What 21 Famous People Have Said About Mormons


People have a lot to say about the Mormons these days, what with The Book of Mormon musical still going strong not to mention how Mormons are impacting the current presidential election. And there’s no short supply of topics or opinions.

But, since the 1800s, Mormons have always been a popular topic of conversation, and often misrepresentation. As a "peculiar" people, we just can't help but draw the attention of famous people, from writers to presidents to celebrities and more.

Here are just a few priceless quotes of what influential people have said about Mormons:

Katherine Heigl

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Actress Katherine Heigl grew up as a Latter-day Saint, and she credits the faith for many of the values she has today and for helping her family through hard times after he brother died in a car accident when he was 7 years old:

"Both my parents felt a great desire for answers, and they found an answer in the Mormon church," Heigl told Vanity Fair. "But I give my parents unbelievable credit for pulling it together, and I give the Mormon church a lot of credit for helping them to do that."

In an interview with KSL, she talked about how the Church helped her as she was growing up. "I always say 'grace' is my favorite word. It is my favorite concept, and I think it exists so wholly in every part of my life. I've seen it in small ways. I've seen it in grand ways. I just feel the connection my parents had and that the Church helped foster for me as a child. I am incredibly grateful for it because I just don't want to do it alone. Even with friends and family, there is nothing like having faith and feeling like there is a higher being on my side that cares."

Jimmy Stewart

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Academy-Award winner Jimmy Stewart called his experience directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during a scene from Mr. Kreuger's Christmas the most unique of his famous career, according to the Deseret News. “I have always felt that we needed to put the emphasis on what Christmas is really all about, and this story does that…the chance to stand in front of that choir that I have adored all my life was just impossible to resist,” Jimmy Stewart said in a quote shared by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

President Abraham Lincoln

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“When I was a boy on the farm in Illinois there was a great deal of timber on the farm which we had to clear away. Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Jim Gaffigan
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Lead image from ticketcrusader.com

With his family of seven, clean comedy, and love of Salt Lake City and fry sauce, Jim Gaffigan has acquired a large following of Mormons. In fact, as Gaffigan says, "I've even joked that I look like a Mormon."

"It's not like I had some elaborate plan like, if I get rid of the curse words, I can get the Mormons [on my side]," he told Boise Weekly. "[It] was literally a function of 'I'm writing jokes about bacon and escalators. Is it necessary to curse?'"

John Rhys-Davies

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Lead image from digitalspy.com

After performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for their 2013 Christmas concert and starring in aBYUtv movie, John Rhys-Davies has had more exposure to Mormons and LDS culture than most in the movie industry.

Rhys-Davies, best known for his roles as Gimli in Lord of the Rings and Sallah in Indiana Jones, said of Mormons, "You're a strange community to us on the outside, but I find you very warm and very welcoming and very friendly—a considerate people. I like you. And you make it very clear you are willing to put up with me despite the fact that I am far less godly than you guys are."

One particularly interesting Mormon practice that Rhys-Davies has come to admire is that of LDS missions.

"Mormon youth has this structure of a mission, and it makes men, and good ones too. . . .

"[You] send people away from home with no contact with home except on birthdays or Christmas or something like that—to go to an alien country and to have to go out and meet people and make contacts. I meet these young men and they must go home night after night with a sense of abject failure. And [then they] have to get up the next morning and try and do better. When they finally manage to go home they will have matured and nothing again in their lives will ever be as hard and difficult as that.

"The ones that survive—and I imagine most of them do—turn out very splendid and very successful and quietly confident men. Nothing can be as bad. If I can do that, I can do anything, and that's a very significant ritual you have evolved. Very impressive."

President Ronald Reagan

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President Ronald Reagan held Latter-day Saints in very high regard. In fact, he was the U.S. president with the best relationship with the Mormons and surrounded himself with Latter-day Saints in his administration.

"From his days as governor of California, the doctrines and the principles of the Church drew his frequent interest. As president, he often asked about Church programs. He recognized the Church's moral leadership and social influence, even declaring, 'A Mormon contribution to American life is beyond measuring.'"

In 1982 President Reagan toured the Church's welfare services, praising the Church for its incredible resources.

