I think it’s impressive that the Church attempts to improve its programs by regularly surveying its members to gather input on various issues. I say impressive because I’m not sure other Churches are doing the same or attempting to do so, although it’s important to bear in mind that they are not all strictly “top down” leadership either; the people can more readily vote with their feet, their donations or literally vote in elections for leaders in many denominations. As Mormons, we’ve seen surveys on all sorts of things over the years: garment design, doctrines, meeting structure, curriculum, beliefs, etc.
One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is the five-thirty-eight podcast with the statistics guru Nate Silver and his cast of pollsters. They discuss all sorts of polls that have happened or been published in recent news, and one of their segments is to assess whether a specific survey was a “good use of polling or bad use of polling.” There are many reasons they give for things being a bad use of polling. A few of them include:
- Sampling errors. These include things like asking the wrong people, too many people, too few people, only a subset of people, missing an important demographic, sampling only tech savvy people or people who answer the phone during the day.
- Bad wording of questions. There are many versions of this: worded in a way that’s hard to understand, lumping multiple topics into one question so results are conflated, leading the person to answer in a specific way.
- Pointless. Only revealing information that everyone already knows, so it won’t have any impact, or the information being gathered has no way to be implemented in public policy, so it’s not really helpful at all.
A recent Church survey was done to gather input on issues that appear to be either related to women’s concerns, and/or related problems that lead to disaffection. Let’s play Nate Silver’s game and weigh in on whether you think it’s a good use of polling or bad use of polling. Here’s a list of some of the questions with some commentary.
- How likely is it that you will be active in the Church 5 years from now? (Options are “Very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, very unlikely, unsure.”)
We start with a doozy of a question that makes me immediately suspicious of the motives in asking it: are they trying to weed out people who plan to leave or possibly to give extra weight to those who are considering leaving? It’s also been my experience that nobody plans to leave the Church five years in advance; if I’m in now, why do I think I will be out in five years? It’s just odd given the really long time frame. I’m going to go with bad use of polling. Why five years? Let’s continue.
How much do you agree or disagree with the following? (This is on a scale of “strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, strongly agree”).
- I believe the Church is led by a prophet of God today.
- I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
- I am troubled by some Church history, doctrines or practices.
- “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” has been a helpful document in my life.
- The practice of polygamy during the early days of the Church.
These are a mix of belief-based questions, so they still feel “demographic” to me, setting up who is answering the questions, rather than actually gathering the information they seek. Demographic questions are used to divide the other questions into groups, so the intention with these seems to be to assess orthodoxy (belief level) of the respondent. That last one is an obvious mistake in wording / put in the wrong section. The options are a scale of agreement, so what exactly is the respondent supposed to be agreeing with for that one? Polygamy happened in the early Church; it’s a fact, not an opinion. Clear bad use of polling on that one as there’s no answer that makes sense. If it’s gauging comfort level, that scale is in the next section, so “oops.” Parenthetically, I can only assume that the fourth bullet is an IQ test of sorts, as it makes no sense how this document is “helpful” to individual Church members. What help is it giving them exactly? Again, maybe someone can explain to me how this wording makes sense, but I’m not seeing it. 
This next block of questions is rated based on a scale of discomfort rather than disagreement, referring to the “importance” attached to these issues for the respondent (options are: “not at all, very little, somewhat, a fair amount, a great deal”). This type of question is attitudinal, meaning that while you can believe a thing to be true (or false), you can either like it or not like it. This is more gauging the “liking” than the “believing” or agreeing.
- The Church’s teachings about women dressing modestly.
- Not knowing what happens after this life if a man remarries and is sealed to more than one woman.
- The amount of information available about Mother in Heaven.
- The Church’s policies regarding LGBTQ members.
- The number of women speakers in General Conference (other than in the Women’s Session). Clearly this was written before the recent announcement that the Saturday evening sessions are being shelved.
- The way that sexual intimacy is taught or addressed in Church settings.
- Past policies that excluded black members from receiving the priesthood. As usual, they didn’t mention the temple restrictions that impacted both black men & women.
- The Church’s teachings about when to marry, start a family, or how many children to have.
