What do Members and Former Members Believe About God? Insights from the B.H. Roberts Foundation’s Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey

A guest post from Josh Coates and Stephen Cranney This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  In the 2023 CFLDSS we asked the standard question about belief in God that is also asked in the General Social Survey, an omnibus survey of Americans asked just about every year that has asked a question about belief in God since the late 1980s. “Which statement comes closest to expressing what you believe about God.” I don’t believe in God I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind  I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it The graph below has the result for our three current member samples, the two former member samples, the 2022 General Social Survey sample of respondents who are “Nones,” and indicated no religious affiliation, and the 2022 General Social Surveys sample of respondents who indicated a religious faith. (And yes, we know that there are agnostics that don’t fit into…

“Tened en Dios Confianza”

I have not been able to find out much about “Tened en dios confianza,” nor about its author, José V. Estrada G. On a more personal note, however, this was the first hymn that I worked with when I started contemplating the Mexican Mission Hymns Project around six years ago. The original music for the hymn that I wrote was even one of the five I submitted for consideration with the new hymnbook.

No Division Among You: A Review

No Division Among You: Creating Unity in a Diverse Church, ed. Richard Eyre (Deseret Book, 2023) is a beautiful book in its intentions and efforts. The book is a collection of 14 essays that discuss ways to view the need for unity while embracing diversity. Each essay is by a different author, bringing in diverse perspectives of members who identify across the spectrum—Black and White, homosexual and heterosexual, male and female. Each shared experiences and perspectives that help build frameworks for how to approach unity as a diverse church.

In Defense of Missionary Numbers

There’s a fun thing people do with Dalle where they have it create an image with a certain descriptor, then continually ask it to make it “even more X.” In this case I asked it to create a righteous-looking missionary, then asked it to be even more righteous, then even more righteous, etc. After six iterations “The image now portrays the ultimate embodiment of righteousness in a Mormon missionary, reaching a celestial level of virtue and spiritual enlightenment.” It has become fashionable to deride the use of missionary numbers, ministering metrics, or other quantitative indicators in Church work. An overemphasis on numeric indicators bothered me as much as the next missionary, and nobody can accuse me of being a “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” type member who thinks that Zion will be achieved with some second-coming-of-Mitt Romney MBA clone to whom is revealed God’s chosen seven step program for managerial success. Still, there are people who swing too far the other way, and think that if nothing but a burning testimony of the Savior was good enough for Paul it should be good enough for our missionaries.  Except it’s really not. Our missionaries are essentially late-teenagers, and as annoying as it is to admit it, it was clear in the mission that having some kind of quantitative standard that we were expected to hit did in fact lead to more proselytizing overall. Were the motives absolutely pure? No, but…

“Placentero nos es trabajar”

“Placentero nos es trabajar” or “Despedida” is one of the more popular hymns that is included in Latter-day Saint hymn books, written by a Latter-day Saint, but not in the English hymnal at this time. Hence, I’ve been consistent in pointing it out as a likely candidate for inclusion in the forthcoming hymnal. While I’ve talked about this hymn in the past, this post will serve two purposes—first, it is going to be where I pick up the Mexican Mission Hymns series. Second, it’s also a co-post for a recent interview with John A Gonzalez—the grandson of Andrés Carlos González, the author of the hymn—at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.

Hymnal Watch: February 2024

A YouTube channel called “For All the Saints” recently interviewed Ray Robinson—a member of the team that is creating the new hymnbook. There were several notable observations made by Robinson that I want to highlight:

Latter-day Saint Book Review: A Life of Jesus, by Shusaku Endo

A Life of Jesus is an introduction to the life of Christ by renowned Catholic Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, the author of Silence, a book set during the early persecutions of Christians in Japan. Much of Endo’s work revolves around the tensions of being a Catholic in a very non-Christian country, and this book was written as a guide to the life of Christ specifically for people with a Japanese religious disposition who are less receptive to harsh, jealous, father-figure Gods. 

If Everybody is a Leader No One is a Leader

“Followers of God” Anecdotally it seems that 21st century society is obsessed with “leadership.” Students are encouraged to be leaders, we are raising a generation of leaders, and leadership is considered a virtue up there with honesty and hard work. This sentiment has always struck me as being a little Ponzi-scheme-ish. Quite simply, by definition not everybody can be a leader, and emphasizing leadership not so implicitly degrades the followers, when in actuality the leaders are nothing without the followers. If anything, I think there are too many people trying to be leaders, and that aspiring to be a leader is not necessarily a virtue, with a surplus of people wanting to be leaders without a willingness to be a follower. The phrase “overproduction of elites” comes to mind (I got the term from Ross Douthat at the NY Times, but I’m not sure if it’s original to him). We have raised a generation  or two that they will all be presidents, A-list actors, public intellectuals, great civil rights leaders, and yes, General Authorities, and not with the idea that having a typical 9-5 job, family life, and secretarial calling is a fulfilling and worthy existence. As a result, we’re left with a bunch of disgruntled middle agers who didn’t “make it” because the number of slots available is drastically less than the number of people aspiring for them. (As an aside, a common critique of this point is that…

The Curious Role of the Book of Mormon Witnesses in Evangelical Debates about the Resurrection

