Understanding Mormon Disbelief Survey – March 2012 Results and Analysis

Click here for the full report.  Description below.

This survey represents the first in a series that will explore the beliefs and practices of current and former Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We recognize that there are many different decisions and experiences in the lives of Mormons. Our initial area of exploration relates to reasons that Mormons question their belief in the Church or experience a “crisis of faith.”

Many believing Mormons never experience a faith crisis, and many Mormons who do experience a crisis of faith do not ultimately lose their faith in that process. Some Mormons who leave the Church, especially some converts, end up leaving because they were never fully integrated either socially or spiritually to begin with. In future surveys we hope to explore some of those responses in more detail. However, our goal with this survey, “Understanding Mormon Disbelief,” is to increase understanding of issues relating to Mormons who, having once held firm belief in the Church, subsequently lose that belief in part or whole. Mormons sometimes refer to this process of losing belief or experiencing a faith crisis as “losing one’s testimony.” While the phenomenon of losing faith is common across all religions, there are certain truth claims and cultural factors specific to Mormonism. This survey aims to shed light on some of these unique contributors, as well as to provide further insight on the level of disclosure and perceived costs associated with disbelief within the Mormon community.

Although it is unclear exactly how many Mormons lose faith each year, our observation is that the number appears to be growing in developed countries (e.g. the United States, Europe). We also observe that many of these members were at one point highly dedicated . Whether or not the total number of disbelievers has reached a significant level, we believe that the “worth of souls is great,” and that each individual matters. We believe that there are individuals in faith crises who are suffering unnecessarily because of a lack of understanding and empathy. We have seen the pain and struggle in the lives of many of our friends – not just those who have been through a crisis of faith, but their loved ones and the overall Church community as well. We hope this survey provides a balanced voice to some of their concerns and feelings. We also believe that many faithful, believing members of the Church may wish to better understand their fellow brothers and sisters who have struggled with or who are currently struggling with their faith. For those who wish to “mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort,” we believe that an essential step is to understand the actual issues that are important to those who have doubts in the Church. Our goal is to create an awareness of these issues, and to facilitate the dialogue regarding how we can build compassion and understanding.

This survey has raised our awareness of the shortcomings of our own survey methodology; future surveys will address these shortcomings. Indeed, if we have learned one thing, it is that we still have much to learn. Nevertheless, we also feel that many of the insights from this survey will provide preliminary empirical evidence that can enable understanding of those struggling with faith in the Church. Some findings seem intuitive, while others may prove surprising.

Survey Results_Understanding Mormon Disbelief Mar2012

30 comments for “Understanding Mormon Disbelief Survey – March 2012 Results and Analysis

  1. SteveS
    March 29, 2012 at 2:41 am

    Thank you so much for this. I look forward to future surveys. This is an important sign of our times, where finally I feel like members of the Church are capable of studying our own people without relying solely upon the Church to do it for us, then tell us whatever they want (or not) about what they learned.

  2. Adam
    March 29, 2012 at 5:01 am

    One of the things that would help me to respect and appreciate the LDS church more would be if it simply admitted it has been wrong. Wrong about Africans and the Priesthood. Wrong about polygamy. Wrong about treatment of Native Americans, and so on.
    I appreciate that the church has evolved. But it seems to not want to ever admit that it was wrong. I never hear that this statement or that statement is wrong. That is policy or that policy was wrong.
    It would go long way if the church admitted its own sins. How refreshing would that be?
    Thanks for doing this survey, it is truly fascinating.

    • Shell
      April 1, 2012 at 12:32 am

      You make a good point. However, for them to admit they were wrong, would be like saying its not TRUE, & nullify the prophets who made these policy’s in the first place. It’s a slippery slope they wouldn’t want to attempt.
      The church HAS evolved to a much better place. But because the TRUTH is & always has been, an important focus,– yet so much denial & deception are at its CORE, it’s impossible to truly reconcile.

      • Carson W.B.
        April 16, 2012 at 11:31 pm

        Sure it would be easy to say we were wrong but how can people distinguish between human fallacy and divine direction. The LDS church affirms itself as, “the only TRUE and LIVING church on the face of the world” (True doctrine, and living revelation for future guidance).

        Correct me if I am wrong but the Catholic church believes the Pope to be infallible (unable to make mistakes). The LDS church does not take that stance with their leaders but indeed with their doctrine that comes through leaders.

        Just as with anything there are eternal principles and temporal considerations.
        A loving parent will warn his children to wear a coat (if its the winter) or the sunscreen (if it is a hot summer day). Though both were direct commands, you cannot expect the child to lather on sunscreen and button up in a full winter coat ever day of the year. The unchanging principle was love and protection that the parent had for the child which manifested itself in different ways depending on the season.

        was the parent wrong for saying “put on your sunscreen” because later that year the same parent told the same child to wear a coat instead? The later conditions did not change the need for sunscreen at that summer season even when it would become unnecessary in the future.

