LDS religious commitment high, Pew survey finds

Published: Friday, Jan. 13 2012 6:48 p.m. MST

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather inside the Conference Center in Salt Lake City during a session of general conference.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Editor's note: This article is the third in a five-part series examining survey findings on Mormons in America. Read the first article here and second article here.

Of all the numbers in the Pew Research Center's recently released survey of "Mormons in America," the highest, most overwhelming numbers are these: 98 percent of respondents said they believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 97 percent say their church is a Christian religion.

This comes on the heels of earlier surveys indicating that 32 percent of non-LDS U.S. adults say the LDS Church is not a Christian religion, and an additional 17 percent are unsure of LDS Christianity. The theological and semantic reasons for this can be complex, but for the 1,019 self-identified Mormons who participated in the Pew survey, their theological position is clear: Mormons believe in Jesus Christ, and they consider themselves to be Christian.

"Certainly in Latter-day Saint theology is this idea that if you understand who you are, you understand that there's a purpose in life, you understand your connection to God, that certainly has an impact on how you live your life and what you do, but also how you feel about your life and what you are doing," said Michael Purdy of the LDS Church Public Affairs office.

For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints surveyed, those life choices have much to do with their religious beliefs. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents indicate that religion is "very important" to them, 83 percent say they pray every day and 77 percent say they attend church at least once a week. Beyond that, a stunning 69 percent of respondents fit all three descriptions, saying that religion is very important to them, that they pray every day and that they go to church every week.

"By this measure," the report says, "Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than many other religious groups, including white evangelical Christians."

Part of the explanation for these high numbers may be that the survey focused only on those who self-identified as Latter-day Saints.

"The method they used tended to identify people who are strongly committed," said BYU sociologist Marie Cornwall, who advised the Pew Forum on the new survey. "They don't have the people who are kind of marginal. But that's okay; we just have to be careful with the way we interpret the findings."

One such finding is the relationship between religious commitment and education among Mormons.

David Campbell, a University of Notre Dame associate professor and another adviser on the survey, noted that the more educated respondents were, the higher their levels of religious commitment.

"I was a little surprised by that," said Campbell, who is LDS and who has extensively studied on the role of religion in the public square. "The more educated a Mormon is, the more likely they are to be wholehearted in their commitment to the church and its teachings."

That is different from other churches, he said, where more education tends to lead to more religious skepticism.

Pew Research Center officials also noted "a significant gender gap in religious commitment, with more Mormon women than men exhibiting a high level of religious commitment (73 percent vs. 65 percent)."

According to the Pew report, a similar "gender gap" is seen among the general public. A 2007 survey found 36 percent of U.S. women exhibited a high level of religious commitment, compared with 24 percent of men.

One series of questions asked about what it means to be a good Mormon. According to the respondents, in order to be a good Mormon it is "essential" to believe Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ (80 percent), work to help the poor (73 percent), hold regular family home evenings (51 percent), not drink coffee and tea (49 percent) and not watch R-rated movies (32 percent).

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