- Any other teachings or practices you find uncomfortable (please specify).
For this next section, we are back to the agreement scale, assessing how strongly the respondent agrees or disagrees with the following. Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting, several of these specific issues are 1) worded weirdly, 2) mixing multiple concepts into single questions, making it difficult to answer accurately:
- Too much emphasis in the Church is placed on men’s roles as priesthood holders, rather than their roles as husbands and fathers. Why lump all of these together into one question? These are two different issues. It’s like when a radio station says “more rock, less talk.” Some people want less talk, but also don’t want more rock. Some people want more rock but they like talk. For me, I’d rather reduce how much gendered talk there is altogether. Jesus taught men and women the same things. The gospel principles aren’t gendered.
- Women with young children at home should only work if it is financially necessary.
- I believe women should be ordained to the priesthood. This one also makes me suspicious. If they are asking this, but it’s completely off the table as an option, then is it just being used to weed people out?
- I believe that women are not currently ordained to the priesthood because of Church policy, not Church doctrine.
- It is appropriate for Priesthood leaders to teach young men (age 12-18) about issues of modesty and sexual morality. Another one where two issues: modesty and sexual morality are lumped together. What if the answers differ for each of these topics? Also, this just seems weird to create gender parity. Do we really think that the Church is teaching boys about modesty on equal footing with how girls are taught about it?
- It is appropriate for Priesthood leaders to teach young women (age 12-18) about issues of modesty and sexual morality. This is even worse than the prior question for lumping things together. Now we have three things: two topics being taught and the fact that men are teaching girls about sexual topics. A respondent might feel that these are appropriate topics but should be taught by women to young women. Or they might feel that sexual morality is a good topic but not modesty.
- Women should have the same opportunities as men in education, business, government and the community.
- Gender should not be considered by those in hiring positions.
- Women should be strong, independent, thinking individuals. As opposed to what? Is the question implying that some people think women should not think? Why are these traits all lumped together in this way? Most feminists would not prescribe how women should be. Like men, they can have their own personalities. Feminists don’t require women to be “warrior princesses” or work in STEM to be valid. Does something think they do? This question feels bizarre. What are they getting at?
- Husbands and wives should have an equal say in decisions in their marriage and family.
- Women should have as much input as men in decisions about Church policies and practices that affect them. The problem with this question is the qualifier “that affect them.” Of course, it’s unfathomable that women would have any input on anything that affects men. As the Apostle Paul would say: God forbid!
- I consider myself a feminist. This is another one that, given the Church’s track record, scares the hell out of me. I can’t help but imagine anyone daring to claim to be a feminist having their survey chucked right in the trash. Even if the survey group is professional about it, will Church leaders want to hear anything from people who identify as feminists?
This survey is published by something called the Correlation Research Division. I’m not familiar with that group, but I thought it was interesting to note. As with all Church surveys, these results will not be made public, so the use is strictly to inform leadership of issues members care about. It’s up to the leaders to decide what to do with that feedback, if anything. From what I understand, these polls are only created when requested by a specific leadership committee in the Church. Given that purpose, is this a good use of polling or bad use of polling?
My initial big picture view of this poll is that it’s well-worn territory in the wake of Jana Reiss’s book The Next Mormons. The polling data she provided already covered many of these topics, but not all of them. Perhaps the Church feels that they need to either confirm or debunk her results by doing their own survey, which makes me wonder about the people they’ve selected to take the survey (I did not receive it directly, so I’m not part of the respondent pool). So here are some possible reasons they want this information:
- To make tweaks to curriculum, councils or leadership.
- To inform or educate church leaders, to get them up to speed on topics that matter to members.
- To identify practices that are driving people out of the Church.
- To comfort themselves that no change is needed because only feminists and apostates dislike how things are.
I’ll let you weigh in on what you think the use of this data will be. Pres. Nelson does like making changes to councils, meetings, and so forth, so you never know, although we don’t know whether he personally will see this data or if it was for some other purpose. Also, Church leaders reserve the right to make decisions about changes based on revelation after discussion within councils. Survey results function as a catalyst to those discussions, giving members a voice in the process.
Let’s see what you think of this survey:
- Overall, good use of polling or bad use of polling?
