A recent The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted an in-depth survey of Mormons in the United States. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The fourth article in a series that appears in Deseret News is evaluating the results of this survey and providing context for the results.
Immigration is a controversial topic in the United States. The survey asked one question on this topic. They were asked which of two statements most closely matched their view, even if they didn’t completely agree. They were asked whether immigrants strengthen or burden the nation. No distinction was made between legal and illegal immigration, leaving those polled to decide for themselves what the question meant.
In the general U.S. population, 45 percent of Americans feel that immigrants strengthen the country, while 44 percent burden it. 12 percent feel that neither or both are true or they have no opinion on the subject. Mormon views closely mirror these statistics. 45 percent of Mormons also believe immigrants strengthen the nation, although a smaller number, 41 percent, consider them a burden on society. The number of Mormons who accept both or neither or who have no opinion is higher, at 14 percent.
These numbers put them at odds with evangelical Christians, one of the few political areas in which they disagree. Within the white evangelical population, 59 percent believe immigrants are a burden, and 27 percent believe they strengthen the country. Like Mormons, 14 percent answered both, neither, or no opinion.
The statistics for Mormons shows a strong divide based on age, income, and education, as well as on religious commitment. Only 36 percent of highly committed Mormons see immigrants as a burden, while 50 percent of those who are less committed see them as a burden. This largely correlates with economic status. 84 percent of Mormons who are highly committed to their religion are college graduates. (The church strongly encourages Read more
Of all the numbers in the Pew Research Center’s recently released survey of “Mormons in America,” the highest, most overwhelming numbers are these: 98 percent of respondents said they believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 97 percent say their church is a Christian religion.
This comes on the heels of earlier surveys indicating that 32 percent of non-LDS U.S. adults say the LDS Church is not a Christian religion, and an additional 17 percent are unsure of LDS Christianity. The theological and semantic reasons for this can be complex, but for the 1,019 self-identified Mormons who participated in the Pew survey, their theological position is clear: Mormons believe in Jesus Christ, and they consider themselves to be Christian.
“Certainly in Latter-day Saint theology is this idea that if you understand who you are, you understand that there’s a purpose in life, you understand your connection to God, that certainly has an impact on how you live your life and what you do, but also how you feel about your life and what you are doing,” said Michael Purdy of the LDS Church Public Affairs office.
For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints surveyed, those life choices have much to do with their religious beliefs. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents indicate that religion is “very important” to them, 83 percent say they pray every day and 77 percent say they attend church at least once a week. Beyond that, a stunning 69 percent of respondents fit all three descriptions, saying that religion is very important to them, that they pray every day and that they go to church every week.
“By this measure,” the report says, “Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than many other religious groups, including white evangelical Christians.”
Part of the explanation for these high numbers may be that the survey focused only on those who self-identified as Latter-day Saints.
“The method they used tended to identify people who are strongly committed,” said BYU sociologist Marie Cornwall , who advised the Pew Forum on the new survey. “They don’t have the people who are kind of marginal. But that’s okay; we just have to be careful with the way we interpret the findings.”
One such finding is the relationship between religious commitment and education among Mormons.
David Campbell, a University of Notre Dame associate professor and another adviser on the survey, noted that the more educated respondents were, the higher their levels of religious commitment.
“I was a little surprised by that,” said Campbell, who is LDS and who has extensively studied on the role of religion in the public square. “The more educated a Mormon is, the more likely they are to be wholehearted in their commitment to the church and its teachings.”
That is different from other churches, he said, where more education tends to lead to more religious skepticism.
Pew Research Center officials also noted “a significant gender gap in religious commitment, with more Mormon women than men exhibiting a high level of religious commitment (73 percent vs. 65 percent).”
According to the Pew report, a similar “gender gap” is seen among the general public. A 2007 survey found 36 percent of U.S. women exhibited a high level of religious commitment, compared with 24 percent of men.
One series of questions asked about what it means to be a good Mormon. According to the respondents, in order to be a good Mormon it is “essential” to believe Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ (80 percent), work to help the poor (73 percent), hold regular family home evenings (51 percent), not drink coffee and tea (49 percent) and not watch R-rated movies (32 percent).
Combining those who said “essential” with those who said “important but not essential,” the order changes a little bit: working to help the poor (97 percent), holding regular family home evenings (96 percent), believing Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ (93 percent), not drinking coffee and tea (81 percent) and not watching R-rated movies (79 percent).
“I think that result is rather interesting,” said Cornwall. “Mormons are known for not drinking coffee or tea and not watching R-rated movies. But compared to believing that Joseph Smith saw God and working for the poor, Mormons don’t seem to focus on the coffee and tea as much as people probably think.”
