Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms

About a month ago, YouGov released the results of a poll asking how Americans feel about various religions. Respondents were asked a simple question: “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the following groups, organizations, or belief systems in the United States?” They were given a random sample of 17 out iof a list of 35 religions and could choose one answer to the question:

  • Very favorable
  • Somewhat favorable
  • Neither favorable nor unfavorable
  • Somewhat unfavorable
  • Very unfavorable
  • Not sure

Among the religions in the poll was “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church).” And how did we fare?

Poorly. Really poorly.

YouGov looked at a net score for each religion, calculated by adding the Very favorable and Somewhat favorable choices, then subtracting the Somewhat unfavorable and Very unfavorable. Overall, the church was a -21 (that is, the percentage of those who viewed the church unfavorably exceeded the percentage who viewed it favorably by 21 percentage points).

Of the 35 religions in the poll, we came in 29th, after Wicca and just before Christian Science.

What’s more, we had a net negative among just about every group. Among those who say religion is very important to them, we had a -11; among those who say it is not, we were at a -41. We were at -12 among Republicans and -27 among Democrats.

I wanted to dig in a little deeper, and YouGov provided its data here. Its data separates responses by gender, by age, by race, by vote in the 2020 election, and by region. And among every group but one, the church had a net negative favorability rating. (I was surprised that among 18-29-year-olds, the church had a net positive favorability of 4. The church was lowest among those 65 and older, with a favorability rating of -36.)

Men and women both view the church unfavorably, though women see it more unfavorably (-24 to -18). Favorability increases with income (though even at the $100,000+ it’s net negative). Biden voters are more negative toward the church than Trump voters, though again, the church has a net negative among both. (Interestingly, 42% of Trump voters were neither favorable nor unfavorable, where only 22% of Biden voters were.)

And interestingly, the net negative favorability rate is similar in the West (-18) and the South (-19). Where do we do really badly? The Midwest (-29).

Why is the church so unpopular? I don’t know, though I doubt there’s a single cause. It wouldn’t shock me if it’s partly because we’re less well-known (better-known religions generally did better, with a handful of exceptions). Our treatment of the LGBTQ community probably plays into it (though again, we did better among the youngest than the oldest). It wouldn’t shock me if there were some hostility based on the church’s wealth. Honestly, there’s probably some because we’re a heretical Christian church.

Whatever the reasons, though (and I don’t know how valuable it will be to suggest reasons in the comments), the poll results say to me that we’re not doing a good job explaining to our neighbors the good things we’re doing. Maybe that’s because we’re not doing good things. Or maybe it’s because we’re not publicizing the good things. Or maybe we’re too insular and don’t participate in our communities. Or maybe it’s something else altogether.

And yes, popularity isn’t the only thing. It’s not the most important thing. But if the church has something good, something that could benefit our neighbors, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to present it in a manner that our neighbors will look upon favorably. Because otherwise, they won’t benefit from what we have to offer.

Comments

  1. The reason for the negativity is missionaries knocking on doors. Most people’s experiences with other religions is to debate finer points. But LDS missionaries create an experience that bothers people.

  2. I didn’t realize just how unfavorably we are viewed, all running contrary to the stories we tell ourselves (e.g., I think my friends really respected that I don’t drink and even brought Sprite to the party for me. they really love me. I’ve planted a seed. They secretly admire me for my moral courage.) Honestly, Sam, what surprised me more was who else joined the worm eating unpopular group. I can understand some of them, but Unitarians? How on Earth did they end up on that list and only a few notches above us and the Wiccans?

  3. lastlemming says:

    What jader3rd said.

  4. Sam, I wonder if there’s significant confusion about whether Unitarians are part of the Unification Church? Lots of people are not fans of Reverend Moon’s movement.

  5. John chapter 15:
    18 If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first.
    19 If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.
    20 Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’a If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept My word, they will keep yours as well.
    21 But they will treat you like this because of My name, since they do not know the One who sent Me.
    22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

  6. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    It’s striking to me that only 9% of respondents were “not sure” about the Church (only Christianity and Catholicism were lower). So, it’s not that people don’t know about the Church. Whatever it is they think, they’re pretty sure of it. So it’s not a matter of just letting people know more about us. It’s about letting people know more of what we want them to know about us. And, conversely, keeping them from learning things we don’t want them to know. I imagine that last part will make leadership even less transparent about certain things.

  7. While door-knocking may play a small role, I’m truly skeptical that it plays a significant role. What percentage of Americans have had their doors knocked on by Mormon missionaries? I suspect it’s a tremendously small number, and even smaller in recent years.

    And there are a handful of really odd results. I don’t know how anybody could dislike Sikhs, for example, but racial prejudice, anti-Muslim prejudice (yes, I know Sikhism and Islam are different, but not everybody does), and just lack of familiarity do their work.

