Look Out, World!

At the recent FAIR conference in Utah, some interesting data were shared.  Guess what?  People don’t like us. No, let me rephrase that: people really don’t like us. According to the polling firm which gathered the data, LDS people have an unfavorable to favorable rating of 5 – 1. For every person who thinks well of us there are five who do not. To compare, notice that Jewish people have a favorable rating of 7 – 2 (seven likes for every two dislikes) and Catholics have a favorable rating of 2 – 1. Where are we going and how did we get in this handbasket?

There are likely to be many complex reasons for these discouraging results.  The easy thing to do would be to blame others and fault them for failing to see our own special wonderfulness, and I actually do think that we are a bit under-appreciated.  I like Mormons, and I wish others did, too.  But since  it is difficult to change others, the best thing to do is to look to ourselves to see if there is anything we can do to produce positive change.  For the purpose of this blog post, I want to suggest only one thing.

There was a very interesting exchange recently at insiderhighered.com which discussed the question of whether Christian people are mistreated in colleges and universities.   One professor argues that the answer is yes, a lot, while the other one thinks maybe, but not much, and maybe Christians themselves bear part of the responsibility for it.

In the case of conservative evangelical Christianity, however, we are dealing with a group whose…members define themselves over against the secular world and particularly secular academe……This stance is informed by what can only be called a thorough-going persecution complex……the secular world is not merely a realm that exists alongside Christianity. Instead, it is in active opposition to Christianity, seeking its destruction. The theory of evolution, for example, is not simply a scientific theory that happens to reach conclusions at odds with a literal reading of Genesis — it is a conspiracy aimed at discrediting belief in God……On every front, the conservative evangelical community perceives itself to be under siege.

I think that many LDS people are at least temperamentally inclined to agree with much of that. I know I am. I expect that we are always going to be a relatively small religion and that often our fundamental, non-negotiable positions will be at odds with our surrounding culture. But there is something ultimately unsatisfying about the way we sometimes keep a careful list of the grievances, slights, and insults all those wicked, worldly people have visited upon us.  Even as we can define ourselves as being in opposition to worldly influences, we also need to remember another fundamental imperative in Mormonism. We are commanded to be anxiously engaged, and to be the salt of the earth, and salt doesn’t do any good unless it is shaken around and mixed in.  The LDS brand of Mormonism has an ingenious ability to simultaneously retrench and also reach out.

Brigham Young once expressed forceful dissatisfaction with elders who were called on missions but who returned a week or so later, saying that the people in that particular place were especially wicked, that there was no point in preaching, and that they had done the only thing possible, which was dusting off their feet. President Young claimed that there was no place where the people were so wicked that they would not respond to friendship, and said that if he were called to that same place, he wouldn’t even try to preach for several months.  He would befriend people and offer to serve them by chopping wood, making fences, and doing other necessary chores.  In this case, he echos the story of Ammon and Lamoni from the Book of Mormon.  The Lamanite king was no doubt a wicked man who didn’t believe in God and who engaged in various forms of appalling behavior, like drunkenness and concubinage, yet  Ammon overlooked those obvious problems.   Imagine the result if he had tried the Zoramite door approach.

It should not surprise us that people dislike being used as a foil for our righteousness.  There is more than a touch of the Zoramite to the tendency to define ourselves favorably in comparison to others.  I believe that there is a limit to the extent we can withdraw from The World or see ourselves as standing in opposition to it and still do effective outreach, and I think we might be reaching that limit.

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Note 1:  Commenters are free to invoke the Rodney Stark argument, but they must also explain why it works in some places and not in others.   Why is our church experiencing negative growth in Europe, for example?

Note 2:  I’d like to provide documentation for the Brigham Young story but don’t have time right now to look it up.  If you know the citation, please say so in a comment and I’ll be happy to footnote.

Comments

  1. “There are likely to be many complex reasons for these discouraging results. ”

    Prediction: Lots of commenters will insist that the reasons non-Mormons don’t like us are X, Y and Z, where X, Y and Z just happen to be the very aspects of Mormonism or Mormon culture that the commenter finds distasteful. I know that’s my inclination, as I’m tempted to see this post as an invitation to bemoan all my Mormon pet peeves. Probably an inclination worth resisting though, since there’s no particular reason to conclude that my peeves are everyone else’s peeves.

  2. #1. I was going to say people don’t like us because I always end up sitting in the hard chairs in the back of Stake Conference, while other people set their scriptures in the soft pews the night before in order to claim their spots early. But I guess I won’t.

  3. I dunno, I think this sentence is brilliant and is a big part of our unpopularity:

    “It should not surprise us that people dislike being used as a foil for our righteousness.”

  4. People don’t like us because

    1. they think we’re weird (not in the adorable E.T. sort of way, but more like a guy wearing shorts, dark socks, sandals, and a bike helmet while riding a Segway). I don’t understand this.

    2. they think we’ve got an agenda (get them baptized, take over the school board, pass prop 8, etc.) that they’re not sure is completely transparent. This I understand.

  5. My own resource pool comes from my family’s distaste for my chosen faith. They see Mormons as incredibly hypocritical- we preach family, but our family is divided now. Yes, as a faithful L-d Saint, I understand the nuance, but my family most emphatically does not. The old Wedding Issue rears its head even now, 20 years before my children will likely be married, and my parents are sick and angry that they will not be allowed to attend, if my children follow this faith. That we then baptized their dead into our church is a huge source of pain for families who are not members- it seems a violation of untoward magnitude- and we have our reasons. When we trot out _Sacred, not Secret_ this is a pile of horsefeathers to those who are not not of our faith.