    • Natalie
      April 4, 2012 at 2:57 am

      Listen to Elder Holland’s talk given on this past Saturday afternoon’s session of General Conference. He actually addresses this very topic and does so beautifully, I think.

  3. Dianne Hardy
    March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I read an article about your study in the Herald Journal this morning. I will forever be your greatest fan. Daring to bring the hidden into light–how courageous of you. I live in Logan and would love to meet you and be your friend on Facebook. I am a writer with a memoir coming out in about one month. It is about my childhood, growing up in a small Utah town (Roosevelt) The name is “For Cryin’ Out Loud!” Surely, you’re a busy man, but if you have a moment please call me 755-7609. Dianne
    PS In the meantime I’m turning in a friend request.

  4. Casey
    March 29, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    This report reflects the exact strengths and weaknesses of the MS movement. It’s not representative of anything but the movement itself, but it’s a powerful movement that I hope affects some good change. Those who took the survey, active or inactive, are probably a small minority of the church’s disaffected. But I think they represent some of the Church’s biggest losses. Anyone that’s exiting the church but still wants to talk about and analyze it, in my mind, is probably someone the church would have been much better off keeping. Those who leave the church because they’re bored, for instance, were less of an asset to begin with than this audience.
    It’s a tragedy that people leave because the church hasn’t been fully transparent about historical issues. And whatever suggestions those good folks have on their way out should be taken seriously. The value of this report is found less in the numbers, and more in the final suggestions in chapter #8.

  5. Mark
    March 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    This study appears to be very well done, and I greatly appreciate the humility with which you acknowledge the limitations of the methodology and results. In consistency with this attitude I think it would be fair to include in your article, or subsequent articles, that there is a possibility that people are reluctant to report desire to sin as a reason for leaving. I’m not suggesting that you should assume people leave out of a desire to sin, but simply acknowledge that it would take a much more in depth psychological evaluation of respondents to determine how open they are being with their responses and how much they are managing their impression. Keep up the good work!

    • xyz
      April 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      a common theme that I have found is good healthy Mormons discover that they have been lied to all of their lives, by those they love, trust or adore. And in retrospect are found guilty of the same lies and attitudes towards those that they have been honored with love, trust or adornment. This creates pain and distrust when you discover all the little details that present a more accurate picture of Mormonism’s past. Those that stick with Mormonism past the age of say.. 25, really deserve more credit than oh he/she must of been a dirty sinner! Get over the obsessions. The reality, LDS history is out right offensive and difficult to cope with. Especially in a religious cult that has (zero) support structure.

  6. Joseph_P
    March 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    In ward conference a few weeks ago, a member of my stake presidency said that the church was losing a lot of Melch. P’hood holders. The reason? Wait for it…porn. One brother got up and walked out at that moment.

  7. Jon
    March 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I would suggest another reason why some disbelievers choose to remain active over leaving altogether, and it relates directly to the next two sections of the study, those dealing with who disbelievers tell and the costs of disbelieving. The reason is fear of the significant harm that will likely befall the disbeliever’s social and familial relationships. Whether this fear derives from witnessing the experiences of friends or other family members who have left, or from the disbeliever’s personal experience with the way those around them react when doubts or questions are expressed, the fear is very real, and it does prevent some from taking the next step of leaving altogether.

  8. Loren
    March 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I was born into the church being a descendent of those who started the church in New York state. Through my 50+ years I was an avid member holding to every thing I could basing my belief on building blocks of logic. Through the years I have served a mission, been in bishoprics, youth programs, temple worker, high council.

    In time I realized the church I had grown up with no longer existed, many key points of earlier belief were now considered wrong, what was then white was now black. Given the church changing so substantially, it opened the door for my introspection as well as analysis of my logic in believing. What I found was instead of my beliefs being based on solid thoughts and logic all was a fragile house of cards and the foundation of church thought and doctrines was the shakiest of all. Key points would be DNA of indigenous peoples of North and South America and the islands, papyrus, celebrating our polygamous past and then turning our back on those who sacraficed so much, the near denial of past practices and doctrices such as the blacks, the near holocaust treatment of the gay youth within the church leading to so many suicides, and on, and on…

    The foundation crumbled for me, I went to my Bishop and stated so. Interesting he had nothing to counter these thoughts but a statement of staying for the social aspects of what the church offers. I agreed to that, but in time even the social involvement no longer had value either. So I resigned.

    Interesting as I tell others of my story non-members are amazed that one has to formally resign in order to be left alone. That does not exist with most other religious organizations.