Other manifestations of religious commitment in the survey included:
The number of respondents (65 percent) who say they hold a current temple recommend (a certificate from local ecclesiastical leaders, issued every other year, indicating that an individual has permission from the church to enter LDS temples and participate in temple rites and sacraments)
The number (79 percent) who say they pay tithing (donating 10 percent of their income to the church)
The number (27 percent) who have served full-time missions for the church (this number includes 43 percent of men and 11 percent of women and varies significantly according to the age and education of the respondent, as well as whether or not the respondent was raised Mormon)
The number (82 percent) who keep food in storage for emergencies or disasters, as they have been counseled to do by LDS Church leaders (This number includes 23 percent who say they have three months’ worth, 35 percent who say they have more than three months’ worth and 23 percent who say they have less than three months’ worth)
The percentage who pay tithing is especially interesting to break down. According to the survey tabulations, “tithing is most common among Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment (96 percent) … fully 91 percent of college graduates say they pay tithing … compared with 66 percent of those with a high school diploma or less education. And among those whose family income exceeds $30,000, 83 percent say they pay tithing, compared with 69 percent of those with incomes of less than $30,000.”
While previous surveys have clearly established LDS agreement with certain key Christian doctrines — 90 percent of Mormons believe in God, 91 percent believe the Bible is the word of God and 98 percent believe in life after death — the new survey explores Mormon confidence in points of doctrine that are unique to LDS theology. And in these points of doctrine, Mormons proved to be unified and believing. They believe overwhelmingly that God and Jesus Christ are separate physical beings (94 percent), that the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God (94 percent), that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies (95 percent) and that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets and translated by Joseph Smith (91 percent).
Overall, 77 percent say they believe “wholeheartedly” in all of the teachings of the LDS Church. That number increases to 82 percent among Mormons ages 18-49, and to 85 percent among Mormons who are college graduates.
“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.
As the “Mormon moment” extends into 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life today released a groundbreaking new survey, the first ever published by a non-LDS research organization to focus exclusively on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their beliefs, values, perceptions and political preferences.
Entitled “Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society,” the survey was conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011 among a national sample of 1,019 respondents who identified themselves as Mormons. The results validate a number of long-held stereotypes (most American Mormons are white, well-educated, politically conservative and religiously observant) while providing a few interesting surprises (care for the poor and needy is high on the list of LDS priorities, while drinking coffee and watching R-rated movies aren’t as taboo among the rank and file as you might think).
“While this survey comes amid a contentious election campaign, it is not solely or even chiefly about politics,” said Luis Lugo, Pew Research Center director, in the published survey’s preface. “Rather, we hope that it will contribute to a broader public understanding of Mormons and Mormonism at a time of great interest in both.”
For example, in one very interesting section of the new survey, respondents were asked several questions about what is essential to being a good Mormon. According to the survey, 80 percent said “believing Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ” is essential to being a good Mormon, 73 percent said “working to help the poor,” 51 percent said “regular Family Home Evenings,” 49 percent said “not drinking coffee and tea” and 32 percent said “not watching R-rated movies. Read more
The Word of Wisdom
In 1833, Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received a revelation from God which prescribed certain rules for healthy and righteous living, particularly as regards the use of food and other substances that are not suited to the body. This revelation was officially announced to the Church on 27 February 1833 as the “Word of Wisdom,” which can now be found in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants – one of the standard works of the Mormon Church.
The Word of Wisdom stipulates that Latter-day Saints abstain from eating or taking any substance that is unfit for the body. This includes coffee, tea, alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, harmful drugs, and other substances that are addictive in nature. The Lord does not want His children to use, let alone abuse, these substances because of their harmful effects to the body.
Aside from health-related reasons, Latter-day Saints are required to live the Word of Wisdom by reason of its spiritual significance, because God’s commandments are spiritual; not temporal or natural, neither carnal nor sensual. (See Doctrine and Covenants 29:35.)
An Ancient Principle
Like other revelations that have been introduced to the Mormon Church in the present dispensation (e.g. the Law of Tithing, the Law of Chastity, etc.), the Word of Wisdom is not a new commandment. According to James E. Talmage, a Mormon theologian and former high official of the Church, the Word of Wisdom is as old as the human race. The Word of Wisdom is actually one of the first commandments revealed by the Lord to Adam, and all the essential principles contained in it were made known unto him while he was still in his immortal state in the Garden of Eden. To Adam the Lord said:
“Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
God has given Adam many good fruits to be plucked and eaten, and to be enjoyed. However, he was strictly cautioned to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because if he did so, his body would be corrupted, and his life would be shortened. When Adam did partake of the fruit the Lord told him not to eat, his body underwent a process of physical degeneration and lost its power to live forever. Consequently, he became vulnerable to pain, sicknesses, and death – the natural consequences of mortality.
In giving the Word of Wisdom to the Church, the Lord is teaching the Saints the same principles he revealed to Adam concerning his will in the temporal and spiritual salvation of His children. He pointed out that while there are many foods to be enjoyed at hand, Church members (and non-members as well) should not touch and take into their bodies certain things that would harm them.
A Brief History of the Word of Wisdom
In the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith organized a School of the Prophets to train elders of the Church on both theological and secular matters. The first meetings of the school were held in Kirtland, Ohio, in a small room of a home-based store owned by Newel K. Whitney, which was also the place of residence of the Prophet and his family. When the elders of the Church assembled together in this small room after breakfast, the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and while smoking, talk about the great things of the Kingdom, and spit all over the floor.
