July 24, 2009

A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.

II. Religious Beliefs and Practices

On a host of religious measures, Mormons stand out for having exceptionally high levels of religious commitment. Mormons are a believing people, with more than nine-in-ten professing belief in God or a supreme being, the Bible as the word of God, life after death and miracles. Mormons also are remarkably observant in their religious practices, with three-quarters attending church and reading Scripture outside of services at least once a week and more than eight-in-ten praying daily. Similarly, Mormons strongly support a strict interpretation of their faith and the preservation of traditional beliefs and practices. Mormons also register strong opposition to the idea that religion causes problems in society.

Religious Beliefs
Importance of Religion
Belief in God
Beliefs About the Bible
Belief in an Afterlife and Miracles
Religious Practices
Worship Service Attendance
Prayer and Scripture Reading
Religious Education of Children
Sharing Their Faith
Patterns of Conversion
Comparing Beliefs and Practices of Major Religious
Traditions
Beliefs About Religion
Religion’s Role in Society
Religious Beliefs and Practices Among Mormon Subgroups

Religious Beliefs

Importance of Religion

More than eight-in-ten (83%) Mormons say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% of the general population. On this measure, Mormons are similar to members of evangelical (79%) and historically black (85%) Protestant churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses (86%).
Importance of religion

Belief in God

Belief in God
The Mormons surveyed in the Landscape Survey are nearly unanimous in voicing a belief in God. Fully 100% say they believe in God or a supreme being, which is higher than among any other religious group. Moreover, nine-in-ten Mormons (90%) are absolutely certain in this belief. A similar proportion (91%) sees God as a person with whom one can have a relationship. These numbers are considerably higher among Mormons than among the general population.

Beliefs About the Bible

Views of the Bible/Scripture
Mormons also are united in their belief that the Bible is the word of God. More than nine-in-ten Mormons (91%) say the Bible is the word of God, with just 4% saying it was written by men and is not the word of God. This high level of belief in the Bible as the word of God, however, is tempered by the belief that it should not be taken literally, word for word. A majority of Mormons (57%) say it should not be taken literally, with a significantly smaller proportion (35%) saying it should be taken literally, word for word.

Among other Christian traditions in which high numbers of members say the Bible is the word of God, much larger proportions say it should be taken literally. For example, more than nine-in-ten Jehovah’s Witnesses and more than eight-in-ten members of both evangelical Protestant and historically black Protestant churches consider the Bible to be the word of God, a figure similar to that of Mormons. But members of these three groups are more likely to say the Bible should be taken literally than to say it should not be taken literally. Among the public as a whole, two-thirds (63%) see the Bible or other religious Scripture as God’s word, with about half of these (33% overall) saying it should be taken literally.

Belief in an Afterlife and Miracles

Religious beliefs
Almost all Mormons say they believe in life after death and that miracles still occur today as in ancient times (98% and 96%, respectively). Just as striking is the intensity with which they embrace these beliefs: 88% are absolutely certain of an afterlife, and 80% completely believe in miracles. Members of evangelical Protestant churches also are highly likely to believe in life after death (86%) and miracles (88%) but with somewhat less certainty; 71% believe in an afterlife with absolute certainty and 61% completely believe in miracles. Among the general population, half of all Americans (50%) are absolutely certain of an afterlife and 47% completely believe in miracles.

Religious Practices

Worship Service Attendance

Mormons are among the most active of the major religious traditions in terms of attendance at religious services. Fully three-quarters (76%) say they attend church at least once a week, compared with 39% among the general population. Only among Jehovah’s Witnesses do as many say they attend services at least weekly (82%). By comparison, the figure among members of evangelical and black Protestant churches is about six-in-ten, while less than half of adherents to other major religious traditions in the U.S. attend services on a weekly basis.
Attendance at worship services
Mormons exhibit a similar pattern in their participation in other congregational activities, including community volunteer work, work with children and social activities through their local congregation.

