Latter-day Saint Life

Peanut butter at the pearly gates? What a quote misattributed to Sister Hinckley teaches about Latter-day Saint myths

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As I wrote the book Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-day Myths, I evaluated popular stories and quotations that circulate in Latter-day Saint talks, lessons, and social media posts. Some turned out to be real, and others—not so much. Tracing the source of a statement commonly attributed to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s wife, Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley, proved to be an adventure with a surprising destination. Here is the quotation in question:

I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor’s children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here, and that I really lived.

A quick internet search will yield a plethora of results that attribute these words to Sister Hinckley; it took quite a bit of digging, however, to discover the surprising history of this clever and inspirational prose.

The Search Begins

By entering the words “Marjorie Hinckley,” “pearly gates,” and “peanut butter” into the internet search bar, I got thousands of hits on websites, blogs, and social media accounts. The top two links were for the website Goodreads, which isn’t a great place to end a search because it is an aggregated site where everything is copied from somewhere else. Neither page provided an original source for the quotation—only the simple attribution of Sister Hinckley’s name. The other thing that caught my eye on the pages were two basic grammatical errors.1 Every proper quotation should contain four elements—an author, the exact words, the original setting, and the source. Goodreads presented an author, but grammatical errors made the wording suspicious and it lacked an original setting and source.

Going Inside Sister Hinckley’s Publications

As I continued to search, the quotation appeared everywhere. People turned the text into cute posts, pins, and handouts with eye-catching fonts and graphics. Many added a picture of Sister Hinckley. Others added photographs of charming children or mindful mothers. The vast majority simply copied the words and repeated the same incomplete attribution from Goodreads.

Drilling deeper into the list of hits, I found a news column, written for Mother’s Day in 2016, that attributed the quotation to Sister Hinckley’s book Small and Simple Things. The author of the column did not cite a page number, so I read the entire book—and found nothing. The quotation had evidently been found on the internet, its grammar errors edited, and an incorrect attribution added.2

Now I began to search everything published in connection with Sister Hinckley. For example, the quotation did not appear in three pamphlets she authored or co-authored. It was also missing from the published collection of her letters to her family.3 It appeared Sister Hinckley never made the statement in question. No matter how many Pinterest boards or blogs or columnists recycle the words and attribute them to her, it does not change the fact that those words do not appear in her books or writings. So where did they come from?

A Promising Lead

I continued to search online, but now with specific phrases such as “a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt” or “I want the Lord to know I was really here.” Again, many hits returned Sister Hinckley, but the more specific search winnowed out enough results that I finally found a lead.

In 2013, a blogger used the quotation in a post titled “What Would Marjorie Do?”, but a commenter offered a correction that was integrated into the original post. The commenter said the quotation came not from Sister Hinckley but was included in a speech at the 1997 Brigham Young University Women’s Conference.4 I found the proceedings of the conference and, sure enough, Linda Bentley Johnson closed her remarks by saying, “In my journal I copied these words that I refer to often.” Johnson’s quotation varied from the Goodreads version, using different adjectives and containing an additional line about grass-stained shoes.5 Now, how could I find the source Johnson used to copy the words into her journal?

In hopes of finding an original source, I included Johnson’s name in my internet searches. I found evidence to suggest that Johnson did her best to correct the misattribution circling the internet—she had visited at least four blogs to leave comments about her source. “Sister Hinckley did not say or write the pearly gates quote,” she posted repeatedly. “I have done research on this for a while to find the [original] source since I used the quote in a talk in 1997.” Johnson also stated in her comment that the words had been quoted anonymously in Latter-day Saint author and public speaker Jack R. Christianson’s book What’s So Bad About Being Good? Johnson finished her comment by leaving a final exhortation to “pass it on and correct the error.”6

It turns out Christianson had published two editions of What’s So Bad about Being Good, one in 1992 and the other in 2000. I found a copy of the first edition, but the quotation was not there! So I checked the second edition of the book, and the quotation was there, but with some alterations: this car had no mud on its wheels, but there was “Boy Scout equipment in the back seat”; the dirt under the fingernails came not from weeding a garden but “from helping . . . plant a garden”; and the grass-stained shoes came from mowing the lawn of Mrs. Schenck. And with the quotation was a reference that brought me the closest so far to an original source: Christianson wrote that he obtained the words from a friend of his wife who had experienced divorce and single motherhood before passing away due to cancer. (See the original document Christianson was given below. The notes belong to Christianson.)