  8. SoG, I’m going to say that we’re not unpopular because Jesus is unpopular. Jesus is tremendously popular in today’s world. Christianity writ large has a 34-point net positivity. Most Catholic and Protestant religions are on the positive side of the ledger. Having a persecution complex doesn’t do us any good; figuring out how we can make our beliefs inviting and attractive, otoh, will do us good.

  9. lastlemming says:

    Actually, it’s not just proselytizing. The most interesting division is between those who say that religion is important to them (which I will call “religious”) and those who don’t. Among the latter group, there is a distinct bottom 4–LDS, JWs, FLDS, and Scientologists. I think that the presence of JWs in that group confirms the significance of proselytizing in determining unpopularity among the nonreligious. But the fact that the we are almost as bad as the FLDS who do not proselytize tells me that they might be dragging us down by association.

    Among the religious, were are still negative, but not alarmingly so. Other Christian denominations that are negative among the religious tend to be smaller and perceived as heretical. We just have to live with that.

    But we shouldn’t have to live with being hated because we can’t refrain from bothering people. And we should be able to better differentiate ourselves from the FLDS.

  10. I think SoG’s right, Sam. It’s an heritage of the saints to be disliked by the world. So that’s gotta be at least part of the problem. If not–then both the saints and the world are somehow different today than they’ve been in every other age.

  11. bagsofsand, that’s literally not true. Again, look at the data: Christianity is remarkably popular. Christianity has been popular for millennia now. And, in fact, the LDS church has enjoyed, at various times throughout the 20th and early 21st century, a decent level of popular acclaim. The idea that we are persecuted and unpopular for being Jesus-followers doesn’t make sense, since many Jesus-followers are very popular. That we engage in all aspects of US society, often in prestigious and important roles, suggests that at an individual level, we can be both loved and embraced. So it’s worth looking at where the individual/institutional disconnect comes. I think lastlemming has some compelling ideas, but at the very least, I think we’re obligated (at an individual, but also an institutional, level) to ask, “Is it I?”

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I always find it fascinating that members can take times of popularity and relative acceptance as evidence that we are winning as God’s chosen people while, in the next breath, interpreting times of persecution or lack of popularity as evidence that we are doing the right things as God’s chosen people.

  13. Amen, Turtle. Doing the logic of the people that won’t. I get why they won’t. It’s an existential threat to them to examine their claims about the church with any rigor. Which may be why people don’t look so highly on us. Perhaps the most myopic of the Christian religions who are also at the same time the least sympathetic towards other Christians.

  14. While door-knocking may play a small role, I’m truly skeptical that it plays a significant role. What percentage of Americans have had their doors knocked on by Mormon missionaries? I suspect it’s a tremendously small number

    Really? As someone who served their mission in the states, it was very common to have had every door in the area knocked in the last year or so. The only time I knocked on doors which had likely never been knocked on is when we road our bikes down some country roads on days we couldn’t get a ride to the town we were headed for and knocked the doors on the farmhouses we passed.
    I’ve had co-workers mention being annoyed by missionaries knocking on their doors. It’s not something that would get someone to feel very negative about the church, but enough to move the needle from Neither favorable or unfavorable or Not sure to Somewhat unfavorable.

  15. I suspect that a large part of this comes from Mormons’ precarious position in the current culture war. Put bluntly: we have become politically aligned with a large bloc that will never accept, or even respect, our religious positions. Politically, Mormons are virtually indistinguishable from Evangelical Christians, and that is how most non-religious progressives see us. But, unlike Evangelical Christians, we are not well-liked by Evangelical Christians, who perceive us as irredeemably reprobate heretics and cultists. So we get hated from both directions at once.

    This is my assumption, but it is hard to test in the data, which is segmented by denomination, while Evangelical Christianity is a cross-denominational phenomenon. If there were a category called “Evangelical Christianity,” my guess is that they would be disliked by a similar number of Democrats, and they would have one of the highest numbers for disliking Mormons. We have not chosen our friends wisely here and would do well to stop helping them destroy the liberal mechanisms that protect unpopular opinions.

  16. jader3rd, I suspect it intimately depends on where you live. If Wikipedia is right about its list of Mormon missions, there are seven states that have no missions headquartered in/named after them (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming). I’m sure we have missionaries in those states, but they’re largely shared from other states and won’t do a lot of coverage.

    Heck, in Illinois, the sixth most populous state in the country, there’s only one mission. In New York, the fourth most populous, there are two. So you’ve got plenty of places where people are unlikely to see missionaries, like ever. There may be a town somewhere in Illinois where missionaries have hit every home, but I suspect there are a ton of towns where missionaries have never been. And I’ll bet there are fewer than 20 or 30 missionaries in Chicago, a city of about 3 million people. Ohio, the seventh most populous state, has two missions.

