After his marketing business collapsed and a home repair wiped out his savings, David Nolan was in crisis.
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he asked his local congregation’s leader for help paying his mortgage. That bishop, Nolan says, authorized him to receive $40 for food.
His dismay turned to fury when, months after that conversation, news broke that the LDS Church had allegedly stockpiled about $100 billion in accounts meant to fund charitable works. How, Nolan wondered, could the church hoard such wealth when so many were suffering?
So he channeled his anger into a musical.
“The Good Shepherds” satirizes the church’s enormous financial portfolio and accusations that it is stingy in providing humanitarian aid. Unlike the popular Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” Nolan said his show does not mock the faith’s practices or beliefs.
“It is generating social awareness of the fact that they’re the richest church on planet Earth, that they have zero financial transparency and that they don’t do enough to help others,” Nolan, 39, of Cache County, Utah, said of his musical.
The show is slated to debut in March with five performances in Ogden, Utah, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City. Tickets start at $19, plus a processing fee.
Doug Andersen, a spokesman for the LDS Church, declined to comment on the musical or confirm Nolan’s interaction with his bishop.
The extent of the church’s wealth came to light in 2019, when a whistleblower alleged that leaders had misled members about their tithes, possibly violated federal tax rules and used tax-exempt donations to fund two businesses. The church described the $100 billion cache as a rainy-day account meant to be used during a financial crisis or to fund operations in poorer parts of the world. LDS Church leaders have said that their charities and affiliates have provided more than $2.5 billion worth of aid around the world since 1985.
Nolan, a musician and father of six, turned to songwriting to process his frustration with the church. After a two-year volunteer mission in Seattle and several assignments in his local ward, he thought he should qualify for assistance in his time of need. And he felt that others facing financial strain should benefit similarly.
Nolan also expressed exasperation that the church tracks members’ tithing to hold them financially accountable.
“The church requires it from us, demands it from us and withholds blessings from us if we don’t do it,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune, which first reported on his musical. “And yet, they don’t give a shred of transparency.”
A slew of gut-wrenching songs were born in a rush, and Nolan said it became clear that he should connect them in a musical. Then he decided to add some more lighthearted melodies to break up the doom and gloom. The result is a mix of pop, hip-hop and rock that Nolan has begun to publish online under his stage name, Jack Betty.
In the somber song “They’re So Needy,” Nolan writes, “I can see you’re in need / Hanging by a thread / Well, here’s a T-shirt and a loaf of bread.” “Let’s Buy Florida,” meanwhile, parodies the church’s ample land holdings: “We’re already the largest landowner / In the Sunshine State of Florida / We ’bout to hit a million acres / ‘Cause you know that God just loves those beachside vacations.”
The plot follows four people who have just landed their dream jobs at the LDS Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City. But they soon learn that their colleagues are obsessed with amassing money and other investments while donating little to external charities. The story is meant to posit that Christian churches prioritize their wealth over meeting human needs, to tragic effect.
The musical’s title, “The Good Shepherds,” drives that point home. It is meant as a tongue-in-cheek assertion that the LDS Church does not behave like Jesus Christ, referred to in the Bible as a good shepherd willing to lay down his life for his flock, Nolan said. If church leaders were truly Christlike, he said, they would use much more of their wealth to care for the marginalized.
“The Jesus that I know and read about in the Bible,” Nolan said, “would come down [and] say, ‘Well, I guess you guys tried, but I blessed you with unimaginable, unfathomable wealth, and here is a list of the millions of lives you could have easily saved.’ “
Nolan said he hopes his show will spark more conversations about how the LDS Church handles its money. He offered a free ticket to any employee of Ensign Peak Advisors, a company that manages the church’s investments.
Although Nolan is slightly nervous about how church leaders will react to his show, he said he is buoyed by his confidence that some other members of the faith must share his qualms with the organization’s finances.
Come what may, he has no plans to leave the church. Many LDS leaders believe that they must be acting rightly if the secular world opposes them, Nolan said. But he hopes disapproval from church members will spark a different reaction.
“When it comes from inside, like from me, and if enough members can rally for stuff like this, I think that’s what’s going to spark the change,” Nolan said. “It’s never going to be the external stuff. It has to be from within.”