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Mormons need to work to increase favor

Published: Saturday, Aug. 7 2010 12:44 a.m. MDT

SANDY — More Americans have a strongly unfavorable impression of Mormons than a strongly favorable one — by a ratio of 5-to-1 — and it's up to Mormons themselves to correct the situation, a public opinion pollster said Friday.

Gary Lawrence said only 12 percent of non-Mormon Americans know, unaided, the LDS Church's claim to be a restoration of the church that Christ founded. Sixty-seven percent are uncertain whether Mormons believe the Bible, 77 percent on whether Mormons are Christians and 75 percent on whether Mormons practice polygamy, he noted.

"We've been doing missionary work for 180 years," Lawrence said. "I'd say the delivery vehicles are arriving, but the freight isn't being off-loaded, and that's our fault."

Lawrence addressed the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research convening Thursday and Friday at the South Towne Exposition Center.

Working primarily by means of a website and the annual conference, FAIR seeks to counter adverse criticism against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though it is not formally affiliated with the church.

Lawrence spoke on the theme "How Americans View Mormonism and What We Can Do about It."

Two years ago, his Orange County, Calif., polling firm conducted a survey among 1,000 randomly chosen American adults, asking about their view of the LDS Church.

"We tend to think people are not beating a path to our door, but they respect what we Mormons are trying to do," Lawrence said. "Baloney. They don't."

He found that Americans have a 37 percent favorable and a 49 percent unfavorable impression. By contrast, Jewish people have almost a 7-to-2 positive-to-negative ratio, and the proportion for Catholics is almost 2-to-1 favorable.

Lawrence identified the cause as an "approach-avoidance" situation in which many people are "cross-pressured."

"It's a love-hate relationship," he said. "They'd like to believe certain things about us, but they hear other things about us."

Fifty-five percent of those polled said they believe Mormons are seekers of truth, "which means that 45 percent don't even believe we are seeking the truth, let alone have entertained the thought that we have the truth," Lawrence said.

"A lot of this comes with a misperception of what is known as a faith community," he said, explaining that many people confuse the church with schismatic groups that practice polygamy.

"They do the same thing to us that we do to other religions," Lawrence said. "How many of you make a distinction between, say, a Southern Baptist and an American Baptist?"

It's up to Latter-day Saints, he said, to let people know there is a distinction between the LDS Church and the more than 150 splinter groups.

"Until we make that point very firmly, we are going to continue to have some problems," Lawrence said.

While Mormons think they are known to the public, "37 percent of Americans do not know a Mormon, and 55 percent never met anybody like you," he said, presuming most of his listeners were active Latter-day Saints.

Conducting focus groups for the church, Lawrence found that less-active Mormons have the most friends among those of other faiths.

"We are being represented by our least-prepared members," he said.

Lawrence suggested that church members get out into the community but not with "an agenda." Rather, they should do it "simply because we believe in their cause and what they are trying to accomplish."

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