A hot kind-of Mormon in Hollywood

kheigl ringGentle GetReligion readers! Please know that this post is not a shameless attempt to shoot the following paragraph from a William Booth feature in the Washington Post out into the search-engine universe at Google and Yahoo. Your GetReligionistas are above that sort of thing, I’ll have you know.

LOS ANGELES – She enters the room in a knit that fits, the kind of dress with a place for everything. Lipstick the color of a valentine. The doors to the balcony are thrown open and she exhales, “Great, I can smoke,” and pulls one from the pack and you think, carbon monoxide might not be so bad. She was raised Mormon, but she’s drinking coffee by the gallon, and for the next hour Katherine Heigl is happy to ride the buzz and talk about raunchy jokes, humorless shrews, breast size and God’s infinite mysteries.

Now, with that kind of lede you just know that this is not going to be your usual religion story. I also thought that it was not going to be your usual, run-of-the-mill Hollywood junket celebrity story and for a long time there I was worried. It covers all the usual bases and finally, finally, near the very end Booth gets around to covering the religion angle mentioned at the start.

I am not sure that the reference offers as much light as it does heat. That’s the whole question, of course.

Heigl, you see, in kind of a Mormon convert and kind of an ex-Mormon. The story doesn’t really clarify that. It also doesn’t provide much depth, when it talks about how her religious beliefs — whatever they are — might have affected her work in the sexy blonde atmosphere of Tinseltown.

Here is the information that we are given:

We wonder whether they also treat Heigl like a Mormon. Apparently not. “If I were a still super-practicing strict Mormon, then people would be a little more cautious around me, but unfortunately I’m fairly vulgar, and I smoke and I drink coffee and I drink alcohol and I love to talk about religion.”

Heigl’s family converted to Mormonism after the death of her brother, who was killed while riding in the back of a pickup truck when Katherine was 7. “It’s something that interests people because it’s one of those religions that don’t really fit into Hollywood,” she says. “But it did a lot to save our family.” How so? “What appeals to me is that love goes on and continues. It doesn’t mean that after death it’s the end of this person you loved and cherish. Because then you’re living in a world of what the hell is the point? …. I’ve always thought that there is a beautiful balance within the Mormon religion, where they believe in some very solid answers, but there is also a lot left unknown. There aren’t answers in this lifetime.”

Does she still go to church? “I haven’t gone in really long time,” Heigl says, but notes that “we still pray over our meals. I still say a prayer every night before I go to bed. I talk to God all the time. He doesn’t really talk back all that much. But every once in a while I get an inkling of something. Atheists or agnostics can tell me I’m crazy and it’s just my safety blanket and need to believe. I’m okay with that. I am. Why not? Why should I live my life afraid and alone if I found something that comforts me?”

That’s interesting, to say the least, especially since images of marriage and family are so central to Mormonism and its often-controversial teachings on heaven and salvation (which brings up that word “exaltation,” yet again).

But the Heigl reference sounds very, very ordinary. It would be nice to know if her fondness for her Mormon-convert roots is linked to something distinct about what she learned in that faith.

It would be nice to know, but that is not what a Hollywood promotion feature is supposed to be about, especially when it focuses on the hottest hot blonde in the movie universe (right now).

A missed opportunity. Especially in light of the interesting debates that are taking place these days about movies like “Juno,” “Waitress” and, well, “Knocked Up.” What kind of debates? Click here and read on.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deseretian

    Good for her for staying positive. Just because she’s not keeping all the commandments right now doesn’t mean that she doesn’t believe. I wish her well.

  • Rathje

    Well, it might seems strange to outsiders, but it wouldn’t be all that strange to any Bishop in the LDS Church. We have a lot of people in our church like this. We have our own labels for them as well (which may or may not be fair). Typically, we call them “inactive members.” Sometimes they remain under the radar of the local congregation, sometimes not – in which case we’ll send people over to try and “friendship” them, or “bug” them depending on who you ask.

    And contrary to the picture you get on the internet – where it seems everyone is a pundit – a lot of them are very mild in their reaction to and interface with Mormonism. We have a lot of people not going to church who remain quite friendly toward the faith.

    There’s a variety of reasons they no longer attend. Some feel like they aren’t up to all the dietary and moral restrictions. Some don’t like spending three hours every Sunday in church. Some got in a fight with someone else in the congregation and don’t want to look at them anymore. Some were upset by a bishop or other person in authority. Some married an non-member and it’s just too difficult to remain committed in the face of their indifference or opposition. And then there are some (who are disproportionately represented on the internet) who just honestly no longer buy what the Mormons are selling.

    Takes all kinds and we’re a more diverse lot than you’d think. Too bad the article couldn’t have probed the details a bit more.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Gee, Rathje, that sounds SO different from other denominations.

    And I will not acknowledge that Katherine Heigl is hotter than Eliza Dushku. (This came up on Adherents.com, in response to someone’s query whether it is true that “there are a lot of famous Mormon vampires.”)

