12 Questions with David E. Campbell Part II

January 2, 2011 | 18 comments
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American GraceHere is Part II of our 12 Questions interview with David E. Campbell, co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (see here for Part I). In this half of the interview Campbell answers questions related specifically to his and Robert Putnam’s research concerning Mormonism.

1. Mormons feature prominently in this book. I’m biased to say that this is because, as you state on page 15, Mormonism is a “highly distinctive tradition[] that, because of [its] size, [is] often neglected in analyses of the American religious environment.” Despite our currently being in “the Mormon moment,” however, I suspect that many would claim that the prominence of Mormonism in your study is merely a result of your being one of the authors. How legitimately is Mormonism stacked up alongside the other traditions you analyze in order to accurately gauge the American religious scene? And can you speak to the reaction of your audience at large with regard to your discussion of Mormonism and its prominence in your analysis?

I confess that I wondered myself whether reviewers would criticize the book as featuring Mormons too prominently. (As an aside, you may be interested to know that our chief ethnographer, Shaylyn Romney Garret, is also LDS). I can report that, thus far, no one has raised this as an issue. To the contrary, one prominent scholar (non-LDS) who reviewed an early version of the manuscript actually suggested that we say more about Mormons!  But if someone were to bring up the role played by Mormons in the book, I am happy to defend placing Mormonism alongside the other major religious traditions in the United States. Numerically, there is no question that Mormons deserve to be studied. But, just as importantly, Mormons truly are distinctive sociologically, and have received short shrift in the empirical study of religion. Indeed, my next book will be an exploration of Mormons and politics, as there is a need for a book that carefully examines Mormons’ political beliefs and behavior.

2. It seems that the aim of the book is twofold: first, to give sociological evidence that religious diversity and personal spiritual fluidity have been a positive phenomenon in recent times that has (surprisingly) served to harbor religious tolerance in America; second (more implicitly), that our religious diversity ought to harbor tolerance. In what ways has Mormonism as a religious tradition added to or detracted from this public spirit of tolerance?

The story of Mormons and religious tolerance is double-sided. On the one hand, Mormons themselves are very accepting of other religions. Mormons rate other religions very highly. Given the emphasis placed on the great apostasy within LDS teachings, I would not have necessarily predicted that Mormons would be so warm toward other religions. The explanation appears to be that Mormons are also the most likely to say that people of other religions can go to “heaven.” Readers of this blog will, of course, recognize that such a question has a unique meaning in Mormonism. In LDS theology, heaven might be thought to mean a degree of glory, even if it falls short of the celestial kingdom. But, perhaps even more importantly, the doctrine of redeeming the dead opens an avenue to the highest degree of post-mortal glory. That is, the LDS emphasis on redeeming the dead appears to foster an appreciation for other religions, notwithstanding Mormon teachings about the apostasy. The future apparently outweighs the past.

That’s the good news. The bad news is the fact that Mormons are viewed very negatively by people of most other religions. Why is that? The data are clear: Mormons have “cocooned” themselves into religiously homogeneous social networks. And I emphasize that this is not only true for Utah Mormons, or Mormons who live in heavily LDS communities. By being so insular, Mormons do not often build bridges to people of other religions, and thus do not benefit from the good feelings that accompany such personal relationships. If there is a message for Mormons in American Grace, it is that Latter-day Saints ought to stop being so insular and instead develop inclusive social networks.

I am an optimist and so believe that because of the good feelings Mormons have toward other faiths that it is possible for Latter-day Saints to do better at befriending those of other faiths. But changing a culture is difficult.

3. Another major theme of your study concerns the rising generation’s disillusionment with religion’s (particularly conservative religion’s) political ties in American, citing this as a primary cause of young people abandoning organized religion. Despite your vignette about the “liberal” Pioneer Ward, as you acknowledge, Mormons are strongly conservative (including members of Pioneer Ward). Likewise, you note (e.g., your chart on 440) that most Mormons claim that their politics are a result of their religious beliefs. Do Mormon youth buck the trend of disillusionment? Or are we in fact seeing significant attrition on account of what you call the “If A then B” bias that believing Mormons ought to be Republican? There have been a number of prominent discussions lately (like this one) about a significant change amongst younger Mormons leaning more to the left; does your own research speak to such claims?

