Touchdown Jesus, Catholic Blessings, and Supporting Mormon Religion

Christopher Jones

[cross-posted at Juvenile Instructor]

Not even a Catholic blessing could save
Manti Te'o and the dying pop-culture
Mormon Moment he represents.
On Monday afternoon, just hours before the Alabama Crimson Tide blew out the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS National Championship football game, Peggy Fletcher Stack posted a short note at the Salt Lake Tribune's Following Faith blog on the Catholic pregame rituals of ND.

Specifically, Stack drew readers' attention to the Mormon story embedded within a fuller exploration of that subject at the Wall Street Journal: Star linebacker, Heisman Trophy runner-up, and devout Mormon Manti Te'o joins his teammates in "attend[ing] a Catholic Mass, receiv[ing] 'a priest-blessed medal devoted to a Catholic saint,' and 'kiss[ing] a shrine containing two slivers Notre Dame believes came from Jesus’ cross.'" He was even photographed receiving a blessing from Notre Dame president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh (a blessing Te'o reportedly sought out). Football team chaplain Father Paul Doyle explained that Te'o has privately told him that "he feels supported here [at Notre Dame] in his Mormon religion."

All of this immediately brought to mind some of my previous thoughts on Mormon supplemental worship, in which Latter-day Saints supplement their Mormon activity by attending other Christian church's services (a habit that dates back to at least the late nineteenth century). While the example provided by Te'o is clearly part of that larger historical tradition, it also strikes me as unique for a couple of reasons:

1. Most Mormon supplemental worship seems to take place in Protestant chapels instead of Catholic churches, joining a choir or playing the organ for the local Methodist church, for example, or tuning into televangelist Joel Osteen's broadcasts on Sunday mornings before heading off to Sacrament Meeting. The supplemental worship of Manti Te'o, by contrast, is explicitly Catholic, and while I have previously expressed my own admiration for Catholic liturgy, I've never gone so far as to receive a blessing from a Catholic Priest. Furthermore, Catholics and Mormons have a long history of less-than-flattering judgments of one another and in spite of efforts in the last several decades to repair that relationship, some anti-Catholic sentiment persists at the popular level throughout Mormondom.

2. Manti Te'o is Hawaiian, and his Polynesian ethnicity introduces an important element to my considerations of Mormon supplemental worship. What role, if any, does race and ethnicity play in the ways Mormons choose to (or not to) supplement their regular worship? I can't speak specifically to Te'o's case (I've heard that the theological and political disputes that divide Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons in mainland America aren't as pronounced among adherents in the Pacific Islands, but am happy to be corrected on that point), but I wonder about racial minorities closer to home. Do black Mormons, for instance, ever attend more traditionally black Protestant services? What about Latina/o Mormons and Spanish-language Catholic and evangelical services? I don't have answers to these questions, and hope others will weigh in and share their experiences/observations. And I'd really love to see a more thorough and  scholarly examination of these issues--any takers?


John G. Turner said…
Have you no heart, no compassion for the downtrodden? Don't you know how many Notre Dame alumni/ae read this blog?

This is a time for mourning, for sackcloth and ashes, for starting Lent early, not a time to analyze Mormon supplemental worship. Not a time to analyze anything. The mere mention of "Crimson Tide," "Fighting Irish," "BCS," and espeically "blew out," is simply insensitive and cruel.
Darren Dochuk said…
I second Turner. Checked RiAH for some edification with my morning coffee, and distance from ND Nation, and found this.... Unless this helps recruiting, I find it in bad taste
Christopher said…
Haha. My sincerest condolences, John.

Of course, with my own BYU Cougars continuing to wallow in just-good-enough-to-not-make-any-drastic-changes mediocrity and losing to the much-despised University of Utah for the third year in a row, it's difficult to feel too much compassion for Notre Dame fans like yourself this year.