  • zman

    “… and finally, finally, near the very end Booth gets around to covering the religion angle mentioned at the start.”

    I usually read your full post before clicking on the link to the story that is being highlighted. Thus, I kept reading, reading thinking maybe “near the very end” or at some point you’ll get around to identifying who this person is featured in the article you’re posting about. You never did. So, I had to find out by going to the WaPo article. Which is no big deal, but it would have helped up front to identify the person you were posting about. Then again, maybe I just need to get out more (or turn on the TV once in a while).

  • Kent Parsons

    Why is this news? A ex-Mormon who cannot keep the standards of the LDS church? What about the millions of Mormons who are keeping their standards and doing very well? Now that’s news.

  • ElGuapo

    It would be nice to know if her fondness for her Mormon-convert roots is linked to something distinct about what she learned in that faith.

    I think she hinted at it in this article. The belief that family relationships continue in the afterlife is a biggie for Mormons. How different this is from other denominations I don’t know, but we (I was raised LDS too) tend to view this as a uniquely Mormon belief.

    I’m also curious why Rathje feels disaffected Mormons are “disproportionately represented on the internet.” That may be, I’m not sure. My guess, having resigned from the church myself though still attending with my wife, is that many of the online “exmos” or “postmos” don’t make waves in the neighborhood by speaking out about their views. Enjoyed your post though, Rathje.

  • http://www.philocrites.com/ Philocrites

    Mormons might not only regard Heigl as an “inactive member” (the polite, rather bureaucratic term) but also as a “jack Mormon,” which is a folk Mormon term for people who retain Mormon beliefs while backsliding into unapproved activities like smoking.

  • Rathje

    I should clarify – among those internet Mormons who have left the LDS church or are no longer fully practicing the dominant reason seems to be “I just don’t buy it anymore.” Of course, maybe it’s just because these types seem more outspoken. Or maybe they get noticed more. Or maybe my experience is entirely anecdotal. Take your pick.

    “Jack Mormon” would be the less polite term, yes.

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  • Tracy Hall Jr

    I’m afraid Hollywood takes its toll on Latter-day Saints. I could believe it if there are more lapsed Mormons than practicing Mormons there.

    Another rising star who is a lapsed Mormon is Amy Adams of “Enchanted.” Her parents left the Church after they divorced; she was eleven.

    A rising star who is rock-solid in the faith is Jon Heder. May he live long and prosper.

    For a pretty comprehensive list of LDS actors and their movies see http://www.ldsfilm.com/lds_actors.html

    As long as we’re shamelessly shooting stuff out into the search engine universe, may I put in a good word for this new and very topical production? Article VI: Faith * Politics * America, which has just been released to DVD.

    John Schroeder of Article6blog.com (no known ties to the movie) writes:

    The film is sandwiched between scenes of the LDS semi-annual convention and the creedal Christian street preachers that work it. It starts making them look like ugly shouters and ends up with some friendships developing.

    Now that’s a miracle I’d like to witness!


  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot,com mattk

    Get Religion is my People Magazine. If it weren’t for GR I wouldn’t even know of Ms. Heigl’s existence. To say nothing of the fact that she is a semi-Mormon.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Tracy Hall Jr wrote:

    Another rising star who is a lapsed Mormon is Amy Adams of “Enchanted.”

    GetReligion fun fact:

    Amy and I grew up in the same town and graduated together. She is as lovely and wonderful and gracious in person as she appears on screen.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    So, Kent, you think that Dog Bites Man is news?

  • Maureen

    Someone in Hollywood admitting to any kind of religious belief is news.

    Re: “Jack Mormon”
    Is that Jack as in “slang term for alcohol”, or what?

  • Rathje

    Here you go Maureen:


    Amazing what you can find on Wikipedia.

  • Daniel

    Actually the word “Jack Mormon” was coined by anti-Mormon Gentiles in the 1800′s as a term of derision for Gentiles (Non-Mormons) who were friendly with Mormons, “collaborators” if you will.

    The Jack was short for “jackass”

    In typical Mormon fashion the Mormons took the word for their own use as an affectionate term of endearment for non-Mormons who had proven particularly friendly or helpful to the church.

    However, somewhere around WW I the word began to refer to Mormons who were prone to “backsliding” but were not disaffected with the church. (The common term for a former Mormon who is now unfriendly towards the Mormon church is “apostate”)

    The typical “Jack Mormon” today is a man who goes hunting on Sunday instead of coming to church. Although it can also be used to refer to other forms of backsliding, such as smoking or drinking. Depending on the tone, “Jack Mormon” can be mildly derisive, or it could be mildly affectionate in a backhanded way for the “black sheep” of the family.

  • Jimmy Mac

    I’ll grant up front that I’m not a movie maven, but I read down the list and, quite frankly, who in the blazes are 95% of these people?

  • Jeremy

    A slight correction to Daniel in #16:

    The “jack” in “jackmormon” doesn’t come from “jackass.” The jack in jackmormon comes from the jack in jackrabbit: a jackrabbit looks like a rabbit but it’s actually a hare.

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