    However, if you’re in Utah, the 30th most populous state (with maybe 110% of the population of my city), there are 10 missions. If you live in Utah (or Idaho or Washington, with 7 missions or Arizona with 5), there’s a better chance that you’ll have run into missionaries.

    But the Midwest—which, to be clear, has very few missions per capita compared to the West—has a much lower favorability than the West.

    I’m not saying there’s nothing to the idea that missionaries knocking doors leaves a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. I just suspect that the number of people who have had missionaries knock in their doors is far too small to explain the negative view.

  17. Michael, I’d love to see Evangelicals broken out. We kind of have a proxy for that, though: the Southern Baptist Convention is listed separately. It has net negative favorability, but not nearly on the scale of the Mormon church. While our church has a -21, the SBA is -5 (and the National Baptist Association, which reasonably could be mistaken for it, has a -6). SBA has a positive favorability rating among Republicans and among people who say religion is very important to him, while Mormonism is negative on both of those. Which maybe supports your story: the nonreligious and Democrats don’t like us because we’re associated with certain types of conservative thought, but the conservatives also don’t like us because we’re heretics.

  18. Here’s my version of the story. In my lifetime, the popular image of Latter-day Saints has changed dramatically, and it has changed more than once. It has been a kind of whiplash movement.

    Several decades ago, most people had a negative view of us. Most people had never met a Mormon, or at least didn’t know whether they had known a Mormon. That made it easy for the old negative stereotypes to endure. That was the situation for most of the twentieth century. People generally didn’t like us. But oh, how we wanted to change that. We wanted so badly to be accepted that we made ourselves paragons of white, patriotic, family-loving, apple-pie America. We went over the top with it, but we were mostly sincere.

    About thirty years ago our efforts finally paid off. We passed through an invisible barrier and became part of the American mainstream. Partly that was because of our efforts to seem normal. Mostly it was because there were more of us, and there were more of us in high-status positions throughout American society. When you get to know people, there is a normalizing effect. Most folks are hard to hate on a personal level. Finally, there were enough Mormons that a lot of people (including a lot of influential people) knew one or two of us, and they figured that we weren’t actually so bad. Our image started to improve.

    But after years of pleading for acceptance, we weren’t able to take yes for an answer. Somehow, we couldn’t help ourselves. The old Mormon counterforce of retrenchment kicked in. We had to hunker down and take shelter from The World. That’s where we are now.

    To people on the outside of the church, it appears (correctly) that we’re just afraid of all the scary things that we think The Gays represent. It is odd that many so people on the inside of the church can’t see the situation for what it is: we have panicked, and in panicking we have squandered the advantage of goodwill that we worked for generations to achieve. We have thus made it harder to spread the word of Christ.

  19. I agree w jader….all i did on my mission was knock doors. Everyone knows mormons knock doors. Broadway knows mormons knock doors. It is the calling card of our name.

  20. In my corner of the world, church members are pretty insular and only play with each other. I think that contributes to a level of elitism that’s off-putting.
    As fate would have it, two of my kids happened to spend their formative primary years where for whatever reason they were the only kid their age and as a result they turned to the school playground to make friends. They are very much the exception and still don’t “fit” with the Mormon crowd.

    I think most people know just enough to find our faith community odd. During the Warren Jeffs fiasco my coworkers didn’t understand the distinction between fundamentalism and mainstream. Our Prop 8 involvement has left a very bad impression in my community 15 years later. In my artistic circle people have seen the Book of Mormon musical which exposed them to the mystic side that probably makes them skeptical of our abilities to think critically.

    To wit, our unpopularity seems to be a feature and not a bug. But not because of Jesus. Because of us.

  21. Random Spectator says:

    Given how much the authors of this blog typically look unfavorably on the church, is it really surprising that participants in a YouGov poll look unfavorably on the church? The corporate media rarely, if every, reports positively about the church. Hell, even when our “friends” in the press write something positive, the article always contains at least one backhanded compliment.

  22. Random Spectator, that’s an accusation that gets thrown at us periodically, one unfounded in what we write or what the blog does. We do address the church critically at times, but to a subset of readers/commenters, those posts are apparently particularly salient.

    Similarly, we’ve trained ourselves to read press coverage as unflaggingly negative. In fact, it is not, but the negative press is particularly salient to us. I suspect that it is generally less salient to non-Mormons, except with respect to the occasional particularly egregious act.

  23. Random Spectator, I can pretty much guarantee that the religions and denominations on this list who are well thought of (Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews) all have frequent and vigorous debates between scholars and clergy about the proper direction of the Church. Most people see it as a sign of spiritual maturity for people to have, and for leaders to encourage, such discussions.

    I can also assure you that most of the groups who are, like Latter-day Saints, not well thought of (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, FLDS, Scientologists) have much less frequent (or at least much less public) conflicts between members and their leaders.

    It may seem counterintuitive, but the data here strongly suggest that seeing choruses of people echoing the positions of their leaders without a word of dissent does not, in fact, convince people that a religious group is not a cult.