    Yes, as a member, I understand. But as the ONLY member in my family, I also understand their distrust and suspicion.

  6. I agree with you that it might be an attitude thing. We tend to have a really paranoid view of the world sometimes, and the whole Prop 8 thing didn’t really help either. Sometimes we get a really binary view on the world. Things like smoking, alcohol, coffee, tea, rated R movies, swearing, etc. are bad, and so people who participate in such behaviors are guilty by association. And it can feel daunting or even threating to a member who feels that so much of the world is just so “bad.”

    I remember my wife sharing a story in her Relief Society meeting once (the lesson was on missionary work), telling how she had talked to the non-member neighbors next to our apartment complex (this was in Utah where ward sizes are really small). Everyone proceeded to then say how those people were really wicked (because they drink alcohol and are sometimes loud) and a member of the Relief Society presidency told everyone in the meeting that they shouldn’t even walk next to the building – if they could, they should walk around the entire block to avoid the building for their own personal safety.

    My wife was really disappointed that day (and offended, but she got over that, eventually). This kind of attitude towards those who are not “one of us” doesn’t really make a lot of friends in the long run, unfortunately.

  7. leisurelyviking says:

    Many Mormons (though certainly not all) act judgemental toward non-Mormons, and are seen as trying to push their beliefs on others while expecting full respect for their own unique beliefs and practices. Things like Prop 8 come to mind. In some parts of Utah, you can’t wear a beard or drink a cup of coffee without people talking about you. In addition, many Mormons are less knowledgeable about their beliefs and history than other Christians, and are seen as unintelligent when they resort to testimony bearing rather than addressing difficult questions. While I know enough Mormons to know that these are characteristics of individuals and do not represent the LDS church as a whole, many people are only ever exposed to a few members of the church and form their opinions based on a very small sample size, or on what they hear in the news (which tends to focus on the most extreme subsets of any group).

  8. “It should not surprise us that people dislike being used as a foil for our righteousness.”

    Hit the nail on the head. How can we blame “the world” for not liking us when, over and over again, in virtually every talk and lesson, we define ourselves through our derisive opposition to it? Moreover, we lump “the world” all together into one big undifferentiated and unenlightened lump. We might as well be saying “The Others.”

    Likewise, when we (well maybe not “we” here, but many members of the Church on the Wasatch Front) describe the entire rest of the world as “the mission field”–i.e., of value in the eyes of God only insofar as we Mormons can harvest it–we betray a really rather outrageous insularity.

    Finally, it seems like from a cultural standpoint, at least in American, members of the Church have counted forging our path into the mainstream by aligning ourselves with social conservativism. Social conservatives are happy to take our votes, but they will always reject our doctrines (just as we reject theirs). And social liberals aren’t going to like us very much for a very long time.

    So he exactly is supposed to like us?

  9. I’m a bit surprised at the 5-1 ratio. I would have thought 4-1.

    My attitude on this is colored some by the fact that I’m active LDS and I can’t stand mormons. Every few years I hit a point where I consider leaving the Church. When I consider my reasons, I remember that I don’t attend church for social reasons and I get the motivation to keep going. But the social issues sure do drive me nuts.

    __

    “Everyone proceeded to then say how those people were really wicked (because they drink alcohol and are sometimes loud) and a member of the Relief Society presidency told everyone in the meeting that they shouldn’t even walk next to the building – if they could, they should walk around the entire block to avoid the building for their own personal safety.”

    It’s stories like these that make feel occasional shame to be associated with mormons.

  10. I’m wondering what the statistics for all the other Christian denominations break down to? And perhaps there’s some kind of loose correlation with the more proselyting religions? I have a sneaking suspicion that the Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t faring any better, and I wonder if it has something to do with our knocking on doors and talking to random people in the street about our religion.

    From my own experience, a lot of the reasons people say about us being unlikable could really be describing evangelical Christianity as a whole.

  11. MikeInWeHo says:

    Trot out that cool skateboard guy on the new Mormon.org. He would improve the numbers.

    http://mormon.org/me/14DH-eng/

  12. Mark,

    Am I reading the survey wrong? I am showing favorable about 40% and unfavorable around 50%. The only way its 5-1 unfavorable is if you get really unfavorable vs really favorable. I think this is where you would find a unholy combination of crazy evangelicals with lunatic secularists on the very unfavorable side :)

    Also remember this is just one survey. I have seen others in the past 2-3 years that show favorable at around 50%. Think about this. If you would asked this question 50-100 years ago I bet the numbers would be even bleaker.

  13. Concubinage is appalling? Crap. I’m never going to get my turn.

  14. MikeinWeHo, are you a closet Church PR agent? I wonder if skateboard dude has any idea how much attention he’s getting on the ‘nacle.

  15. Cynthia L. says:

    #2 FTW!

  16. Cynthia L. says:

    #14: I’m pretty sure if Mike were in charge of our PR, wed be doing a lot better.

  17. As a missionary in the American South, I did my part to confirm and/or build people’s distrust and dislike for Mormons. It was difficult for me to endure constant rejection and occasional verbal abuse, and a couple of times I let out my frustration by verbally attacking those who were rejecting/attacking me.

    My point I suppose, is that as the grass roots face of the church, missionaries collectively hold a lot of power over perceptions people have of the church. It is difficult but necessary to use that power productively even as missionaries are being rejected and abused. A difficult task for 20 year olds.

  18. The stats and the interpretations of the stats in that article are stupid.

  19. #16: I have no doubt we would be doing a lot better if Mike were in charge. If you want to nominate him to head up church PR, I will totally second that motion.

