. My dad tells a story of him and my mom taking a tour of Europe. They were the only LDS on the tour bus, but got along with everybody. One evening they were all together with their tour group eating at a restaurant in Italy. There was drinking (but not by them) and plenty of laughter. They said it was a fun time. About half way through they noticed another tour group arrive and sit at an adjacent table. On there name tags he could see they were from Utah. There was no drinking at their table, and little or no laughter. They just sat there quietly and ate their meal. His comment to me was he was sure glad he wasn’t with that Mormon group!
How much of this perception of soberness is self-imposed because of the temple covenant to “avoid all light mindedness, loud laughter….”? From a historical perspective, we have quotes from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young driving home the point:
“Think not that we would enjoin you a Monkish sadness or hypocritical gravity: not so, but we would have your forsake all your loud laughter which is always indicative of an empty mind, and as we have before remarked, is calculated to grieve the Holy Spirit and make it withdraw, leaving you to the influence of that spirit which lures but to destroy.”
The Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland Ohio, May 1836, Vol.2, No.8, p.306
“Some of you are very fond of passing jokes, and will carry your jokes very far. But will you take a joke? If you don’t want to take a joke, don’t give a joke to your brethren. Joking, nonsense, profane language, trifling conversation and loud laughter do not belong to us. Suppose the Angels were witnessing the hoe-down we had the other evening, and listening to the haw, haw’s, the other evening would they not be ashamed of it. I am ashamed of it.”
“The revelations in the bible, in the book of Mormon, and doctrine and covenants teaches us to be sober; and let me ask you Elders that have been through the ordinances in the Temple, what were your covenants there? I want you should remember them. When I laugh I see my folly, and nothingness, and weakness, and am ashamed of myself.”Prophet Brigham Young, May 29, 1847, The Essential Brigham Young, p. 29
From everything I’ve read about BY, I don’t see him having much of a sense of humor. Most of my Bishops and Stakes Presidents over the years have been pretty serious, so the ones that were not stand out. I had one Bishop that used to have a Far Side calendar hanging from the wall of his office. His office was next to the Spanish Ward’s Bishop, and he, being a quite large man, often joked that the “Obispo” sign should be on his door!
One person I ran into that did not have any humor was a 70 named Elder Lawrence. One Sunday morning when I was Bishop I got a call from my SP, telling me Elder Lawrence was in the area and wanted to attend a Sacrament meeting. The SP informed me he would be bringing him to my ward, and he would be speaking. While I did not know him, he was my parents Stake President before he was called as a GA, and had called my parents on a mission. I knew he had just returned from Siberia as a Mission President. So when I introduced him, I went over a little of his history, and then said “In the world when somebody does wrong, they get sent to Siberia, in the Church when you are a great Stake President, you get sent to Siberia as a Mission President! I got a few courtesy laughs from my congregation. Elder Lawrence said nothing to me, but actually complained to my SP after that my humor was entirely inappropriate for Sacrament Meeting. My SP told me about it at my next interview with him, and told me that only the Prophet is allowed joke in meetings (he actually said that!).
So how well does the Mormon Church do with the joke test? Can we joke about the Mormon church without the fear that it will come tumbling down?