  24. It seems to me that this poll is just indicating how uncomfortable people are with minority groups. People like and are comfortable with people they perceive as similar to themselves and they feel uncomfortable with and feel threatened by groups that they feel are different than them.

    The question of what we can do about it is a great one. We shouldn’t have to change who we are to conform to a majority viewpoint as a minority group. I think plurality is good. But we should avoid insularity – which to me is just a lack of knowledge about our neighbors and an assumption that we are better than them and that they have nothing to offer. We can see Gods light in everyone, including ourselves, learn from the perspective of others and be comfortable with our place in our various societies.

    Also, I agree that this has a lot to do with allying ourselves with an unpopular group that also doesn’t really like us either.

  25. True or False?

    And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
    For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
    And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
    And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.

  26. I am a Catholic academic. Much love to LDS.

  27. DanO, that’s in important point: we absolutely shouldn’t have to change who we are to make people like us. But, given our status and visibility, we’re not powerless to change people’s perception. At the very least, we need to figure out where our message is getting garbled and fix that. (And maybe not ally ourselves politically with an unpopular group that also hates us.)

    Sute, I’m afraid you’re commenting on the wrong thread, because your quoted scriptural passage has nothing to do with this conversation.

    And thanks, AmberCat!

  28. It really isn’t difficult to understand.

    Since the Romney run for the Presidency, that Mormon Moment, the general public has become more and more aware of Mormonism. What’s more, what’s transpired from that time to now hasn’t been good. The church has been exposed as a mysogynist real estate corporation masquerading as a church that uses its power and influence to protect abusers and discriminate against the vulnerable. Time and time again.

    Individual Mormons may say, “but that’s not me!” but individual Mormons are the church and knowingly continue to support it ideologically and financially.

    What more do you need to know?

  29. DanO, I don’t think being a minority group is a sufficient explanation. I see three minority groups in the top 5 favorable (Amish, Judaism, Buddhism).

  30. Name Withheld says:

    My concern is not the poll results but how Salt Lake will react to it. As a Bishop and lay member, I’m bracing for a possible whirlwind of new and aggressive PR measures thrown at both the general and local level. I hope I’m wrong and this gets missed.

  31. ShySaint, Great points and your view is totally valid. I would just add that we should be careful with polls. This poll is asking “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the following groups” so it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are behind why people have an unfavorable opinion because, generally speaking, the reason someone gives is just something that the elites in their identity group are giving them and its really hard to know exactly why people have a favorable or unfavorable opinion about a certain topic or group of people. It could be totally unrelated and they likely don’t even understand why they do or don’t have a favorable opinion of something. All we can say is that Mormons are seen unfavorably by their peers. I think its fine to give your reasons for holding an unfavorable opinion of Mormons but it won’t necessarily help that group to change anything because the unfavorable opinion might not be based in any sort of objective reality -meaning if they change those things it won’t necesarily change people’s opinion of that group. The factors that go into opinion formation have more to do with group identity, social construction and group culture. So I do think we can learn from this. I’m just not sure what we do other than to look at which groups we are allied with and try to build bridges of understanding or mutual benefit. Opinions are just so complex and multifactorial I just have a hard time believing we can truly understand why people may or may not like us in some objective way.

    Sam, I do think we have a branding problem too. I think there has been a lot of negative spin on us, maybe for good reason, but all we can do other than change everything about ourselves that people don’t like, is to signal to eachother and others what is good about our community and how we want to be seen.

    BB, I agree, being a minority group doesn’t explain everything. But minority groups can be allied with other groups and therefore pick up an overall favorable opinion from others. It makes me think we haven’t picked our allies very well from a political/social perspective.

  32. Every member is a missionary. That includes the 90% ( in my area) of inactive and hostile former members. Most people are hardened to advertisement and make these judgments on the relationships they have with us individually. You broke it down to the West which includes 4 states larger than Utah. I would be very interested in our unfavorable view quota within Utah where we have about 1/3 active, about 1/3 inactive and 1/3 or more not members. Only in Utah do most people have numerous interactions with multiple LDS on a frequent basisIn other words on average I think we are obnoxious neighbors.

    Another problem is that if anyone ever does try us out by going to a meeting, operationally we are a joke. Our generally lousy music , childish sermons, and boredom send them running for the door. I think we tend to act like we are better than everyone else (only true and living church) when we are not (true but crappy church). Americans are out-of-control independent and hate authority. Having a prophet leading us around on a short leash is not appealing.

  33. Christianity is way more popular than any particular Christian religion. This is because all Christians like Christianity but do not like any group but theirs.

    What is puzzling is that with so much emphasis on missionary work that we are seeing relatively modest return on investment. In the business world all the missionaries would be fired or retrained. Or the head of marketing would be replaced. Wait! who markets the Church?