“You know that I’ve talked for a long time about Americans doing for themselves, about the private initiative, about citizens’ groups doing so many things that government thinks only it can do," said Reagan. "And I have just toured a cannery—part of the program of the Latter-day Saints for meeting the needs of their people when they have to have help.”

Charles Dickens

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Upon boarding an emigrant ship with roughly 800 Latter-day Saints, Dickens observed, Nobody is in an ill temper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word, nobody appears depressed, nobody is weeping . . . And these people are so strikingly different from all other people in like circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, ‘What would a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!’”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

After trying to bait some Mormons into talking about their prophet so he could criticize Joseph Smith, Dickensalso noted: “It is surprising to me that these people are all so cheery, and make so little of the immense distance before them. . . . What is in store for the poor people on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, what happy delusions they are labouring under now, on what miserable blindness their eyes may be opened then, I do not pretend to say. But I went on board their ship to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment, they did not deserve it; and my predispositions and tendencies must not affect me as an honest witness, I went over the Amazon’s side, feeling it impossible to deny that, so far, some remarkable influence had produced a remarkable result, which better known influences have often missed.”

President John F. Kennedy

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“I speak for all Americans in expressing our gratitude to the Mormon people—for their pioneer spirit, their devotion to culture and learning, their example of industry and self-reliance. But I am particularly in their debt tonight for their successful battle to make religious liberty a living reality—for having proven to the world that different faiths of different views could flourish harmoniously in our midst—and for having proven to the Nation in this century that a public servant devout in his chosen faith was still capable of undiminished allegiance to our Constitution and national interest.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

John Stockton

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In hisautobiography, Assisted, NBA star John Stockton talked about his experience living in Utah among Latter-day Saints.

Stockton was very grateful for the kindness of the LDS people,saying he felt welcome "without feeling pressured into converting." "The Mormons are an active, mission-oriented congregation with a focus on conversion. However, I was never asked if I wanted to be blessed or baptized into the church, and never once was I put into an uncomfortable situation . . . I became friends, in some cases close friends, with many of the Mormon faithful . . . these people, all of a different faith than me, not only made my opportunity with the Jazz possible, they enhanced and enriched the experience."

Maria von Trapp

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“In Brazil, in Argentina, in Peru, in Chile, in Mexico, in New Zealand, in Australia … whenever there were two strapping young Americans—two—coming up to us, very friendly, they were Mormon missionaries. I always admired the Mormon Church, for this in a way is most natural thing to do, to give two years of your life—a preconceived Peace Corps plan, long before there was Peace Corps—and to go to teach all people, as He has told us to do.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Walter Cronkite

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After performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Walter Cronkite said, “I hope that somewhere, Mom and Dad are proud that little Walter is performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have never been a religious person in the conventional sense, but I have felt nearer to my God the past couple of days than ever before.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Leo Tolstoy
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Lead image from forward.com

A creative genius, a master of realistic fiction, and arguably the greatest novelist of all time, Count Leo Tolstoy had some surprising connections to Mormonism.

From a mention in his diary, it's clear Tolstoy knew about Mormonism as early as 1857, but his first strong tie to Latter-day Saint beliefs and people came after the daughter of President Brigham Young Susan Young Gates—who was lauded by R. Paul Cracroft as "the most versatile and prolific LDS writer ever to take up the pen in defense of her religion"—sent him a copy of the Book of Mormon and struck up a correspondence (“Tolstoy and Mormonism,” Leland A Fetzer).

Tolstoy didn't reveal his thoughts on Mormonism until some time later when he visited with U.S. Foreign Minister to Russia Andrew D. White in the 1890s.

White wrote about the experience in McClure's Magazine in April 1901, saying, “[H]e asked me about the Mormons, some of whose books had interested him. He thought two thirds of their religion deception, but said that on the whole he preferred a religion which professed to have dug its sacred books out of the earth to one that pretended that they were let down from heaven. On learning that I had visited Salt Lake City two years before, he spoke of the good reputation of the Mormons for chastity, and asked me to explain the hold of their religion upon women."

