Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Most US Mormons approve of church’s LGBT exclusion policy, study shows

“Active Mormons by generation who ‘strongly agree’ with Part 1 of LGBT policy (apostasy, etc.)” RNS graphic by Jana Riess, The Next Mormons survey, 2016

(RNS) How do Mormons and former Mormons feel about the LDS Church’s exclusion policy that branded same-sex Mormon couples as “apostates” and banned their children from baby blessings and baptisms until they are 18?

As we mark the policy’s one-year anniversary, I wanted to release some of the data from The Next Mormons survey, which I have been running, as it relates to how Mormons of different generations in the U.S. feel about the policy in particular and homosexuality in general.

Here are three main takeaway points:

  1. In the sample of current Mormons, most either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the policy, but younger people are considerably less likely to strongly agree, especially women.
  2. Also, the second part of the policy — the part that bars children of same-sex marriage from baby blessings and baptisms — is noticeably less popular than the first, which defines Latter-day Saint adults who are in a same-sex marriage as being in apostasy.
  3. Among the former Mormon sample, both halves of the policy are wildly unpopular, with the majority saying they strongly disagree.

Excluding same-sex couples

Overall, 71% of current Mormons either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the first part of the policy (branding same-sex Mormon couples as apostates), with only 29% saying they disagree.

Current Mormons on LGBT policy, part 1

 

 

 

 

However, the nuances are worth exploring. When compared with people born before 1965, Millennial Mormons (young adults born from 1980 to 1998) show a drop of 18 points in the number who “strongly agree” that same-sex marriage should trigger a disciplinary council and possible excommunication. Members of Generation X are also considerably less enthusiastic about the “strongly agree” option than their parents.

Current 3G "strongly agree" LGBT policy part 1

Overall, then, with the first part of the policy, the data show that Mormons predominantly express support, but that support gets weaker from one generation to the next. The Boomer/Silent generation respondents sound certain and confident in their agreement; the younger generations less so.

This generational divide becomes even sharper when we look at a different question: the percentage who agree that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” This is a question that Pew Research asked in 2007 and 2014, so we have some data to which we can compare these answers.

Current 3G "Homosexuality should be accepted"

Though Mormons as a whole have shown another double-digit jump since Pew last asked the question in 2014, Millennials are still the only generation of Latter-day Saints to crack 50 percent support: More than half say homosexuality should be accepted.

Excluding children of same-sex couples

Among all current Mormon respondents, support for the policy is substantially less enthusiastic when we look at whether the church should bar children of same-sex marriage from baby blessings and baptisms.

Overall, there’s an 11-point drop among the entire active Mormon sample in the percentage of people who “strongly agree” (from 47% to 36%) and a 9-point rise in the percentage who either strongly or somewhat disagree (from 29% to 38%).

Much of this falls along predictable fault lines. Mormons who hold a current temple recommend are significantly more likely (55%) than others to say they “strongly agree” with barring children raised in same-sex families from blessings and baptisms. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to strongly agree (46% vs. 23%).

One surprise in the data was a nine-point gender divide. Two-thirds of men either strongly (37%) or somewhat (29%) agree with the the policy, but only 57% of Mormon women do.

In fact, 28% of active Mormon women “strongly disagree” with the policy about children — a 10-point jump from the men who say they strongly disagree. Another 14% of women “somewhat disagree.”

Considering that this is a policy that Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke of as “revelation from the Lord” in early 2016, it’s significant that 42% of active Mormon women — women we know from other data points are very orthodox in indices of religious belief — say they disagree.

Former Mormons

A final observation: If active Mormons either strongly or somewhat agree with the LGBT policy, the opposite can be said for our smaller sample of former or inactive Mormons: Most of them hate it.

Sixty-nine percent of former Mormons either strongly or somewhat disagree with branding same-sex couples as apostates, and 77% disagree with barring those couples’ children from blessings and baptisms.

In both cases, the respondents who said they “strongly” disagree far outweighed the more tepid “somewhat” disagreement.

