Steve Young. Donny Osmond. Gladys Knight. Mitt Romney. David Archuleta. Brooke White.
What do they all have in common? If you're a Mormon and don't live in a cave, you probably know the answer: They are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We know it, and are proud of our own. I'm reminded of the once popular Adam Sandler song, "Chanukah", which proudly and humorously lists famous people who are Jewish. We even have a web site devoted to famous Mormons.
Admit it. You get a sense of satisfaction when you hear about someone who is famous and Mormon, or when you hear about someone you know is Mormon becoming successful and well known. This is perfectly natural. The smaller the group you belong to, the more likely you are to have the "one-of-our-own" mentality. But why do we care so much?
Is it because if there's a Mormon who is liked by a lot people, that makes us more normal? Does it somehow validate the Mormon position? Does it show that our lifestyle is superior since we produce such great people? Of course consciously we would reject these justifications. Surely the success or failure of a few Mormons should not reflect on the entire population in general, should it? Yet, subconsciously, somehow it does.
But what's the harm? Mormons have historically been a small group, and as any small group it is understandable that we should be proud of our own who have become successful. However, the membership of the LDS church has now grown to over 13 million. Our membership is large and diverse. As the membership grows, it becomes more dangerous to allow a few members to be put up on a pedestal. To illustrate this, let's look at a few examples:
I think it's safe to say that Mormons in general were rooting for Mitt Romney. I was myself, but I tried very hard to make sure my support was because I thought he was the best candidate, not because he was Mormon. Although I think I was pretty successful at it, I can't deny that it does appear that many Mormons supported him who perhaps would not if he was not a Mormon. The fact that Utah supported him so strongly proves this, I believe. It's pretty hard to argue with the fact that he would not have gotten such a landslide victory there if he had not been Mormon. We are proud of him.
But what would happen if it came out that he had been involved in some illegal business transaction, or marital infidelity. Don't get me wrong, from what I know of him I wouldn't expect it, but really I know very little about his personal life. I'm not trying to judge. In fact, that's exactly the point: We shouldn't judge too harshly, but we also should be too quick to judge favorably about someone we don't know much about. So if it came out that he had done something unflattering, how would Mormons look, considering we supported him in such numbers?
Another example is Gladys Knight. Some Mormons love to bring her up, especially when talking about race issues within the church. Does her membership somehow prove that race is not an issue in Mormon culture and that we have put our past behind us? Of course it doesn't prove that, but sometimes we act as if it does. So what would happen if Sister Knight decided she didn't want to be a Mormon anymore? Since some have used her name as an argument that the Mormon culture accepts all races equally, would her rejecting Mormonism mean that we have a race problem? We have given her way too much power in the realm of public opinion on Mormonism.
Today, the big names are David Archuleta and Brooke White, who have made the top seven on American Idol. From what I can tell, they are good people. But I know very little about them other than that they are Mormon, sing well, and their families clap for them vigorously. Do I secretly root for them? At some level, yes. I'm not immune. But what happens if it comes out that one of them has done something that most Mormons would consider out-of-line with what we believe, or if they do something like that in the future? Do I want my church represented to the world by two people who I know very little about? Of course I'm not suggesting they should quit, but the question is how we include their Mormonism in their frame of success.
The answer goes back to what our leaders have been telling us for years: Let's be good neighbors. Let's take care of our families, be good employees, and be honest and caring of others. Of course we should do this regardless of whether others recognize it, but it also happens to be the best way to improve the image of Mormonism. Pinning our hopes on celebrities is a short cut, and as my wife will tell you, short cuts sometimes don't get us to where we intend.