CINCINNATI – Don’t expect to see local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints protesting downtown during the nearly month-long run of "The Book of Mormon" musical.
Instead, they are working to build on the satirical production’s buzz to teach more people about the Mormon church. The musical began its Cincinnati run Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 26.
“We want to take advantage of the free publicity that we’re getting from 'The Book of Mormon' musical,” said Tim Guffey, a Procter & Gamble Co. executive and local church lay leader.
To do that, the church is bringing an expert on ancient religious manuscripts to town for several public lectures on Jan. 17. Daniel Peterson is a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and will speak during three separate presentations.
The lectures also coincide with an exhibit called “Testimony of Faith – An Exploration of World Religions” at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
It’s a creative way to take what could be a negative – a musical that pokes fun at many of the religion’s most cherished beliefs – and makes it work for the church instead, said Drew Boyd, an assistant professor of marketing and innovation at the University of Cincinnati.
“Let’s face it, faith is a business,” said Boyd. “And faith-based organizations have to market themselves just like any business.”
In other cities where "The Book of Mormon" has played, the church has bought ads in the musical’s Playbill. The church has done that here, too, Guffey said.
But the bigger thrust is the lecture series and exhibit at the library, he said.
“The goal is to develop relationships with other faith-based organizations,” Guffey said. “We want to be a voice in the midst of a chorus, not a soloist.”
The library’s exhibit was inspired by the church’s request to do some kind of exhibit on the Mormon faith, said Diane Mallstrom, a reference librarian and curator of the exhibit.
Mallstrom said library officials decided to do a broader exhibit including various faiths instead.
The library actually owns a first-edition 1830 copy of the "Book of Mormon." That copy isn’t part of the exhibit, however, because so many Mormon missionaries visit the library and ask to have their picture taken with the book, Mallstrom said.
There are other books related to Mormonism in the exhibit, including an 1835 copy of "Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God."
The oldest book on display is a Jain text called the Kalpasutra from India. It dates from the early 1500s.
The library exhibit opened Nov. 22 and runs through Jan. 26, the last day the musical is scheduled to be in town.
The library will offer tours of the exhibit in conjunction with the lectures on Jan. 17.
Lectures will be held at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the Huenefeld Tower Room on the main public library’s third floor. Guffey said the lectures are not a proselytizing effort, although he expects there will be questions about the Mormon faith.
For more information about the library’s exhibit, go to http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/programs/exhibits.html .
For more stories by Lucy May, go to wcpo.com/may .