Live Blogging Conference Call with Pew Forum

BCC has been invited to participate in a conference call discussing the latest results from the Pew Forum study ‘Mormons in America‘.  I will be live blogging the conversation.  Thank you to the Pew Forum for allowing us to participate.

Many of the major news venues across the US have been discussing the latest results from the Pew Forum and we are pleased to be able to participate in further discussion of this important independent study of ‘Mormons in America‘.

Luis Lugo will moderate the discussion and Greg Smith will present the results. Matt Bowman and David Campbell are on hand to answer questions.

Luis Lugo:

It is the first survey of its kind published about Mormons by an independent organization.  The idea for the survey came about this past summer when it became clear that there was a ‘Mormon Moment’.  Half of Americans had already told Pew that they did not know much about Mormonism.  What one word, the Pew forum asked, best describes Mormonism: ‘Cult’ (see David Campbell’s comment later in the discussion about the timing of the survey and this result).  We know something of what the general public know about Mormons but what do Mormons themselves think.

Mormons are defined the same way as other religions; through self-identification and therefore this may mean that some who were raised Mormon but not necessarily practicing Latter-days Saints would have been missed.

Greg Smith:

It is a mixed picture.  Many Mormons feel discriminated against and do not feel part of mainstream American society.  The biggest problem faced by Mormons today are the misconceptions about Mormonism.  This is a community that still sees itself as being on the periphery of American society.

On the other hand, they see themselves as a group who are on the way up.  Most Mormons believe that other Americans are more likely to see Mormons as mainstream in the future.

The majority of Mormons think that Americans are ready to elect a Mormon President.  We interpret this as a sign that Mormons are becoming accepted in American society but this is not a prediction about the future election.

The survey finds areas of commonality between Mormons and other Christians: both believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  Both communities pray every day and attend Church regularly.  Mormons have a high level religiosity (importance of religion, pray daily, weekly Church attendance).

Who is in the sample?  The survey covers those who currently define themselves religiously as Mormons.  Different results would be found if a different sampling approach was used.  This is the same approach used in other Pew Forum surveys.

Mormons are also willing to affirm central tenets of the LDS Church that are distinct from mainstream Christianity.  They believe that Jesus and God are separate, that Thomas Monson is a Prophet and that families can be bound together in eternity through temple ceremonies.

Hunstman is viewed less favorably than Romney among Mormons, although this is less true in Utah.

What is the relationship between Mormons and Evangelicals?  These groups are similar politically.  They are also similar in their religious characteristics in that both groups have a high degree of religiosity.  Mormons however see themselves as being attacked by Evangelicals. There is a real tension between these two groups, and it is on the radar screen of the Mormons spoken to in this survey.

David Campbell (Notre Dame):

On one issue Mormons would not be ranked among the most the conservative.  They are more positively disposed toward immigrants than other religious groups.  They are more moderate on this issue and this is quite remarkable.  This might reflect the Church’s position and also the practice of sending young people on missions.

The age breakdown of Mormons suggests that young people are more likely to be conservative, this is contrast to the higher levels of liberalism among other US citizens in this age bracket.

Among Mormons, greater levels of education lead to greater orthodoxy while among other religions this is not the case.  Although, in general, Church attendance is high among the middle classes there are not always high levels of orthodoxy in these groups.

Missionary service fosters common ground between Mormons and other religions.

Matt Bowman (Hampden-Sydney):

There is a strong sense in which Mormons see themselves as a distinct community in American society.

Many of the behaviours which make someone a good Mormon are traditional markers of that identity.  Yet, over 70% believed that helping the poor was an essential part of being a good Mormon and this reflects a tendency toward to being a community within the broader American society.  This is tied to their sense in which smaller government is better.


Q: Landsburg (LA Times):

Immigration and Missionary service, did that come from the survey?

A: Greg Smith:

There is a significant link between serving a mission and a positive disposition toward immigrants.

