(A letter from the composer/lyricist/producer, David Nolan, aka "Jack Betty")
Thank you for wanting to learn more about this production. Do to a large number of questions regarding the driving forces behind this production, I wanted to provide some additional background info. The cause is immeasurably bigger than just myself and I'm thrilled that you're reading about it.
At it's core, The Good Shepherds is an immersive musical journey centered around Humanity and Redemption and how hoarding unimaginable levels of wealth takes tragic precedence over human lives, especially within ultra-rich Christian churches. A line during a pivotal point in the production asks, "who will be a voice for the forgotten?" The production wrestles with dire societal needs which go hauntingly unanswered by these Christian organizations.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Most of the world knows us by our nickname, "Mormon." Let me start by stating the fact that there is absolutely nothing in this production that "pokes musical fun" at things which the Mormon church considers to be sacred. All "General Authorities" (the top church leaders) past and present are never once mentioned, depicted, or used in any of the songs or dialogues.
Forgive me for being a bit personal here (just stick with me for a minute). Around 3 years ago, I cried myself to sleep wondering how, as a young father, I would make ends meet with 6 kids to feed and a recently failed business, combined with severe full-time job instability, combined with totally wiped-out savings (due to being forced to replace an entire, rotted exterior wall of our home, which insurance refused to cover), all within a single-income household. It was truly the “perfect financial storm” for our young family. In difficult situations such as mine, the Mormon church will occasionally offer a very small amount of financial help to a family in desperate need (only after all other financial options/connections are completely exhausted by that same family). Thus, I decided to confide in the local leader of our congregation (commonly called the "Bishop") to discuss our family's situation. After the Bishop required a comprehensive financial reckoning of our family finances, I became very discouraged. I told the Bishop that the business which we poured our hearts and savings into failed and we were forced to spend nearly $20k on the wall of the home, resulting in not quite enough money to cover the full house payment that same month. In the end, the Bishop authorized a $40 food order. After a literal lifetime of service and dedication to the Mormon church as a member in "good standing" -a spit in the face would have felt much more satisfying at that low, low point in my life.
Just a few extraordinarily difficult months after the food order was granted, The Wall Street Journal published “The Mormon Church Amassed $100 Billion. It Was the Best-Kept Secret in the Investment World." This story felt like a sucker punch directly to the face. I had given my all to the unfathomably wealthy church and was ‘rewarded’ with a $40 food order during a time of true desperation. Before the release of that article, I knew that the church had significant wealth, but in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined this type of $100,000,000,000.00+ level of wealth in a church stock portfolio. I felt truly betrayed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and sadness started sinking in.
Since a very young age, I have always used (and will continue to use) music and songwriting as an effective therapeutic vehicle to help myself navigate through personal pain. Thus, as a part of my healing journey, many songs on this deeply personal topic began freely flowing into my mind.
Additionally, the W.H.O. states that 1 in 3 people globally do not have access to clean drinking water. The United Nations informs us that 25,000 unfortunate souls die every single day due to hunger. Having children of my own, it is gut-wrenching for me to hear these statistics. I kept asking myself, if Jesus were literally here today, would he be pleased with the incomprehensible value of the Mormon church's stock portfolio? Or would he wonder why the church didn’t do more to help starving kids or to help lifelong members - like me - who desperately needed kindness, or help any number of noble charities, abuse victims, or minority groups, or even entire nations? It was too easy (at least for me) to consider what Jesus would do.
As compared to the ludicrous wealth level of the church, Mormon HQ sadly gives seemingly nothing to worthy external charities; charities who are better-poised to help the immediate, dire needs of God’s precious children. In an effort to be viewed as "more Christian" among other religions, the church has recently embraced new branding/logos, preferred church name/title emphasis and other surface-level tactics (all of which relate to our "outward appearance" as a church). It is my firm opinion that if the church truly wanted to be viewed as more “Christian” it should actually do the most Christian thing of all..... freely give! This especially includes lifting up the sick, the poor and the needy (as Christ constantly taught). Us "regular" Mormon church members are required to give, give, give to the church (including participating in annual mandatory, individual "monetary donation accountability" meetings), yet church HQ donates nearly nothing to external charities (percentage-wise, compared to its total wealth) and provides zero financial accountability back to its members. As a lifelong member, these realities (combined with how my family was treated for "having the audacity" to ask for help) are so sad to me personally, that I just had to utilize musical satire to overcome/offset the shock. Despite my vehement disagreement with its hoarding blatantly unnecessary levels of wealth while millions of God’s children are literally starving to death, it is ultimately up to the Mormon church to decide who to bless (and not bless) with its vast, vast fortune.
Lastly, I do not hold any negative feelings against that Bishop. His actions were simply a result of the overall leadership culture of the church (where it is imperative for Bishops worldwide to preserve every penny of church funds, despite urgency & despite desperation). Or perhaps I didn’t beg properly?
Yes, millions of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints do significant good throughout the world, especially via contributing large-scale volunteer community service hours. The church members (as a whole) are indeed extremely giving. The church HQ, however, is the opposite. It is my sincere hope that church HQ will actually practice this timeless teaching of Jesus (found in Mark chapter 10 verses 17 & 21-22):
17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Thank you for participating with me in this journey. I know you'll love the songs! You'll certainly laugh. You may likely cry too. But you'll love every minute. I'll see you at the show!
-David Nolan (aka "Jack Betty")