  20. Anson Call says:

    Shouldn’t we all be excited that people don’t like us? After all, we hate “the world” and don’t want their approval in the first place.

  21. We may not want the approval of “the world,” and there is always going to be a tension between the Church and “the world.” But unfortunately, “the world” is the only source for new convert baptisms. Sometimes we seem to forget that. We are even commanded to go into the world, and as we do, to teach and baptise them. One thing I like about the new PR campaign is that we now know that it is not against our religion to skateboard or to surf.

  22. CSEric,

    You jest, but my twelve-year-old son just told me yesterday that he had to clarify that things like that were ok for Mormons. One of his peers at school thought he couldn’t. They also thought he couldn’t play paintball, and were relieved to be able to play it and not have a lame birthday party after all.

  23. Latter-day Guy says:

    22, Reminds me of the phrase the LDS kids at my high school had to reiterate frequently to clarify our lifestyle for our inquisitive evangelical classmates: “Remember, guys: ‘Mormon’––not ‘Amish’.”

  24. As long as people maintain the conceptual perception that LDS are a group of hokey dopes from Utah livin’ clean with many wives and a ‘golden bible’ written by Joe Smith then people are made to be comfortable in dismissing who LDS are and the message they carry.

    The Church’s current PR campaign to “normalize” LDS in public perception (see, e.g., (11) above) may have some impact. But again, if I’m not LDS and I have formed a strong perception of who I think LDS are to the point of dismissal and irrelevance, why would I spend half a second caring about these messages?

  25. I’m still of the opinion that a little anti-Mormon efforts go a long way.

    Suppose you’re an evangelical Christian. You go to church. There’s a senior pastor there – somebody who greets your family warmly, shares a gospel message with you every week and helps you to feel the Spirit, counsels with you when the marriage is rough, visits in the hospital when one of the kids is sick, and so on. He or she is a pastor who mourns with those who mourn, comforts those who stand in need of comfort, etc. A person who believes that he or she has been called of God to do a noble work.

    Now, once every few years, your church trots out a special Wednesday-night workshop on The Cults Among Us. You find out that there are people, right here in River City, who pray to Joseph Smith and not Jesus. They work hard at looking clean-cut and happy, but they won’t let you in their temples to see their secret naked rituals. Want to hear what some early Mormons said about black people? They wouldn’t even let black people in their churches until 1978, after all! Upside-down stars of Satan on their temples. Gold Bibles that say a different Jesus visited Central America. Young, attractive missionaries that will date your daughters, convert them, and lead them away so fast that you won’t even be able to attend their weddings. Add cabalistic symbols on their BVDs and those Mormons seem like a bigger threat to the world than Communism and cancer combined.

    And all this comes from the pastor you know and trust.

    Any wonder why we are so despised?

  26. (25) Michael, that’s exactly it. Non-LDS Christian churches also reinforce reasons to dismiss and rule us out as irrelevant. What is interesting is that none of the congregation questions what motive(s) their pastor would have to go out of his/her way to dismiss LDS (one of which is that the existence of other churches (his competitors) happens to threaten his livelihood).

    I had an experience the other day that I think is an example of how non-LDS perception of us is perpetuated by LDS behavior. I work in an office. We have 10 people here. Two of us are LDS. We moved office space the other day. One of my co-worker’s sons, Steve, was in helping with the move. He’s going to college in the fall. All in the office were present, and the conversation turned to the the joys of college life. People were laughing, sharing misdeeds, joking, etc. Then the other LDS guy says, in a very serious and paternallistic way, “Steve, somebody I knew in college had a ‘pimps and hoes’ party and he invited me to it. Now we know you won’t go off and go to those types of events.” It was freakin’ crickets for about 5 seconds. All sense of levity left the room. Then another co-worker says, “Yeah, Steve, because we all know that would be so evil and bad to do!!!” The “Mormons-are-self-righteous-and-judgmental” perception was firmly reinforced.

  27. One of my friends described all Mormons as extremely happy people, to the point of seeming straight out of Leave it to Beaver. He described me as the first normal Mormon he’d ever known. While I suspect if he’d known other Mormons as well as he knew me he’d find them more normal as well, I think the common perception that we’re squeaky clean and super happy keeps us apart from others. I don’t think that alone could explain why people have a very unfavorable opinion of Mormons.

    I do remember a friend who belonged to another religion (something evangelical, but I don’t remember which denomination) leaving pamphlets that described Mormons as a cult. I’d guess that among religious people we’re not trusted because at least some pastors still preach against us. Fortunately, most of the time their claims are wildly inaccurate and easily disproven. I’m pretty sure my MIL was very concerned when her son brought home a Mormon girl, but the way we live is so different from the claims that are made about us it didn’t take too long before she realized my religion just wasn’t that big a deal. Now my liberal political philosophy is the main bone of contention :)

  28. I just had lunch today with a friend who converted to Mormonism when he was 18. He grew up in a heavily Mormon area of Arizona as a Catholic. He said that his impression of Mormons before he joined the Church was that Mormons are spiritually arrogant–cocksure of themselves, looking down on others in condescension.

    I asked him what he thought about that now that he was in the Church as an active member for the last 20 years. He said that he thought that it is not a trait shared by all Mormons, but that spiritual arrogance seems more common in areas of heavy Mormon concentration, and less so where Latter-day Saints are a minority.

    I am not saying he is right or wrong–but those are his impressions. It did not stop him from joining the Church 20 years ago, but it did not help either.

  29. As soon as you use “We” or “We Mormons”, you set up a judgment, piety, “We are right” wall that is disliked.

  30. Why are we so worried all the time about how we’re screwing it up, like we have to apologize for every odd man out? The world is a pretty dark place, in case you didn’t notice. People don’t know about Mormons often because they are willfully blind; because many don’t want to know.

