So methinks that we have a few clairvoyants on-board. That said, behold the top four “Righteous Gentiles.”
A few caveats…
A) No, C.S. Lewis fans…he did not make the list and for good reasons–primarily because his spot is being reserved a future, top-10 list that Arthur and I will co-arthur, I mean, author (*drum riff for comedic effect*).
B) I must give Howard Hughes a hat-tip…while he doesn’t make the official list (his contribution wasn’t wide-reaching enough to really lodge himself in the Mormon mind beyond esoterica), he fits well within the tradition of businessmen appreciating Mormons for their discipline and hard work. This also intersects some with the fourth
4. The friendly gangster
This is more of a stock character than it is a particular individual. You’ve all heard the common returned missionary discourse from missionaries who have served in the ghetto (or in Russia). They all have a story or two about the gangster who promised them protection, about the guy with diamond-encrusted hubcaps who tells them to leave the area for their own good. One instance I heard even had a mobster in a tinted-window limousine ask the sister missionaries if anyone was bothering them. They supposedly then complain about a particularly lewd passerby who bothers them every morning. The limo drives off…they never see the man again.
So to the pious mafia and the clergy-fearing gangster, we tip our fedora hats to you.
3. Harold Bloom
A proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to literary studies (his bibliography of original monographs/novels/anthologies number thirty in total) –so he’s the kind of fellow that all the revisionists throw their critiques at. Harold Bloom has written extensively on American religious life, devoting a chapter to the Mormons. While he has little taste for much of the 20th century Church, he called the King Follett the greatest sermon in American religious history. From Bloom we saw the fullest articulation of the “religious genius” thesis—that whatever Joseph’s oddities, he was brilliant at “religion-making.” Harold Bloom has given a prominent voice of sympathy within the unfriendly waters of literary studies, and in doing, so has given Mormonism a certain sense of literary credibility.
2. Jimmy “Ah Shucks” Stewart
The actor who needs no introduction made himself beloved amongst the Mormons for his role in the Church-produced film, Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, as an old man who has a dream of the nativity and of directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Stewart sealed his status as honorary Mormon when he donated all of his papers and materials to the Special Collections at Brigham Young University. With these contributions added to his previous image as the “aw-shucks” actor of It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart provided Mormons the embodiment of debonair innocence that seems to characterize the ideal of Mormon masculinity. His Gentile status legitimized this image as one Mormons could believe would thrive in modern society.
And you know that most Mormon women probably would have swallowed Kolob if Stewart promised to lasso it for them…
And the winner is…
1. Thomas Kane
While sufficiently obscure to lay members of the Church, his noted title, “Friend of the Mormons,” demands that he receive the revered spot (and besides, most of our academics either formally or informally–obscurity is what we do). Thomas Kane, an attorney in Philadelphia, abolitionist, and military officer in the Civil War, first contacted Mormons while they were visting a Philadelphia conference in 1846. Kane provided essential legal counsel and lobbying efforts to the Latter-day Saints during the following decade when the federal government was rabidly hostile to them. He delivered lectures on the Mormons behalf and defended the Mormons to the hostile Eastern press. When Utah was made into a U.S. territory with the compromise of 1850, then-president Fillmore offered Kane the position of territorial governor. He suggested that Young would be a more fitting choice. When James Buchanan sent his troops with the Utah war, Kane offered to mediate. Young noted that he wanted Kane’s name to “live for all eternity.” He had “done a great work,” and would “do a greater work still.” Kane legitimized the Latter-day Saints at a time when most politicians and the public held the Mormons in low-regard indeed.