White continues, "I answered that Mormonism could hardly be judged by its results at present; that, as a whole, the Mormons are, no doubt, the most laborious and decent people in the State of Utah; but that this is their heroic period, when outside pressure keeps them firmly together and arouses their devotion; that the true test will come later . . .” (“Tolstoy and Mormonism,” Leland A Fetzer).

An article published in the LDS Church magazine The Improvement Eragives another account of the conversation between Tolstoy and White. Thomas J. Yates, a student at Cornell, tells of a discussion he had with White in 1900. According to Yates' account of this conversation, White quoted Tolstoy as saying:

"Catholicism originated in Rome; the Episcopal Church originated in England; the Lutheran Church in Germany, but the Church to which I refer originated in America, and is commonly known as the Mormon Church. . . .

"The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress — it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.”

It was this conversation with Tolstoy that prompted White to meet with Yates and learn more about Mormon beliefs.

Though these quotes from Tolstoy on Mormonism come from second-hand and third-hand accounts, it's clear that LDS beliefs intrigued Tolstoy and that Mormon values and Church members left an impression on the famous writer.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Good out of evil. One must thank the genius of Brigham Young for the creation of Salt Lake City — an inestimable hospitality to the Overland Emigrants, and an efficient example to all men in the vast desert, teaching how to subdue and turn it to a habitable garden.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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In a letter to Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt commented on a Deseret News article noting that Churchill was related to members of the LDS Church. He wrote:

“Hitherto I had not observed any outstanding Mormon characteristics in either of you—but I shall be looking for them from now on. I have a very high opinion of the Mormons—for they are excellent citizens.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Cecil B. DeMille

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Filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille said during his comments at a BYU commencement: “I have known many members of your church—and I have never known one who was not a good citizen and a fine, wholesome person—but David O. McKay embodies, more than anyone that I have ever known, the virtues and the drawing-power of your church.

"David McKay, almost thou persuadest me to be a Mormon! And knowing what family life means to the Latter-day Saints, I cannot speak or think of President McKay without thinking too of that gracious and spirited young lady who is his wife.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

President Barrack Obama

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While visiting a mosque before the National Day of Prayer, President Obama told the Islamic Society of Baltimore: "Mormon communities have been attacked throughout our history . . . . When any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up, and we have to reject politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias and targets people because of religion."

Mark Twain

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“We walked about the streets [of Salt Lake City] some, afterward, and glanced in at shops and stores; and there was a fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon. This was a fairyland to us, to all intents and purposes—a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had, and if it could tell them apart; and we experienced a thrill every time a dwelling-house door opened and shut as we passed, disclosing a glimpse of human heads and backs of shoulders—for we longed to have a good satisfying look at a Mormon family in all its comprehensive ampleness, disposed in the customary concentric rings of its home circle.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

President Herbert Hoover

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“I have witnessed their devotion to public service and their support of charitable efforts over our country and in foreign lands during all these years. I have witnessed the growth of the church’s communities over the world where self-reliance, devotion, resolution, and integrity are a light to all mankind. Surely a great message of Christian faith has been given by the church—and it must continue.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

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“Yours is a most remarkable story of faith in action, and it changed the world.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Angela Lansbury

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After singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Angela Lansbury said, “The spirit of this place is so evident. It is all enveloping. It’s all around me. I feel buoyed up by it. This has been one of the things I felt very strongly about being here. I didn’t realize that I was going to be hit by this extraordinary spirit. I haven’t experienced this before. It’s quite unique, people doing something for the love of it.”

-From Much Ado About Mormons: What Famous People Have Said About the Mormons by Rick Walton

Hillary and Bill Clinton

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In her 1996 autobiography, Hillary Clinton wrote: "I admire the way Mormons set aside one night a week for family activities. When Chelsea was small, Bill and I adopted this idea."

Bill Clinton himself had some experience with Mormonism before his family adopted this practice when he took missionary discussions while growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Clinton spoke highly of the missionaries' efforts as well as of the Church, saying he "admires the church for its high ethical standards and belief in a celestial kingdom but said the idea of being in heaven without his non-Mormon friends was too much to give up."

All images from Getty Images unless otherwise noted

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