Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has completed a survey of more than a thousand Mormons in an effort to understand how Mormons see themselves and their place in the United States. The study included only members of the mainstream church, which is properly called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon is a nickname sometimes applied to the members of this church.

Pew Study shows Mormons live their religion.The study involved people who consider themselves members of the mainstream church, but they are of varying levels of testimony and practice. Despite this, the study showed that those who self-identify as Mormons tend to have unusually high levels of testimony concerning the validity of their religion. 77 percent of them attend church every week. 82 percent consider their religion very important to them and 83 percent pray daily. The report states that using these three factors as measures of religiosity, Mormons score higher than many other religions, including, the report says, white evangelical Christians.

One aspect of the study was unusual when compared to other religions. The study found that the more educated a Mormon is, the more likely he is to have a strong testimony and to practice his religion. In most religions, the reverse is normally true. The study showed that 85 percent of Mormons who are college graduates believe wholeheartedly in their religion, compared to 77 percent overall and 82 percent of adult Mormons younger than fifty. This is an important point to ponder.

When outsiders talk about what makes a Mormon, they normally focus on things that aren’t that important to Mormons themselves. The study asked Mormons to list what they considered essential in order to be a good Mormon. The most popular answer was to have a testimony that Joseph Smith saw a vision of God and Jesus Christ. This is the founding event in the church’s history and must be accepted to truly have a testimony. The second most popular answer was to care for the poor. Mormons have a strong tradition of humanitarian work. A humanitarian aid program assists people world-wide without regard to religion. Other programs are designed specifically to help members of the congregation who are experiencing temporary hardships. Of course, Mormons spend considerable time in small and even unofficial acts of service as well.

The report offered a glimpse into the religious commitments of those surveyed in other ways. It was noted that 65 percent had current temple recommend. A recommend gives a person permission to enter a Mormon temple to make covenants with God and to perform special ordinances. To receive one, a member must be an adult in good standing, have been a member of the Church for one year, and be obedient to the most important commandments. The member must also have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and of God and Jesus Christ. They must support their church leaders at all levels. Holding a recommend is a strong indicator of commitment to the faith.

79 percent of Mormons pay a full tithe of ten percent of earnings, the amount specified in the Bible—the word “tithe” means a tenth.

While Mormons share many beliefs in common with other religions, they have some beliefs that are unique in modern Christianity, even though they were the normal practice and belief in Biblical times. In these areas, Mormons had very high levels of testimony as well. 94 percent believe that God and Jesus Christ are separate beings, as shown in the Biblical vision of Stephen and in the Biblical baptism of Jesus Himself, when His Father said He was pleased with Jesus and identified Jesus as His Son. It is, of course, also demonstrated in the vision the first Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, saw in the 1800s.

94 percent believe that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, demonstrating, thereby, that they believe God leads His church through prophets, as demonstrated in the Bible. 91 percent believe in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. A previous study showed 91 percent also believe in the authenticity of the Bible as God’s word.

What is it that gives Mormons a higher rate of testimony and practice than most other religions? One reason is that prospective members are given a basic introduction to their religion by the missionaries and then taught to pray to know if it is true. This advice is based on James 1:5 in the Bible and on Moroni 10:4 in the Book of Mormon. The Bible verse tells us that if we need wisdom, we can ask God and He will give it.

Prospective members are taught that while it is helpful to hear the testimonies of others, we must not rely on them as the source of our own. Any mortal person can be misled, but God knows which church really is the true church. To know with certainty, we must ask Him. Once we’ve done so and received an answer, there can be no doubt in our minds as to the validity of our choices. This is why Mormons who have done this are not “convertibles.” Children, who may be baptized and confirmed at age eight, are also expected to do this prior to their baptisms. Older children and teens are encouraged to pray for confirmation more than once as they grow up and have questions or doubts. They are taught they must have their own testimonies gained through the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost.

Mormonism is not a religion that asks only that you show up for church on Sunday. Although Mormons live in ordinary communities and hold whatever career they choose, they are expected to live their religions at all times. One of the covenants they make at baptism is to take on the name of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and honor His name. This means they are Mormons and Christians all the time, not just on Sundays. This is why Mormons have a strong reputation for living clean lives—and, the study found—happy ones.

“’Ultimately, I suppose other Americans will judge our church — and perhaps all churches — by their relevance in how they touch and improve human lives right here on Earth as well as what they offer in the life to come,” wrote Michael Otterson, Public Affairs director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in his “On Faith” blog in the Washington Post. “Meanwhile, we welcome the friendship and regard of all groups, even as we retain our commitment to a unique identity. In the end … Latter-day Saints will strive to be good Mormons, true believers, kind neighbors and faithful friends.’” (quoted in “LDS religious commitment high, Pew survey finds,” By Joseph Walker, Deseret News, Published: Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 6:48 p.m. MST).

About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.

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