With the Book of Mormon musical, prominent Church figures in the spotlight, and frequent mentions on TV shows and in pop culture, Latter-day Saints are used to their religion being the butt-end of a joke or the subject of heated public debates.
But with increased awareness and even criticism of the Church, comes encouraging moments when celebrities stand up for the faith and its members. Here are a few such occasions:
Jon Stewart Defends Mitt Romney and Mormons
Image from the Huffington Post
Shortly after Mitt Romney became the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, Jon Stewart talked about "William J. Romingnonton the Mitt" and his faith on The Daily Show.
While Jon Stewart did not profess any warm feelings toward Romney or give glowing praise about the Church, he used his acerbic humor and sarcasm to break down negative perceptions the public had against members at the time.
During the opening segment, dark, dramatic music and lightning can be heard when Stewart mentions that Romney is a Latter-day Saint, to which Stewart responds, "There's nothing frightening about him being [one]."
He then shows clips of politicians and religious leaders attacking the faith, its founder Joseph Smith, and Latter-day Saints as "worshipers of a false God," non-Christians, and members of a cult.
Stewart hilariously points out the flaws in these accusations, demonstrating all religions have controversial topics in their history, adding, "you can't cherry-pick the worst aspects of every religion and then hold its members responsible."
You can watch the whole video here.
Note: The video uses profanity, strong language, and veers toward the irreverent side. It may not be appropriate for all viewers.
Tom Hanks and the Tabernacle Choir
Image from NPR
In January 2017, NPR had a special guest host on their series "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me"—Tom Hanks. And with panelists Faith Salie, Luke Burbank, and Paula Poundstone, the show was bound to get hilarious.
But for Latter-day Saints tuning in, one segment stood out from the rest—that moment Tom Hanks labeled the Tabernacle Choir as a "celebrity choir."
During the podcast, Tom Hanks and Paula Poundstone's discussion turned toward President Donald Trump's inauguration, along with all the celebrities who would and would not attend the event.
That's when Tom Hanks announced that the Tabernacle Choir would perform at the inauguration, and Paula Poundstone quickly said, "I don't think the [Choir] is exactly a celebrity. When was the last time you bumped into the [Tabernacle Choir] at the CVS and said, 'My friends aren't going to believe this!'"
Tom Hanks followed up with, "I'm just going through all the famous choirs in my head, and out of them all I think that if any choir is, in fact, the celebrity of choirs, I'd have to give it to the [Tabernacle Choir]."
"But would you recognize them if they are not in the Tabernacle?" Poundstone asked.
Hanks hilariously replied, "I was under the impression they just wore those robes everywhere they went."
Later in the show, when Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Simone Biles called in to reveal her celebrity crush, the Tabernacle Choir got another funny mention:
Brandon Flowers Defends the Church to Famous Atheist
Image from Rolling Stone
While on a European concert tour in 2012, Latter-day Saint rock star and frontman for the Killers Brandon Flowers appeared on a Norwegian TV show, Skavlan.
The interview turned to Flowers's wife and children, where he also discussed his faith and the beauty he finds in religion.
"Some of the things I love—I think of my mother teaching me to pray and I have that communication with my Heavenly Father and that is something I turn to on a daily basis," Flowers said. "There are answers to questions that my Church has that I believe are also very—it's a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful thing for me and I am happy."
He continued, explaining that the religion is "still a very misunderstood religion and I think people are pretty unfamiliar with it."
After being asked whether he truly believed in Joseph Smith and the translation of the Book of Mormon, Flowers confidently responded, "Yeah. I am very familiar with the origins of my religion. I've read about it. You get to the age where you have to, you know your parents teach you something, and you gotta decide once you're an adult. . . . You have to gain a testimony for yourself."
Moments later, Skavlan invited famous atheist Richard Dawkins on stage. In his explanation of why he believes science replaces any need for religion, Dawkins turned to criticizing the Church, calling the Book of Mormon an "obvious fake," adding "it's not beautiful; it's the work of a charlatan."
As his primary evidence of the Book of Mormon's falsehood, Dawkins said it was a "19th-century book written in 16th-century English . . . That's not how people talked in the 19th century. It's an obvious fake."
Despite Dawkins's repeated criticism, verbal attacks, interruptions, and a few incorrect facts, Flowers retains his calm throughout the interview, saying, "To call this man [Joseph Smith] a charlatan, I take offense to it."
Seeing the turn of the conversation, Skavlan interrupted, telling Flowers he could leave to prepare for his performance on the show, and that's when Flowers offered, "We can talk on the phone later and I can tell you about some of the true history [of the Church]."
Mitt Romney and Joe Biden Defend the Church
Image from LA Times
After running for president in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, Mitt Romney became one of the most visible Latter-day Saints in politics, drawing both criticism and praise for his faith.
While attention and pressure were heaped on Romney because of his religion, he made it clear, "I do not try to distance myself from my faith in any way shape or form. . . . I accept all my faith, but I don't impose my faith's beliefs on you."
In a 2007 speech, Romney emphatically said, "I believe in my faith and endeavor to live by it. . . . Some believe such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.”
During that same speech, Romney testified of his belief that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” and in a later interview, he clarified, "I am very proud of the Church. I am proud of the fact that my forefathers helped to found the American West; that we have fought for the vision of religious tolerance; that we have achieved it; and that someone like me can run for president."
During the 2012 presidential election, Romney's faith once again entered the spotlight, and in his defense of his religion, Romney found an unlikely ally—Vice President Joe Biden.
