Mormonism as a Model for National Policy

imageI have great regard for my ward’s PR Representative. Today he forwarded a link to an article in National Review talking about how Mormons are much more observant of their beliefs than other Christian groups, The Mormon Advantage: Leaving theology aside, what can we learn from the Mormons? by Maggie Gallagher.

Embedded within this article was a link to a 2011 thesis published by my alma mater, the Naval Postgraduate School. Intrigued by what military folks might find of interest in the religion I profess, I looked up the paper, Growing an Ideology: How the Mormons Do It, authored by USAF Maj Marshall F. Chalverus and USAF Maj Michael A. Thomas. These two intelligence officers (clearly not Mormon themselves) had decided that it would be worth studying a fast-growing religion that bucks theories regarding how religions grow to determine how it might be best to counter insurgencies in support of US National Policy.

I was amused to see that nowhere in their diagrams of Church governance do they acknowledge the Relief Society, Young Women’s organization, or Primary. And yet they showed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Orchestra as auxiliaries reporting to the First Presidency. They also kept referring to us not as Mormons or as the LDS Church, but simply as the LDS. Luckily, nowhere did I notice that most understandable of typos, which would have rendered us the LSD. Obviously, in a military paper, this would have referred to Landing Ship, Dock, an amphibious warfare ship with a well dock to transport and launch landing craft and amphibious vehicles. What were you thinking?

The Majors’ conclusion was that socialization was more important that ideology in the success of Mormon growth and retention. Thus, they concluded, to effectively counter a troubling ideology, the US should focus on social bonds rather than merely broadcasting a “more attractive” ideology.

I particularly liked the discussion of how the strict standards of behavior, consumption, and dress actually assist the growth of “the LDS.” To quote from the thesis:

[S]ocial mandates help alleviate the free-rider problem. Individuals who wish to join the church, must adhere to certain social standards of behavior, which prevent truly uncommitted people from joining. This allows the church to focus its religious consumables to individuals who are truly committed, and thus can be counted on to volunteer time and money.

So maintaining high standards reduces the free-riders who would otherwise suck up pastoral resources without contributing to the community. Sweet. This paints an interesting picture with regards to demands that we reduce our standards so as to be more “inclusive” of all.

Going back to the National Review article, we see the impact of social ties in beliefs and behaviors related to family and fidelity. One set of comparisons was particularly revealing:

The Austin Institute looked at currently married people and asked if they had had sex with their spouses before marriage. Do they do what their churches teach?

Among regular churchgoers (three times a month or more), 57 percent of evangelicals had premarital sex with their future spouse, as did 64 percent of traditional Catholics, and 66 percent of fundamentalist Protestants. Just 14 percent of Mormons did.

I found this result to be shocking, that a majority of people in other Christian traditions have sex before marriage. The other results of the Austin Institute study (which included 15,000 individuals) was also interesting:

Casual Sex is Acceptable
Religion Yes Neutral No
Mormon 1 10 89
Evangelical 5 9 86
Fundamentalist Protestant 8 7 85
Traditional Catholic 10 25 65

Other interesting findings (using numbers from the article, which may have simplified the actual report findings):

Acceptable to Cohabit Before Marriage
Religion Yes
Mormon 4
Evangelical 7
Fundamentalist Protestant 17
Traditional Catholic 24

As already discussed, what is the actual pre-marital sex history of religious adherents?

Did have sex with spouse before marriage
Religion Yes
Mormon 14
Evangelical 57
Fundamentalist Protestant 64
Traditional Catholic 66

Interestingly, there is one marriage-related question where Mormons did not come out “on top”:

Permissible to have sex outside marriage
Religion Yes
Mormon 3
Evangelical 1
Fundamentalist Protestant 2
Traditional Catholic 4

On this last one, I suspect that the slightly higher number is a result of the importance of maintaining an eternal marriage despite failures and our past history of polygamy and what most people (who acknowledge that polygamy happened in the 1840s) think about what Joseph was doing.

So here is the secret to success. Love them. Simply love them. But maintain high standards, and protect marriage and fidelity within marriage.

Seems like Mormonism (the LDS) is doing exactly the right thing.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

7 thoughts on “Mormonism as a Model for National Policy

  1. Did Chalverus and Thomas’ paper delve into precisely how the Church inculcates its theology into the hearts and minds of its converts? Superficially their paper would seem to be at odds with Gallagher’s–the latter stating that Mormons are uniquely ideologically attached to their religion; the former (at least from the summaries I’ve seen) suggesting that Mormonism’s ideological cohesion is subordinate and incidental to its sense of community.

  2. I think these two are consistent in that the Mormon Church fosters an unusually strong social bond. Teachings are consistent (correlated), we have the bi-annual conferences where everyone is supposed to listen to Conference, and those conference addresses are used as instructional/sermon material in the local congregations during other weeks of the year. The laity is involved in actually administering the religion, and the various councils and interviews (e.g., annual tithing settlement, biennial temple recommends, annual Bishop conferences with youth) inspect the status of adherents.

    Neither article/paper mentioned home teaching and visiting teaching, where we become friends and meet on a more pastoral basis with one another. Incidentally, both home teaching and visiting teaching as currently practiced had their origin in the 1842 efforts to root out seducers. What neither article/paper would have known is the extreme focus in Mormon history on sexually aberrant behavior, speaking not of polygamy, but of seduction and illicit sex. So I am not at all surprised to see the statistics from this relationship study, showing that for the most part Mormons have retained their beliefs that avoiding sexual contact outside the bounds of marriage is extremely important.

  3. The article indicated that indoctrination on a serious level takes place once a person joins the Church. After all, we spend three hours every Sunday listening to or teaching doctrine. Even small children are taught the Articles of Faith through singing them. As a Primary teacher of seven year olds I was impressed by how well they knew basic Mormon and Christian doctrine.

  4. Here is a prior article by the same author (Maggie Gallagher) re: the historic Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Rome the middle of November. It may explain the author’s interest in Mormons. (

    Having personally watched much of the colloquium, and having commented on several of the presenters, she writes the following:

    But for me, this thing rang out most clearly in the words of a member of the First Presidency of the LDS church, Henry B. Eyring. The meeting of President Eyring and Pope Francis was in itself historic. The Mormons are the one major American faith tradition (with the possible exception of the modern Orthodox Jews), who are successfully combining living in the “real world” with creating a distinctive, effective family culture. And they have built this extraordinary achievement, President Eyring was trying to remind us, not primarily on the head but on the human heart.
    “I am an eyewitness of the power of the union of a man and a woman in marriage to produce happiness for one another and for their family. The evidence I offer is personal, yet I trust my recital may trigger in your memories what you have seen that would point to a general truth beyond the experience of one couple and one family,” he began.
    He was living as a single man, a doctoral student at Harvard, his research was going well, he had his local church, he played tennis often, life was good. One day in a grove of trees in New Hampshire, “I saw in the crowd a young woman. I had never seen her before, but the feeling came over me that she was the best person I had ever seen. That evening she walked into our church meeting in Cambridge. Another thought came to my mind with great power: ‘If I could only be with her, I could become every good thing I ever wanted to be.’ I said to the man sitting next to me, ‘Do you see that girl? I would give anything to marry her.’”
    A year later they were married in a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
    “The promise included that whatever descendants we might have would be bound to us forever if we lived worthy of that happiness. We were promised that after this life, we could continue to enjoy whatever loving family sociality we could create in life.
    “My wife and I believed those promises, and we wanted that happiness. So we acted to make it possible through the great variety of circumstances of life. There was sickness and health, struggle and some prosperity, the births of six children, and eventually the births of 31 grandchildren, and on the day I arrived I was told we had the first great grandchild. Yet with all the changes, there have been consistencies since that wedding day more than 52 years ago.
    There was a catch in his voice, and I wondered about it, the hidden story behind the almost tears as he said, “Most remarkable to me has been the fulfillment of the hope I felt the day I met my wife. I have become a better person as I have loved and lived with her.”
    At that moment I knew: This is what I want for my sons, that they find the woman who will make them want, and give them the power to be, a better man. This is also the kind of woman I want to be. (emphasis mine)

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