When news broke in January that Daniel Ruettiger, the Notre Dame footballer who inspired the movie Rudy, had joined the Mormon Church, few could have predicted it would start a fad. Some religious scholars are beginning to believe that might be the case. Since “Rudy’s” baptism, in the first quarter of 2017, at least 56 nationally recognized athletes, actors, and other performers have taken the Mormon baptismal plunge, reports Dr. Mitch Edmonds of the Organization for Religious Statistics. According to Edmonds, that represents a 341% increase over the previous peak in 1912, when the entire cast and crew of the film Tell Me, Truly joined the Church during its promotional tour.
Among the A-listers joining Mormonism already in 2017 are Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, actor, producer, and CEO of her namesake network, OWN, and Ellen DeGeneres, actor, talk show host, and voice actor who provided the voice for Dory in Disney’s animated films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
On her website, Winfrey shared her excitement, and surprise, at becoming a Mormon, a decision she says she had never considered until recently:
I know this may come as a shock to some of my fans and supporters–maybe all of them. It was a shock to me too! When it comes down to it, it just makes sense. I’ve always had a sense that all paths to the divine are valuable and that we don’t all have to believe the same things. I’ve also always felt that human diversity is one of our greatest gifts as a species. I want to be part of something that doesn’t ask everyone to be the same, where we all don’t have to look the same. And I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to know that, as a black woman, it is particularly important to me that we be resolved emphatically against all forms of sexism and racism. That’s Mormonism!
DeGeneres has been less public about her own religious transition into Mormonism. She was interviewed recently for the May issue of Out Magazine. During the interview she said about her conversion, “It was a really personal decision. My wife and I felt this would be best for our family. Families are everything in Mormonism.” When she was asked whether the Church would make an exception for her and her wife in regards to its prohibition on same-sex marriage, she responded, “Wait, what?”
How long this trend will continue is anyone’s guess, says Edmonds. “Crazier things have happened,” he said, “I’m pretty sure.”
Happy April 1!