Former Mormons on LGBT policy 2

One interesting difference among the former Mormons is that for them, it’s not Millennials who are leading the way toward a gentler stance toward LGBT individuals; All generations in the former Mormon data have negative feelings toward both halves of the policy. In fact, the oldest former Mormons had some of the highest rates of disagreement with banning children from infant blessings and baptism.

Here’s something I wish we had asked in the survey but didn’t: how many people in the former Mormon sample became former Mormons because of this policy.


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*February 16, 2017: This post was updated to reflect the percentages after “weighting,” a statistical technique that allows researchers to more accurately reflect a representative population.

(Jana Riess writes the “Flunking Sainthood” column for RNS and is working on “The Next Mormons,” a book project that includes a survey of Mormon attitudes on a host of issues)

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

32 Comments

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  • Most Mormons agreeing with the exclusion policy is something of a joke. The Mormons who didn’t agree with it LEFT, thereby ceasing to be Mormons. So of course those who stayed agree.

  • Count me among those who left the LDS Church because of this policy and the church’s treatment of LGBT people in general.

  • I was inactive for 2 years before the policy came out and didn’t have plans to return. When I heard about the policy last year it got me motivated enough to do the paperwork to remove myself and my family from the church records. This policy is so dehumanizing.

  • Jana, thanks for sharing this data. This is really important. I do think you missed one of the key observations, however. Is there any other point of our practice so closely tied to doctrine where anything like 28% of ACTIVE Mormons disagree with the Brethren? I don’t think there is anything close. In Mormondom, this constitutes a huge disagreement among the followers.

  • As an outsider, I see this policy as being akin to “dark skin is a curse from God”. It’s astounding that people still proclaim and obey such policies.

  • I think the LDS Church’s policies regarding LGBT are simple, straightforward, and fair. Moreover, I believe they are inspired.

    The fact so many people struggle with them is a good example of “calling good evil” as spoken of in scripture.

  • This makes me sad. I haven’t left the Church over the policy yet, but my heart is not in it like it used to be. The policy dealt a huge blow to my commitment level.

  • This reminds me a bit of the thousands of MX missilles proposed to be put in Utah. Utah polled at about 80% favoring the missiles. The first presidency put out a statement in 1981 that strongly opposed the missiles. Shortly after that Utah flip-flopped and 75% of Utah was opposed to the missiles.

  • I am REALLY looking forward to the final results of the study, and will almost certainly be picking up the book even though I supported the Kickstarter precisely to get a first look at the numbers. Having the raw data is great, but the analysis can be just as fascinating.

  • I’m an inactive Mormon for bout half my life, even married me a catholic. Most of my family is still active LDS. The LDS label of “apostate” is probably not totally necessary & not allowing children of LBGT parents get blessed or babtised is a little rough too. I understand how they don’t want to cause a poor dynamic in the home, but I think it causes it anyway. I don’t view the church any different tho. I became inactive years ago because I simply don’t believe in it. That’s all. Therefore, I don’t go. I allow those I love to have their faith in peace and they let me have mine. I guess what I don’t understand is why LBGT folks want anything to do with the Mormon church. If I’m not welcome somewhere, I don’t go. If there is a big party going on I wasn’t invited to, then I ignore the entire organization in the first place and have my own parties. Doesn’t make any of us less of a person if a private organization doesn’t believe in what I believe. Now, this in NO WAY constitutes abuse or blatant mistreatment of anyone, esp those of the LBGT community, but I feel like a lot of folks are bringing on the hurt and pain on themselves by taking this “rule” as a personal attack & becoming unhealthy with their obsession with it. Even those who made deliberate efforts to get their name removed from church records. Shoulda done that a long time ago when you left the church if you wanted to, vs waiting to get all stressed out about this ruling and feel like you’re “sticking it” to the man. I feel like there are better things that help your community you can be spending your time on than getting all riled up about not getting an invite to a party that people you don’t even like are throwing. I don’t know. I would like to see both sides happy and content. That’s all. Lots of bickering doesn’t help anyone.