  34. SvBob,

    The Missionary Department hit the point of diminishing returns about 20 years ago, and now there are so many missionaries in the field that they are actually getting in each other’s way. Our ward in Southwestern Indiana has six missionaries, three companionships, in an area that would have split one companionship among two wards 30 years ago. I suspect that everyone in the COB knows that there are far more missionaries in the field now than the actual proselyting work needs or requires. But it is hard to walk back a hundred years of rhetoric defining a mission as the absolute duty of every male member of the church—the most important rite of passage in the culture, and a prerequisite for the attention of any morally upright young woman.

    Fortunately, though, this particular sales force pays its own way. And it’s a good deal for parents (at $400 a month, a mission is about the cheapest place to store a kid for two years). So I don’t see things changing any time soon. One idea might be to stop proselyting altogether and send out our young people to do serious service missions and help all kinds of people without paying any attention to their religious beliefs or their behavior. This would dramatically improve our image in the world, and it would probably end up convincing more people to convert. But I don’t see anyone in the Q15 right now who would see this as a good idea.

  35. Judging from the way the missionary program is managed, I don’t believe that its primary purpose is to gain converts. Its primary purpose is to consolidate the missionaries’ personal commitment to the church. If, on the whole, missionaries emerge from their experience more likely to continue their activity in the church, then inefficiency and ineffectiveness in our conversion efforts will be tolerated.

    This points to the most interesting unasked question in this discussion: why we care or don’t care whether the church is popular.

    One would think that if we’re serious about getting converts, then it would be a good thing to have a positive popular image. But what if getting converts is not really that important to us? As an institution, we are of two minds on this question. That won’t be surprising if you accept Mauss’s idea that we are torn between the desire to assimilate with the wider culture and, on the other hand, the desire to retreat and retrench.

    The urge to assimilate is powerful. It has shaped aspects of our cultural development in the last hundred years. But it has not changed our essence as an inward-facing group. We have never reoriented our core structures to encourage growth. We send out tens of thousands of missionaries, and then we generally abandon converts to their own devices once their contact with full-time missionaries ends. We retain only the few who have the independence and resourcefulness to adapt to our closed culture.

    We are in a phase of retrenchment right now. This is a time when we have little use for burnishing our public image. There will probably come a time when the pendulum swings back toward assimilation. When that happens, we will need to ask ourselves what we are really trying to accomplish with assimilation and marketing and image-making. If we are serious about spreading the gospel, we will have to face up to the fact that effective evangelization takes more than marketing. It takes a church that is structured to nurture converts and grow the body of Christ.

  36. I believe the biggest PR mistake we made was our proselyting for Prop 8. We won the battle and completely lost the war. Our efforts to legally deny rights, if anything, shifting public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage. We didn’t help ourselves any with the POX, and we’ve been damaged with assertions of a $100 billion cash reserve, the concept of a sad heaven, and disclosures regarding the second relic of barbarism–polygamy and 14-year old brides. And we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot–the latest being the risible modification of religious art to make it more “Mormon-Modest.”

    I understand the need for doctrinal consistency, but I wish the Church had a committee of common members who could perhaps communicate how some of the Church’s actions will play in Peoria and how to avoid these unnecessary faux pas that make us look ridiculous, petty, and sometimes an insensitive bully.

  37. This poll is similar to what Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the 70, said, very candidly, some years ago at a FAIR conference
    https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/conference/august-2018/a-sacred-and-imperative-duty

    basically, most people have never heard of us, half have a negative impression of us and it isn’t always others’ fault

  38. Shannon Mallory says:

    I’m a member of the Hiram ward in Ohio, and what I see most frequently is that people hear media coverage of the abominations in the FLDS church – and there is a lot, even a Netflix series – and make their opinions based on that. Most people aren’t aware that the FLDS is DIFFERENT FROM and not accepted by the LDS faithful. They think we are all the same, prairie-dress-wearing ignorant zealous polygamist. I’m met with surprise every time I explain real LDS theology.

  39. Hot off the press, the way people feel about religious solicitors: https://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2023/01/22

  40. What Turtle said.

  41. I came here to say what it seems Michael Austin already has. But I’ll put a statistical spin on it. This is a case where I believe frequency counts are misleading and a Bayesian approach is warranted. The U.S. is 25%-35% Evangelical Christian (numbers and definitions vary), 20+% Catholic, 5%-15% other Protestant, and 2% Mormon and Jewish, each. That means to me that Mormons and Jews are well enough known for people in the main to have formed opinions, and that almost all the numbers are them (Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants more generally) about us (Mormons, Jews). So my questions are not so much about absolute numbers, but about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at -21 and Orthodox Judaism at +3. That’s a thought-proving difference.

  42. Let’s turn the question around. Why should people have a favorable view of the LDS church?

    While I love the gospel, even I don’t have that favorable of a view of many members or cultural aspects of the church.

