Pew Research’s Forum on Religion & Public Life released a landmark study today entitled Mormons in America: Certain In Their Beliefs, Uncertain About Their Place in Society today that is the first of its kind not sponsored and/or published by the Church of Latter Day Saints. In creating the study, Pew conducted over 1000 interviews with self-identified Mormons in America to probe into their beliefs and values–both politically and spiritually–as well as their perception about the portrayal of Mormons in the media, and their acceptance in society by non-Mormons.
This skepticism about acceptance by non-Mormons is not without cause: In an open-ended question asking the general public what one word best describes the Mormon religion, the most commonly offered response was “cult.”
Parts of the study were predictable: 86% of Mormons have a favorable view of presidential candidate Mitt Romney compared to 38% of the general public (only 25% were fans of President Obama); 54% believe that television and film depictions of Mormons are negative; and, 62% feel Americans know “not too much or nothing” about Mormonism. Almost half believe that they are are subject to discrimination–a Pew survey done of non-Mormons about Mormons suggests this might be accurate.
The most interesting results were yielded from questions on morality and religious commitment, however. Keeping in mind that the study awards individuals with weekly church attendance, daily prayer, and high level of identification with the label of “high religious commitment,” 7 in 10 Mormons fall into that grouping–twice as many as would be found in the general public. Contrary to popular belief, only 2% of Mormons surveyed see polygamy as morally acceptable. With 86% identifying it as morally wrong, polygamy is presented as being even less acceptable than abortion (74% identifying it as morally wrong) and premarital sex (79%). Only 16% saw divorce as morally acceptable, but 46% said it wasn’t a moral issue and didn’t render an opinion on it.
In terms of morality, religious commitment, and even political leanings, the similarities in the poll between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity are staggering, despite the animosity between the two groups. In fact, a large portion of Evangelical Christians don’t even see Mormonism as a Christian denomination.
With 9 in 10 Mormons “satisfied with the way things are going in their own life” (compared to 75% of the general populace) and 92% rating their geographical community as being a positive one, Mormons are quite happy and quite confident in their own lifestyles. This is in spite of the fact that two-thirds don’t feel that they are a part of mainstream American culture. (Although a very similar number sees Mormonism on the rise in both practice and acceptance and are optimistic about the denomination’s future.)
In spite of myriad similarities in lifestyle–particularly with morality and commitment to family–between Mormonism and Evangelical Christians, there remains a divide between these groups, as well as a divide between Mormon Americans and their non-Mormon counterparts. In spite of this divide and a perception that there is discrimination, followers of Mormonism still rigorously maintain their faith. With the possibility of a Mormon being elected to the presidency this year, the understanding and acceptance of Mormons by mainstream Americans will be tested, but Mormons themselves seem hopeful, not pessimistic, about this.