Unfortunately, our data are unable to speak to trends in the political attitudes of young Mormons, simply because we do not have enough Mormons to divide them up by age-cohort. In other data I have examined I actually see little evidence that young Mormons are shifting leftward. As just one, but very important, example, Mormons under age 30 are just as likely to identify as Republicans as Mormons who are age 30-49 and 50-64. Sixty percent of Mormons identify as Republicans in all three of those age groups. (Those 65 and older are a little more likely to be Republican, as 66 percent of them identify with the GOP). These numbers are taken from data collected by You-Gov Polimetrix as part of a nationwide study known as the Cooperative Congressional Election Study.

However, trends in the politics of small population groups are difficult to track accurately, so it is entirely possible that there are political changes afoot that may lead young Mormons to shift leftward. If any issue could cause young Mormons to reconsider their attachment to the Republican Party, it is immigration. Mormons of all ages are more liberal on immigration policy than the population as a whole, and far more than other politically-conservative groups (like evangelical Protestants). Given that young people are more likely than their elders to switch party allegiances, if immigration were to cause a political shift among Mormons, I would expect it to occur among the young.

4. You note that “Mormons, especially Mormon women, appear to be the only substantial holdouts against the growing and substantial consensus across the religious spectrum in favor of women playing a fuller role in church leadership.” Nevertheless, I was rather surprised by your numbers: 30% of Mormons favor female clergy: 48% of men favoring it but only 10% of women. What do you think these numbers say about Mormon culture with regard to women and ecclesiastical authority? And what is behind the dramatic discrepancy between men & women’s feelings on this issue in the church?

Interestingly, this same issue has arisen on the Exponent II blog, where it has spurred a fascinating discussion. Those who want to explore this issue further can do so at http://www.the-exponent.com/ [see here].

In brief, let me note that I would caution that statistics for subgroups (men vs. women) of a small group (Mormons) have a wide margin of error or, more technically, confidence interval. Thus, while we can have confidence that Mormon men and women differ on the question of whether women should be clergy, which for Mormons would mean holding the priesthood, I would not be terribly confident in the precise numbers. Nonetheless, this leaves the question of why there is any difference, and why women are less likely than men to say that Mormon women should hold the priesthood.

Part of the explanation is simply that, as has been noted, Mormon women are more likely to be religious traditionalists than men. In the LDS context, believing that the priesthood should be held by men only is certainly the traditionalist position.  But that is probably not the whole explanation. I also suspect that those women who truly object to a male-only priesthood have left the LDS Church and would not report their religious identification as Mormon. For men, this is less likely to be a make-or-break issue, and so a “feminist Mormon male” is more likely to remain in the faith. Consequently, when Mormon women are asked this question they presumably have thought about the issue and therefore made peace with the role of women in the LDS Church.

5. You discuss congregation shopping and note various reasons why persons will switch congregations. Given that Mormon “shopping” is rather limited (while one might “shop” when deciding which part of a city they want to live in, our nearly uniform style of worship rather defeats the purpose), how would you extend this research to Mormonism? Do we see similar patterns in Mormons who leave the faith? Is it right to presume that shopping religions is more rare than shopping congregations?

Empirically, you are correct that Mormons report far less congregation-shopping than members of other religions. Although it is also interesting that Mormons still report some congregation-shopping, but much of that is probably a matter of deciding to live in one neighborhood versus another.

It is also correct that Americans are more likely to switch congregations than religions. But, as you note, switching LDS wards is not likely to change much about one’s worship experience. And it would definitely not mean much of a change in what is taught over the pulpit or in Sunday School lessons, etc. Thus, when Mormons are unhappy with their religion, it seems more likely that it would result in becoming inactive or even leaving the faith rather than switching wards (which Church policy makes difficult, although I have found that just how difficult varies according to local leadership). In American Grace, we report that Mormons are about as likely to leave their faith as are evangelicals, but that both groups have much lower switching rates than Catholics or mainline Protestants. So, comparatively speaking, Mormons have a high retention rate. This is undoubtedly due to the emphasis placed on religious education and on the relatively low interfaith marriage rate among Mormons. But while comparatively high, the Mormon retention rate is still only about 60 percent. In other words, two out of five people raised as Mormons drop out of the faith in adulthood.