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I looked more closely at all of Christianson’s works and discovered he had been sharing the quotation in his speeches and firesides in the 1990s. Johnson likely heard one of Christianson’s talks before she spoke at BYU Women’s Conference and recorded the words in her journal. As far as I could tell, Christianson had never publicly named the author in his talks or writings, always describing her as a friend of his wife.8

A Surprising Discovery

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As I prepared this story for publication, I reached out to Johnson and Christianson and both confirmed the reconstructed timeline I’d traced down. Christianson also identified the name of the original writer, and her family authorized me to publish her name.9 Nadine Miner Hobby of Provo, Utah, wrote these intimate and inspirational words as a parting personal testimony.

The popularly-shared version of this quotation on Goodreads turns out to be a mash-up from Nadine Miner Hobby, Linda Bentley Johnson, and Goodreads editors—technically no one ever said all of the words on Goodreads. Further, Marjorie Pay Hinckley never wrote or spoke the poetic words about pearly gates and peanut butter that are so frequently—and erroneously—attributed to her. With this discovery, I now hope that people can attribute the quotation accurately and share the words in Nadine’s own voice.


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Real vs. Rumor explores latter-day myths, rumors, and Church history to demonstrate how to think critically about the information that swirls around us. Each chapter brims with illuminating examples from scripture, history, and popular culture. By thoughtfully combining study and faith to investigate myths and rumors, you will deepen your discipleship, avoid deception, understand tough topics, and see the hand of God in history and in your own life. Find Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-day Myths at Deseret Book or deseretbook.com.

Notes

1. “Marjorie Pay Hinckley” Goodreads, 2008, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/26665-idon-t-want-to-drive-up-to-the-pearly-gates. 

2. Carmen Rasmusen Herbert, “For the Unglamorous Mother,” Deseret News, May 6, 2016; Marjorie Pay Hinckley, Small and Simple Things (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003).

3. Gordon B. Hinckley and Marjorie P. Hinckley, The Wondrous Power of a Mother (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 10–16; Marjorie Pay Hinckley, Mothering: Everyday Choices, Eternal Blessings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996); Marjorie Pay Hinckley, To Women: Is This What I Was Born to Do? (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004); Marjorie Pay Hinckley, Letters (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004).

4. Bonnie, “What Would Marjorie Do?,” Real Intent (blog), May 11, 2013, https://realintent.org/what-would-marjorie-do.

5. Linda Bentley Johnson, “Steak and Spam Service,” in Every Good Thing: Talks from the 1997 BYU Women’s Conference, ed. Dawn Hall Anderson, Susette Fletcher Green, and Dlora Hall Dalton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1998), 90–91. 

6. Linda Johnson, comment, November 23, 2014, “Life and Gratitude and Motherhood ~ Inspired Quotes from an Inspired Lady,” Pieces of Me (blog), April 29, 2010, http://yoga-momma. blogspot.com/2010/04/one-of-people-i-havealways- wished-i.html.

7. Jack R. Christianson, What’s So Bad About Being Good? (Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2000), 25–27.

8. Jack R. Christianson, Women of Light (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications Inc., 2003), 14–15 cites the second edition of What’s So Bad about Being Good? (2000), 26.

9. Jack R. Christianson, emails to the author, February 23–25, 2021; Linda Bentley Johnson, phone call with author, February 24, 2021; Anjanell Burgess, email to author, February 25, 2021.

Lead image courtesy of Jack R. Christianson. Photo of Nadine Miner Hobby courtesy of her family.

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