Mormons and Civic Life
With a Mormon candidate in the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, there has been intense media, academic and public interest in Mormons and their religion. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life recently held a roundtable discussion with journalists, scholars and policy experts on some of the latest research on Mormons and their place in American society and public life.
Ram Cnaan, a renowned researcher on faith-based social services, presented the findings of a new survey he and his colleagues conducted on Mormons’ church-based volunteering and charitable giving. Greg Smith, lead researcher on a recently released Pew Forum study on Mormons in America, discussed the Penn survey findings in the context of Mormons’ religious beliefs and social attitudes. The University of Notre Dame’s David Campbell, an expert on religion and civic engagement and co-author of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” compared Mormons’ attitudes on volunteering and tithing to those of other religious groups.
Ram Cnaan, Professor and Associate Dean for Research, University of Pennsylvania
David Campbell, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Greg Smith, Senior Researcher, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Navigate This Transcript:
- A Culture of Volunteering
- A Culture of Donating
- Mormons: Helping the Poor Essential
- Emphasis on Self-sufficiency, Smaller Government
- Volunteering Levels Exceed Other Religions
- Social Connections Drive Volunteering
- Trusting the Church With Their Money
- Heading Toward Assimilation?
- Parallels Between Mormons and Orthodox Jews
- Similarities between Mormons and Evangelicals
- Skeptical Attitude Toward the Government
- Impact of Mormon Beliefs on Romney’s Politics
LUIS LUGO, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you all for coming. I’m Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. We are a project of the Pew Research Center, which is a nonpartisan organization that does not take positions on issues or policy debates. This event is part of an occasional luncheon series in which we bring together journalists, scholars and policy professionals for timely discussions on topics at the intersection of religion and public affairs.
With a member of the LDS leading the field for the GOP nomination, media and public interest in all things Mormon is very much alive these days. I kidded with my staff recently that if we had an event on the snacking habits of Mormons, we’d probably get a pretty good turnout. There has been a lot of discussion in the last few months about the religious beliefs and political attitudes of Mormons. But there has been relatively little discussion about Mormons’ civic engagement, including their levels of giving and volunteering. So we’ll forgo snacking habits for now and focus on this very important aspect of the Mormon experience in America.
To discuss this topic, we have a terrific lineup of speakers. You have your bios in front of you, so I’ll follow the Michael Cromartie rule and not repeat it all. Michael, you taught me well. Ram Cnaan, who is just back from Israel, will speak first. He is the director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania, among his many titles. He will present the findings of a new survey on volunteering and charitable giving among Mormons, a project he conducted with his colleagues Daniel Curtis, also of Penn, and Van Evans of Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis. Gentlemen, it’s great to have you with us. Correct him on anything that he says that’s wrong, OK? I’ll call on you first.
I’d also like to thank my old buddy, John DiIulio, who is right next to them there, Ram’s colleague at Penn, and the one who suggested to me in the Philly kind of way that I needed to hold this meeting. And so I’ve delivered on that, John. It’s good to have you back in the neighborhood, John.
After Ram presents his findings, we will hear from Greg Smith, who is a senior researcher here at the Pew Forum, and not with Goldman Sachs. He was the lead author of our recent survey on Mormons in America. Greg will discuss the Penn findings in the context of Mormons’ religious beliefs and social attitudes.
Many of you know, of course, David Campbell from the University of Notre Dame, who in fact served as an adviser on that Mormon survey that we conducted. He will compare Mormons with other religious groups based on his extensive research on religion and social capital, a lot of which he has done with that other guy — what’s — oh, Robert Putnam, yes.
After we put this panel together, I looked it over and it seemed to me that we ended up with something rather odd in terms of the lineup. We’ve got old Zion commenting on new Zion. We have a Catholic commenting on Mormons. And we have a Mormon commenting on every other religious group. (Laughter.) Is this a great country or what? I just absolutely love it. I had not a Mormon moment, but a Yogi Berra moment when I realized that. Do you remember Yogi when he heard that a Jew had been elected mayor of Dublin? Only in America, said Yogi.
All right, our format for this event is very simple. Ram will speak for 12 to 15 minutes, followed by Greg and Dave, who will present about eight to 10 minutes each. Then we’ll invite the rest of you to join in the conversation. I should point out that this event is on the record, and it is being taped. Again, it’s great to have all of you here.
So Ram, over to you.
RAM CNAAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you all for coming. When I started this study two years ago, I couldn’t believe that anyone would be interested in hearing the results, let alone having this forum here, so I’m humbled. As Lugo told you, I’m not a member of the church. When I started the project, I knew nothing about the church, literally nothing. I feel I’m now in an in-between zone. I know nothing compared to members of the church, and I know a lot compared to regular people in society. And people — when I tell them I did this study, the first question is, as you expect, how many wives? And the like.
But our study’s focus and my research through many years is about who gives and who volunteers in our society. We know from many studies that about 30% to 50% of Americans volunteer — depends on how you measure it — and we know that they do it for about three to four hours a month. And when I say do it for three or four hours a month, we mean only the volunteers. That’s not the national average that includes the non-volunteers. It’s only including the volunteers. I’ll repeat those numbers a little later.
The reason we started this study is that we found that the statistics from the Corporation for National and Community Service show that Utah has the highest rate of volunteering. They have more people volunteering than any other state and have more hours per volunteer than any other state. So Van Evans, who is sitting there, came to me and asked me, do you know why? I said, of course — the church. He said, what do you know about it? I said, nothing. And he said, are you interested in studying it? This is how we started. I’ll get to it in a minute.
We also know from their book, thanks to those gentlemen — or, he’s only one of two here — that people who are more active in their religion are volunteering much more and donating money much more. So keep this in mind.
What do we know about donation in America? We know again from a variety of studies that about 70% of households in America donate. There is lots of variation in the studies about how much they donate, and I’ll get to it a little later. But we also know that when we talk about full tithing — 10% of people’s income to the church — nationally it used to be between 5% to 7%. In the last year, because of the economic situation, it went down to 4%. So about 4% of Americans are full tithers. Again, I’ll ask you to keep it in mind, but it’s kind of the background by which we started the study.
The idea started in 2009. We asked permission from the church to allow us to conduct the study. It took six months, but we got permission. And being totally ignorant about the church, I conducted 30 interviews — in-depth interviews — with members of the church in the Philadelphia area. I met with people who just converted recently, people who were born into the church, people who were leaders, people who were members. Through it, I learned a lot about the culture of the church and about many activities. This is why I know more than the average person.
Based on the outcome and the information I got from this, we composed a questionnaire. It’s a 14-page questionnaire, and it’s very detailed about all activity that members of the church may do as volunteers. I think it’s the most detailed type of questionnaire ever created. For those of you who are methodologically astute, there’ll be a copy of the questionnaire when we finish here. But it’s really very detailed and asks people for every possible activity that they can do in volunteering.
So that was our instrument. We conducted the study in four regions. We did it in the Philadelphia area, in Michigan, in California and in Utah. Every time zone was represented. We wanted to see if there were geographical variations with people in Utah, where Mormons are the majority.
The survey was anonymous. We told people if they don’t want to participate they don’t have to participate and not to write their names because we don’t want to know who answered what. We got permission to come to worship services. In the last hours, men and women 18 and older came together, and we explained the study, passed out questionnaires, collected them back, entered them.
Only 18 years and older were admitted into the survey. We have about an equal number of men and women. If you want to know more about the makeup of the sample, it’ll be in the report, and I hope that when you leave somebody will hand you the report because we brought it with us.