Prayer and Scripture Reading

A similar pattern is seen when it comes to frequency of prayer and Scripture reading. Three-quarters of Mormons (76%) say they read Scripture outside of religious services at least once a week, more than double the figure among the general population (35%). More than nine-in-ten Mormons pray at least once a week, with 82% praying daily. And a majority of Mormons (55%) say they receive a direct answer to a specific prayer request at least once a month.
Scripture reading
Mormons are among the religious groups that engage in these practices most frequently, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of evangelical and historically black Protestant churches. In each of these religious traditions, at least six-in-ten say they read Scripture at least once a week, at least three-quarters pray daily and roughly three-in-ten or more receive answers to prayer at least once a week. By contrast, only about a quarter of Jews or the unaffiliated pray daily and even fewer read Scripture on a regular basis.

Religious Education of Children

Religious practices and children
Mormons also take a very active role in the religious education of their children. Among those with children under age 18 living at home, more than nine-in-ten pray or read Scripture with their children (91%) and a similar proportion (90%) send their children to religious education programs, figures that are significantly higher than among any other religious tradition. Among the general population, roughly two-thirds (63% and 60%, respectively) say the same. Mormons are less likely than the public overall, however, to home-school or send their children to a religious school; only 6% say they do so, compared with 15% among the general population.

Sharing Their Faith

Sharing faith
One quarter of Mormons (24%) say they share their faith with nonbelievers or people from other religious backgrounds at least once a week. This figure is on par with the general population (23%) but much lower than among Jehovah’s Witnesses (76%) and members of historically black (42%) and evangelical (34%) Protestant churches.

At the same time, however, relatively few Mormons report they seldom or never share their religious beliefs. Only a quarter (24%) says this, compared with nearly half of the general population (47%), nearly a third of members of historically black Protestant churches (32%) and 29% of members of evangelical Protestant churches. Mormons are more likely than members of these other traditions to say they share their faith sometimes, either at least once a month (24%) or at least a few times a year (27%).

Patterns of Conversion

Converts
The Landscape Survey demonstrates that the religious marketplace in the United States is characterized by a large amount of churn, with 44% of Americans saying they now belong to a different religion from that in which they were raised. This figure includes those who have switched between major religious traditions as well as those who have changed faiths within Protestantism. It also includes those who were raised in a religion but now claim no religion and those who were raised without a religion but have since joined one. (If changes within Protestantism are omitted, the figure is 28%.) Like all other religious traditions, Mormonism is simultaneously losing and gaining adherents due to religious change, but the net effect of these changes is small: Whereas 1.8% of the U.S. population says they were raised Mormon, 1.7% of the population says they are currently Mormon.

Roughly a quarter of current Mormons (26%) are converts to the faith. This is a much higher proportion than among Catholics (11%) and Jews (15%) but significantly lower than among Buddhists (73%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (67%) and Protestants (45% when those who have switched from one Protestant family to another are included, e.g., Baptist to Methodist; if changes within Protestantism are omitted, the figure is 16%). Of those who have converted to Mormonism, roughly half (13% of Mormons overall) were raised Protestant, one-in-four (7% of Mormons overall) were raised Catholic and one-in-five (5% of Mormons overall) were raised without a religious affiliation.

Mormons have a relatively high retention rate of childhood members compared with other major religious traditions. Seven-in-ten of those raised Mormon (70%) still identify as Mormon, a figure roughly comparable to that seen among those raised Catholic (68% are still Catholic) but somewhat lower than among those raised Protestant (80% are still Protestant and 52% are still in the same Protestant family). Jehovah’s Witnesses, by contrast, have a relatively low retention rate (only 37% are still Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Of those who leave Mormonism after being raised in the faith, half (15% of those raised Mormon overall) convert to a new religion, while the other half (14% overall) become unaffiliated. This is similar among those raised Catholic; about half of those who leave the faith (18% of all those raised Catholic) switch to another religion and half (14%) switch to no religion. Among those raised Protestant, 28% switched to another Protestant family, 7% joined a non-Protestant faith and 13% became unaffiliated.