A: David Campbell:

You may not have had to serve as a Missionary yourself to have this disposition simply because this type of discourse is so common in Mormon congregations.  It is a community that is aware of international culture because of this tendency to send their young people abroad.

A: Greg Smith:

The data is consistent with that.  High levels of religious commitment among Mormons is positively correlated with positive views toward immigrants.

A: Luis Lugo:

Those Mormons who had served missions also had a higher hostility toward evangelicals. This is the evangelical exception.

Q: Green (Belief blog – CNN)

Mormons and Muslims could be quite interchangeable in this survey.  There are some similarities between how they feel in American society.  Are these results just a feature of a particular type of religious experience in America?

A: Campbell:

American Grace demonstrated that most religious groups feel comfortable in America and there is a parallel between Mormons and Muslims but when you get into specifics there are unique differences.  Mormonism is a religion that was born in America and numerically speaking they are as large as Jews but they do not feel they have the same level of acceptance as Jews.

A: Greg Smith:

Important differences between the Muslim community and the Mormon community.  Muslims are primarily immigrants.  Muslims are primarily from ethnic minorities.  There are large political differences between them.  Yet, there is a remarkable degree of similarity between what it is like to be a member of their faith in American society.  They think that people largely do not understand their faith and do not feel that the media treats them fairly.

Q: Tamers(sp.) (Kansas City Star):

RLDS (CoC) were allowed to participate but it looks like they have not participated.  Is that true?

This perceived bias, where does it come from?

A: Greg Smith:

Anyone who describes their religion as Mormonism is eligible.  Very few people who described themselves as Mormon were from other Mormon groups outside of the LDS Church.  It was open to other types of Mormons but in practice hardly any of them participated.

On the second question, the data does not suggest that it was contempt bred from familiarity.  You also see that regardless of how much Americans may actually know about them, Mormons believe that others have negative conceptions of them and that these conceptions are incorrect.

A: Matt Bowman:

‘Mormo’n is a contested term and it is possible that CoC members may have screened themselves out because they would not have accepted that term.

There are beliefs that Mormons hold that are quite un-American such as an Authoritarian Church.  Mormons are not individualistic, for example.

Q: Rorty (National Journal):

How many Protestants and Evangelicals would vote for Romney?

A: Greg Smith:

Romney’s Mormonism may well be a struggle in the GOP but not necessarily in the national election.  Evangelicals are the same people who are most strongly opposed to Obama and who want to see a Republican Presidency next year.

A: Luis Lugo:

Those theological differences between Mormons and Evangelicals are important within the GOP but when there is a bigger enemy to fight those differences will be trumped.

Q: Riley (WSJ):

Anything in the survey that would help us distinguish the animosity that Mormons feel.  Is it a broader feeling from the country as a whole rather than in their personal experience?

A: Greg Smith:

We do not have questions on this survey about whether or not they have personally experienced discrimination.  We did not have the space to ask that.  Yet, unlike Muslims, Mormons tend to be more geographically concentrated and so questions about personal experiences might be a little less relevant.  The questions about the community were about geographic community.  Mormon’s satisfaction with community is high, and especially high in Utah.

A: Matt Bowman:

Mormon congregations are formed geographically and this may have something to do with a strong local community.

A: David Campbell:

Other data suggests that Mormons are among the most likely to say they have heard negative comments about their religion said in front of them.

This survey was completed just after the word ‘cult’ was used by Pastor Jeffress and so that might have influenced results.  We need to bear that in mind. Previous results suggest that other words, such as ‘Family’ and ‘Polygamy’ are common.

Q: Townsend (St. Louis Post):

The tension felt from evangelicals already mentioned, but is there data on how Mormons feel about other groups perceptions of them.

A: Greg Smith:

One of the biggest problems Mormons face relates to misconceptions and this comes from other groups, not just evangelicals.

A: Matt Bowman:

Evangelicals do not think Mormons are Christian because of Mormonism’s view of the Godhead and because, for Evangelicals, the title Christian is reserved for those who have been ‘saved’.