    Which brings us to what is it people are judging? Are they judging the doctrines, the people, or the culture? And which of those should we be concerned about? Which of those can we change? Probably not much of it, no matter how much we’d like to think PR or branding can do anything.

    I have pretty much only non-member friends. Some may not even know I’m LDS. Many do, but in a very low-key way. But they do know me and I think I can say I represent high ethical and moral values, kindness, and caring very clearly. They don’t look at it as a religious thing, but just that that’s who I am.

    Let’s not worry about reputations of things we can’t control. Just embody the beliefs you have as best you can. Walk your own walk. Let the church worry about theirs.

  43. I tracted for many hours a day. My kids didn’t do nearly as much. I understand the cliche of Mormons knocking on the door, but I’m wondering if that just dates people now.

  44. “In the business world all the missionaries would be fired or retrained”

    And a consultant in the business world would say stop blaming your sales force. If your strategy isn’t working, you can say, “stupid sales force, my strategy is pure gold” and wish for an illusive, never coming perfect sales force; OR have the acumen to develop a strategy for your sales force that they can’t fail with.

    I support and sustain the Brethren, but if I put on my analysis cap, leadership has to take responsibility. Nearly every change that’s been made in the last few years does not seem to have increased activity, deepened conversion, etc.

    Now a leader who doesn’t accept responsibility would say, “but it would have been even worse without my [demonstrably ineffective] changes.” There are no shortage of politicians who use that language. In reality, the changes that were made were at least made with the hope of improving on multuple dimensions.

    I don’t know much about the Amish, but my assumption is their rate of radical organizational change is pretty slow. Yet they are doubling every 20 years (small overall numbers) from my quick googling.

    It’s incidental to the main point about why people dislike us, but it does seem like all the changes we make aren’t doing what we at least imagined they’d do. Maybe they are actually meant as an opportunity for self pruning and we’ve got it wrong that overall growth is the goal.

  45. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think Sute’s use of pruning is important. The point of pruning is to cut away, with the goal of encouraging future growth. I disagree with this approach to membership – cutting out those you don’t like. But it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how church leadership is thinking. They may very well think that stagnating growth and declining public perception is the fault of certain types of members, and getting rid of them is the solution to current problems.

  46. Paul Mouritsen says:

    One problem is that we go out of our way to make ourselves inaccessible and distant. For example, we do not post our meeting times at our chapels. If you call the church, no one answers, not even an answering machine. These kinds of things pose formidable barriers, not just for nonmembers, but for inactive or semi-active members as well.

  47. Rather than using this poll to correct our approach, most Mormons will see this as just one more proof that we’re the true church and everyone else is wrong. It’s the old persecution complex that tells us we are hated because Satan is in the hearts of the people who see us in an unfavorable light. That is pure hogwash. We are doing something wrong to be viewed so negatively by so many demographics. Time for a little introspection? Or a lot?

  48. I hate to say it, but Mormonism is an ideal vehicle for a “woke” religion, in the Buddhist sense of the word. We are aware of our eternal natures, of our spiritual potential. We believe in eternal progression. We believe in personal communication with God. We believe we are embryos of great things to come if we only open our eyes. What is frustrating is that the marketing people cannot effectively use this and all of its implications.

    We could, by small alterations, market to feminist women. By small alterations to the temple, be market-friendly to LGBT people. Because of our life-affirming belief that these bodies are mere carriers of the soul, be modestly pro choice.

    In the ’60s and ’70s we had a choice: Equal Rights Amendment, and racial equality. We, as a Church, did neither until we were utterly forced to in the case of race. ERA, if we had stayed neutral, we could have affirmed women’s quality. As it turned out the ERA made no difference because of societal shifts. And we were not ahead of the curve on race. It was utterly a debacle.

    So rather than use our unique theology for advantage, we are retrenching to an irritating evangelical form. We are removing our advantages and taking away our market potential. We have $100,000,000,000 in the bank. How much of that could be used to light a beacon on the hill, as an example to the rest of Christianity?

    I suppose we would loose some of the MAGA conservatives. It would be a price to pay for a marketing shift. Although if the shift had been done by slow stages it might have been accomplished. The race change set many on edge but we came through it. Could we not do the same by altering the temple ceremony to seal anyone to anyone for any reason, for example? And on and on. Women could have the priesthood conferred on them without being ordained to an office?? Girls could hold the Aaronic priesthood without being a deacon? The forms would not substantially change, but slowly.

  49. your food allergy says:

    To add to SvBob’s thoughts of how our religion could be appealing to broader and younger demographics with a bit of adjustment and shifted emphasis:

    We have a ready-made gospel of health, if we would simply make it more about health than about abstaining from arbitrary things that are actually healthy like green tea.

    We have a gospel of environmentalism built into our temple ceremony and our theology of the earth as eventual celestial paradise.