6. Your research shows Jews to be—broadly speaking—the “best liked religion in the country.” This fact appears to be in spite of their geographical concentration and relatively small numbers—variables you cite as leading to suspicion and intolerance, with Mormons, Muslims, and Buddhists as prime examples. Why the difference between Jews and Mormons? Mormons also seem a counterexample to your claim that shared goals lead to increased tolerance, given several decades of Mormon partnering with evangelicals on social issues. What is it that is uniquely off-putting about Mormons? Or are we simply a bit behind and soon to catch up to  Jews? If so, what’s kept us lagging?

Actually, there is a big difference between Jews and Mormons that helps to explain the difference in how the two groups are perceived. Jews engage in a lot more “religious bridging” than Mormons. While, as noted above, Mormons are one of the the most religiously insular groups in America, Jews are one of the least.

On the question of Mormon-evangelical partnering: the fact that Mormons are perceived so negatively by evangelicals in spite of their shared political positions should serve as a sobering lesson. Politics make strange bedfellows, but it does not necessarily win you friends. The sort of contact that we hypothesize leads to religious tolerance consists of personal relationships, not simply shared political goals.

18 Responses to 12 Questions with David E. Campbell Part II

  1. Ben Park on January 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    “If there is a message for Mormons in American Grace, it is that Latter-day Saints ought to stop being so insular and instead develop inclusive social networks.”

    Amen. I sincerely hope this message spreads as wide as possible.

    Thanks for the interview, David; this was very enlightening. I’m excited to start the book.

    And thanks to T&S for providing the venue, and to James for asking very thoughtful questions.

  2. DavidH on January 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I agree that as a people, practicing Mormons are quite insular. Some of that comes from affinity of belief with other Mormons and shared experiences, but some of it is because the time commitments associated with Mormonism are so exhausting. Another reason, I think, is that the Mormon culture puts little encouragement or value on associating with people outside the faith except as potential converts.

    In my experience the cocooning is more at the adult level than at the child or youth level–at least outside the Mormon culture region. I was raised mostly outside of it, and my closest friends then (some of whom I am still friends with) were from other faiths. My children also were raised in an area with few LDS (roughly nine students in the entire seminary for their high school of 2500). And their best friends also tended to be outside of our faith community. I think the military is a similar experience, that bonds form among faith barriers. My son-in-law’s marine buddies, with who he is still very close, are from different faiths.

    One other observation–my stake for a couple of years had, what I thought, was a novel “missionary” experiment. Our assignment was not to proselyte or invite people to hear missionaries. It was simply, at least once each month, to do something with a family or person outside our faith–like dinner, play basketball or whatever. I thought it was a great idea, although I did not comply with that directive any better than I have complied with other missionary program directive. (Don’t tell anyone.)

  3. Naismith on January 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    These were great questions, both sets.

  4. grego on January 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing, both of you.

  5. aquinas on January 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    “Indeed, my next book will be an exploration of Mormons and politics, as there is a need for a book that carefully examines Mormons’ political beliefs and behavior.”

    Looking forward to such a needed book.

  6. LeoVA on January 3, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I’m surprised the issue of gay rights was not brought up. Aside from polygamy, Mormons are now most defined by their anti-gay crusades to the public at large. Having spent most of the last 2 decades investing their political and financial capital in fighting gay marriage, the Prop 8 protests exposed LDS political meddling.

    Since young people across the board are more gay friendly, including LDS youth, this seems to be more important politically than immigration. LDS youth are unlikely to know many immigrants personally, but highly likely to have gay LDS family members. It also seems to be a large factor in inactivity among young LDS.

    This article also fails to address the large numbers of young Mormons moving to inactivity, and the difference between inactive and active LDS in their political identity. With 60-70% of Mormons not actively participating in regular church activity, this is a significant oversight.

  7. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Based on my experience of having lived in not only Utah and Idaho but also Washington State, Colorado Springs, the San Francisco Bay Area, Omaha, the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of DC, Tokyo and other parts of Japan, I feel that I must disagree with the “60-70%” inactivity number that LeoVA offers. The 40% figure that is offered in the interview is much more in accord with my own observations. And even that does not define the extent to which many less active members continue to have significant contacts with the Church and its common beliefs.

