Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Mormons Are Coming, The Mormons Are Coming!

Evidence of Mormania in Everyday Life in American Culture

That's right, they're everywhere. They are the pious, family-loving members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. They don't drink or smoke, but they eat more Jell-O than almost anywhere in the world. They aren't just in Utah -- there are currently five Mormon U.S. senators in office (one is a Democrat!), and two governors (Utah and Nevada).

On the other hand, the current mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, is no longer a Mormon. He’s also a Democrat, a big critic of the Bush administration, an advocate for gay rights (and maybe, rumor has it, a closeted homosexual himself), a big supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, and an opponent of Utah’s draconian liquor laws. Ironically, Salt Lake City, the seat of Mormon power, is a pretty liberal town.

But now we may have our first Mormon presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, a Catholic Democratic stronghold. Although some say his religion may be "his biggest hurdle," he may have a good shot at the nomination. (Or does he? Slate points out that he's fond of joking about polygamy: "I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman … and a woman … and a woman" -- a little too fond.)

Add to that the prominence of Mormons in entertainment, like HBO's surprisingly well written show Big Love, about a renegade Mormon sect of polygamists in Sandy, Utah, and it looks like Mormonism, for better and worse, is becoming mainstream. Not convinced? Look at Napoleon Dynamite. More on that later.

Mormons have been infiltrating the midsts of good Christian Americans for a long time, actually -- here's proof:

The Marriott family that started the Marriott hotel chain is Mormon. So is David Neeleman, the CEO of JetBlue. And Stephen J. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Wilford Brimley, a Salt Lake City native, is a Mormon. Aaron Eckhart, the actor, is a Mormon; he did his mission (wherein young Mormon men put on short-sleeve dress shirts and ties, backpacks, and ride around on mountain bikes trying to convert people for two years) in France and Switzerland.

Jared Hess and his wife Jerusha, the couple that made Napoleon Dynamite are Mormons, as is the movie's star, Jon Heder. That’s why the movie didn’t have any swearing in it. And it explains the condescending attitude toward Pedro’s Catholicism. Ricky Schroder converted. Gordon Jump, an actor who played "the big guy" on WKRP in Cincinnati a child molester on Diff'rent Strokes, and the Maytag Repairman for a very long time was a Mormon.

Some of the most famous Mormons -- or should I say, famous for being Mormons -- are musicians. The entire Osmond clan, notably Donnie and Marie, for example. And The Jets, an 80s-era band from Minneapolis comprised of a Polynesian family of 17 kids. Mormon mission work has been big in Polynesia, particularly the island nation of Tonga, where the Jets are originally from. Gladys Knight (of Pips fame) converted in 1997, and now directs a Mormon choir.

There aren't a whole lot of black Mormons, maybe because the church had a policy of not allowing blacks to become ordained until God told them it was okay in 1978. Although to be fair, most Protestants used to believe blacks were descended from Cain, the evil brother of Abel, too. In a related note, there aren't many American Indian Mormons, and that may be because Mormon history says that American Indians are the descendants of the bad people who killed off the lost tribe of Israel that came to the New World long, long ago.

Some have made connections between the original Battlestar Galactica series and the Mormon faith, to which producer Glen Larsen belonged. Larsen also blessed us with Knight Rider.

There are some very strange converts to LDS. Writer-director Neil La Bute, who directed Aaron Eckhart in the very un-Mormon movie In the Company of Men converted when he went to Brigham Young University for college. Anne Perry, the British mystery writer, converted. She’s also known as a convicted murderer -- she and her childhood best friend killed the friend’s mother when they were young in New Zealand. Peter Jackson’s 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures is about the murder. Kate Winslet played Anne Perry.

Actors like Paul Walker, Eliza Dushku, Matthew Modine, and Ryan Gosling have distanced themselves from the church. The late musician and songwriter Warren Zevon was raised LDS, but didn’t practice as an adult.

And finally, we have a Mormon to thank for TV: Philo T. Farnsworth is sometimes credited as the inventor of the television, but was at the very least an important TV pioneer.

Most of my information came from the website Famous Mormons.net, which is also a book by Ron Johnston.

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