    We have a gospel that loves truth, intelligence, and science, if we reemphasize zion as a gathering of truth come from wherever it may and embrace all that is revealed whether by inspiration or the scientific method.

    We have a gospel of service and tradition of young people giving 2 years of their lives. If this was shifted to humanitarian effort rather than door-knocking and facebook-bombing, it could be the envy of the world.

    As I think Peter Bleakley put it, we should be killing the 21st century.

  50. SvBob,
    A religion that does not require you to sacrifice all things will not have power to produce faith unto salvation.

    That wealth you cure would be gone and not replaced at all if you filled the church with people who are unwilling to deny themselves and insist everyone honor whatever choice their feeling calls for. The very people who you’d presume to attract with tithing to replenish that fund once you spend it will come up with all manner of good reasons why they should pay less to nothing and someone else should pay even more.

    Liberal progressive churches don’t grow well. Why is that that?

    Now consider this, what if that strength you cite for flexibility and the massive endowment the church has led exactly where it is now and it possesses those strengths because the very things liberal progressives think should be changed?

  51. Sute is here to blanket-argue that liberal progressive Mormons are “unwilling to deny themselves” and suggests they aren’t willing to make sacrifice sufficient for salvation. Also that they don’t hold core values other than ‘follow what you feel.’

    Can I blanket reply by arguing that conservative Mormons are ‘willing to deny everyone but people just like themselves’ access to God’s grace, and also suggest that they aren’t willing to make sacrifice sufficient to develop, say, charity? Also that they don’t hold core values other than ‘follow what you feel,’ ie the spirit?

    What fun! Oops, I mean what bollocks!

  52. Sute,
    No religions are growing well. Liberal, Conservative, whatever. The studies you think you are citing are outdated.

  53. Sure, everyone is declining. Liberal and conservative, all are hemorrhaging members as the older generation dies and the younger is much less interested in religion.

  54. Sute,
    The famous quote that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation” is not from Joseph Smith. It is from the Lectures on Faith which is likely the product of Sidney Rigdon’s creative writing after a very short time as a member of the church. I would advise that we all stop using this as some standard by which to measure faithfulness. Because it is not Joseph’s words and mostly because it is nonsense. The sacrifice that was made was Christ’s sacrifice. Who are we to say that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient?

  55. bagofsand says:

    I agree, Old Man. I’m glad the lectures are no longer canonized. The best place to go to learn how to formulate faith is the Book of Mormon, IMO. And it is in the BoM that were learn what it is that we should offer as a worth sacrifice: a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

  56. bagofsand says:

    Sute,

    I’m coming into this this conversation from the sidelines because of the Lectures on Faith.

    Just to clarify: I agree (mostly) with what you say with regard to temple theology. Even so, I think where the LoF gets it wrong is in its formulation of faith and how sacrifice plays into that construct. Whereas the temple contextualizes the principle in a way that makes it much more practicable and therefore comprehensible.

  57. “Compassion outside of God’s revealed word isn’t compassion and will not benefit the church.”

    That my friends is one reason why people don’t like us. A church that breeds this level of pride, judgement, self-centeredness, and contempt, well, there’s nothing more to be said. Thank you Elder Benson! No arguing with your devotees!

  58. Raymond Winn says:

    I have enjoyed following this thread; it is good for us as a group, to look critically in the mirror to see our warts or other perceived drawbacks in the group’s public persona. That said, I was taken aback, Mr Sute, by your post. If you are talking in your Gospel Doctrine class, to say that, it may go unopposed, or even wholeheartedly accepted. But, out in the cold, cruel world, your words – unfortunately – sound so out of sync with a loving, neighbor-centric Jesus-based mindset, that I can now clearly see why The World hates the Mormon Church. Please, I urge you, look inward for a bit.

  59. Sute, I’ve deleted your most recent comment; I’ve tried to be generous, but you haven’t even remotely been on point in this discussion. You’re welcome to participate, but if you want to argue that liberals are bad, please argue it somewhere else.

  60. I agree with Shannon. People lump us together with Warren Jeffs and all that mess. We lived in Missouri back when he was frequently in the news headlines. The news would come on while I was at the gym and sometimes they would even have the Salt Lake Temple in the background. It made me want to cry. We were trying so hard to spread the good news of the gospel there. Polygamy will ever haunt us and cause disdain for us.

  61. It’s me! Late to the party, I admit. But kudos to Sam B for presenting a lucid analysis of the poll+results, and the commenters for an illuminating discussion of the varied lived realities within our insular sub-group. Deconstructing the whys and wherefores of what’s driving these data is complicated, innit?

    My lived reality in 2023 is concern, if not alarm, for the social-group fractures I witness in all the walks of my life. And whatever nuance one believes about who is our Divine Leader in the church, the church is a social group, and there are cleavages all around us that threaten to shatter in the coming tremors, or earthquakes.