While we Latter-day Saints have our apologists and reason-based arguments for faith and defenses against attacks on the faith, those are, by our own admission, to help create a place for faith or respond to criticisms that attack that faith, we are careful to formally base our religious epistemology in the numinous, personal spiritual experience.  In contrast, there is a line of thinking in some Christian circles that the resurrection’s eyewitness accounts are compelling enough to force any reasonable person to accept the reality of the resurrection based on sound historical evidence alone. I’ve heard these arguments a number of times from a number of sources, and while I (rather conventionally and boringly) ultimately don’t find them compelling from a historiographical point of view, they are interesting.  Where Mormonism comes into these debates is that a common skeptical rejoinder has become “well, if we are forced into believing in the resurrection because of these eyewitness accounts, what about the Book of Mormon witnesses?” And then the response often tends to devolve into distorting what the witnesses were or did, because ultimately the point is a good one. (One of the Protestants making this argument is renowned apologist William Lane Craig, and Stephen Smoot has already done a more thorough analysis of Craig’s views on the Church.) Protestants aren’t the only ones whose truth claims have eyewitnesses, and once you step outside of their theological world there are other examples of…

“In his own tongue, and in his own language”: Or, all Church leaders now speak 27 languages

“Hearing the gospel in their own tongue” A January 2024 report on advances in AI and what they mean for the Church New Unicorn-startup-on-the-block Elevens Labs has rolled out a more refined dubbing/translation service. Now one can simply upload any video under 45 minutes long and hear it in one of 27 different languages in the voice of the speaker. (Somebody should “back translate” Elder Uchtdorf speaking in German back into English to see how close it gets). Word on the street is that it is pretty accurate.  Implications for the Church:  A lot of the more esoteric debates about things in the Church like Egyptian papyrology, how Elder so-and-so’s remark might be interpreted by this or that group, and ancient Mesoamerican population growth rates were the purview of the sociocultural elite in the Church in English-speaking countries. Google Translate solved some of this, but increasingly even more popular content such as podcasts or YouTube channels from Church and Church-adjacent (or anti-Church) influencers is going to be widely available to the international Church. I suspect Church influencer culture going international will be a net bad thing, but I might be wrong. Obviously, this could make General Conference translations much, much more efficient, although if it’s still not 100% equivalent I suspect the Church will continue with traditional translation (and even if it is institutional inertia and internal incentives will probably keep the translation department there for the time being). Still,…

Latter-day Saints and Biblical Theology

Interpreting the scriptures is a vital part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Joseph Spencer discussed a particular approach to interpreting the Bible—Biblical Theology. In particular, he focused on recent developments in Latter-day Saint Biblical Theology. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Why That New Communications Director Might Actually Be a Problem

In the latest hullabaloo about the new Communications Director for the whole Church, the UN-is-trying-to-take-over-the-government black helicopter types are being prominently platformed in the media, as if the only concerns with the new Director are coming from people in Northern Idaho with stockpiles of weaponry who are concerned with his past employment by the UN Foundation (which, incidentally, isn’t even run by the UN).   However, there are some real concerns with having upper-level management who are not “on-mission.” The fact is that for a variety of reasons the Church often finds itself in the maelstrom of hot-button, sexuality-related topics (although maybe that’s fading in the mirror? In the next few years there will be college students who weren’t even alive during Prop 8…), and it needs somebody in its corner on these issues that it can trust will actually promote its own interests, even if it might reflect poorly on him among the cocktail scene as he works for what is fundamentally, and will be for the foreseeable future, a heteronormative faith.   Of course I’m sure that he will say one thing when the brethren are in the room, but there are a thousand little decisions in strategy, hiring, promotions, and the like where there is enough plausible deniability where he could be running interference on those exact issues where the Church is in conflict with the conventional wisdom of the cocktail crowd (which are going to be the exact…

Pioneer Utah and Gender Inequality in Education

Back in the day, the census would record the literacy of respondents (in any language), so I used the IPUMS data (that I have used in several posts before) to access the complete censuses of pioneer Utah and look at literacy across time by gender. The complete US census data across all the years literacy was asked was big enough that it would have taken hours for my computer to crunch the numbers, so I selected Texas and Vermont (the two states on either side of Utah in terms of FIPS codes).The jump in illiteracy in 1870 is an artifact of the fact that that was the year when they began asking the question to anybody 10+ instead of 20+. As seen, Utah actually had relatively high literacy, higher than Vermont during the same time. Additionally, the gender gap in literacy was negligible, while in Vermont men were more literate, while in Texas women were more literate. Code is here.

I once was Lehi

In the scriptures, we find (among other things) stories we slip into in order to make sense of our lives. We are Adam and Eve, Joseph preparing for a famine, David facing Goliath, Alma the Younger looking back at his choices. We teach people to seek answers by earnestly praying like Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. I’ve never been the rich young man, but I’ve been a good Samaritan a time or two. And I was once Lehi, warned to take my family and flee. I mean that metaphorically, but not figuratively.

Moral Luck and Homosexuality in the Church

Most of us have at some point checked our phone while driving. However, for a small minority of cases somebody walks in front of us and gets killed. We then (somewhat rightfully) blame the distracted driver for the death, even though most of us have inadvisedly checked our phone while driving, and it’s just the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time that led to it being much more serious than a peccadillo of checking our phone when we know we shouldn’t. This principle is known in philosophy as “moral luck.” We often blame people for things that they do not in fact have control over. In this case, we have control over checking the phone, but not in somebody being in the wrong place and the wrong time and interacting with the phone checking leading to an accident. A while ago I had a conversation with a friend where the issue came up whether we would prefer if our child was “Actually Gay”™ or “Fashionably Queer”™. (As I’ve mentioned before here, this discussion is less theoretical for me, since given what we know about fraternal birth order effect on male homosexuality, and my own family structure, I have about an even chance that at least one of my sons will be gay.) After thinking it over, I decided the former. If I had a son that was biologically gay, I’d assume that the moral…

Misinterpreting “Large in Stature”

By Mike Winder   When Nephi says he is “large in stature” does that mean he is merely “tall and muscular” or something else? Sometimes in the Bible stature means height, such as “a man of great stature” in 2 Samuel 21:20 speaking of the man born to the giant of Gath.