    In general, observing instances of Church involvement in major political controversies including the Equal Rights Amendment and Proposition 8 in California, to the extent that political opponents of the Church take up an attack on the Church itself, rather than simply debate the issue at hand, the net effect is to reinforce the idea that a political position is a test of one’s Church membership, and there are relatively few people, including youth and young adults, who place a particular political position higher in their life priorities than the all-encompassing, eternal matter of religious faith and building an LDS family. While the people attacking the Church may feel heartened by the defections to their side, they are not seeing the entrenchment of the many who are reinforced in the notion that loyalty to the church and their religious covenants necessarily leads them to a certain position on that political issue.

    If anyone who is an advocate for expansion of LGBT political rights is truly interested in building political consensus behind specific measures, rather than in bludgeoning their opposition with court rulings of questionable legal standing, they would do well to take religion out of their own rhetoric, stop trying to tell Mormons that they are being bad Mormons, and rather appeal to common goals and standards of tolerance and equity.

    Similarly, the change in the policy on ordination of black members did not take place because of a rebellion by Mormons; rather, when the Church was being attacked over that issue, the response it evoked was to tell those who were not believers in the reality of priesthood authority that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

  8. Clark on January 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    I think the Jewish bit has been better described by recognizing many conservative religious groups (including Mormons) see Jews as important for their millennial ideas. At the same time on the left and the less religious side of things being accepting of Jews is important both in reaction to past anti-semitism as well as multiculturalism. So Jews are loved or at least liked by both sides of the spectrum. I think the ambiguity between race and religion here contributes a lot as well.

    In contrast Mormons are distrusted by Evangelicals and thus most of the conservative religious side of things but also distrusted by secularists and the left due to both our religiosity as well as our political conservativism. So we get it from both sides.

    I think this explains things best more than necessarily our being insular. (Which isn’t to knock that as important) It is interesting though that as Jews become less insular they tend to lose their Jewishness. The Jews who remain the most distinct are conservative ones who also are far, far more insular than Mormons.

    While I think Pres. Hinkley deserves a lot of praise for attempting to get Mormons to reach out of our more closed social networks there also are costs to that. In some ways we developed as a people due to being persecuted and being thought different. I think it’s fair to worry that in some ways we’ll lose our distinct character as our social networks broaden. Perhaps too much. It’s probably because of their insular nature that Jews remained a distinct people over 2000 years when so many other groups largely disappeared. Although it’s also interesting to note that so many of modern Jews can trace lineage to pre-12th century Spain prior to the persecution. Genetic analysis shows a considerable influx of European genes prior to that — not that this is necessarily that relevant to Mormons who have a large constant influx of converts unlike Judaism. Just that it is interesting looking at the factors that let Judaism survive as a unique culture in the midst of overwhelming Christianity (and Islam for those in the middle-east.

    I have to second Raymond’s point about inactivity. There are a lot of inactive people who still consider themselves Mormon in various ways. It’s a complex issue and most statistical snapshots miss the nuance.

  9. James Olsen on January 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Clark, I think you’d be interesting in Nate’s recent post on this matter (http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/12/why-folks-dislike-mormons/).

    And there’s certainly a lot of literature on the insular nature of Judaism being its savior and bane (halakic requirements to live in close communities lead to both pogroms and close ethnic/religious survival).

    I share your nervousness. What we want is to be good, open neighbors, and still be close-knit Mormons. Very difficult to do.

  10. Chino Blanco on January 4, 2011 at 12:23 am

    The call for Mormons to “develop inclusive social networks” sounds like a worthy prescription, but the Contact Hypothesis (i.e., that an increase in intergroup personal relationships tends to lead to a boost in good feelings between groups) comes with caveats, one being that the minority group’s behavior needs to be found to be inconsistent with prevailing negative stereotypes.

    LDS pollster Gary Lawrence has the data that shows what happens when interaction winds up reinforcing prejudice: “37% of all Americans do not know a Mormon. And 55% of all Americans do not know an active Mormon. In fact, those who know one Mormon have a worse opinion of us than those who don’t know any Mormons.”

    Think about that last line for a moment. And then think about how the last paragraph in comment #7 would go over with most non-racist non-Mormons (the commenter appears to present Mormon acquiescence with the pre-1978 priesthood ban as a good thing). Yikes.

    My sense is that for any real progress to occur, the internal Mormon cultural changes need to happen before any outreach campaign begins. Otherwise, per Gary Lawrence’s polling, it’s gonna be one step forward, two steps back, and we can expect to be back here next January wondering why the Mormon public image has only gotten worse during the intervening year.