"Even though he may very well be our opponent, I think it's outrageous—I think it's outrageous that people—or the polling data show that they will not support him, whatever percentage it is . . . because he is a [Latter-day Saint]," Biden said in 2011 while speaking at the University of Pittsburgh. "I find it preposterous that in 2011 we're debating whether or not a man is qualified or worthy of your vote based on whether or not his religion—being a Latter-day Saint—is a disqualifying provision. It is not. It's embarrassing. And we should be ashamed anyone who thinks that way."
Tim Allen Speaks Out Against The Book of Mormon Musical
Image from the Deseret News
“I almost walked out of The Book of Mormon musical. I found that horrible. I don’t think it was funny at all," Tim Allen said in an interview with the Deseret News in 2017. The popular comedian spoke of the musical as "troubling" and "mean-spirited," noting that a production presenting any other faith in a similar way would not have happened. Allen, who was a religious studies and philosophy major, says he has great respect for other religions and understands when a joke takes things too far, according to the Deseret News.
About the Church's response to this production, Allen said, "It shows a level of class. . . . I mean, there wasn’t any blowback from the Mormons.”
In fact, Allen even joked about considering joining the Church after touring Temple Square and learning about the Latter-day Saint pioneers and Church history. “This is amazing—I’m going to become Mormon,” he quipped before sharing a joke about the gold plates.
Billy Graham Defends Glenn Beck's Faith
Shortly after Billy Graham's death, a man USA Today touted as the "world's best-known evangelist," Latter-day Saint and talk show host Glenn Beck interviewed Graham's daughter, Ruth. During that interview, Beck spoke emotionally of a memory he shared with Billy Graham in 2014.
He begins sharing this message at 27:21 in the video below:
"I remember five years ago, your father asked me some very pointed questions," Beck said. "And somebody in the room said, ‘Just a reminder, he’s Mormon.’ And your father turned to the individual and said, 'I know.'
"And he looked back at me and said—we were talking about a certain subject—and he said, 'Tell me how you know that came from Christ.' And I told him."
Beck continues, "And [Graham] looked back to the other individual and said, 'He sure sounds Christian to me.'"
Beck then went on to ask how we can rid ourselves of the divisions that so often separate us as Christians.
But this encounter was not the only time Graham stood up for Latter-day Saints. During the 2012 presidential election, Graham's son publicly announced the removal of a page from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website—on which classified the Church as a cult and advised people to avoid any association with such religions.
About the removal of the page, Billy Graham’s media representative explained:
“Mr. Graham’s calling is not to pass judgment, but to proclaim the Biblical truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven, allowing every individual and group to fall along that plumb line. He further stressed that salvation is the work of Almighty God and that only He knows what is in each human heart.”
President Roosevelt Defends a Latter-day Saint Apostle
Image from Mental Floss
In addition to being a businessman and an apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Reed Smoot became a U.S. senator in 1903, serving for 30 years.
Despite his prominent position, Smoot's service in the U.S. Senate was not without controversy. His close ties to the Church at his election reawakened anti-Latter-day Saint sentiments across the nation. Within the first year of his election, protesting citizens sent in over 3,100 petitions to Washington D.C. What followed was a Senate investigation called the Smoot Hearings that lasted four years and put Reed Smoot and the Church under scrutiny, dragging into the limelight questions of the Church's past and present.
Historian Kathleen Flake observed, "The four-year Senate proceeding created a 3,500-page record of testimony by 100 witnesses on every peculiarity of the Church. . . . At the height of the hearing, some senators were receiving a thousand letters a day from angry constituents. What remains of these public petitions fills 11 feet of shelf space, the largest such collection in the National Archives.”
Among the most influential defenders of Senator Smoot was none other than President Theodore Roosevelt, who visited Utah in 1903 to demonstrate his support. Michael K Winder notes, “It was during this time of public scrutiny of the Church that Theodore Roosevelt weighed in most consequentially on the side of the Mormons,” (Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal“Theodore Roosevelt and the Mormons,” 12).
President Roosevelt said of his investigation of claims against Senator Smoot, “I looked into the facts very thoroughly, became convinced that Senator Smoot had told me the truth, and treated him exactly as I did all the other Senators—that is, strictly on his merits as a public servant.”
Another publication quoted him saying, "By all that's holy, I say to you that Reed Smoot is entitled to his seat in the Senate under the Constitution, and the fact that he is a high church officer makes no difference. I shall do all in my power to help him retain his seat" (Carmack, Tolerance).
Smoot's unreproachable character and President Theodore Roosevelt's support caused the Senate to vote for Smoot to maintain his seat. This presidential support was a "major turning point in the development of the relationship between the Church and the American public," Winder writes.
President Roosevelt visited Utah on numerous occasions, complimenting and speaking to the Saints. In his 1903 visit, he told the citizens, "You took a state which at the outset was called after the desert, and you literally—not figuratively—you literally made the wilderness blossom as the rose."
President Roosevelt welcomed and spoke with Church leaders on many occasions, and he even visited with missionaries during a public parade in Tenessee in 1907. These events helped bring the Church and missionary work out of obscurity while also dispelling rumors about and fear of the faith.
During a time of public scrutiny and criticism of the Church, President Roosevelt spoke out adamantly about Latter-day Saints' religious freedom. "The Mormon has the same right to his form of religious belief that the Jew and the [mainstream] Christian have to theirs," he said.
After President Roosevelt's death, Elder Richard R. Lyman spoke of this beloved leader in general conference, saying, "I recognized, long before the death of Theodore Roosevelt, that the Lord raised him up to stir the hearts of men to civic righteousness, as perhaps no man could have stirred them."