January 12, 2012

Mormons in America - Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society

Religious Beliefs and Practices

A large majority of Mormons say religion is very important in their lives, more than four-in-five pray at least once a day and three-quarters attend religious services weekly or more. Almost all Mormons (98%) accept the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus rose from the dead. Mormons are also nearly unanimous in accepting other teachings of their church that are different from the beliefs of other Christian traditions. For example, 94% of Mormons believe that the president of the LDS Church is a prophet and 91% believe that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets and then translated by Joseph Smith. However, more than one-in-five Mormons (22%) say they find some of the church’s teachings hard to accept, and nearly one-in-ten (8%) say they seldom or never attend religious services.

Importance of Religion

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More than four out of five Mormons (82%) say religion is very important to them, compared with 56% of the general public. Mormons closely resemble black Protestants (86% of whom say religion is very important to them) and white evangelicals (83% very important) on this question. Mormons are significantly more likely than Catholics (56%) and white mainline Protestants (45%) to say religion is very important in their lives.

Mormon women are more apt than Mormon men to say that religion is very important in their lives (87% vs. 78%). College graduates (90%) and those with some college education (88%) are more likely to say religion is very important in their lives than those with a high school education or less (70%). More Mormons residing outside the West say religion is very important to them compared with those who live in the West (88% vs. 80%).

Prayer and Religious Attendance

More than four out of five Mormons (83%) pray at least once a day, with nearly two-thirds (64%) saying they pray multiple times per day. Mormons pray at rates similar to those seen among black Protestants (80% pray daily) and white evangelicals (81%). Mormons pray much more frequently than Catholics (58% pray daily) and white mainline Protestants (48%).

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Upwards of three-quarters of Mormons (77%) say they attend religious services at least once a week, and in response to a separate question two-thirds (67%) say they are “very active” in the LDS Church. Mormon rates of worship attendance are well above the national average, with 39% of the general public saying they attend religious services at least weekly. Mormons’ church attendance exceeds that reported by white evangelical Protestants, among whom nearly two-thirds (64%) say they attend church at least once a week.

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Religious Commitment

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The survey’s questions about the importance of religion, frequency of prayer and frequency of religious attendance can be combined to form a scale of religious commitment. By this measure, nearly seven-in-ten Mormons (69%) exhibit high levels of religious commitment, saying religion is very important in their lives and that they pray every day and that they attend religious services at least once a week. Only one-in-fifty Mormons (2%) exhibit low levels of religious commitment, saying that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important to them and that they seldom or never pray and seldom or never attend religious services. Roughly three-in-ten Mormons (28%) fall somewhere in between, exhibiting medium levels of religious commitment.

Mormons express significantly higher levels of religious commitment on this scale than other religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants (55% high commitment) and black Protestants (50%). Among the U.S. public as a whole, 30% exhibit high religious commitment.

The survey finds a significant gender gap in religious commitment, with more Mormon women than men exhibiting a high level of religious commitment (73% vs. 65%). A similar gender gap is seen among the general public; in the Pew Forum’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 36% of women exhibited a high level of religious commitment, compared with 24% of men.

Mormons who have graduated from college display the highest levels of religious commitment (84%) followed by those with some college education (75%). Mormons with a high school education or less exhibit substantially lower levels of religious commitment (50% score high on the scale) than their more highly educated counterparts. These large differences in religious commitment among respondents with different educational backgrounds are not seen among many other religious groups in the population. Among all Christians interviewed in the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, for instance, 40% of college graduates exhibited high religious commitment on this measure, as did 36% of Christians with a high school education or less. Similarly, religious commitment gaps across levels of educational attainment are fairly muted among white mainline Protestants, black Protestants and white Catholics. Among white evangelical Protestants, however, there is an 18-point gap in religious commitment between those with the highest and lowest levels of educational attainment. In the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 68% of white evangelical college graduates exhibited high religious commitment, compared with 50% among evangelicals with a high school education or less.

Mormon Temple Recommends

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One distinctive aspect of the LDS faith is that worship takes place in two separate contexts. Weekly congregational services and other church activities are held in local meetinghouses or churches. In addition, members in good standing are encouraged to attend a Mormon temple regularly, and many Mormons do this about once a month. In order to attend a temple, members must have a “temple recommend” provided by local leaders and renewed every other year. (For more information on Mormon temples and temple recommends, see the glossary).