So what did we find? First, there is a term or a principle called “calling” in the church. Calling is a specific responsibility that a member of the church is asked to fulfill. A bishop or somebody of authority comes to a person, a member of the church, and says: You have a calling. This is a task that we want you to fulfill. It may go on for a few years. And usually, once you end a certain calling, you’re being asked for another calling.
So almost all members of the church are expected to fulfill a calling. This is a culture that is very unique. I didn’t know about it before. At the time of the study, about 86% reported that they were fulfilling a calling. So almost every member who is for a while in a congregation, a ward, would be expected to fulfill a calling.
When I interview bishops — bishops are equivalent, for those of you who don’t know, to clergy in other denominations — I ask them, do people refuse the callings? And usually they say to me — one of them said, I’ve been a bishop for eight years. I had five refusals. Another one 11 months on the job said, refusals? So we asked people if they ever refused in the last five years, and we got 4% — 4.4% — that said in the last five years they had refused, which is less than 1% annually.
So this is a culture that when people are asked to fulfill any task, 99% of the time they say yes. We categorize the many volunteer activities into four groups. Group one was a volunteer activity that is not affiliated with the church. It’s what you can call secular volunteering, helping an organization, community event — nothing to do with the church. Then we have three activities that can be done within the church. One is helping people who are not members of the church. One is still social and helping people within the church. And the last one is volunteering that is purely religious, that is, helping the church fulfill its religious activities.
What did we find? For religious activities, people give on average 242 hours. For church-affiliated volunteering to help meet social needs of people in the church, 96 hours. For church-affiliated activities helping people outside the church, 56 hours. And for activities outside of the church totally, 34 hours.
If you add all the numbers together, you have about 430 hours [annually for Mormons] — and I’m rounding the number — which amounts to 8.2 hours weekly. If I go to the monthly, which is about 36 hours, compare this to the three to four hours [for the average American]. This is the level of how much members of the Latter-day Saints Church are doing — much more than all other members of American society. If we take the value of the hours volunteering for an average member of the Latter-day Saints, it’s about $9,140 annually. This is a major, major contribution.
I know my time is getting short so I’ll move quickly. We divided donations into three things: secular giving — that’s money that is given outside the church — then welfare giving within the church, and extra religious giving. And when we say extra, it’s on top of tithing. I’ll talk about tithing in a minute. What did we get? For secular giving, meaning giving money to worthy causes outside of the church, an average person in the church gives $1,171.Nearly three-quarters of Mormons say that working Giving to welfare through the church — $650. And on top of tithing — $203 per person for religious activities.
The first thing that I said about tithing — 88.8% of members of the church that we interviewed reported that they provide full tithing. Remember, we went to the church; people that we interviewed were active members of the church. They went to a Sunday service, and this is where we found them. Another about 6% said that they do partial tithing. The total social donation — I’m excluding now the religious donation outside — if we only take what they gave for social causes within the church and outside the church, we have $1,821.
For those of you who don’t know — and I didn’t know — giving money through the church often happens through something called fast offering. A member of the church — and I’m treading on a thin line, and you can correct me if I’m wrong — is expected to fast two consecutive meals one Sunday a month. The money that’s being saved that was not used for consuming food is supposed to be donated for welfare purposes by the church. So this is the number — the $650 that you see there is the sum that comes mostly from fast offering.
To conclude, we found a group of people that are most generous in our society. Through their theology of obedience and sacrifice and strong commitment to tithing and service, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints are the most pro-social members in American society. We couldn’t believe the findings. But that’s what we have. Thank you. This is our university for you. We are going back home. (Laughter.)
LUGO: Very good. Thank you, Ram. All right, Greg. How does this square with our findings of the general population of Mormon?
GREG SMITH, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: I think that these findings square pretty well. Let me just start by saying that it’s a real pleasure to be here and to participate in this discussion at a very important time for a very important religious group within the American religious landscape.
I had the opportunity to read a draft of Dr. Cnaan’s report, and in my remarks I’d like to focus on a couple of important points of connection between the new University of Pennsylvania survey of Mormons and our own national survey of self-identified Mormons from around the country. I think the first point of connection that struck me is that Dr. Cnaan’s finding that Mormons constitute a highly pro-social group that is motivated and active in volunteering and charitable giving — that finding lines up really quite closely with our data, which show that Mormons believe that providing aid to the poor and to the needy is a critical part of what it means to be a good Mormon.
Our survey included a question that asked respondents, in your own view, how important is each of the following for being a good Mormon? We asked about five different beliefs and behaviors:
- How important is believing that Joseph Smith actually saw God the Father and Jesus Christ for being a good Mormon?
- How about not drinking coffee and tea?
- How important is having regular home evenings or family nights?
- How important is it to avoid watching R-rated movies?
- And lastly, how important is working to help the poor and the needy?
Respondents were asked to rate each of these items as either essential for being a good Mormon, important but not essential, not too important or not at all important for being a good Mormon.
Our survey finds that nearly three-quarters of Mormons say that working to help the poor and needy is an essential part of what it means to be a good Mormon. It’s not just an important part. It’s not just a nice thing to do. Helping the poor is essential to what it means to being a good Mormon.
I was struck by the number of Mormons who say working to help the poor and needy is essential to their religion. The number who say that is almost as high as the number who say it’s essential to believe that Joseph Smith actually saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. And the survey also shows that avoiding coffee and tea, that not watching R-rated movies and that having regular family home evenings are seen as less central to Mormonism than is helping the poor and needy.
We can also get a sense of the centrality of reaching out to the poor and needy in Mormonism by taking a look at which Mormons are most likely to see aid to the poor as a crucial part of their religion. It is precisely those Mormons who are the most committed to the practice of their faith — those people who say they attend church regularly, who say they pray every day, who say that religion is very important in their lives. It’s precisely that group of Mormons who are most likely to say that providing assistance to the needy is an essential part of what it means to practice their faith. Similarly, Mormons who have served a mission are significantly more likely to say it’s essential to provide aid and assistance to the needy.
Now I should point out that it’s also true that the most religiously committed Mormons tend, in general, to see all kinds of things as essential components of their faith. These are the sticklers for the details, you might say. Nevertheless, I do think that both the overall responses to the question, that three-quarters of people say it’s essential to Mormonism to provide aid to the poor, combined with the fact that this is especially true among the most religiously active Mormons — I think these things really speak to the centrality of providing aid to the poor to Mormonism and in Mormonism.
The second point of connection I saw between Dr. Cnaan’s survey and our own work relates to Mormons’ views of the best way to go about providing assistance to those in need. Now our survey did not ask detailed questions, as some of our other surveys have, about what kinds of institutions, be they governmental, religious or secular charities — we didn’t ask what kind of institutions might be best positioned to provide aid to the poor and needy. But we do have some basic indicators of Mormons’ political predispositions and their views on the proper size and scope of government.
I think it’s interesting to point out that Mormons’ deep concern for the poor and their willingness to contribute their own resources to social and charitable causes — this does not necessarily translate into support for government intervention in these areas. The reason I say that has to do with Mormons’ responses to this question from our survey: If you had to choose, would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services or a bigger government providing more services? In response to this question, fully three-quarters of Mormons say they prefer a smaller government providing fewer services. And only one-in-five say they favor a bigger government that provides more services.
Their views on this question place Mormons among the most politically conservative religious groups in the country along with evangelical Protestants. By comparison, mainline Protestants, Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated all express considerably more support for a large and active government, as compared with Mormons. Now to be sure, when we see that most Mormons favor a smaller government that provides fewer services, part of what’s being reflected there is the high level of Republicanism and the generally politically conservative views of this population. Mormons are among the most reliably Republican and ideologically conservative groups in the population.