    Sometimes I hear people talk as though hypocrisy is the only real vice. In case you didn’t realize it, you can be straightforward and a damned fool as well. Oh, and sins do have consequences (and sometimes with a statistic to prove it).

    Some people think that having a persecution complex came straight out of the dark ages, not befitting a more enlightened era (as we presume ourselves to be in). But just as paranoia isn’t paranoid when they really are after you, so the Brethren may have a darn good reason for constantly reminding us of the plight of the martyrs (i.e. the Reformers, Pioneers, etc.)

  31. My most frustrating thing about all of this is that it is all so superficial. I don’t want to go into my own personal list of things I don’t like in the Church, but it appears that the vast majority of things that make us “weird” are absolutely NON-DOCTRINAL things. They are non-eternal things that we cling to for reasons of tradition or whatever. Just some have been mentioned in comments above. It is non-doctrinal to make US Mormons wait 1 year to be sealed if they have an inclusive civil marriage, yet generates a lot of bad-will. It is non-doctrinal to have the official “uniform” of the Church be what it is, yet it makes us seem weird. As mentioned above, we unofficially heard things about how “drinkers are evil”, yet Christ and Joseph Smith both drank wine. The list goes on.

    Unfortunately, because we cling to these non-doctrinal practices that set us apart, people have no interest in hearing the much more important and truly eternal message we have about Christ and eternal families and God, etc. My own opinion is that until our leadership is willing to truly jettison these unnecessary practices (and not just give a talk about how we need to love others), our growth is going to continue to stagnate and even go negative in various areas.

  32. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    Speaking of Rodney Stark, he and Baylor have a more recent book, What Americans Really Believe, that touched on a few issues of separated-ness.

    I can’t find an electronic version of the chart that was most applicable, but it dealt with the perception of being at odds with society, and how comfortable the member of a given congregation would be with that distance. As was the case with many other characteristics (avg. rates of growth, young member attendance, donations, ect.) the LDS church was at or near the top of the list.

    One that I can find from the Amazon site is similarly interesting.

    Churchgoers were asked if their religion discouraged or outright forbade certain behaviors (gambling, porn, homosexuality, premarital sex, revealing clothing), and a “tension index” was created to determine the tension between thier church and the general culture.

    I won’t attempt to reproduce all of the data, but many reported that their congregations would create a low tension with such behaviors, but little high tension. For example the high/low tension ratios were:
    Presbyterian — 8/59
    Methodist — 18/35
    Baptist — 49/6
    Pentocostal — 75/0
    Roman Catholic — 37/10
    Mormons — 94/3
    Jewish — 0/83

    In other words, we take a substantial step farther away from cultural “bads” than even the rest of conservative churchgoers. I’m not saying that we are wrong to do so, or that it is us pulling away from society, but rather the opposite.

    I think where it “costs” us is in the marginal cases where someone with different norms than ours might have interest in the church. Rather than a lower tension gap to cross in changing some behaviors, it is an extra few steps to get to where we as a church would give approval.

  33. CJ Douglass says:

    Believe it or not – a large number of US citizens don’t even know what a “Mormon” is. Its not an uncommon occurrence that I meet a New Yorker who has never even heard of the WORD Mormon – let alone have any idea what one is. Even then – its pretty far removed from reality. “Those backwoods, inbred, pedophiles out west somewhere? No. I don’t like them.”

    Of course, in reality we suck in a lot of ways – sure. But misperceptions feed a good portion of the backlash. But we’re far from blameless.

  34. Left Field says:

    I’ve read a smattering of Gentile responses to the “…and I’m a Mormon” ads. While I think the ads will be very helpful among certain segments of the population, there are certainly those who tenaciously refuse to let go of their stereotypes. “Mormons are just plain weird and nothing like the rest of us. . . even if one of them does ride a motorcycle.”

    Quite a few scoff at the idea that the ads have nothing to do with Mitt Romney. (Apparently it’s inconceivable that the institutional church has some interest in improving its image, but everyone knows that the church is heavily invested in getting Romney elected. All part of our evil plan to take over the world, I suppose.) One article claimed the ads were running in swing states. (Who knew that Oklahoma and Louisiana were swing states?) And of course there is a substantial percentage who will bring up Proposition 8 any time the word “Mormon” is mentioned, regardless of the actual subject being discussed.

  35. CJ Douglass, I’d like to elaborate upon your point.
    After all, a lot of Americans are apathetic about THEIR OWN religion, what makes anyone think that they’d spend much time learning about other ones? As a result, people rely on the sound bites and tidbits they’ve gleaned from the media or acquaintances. And outside of the Mormon Corridor, the only time that one encounters the word “Mormon” in the media is in reference to Prop 8 or some new scandal involving the polygamists.

    I don’t know if any of you have seen that documentary, American Mormon–basically it’s just this guy going around the country interviewing random people about what they know and think about Mormonism. Some of the answers surprised me. Many interviewees conflated the Mormons with the Amish (perhaps because of the names somehow being reminiscent of each other, or due to associations with the fundamentalists).

    Left Field, It may be taboo to admit this, but in some ways, we ARE trying to take over the world. Ideally, everyone on Earth would be a member. I think that similar hopes lie in the hearts of peoples of many religions.

  36. People don’t like us because they don’t know us. They only know all the crazy untrue rumors and stereotypes. It blows my mind, sometimes, what people are willing to believe, all based on rumor.