About two-thirds of Mormons (65%) say they have a current temple recommend. Possessing a temple recommend is most common among college graduates (85%), followed by those with some college (67%) and those with a high school education or less (46%). Married Mormons are more likely than those who are not married to say they have a current temple recommend (74% vs. 47%). Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment are four times as likely to have a temple recommend compared with those with lower levels of religious commitment. There are no significant differences on this question across age groups or between those living in the West and those who live in other regions.

Tithing

Mormons are expected to tithe (or “pay tithing”), donating 10% of their earnings to the church. Nearly four-in-five Mormons say they pay tithing (79%). Tithing is most common among those with the highest levels of religious commitment (96%), and less common among those with lower levels of religious commitment (41%). Tithing is also correlated with educational attainment and income. Fully 91% of college graduates say they “pay tithing,” compared with 80% of those with some college and 66% of those with a high school degree or less education. Among those whose family income exceeds $30,000, 83% say they pay tithing, compared with 69% of those with incomes of less than $30,000.

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Missionary Service

Perhaps the most well-known of the practices distinctive to Mormons is a period of full-time missionary work – which Mormons refer to as a “proselyting” mission (see glossary). Just over one-in-four Mormon adults (27%) has served in such a mission at some point in their lives, though this number is significantly higher for men (43%) than for women (11%). Missionary service is more common among those under age 50, among whom 32% say they served a full-time mission, than among those age 50 and older (21%). More college graduates (48%) and those with some college (26%) have served a mission as compared with those with a high school education or less (10%). And there are more missionaries among those who were raised Mormon than among converts to the faith (31% vs. 16%). This may partly reflect the fact that most full-time Mormon missions are served in early adulthood, whereas many converts to Mormonism joined the church later in life.

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Of those who have served a mission, 56% say it was very valuable in gaining converts to Mormonism. Many more say their missionary service was very valuable in preparing them for job or career success (80%) and for helping them to grow in their own faith (92%).

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Religious Beliefs

Most Mormons hold many of the same beliefs espoused by other Christian traditions. For example, the Pew Forum’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 90% of Mormons express certainty in their belief in God, that 91% believe that the Bible is the word of God and that 98% believe in life after death. And the current survey finds that 98% of Mormons believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

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The current survey also shows that Mormons hold firm views on a variety of doctrines that are not shared by other Christian traditions. For example, Mormons are nearly unanimous in the view that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings, with 94% expressing this view. Identically large majorities of Mormons affirm that the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God (94%) and that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies (95%). Mormons are also united in the belief that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets and translated by Joseph Smith (91%); by comparison, less than one-in-ten say that the Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith himself (8%). (For more information on LDS teachings about these and other matters, see the glossary.)

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Fully three-quarters of Mormons (77%) say they believe wholeheartedly in all the teachings of Mormonism, but a significant minority (22%) finds some of the teachings of their church hard to believe.5 Mormons over age 50 are somewhat more apt than younger Mormons to say they find some Mormon teachings hard to believe (28% vs. 18%). And Mormons with a high school education or less are substantially more likely than those with more education to say they find some elements of Mormonism difficult to believe (34% of those with a high school degree or less, compared with 19% of those with some college education and 14% of college graduates). And more converts to Mormonism (30%) than lifelong Mormons (20%) say they find certain teachings of the faith hard to believe.

Being a Good Mormon

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Eight-in-ten Mormons say that believing that Joseph Smith actually saw God the Father and Jesus Christ is an essential part of being a good Mormon. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say that working to help the poor and needy is essential for being a good Mormon.

By comparison, other practices are seen as important but less essential. For example, half of Mormons (51%) say holding regular “family home evenings” is crucial for being a good Mormon, while 45% say this family time is important but not essential. Half (49%) also say that avoiding coffee and tea is essential, while 32% say this is important but not essential for being a good Mormon; nearly one-in-five (17%) say that avoiding these beverages is “not too” or “not at all” important for being a good Mormon. (For more information on family home evenings and Mormon beliefs about coffee and tea, see the glossary.)

One-third of Mormons (32%) say it is essential for good Mormons to avoid R-rated movies, while 47% say this is important but not essential and 19% say avoiding R-rated movies is not important.

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By wide margins, Mormons who exhibit the highest levels of religious commitment are more likely than those with lower religious commitment to say that each of these elements is essential to being a good Mormon. And those who have served a full-time mission are more likely than those who have not served a mission to say that believing Joseph Smith saw God, helping the poor and avoiding coffee and tea are essential for being a good Mormon.