But I think it’s also worth pointing out that among Mormons there is, again, a connection between religious commitment and support for smaller government. Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment are more inclined than those with less religious commitment to say they prefer a smaller to a larger government. Similarly, former missionaries are more likely than those who have not served a mission to say they would prefer a smaller government providing fewer services.
To put this another way, compared with their less religiously committed counterparts, the most highly religious Mormons are both more likely to say it’s essential to provide assistance to the poor and needy and less likely to support an activist government that provides more services. I point this out because I think many might find that an interesting dichotomy. Those are the main points of connection between our survey and the new University of Pennsylvania survey that jumped out at me.
I’ll just conclude my remarks with a brief methodological aside. The methodology employed in the new University of Pennsylvania survey, which was to survey Mormons in Latter-day Saint congregations during Sunday services, was pretty different than the approach that we employed, which in a nutshell involved calling up a national sample of folks, asking them about their religious affiliation and then interviewing those who described their religion as Mormonism.
But despite these very different methodological approaches, I was struck by the similarity of some of our findings. including and in particular the findings with respect to the rates of tithing. As Dr. Cnaan pointed out, the University of Pennsylvania survey found that almost 90% of Mormons say they pay full tithing. And that struck me as really pretty similar to our own survey in which we found about eight-in-ten Mormons saying that they pay full tithing. This helps to clarify, for me, the nature of our sample, the Pew sample.
We’ve had people ask us since our survey was released a couple months ago, how representative is your sample? Is it really representative of all Mormons, by which is sometimes meant all people who are currently on the rolls of the LDS Church, including even some of those who may no longer be particularly active in the church?
In response to these questions, we’ve stipulated that ours is a survey of self-identified Mormons, which is to say, people who describe their current religion as Mormonism. Our survey does not include former Mormons. It does not include people from Mormon families who have since changed religions. It doesn’t include folks who might have once been active in the church but who have since left, even if they haven’t formally resigned and removed their names from church rolls.
And ours is a sample of Mormons who are quite active in the practice of their faith. In our survey, big majorities told us that they attend church regularly, that they pray every day and that religion is a very important part of their lives. This suggests to me that people who describe their religion as Mormonism — people who describe themselves as Mormons in telephone surveys like ours — tend to be active Mormons.
And conversely it suggests to me that people who might have once been active in the LDS Church — people who might even still be on the rolls of the LDS Church but who have since drifted away — those folks may not tend to describe themselves as Mormons anymore in surveys like ours. In short, I’m struck that, despite the different methodologies and despite the different aims of the two research projects, I think in many ways we’ve arrived at a similar endpoint, which is to say with samples of active, practicing Latter-Day Saints.
I will end it there, turn it back over to Luis, and look forward to our discussion.
LUGO: Thank you, Greg. David.
DAVID CAMPBELL, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: Well, I too would like to echo the comments of those who’ve gone before in thanking the Pew Center for sponsoring this event and thanking all of you for being here. I think it’s fair to say that the time has come, I think, for us to have a focus on the Mormon population in America. Of course our current attention is being driven by political events and maybe a certain Broadway play.
But even aside from all of that, it comes as a surprise to many audiences to learn that there are as many Mormons in America as there are Jews. And I think it’s fair to say that we know a lot more about the Jewish population than we do about the Mormon population. This study is an excellent example of the sorts of things we can learn — not only about the Mormon population, but by studying Mormons, it actually can inform our understanding of religion and religion’s role in civic and social life in America more broadly.
I commend the leadership of the LDS Church, which made this study possible. The LDS Church is actually quite a centralized and hierarchical organization. I teach at Notre Dame. Everyone thinks that the Catholic Church is this highly centralized, hierarchical organization. I can tell you from the inside, not so much. In other aspects of my life I deal with the LDS Church, and they really are centralized and hierarchical. (Laughter.)
So I commend those in Salt Lake City who made this study possible. And I hope that this’ll be the beginning of other similar research projects. There’s a lot to learn about this population, and this happens to be a particularly effective methodology to really get inside what’s happening inside Mormon wards, which is the Mormon jargon for a congregation.
I’m going to talk a little bit about how Mormons compare to everyone else. But just before I get into that, I wanted to make an important but subtle point about the population that’s being studied here. Greg has noted, as did Ram, that this is of course a study of churchgoing Mormons. But it’s actually not even just churchgoing Mormons; it’s, I would argue, the most devout Mormons. And the reason for that is, if you were listening carefully in Ram’s presentation, he noted that the survey was administered in the third hour of meetings. You heard that right, that Mormons go to church for three hours every Sunday.
Now that’s not one long three-hour meeting; it’s actually three one-hour meetings, roughly speaking. And it used to be, many years ago, that those were held at different times. About a generation ago, the church put them all together into one. So what does that mean? It means that the people who were filling out this survey had stayed at their services for the third hour. That’s a pretty dedicated group. And that’s something to keep in mind.
Now when you compare these churchgoing Mormons, the very devout wing of Mormonism, to those of other faiths — even those who are on the high end of devotion within other traditions — there is no doubt that Mormons are the highest when it comes to religious volunteering and other types of volunteering, as was noted in Ram’s presentation. And that comes from multiple data sources.
So here we have it: When we look at Mormons surveyed inside their own churches, we see the same thing when we compare Mormons to other religious traditions in large national surveys that aren’t focused on any one particular religion. That’s reassuring for those of us who are in the social science business and are trying to get at these questions from different angles. We’re seeing a similar picture — really almost an identical picture — regardless of how we collect the data or regardless of how we make our comparisons.
But it is important to keep in mind — and this was noted, but I want to reinforce this — that the vast majority of the volunteering that we find among the Mormon population is actually for the maintenance of the church itself. Now that’s obviously good for the LDS Church. It’s how the LDS Church is able to do all the various things that it does. It’s how it runs the youth programs; it’s how it runs its welfare program; it’s how the administration of the church on the local level is run.
And undoubtedly it is good for the individuals who are engaged in that volunteer service, even if it’s directed exclusively within the walls of the church. There’s a good reason to think that people who engage in any kind of charitable-type service are developing virtues within themselves that most people would recognize as being salutary for a democratic and a civil society.
It’s important also to note that that volunteering and service done within the church can benefit the wider community, even if that connection and that benefit is done indirectly. What I mean by that is, as Mormons are volunteering within their own congregations, they are fostering what is often referred to as social capital — social networks within their congregations that foster a sense of trust and norms of reciprocity and such that, others have argued, really enable a democratic society to function.
I actually want to focus for just a few moments on the social networks that are formed within Mormon congregations because here’s where we find a parallel between what goes on within Mormonism and within other religious traditions. So Bob Putnam and I, in a book that we published a while back, which is now out in paperback, I should mention — “American Grace” — we find that volunteering among religious folks is quite common. We concur with the results that have been reported here, that Mormons rank at the top when it comes to volunteering both within their church and beyond the church.
But it’s the mechanism that we identify that drives that volunteering which is important to note. The mechanism, our data suggests, is not actually the religious beliefs that people hold. It’s not the specific things they’re taught over the pulpit or in Sunday school lessons or through church literature. Rather, it’s the very fact that social networks are formed within the congregation.
The significance of that is that those social networks operate in essentially the same way whether you’re talking about a Mormon ward, a Catholic parish, an evangelical church or a synagogue. It just so happens that in the case of Mormons, they form tighter networks and therefore build what you might think of as thicker social capital than you find on average in most other religious traditions. So while the level among Mormons is higher, the way you get to that level — the mechanism that drives it — is, we would suggest, actually not unique to Mormonism, but just sort of an example of these religious social networks on speed maybe.