  37. Susan, you and your family need to do one of those “I’m Mormon” ads! I’m serious.

  38. The OP mentions the call to “to be the salt of the earth” and it reminded me of comments by Gary Lawrence (the pollster who spoke at FAIR) and Richard Bushman at last year’s UVU conference on perceptions of Mormonism. Here’s a five-minute excerpt of their exchange: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXfkYvYRkSU

    Any chance that the new attitude that Lawrence and Bushman describe in the clip will be picked up by the general membership?

  39. #36:I have known a lot of people who did not like Mormons. None used an unture rumor as the reason. Mormons love the stereotypes. They love hearing they are a ‘peculiar people’. They like being different.
    I think the biggest reason I’ve have heard is “They think everyone else is wrong”.

  40. We were in a group of Mormons eating dinner with a larger group of people of other faiths. The wines had been carefully chosen to match the courses of the dinner. A member of our group shouted loudly, “We don’t drink alcohol, We don’t drink coffee!!!” There was silence in the dining room. I was embarrassed because what should have been a private sacrifice was turned into a public spectacle to show, it seemed to me, that we are better than everyone else.

    So, we are not Christian, we hate gays, we send out young men to tract and annoy the heck out of people, we hardly socialize with the goyim because of our dietary restrictions, we think we are the chosen generation, we think we are going to be gods. We practice polygamy. We seem certainly cult-like in our beliefs, our customs, our restrictions. Are there any more ways we can antagonize and polarize our neighbors?

    We live between two lesbian couples on either side of our house. Who would have loved us if we put up a lawn poster for prop 8? Who in the whole neighborhood, because these are likable people? It would not have mattered much what other light I had placed on our particular candle stick.

    I am sure that these questions have been mentioned in the upper chambers of the Church office building. I am sure that people’s good opinion does not come close to obedience in importance.

    The real question is, do the authorities actually talk to the PR department and ask advice? Do the general authorities actually listen to the results of focus group studies? Of course not. The PR department is just supposed to put on the lipstick.

  41. Mark Brown says:

    Chino, thanks for that interesting link.

    When Glen L. Pace was in the presiding bishopric he gave a sermon in conference on the same topic. He said that LDS people are like salt but that as long as we just clump together in our chapels we aren’t doing any good. God expects us to be the savor in the world.

  42. I was going to say people don’t like us because I always end up sitting in the hard chairs in the back of Stake Conference, while other people set their scriptures in the soft pews the night before in order to claim their spots early.

    Clever. Now I know how to outsmart all the “really righteous” families who just arrive 2 hours early to get the soft seats.

  43. Gary Lawrence recently presented this same data in my stake, and my interpretation was very different.

    Basically, We do have a 50% Favorable rating, but of those who rated us, 37% had never met a member, and of the rest, half had never met an active Mormon. So that means 70% were basing their opinion either on hearsay or on someone naturally prone to not like the church.

    Here are my notes for anyone interested:

    1. Know the situation
    2. What do people Know and believe about Mormons
    a. Half of all Americans find us unfavorable
    b. Do not distinguish our church from other branches
    c. We are third worst loser with Islam and JW
    3. Insular, brain washed, self-righteous, fanatical, narrow-minded
    4. 84% exposed to lit, vid, or missionaries
    5. 14% aware of restoration idea
    6. Only 29% aware of concept even aided
    7. 67% aren’t sure we believe the bible
    8. 77% aren’t sure we aren’t Christians
    9. 85% aren’t sure we aren’t polygamists
    10. 37% don’t know a mormon, 55% don’t know an active one.
    11. More Mormons = More Favorable rating
    12. Get out into the community
    13. Any Church with Harry Reid and Glenn Beck is a big tent religion
    14. The nature of the Gospel is oblique
    15. Immediate goal is spreading information and improve understanding of us
    16. Get back to basics
    17. Signal your affiliation
    18. Cut the Jargon
    19. We claim to be the re-established original church
    20. Know where people are
    21. Six steps
    a. Awareness (40%) just that we exist
    b. Awakening (25%) that mormons are part of society
    c. Curiosity (11%) – ask
    d. Interest (9%)- listen
    e. Investigation (5%)- read
    f. Conversion (1.7%)
    22. re: Pressure to provide people for the missionaries to teach
    a. Take time to prepare them
    b. Retention problem
    c. 1 in 40 short time members who were inactive had read the book of Mormon
    d. Conversion requires studying on your own
    e. 65 million adults would be willing to hear more if
    i. They could hear it from a friend
    ii. And no pressure to join

  44. In the academic circles I run, in I get asked to defend many things about the church. The questions are often confrontational. Some I can defend, some I can’t. Here is a short list from the last year, Prop 8 and our treatment of Gays, our response to the civil rights movement (people have a long memory), our treatment of women (and specifically the recent closure of the Women’s Resource Institute at BYU), Utah State Legislature’s declaring Global Warming a hoax (yes, Utah and Mormonism are often conflated), the strange alcohol laws they face when they come to Utah, and lastly that my school controlled my hair length and what I wore on my face like it was the military (this was at a dinner table at a conference, and they couldn’t believe it. One guy thought I must be joking and refused to believe me). I know no one cares what academics think (I mean, really, why would they matter), but I would push that negative rating in my field up a few notches based on what I face out there as a Mormon. I think I am respected individually, but collectively not so much.

  45. I just tried to post a comment, but got lost, maybe due to length. Anyway, the reporting here is a gross misrepresentation. Lawrence presented this same data in our Stake recently, and the facts showed that 37% of those who found us unfavorable had never met an LDS person and 55% had never met an active person. Our favorabilty went up the more active members a person knew.

    So this post, based on false data, makes incorrect claims regarding the membership of the church.

