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'Mormons in America' Pew survey explores beliefs, attitudes of LDS Church members

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11 2012 10:00 p.m. MST

Culturally, Mormon conservatism extends to a wide variety of moral issues. Polygamy (86 percent), sex between unmarried adults (79 percent), abortion (74 percent) and drinking alcohol (54 percent) are viewed as morally wrong. Divorce, on the other hand, is largely considered "not a moral issue" by respondents (46 percent).

Similarly, 65 percent of respondents said that homosexuality should be discouraged by society, compared with 58 percent of the general public who say homosexuality should be accepted by society.

"Mormons like to use the phrase, 'Be in the world but not of the world,'" Campbell noted. "They are active and involved in their communities, but they have these beliefs and practices that set them apart a little bit, and sometimes that creates conflict or tension. (Homosexuality) is one of those issues where, rightly or wrongly, Mormons just have a different position than most of the rest of America."

The survey also illustrates how important family life is to most members of the LDS Church. Among life's priorities, being a good parent (81 percent) and having a successful marriage (73 percent) place higher than career concerns, having free time or even living a religious life. Some 67 percent of Mormon adults are married (compared with 52 percent of the general public), and 85 percent of them are married to another Mormon.

"As the Church and its members are increasingly the focus of media attention, we're eager to participate in conversations that help the public get to know us better," said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. "Even though the recent Pew study did not survey any of the Church's eight million members who live outside the U.S., it highlights some important aspects regarding who we are and what we believe.

"For example," Purdy continued, "the study found that Church members subscribe to traditional Christian beliefs, have high moral standards, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives and communities, are active in serving others and have a profound dedication to family. These results reflect the Church's message that a deep commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ brings lasting happiness."

Speaking for the Pew Research Center, Lugo said the idea for the survey was born last summer, "around the time that a Newsweek cover story and a New York Times article declared that the United States was experiencing a 'Mormon moment.'"

"That got us thinking," Lugo said in the survey's preface. "Over the years, numerous polls have gauged public attitudes toward Mormons, who make up about 2 percent of all U.S. adults. But what do Mormons think about their place in American life? With the rising prominence of members of the LDS Church in politics, popular culture and the media, do Mormons feel more secure and accepted in American society? What do they think about other religions? What do they believe, how do they practice their faith and what do they see as essential to being a good Mormon and to leading a good life?"

An advisory panel was recruited to help the Pew Forum staff create the survey. The panel featured a number of Latter-day Saints who have professional experience in Mormon studies and research, including Campbell, Cornwall, Matthew Bowman of Hampden-Sydney College, Terryl Givens of the University of Richmond and Allison Pond of the Deseret News.

"We helped them to formulate the questions, and to frame them in the kind of language that Mormons use," Campbell said.

After a period of testing, the survey was conducted among respondents who identified themselves as Mormons (it also included qualifying questions that made it clear that respondents were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as opposed to other churches whose members may refer to themselves as Mormons).

"Since Mormons represent about 2 percent of the population, you'd have to call 98 people before you'd get a Mormon, and that would be very expensive," said Cornwall, who is also editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. "But they had a fancy way of finding Mormons, including going back to Mormons they had found in the course of doing previous surveys, so they were able to get their sample in a cost-effective way."

Care was also taken to make sure the survey included those who had land lines as well as those who have only cell phones — a growing area of concern among those who conduct public opinion research today.

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