But I also wanted to note that this sort of social capital that gets built within a religious community is in some respects a double-edged sword because the social networks that are formed among Mormons means that they are bonding with members of their own faith, but arguably at the expense of not bridging to those of other faiths.
I don’t know whether this was asked on the 14-page questionnaire — it would have been interesting to know how much of the volunteering that the Mormons in this study are reporting actually consisted of them working with people of other faiths. And I’m willing to bet that actually that percentage is relatively low. It wouldn’t be zero, so it’s a myth that Mormons don’t ever engage in interfaith efforts. They do, but perhaps not to the extent that other traditions might.
So my bottom line is that Mormons definitely represent a distinctive group in American society. And they’re perhaps unique in their levels of volunteerism. But they’re not unique in the mechanism that leads to that level. If I could just close on this note, the fact that these social networks are being formed to make tight connections among Mormons means that Mormons are not as well-integrated into their own communities — that is, among people of other faiths — as perhaps they could be. That is reflected in the relatively poor perception that Mormons have in broader American society. If you have any doubt about that perception, I would just encourage you to ask Mitt Romney, and he’ll tell you all about it. I’ll close with that. Thank you.
LUGO: Thank you, David. Before I turn it to the public, Ram, did you have any questions that got at the question of bridging capital?
CNAAN: I totally agree with David that what happens in congregation is much more important for volunteering and giving than the faith itself. Lots of my studies show the same that David just mentioned, that attending congregation is what sparks people from just believing to doing good in the world. I totally agree with it. I also agree with him that many congregations are much stronger in bonding than bridging capital. Just want you to know that people who are not engaged in congregation are low both on bridging and on bonding capital.
So while I share the same criticism, I also look at it positively because you have a foundation in congregation that builds into bonding, and the bonding is the culture that creates the tendency to volunteer and donate, which is wonderful. Ideally, it will reach a higher level of bridging and caring and integration with other groups, but it’s rare. It happens, but it’s rare in all faith traditions. So I totally concur with what you say.
LUGO: Thank you. All right, open it up to your questions.
JEROME SOKOLOVSKY, VOICE OF AMERICA: David, you said that it’s not about beliefs or about faith, and I’m wondering if you’re talking about theological beliefs. I wonder if there is a role here that is played by faith in the institution of the Mormon Church, that Mormons trust their church to do the right thing with the money, the same way that perhaps Scandinavians paying taxes into their welfare state would trust their government to do the right thing with it, the way many Americans do not trust our government to do that.
CAMPBELL: That’s a nice parallel. Let me begin by just clarifying what I mean when I say that it’s not beliefs that are driving the volunteering. That’s not to say that religious beliefs are irrelevant to creating these religious communities in the first place. It’s just that when you look at empirically what drives the volunteering, what explains it — when we run these big, fancy statistical models — it’s not what people say they believe; it’s rather the connections that they make with others.
Now it’s those connections that they make — remember, this is a lay-run organization. So the person who is spending the money that you are contributing into the fast offering fund is your local bishop. He’s the guy who might be your dentist, and he’s your bishop now, but he’s probably only going to do that for five years. And after that he might be the Boy Scout master, or he might teach your child in a children’s organization. It’s that sort of organization.
I will admit I love that parallel between Scandinavians paying their taxes and Mormons paying their tithing because it actually feeds into, I think, a very interesting point about Mormonism, which is, as Greg was noting, Mormons politically are this very conservative group who don’t want government intervention in anything. But when it comes to their church, they’re very comfortable with very dramatic redistribution of wealth.
So the contributions — all the financial contributions that Ram was mentioning — those are all paid into a central fund in Salt Lake City. When I say paid in, I mean the bank deposits are made on Monday morning after the checks are collected on Sunday, and they are automatically transferred to Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City then distributes that around the world so that Mormons in Guatemala can get a share of the money that came out of North America.
That’s a stunning redistribution, but it’s done through church channels, and Mormons are very comfortable with that and probably wouldn’t think there’s anything strange about it. Those of other traditions might think that is a little strange. You’re just giving your money to the headquarters and they’re deciding where it — you’re not deciding? And that’s just the way it goes. Like I said, I love that parallel to the Scandinavian welfare state.
CNAAN: Two comments, quickly. First about the belief issue, over 20 years ago I did my first study on volunteering, and I wanted to know who volunteers. I found out that people who said that they believe in God and they’re very religious but don’t attend congregation hardly ever volunteer. People with the same level of religiosity but who attend congregation are the highest — people who volunteer.
So faith is important. It teaches you the importance of things and bring you to congregation. But in and of itself, faith alone does not move people into being a volunteer. So that’s to clarify what both David and I found in different studies.
About the money, when I did my interviews with people — I interviewed about five people who converted to being Mormons, and all of them told me: When I give my money to this church, meaning LDS, I know that it doesn’t go to the pastor. I know that it doesn’t go to a pastor who will buy a better car. I know that it doesn’t go to somebody to drink. It goes to the causes. My clergy is a volunteer. My president is a volunteer. All the money goes to good causes, and that makes me feel much better.
Each of them compared — they didn’t meet each other because they were in different parts of the city — but each of them compared themselves to their relatives who donate money that somebody, an individual, can abuse, and they say, here it doesn’t happen. And this is in part why they feel good about it, and they’re not wondering about where the money is going.
ANTHONY POGORELC, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: I’m Father Tony Pogorelc from Catholic University. When I taught at Purdue, I had some Mormon students, and one of the things I was struck by was the parallel institutions that were maintained at the university to make sure that the students continued to socialize with each other. But not so long ago — we can go back to the ’60s — Catholics, too, had strong parallel institutions and a very strong Catholic identity. Today, of course, there are greater variations in Catholic identity, to the lamentation of many bishops.
But I guess one of the things I’d be curious about is, would any of you dare to predict — would you say that Mormons might also be on the way to the social mainstream, and that that might dilute their identity and even their level of affiliation with their own institutions and the practices that result from that?
LUGO: Convergence towards the mean here.
CAMPBELL: Well, I will admit I have a dog in this fight because since the publication of “American Grace,” I’ve now spoken to a number of LDS audiences in which I have told them that if you want your public perception to rise, if you want to be taken seriously as a mainstream religion, you need to go out and build bridges with other people. You need to do that because a public relations campaign will only take the church so far. Billboards and television commercials probably don’t hurt, but they do not substitute for deep, lasting friendships, social connections, maybe even members of your extended family.
The pushback that I’ve gotten from that — just recently at a conference — and Shaun Casey’s here from the Wesley Theological Seminary. I was a few weeks ago at a wonderful conference that Wesley hosted with a dialogue between Mormons and Methodists. This was the message I delivered there, and the pushback that I will often get from inside the LDS community is exactly what you’re saying. Well, if we do that, won’t we just be like the Catholics, and we’ll lose what’s distinctive about our faith?
I suppose that taken to an extreme that’s true. I would counter, and I have countered and will continue to do so, that the LDS Church and the LDS folks today bond to such an extent and are distinctive to such an extent that we are three generations away from any concerns about that. Much of that is actually theological.
There’s a great emphasis on marrying within the faith — within Mormonism — that I don’t think is actually matched in other religions. Most religions want you to marry within the faith. But within Mormonism, marriage within the faith has a particular role within the theology that just is not found anywhere else, and that alone I think actually helps to maintain the distinctiveness.