  46. Ron Madson says:

    A lot more “wood chopping and building fences” and a heck of a lot more then 1.5% of donated funds for direct welfare/relief would go a long ways

  47. It’s odd that this thread suddenly completely died.

  48. This week I’ve been reading AMERICAN GRACE, a forthcoming Oxford book about the seismic shifts in American religion since 1950. The chapter “A House Divided?” speaks well to this post (which is excellent, BTW; thanks for starting this discussion.)

    Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims come out the worst in popularity among all religious groups in America. This was not that new or surprising. What was new to me was that the authors broke out these results based on how members of one religion felt about another. “Which religious group is warm, or cold, to whom?” asked the study. (p 508 of galley) Evangelical Christians gave Mormons the lowest approval rating, at 46%, while Jews gave the highest, at 54%. The authors sum up their findings as follows:

    “Almost everyone likes mainline Protestants and Jews.
    Almost everyone likes Catholics, more than Catholics like everyone else.
    Evangelicals like everyone else more than everyone else likes them . . .
    Mormons like everyone else, while almost everyone else dislikes Mormons.”

  49. Re: 30
    Cadams,
    What geographic area do you live in?
    Or, if you’d rather not answer that, what is the ratio of Mormons to non-Mormons in your area?

  50. #47: I’m surprised that Buddhism is among the least well-liked religious groups in America. At least where I live, Buddhism is well-liked for its reputation for providing peace and tranquility, embodied by the Dalai Lama. In fact, when he visited my city a few years back, he got quite the warm welcome.

    Of course, in this case I think that ignorance of other religions works in Buddhism’s favor, as there is no cultural memory in the West of the violent and oppressive side of Buddhism. So, while people may object to Buddhism on theological grounds, they still think highly of it due to its public image in the West.

    Taking this back to Mormonism, our problem is that from our inception we’ve been under constant criticism and scrutiny. Also, as an American-born faith, our peculiar historical practices like plural marriage can’t be excused in the name of cultural relativism.

  51. I’m sure for Buddhism and Mormonism, the issue is pretty similar, the less people of a certain type you actually personally know, the less Americans are likely to favor them.

  52. Matt W. (43) – Thank you for those notes. They read like a list of things I think of often. I think of two or three of them each day.

    I’m speaking generally here, but if you look at the integration of the Church into mainstream America from restoration onward, I see three general psychological phases: (1) physical survival (April 6, 1830 – 1850) (2) we are not “the world” and are not accountable to “the world” and we don’t care about “the world” because we have the only true gospel and (1850 – 1990), and (3) we are normal and part of you, America (1990 – present).

    During phase (1) and mostly phast (2), you had intense anti-LDS efforts to present America with a picture of of what a Mormon was through media and literature. At the turn of the century is when all the anti-affidavits with alleged “first hand” knowledge of Joseph Smith began to surface (even though the events took place decades prior). So the antis got the jump on making LDS appear strange, goofy, insular, and cultish. Mean while, the Church was not doing anything to counter that perception because it had a “we don’t care about what the world thinks” for the next 150 years! And because that attitude is only ending now, there are many many members who are alive today that were either part of the phase 2 (we don’t care what you think) attitude and they have passed it along in some sense to their children. Meanwhile, there is a major shift in attitude when President Hinkley became the president of the Church. The symbolic pinnacle of the Church’s change in attitude and approach was President Hinkley’s appearance on Larry King. That was a watershed moment in Church PR. And ever since, the Church has taken on an ever increasing “we definitely care what you think now” approach to America and the rest of the world. But because we are, right now, in the middle of this cultural shift in approach and perception, there are many in America who still remember well the vestiges of our past approach and hold onto them because it is more comfortable that way. They can make more sense of us by keeping us weird and peculiar.

  53. Matt W., My perceptions don’t jive with that as far as Buddhism is concerned. Although there are very few Buddhists in my area, whenever the subject comes up in conversation, I always hear a repetition of the positive stereotypes.

    Of course, maybe the people around me are just weird and extra lovey-dovey, as I recognize that my experiences don’t correlate with the data in the book that Flunking Sainthood cited.

  54. (50) Matt – Exactly. It’s fear of the unknown. And what motivation is there to sincerely learn about an unknown religion who you perceive–through South Park, your Evangelical friends, your pastor, Proposition 8 media, etc.–to be a weirdo, goofy cult? It’s a PR problem, which the Church is only beginning to address. But can the Church expect intellectual curiosity, honesty, and commitment from mainstream America? Call me cynical, but it seems like a lot to ask–we just like to be entertained, basically. In the mean time, I think the Church seriously needs to give its members PR training in terms of the way they give answers to tough social questions (WOW, Prop 8, Plig, etc.). All members face these questions. I’ve heard plenty of answers that do far more collateral damage than the well-intentioned member maybe realized.

  55. Seems like it’s because we have no natural coalitions. People on the left hate us cuz of the strong associations with Republicans/Prop 8/Glenn Beck. People on the right hate us cuz we aren’t Christians/we proselyte.

    Who is the natural person to like us? Probably someone in the middleish–not especially Christian or a strong liberal–but those folks don’t pay much attention/don
    t know us/mostly knows about our weird associations with polygamy.

    I sometimes think the Prop 8 etc campaigns are directed at trying to convince conservative that we’re lovable.

  56. Another question is who is our target audience? Who do we matter to? If we are going to be the salt of the earth, the leaven of the bread, how do we go about doing that?

    I suppose that Prop 8, in some fashion, was supposed to be just that, a leavening, a shifting of public understanding.