    Now all of this would be fine, I am released and have discovered that there is tremendous happiness, joy, committment, service to be found away from the church. I have been amazed in this discovery of true happiness realizing another of the beliefs of Mormons is so twised and untrue, there is happiness without the church. That alone would be enough for me to move on, however, in hoping that I could live my life as I choose without the church, instead the church continues to harass and come after me and my kind. Why…I am gay. All I desire at this point is to be left alone, find my companion and make a life together. The church is spending millions either directly or indirectly through members to stand in my way from my choices of happiness. Thus, I have to expel my energies for activism and protection against an institution that has chosen to persecute others. What more can be said than the height of hypocrisy. For nearly 200 years the members, my ancestors, and the church was persecuted, for being different, for wanting to create their own lives. Now that there is some semblance of acceptance of the church, the church now turns against others who are different that are wanting to create their own lives by being a major instrument in their persecution.

    Now I would not go back. I have found true friends who stand by me, not church acquaintances who drop others with the change of responsibilities. Folks, life can be and is much better on the outside. That truly is my testimony. Instead of being a religionist whose beliefs are based on an organization, I have evolved into a spiritualist and find myself much closer to God that ever before.

    All of this is stated not from a spirit of bitterness, but truly from eternal happiness and joy…to be free to choose who I associate with, to be free to choose how I serve, to be free to choose how I use my time. I sit here almost in a state of giddiness composing these thoughts realizing how truly happy and free I am. I have smiled more in the last few years than all the prior years combined. I no longer have to expend energy making facades of success, righteousness, and happiness. I no longer sit through meetings with mediocre and worse speeches, entire congregations who seldom sing, and members who are seldom truly happy. No longer do I expend energy around contorted logic trying to keep faith in bogus truths. Life is truly better now.

    • Christina Lynn, PhD
      February 9, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Thank you so much for your thought. I struggled with my faith after my second Temple marriage dissolved into divorce. I rarely go to church now, and go only because my daughter enjoys going. I love this part of your essay, “I no longer have to expend energy making facades of success, righteousness, and happiness. I no longer sit through meetings with mediocre and worse speeches, entire congregations who seldom sing, and members who are seldom truly happy.” It seems that LDS members don’t truly know how to worship. They just go through the motions and live in their Sunday righteousness. I have found so much joy and happiness in live outside of activity in the church too.

      Thanks again.

  9. Karla
    March 31, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Wow- I have been inactive for awhile and don’t really think about the the “why” probably because I’m single and my family doesn’t bother me too much about it so I don’t need to defend my inactivity. My immediate family includes bishops, stake presidency members, RS president, YW president, etc. so I think I will share this survey with them. I think they finally understand that just because I’m not active, I’m not a “bad” or “evil” person.

    I have stayed away from extremist or anti-mormon groups because I feel that there are still a lot of good things about being Mormon. Thanks for this type of forum. I look forward to future discussions.

  10. Celiwyn
    March 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    I wish I had been able to take this survey. I have bisexual feelings (choose not to act on them) am a single mom and could not easily afford to get a divorce.

    I felt like a freak in church for finding women attractive, and could not bring myself to talk to a *male* bishop about it. On top of that I was not allowed to attend the single adult functions until my divorce was final – two years of feeling like I couldn’t go to anything because it was painful to be around “happily married folk” but was disqualified from attending the events with other single parents lead me to feel I was unimportant.

    I felt so uncomfortable I stopped attending, but I had a calling as a visiting teacher. So I would read the articles, call my partner and go every month, taking comfort and reassuring myself my faith was not in vain and that by visiting these sisters I was not only helping them, but finding a way to feel welcome within the church.

    Then one day I found out (by calling my partner to schedule my visits) I was no longer a visiting teacher and that the sister that visited me would no longer be coming.

    I was unwanted. So I quit trying.

    Visiting teachers reading this – you have NO idea how important that little note or phone call when you can’t visit teach an inactive sister means to them. Or how much it means to them to have someone reach out to them in their home where they feel safe. If you want to bring sisters back into the fold – visit them, call them, send them little notes.

  11. Brian
    April 1, 2012 at 4:46 am

    I left the church due to doctrinal issues, because my bishop advised my wife to divorce me, and even after meeting with my bishop weekly for almost a year i still could not get my recommend back and as a result coud not attend my daughters wedding. The lds church is only pro family as long as you do it their way! God is unconditional in his love but mormonism is totally conditional.

  12. Charitas
    April 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Re. The Appendix of this report (pg 26)
    a minor point but there are no statistics on “High Importance Trending Down”.
    Is this a simple clerical omission, or is it of no importance?

  13. Ron Hales
    April 2, 2012 at 2:42 am

    I left the church after careful examination of all of it’s foundational claims. I could no longer claim that Joseph Smith was a prophet or even a good person, so I left.

