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'Mormons in America' - Survey looks at LDS perspective

'Mormon moment' is impetus for Pew research questions

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The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life has released a groundbreaking new survey, the first ever published by a non-LDS research organization that focuses exclusively on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their beliefs, values, perceptions and political preferences.

Entitled "Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs but Uncertain of Their Place in Society," the survey was conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, among a national sample of 1,019 respondents who identify themselves as Mormons, with no reference to their level of Church activity. Church membership records were not used; survey respondents were contacted at random.

An advisory panel was recruited to help the Pew forum staff create the survey. The panel featured a number of Latter-day Saints who have professional experience in Mormon studies and research. Members of the panel helped the Pew forum staff formulate the questions and to frame them in the kind of language that Latter-day Saints use.

Members gather for annual general conference. According to Pew, "Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment."
Members gather for annual general conference. According to Pew, "Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment." Photo: Deseret News file photo

"As the Church and its members are increasingly the focus of media attention, we're eager to participate in conversations that help the public get to know us better," said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. "Even though the recent Pew study did not survey any of the Church's eight million members who live outside the U.S., it highlights some important aspects regarding who we are and what we believe. For example, the study found that Church members subscribe to traditional Christian beliefs, have high moral standards, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives and communities, are active in serving others and have a profound dedication to family. These results reflect the Church's message that a deep commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ brings lasting happiness."

Generally speaking, the new survey looks at Latter-day Saints and their perspectives in four key areas: politics and ideology, religious beliefs and practices, cultural and moral issues, and family life.

Politically, there are few surprises. Most members of the Church (66 percent) describe themselves as politically conservative. Philosophically, 75 percent of respondents said they prefer a smaller government providing fewer services to a bigger government providing more services.

In terms of religious beliefs and practices, the survey makes it clear that Church members are highly religious — again, not a big surprise. Eighty-two percent say that religion is very important in their lives, and 77 percent say they believe wholeheartedly in all of the Church's teachings. Fully 83 percent say they pray every day, 79 percent say they donate 10 percent of their earnings to the Church in tithing and 77 percent say they attend Church at least once a week. According to Pew, "Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than many other religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants."

Looking at basic, core religious beliefs, 98 percent say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; 94 percent believe the president of the Church is a prophet of God; 95 percent believe that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies; 94 percent believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings and 91 percent believe that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets.

Clearly, Latter-day Saints are believers.

But are they Christian? Ninety-seven percent of respondents think so. And when asked to volunteer the one word that best describes Mormons, the most common responses were "Christian" and "Christ-centered."

The survey also illustrates how important family life is to most members of the Church. Among life's priorities, being a good parent (81 percent) and having a successful marriage (73 percent) place higher than career concerns, having free time or even living a religious life. Some 67 percent of LDS adults are married (compared with 52 percent of the general public), and 85 percent of them are married to another Latter-day Saint.

Speaking for the Pew Research Center, Luis Lugo said the idea for the survey was born last summer, "around the time that a Newsweek cover story and a New York Times article declared that the United States was experiencing a 'Mormon moment.' "

"That got us thinking," Mr. Lugo said in the survey's preface. "Over the years, numerous polls have gauged public attitudes toward Mormons, who make up about 2 percent of all U.S. adults. But what do Mormons think about their place in American life? With the rising prominence of members of the LDS Church in politics, popular culture and the media, do Mormons feel more secure and accepted in American society? What do they think about other religions? What do they believe, how do they practice their faith and what do they see as essential to being a good Mormon and to leading a good life?"

The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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