    There is a subtle shift in our perception of ourselves. Just a few years ago while we were growing at 6% per year, doubling every 12 to 15 years, we were the stone cut out of the mountain without hands rolling forth to fill the whole world, to strike the statue with the clay feet and break it to pieces. Do we no longer think that?

    If we do not think that, then, accordingly, we must be the salt and the leaven. Then, how are we doing that job? When we were growing at 6% per year, that WAS the job.

  57. Just one more comment. If we are the salt and leaven, then what many perceive the message to be, is non-Christian, Beckian, gay hating, racists who practice polygamy and oppress women.

    There are two issues: we need to change the way we are perceived and we need to become the leaven in the sense that I believe Christ meant.

    The traditional three fold mission of the Church is Perfecting the Saints, Bringing others into the Church, Saving the Dead. These goals are all about the Saints, relatively introverted and generally aligned with the original, ultimate, goal of being the rock rolling forth to fill the world.

    Where are the goals regarding being leaven and salt? Helping the poor seems like a good start. What are other ways of being leaven or salt in this huge world?

  58. I think the target audience bit is important. As far as potential converts go, the majority of people I know who joined the church while adults (and then remained active) joined between the ages of 18 and 29. I realize this is anecdotal–I wonder if it holds throughout the U.S. The recent TV/internet ads certainly seem to target this demographic.

    Unfortunately, this is also the age group that is most likely to look unfavorably on the church’s participation with Proposition 8. Also, unfortunately, a lot of LDS young adults who could make a big impact on non-member peers of this age group instead spend their college years at BYU or BYU-I. I love BYU, but it doesn’t help the missionary efforts (or the public outreach efforts) to have so many active Mormons all in one place.

  59. This is a tough problem. My wife is a convert and her family was devastated by her joining the church after I introduced it to her when we were teens. Devastated for prejudicial reasons against the church, but also out of a sense of betrayal. Over the intervening 15 years, I turned out not to be a manipulative jerk (one of their original fears), and we get along great with her family and there’s lots of love and mutual affection. Despite this, I am sure their views of Mormonism as still highly unfavorable. I think they assume our basic decency is an anomaly. Digging the church out of this hole will take a long time and infinite patience because so much of perception is outside our control. Many good points made above about changing things within our control, of course.

  60. Is that skateboard guy wearing a thong???

  61. #55 and #56 ask:

    “Who is the natural person to like us?”

    “Who do we matter to?”

    I think these are the right questions. But for a church that has already so successfully distributed itself geographically in the US, I think it’s time to give any further polling a rest and start finding the answers locally. I can appreciate how and why the polling impulse comes naturally to such a massive and utterly vertical organization, but my sense is that – if there’s a future for this project- it’s in better utilizing the existing network of brick and mortar buildings.

    Considering the rush to dazzle the competition with online offerings, that’s maybe a counterintuitive proposal. Bollocks. Q: “Who is the natural person to like you?” A: The aspirational young parent next door to your building. Do you have kids’ activities on offer that require little more than showing up … and promise scads of wholesome, non-proselytising adult-supervised fun? Stop pushing a message and start selling a free afternoon for mom and dad and you might find that your buildings suddenly stop appearing so incredibly unapproachable for the uninitiated.

  62. MikeInWeHo says:

    No, but I am.

  63. MikeInWeHo says:

    Kidding! Just kidding!

  64. Steve Evans says:

    oh Mike.

  65. Don’t tease us like that!!

  66. made of licorice?

  67. Left Field says:

    Most people call them flip-flops now, Mike.

  68. The ratio mentioned in the OP and in the article cited refer to a strongly unfavorable to strongly> favorable ratio of 5:1. If 20% have a strongly unfavorable perception, and 4% have a strongly favorable reception, that would be 5:1. The overall may be 55:45, but there are degrees of favorable/unfavorable between “strongly” that affect that balance.

    It’s inaccurate to claim the post is based on “false data,” Matt W. The post is based on the linked article in the Deseret News, which says exactly what the OP says it does.

  69. A) Not that kind of thong, Left Field. Not that kind of thong. And I will never think of “flip flops” the same way again.

    B) This thread reminds me of a line from Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week”

    ♪ ♫ Oh the Protestants hate the Catholics ♫
    ♪ And the Catholics hate the Protestants ♫
    ♫ And the Hindus hate the Muslims ♪
    ♪ And EEEEEEverybody hates the Jews…♫ ♪

  70. Latter-day Guy says:

    Lehrer is pretty awesome. His phrase describing the Harvard math department applies beautifully to BYU unmarried housing: “a hotbed of celibacy.”

  71. Ahh, I remember my Uncle John (Dehlin) sending me cassette tapes of Tom Lehrer way back when I was a kid. Funny stuff.

  72. I love Tom Lehrer too!

    But in this case he was wrong. Jews actually got one of the highest approvals ratings from the other religions.

  73. I can’t help but apply to Mormons a line I heard in an act by a standup comedian (can’t remember his name).

    “So, I’m Jewish, and yeah, I know what you’re thinking: ‘You Jews think you’re better than everybody else.’ And that’s just not true. We don’t think we’re better than everybody else. GOD thinks we’re better than everybody else.”

  74. Excellent post, Mark! And not a little surprising, given our decades of PR efforts which now appear to have been pretty much for naught.

    Although not put in so many words, on my mission we were encouraged not to waste our time in making friends. We were there to preach the gospel, and if people weren’t interested, we were to move on and find those who were. Translation: Get baptisms, improve the numbers (or “totals” as they were known in my mission).

    I think this focus was universal throughout the church, in those days at least (mid 1970’s). Even the discussions were designed after a series of sales pitches, with the baptismal challenge always uppermost in our minds (Always Be Closing).