So my message to a Mormon audience would be: Go ahead and bridge, and three generations from now, we’ll worry about whether or not Mormons are losing their distinctiveness because the price that is paid for not building those bridges is quite high. It’s not just a matter of popularity contests. I think it works against the church itself and its own members in trying to make a positive contribution in American society.
WILLIAM GALSTON, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It occurred to me that the remarks that I wanted to make and the questions that I wanted to ask, as I looked at them, I said, hey, these are all from a Jewish perspective. And I plead guilty. I can’t run away from it. My first observation takes the form of what I hope will be received as a joke. This is a really risky thing I’m about to do, but I’m going to do it anyway.
LUGO: But we will laugh now that you told us it’s a joke. So we’ll play with you.
GALSTON: Well, yeah. Greg, you made the methodological point that your pool of respondents didn’t include former Mormons. I would submit that it didn’t include prospective Mormons either because I confidently expect that I will be enrolled posthumously in the Mormon Church. So I am part of the future of the Mormon Church, and it seems to me that my views ought to be taken into account.
But more seriously, I do see an interesting parallel between many features of Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism. Let me start at the end. The extraordinary emphasis placed on marrying within the faith — which I can assure you within Orthodox Judaism is every bit as powerful as it is within Mormonism. I also see a very similar pattern of intense inward bonds and very attenuated bridging activities.
And perhaps for historically similar reasons, although I don’t want to press the analogy between modes of persecution too far, but I do think that that history — I’ll defer to David on this one — probably has something to do with the parallel. More generally, it seems to me that Mormons and Orthodox Jews score high on all three of the dimensions of the familiar believing, belonging, behaving triad. So I think the parallel between Mormons and Catholics is interesting. The parallel between Mormons and Orthodox Jews is also interesting and worth some thinking through.
Now for a question, and that is that as I look at the statistics on Mormon giving and volunteering, I’m moved to ask: Do you pay any annual dues to be a member of the Mormon Church? If the answer to that is no, that has an effect on the comparative statistics because I can assure you the annual dues to belong to a synagogue are very, very high, and you are expected to give “voluntarily,” quote-unquote, to the annual appeal on top of that.
If you add those two things together, you get pretty close to tithing on a sort of lower-middle-class income and about halfway there at the median income. So it seems to me, especially to the extent to which Mormon giving is directed towards the church, then some correction for membership fees in other faiths, methodologically, might be a fair comparison. What do you think?
LUGO: Ram, you want to start on that and then we’ll have David. And I have a question for Greg based on your first comment.
CNAAN: Wow. That was interesting. But I’ve been asked this question a few times before, so I’ll give you a few lines. First, there are many studies about Jewish Orthodox dues, and dues because you can’t pay on Saturday in the synagogue, so every Jewish synagogue is asking for membership dues, which is their equivalent of an offering. pledge. When you take this Jewish appeal and all others, it doesn’t go more than 4% in most studies, on average income. So the discrepancy is serious.
The other thing that I mentioned in my presentation is the culture of callings. The fact that somebody can come in the church and tell you, you’ve been chosen to do this activity — and this activity can be most demanding and you would say yes — is not parallel. Maybe the Hassidic movement, where there is a leader that is not with us anymore, could have done it then. But most Orthodox Jews — and I come from an Orthodox family, so I know it quite well — you don’t have this power to tell people. You ask for volunteers, and luckily you’ll find volunteers.
So this culture is really unparalleled in any Jewish (inaudible). The idea of belonging, feeling persecuted, marrying within, you’re very correct. There are many similarities. The other thing is that when I interviewed members of the LDS Church who were not living in Utah and I asked them: Are you living next to people like you? They said, why? No, I live where it’s convenient for me, where it’s good, where the Jewish Orthodox try to live together for the purpose of walking together to synagogue. So there are many differences that if you want, I can elaborate on later.
GALSTON: Just briefly, I would come back by saying that I suspect that you grew up in an Orthodox but not Haredi family.
CNAAN: Well, my grandparents and my grandmother was Haredi.
GALSTON: I say that as the father of a son and a daughter-in-law who have gone in the Haredi direction, and I can assure you that the authority of rabbis within that sphere to reach out and give assignments to people is quite considerable.
LUGO: David, could you also explain, we keep talking about tithing on income. Is it generally understood that that’s either gross income, after-tax income? I mean, what’s the leeway here?
CAMPBELL: Well, there’s a story about that.
LUGO: OK, all right.
CAMPBELL: I assure you that if we were to call Salt Lake City right now and ask whoever we could reach there: Should Mormons pay tithing on their gross or their net, the official answer would be: You decide. This is a matter of great debate among Mormons themselves. If you ever want to get a fight going among individual Mormons, ask that question. There are very strong differences of opinion on that.
Let me just quickly echo the sentiment that Bill was expressing about the parallels between Orthodox Judaism and Mormonism. I wholeheartedly agree that there actually are some very interesting parallels there that go even beyond, I think, what Bill was suggesting. It turns out that when you look at how people of different faiths in America perceive other religions — I mentioned that, in general, Mormons are perceived somewhat negatively, and not surprisingly it’s evangelical Christians who drive much of that — there are actually groups that feel quite positively toward Mormons.
One of them is Jews, and that can’t be because of the politics, right? You couldn’t pick two groups that were more opposite politically. It undoubtedly has something to do with a sense of commonality, two religious minorities that have faced persecution, admittedly in different ways, but nonetheless persecution.
Let me just answer Bill’s question about dues. Mormons do not pay dues to belong to a local congregation. In fact, you don’t really belong to your local congregation. You belong to the church, and then you attend a congregation based on where you live. If you move from one place to another, the church actually moves your records for you so that you can then be assigned to the next ward. It’s kind of like the parish system in the Catholic Church, although obviously there the geographic assignment has broken down somewhat in the last 20 or 30 years.
So you don’t pay dues, but there is an internal enforcement mechanism for the payment of tithing, and that is, in order for you to be considered a member in good standing, and therefore able to enter a Mormon temple — you all live in the Washington, D.C., area, presumably, so you’ve seen the big temple out in Maryland. These are all over the country. They’re different than the regular meeting houses where Mormons go to worship on Sundays. Any one of you could go to one of those buildings at any time and participate in all the stuff that goes on there — the scout troops or the teenage dances and all that kind of stuff.
The temples, however, are different. They are reserved for members in good standing only, and in order to enter a temple, one of the requirements is that you be a full tithe payer. It’s self-reported — no church official ever looks over your tax return — but Mormons themselves take that very seriously. So it’s not dues, but it’s close. I would say there’s a parallel there between the payment of dues and the payment of tithing in order to participate fully in the faith.
LUGO: Greg, if we were to broaden this — we’re always looking for clues to do some interesting research here, and one just struck me: groups that are sort of high-demand groups and looking at how the bonding and bridging capital works. We’ve got Mormons and Orthodox Jews on the table. Who else might we put there for a nice comparative study, Greg, from the broad American religious landscape?
SMITH: Well, I was struck, in working on the new survey of Mormons, over and over again by the similarities between Mormons in the United States and evangelicals. This is true religiously speaking — both groups exhibit very high levels of religious involvement. They attend church regularly, say they pray at frequent intervals — much more so than other groups. It’s also true politically. These are the two groups in American politics that are most consistently Republican, most consistently conservative.
Part of the reason I find that so interesting is because, as David pointed out, these are also two groups between whom there’s a fair amount of tension. Mormons themselves tell us — in our survey, half of the Mormons we spoke with said that they think that evangelicals in the United States are unfriendly toward Mormons. That’s way more, I should point out, than think that secular people are unfriendly toward Mormons. More Mormons perceive hostility from evangelicals than perceive it from secular people.