  14. LaMarr Harding
    April 3, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Snarky or not the true understanding of disbelief is just that.

    My disbelief went right to the root of all religions. Is there really a God? I prayed, fasted, tithed, and attended faithfully until I realized it was all in vain because there probably isn’t an imaginary Heavenly friend.

  15. April 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    This has been of interst to the Mrs. as she left the church after our marriage years ago. Things went South for her when we were studing LDS history with the intention of me joining. I passed on taking the lessons, as I wanted to study at my own pace. We read some books that gloss over the history of the Prophets.

    The frustrating part for her is the Average LDS just can’t grasp why anyone would leave.
    I’ve suggested she ask them if they would accept Warren Jeffs as their Prophet, because it they say No, they just don’t realize that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught and led in the same Spirit that the Fundementalist espouses.

    It’s just too easy for them to say you can prove a Church by it’s deeds.
    Shouldn’t that apply too it’s founders too.
    It just gets too confusing for most so they embrace their Testimony, and carry on!

  16. Brian
    April 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I loved this study. Thank you so much!

    I am an active member who does not totally believe. I go to church because I don’t want my wife to have to go alone and do it all by herself (carseats, kids crying in church, etc.). I also want to be involved in my children’s spiritual upbringing. I think most men that stay in the church that no longer believe do it for their families. If I was not married or did not have kids I would definitely leave.

    Another reason I stay that was not mentioned in the study is that I still have spiritual experiences. Not usually at church, but I still have positive spiritual experiences in my life when I am reading the bible, hunting or fishing out in the woods, praying etc. I guess that could be summarized as me knowing that the church is not what it says it is, feeling lied to etc., and still having my spiritual needs met.

    Keep up the good work, and best wishes to all who as we go through this tough stage in our lives. You are not alone!

  17. rg
    April 11, 2012 at 12:06 am

    The LDS Church actually seems baffled at why people leave. They posit that it’s:

    –The person was offended by someone.

    –The person wants to sin, so they are leaving the church. (What?? You can do that without leaving, I’ve seen it done!)

    –The person is associating with apostates and has been led astray by Satan.

    Actually the reason most people leave is because they discover that the church educational materials are sanitized of all past church teachings and history that might have negative affects on the church’s image. The real history is available, fairly easy to interpret, and not a pretty picture. Many people now follow the western tradition of critical thought and skepticism. Using these traditional methods, it isn’t too long before one discovers that the church might be founded on a fraud, was very different earlier than it is now, and that it once taught doctrine that can be seen as odious and strange. The character of Joseph Smith is particularly distressing to many, as a historical analysis differs markedly from the hagiographical depictions in church educational material.

  18. Nyle Keith Walton
    May 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    How can God favor just one religious group that constitutes at most one tenth of one percent of the world’s seven billion inhabitants? That’s the best evidence of the extraordinary stupidity of this set of superstitions that constitutes Mormon doctrine.

  19. Wag
    June 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Just a quick comment about the section which discusses factors positively correlated to church activity on page 19. It might be that those individuals are simply still seeking and that a particular factor has not yet become compelling enough to cause their departure from the faith. I genuinely suspect there is little or no correlation there.

    Another thought that comes to mind is that sometimes, people discover information that causes them to question a particular issue and in an effort to continue to learn about it or even to shore up their faith, they will increase their activity, their prayer and fasting and make a sincere effort to work through the difficulty by increasing their activity in the church. That includes meeting attendance as well as study at home with church canon.

    The question it raises, however, is What motivates the individual to keep questioning and studying once they have discovered something that truly bothers them? Fear and doubt? Curiosity? A genuine interest? Something else entirely?


  20. David Fife
    January 22, 2013 at 5:32 am

    The problem that I have with the church is credibility.

    I felt so betrayed and I cannot convey with words, how hurt I was to learn that most of church history is largely fiction. For example, Joseph Smith drinking, having sex with minors who he was never married to, Practicing polygamy, …. Why was this never shared with me as a seminary student? I do not trust the bretheren to tell me the truth. When you are in the moral superiority business, the only commodity that you sell is credibility.

    Now, anyone with an Ipad and a connection can learn about these things that are very embarrassing (and true) to the official church history.

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  22. George Windes
    February 9, 2013 at 2:39 am

    I had read this analysis before, but figured it was worth going through a second time. During the process though, I often felt an uncomfortable feeling the data was already antiquated. So many major issues have come to the forefront of Mormonism in the past year, so much has evolved center stage. I finally abandoned my review. I wonder if the Mormon Moment (the candidacy of Mitt Romney), is partly responsible for this? I know many will not agree with me, but I have to but survey my ward parking lot on the Sabbath and it is an absolute that church membership is in flux.

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