    I can’t help but think that this attitude rubbed off and contributed to a general feeling among the gentiles that we Mormons weren’t really interested in our fellow man except to the extent that they were interested in joining our church. Even ward and branch members were not quite comfortable in our presence because they knew that the main thing we wanted from them were the names of their friends who we could teach.

    It was all about the totals. Friendship with anyone not interested in hearing our message was a waste of our time.

    This was in the days when the mantra was “every member a missionary” and I think the general membership felt the pressure to convert their friends, and if their friends could not be converted, they should find new friends who could be.

    This reminds me of various friends I’ve had over time who were into some multi-level marketing program or another. I was glad-handed and welcomed into their lives up to the point where it was clear I was never going to be a part of their Down-line, and then I was dropped. They only had time for people who wanted to become just like them.

    The way I felt after being rejected by these “friends” is the way I think non-members feel about us Mormons. It is more important that we get other people to join our organization than it is to simply accept them as they already are.

  75. Maybe there is some wisdom in church units in the U.S. sponsoring Scouting units — Scouting is the only method we have of getting some of our adults and youth (well, the young men and boys) involved and interacting with others outside our buildings. My relationships with non-LDS Scouters have been friendly, and surely it is good for our young men to interact with others in a quasi-Church capacity in merit badge fairs, camporees, and so forth.

  76. Jeff Spector says:

    I was hoping that being Jewish and Mormon might help cancel out the negatives, except I just remembered that when a Jew joins the church, the Jews no longer like you.

    I was also thinking that the 5 unfavorables must be less actives and ex-mos. Or, since most of the church is less active anyway maybe its those folks people don’t like!

  77. I left England to serve a mission in Utah when I was 18 with a very idealised view of the church, I hadn’t long been a member. One of the first people I taught was a 20 year old non-member who had grown-up in Utah. I liked this woman and remember feeling shell-shocked when she told me the reason she hated the mormon church so much was because when she was young she was called the “devil-child” and mormon moms wouldn’t let their children play with her. If we continue to feel under siege and put barricades up things will never get better. To coin a phrase from the Book of Mormon, if there were no more “ites” amongst us then I think we would all feel better. Pure speculation on my part of course!!

  78. I think the perception of Catholics in the US is instructive and relevant here. US Catholics, though generally well disposed towards the current (and especially previous) pope, disagree strongly with his stance on contraception, and are not afraid to say so aloud. Catholics are not (and no longer perceived as being) Fifth Column footsoldiers for a foreign faith.

    This freedom of dissent is the ONLY reason JFK ever was allowed to be President. It is the major reason that Evangelicals stopped fearing Catholics (though they still hate Catholicism).

  79. MikeInWeHo says:

    That’s an interesting point, Dan. If Mormonism gets large enough, at some point the current level of ecclesiastical control becomes impossible to maintain. I wonder if it’s not already near that point. One thing’s clear: Any church that has Harry Reid and Glenn Beck both as members in good standing certainly isn’t controlling the people in the pew.

    The problem is, the Church controls the image so tightly (the ubiquitous business suits, etc) that it’s easy to see why the general population assumes that members all walk in lock-step and obey blindly. They don’t, but it does kinda look that way to outsiders, and that’s scary.

    Cool web sites are nice, but loosening up the dress code a bit would go much further in changing the image. The evangelicals figured this out ages ago.

  80. (79) MikeInWeHo – If LDS leadership begin wearing Tommy Bahama shirts to Sabbath services, I’ll be first to leave the church.

  81. You know after reading 80 comments I come away with one thought. There really are a lot of reasons to hate us. Justifiable reasons.

    We’ve got a lot of work to do.

  82. I think I should have added to (80) that my sentiment stems from the Rick-Warrenesque symbolism that the Tommy Bahama shirt has become, and not a comment aimed at insisting on a rigid white-middle-aged-male-executive uniform as part of my faith. I agree that the LDS dress code could be relaxed a little (or at least LDS folk should maybe relax when they see more relaxed dress). But religious dress code where I live seems to have become almost a marketing ploy to attract people of like demographic, just as the rock band, lights, and cool powerpoint presentations have become. I’ve always liked the Catholic dress code, which seems more sincere of character: they roll up to Church in what they personally feel reflects the occasion. I could see, though, how that could open up to be even a more judgmental situation . . . Basically, I don’t like wearing ties to church.

  83. I just straight up don’t wear ties to church. So far I haven’t been called to repentance . . . but people do notice. Oh well.

  84. You guys don’t where ties! Man. When I got released from the bishopric to become the scoutmaster I figured I’d get to shed the suitcoat, but no. The bishop (a really great guy) wants the priests wearing suitcoats to bless the sacrament, so the first day I show up without it, the priests quorum advisor (15 years my junior) calls me out for not being a good example.

    Imagine what would happen if I didn’t wear a tie — “see, I knew there was a reason he was released!” Sigh.

  85. Yeah, it could very well be the reason I don’t have a calling with any sort of “example” factor to it. I’m not a teacher or leader of any sort. Hardly punishment for my wicked ways.

  86. #84 – If local leaders would quit going beyond the mark and building hedges about the principles taught from SLC, so much of the stuff we discuss in the Bloggernacle would disappear.

  87. Ray, but what fun would that be?

  88. Thomas Parkin says:

    “There really are a lot of reasons to hate us. Justifiable reasons.”

    Really? I don’t know. Hate is a pretty strong word.

  89. I dislike Mormons because funeral potatos give me horrible, horrible gas but yet I cannot stop eating them.

    I can never forgive them for that.

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