Evangelicals express real doubts about Mormonism. Half of evangelicals tell us they do not think Mormonism is a Christian faith, even though almost 100% of Mormons — we asked them — told us that it is. And two-thirds of evangelicals say that Mormonism and their own faith are really pretty different from each other. So I was struck by those similarities. I’m not sure how those groups would compare with respect to religious giving.
I think maybe the only other group in the population, at least that we have data for — and we have a very limited amount of data — but the other group that compares with Mormons in terms of their level of religious commitment is Jehovah’s Witnesses. And we know less about their politics, although they tend to be less politically involved. That’s the overarching pattern I remember about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ thinking about politics.
But those are the two groups that struck me. We have less data, at least in our surveys, about Orthodox Judaism. But those are the two groups that repeatedly and consistently jumped out in terms of their comparison to Mormons.
LUGO: But if we were to compare evangelicals to these other three groups that we’ve mentioned, we’d need to cut the evangelical community further. For all of these groups, just about everybody has high commitment. We find a lot more variation within evangelicalism — not as much as we find within Catholicism in terms of level of religious commitment and political views, but still fairly significant. So you’d be talking then about what percentage of American evangelicals that would have high levels of commitments that closely parallel, let’s say, Orthodox Jews or Mormons.
SMITH: It’s probably half or more of evangelicals. Something like two-thirds of Mormons, seven-in-ten Mormons, at least on the scale that we used, come out very high on religious commitment. About seven-in-ten Mormons say that they go to church every single week, that they pray every single day and that religion is very important in their lives. Seven-in-ten Mormons meet all three of those criteria.
Among evangelicals, if I remember correctly, the comparable figure is about 55% or so, so a little bit lower. But those two groups are each far higher than most of the other groups in the population, with the exception of black Protestants, who are a little lower still but towards that end of the spectrum.
LUGO: Of course, even if you’re talking about half of evangelicals, that’s still about 13% of the U.S. population.
LUGO: So not an insignificant group.
MARK FARR, NATIONAL VISION & PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT: Thanks for the very high-quality discussion. The point about which groups are they most like, just to cue directly off that, it seems to me the one that would be closest to it would be Islam — because it is first of all feeling embattled, and second, its giving is even higher than any of the ones you’ve mentioned. I don’t believe it’s even possible to be a Muslim without giving 10% of your wealth. It’s zakat, isn’t it? It’s something like that. I mean, there’s some — 2%? But I know that there’s a lot of giving and it’s carefully done.
But where I was going to go was somewhere slightly different. I think there are some sociological things that perhaps it’s hard to study in a questionnaire that are kind of obvious or very clear to me but have to be taken into account when you study something as interesting as this. The first is that the LDS faith is an embattled group — from the U.S. government — or it has a history of having that, so it’s not completely surprising that their giving might be very good, but it might not be to the U.S. government. I mean, their whole history — even the state of Utah and the rest of it — has to be factored into this.
So it’s not just, it seems to me, about faith. It’s about their sociological, historical traditions. And the sociological piece comes in as well because any embattled group tends to give to itself because it feels embattled and it wants to look after the group. I think that’s a natural human instinct. So those are the two comments.
I have one observation which I’d be interested to know whether you have a thought on. I mean, your very interesting study — the beginning asks the question, what would it take for them to become more acceptable? What do they think it would take? And I think it’s volunteering. I used to run all the faith-based volunteering for Points of Light, and it was anecdotally completely true across the country that the LDS Church always shows up. They are absolutely there more than anyone else. So they really are good at it.
But I’m not sure that gets you to acceptance, honestly. I think, when I look back again at the sweep of a few decades, it takes a sort of catalytic moment. It would be JFK for the Catholics. Before then, Catholicism was sort of weird; after that it became more mainstream. Maybe Ellen DeGeneres for lesbianism. I don’t know. I bet you could find other ones. Those are the two that just happen to mind. I think you need a sort of catalytic moment and that will be — maybe if Mitt Romney becomes president. That probably would be it.
But more than just a sort of slide into mainstream, it would be my argument that you’d need something. And I’d be interested to know whether you agree with that or think it’s ludicrous.
LUGO: Very interesting. Let me assure you that we have very good trend data on Americans’ both knowledge of and views of Mormonism. And the Romney candidacy is presenting us a very nice opportunity to continue to test that as we go along.
But David, on the broader question of Mormons’ attitudes towards government, I think we all in general terms know the history here and why historically there may be some aversion, certainly, to the central government — you know, the federal government. Is there anything theologically within Mormonism that might also be contributing to that very skeptical attitude towards the authority of government?
CAMPBELL: I would actually say that there’s a tension within Mormon theology on Mormon attitudes toward government. So first of all, I would be careful of actually overstating that it’s Mormon history that leads to their distrust of the federal government. Certainly going back to the 19th century and even through the early part of the 20th century, there were many efforts on the part of the federal government to harass and even disincorporate the LDS Church over the issue of mostly polygamy. There were a few other issues wrapped up in that, but mostly polygamy.
But by the time you hit the 1930s, Utah was a Roosevelt state, actually. Utah — a lot of Mormons themselves don’t know this, but before the church set up its own welfare system, which is what is in place now and that’s what’s driving a lot of the volunteering, Mormons were actually strong FDR supporters. And Utah was at the time a very poor state and was benefiting from those efforts at redistribution on the part of the federal government. And it wasn’t like Mormons were refusing the money or the other efforts that the federal government was making. So it’s not as clear, actually, that’s it’s just always been the case that Mormons are small “c” conservatives.
Within the church itself, on the one hand, theologically, there is a huge emphasis on self-sufficiency. So you’ve probably all heard that Mormons are encouraged to keep — it used to be a year’s supply; now it’s maybe not quite a year — but the idea is that Mormons have a storage of food and other provisions — not guns, that’s a myth — but food and water. And so a lot of Mormons do that.
Just in general, the fact that the church runs its own welfare program for church members — and by welfare program, I mean the church owns farms and ranches, and it produces food that’s distributed to those who are in need, mostly within the church — sometimes beyond the church, but mostly within the church. That’s all an ethic of self-sufficiency so we don’t have to rely on government.
On the other hand, Mormon theology is very clear that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired, that America is a special nation. That language that you often hear from politicians on the right resonates more deeply among Mormons, I would suggest, than any other community.
And while that’s not the same thing as supporting redistribution efforts on the part of the government, it has got to be linked in — that sort of general sense of patriotism and a sense of America being unique has got to also foster a sense of appreciation for the institutions of government among Mormons in a way that other theologies might not. So Mormons fill out their census forms, and Mormons pay their taxes and all that kind of stuff.
CNAAN: Just a quick comment. Lots of people who criticize the government and don’t want the government to provide services are just criticizing. This is a group that doesn’t want the government to provide services, as Greg told us, but they do a lot for their own and for other people. And David was right: Most of the volunteering is within the church. But what they do for others surpasses the average American by far.
So I want to take into account, yes, they do more for religion, but what they do for others is way above what other groups are doing. So you have a group that says, yes, we don’t want the government to provide services — we will do it; we are doing it — where other people just sit idle. And this is what’s very unique about this group.
LUGO: Greg, Mark mentioned Muslims. Why shouldn’t they be put on this list? Again, my memory may fail me here, but I thought we found a lot of diversity within the Muslim community on this question of religiosity — from the Iranian Muslim community which, as I recall, was actually fairly secular, to Pakistanis, who tended to be on the high end. Is my memory correct on that?
