This post is written off advanced word and may be inaccurate. The full results will be published tomorrow and this post will be updated as more details are available.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is about to be published. Like previous years, the researchers have tried to untangle some of the complexities of the Mormon experience, and this year in particular the questions have a special importance. In this latest iteration of the survey, 1,019 Mormons were interviewed and some of this data captures interesting trends among the Latter-day Saints. As a caveat, part of the problem with this data, as always, is a lack of appropriate nuance in the questions.
According to the survey, less than half of Mormon respondents believe that abstaining from caffeine is necessary to continue to be a ‘good’ member of the Church. It is difficult to draw anything substantive about this particular question except that it is clearly trying to tap into something latent concerning the Word of Wisdom. If anything it seems surprisingly high, especially because it is not clearly proscribed by D&C 89.
Further, over one in four of the respondents report that they have been on a mission. Considering, first, that women are not especially encouraged to serve as full-time proselyting missionaries with, second, the fact that approximately 25% of the respondents were converts, this is a staggeringly high number. In short, this potentially reveals something interesting (but, perhaps unsurprising) about the way in which serving a mission reinforces a propensity to self-identify as Mormon later in life. Regardless, it is noteworthy that a large segment of this sample have been in the trenches so to speak and/or converted to faith. Either way, these are people heavily invested in Mormonism.
This is reflected in the high degree of orthodoxy amongst respondents. Approximately nine out of ten Mormons believe President Monson is a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets. Large portions of the sample give answers that harmonise with contemporary views of the Godhead offered by the general leaders of the Church and there is a large amount of hope that family relationships will persist beyond this life.
To this point there is very little to be said about any of this, except perhaps, meh! Yet, 46% of American Mormons think they are discriminated against. This is absolutely astounding and some might also be surprised it isn’t higher. Either way, clearly the Mormon persecution complex rages on. Two aforementioned factors may be at work here: first Mormon missionaries probably do experience behaviour (rudeness or dismissive comments) which in a somewhat sheltered environment could become interpreted as discrimination. This type of paradigm, forged in the formative years of early adulthood, may persist into middle age, and even later. Second, the large number converts in the sample may also have made certain social sacrifices because of their choice to join this new and somewhat unusual faith. These too might see discrimination as part of their Mormon experience. The high rates of these groups in the sample might partially account for this high percentage.
However, I am skeptical. In the sociology of stigma there is a distinction between felt and enacted forms of stigma. Enacted stigma refers to moments of concrete discrimination which are acted out because of a stigmatised social condition that an individual is perceived to possess. Felt stigma refers to the fear of discrimination based on this potentially stigmatised social position. In this second scenario, the discrimination is never actualised but it appears to be no less real. Mormons have spent so long positioning themselves as outsiders that they have forgotten how to be in a social position which lacks stigma. In short, approximately 50% of Mormons potentially live with a ‘felt stigma’ that has virtually zero possibility of ever being enacted. This kind of neurosis is unhealthy and stops Mormons from engaging healthily in public life.
On top of this, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there is a broad recognition that homosexuals are also discriminated against. Approximately 59% of respondents agreed with this statement. On my first reading this did not surprise me, perhaps my British sensibilities blinded me to this glaringly obvious point. Note that gay people are, according to Mormons, discriminated against more than Mormons. A number of questions need to be pursued here, and we probably lack the data to do it adequately, but to what extent has this data shifted since Prop 8? Is it possible that Prop 8 has (as a result of the aftermath) increased the willingness of Mormons to now express sympathy for gay people because they fear being labeled as bigoted? If this is true, it may also be possible that these people are trying to distance themselves from a particular brand of Mormonism that is now very unpopular.
Whether these brief reflections on the survey are accurate or not, this Pew Forum will certainly become a touchstone for insights concerning contemporary Mormonism as Mitt Romney moves almost inexorably toward the Republican nomination for President.