Too often, when Joseph Smith entered the room to give instructions, he would find himself in a thick cloud of tobacco smoke. This concerned the Prophet and his wife, Emma, who was having a hard time cleaning so filthy a floor. Troubled about the conduct of the elders with regard to the use of tobacco, Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. In response to his inquiry, the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was given.
At first, the Word of Wisdom was given to the Church by “greeting” or invitation and “not by commandment or constraint” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:2), because smoking and drinking wine were common practices in the American society in the early 1800s. Yet, for some members of the Church, the revelation was a new thought, and sooner or later, they would be required to undergo an uncomfortable change of behavior in order to live it. However, the Lord indicated that the Word of Wisdom was “given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 89:3.)
At a Church General Conference held on September 9, 1851, Brigham Young, then prophet of the Mormon Church, called for a sustaining vote to make the revelation binding on every Latter-day Saint, to which the conference concurred unanimously. Since that time, the revelation became a commandment, which particularly forbade the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea throughout the Church.
However, throughout the 1860s and 1870s, the Word of Wisdom had not been fully observed by many Church members, even after the death of Brigham Young. In the early 1800s, several Church leaders led by President John Taylor started reforms and made campaigns to increase adherence to this commandment. Truly, keeping the word of wisdom had been a real test of faith for many Latter-day Saints. Even so, leaders of the Church continued to encourage them to be faithful, pointing out the strictness of God’s commandments. In 1894, Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of the Mormon Church, delivered a powerful statement, where he addressed Church leaders on the importance of strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom. He said:
“The Word of Wisdom applies to Wilford Woodruff, the President of the Church, and it applies to all the leaders of Israel as well as to the members of the Church; and if there are any of these leading men who cannot refrain from using tobacco or liquor in violation of the Word of Wisdom, let them resign, and others take their places. As leaders of Israel, we have no business to indulge in these things. There may be things contrary to the Word of Wisdom that we indulge in, and that we think we cannot live without; if we cannot, let us die.”
By the end of the 19th century, the Word of Wisdom was becoming a widely accepted and a practical observance of the Church in general. Since then, the Word of Wisdom has become closely associated with Mormonism.
The Word of Wisdom in the Modern Church
The Word of Wisdom contains principles of healthy living that were far beyond the scientific knowledge of the time when it was revealed. It was given to the Church through Joseph Smith long before the hazards of tobacco became known to the world. Nowadays, when someone introduces himself as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he is usually reputed as someone who neither smokes nor drinks. Strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom is something that separates Latter-day Saints from those who belong to other religious organizations.
Provisions of the Word of Wisdom have been explained clearly to the Church to make sure that each one is well understood and observed. Based on the revelation given to Joseph Smith, Latter-day Saints are advised against the use of strong drinks (i.e., alcoholic drinks and other harmful beverages), tobacco, and “hot drinks.” While the original revelation offered no specific definition for hot drinks, Joseph Smith explained what the Lord meant when He said it. Joseph Smith said:
“I understand that some of the people are excusing themselves in using tea and coffee, because the Lord only said ‘hot drinks’ in the revelation of the Word of Wisdom. Tea and coffee are what the Lord meant when he said ‘hot drinks’.”
In addition to the provisions already mentioned, the Word of Wisdom prohibits the use of harmful drugs, and promotes certain foods which are good for man – wholesome herbs, grain, and fruits that are in season. Meat is also ordained of God for man’s consumption. However, it should be used sparingly and in the spirit of thanksgiving. The fundamental principle behind the Word of Wisdom is that all healthy foods should be used in moderation, and unhealthy foods should be avoided.
Does the Word of Wisdom prohibit caffeine?
The Mormon Church does not have an official stand with regard to consumption of caffeine found in many beverages including cola and chocolate. However, the Lord has specifically advised the saints against the use of coffee and tea, both of which contain caffeine, though it may not be the exact reason for such proscription, as the Lord did not specify which chemicals in tea and coffee He is more concerned with. In addition, alcoholic drinks and beverages that contain harmful habit-forming drugs are also prohibited.
While the Word of Wisdom was given for the temporal salvation of the saints in the last days, abiding by the principles of this commandment has spiritual and eternal significance. The Lord promised that those who walk in obedience to this commandment “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary and shall walk and not faint” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-20).
Mormons who do not keep the Word of Wisdom will lose the spirit of the Lord, for the Spirit does not dwell in unholy temples. Also, they will not be allowed to enter the holy Mormon Temples or participate in sacred ordinances in the Church. Those who do, on the other hand, are blessed with healthy minds and bodies which are necessary for them to be fruitful and receive more revelation from God. For how can someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol hear the silent whisper of the still small voice?
Truly, the Word of Wisdom was revealed by the Savior for the furtherance of His work in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. It was given by God for the temporal and spiritual benefit of His children. Since it is a principle with promise, those who obey it will receive the promised blessings.
Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage