Mar 31, 2023 - News

New poll suggests Mormon outreach to other faiths is unreciprocated

How religious groups say they feel towards Latter-day Saints
Data: Pew Research; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Evangelical Christians and Jews are two religious groups with whom Latter-day Saints and their church leaders have long expressed affinity.

  • But recent polling suggests those overtures could be one-sided.

Driving the news: In a survey released this month, the Pew Research Center found Latter-day Saints had the lowest favorability of any religious group and the second-highest unfavorability, behind only evangelicals.

  • Of all religiously affiliated groups polled, Jews and evangelicals had the least approving views of Latter-day Saints, with -13% and -12% net favorability, respectively.

Why it matters: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members have a long history of outreach to evangelicals and Jews.

  • Evangelical political goals frequently align with Mormons', with the two faith groups finding agreement on social issues.
  • Mormonism has long claimed a strong kinship with Judaism, declaring church members' lineage in the tribes of Israel and borrowing Jewish language to describe a narrative of exodus from persecution.

Details: Evangelicals' disapproval of Latter-day Saints is particularly notable because the Church has made efforts to forge bonds, highlighting similarities between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity in its publications and universities, and joining other conservative faith groups in legal fights.

Catch up quick: In the 1970s and '80s, Latter-day Saints and evangelicals started partnering as the "Moral Majority" against the Equal Rights Amendment and later on same-sex marriage and religious exemptions to public laws, Mormon historian Benjamin Park told Axios.

  • "Before that, evangelicals saw Mormons as heretics who could not be trusted, and Mormons saw evangelicals as challengers, as representatives of a corrupt Christianity," Park said. "...It took a willful forgetfulness on both sides to form this alliance on social issues."

Latter-day Saint leaders have eliminated some of the faith's uniquely Mormon features, from elaborate pageants to the word "Mormon" itself.

  • But hostility remains. For example, a popular evangelical TV showrunner came under fire last year for saying Latter-day Saints can also be Christian (something the church itself asserts).

Meanwhile, recent Latter-day Saint outreach to Catholics may be more effective in winning over rank-and-file believers.

  • Catholics polled by Pew had a higher opinion of Mormons than any other religious or non-religious group — even though Mormon leaders have historically condemned the Roman Catholic Church as "abominable."

Of note: Non-religious Americans polled by Pew had even more negative views of Latter-day Saints than religious respondents did, meaning "Mormons are getting hit by both sides," Park said.

  • But don't expect the church to seek allies on the secular left, he said.
  • "A poll is one thing. But in the actual reality of how power operates in America, Mormons have been able to have access to a much more powerful position due to their tenuous alliance with evangelicals than they ever would with the American left, unless they change core values of the church," Park said.

The church declined to respond to Axios' inquiries.

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