I don’t know how other religions deal with celebrity members, but it seems like those of us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) treat them like we treat Diet Coke and the Word of Wisdom: we either embrace them, regardless of their activity in or representation of the Church, or we shun, ignore or otherwise pretend they don’t belong to us.
I have to be honest; sometimes I’m shocked to learn that a particular celebrity has a Mormon background. (Christina Aguilera, Amy Adams and Roseanne Barr anyone? WHAT?!) Other times, I like to think I have Modar and can call them out before it’s somehow revealed. (A SYTYCD contestant from Utah? Mormon.)
Anyway, considering that I think of myself as an above average sports fan, I was shocked to learn recently that Bryce Harper, of the Washington Nationals, also identifies, not only, as a member of the Church, but as apparently as active a member as one can be who plays in Major League Baseball. At least, that’s what he told the Washington Times three years ago. (“I try to be the best walking Book of Mormon as I can.”) Fast forward a couple years, and I’m not sure that looking at him in the 2015 ESPN Body Issue would necessarily convey the same sentiment. Mormons don’t usually pose naked in national publications (to say nothing of the tattoo). So somebody call Deseret Book STAT and get Brother Harper a life-size scripture tote for his naked Book of Mormon.
Being a celebrity and a poster member of the Church is a very difficult, if not impossible. If you’re an actor, you’re probably going to be given scripts with objectionable content. If you’re an athlete, you’re going to be playing sports on Sunday. If you’re a performance artist, you’ll undoubtedly be performing in venues on Sunday. (And even if you manage to get to a local Sunday service, somewhere in the world, attending sacrament meeting is not nearly all that goes into a Mormon membership.) Whatever the profession, the fame, fortune and fast times are tough to keep in check.
My all-time favorite Mormon celebrity (if only for a brief moment in time) is a guy I had the pleasure of literally running into on a daily basis during my football playing days at B.Y.U. His name is Eli Herring, and he played right tackle for quarterbacks like Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian. I was a third string defensive end, which meant that I was first string defensive end for whoever the opposing defense would be in our next game; which meant that I lined up across Eli every, single practice.
If you’ve never heard of Eli’s name, or read his story, now’s your chance. He turned down a three year contract with the Oakland Raiders worth $1.5MM to become a math teacher making $22K. Why? Because he didn’t want to play a game on the Lord’s Day. Eli’s rejection of the NFL made national news, and then was faded into history like everyone and everything else.
I haven’t seen Eli since the last time our heads butted in practice. But I can tell you this, if anything rubbed off on me, from all those impacts with Brother Eli, it was this: he loves his God, and isn’t afraid to show and tell the world about it.
Now THAT is a walking Book of Mormon.