SMITH: No, that’s right. I’ve made two points about the connection or some of the comparisons between Mormonism and Islam, particularly in the United States. First of all, yes, Islam in the United States is quite diverse. That’s true whether you’re thinking about the racial and ethnic background of Muslims in the United States, whether you’re talking about the countries in which they were born and from which they come.
It also pertains to religious involvement and religious practice. You have many very devout, practicing Muslims, but you also have a lot of Muslims in the United States who aren’t as committed to the practice of their faith, let’s say.
I should also point out that one of the things I was struck by in working on this survey on Mormons — we did the survey of Mormons immediately after doing, for the second time, a national survey of Muslims in the United States. The two projects followed each other. I was struck that despite some pretty pronounced differences between the two groups in terms of their origins — Mormons in the United States are overwhelmingly white, non-Latino, born in the United States. The religion itself is an American religion. Muslims in the United States are comprised mostly of immigrants from countries all over the world; the religion itself has its origins outside. Very different groups, right?
But their concerns about the problems that they face within American society are really quite similar. When you ask them, what are the main — just tell us in your own words, what are the most important problems facing the Mormon community, facing the Muslim community in the United States, large numbers in both groups say it’s discrimination; it’s lack of understanding; it’s misperceptions about our religion. Over and over — lack of acceptance. Over and over again, these are the kinds of concerns that you hear members of both groups expressing. So I think that there’s a lot of similarity there.
Turning from that and returning to one of your first points, and related to that, given that these are concerns for both groups, what will it take for them to gain acceptance? You know, I don’t — I can’t say. I can’t predict what it might take. But we do have some data. We did do some analysis a few years ago, so the details are a little fuzzy — forgive me if I don’t have the exact numbers — but it’s interesting. We have found over the years, and others have as well, that one of the best predictors of positive feelings toward various groups is knowing someone from the group. People who know a Muslim have more favorable views of Muslims than people who don’t know a Muslim. You see the same thing with respect to Jews; you see it with respect to other groups as well.
Mormons, maybe not so much. Not that there’s not a link there between knowing a Mormon and having more positive feelings about Mormons and Mormonism. But the key thing, or one key factor, in terms of attitudes toward Mormonism seems to be people’s perceptions of whether or not Mormonism is a Christian religion. That is a real issue for relations between Mormons and others that you don’t necessarily see for other religions.
We asked Mormons in our survey, do you think of the Mormon religion as a Christian religion? Ninety-seven percent said yes. When we asked Mormons to tell us, in your own words — just tell us in just one word, what’s the one best word that describes Mormonism? Christian, Jesus, Christ — these are the words that came up quite often. When we ask the American public, do you think of the Mormon religion as a Christian religion, half say yes. A third say no, and the rest say, you know, I really don’t know. Among evangelical Christians it’s half who say no, it’s not a Christian faith.
And people who say that Mormonism is not a Christian religion tend to have less favorable views of Mormons and Mormonism than do others. So that to my knowledge is a unique factor behind acceptance of Mormonism in American society that might not be at play for other groups.
LUGO: So the implication is what? That if Mormons didn’t claim to be Christian but claimed to be a completely different religion, there would probably be more acceptance of Mormons?
SMITH: Well, sometimes I wonder that.
ANDREA STONE, THE HUFFINGTON POST: It’s been very interesting: Several months ago I did a story about Orthodox Jews, who are much more Republican in their political persuasion. And actually some of them like Mitt Romney because, like Orthodox Jews have big families, Mormons tend to have big families — very family-oriented.
I also did a story back in the summer about charitable giving by the candidates, and I did Mitt Romney. He gives millions — he’s probably the most charitable of all the people running for president now on the Republican side. But the vast majority of his charitable giving has been to the Mormon Church. And as I said to David before, I didn’t know that you were a Mormon, so I’d been writing a lot about the whole controversy about baptism and —
CAMPBELL: Sometimes other Mormons wonder that too.
LUGO: He still identifies in our surveys as Mormon, so we count him.
STONE: Well, as Bill said, I’m probably going to be a Mormon someday too. But in any event, I think the reason that most people are so fascinated about baptisms and all these other things is because, as you said, Mormons don’t build the bridges and that other groups do. There is the fact that I could not go into a Mormon temple, whereas you could come into a synagogue or I could go into a Catholic church or a Protestant church. So there’s this kind of mystery that — and I think you’re right that an advertising campaign or a Broadway show’s not going to do it.
But since nobody’s asked, I’m going to ask about Mitt Romney because why would we be sitting here otherwise, even though it’s a very interesting academic topic? And he doesn’t like to talk about it very much. And why should he? But I think even John Kennedy eventually addressed the Catholic question because that’s all everybody wanted to ask about. But Mitt Romney did go on a mission. He was a bishop in Boston. So he is a very involved — and gives a lot of money to the church.
So the question I have — and this might be speculation, but just given what you know, what could you say about Mitt Romney and his values? Again, you mentioned missionaries and people who are very religious are very much more smaller government types than those who are maybe a little bit more secular. And he talks about smaller government. So what can we say about his political leanings that are informed or that grew out of his being a Mormon and growing up a Mormon and those values that he learned in the church? What can we learn, the non-Mormons, about Mitt Romney because of his religion? And I’ll leave it there.
LUGO: David, I think you’re the only one who can answer that question up here.
CAMPBELL: I actually would be hesitant to draw any, or at least very many, direct connections between particular LDS beliefs and the way they translate into public policy. And I think that is reflected in the fact that, while Mitt Romney is perhaps the most prominent Mormon politician in the country, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is also LDS. He’s also active and devout in the faith. I assume that Mitt Romney and Harry Reid would disagree on many issues of public policy, and it doesn’t cause their church membership to be questioned.
That said, I think there are elements of at least a Mormon culture that you could expect would be reflected and I think have been reflected in the Romney administration in Massachusetts and likely would be reflected in a Romney White House. We’ve mentioned the emphasis on self-sufficiency and small government. Those things are not unique to Mormons of course; you’d find them among conservatives generally.
But here’s one that comes not so much out of Mormon theology per se, but certainly out of Mormon culture, and that is the fact that — and this will come as a surprise, again, to many audiences — there is a real strain of moderation and pragmatism within Mormonism that’s reflected in many issues, actually, not just one or two.
Even on the one issue that Mormons are probably most famous or infamous for, gay marriage — even on that issue, you actually find a plurality of Mormons — and I’ve seen this in more than one data set, so it’s not idiosyncratic to any one way of collecting the data — on the issue of gay marriage, a plurality of Mormons actually favor civil unions. So very few Mormons support marriage for homosexuals, but at the same, not all that many Mormons say, I don’t want any legal recognition of homosexual couples. They instead are willing to take the middle ground, civil unions.
We find the same thing on actually many issues regarding social welfare. Certainly on the issue of immigration the LDS Church itself is a voice of moderation in Utah and other states where it’s dominant or predominant. But you also find that among just Mormons in general, that on that issue, which of course is a flashpoint of controversy, Mormons are very moderate. It’s also true on abortion actually. Mormons are very moderate on abortion. So on a whole variety of issues where the moderation that you see in Romney the candidate, and I suppose Romney the governor of Massachusetts, I would say pretty nicely reflects what you see in the public opinion polls of the rank and file within the Mormon community.
STONE: He probably wouldn’t like you to say that.
CAMPBELL: That’s probably right but I just want to convince you I’m not on the payroll of the Romney campaign.
NEVSIN MENGU, CNN TURK: Hi. Islam was mentioned, and everybody’s mentioning parallels. Well, I’ve found parallels between — there’s a recent — I’d call them a sect, I guess — a sect in Sunni Islam which is like the Gülen movement perhaps. I mean, we call them Gülen movement, but they call themselves the Service. And in terms of devotion — getting the call and giving money and working voluntarily — all these concepts are very important in the Service.