Compared with Mormons under 50, those age 50 and older are much more inclined to say that not watching R-rated movies is central to Mormonism (42% among those over 50, compared with 25% of those under 50). Otherwise, there are only small differences across age groups in opinions about what is central for being a good Mormon.

College graduates are more likely than those with a high school education or less to see believing Joseph Smith saw God, helping the poor and not drinking coffee or tea as essential for being a good Mormon. On the other hand, those with a high school education or less are more inclined than those with higher levels of education to say that avoiding R-rated movies is essential for being a good Mormon (41% among those with a high school education or less, compared with 28% among college graduates and 27% of those with some college education).

Married Mormons see helping the poor and avoiding coffee and tea as more central to being a good Mormon as compared with those who are not married. Differences between married and unmarried people are smaller on other requirements for being a good Mormon.

Food Storage

Mormons are encouraged to keep a supply of food in storage in case of emergencies, with church leaders recommending that Mormons keep at least three months of supplies on hand. (For more information on the practice of food storage among Mormons, see the glossary.) Four out of five Mormons interviewed (82%) say they do this, with more than half of all Mormons (58%) saying they keep at least three months of food in storage.

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Belief in Reincarnation, Yoga

As is the case among members of other religious groups, significant minorities of Mormons express belief in certain tenets more commonly associated with Eastern religions. One-in-ten Mormons (11%) say they believe in reincarnation – that people will be reborn in this world again and again. This is comparable to the number of white evangelical Protestants who hold this belief (and significantly lower than the share of the general population saying they believe in reincarnation). In addition, more than one-in-four Mormons (27%) believe in yoga “not just as exercise, but as a spiritual practice,” comparable to the 23% of the general public who share this belief.

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Converting to Mormonism

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Three-quarters of Mormon adults (74%) say they were raised Mormon, while 26% say they were not raised in the faith. More than four out of five converts to Mormonism (84%) were raised in a different Christian religion. About half (53%) were raised as Protestants, while one-third of all converts to Mormonism (31%) were raised Catholic. In addition, 15% of converts to Mormonism were religiously unaffiliated as children. Only 1% of converts to Mormonism came from a non-Christian religion.

Converts to Mormonism tend to be older than other Mormons (67% of converts are over the age of 50, compared with 32% of Mormons who were raised in the faith). There are more women among the converts surveyed (57%) than among those who were raised Mormon (47%). And compared with lifelong Mormons, there are far more racial and ethnic minorities among converts to the faith. Fewer than one-in-ten lifelong Mormons (8%) are non-whites, compared with 24% of converts to Mormonism. Three-quarters of lifelong Mormons (78%) live in Western states and 40% live in Utah, but nearly half of converts (47%) live outside the West and only 16% live in Utah.

Converts and non-converts have comparable levels of religious commitment, but converts are somewhat more likely to say that some of the teachings of the Mormon faith are hard to accept (30% vs. 20%).

Roughly half of converts to Mormonism (51%) say they joined the church before turning 24, including 26% who converted before reaching the age of 18. One-third (34%) say they converted between the ages of 24 and 35, 9% became Mormon between the ages of 36 and 50, and 6% joined the church when they were over the age of 50.

When asked to describe in their own words their reasons for converting to Mormonism, 59% of converts cite the religion’s beliefs as a reason. The most common responses within this category are general statements about the religion being true or making sense (38%), as well as statements about the Book of Mormon or other scriptures (13%). Mormonism’s emphasis on the family and family values is cited as a reason for converting by 5% of converts, and 3% cite the faith’s specific teaching that families can be bound together for eternity.

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Roughly one-quarter of converts to Mormonism (23%) cite issues of personal spirituality as reasons for their conversion, including 17% who say they felt called by God or “gained a testimony.” About one-in-five converts to Mormonism (21%) cite either the influence of Mormons they interacted with before they converted or an appreciation for the institutions and practices of the LDS Church. Common responses in this category include the work of Mormon missionaries (5%) and positive impressions of Mormon people (4%).

Just over one-in-ten converts (13%) mention a major life change as their reason for becoming Mormon. This includes 12% who say they converted because they married a Mormon or for other family reasons.


Footnotes:

5 The survey did not ask those saying they find some teachings hard to believe to specify which particular teachings they find hard to believe. (return to text)

Photo Credit: © Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis