October 10, 2013

A fifth of Mormons express doubts about some church teachings

FT_Most_MormonsA top Mormon leader made headlines this week when he acknowledged, without being specific, that past actions by church leaders may have contributed to doubts about church teachings.

Indeed, one-in-five Mormons surveyed in 2011 said they have such doubts.

“In nearly 200 years of church history – along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable and divine events – there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question” church history and beliefs, said Dieter F. Uchtdorf , who is one of the three men who make up the highest governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Uchtdorf was speaking to 20,000 Mormons who had assembled for the church’s semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City.

A 2011 survey of American Mormons by the Pew Research Center found that three-in-four (77%) people who are current members of the LDS Church say they believe wholeheartedly in all the teachings of Mormonism. But 22% say they find some of the church’s teachings hard to believe.

Mormons over age 50 are somewhat more apt than younger Mormons to say they find some of the LDS Church’s teachings hard to believe (28% vs. 18%). Mormons with a high school education or less are substantially more likely than those with more education to say they find some elements of Mormonism difficult to believe. Converts to Mormonism also are more inclined than lifelong Mormons to say they find certain teachings of the faith hard to believe.

FT_Mormon_BeliefsThere are a number of tenets that are central to the teachings of the LDS church and widely-held by Mormons that are not shared by other Christian traditions. Nine-in-ten Mormons believe the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God (94%) and that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets and then translated by church founder Joseph Smith (91%). Similarly large numbers of Mormons believe that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies (95%) and that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings (94%).

In the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 and released in 2008, 70% of Mormons who were brought up in the church said they were still church members, while about 30% said they had either converted to another religion (15%) or were no longer affiliated with a particular religion (14%).

Topics: Mormons and Mormonism, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. is Associate Director, Editorial at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

Leave a Comment


All comments must follow the Pew Research comment policy and will be moderated before posting.


  1. Walter Strohbeck7 months ago

    I presume the first survey was taken on regular church goers only. Can that be confirmed. What was the sample size and conditions ?

  2. Dennis11 months ago

    Ah, the ignorant, superstitious biblical description for epilepsy.

    1. Yakov7 months ago

      Epilepsy? I suppose according to you the 500 witnesses in the Bible who actually saw the Resurrection of Jesus were all conveniently tripping on acid and hallucinating exactly the same experience. Ah… the exception that proves the rule!

  3. Dennis11 months ago

    Seeking to understand preposterous nonsense is to flirt with insanity.

  4. Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.11 months ago

    It is important to distinguish between wondering and doubt. Many of us do not understand why some things were said and done, but it is better to start with faith and God and then seek answers. To doubt is to move toward disbelief. To wonder is to seek to understand. Which is better?

    1. Jason11 months ago


    2. sfcanative11 months ago

      To wonder presupposes the divine, does it not? Nothing wrong with that for those inclined to believe in ‘something’ and/or have faith in the unknown. There have been a number of studies done which conclude the human brain has, for many, a predilection for religious ritual. userservice.emory.edu/~philrnm/p… In other words, it’s in their DNA. Whether the end result is Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam, there will be a life-long quest for religious ritual.

      Are you saying doubt is from the devil? Didn’t Joseph Smith doubt everything he was being told and taught about Christianity in 1820? Isn’t that the story being told at LDS visitor centers? He retired to a grove of trees to find out which church to join? Did his doubt move him toward disbelief or something rather spectacular–according to Mormonism? Was Joseph Smith not seeking to understand despite his doubts?

  5. Brandon11 months ago

    Interesting that as education increases so does the likelihood that of believing in all the church’s teachings whole heartedly. 85% of mormon college graduates believe in all church’s teachings. I would believe that would be higher than in any other religious group.

    1. sfcanative11 months ago

      Given the simple fact that 85% of Mormon college graduates are cranked out of LDS institutions (BYU campuses), it isn’t really that surprising. Religious study is a prerequisite. Anyone enduring 4+ years of college religious indoctrination, before and after a two year missionary stint, leaves little leeway for a different form of thinking. Anyone making it to that finish line has already partaken of the Mormon Kool-Aid . . . not to mention they likely have 3-4 kids and a full-blown Mormon way of life.

      The stats also reveal that those same people drift into later life with a credible level of understandable doubt.

      1. Randy11 months ago

        “85% of Mormon college graduates are cranked out of LDS institutions (BYU campuses)”

        Can you share your source for that?

        1. sfcanative11 months ago

          Okay, perhaps it’s a slight exaggeration at 85%. Perhaps it’s closer to 75-80%. If anyone else bothered to read the entire Pew survey information, it’s rather apparent given the nature of the data gathered that this survey is very incomplete and doesn’t report the accurate findings of a more thorough survey of Mormons. For one thing, this survey only polls Mormons in America, where 75% live in the Western states, mostly Utah and Idaho (where the two main BYU campuses are located). Secondly, only TWO Hispanics were polled out of the entire survey group. Two? The majority of Mormons are Hispanic! There are over a million living in the U. S. alone!

          A majority of the 15 million (7 million in the U.S.) Mormons reported by LDS Church headquarters as members are not affiliated with the religion, would not willingly admit to being a Mormon and are completely removed from the movement as their identity. Of the 3 million or so considered “active” and countable in the U. S., many are under 18. The remainder are the proud adult defenders of the faith. Education is extremely important to Mormons. “The Glory of God is Intelligence!” That is the LDS credo.

          Mormons acquire “intelligence” believing it is a prerequisite to attaining godhood in the next life. Salvation in the near term, eternal life and godhood as the ultimate destination. In theory at least, that is the long-term goal for a highly educated faithful Mormon. In the meantime, building up the Mormon kingdom on earth is a mandate to the faithful–and having a solid BYU education and degree helps ensure better employment, money for a large family and tithes to Salt Lake City.

          Given a more accurate survey of the true demographics found within Mormonism, these percentages would be far different from the biased conclusions of an incomplete and unrepresentative sampling.

          One of the interesting counter-conclusions from the skewed Pew survey is the clear message for me that it doesn’t take a great deal of education to recognize the fallacies, acquire reasonable doubt and reject Mormonism for what it is.

          1. Nick11 months ago

            70-80%?…LOL! not even close. Good luck proving that made up statistic.

      2. J.Sperry11 months ago

        Where’d you pull that 85% figure from? I need citations. According to BYU institutional analysis reports, which are verified periodically with independent collegiate accreditation associations, BYU’s TOTAL average full-time enrollment at all 3 of its primary campuses has been 47,000 students per year for the last 15 years. Pew reports Mormons in the U.S. are significantly more likely than the population overall to have some college education. Six-in-ten Mormons (61%) have at least some college education, compared with half of the overall population. However, the proportion of Mormons who graduate from college (18%) or receive postgraduate education (10%) is similar to the population as a whole (16% and 11%, respectively). Since there are only seven million Mormons in the U.S., and only 1.9 million living in Utah–which has 10 public universities–it seems your figures can’t possibly be right.

        Before you bash Mormon scholarship at BYU, you should probably take a random sample of CV’s of its faculty. Let’s just say BYU is not lacking in professors who graduated from top 10 and IV League schools. It is also very difficult to teach at BYU without having first published extensively in top tier peer reviewed academic journals. As a U of U alumni–and never having attended Institute–I begrudgingly admit that BYU students get a top notch education that is more rigorous than most state universities.

        1. sfcanative11 months ago

          See my response above.

      3. David Walker11 months ago

        So where did you get your figures? 85%? Or is this is a case of 47.5% of statistics are made up on the spot. Most Mormons do not graduate from a Mormon university or college. The vast majority attend universities that our outside the Church milieu. It would be wise to get your facts right before making such silly claims.

        1. sfcanative11 months ago

          And where do you obtain your facts? Adult faithful Mormons in the United States (the subject of this Pew survey), considered active in the LDS church and self-identifying as “Mormon”, have at some point encountered an LDS university campus in 75-80% of cases. There is a direct correlation between self-identifying Mormons (75% live in the Western U.S.) and LDS college degrees. Those who attend college elsewhere or don’t receive a 4-year degree from a BYU campus have a much higher propensity for inactivity and disavowing their affiliation with Mormonism. This survey is only revealing the academics of faithful, active Mormons–which skews the percentages by a very wide margin.

    2. ASteve10 months ago

      You’re missing the point that this is a survey of Mormons. The large number of BYU grads who have left the church behind altogether were not surveyed.

      Of the people I am still in touch with from my years at the Y more than half have left mormonism. I doubt it’s that high if you took a larger sample, but it’s sizable.

  6. Bruce11 months ago

    “Four Fifths of Mormons express whole-hearted belief in ALL church teachings” should have been the title. Sheesh.

    But kudos to the author for finding a way to put a negative spin on the results from the 22% who when forced to pick between “believe whole-heartedly in all” acknowledged they found at least some elements hard to believe. You’d think there’d be more than just 22% identifying more with their need to live by “faith”, despite those things that are naturally hard to believe about not just the LDS, but any faith.

    It is worth noting that the 22% were more likely to be converts over 50 and with little education. I have no doubt that they add much spiritual depth to the congregations they attend.

    1. ASteve10 months ago

      There are. Of the 15 million members claimed by the LDS church as members, more than half are complete non-believers. This survey was not taken by the 8 million who have left the LDS church, only by those who still self identify as Mormon.

  7. Thomas R11 months ago

    I have to admit the one I’d wonder if they question is the Mormon beliefs on Pre-Columbian America. That one seems to contradict archaeology.

    1. Dwight10 months ago

      From the beginning Mormonism has been confronted with criticism and opposition. However, time has proven that the criticisms don’t hold up. As time has passed the criticisms have consistently fallen by the wayside in the face of scholarship and research. Conversely, the Claims of Mormonism continue to gain support from scholarship and research.

      Discoveries made since the time of Joseph Smith and advancements in scholarship and archeology have provided many types of evidences for the Book of Mormon in pre-Colombian America. These were not available in Joseph Smith’s day and yet the Book of Mormon gets them right. No one, not even the best scholars of Joseph Smith’s time, could have made up the Book of Mormon and gotten so many details correct.

      It turns out that the longer we go, the more evidence is discovered which confirms parts of the Book of Mormon. Examples are available.

      1. Eddie9 months ago

        An active Mormon is the only one who can say this. The only evidence mounting is against the LDS church, and nobody outside the church sees any evidence growing in the church’s favor. Chapel mormons have no idea about most of the evidence against the church. I recommend mormonthink.com for a simple comparison of facts. As someone who has spent my whole life in the church, I’m now seeing that the evidence for the church is not what I had thought, but the evidence against is much stronger than I had ever imagined.

        1. guest9 months ago

          You forget, Eddie, what the Lord said – “Cursed is the man who putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.”

          And also – “Trust in the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul and mind” doesn’t include men or women or “researchers”… now does it?

          The evidence for the Church has always been and will always be in the inspiration from the Holy Spirit that CANNOT deceive.

          Stay the course, my friend… you will be glad you did.

      2. Yakov7 months ago

        “Scholarship and research” ??? There’s about as much scholarship and research in Mormonism as there is in Walt Disney’s Loony Tunes.

  8. Cody11 months ago

    I find it fascinating that the Mormon religion is one in which those with a higher education are more prone to believe. That statistic could be used by both sides of the debate (e.g. it must be true because those with higher intellect would be able to discover faults — or — hey, just look at the Sadducees and the Pharisees and how the intellectuals were too proud to see the truth, etc).

    1. Thomas R11 months ago

      It’s possible many Mormons go to Mormon Universities and increase in the faith. Some of the most intense Muslims are the most educated Muslims.

      1. J.Sperry11 months ago

        Stan L. Albrecht and Tim B. Heaton, “Secularization, Higher Education, and Religiosity,” Latter-Day Saint Social Life, Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 302.

  9. Kevin Loker11 months ago

    Hmm. I don’t doubt that people have doubts, but I wonder if the wording of this top question was tricky for some.

    For instance, I’m not Mormon, but I’m a practicing Catholic. If I saw a similar question — “Which is closer to your view? Some teachings of the Catholic Church are hard for me to believe, OR I believe wholeheartedly in all the teachings of the Church?” — I’d be a little stumped on how to answer. Can’t you answer both? I think the concept of faith would allow you to say such.

    I.e., as a practicing Catholic, I believe wholeheartedly in all the teachings of the Church. But that doesn’t mean some teachings can’t be hard for me to believe, regularly or irregularly. I can believe that the Catholic Church has the truth right, but the truth doesn’t have to be easy. Moreover, it doesn’t have to automatically make sense. That’s where the concept of faith comes in, no? Believing can be a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you don’t believe in something in sum (“wholeheartedly”).

    That kind of understanding of faith has actually been demonstrated for a long time. There’s a good biblical example, too– one with Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9, a boy is convulsing on the ground, foaming from the mouth, possessed by a spirit. Jesus asks the father how long it has been happening. The father replies, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus: ” ‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

    Then the father cries out this applicable line — and a great prayer — “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

    Some Mormons probably have strong doubts than others, but it wouldn’t surprise if some saw the question difficult as posed. They do believe, but they may at least times have some unbelief. That may affect how you interpret the data.

    – Kevin

    1. Bradley Hill11 months ago

      Well put, Kevin. Thank you for taking the time to think about and comment upon this article. You sound very level-headed. I’m wholeheartedly LDS, but enjoy going to Catholic services from time to time with friends. Hope to run into you someday!

    2. fred11 months ago

      There is a difference between “hard to believe” and “not believin”. The more I work on the things that ars hard to believe the more I understand. The more I understand the greater my faith grows.

    3. Mike11 months ago

      I think the biggest point being made here is that the LDS Church is in contradiction with in itself. It twists biblical teachings out of context and completely ignores other biblical teachings. Teachings to include Matthew 22:23-30 That Clearly indicates there is NO Marriage in Heaven.
      “…29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
      Once you understand things like this and you accept the lie that it is.. everything else begins to unravel as being the False teachings they are, and the False Prophecy that it is… hence what does the Bible tell us to do with false prophets? and there are many times its Spoken to be warned of the false teaching, but here is but one.
      Deuteronomy 18:20 ESV
      But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’

      and thats just scratching the top of the lies the LDS Church would have its members believe.

      1. Paul11 months ago


        If you look closely at Matt 22:30 it says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are give in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven”. This is not talking about before the resurrection. Christ was also talking to nonbelievers.
        Let not forget about 1 Cor. 11:11, “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”
        There is also 1 Pet. 3:7, “…likewise ye husbands…giving honor unto the wife…and as being heirs together of the grace of life…”
        There is a difference between a twisting scripture and a different understanding of scripture. Are all who are saved destined to become angels in heaven?

      2. Dwight10 months ago

        When critics charge Joseph Smith with uttering a “false prophecy” they are generally making one or more errors:
        1. They rely on an inaccurate account of what Joseph actually wrote or said, or they misrepresent Joseph’s words;
        2. They ignore or remain unaware of circumstances which fulfilled the prophecy;
        3. They do not recognize that some prophecies are conditional.
        4. They ignore the Lord’s time table in fulfilling the prophecy.

        Prophecies are sometimes fulfilled in ways not expected by the hearer. Sometimes prophecies are fulfilled on different time schedule than expected by the hearer. Also, prophecies are often contingent upon the obedience, or lack thereof, of the people involved. (See examples from Bible prophets below). This is true whether or not the prophecy explicitly states that it is conditional. Note what the Lord says as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants:

        32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
        33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above. (D&C 58:32-33)

        This statement by the lord from the Doctrine and Covenants is the same teaching the God gave in the Bible. In the Bible! There are examples where a true prophet prophesied something which did not happen as he stated. Here are some examples from the Bible of prophecies by true prophets which did not come true:


        God told Jonah to prophesy of the destruction of the city of Nineveh – that the city would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4). There was no condition placed upon this prophecy. It was to happen. However, when the people repented God revoked the prophecy and spared the city. Jonah was angry about this (Jonah 4:1). In spite of the fact that God told Jonah to give this prophecy, God still changed his mind and it didn’t happen. God can do that. God can do whatever he wants. And Jonah was still one of God’s prophets in spite of the fact that God revoked the prophecy. This is an excellent example of conditional prophecy. The people repented and so God decided not to destroy them.


        In Ezekiel chapters 26, 27, and 28, Ezekiel prophesied that Tyre would be conquered, destroyed, and plundered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The prophecy was only partially fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar did attack the city and laid siege to it for 13 years. However, Tyre was not totally destroyed or plundered as the prophecy said. God then promises that because Tyre did not fall that God will allow Babylon to conquer Egypt instead. (Ezekiel 29:17-20).


        Jeremiah prophesied that king Zedekiah would “die in peace” (Jeremiah 34:4-5). Yet, Zedekiah did not die in peace. He was attacked and conquered, he saw his sons killed by the conquering Babylonians, he was blinded and put in prison where he died. (Jeremiah 52:10-11)


        The prophet Nathan prophesied to David that though his son Solomon the Davidic empire would be established “forever,” that the children of Israel would dwell in the promised land “and move no more,” and that the “children of wickedness” would no longer afflict them. These things are quite clearly stated. No conditions are attached to these promises, none whatsoever. (2 Samuel 7:5-17)

        Problem is, it didn’t happen that way.


        An angel who spoke to Samson’s mother said that Samson would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5). Even if one tries to stretch the facts of history there is no way it can reasonably be concluded that Samson fulfilled this prophecy. Samson consorted with Philistine women, he married a Philistine, he never lead any troops against the Philistines, and he was eventually enslaved and humiliated by the Philistines. Even more important, Israel lost ground to the Philistines during Samuels tenure. (Judges 13-16). Israel lost territory during this time.

        Of course, the nonfulfillment of Judges 13:5 can be attributed to Samson’s failure to live according to his Nazarite calling. In addition to his sexual liaisons, he married a Philistine, ate unclean food, drank wine, and allowed his hair to be cut. Therefore, it could be said that the angel’s prophecy was nullified by Samson’s behavior. However, the angel placed absolutely no conditions on his promise that Samson would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. He simply declared that Samson would do so.

        If you want to use the logic of the critics then we can say that even Jesus Himself made a false prophecy. Jesus said that Judas would sit on twelve thrones with the other apostles and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). However, instead, Judas fell from his position when he betrayed the Christ. So, we see that even some of the Lords promises are conditional upon the obedience of the person(s) the prophecy is about. This prophecy by Jesus about Judas has striking parallels to the mission call of David Patton. Both were to be accomplished with the other members of the twelve apostles and in both cases one member of the twelve did not fulfill his mission.

        Many LDS critics attempt to condemn Joseph Smith using a standard that would, if applied to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nathan, an angel of God, and Jonah, also condemn the Old Testament as a fraud. No reasonable or biblical application of Deuteronomy 18 condemns Joseph Smith. Clearly, God’s prophecies are sometimes conditional and can also be revoked by God. He did so in the Bible on multiple occasions.

        Nevertheless, many of Joseph’s prophecies have been fulfilled and continue to be fulfilled. Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God!

        1. Yakov7 months ago

          To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)

          The test of a true prophet is not only if he got prophecies right or wrong, but if he teaches the Law of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

          And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev 12:17)

          All prophets, including Jesus and His true Messengers, kept the 10 Commandment law set in stone with the finger of God. They kept the sabbath. 83 times in the book of Acts, Jews and Gentiles met on the sabbath. Christ also kept the sabbath. As He is our example, we follow Him and keep that day. His Testimony is the Gospel… the TRUE Gospel.

          Joseph Smith, although maybe a good person, was not a prophet of God because He never kept the Law of God faithfully. He did not measure up to Gods test of a prophet. He may have taught 9 out of 10 commandments, but he did not keep the Sabbath.. Instead he followed the Roman Catholic Church by keeping Sunday, a pagan day of worship. Constantine made a law in 321 AD and again in 364 AD to shut out Christians from Christ who keep the Seventh-day Sabbath. Later, this was known as the Dark Ages. Because Smith taught Sunday, he is not a prophet of God. All prophets must teach and obey the law in full. All prophets must teach sabbath as the correct day and observe it. However, there are other tests to be made as well.

          Seventh-day Adventist.