In her Flunking Sainthood posts, Jana Reiss has summarized some fascinating findings about Mormon attitudes toward the LGBT community. These statistics represent wide-scale shifts in attitudes in a very short period of time as well as double digit differences in attitudes between generations. I’ll review the findings from her posts below, but I recommend you read them yourself here and here.

Let’s start with the older data, from October 2016. This data was about the attitudes toward the Nov. 5 Exclusion Policy, nearly a year after its release. This was, for me, the most discouraging data set.

Two-thirds (71%) of active Mormons agreed (either strongly or somewhat) that church members who enter a gay marriage are apostate and should be subject to a disciplinary council.

  • 47% said they “strongly agreed”
  • 18% said they “strongly disagreed”

The generation gap for “strong agreement” is very telling. The Silent Generation (those who number among the apostles are in this group) is much more strongly aligned with this position than the Millenials, and each generation has a reduction in agreement with a 13% drop between Silent Generation and Generation X (mine) and another 5% drop in the Millennials group.

Current 3G "strongly agree" LGBT policy part 1

This generation gap correlates with strong feelings that homosexuality should be accepted by society.  Only 38% of Silent Generation agree with that statement, but 56% of Millennials do (Gen X is in the middle at 47% agreement).

When it comes to the second facet of the Nov. 5 Exclusion Policy: barring children of gay couples from baptism and blessings, the enthusiasm and support for the policy drops across the board by 11 points while disagreement rises by 9. Interestingly, there is a strong divide between men and women with more women disagreeing with the policy to exclude children. In all, 42% of active Mormon women disagree either strongly (28%) or somewhat (14%) with the policy.

No surprise that Republicans are twice as likely to strongly agree with this policy (46%) than Democrats (23%).

Another unsurprising finding is that 63% of former Mormons strongly disagreed with the policy, and another 14% somewhat disagreed with it, for a total of 77%. The survey did not assess whether this was the reason they left the church.

Policy aside, there has been a significant shift between 2015 and 2016 in how Mormons feel about whether small businesses should be allowed a religious exemption from providing goods & services to gay couples, and now the (slim) oppose allowing a small business owner to refuse.

The Next Mormons Survey designed to measure generation gaps in attitudes and beliefs within Mormonism shows that twice as many Millennial Mormons support gay marriage (40.2%) than their age 52+ counterparts (20.3%). In similar findings (PRRI survey), we can see the shift in acceptance that was measured in just one year (2015-2016):

Our Shifting Gerontocracy

One thing I noticed in the data is that the Boomers were lumped in with the Silent Generation. I decided to look up some census data on these generational groups to put things into perspective. Here are a few interesting comparisons:

  • Silent Generation (born 1925-1945) were raising their children between 1946 and 1985. As parents, they saw Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam war, Watergate, the sexual revolution.
  • Boomers (born 1946-1964) were raising children between 1967 and 2004. As parents, they saw oil price wars, increased reliance on technology (microwaves, TV channels, and eventually cell phones), the ERA and bra burnings, and the fall of communism.
  • Generation X (born 1965-1980) are still raising children, starting in 1986 and going through 2020. As parents, we saw the emergence of the 24 hour news cycle, the continued rise of global terrorism, the inception of the internet, the beginning of the tea party and increased polarization of political parties, and an increase in global awareness and connection.
  • Millennials will be parents from 2002 – 2037 and it remains to be seen what they will experience.

Although the Silent Generation is the smallest of all these groups by far (only 60% as many people as Generation X, for example), the Q15 comprise mostly (2/3) of this group, and now a handful of Boomers (1/3):

  • Silent Generation: Nelson (1924), Monson (1927), Ballard (1928), Oaks (1932), Hales (1932), Eyring (1933), Holland (1940), Uchtdorf (1940), Cook (1940), Christofferson (1945).
  • Boomers: Andersen (1951), Rasband (1951), Bednar (1952), Renlund (1952), Stevenson (1955).

Apostles are generally called between age 55 and 65, with a few outliers (as young as 53 or as old as 70). Given that target range, and an average age of 88 for apostles at time of death, here’s what the future looks like in terms of generational shift among church leadership:

  • Boomers will continue to be called as vacancies occur as late as 2029 and will generally continue to serve for 23-33 years.
  • The first Generation X leaders may be called around 2020 (age 55 for the oldest among the Gen Xers). Prime apostle calling age for Gen X is from 2020-2045.
  • Millennials could called to apostleships between 2036 to 2062.

Looking ahead, we see that due to increases in life expectancy, the Silent Generation will have had a completely disproportionate representation in church leadership as compared to total populations of these four generational groups.

  • The Silent Generation has had 13 apostles, despite comprising only 50 million total Americans.
  • We currently have 5 apostles who are Boomers, and we can expect another 6 to be called as vacancies occur. That’s 11 total compared to a 76 million person generation.
  • Due to these quirks in life expectancy, we can expect only 8 vacancies to be filled by the largest generation, my generation, Generation X. This is the first generation to demonstrate a strong shift in acceptance of gay marriage.
  • The Millennial generation will likely fill 10 apostle vacancies, compared to their population of 75.4 million.

That means policies, doctrines, teaching materials, and to a large extent cultural mores and attitudes will have been set by that smaller yet long-lived generation.

  • The Silent Generation will have had 2.5 times the per capita representation of the largest population group, Generation X.
  • The Millennials will have half the representation per capita that the Silent Generation has had.

Of course, not all Silent Generation are in lock step on these issues either, just a majority. Everyone is still an individual with his or her own hobby horse topics.

Discussion Points

The survey results are revealing of a growing chasm between church leadership and their generational cohorts and the up-and-coming church members. How you interpret these results probably depends on your own perspective, given the differences between the sexes, generations, and political lines.

  • What, if anything, in this data did you find surprising?
  • Do you think this portends an inevitable shrinkage in membership?
  • How do you predict change in member attitudes will come over the next few years?
  • Will change come too slowly for rising generations?