Comparing Beliefs and Practices of Major Religious Traditions

Mormon exceptionalism in religious commitment is evident when several measures of religious belief and practice are combined. Mormons, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of historically black and evangelical Protestant churches, stand out for very high levels of religious belief and practice.
Religious beliefs and practices among religious traditions

Beliefs About Religion

When asked whether they believe that their religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life or whether many religions can lead to eternal life, a majority of Mormons (57%) say theirs is the one true faith, with a sizable minority (39%) taking the opposite view. Only among one other religious tradition – Jehovah’s Witnesses (80%) – does a majority say theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life. Among evangelical Protestants, by contrast, 36% say theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life and 57% say many religions can lead to eternal life. A smaller percentage of the religiously affiliated public overall (24%) says theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life.

Mormons also tend to be strict interpreters of their own religion. A majority (54%) says there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion, with 43% saying there is more than one way. Among the affiliated population overall, more than two-thirds (68%) say there is more than one way.

Most Mormons say they are committed to the traditional beliefs and practices of their religion. Two-thirds (68%) prefer preserving these traditions to adjusting beliefs and practices (23%) or to adopting modern beliefs and practices (3%). Mormons are more likely to favor preserving traditional beliefs and practices than the affiliated public generally (44%); in fact, only Jehovah’s Witnesses come close to rivaling Mormons on this measure (61%).
Views on religion

Religion’s Role in Society

Most Mormons (85%) disagree with the statement that religion causes more problems in society than it solves, with a majority (54%) saying they completely disagree with this idea. Only a small minority of Mormons (14%) agree that religion causes more problems than it solves and just 3% completely agree with the statement, which is the lowest proportion of any major religious tradition. By contrast, about a third of the public overall (34%) believes that religion causes more problems than it solves.
Religion's role in society

Religious Beliefs and Practices Among Mormon Subgroups

A closer look at demographic groups within the Mormon community reveals several ways in which Mormons differ from one another in religious commitment as well as some notable instances in which they are similar to each other.

On most measures of religious commitment, Mormons under age 50 do not differ significantly from those aged 50 and older. The one exception is on the question of religious exclusivity. More than six-in-ten younger Mormons (62%) say theirs in the one true faith, compared with roughly half (48%) of Mormons 50 and older who say the same. Similarly, there are few pronounced gender gaps in Mormons’ level of religious commitment, though again, religious exclusivity is the one exception: Mormon men are more likely than women (64% vs. 52%) to say theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life.
Mormon subgroups and religious beliefs and practices
Looking at religion’s importance through the lens of education level, patterns among Mormons are the reverse of what is seen among the general population. For example, among the public, 60% of those with a high school education or less say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 50% among those with a college education. But among Mormons, the reverse is true: More college graduates (89%) than those with a high school education or less (76%) say religion is very important. It is important, however, to note that both groups among Mormons place a higher importance on religion than either group among the general public. A similar pattern emerges on belief in God, frequency of prayer and religious exclusivity. On each of these questions, Mormons with more formal education are more religiously committed, whereas in the general population the opposite is true.

Geography appears to play a role in patterns of religious commitment among Mormons as well. Those who live in Utah differ from Mormons in other areas of the country in several ways. Utahans are much less likely than Mormons from other states to share their faith with others at least once a week (13% vs. 37%), they are more likely to say theirs is the one true faith (63% vs. 51%) and they more heavily favor preserving traditional beliefs and practices (77% vs. 63%). On many other core religion measures, however, there are few geographical differences.

Converts to Mormonism also differ somewhat from lifelong Mormons in terms of religious commitment. Converts are less likely to attend church at least once a week compared with nonconverts (68% vs. 79%) and less likely to say theirs is the one true faith (46% vs. 61%), but are more likely to share their faith weekly (38% vs. 19%). On other measures of religious commitment converts tend to resemble nonconverts.

Marital status also reveals some differences in religious commitment. Married Mormons are more likely to attend church services at least once a week (82% vs. 60% among the unmarried) and to say religion is very important in their lives (87% vs. 73%). And three-quarters of married Mormons (73%) favor preserving the traditions of their faith, while fewer unmarried Mormons (57%) say this.

It is important to note that although religious differences exist between groups of Mormons on some of these items, there are not differences on all items. In particular, there seems to be little variation by demographic group when it comes to absolute belief in God, frequency of prayer and frequency of receiving answers to prayer.

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