  11. Ryan on January 4, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Regarding the insularity of Mormons, my wife and I have, over the past 8 years or so, found that our efforts to foster relationships with those not of our faith have met with rather limited success. (To be fair, in our current area, we’ve gotten the same response from our ward ‘family’. I would also say that those successes have been rather sweet.) I’m sure our personalities don’t attract everyone, but the variety of people we have engaged is such that I’m led to conclude that either we are among the most disagreeable people on the planet or most people give lip service to the ‘idea’ of meeting people of different faiths, but don’t actually do much.

    I have also perceived (rightly or wrongly) that the more expansive one’s view of Mormonism (not in a heterodox/borderline-apostate-kind-of-way, but in a Mormonism-is-truth-Brigham-Young-kind-of-way), the less insular one is. Conversely, the more traditional one is in a culturally Mormon way, the more insular. Hopefully my awkward way of expressing ideas will still make sense. (It’s late.)

  12. Robert C. on January 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Very interesting interview—thanks guys!

    Aren’t the obvious culprits for dislike of Mormons polygamy (for conservatives) and the priesthood ban on blacks (for liberals)?

    Obviously, these two issues interact with the issue of insularity (and other issues) in important ways, but without these two strong pieces of easy-to-drop criticisms of Mormons, from both sides, it’s not hard to imagine Mormons being significantly more liked….

  13. Ken on January 4, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Robert C.: “Aren’t the obvious culprits for dislike of Mormons polygamy (for conservatives) and the priesthood ban on blacks (for liberals)?”

    I doubt it; you may be right with respect to the first, but I doubt you’re right with respect to the second: I think our continued insistence on upholding traditional marriage has supplanted the blacks-and-the-priesthood issue for liberals. Just my two cents (or less ;D) …

  14. Michael on January 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Ken (#13),

    If we were really upholding traditional marriage, we would be upholding polygamy. That is the traditional model that was followed for centuries. The monogamous, Ozzie and Harriett defintion to which you allude is the aberration.

  15. Robert C. on January 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Good points, Ken and Michael. The puzzle is that Evangelicals also frequently oppose homosexuality, and yet don’t receive the backlash—though I suppose Evangelicals are less united (and prominent, arguably) than Mormons in opposing homosexuality (at least in some important sense, related to the unique role of authority in Mormonism, since homosexuality can frequently be a divisive and hot-button topic for Mormons…), so perhaps Mormons are easier targets of disdain than Evangelicals when it comes to homosexuality.

  16. Adam Greenwood on January 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Traditions that have been in abeyance for over, say, five hundred years are arguably not traditional anymore.

    Or at least that’s what the HOA board said about my headhunting wall.

  17. Chino Blanco on January 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    It’s no puzzle, Robert C.

    At the end of the day, what is it – exactly – that makes Mormons different from other faiths? As it turns out, it’s got a lot to do with vertical vs. horizontal and geographic vs. non-geographic organizational structures.

    Mormons are vertical and geographic (i.e., you all report to SLC and you’re organized by geography). Evangelicals, on the other hand, are horizontal and non-geographic (which is why they have a harder time organizing, but which also makes it harder for folks like me to zoom in). Catholics are semi-vertical (i.e., compliance depends on the local priest responding to whatever his bishop has to say).

    It’s not personal, it simply is what it is. The same qualities that facilitate amazing Mormon response times to natural (or political) disasters are the same ones that make it a no-brainer to take any questions regarding policy straight to SLC and otherwise require bringing pressure to bear directly on your beloved Brethren.

    It’s not that they’re bad guys, it’s simply that we all recognize where the buck stops, and that’d be somewhere in the vicinity of 50 E. North Temple.

  18. Alison Moore Smith on January 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Mormon women are more likely to be religious traditionalists than men

    In the church, men are the authority figures, always. Not only do LDS women have difficulty feeling “righteous” when they speak up against authority, but I think often they (because of being raised to see men as the authorities) don’t have much of a sense that women could be GOOD authority figures.

    I think it’s much like the perceptions of women as business leaders. If I remember correctly, women were more likely to dislike having female bosses than men. I’m hoping we are growing out of that phase — both in the culture and in the church.

WELCOME

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