However, at this point my question is: OK, you go and donate; you go and do volunteer work all over the world; you work hard for your church, for your belief. How do you benefit from this Mormon network? Say you’re a part of the congregation — do you find a job more easily since you’re a Mormon? Or if you’re a Mormon businessman, do you get to find business in the market more easily since you’re a Mormon? Could I make myself clear?
LUGO: Yeah, that was good. Did you probe into those areas — this is not social welfare as such, but how those networks lead to business, educational, other kinds of opportunities.
CNAAN: I’ll answer a small segment of it, and I’ll leave it to David, the resident Mormon here, to answer the big part. On helping each other, I was highly impressed by what I saw and what I experienced and what I found out in my interviews. When a Mormon leaves a place or comes to a new place, there’ll be members of the church helping load the car and members of the ward where this person is coming helping unload, providing food, assisting in coming. When somebody needs babysitting, there will be help.
So all the personal things that for people who are part of such networks, there is wonderful support, amazing support. I tell people a quick anecdote, and it won’t take more than a minute. I waited for a bishop in one of the wards. And a 17-year-old girl, dressed as provocatively as you can think about for 17 years old, came to a person who sat next to me also waiting for the bishop and said to him — I won’t mention the name, but she called him by the name and said to him something like, do you know my uncle? And he said, yes, why? She said, he’s depressed now. Would you be willing to give him a call and cheer him up?
This kind of network is very strong in many congregations, but in Mormon congregations it’s one of the highest levels that I have experienced. And I’ve studied over 3,000 congregations in my career, so I can tell you this is one of the highest levels. About jobs, etc., I can’t answer. Maybe David can.
CAMPBELL: Yeah, I would just echo everything Ram just said. Certainly when it comes to employment, the church itself runs a whole employment service, which is largely based on referrals from other church members. It’s not uncommon at a church meeting for someone to stand up and say, yeah, I have a brother-in-law who’s moving into town. He’s a plumber; he’s looking for work. Can anyone help him out? That’s a very common thing. Not unique to Mormonism, but because of all the things we’ve discussed here, you find it in full force within that community.
LUGO: One of the secrets of the growth of pentecostalism, by the way, around the world; but that’s a topic for another day. We’ve got less than five minutes. Why don’t I just take your questions, and then we’ll try to wrap it up fairly quickly.
MICHAEL GRYBOSKI, THE CHRISTIAN POST: My question is directed mostly towards Mr. Cnaan, Mr. Smith. In your research, both of you noted that there were large percentages of LDS members who reported fully tithing. Now maybe this is really critical on my part, but was there a means to verify these reports — because I’ve heard of past surveys on tithes where a group will have a certain number of people say they tithed, and really it’s a different number.
SHAUN CASEY, WESLEY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: I grew up in an evangelical church that had three hours on Sundays as well, and if you had done the volunteer survey at different hours, you would have gotten widely different results. Frankly, the third-hour folks were, in fact, the true believers who did it all. I’m wondering, between David and Ram, had you done this at, say, the second or first hour, assuming the sequence is the same across congregations in the country, how would your results have been skewed differently than the third hour?
TERRY MATTINGLY, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: First of all, I wanted to say that I think this issue of net versus gross tithing would be a great subject for a breakthrough conference between Southern Baptists and Mormons. I think there would be tremendous interest on both sides of that.
No, my practical question is more of a theological one. There’s something driving these people to worship, if worship is the driving engine of these networks. And I think critics of Mormonism would suggest that this is a works theology, that these people believe they’re earning their salvation. My question is simply, how would Mormons express that equation? How would they like the public to see their theological motivation?
LUGO: Very good, thank you. All right, we’ll try to deal with these in short order. The fully tithing question, how do you verify it?
CNAAN: No, we didn’t verify it. But there are many other studies that show — and I can talk to you later if you’re interested — why there is a good reason to believe the findings. But we didn’t verify the self-reporting — like the volunteering activity is self-reporting. We didn’t go with them to see if they volunteer.
LUGO: Yeah, we also obviously didn’t do that.
SMITH: Correct. I suppose you could go — if you could get records or consult with church bodies themselves, try to see if you could do — we have not done that.
MATTINGLY: Well, you did with Mitt Romney, right? Andrea did and found that at least what he reports to the IRS is that he pays his tithing.
LUGO: What about the counterfactual? What if you had done it there in the first or second hour, Ram?
CNAAN: Well, from our observation, we didn’t see people leaving after the first or second hour.
CAMPBELL: Because they’re sneaky. (Laughter.)
CNAAN: I think that what David meant to say, that if people come for a three-hour service, they are committed. It’s not like the people are leaving. And if they sneaked, there were very few. And because, as David says, it’s a hierarchical church, once we got the permission and once people were told we were coming, people participated.
LUGO: Van, did you want to weigh in on this one too?
VAN EVANS, INDIANA UNIVERSITY-PERDUE UNIVERSTY, INDIANAPOLIS: Yeah, I do. Actually the first 800 of the 2,700 surveys were done in the second and the first hour. And the Mormon bloc that Dr. Campbell is referring to — we have three meetings, and some wards have the option to invert the order of those meetings. The middle meeting is Sunday school, and that’s always in the middle. But sometimes the sacrament meeting, which would be — how would you describe the sacrament meeting — the main worship service — it can be first or it can be last. And so sometimes when the sacrament service was last, we went to the first hour.
But I would be very careful characterizing that it was the highest of the highest because at least a full third were done at other meetings. It wasn’t until the last third that we realized it was more efficient time-wise to do it in the final third.
CAMPBELL: Yeah, I don’t want to overstate that. I would agree with the way Ram characterized what I’m saying, which is that this is a devoted group — the fact that they go to church for a long period of time.
LUGO: And I would wager that just about everybody we interviewed, we interviewed in other than those three hours. (Laughter.) Wouldn’t that be right, Greg?
SMITH: A hundred percent.
LUGO: A hundred percent. That’s right. Well, what about the theological question? And obviously this reflects on the evangelicals’ concern with Mormonism. How much is this works, righteousness or getting to heaven the driver for this great degree of social involvement, David? How is that connected in Mormon theology? Works versus grace to put it in —
CAMPBELL: Yeah. So the way I think most Mormons would answer that question is that their theology doesn’t choose between faith and works; it combines both. What most Mormons don’t realize, probably because they don’t engage much with people outside of their own faith on theological questions — what Mormons don’t realize is that by saying that, it puts them in the works camp, right?
So it is very much a works-driven religion. Although, interestingly, in the last 20 or 30 years or so, there has been kind of a movement within the church, particularly among church intellectuals centered at Brigham Young University, to kind of reemphasize the role of grace in Mormon theology, which is there. In fact, the Book of Mormon, the Mormons’ unique book of scripture, is all about grace actually. There’s a strong emphasis within that particular scriptural work. And I think that movement has now begun to be reflected more in Mormon teachings today than it might have been a few decades ago. But nonetheless, there is still an emphasis on works. I don’t want to back away from that.
LUGO: Is there a charismatic movement within Mormonism? It seems to be in every other — you know, Catholics and Protestants — is there such a thing in Mormonism as a charismatic movement?
CAMPBELL: No. I mean, the Osmonds were pretty charismatic. (Laughter.)
LUGO: All right, well, thank you so much, Ram Cnaan, David Campbell and Greg Smith. And thank you all for coming. It’s been a great discussion. (Applause.)
This transcript has been edited by Amy Stern for clarity, grammar and accuracy.