  • It’s actually quite encouraging that so many Mormons know that Mormon leaders are wrong and uninspired about this. Including Russell Nelson’s obviously contrived and long-after-the-fact “revelation from the Lord” where he threw fellow apostle Christofferson and his equally lame announcement under the bus.

    Encouraging and hopeful that most of those who disagree are young and informed, but it’s also great the proportion of older Mormons who also see thru it.

  • Actually, it seems like a lot of active Mormons who know that their leaders are neither inspired nor fair. More among the younger ones but, still, the proportion of older Mormons with open eyes is actually kind of surprising.

  • Mormon leaders and still-active members have accumulated vast amounts of personal self-worth and “worthiness” within the sexual world view of their church.

    In general, it seems unlikely they would allow anything to dilute their huge investment and godblessed status, especially when you consider that genitalia are a central pillar of Mormon theology and cosmology and personal worth and worthiness.

    When you think about it, genitals come before the Mormon Christ and atonement and even before Elohim, Himself.

  • I agree–many Mormons and those who are not Mormon believe Mormon leaders are out of touch and don’t understand the world we live in and the problems we face. They think Mormon leaders and closed minded and bigoted in their beliefs and teaching.

    I have found that when I really listen to what they are saying, they are incredibly insightful and I think they have an understanding of things that is remarkable.

  • Thanks for the interesting information. Could you please provide a little more about the survey structure so we can understand it better, such as the sample size and how the participants were obtained (self-selected, random, online, etc. Also, I heard that the results above are from ‘active’ Mormons. If that is true or not, please state it. Thanks again!

  • I’ve always found that a reductive comparison. Almost like it is some person’s responsibility to determine another’s spiritual journey… When in reality, a spiritual journey is very personal, and only the business of the individual.

  • It may be reductive, but it is the analogy used by Christ. He’s also indicated that “narrow is the way and strait is the gate,” which doesn’t bode well for those who believe they can pursue an individualized “spiritual journey” that does not comport with the Gospel.

  • There are still many branches of Mormonism that accept all that come unto Christ, like the Community of Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship. Mormonism and Christianity are still true, in spite of poor man made policies.

  • Which Gospel? The Gospel of Jesus Christ? Or the Gospel of Jesus Christ via LDS Church and Joseph Smith’s translation?

  • So I guess that those who reject Jesus Christ’s message of love and inclusion are a little too fat and crooked to make it through that strait gate and narrow path.

  • Its also reductive because tares like to claim themselves to be wheat, all under the guise of religion. Meanwhile, it is CHRIST who winnows out the chaff, not pseudo-religious hypocrites.

  • Christ isn’t inclusive, and His love is not blind acceptance. See, e.g., Rev. 21:27 and Psalm 37:38.

  • Jana, Unfortunately, I just became aware of this study, its findings, and the now closed Kickstarter campaign. I would have been willing to donate to it. The results are stunning, both as to better than I would have guessed and worse than–being an opinionated and borderlands saint.

    But, I can find no information on how you do your survey (phone with random digit dialing, phone with sourced sample–hopefully with country-wide representation, online via established panels?) or how large the sample size is.

  • It comes from understanding. First, a blessing is a non-saving ordinance, not really necessary, but is a celebration of a baby joining a family and that would be inappropriate to celebrate a baby joining something the LDS church does not recognize as marriage. Second, to be baptized you need to say that you support the prophet of the church and the church’s teachings, which include being against gay marriage. Now how can a child make that decision to be against their parents? They can’t. It’s merciful to remove that decision until they’re an adult. When they are an adult though, they can deny gay marriage and be baptized. It’s the same policy applied to plural marriage, another form of marriage that the LDS church does not recognize.

    It’s not saying that the child from a gay marriage or gay parents cannot get baptized, especially since Mormons believe everyone will be baptized eventually. It’s saying that until they are an adult and can safely deny gay marriage, they shouldn’t have to make the choice.

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