Q: ? [Sorry missed the name]

Are there any disparities between this data and other data gathered by LDS researchers?

A: Alan Cooperman (Pew):

Because those results are not published it is difficult to answer.  Marie Cornwall might be one source for further information.

A: David Campbell:

The LDS Church does research but we do not really know the scope of that data.  Other data exists which has been gathered by scholars but this is usually geographically limited.  This Pew study has not differed radically from other data he has seen.

A: Matt Bowman:

This survey data would not be surprising but it would also not be a mirror of your average Mormon congregation.

Luis Lugo:

Thank you for being here today.


Again a special thanks to the Pew Forum for allowing us to participate, even if we ran out of time before I could ask my penetrating question about whether Mormons believe Cain is Bigfoot.


  1. Thanks for the coverage, Aaron.

  2. Awesome. Thanks for doing this, Aaron.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    “Those Mormons who had served missions also had a higher hostility toward evangelicals”

    You don’t say.

  4. Thanks for reporting Aaron. Great stuff.

  5. Thanks, all.

  6. “There are beliefs that Mormons hold that are quite un-American such as an Authoritarian Church. Mormons are not individualistic, for example.”

    Are there any other contributions to anti-Mormon literature that you’d like to make, Matt?

  7. Sam E., let us be charitable about what has been reported here. Firstly, I have reported what was said as it was being spoken. Therefore I would not stand by its veracity. Secondly, I am not even sure how what Matt has sad is anti-Mormon. Please keep your comments respectful.

  8. Great coverage Aaron.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks Aaron, this was interesting.

  10. I think Matt would have been more accurate and less inflammatory to have said “beliefs that they have, such as an Authoritarian Church, are un-democratic.” The way it sounds does come off anti-Mormon and if taken to broader examples is a statement that can made about any religion, particularly the Catholics and generally speaking Muslims. Besides, believing in and having an Authoritarian Church is not “anti-American” since the U.S. Constitution allows for any number of beliefs including un-democratic ones.

  11. As reported by Aaron, the term Matt was was “un-American,” not “anti-American.” The terms are light years apart, and commenters who confuse them are [edited]. In the real world of real adults with real thinking skills, people and ideas very often are “not” without being “against.”

  12. Thanks, Aaron. This was a very good, important discussion.

  13. Thanks, Aaron! Great to see that Pew had Matt on hand as someone who is both knowledgeable about us in a scholarly way and at the same time coming from our POV.

  14. Sam E.: when was the last time you voted for a prophet? Or a bishop? Or hey, President of the Relief Society (local or general)? Matt was generally speaking about these sorts of things, imo. Do not fear.

  15. Ok, so in the post yesterday you went all out on Mormon Persecution Complex. This seems much more toned down and general here. Do you still hold the same opinion, or did you overstate the case before?

  16. Matt W., this seems toned down because I reporting the words of others. I am willing to be contradicted but I am still fairly confident that Mormons have a warped proclivity to see themselves as outsides and to see themselves as persecuted. See my recent comment in the other post (#46).

  17. Clark Goble says:

    Aaron, I think that’s true. Although I also think there’s some justification for this even if the persecution is completely different now than from ages past. (It’s a lot safer to be a Mormon in the south today than it was in the 19th century)

  18. Sam, Jettboy: my comment is neither anti-Mormon nor anti-American. Rather it’s a historical, and factual, observation that many Americans have distrusted and still distrust Mormonism because Mormons have an authoritarian church hierarchy and a basically communitarian way of thinking about their society. Thanks for being prickly, though.

  19. Matt, you can take consolation in knowing that you’re the nicest anti-Mormon I’ve ever met.

  20. Oh, but your hatred of these United States isn’t forgivable, though.

  21. elubcusabiste says:

    Look: I have been convinced to the global financial doomsayers regarding the economic climate. Has anyone observed a ray of hope throughout this “downturn”?

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