    I recently learned about the Overview Effect, a term used by astronauts to describe the shift in consciousness that frequently happens to human beings when they see the earth before their eyes, in actual reality, as a single, whole, closed system, teeming with life and shielded from the void by a paper-thin atmosphere. This is the most divine perspective I think a human being can physically have, and one critical outcome of that view is that one can see the reality that there is no us-and-them, there is only us. And regarding the humans in this world — we are one group, teeming with the most diverse life, creation, growth, conflict, destruction, death, and decay. Is that view too liberal secularist? Seems like observable reality to me.

    Churches have much good to bring to humankind, but they’re poor at bringing us together, and the YouGov poll shows that so well. As I read the comments, I thought about the diversity of voices from within and outside that I have witnessed over a lifetime of activity in the church, I thought specifically about Sonia Johnson and the September Six, and those who were prior and who followed, and how my reactions to those voices evolved as I learned more data.

    New data naturally changes one’s perspective, it’s as natural and necessary as breathing to our journey in life, it’s a requirement for growth, and of course it needs careful, critical assessment, so don’t come at me for that. With all the added data/perspective, including the passage of time, I think among the things that have hurt us the most is the purges of our actual members, once insiders in our little social group, whose “unorthodox” voices were perceived to require pruning to preserve us. But that pruning didn’t lead us to healthy growth, instead there is atrophy, a loss of membership where there might have been a strengthening bridge, a way to include more humans in this formally organized gospel of Christ. And a ready-made group— of members! Already baptized and believing, willing to serve, maintain temple recommends, and attract more of the same, but it withered instead from the misguided ax, because instead of facing the reality of intractable diversity, top leadership opted for the easier surgical solution. And worse, the offenses that seemed to require pruning in the first place were eventually seen to be rather benign, with church leadership, sooner or later, adapting some aspects brought by the Alternate Voices before they were cut off.

    This is a cursed way to bring about change, loaded with gaslit falsehood, in part because the goal is to protect the power of the most elite leadership, not to actually grow towards the reality of us — us all together as one, from the perspective of the Overview Effect, what a loving deity sees and hopes for us to grow to embrace and care for.

    And whether or not the folks in the US, polled by YouGov, see us Mormons to this nuanced degree doesn’t matter. The retrenchment of the church and rejection of others as unworthy, too unclean, too intractable to be included among us unless they bathe and behave, oozes out like an odor, and others like the YouGov pollees, pick up that scent and understand it viscerally. We communicate it every day in ten thousand small ways, and occasional big ways. (PoX, Prop 8, et. al)

    But I still believe in, and struggle toward, the reality of one Us, that we truly are one to Him, that we actually exist as one group together, in our one system teeming with diversified life of intractable, conflicted humankind, all of us sheltered under one thin firmament, despite all the lies and fractures that threaten to shatter this one social group beyond redemption into oblivion.

  62. Interesting discussion. In the 1/infinity chance that anyone with influence reads this, I’d like to echo this point made earlier with some modification:

    “One idea might be to stop proselyting altogether and send out our young people to do serious service missions… ”

    2 of my kids have served or are serving missions. I expect some of my younger kids will go also. I am spending a lot of time during their missions helping them make sense of first world indifference, doctrinal issues etc. The best experience so far was a covid stop in a Native American community because there was genuine need for help. There are many places in the world (including in the US) where people need help.

    We have the willing volunteers and the financial resources to create a Christian service force around the world. Let’s create infrastructure, water, farming, shelter, education etc. There could be a 6 month proselyting mission and then the balance is out making the world a better place because we can. I would love for my kids to be a part of this. It would continue to be a proving ground of persistence, hard work and spiritual growth while allowing the developing adults to really being the “salt”. So much could be done for good here for those serving and the served. I would quit my job and move anywhere in the world to be a part of it. I do not intend to serve another proselyting mission.

  63. Excuse my English, I’m not native. Here in my city in Brazil, Mormons are not well regarded for being superficial in friendships. I read the Book of Mormon and found it very poor and the sermons are so simple that they seem to have been written by a child.

  64. One more thing, my Presbyterian pastor said the Mormon church always converges. It was like this in the question of polygamy, in the priesthood for blacks, in the openness to female claims and it will certainly be like that with gays. How could you entrust your family to such a fickle denomination?

  65. Hi Isabella, welcome and obrigado por seu comentário.

    I don’t want to discourage you from commenting, but arguing that the Book of Mormon is written as if by a child is neither germane to the topic at hand nor, frankly, a sophisticated read of the text. But we have plenty of posts dealing with the Book of Mormon, with polygamy, with temple and priesthood restrictions, and more! To the extent you’re interested, please feel free to dig into our archives.

Trackbacks

  1. […] really don’t like us. Right up front let me acknowledge that I came across this poll reading a post discussing it over at BCC. The post is worth reading, as well as all 61 comments. Below, I will quickly summarize the results […]

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