- What do you think the results will reveal?
- Are there some things you would change about the survey questions?
- Were you asked to complete this survey or others? What’s your general impression?
- Do you think these surveys are resulting in positive changes that improve the Church experience or not? Explain your answer.
- What surveys or poll topics would you like to see in the future?
 I did look up on the Church’s website, and apparently they do think it’s a “useful” document, explaining that families consist of siblings as well as spouses, and that “we preach the ideal, but live reality,” or something like that. I mean, whatever. Their assertion of its “usefulness” is lost on me, and their statement about how it was written are simply false, but I’m sure that many run-of-the-mill Church members don’t know that. I’ve said it many times elsewhere: if the document is descriptive (which is how it reads), what’s the point*, and if it’s prescriptive, it’s destined to fail. *The point is to give the Church grounds to oppose gay marriage legalization in Hawaii in 1995 by putting its teachings on marriage explicitly in writing.
 This rubric describes four options: I believe this thing, and I like it. I believe this thing, and I don’t like it. I don’t believe this thing, but I would like it. I don’t believe this thing, and I wouldn’t like it.
I agree it’s impressive that the church conducts these types of polls. This one doesn’t seem to be very well designed but the type of information it seeks to gather is important. As a woman, no one has ever shown much interest in my opinion in the church so I would love to be surveyed but never have been.
Doing such surveys is admirable. Doing them competently and then avoiding confusion of correspondence and causation would be even more admirable.
I’ve received maybe four or five surveys in the past couple of years (though not this one), and I was pleasantly surprised when I got it, as it shows a real desire to know what membership think about how the Church operates. My problem is that I have zero confidence that anything submitted is truly confidential. Not that I have been asked by local leadership about my responses, but I can’t imagine that some leaders would pass up the opportunity to know whether someone in a particular leadership position has serious concerns with Church doctrines or policies (to the extent the two can be distinguished).
I was so excited to receive a seminary teacher survey from the church after six years of teaching, and had so many thoughts to share. Unfortunately, there was no room for comments and every question was about how “almost always, frequently, sometimes, never” I encouraged students to seek personal revelation, act on doctrine, taught doctrine, had class discussion about testimony, etc. It left me feeling like I was being reviewed for how well my lessons went (after the last year and a half of Covid teaching, let’s say classroom teaching has not been ideal) but didn’t deal with any of my actual issues or concerns with the program.
Surveys are interesting, of course. But if one believes that Church is led by revelation, why is a survey necessary?
Rudi has asked the correct question here, although likely unintentionally. Do we want Church policy and doctrine set through surveying the masses? Do the great hordes who gain their knowledge of the world through Facebook and reality television really have a greater capacity for leading the Church than those who have spent their whole lives immersed in study of the Gospel? Clearly not.
Both Rudi and JCS have good points, but I think Church leaders often have to “study it out in their mind” before coming to a decision and gaining confirmation. I think part of that would include council discussions and member surveys, among other things. Although I think they may very well be accustomed to receiving revelation more than the average member, I think the idea that they don’t have to put some time in on their part or struggle occasionally to get answers would make mortality a little unfair. It’s just as much a test for them as it is the rest of us.
As far as this survey goes, I’d give them an A for effort and attempt. Some of these questions may very well reveal more about the survey taker than the question initially lets on. I think it’s more likely that’s an attempt to economize the survey than it is to be deceptive or manipulative, but I can see the concerns.
I think there’s yet another layer of ambiguity here based on what you’re reading into generic questions like “the practice of polygamy in the early days of the church.”
I would imagine most members will immediately think of the line we’ve been fed for at least four generations that polygamy was a way to care for the widows after crossing the plains.
Others may think of the Young/Wilson/Taylor teachings that polygamy is holier than monogamy and the only way to be exalted like God.
Still others are going to picture Joseph Smith, a flaming sword, an engaged father, and a tearful 14 year old girl.
Which of these does the church have in mind when asking the question? I can’t imagine what kind of useful information they hope to get out of a question like that (and at least a few of the others in that survey) when the principle in question can mean totally different things to each member.
I have received a few surveys, not impressed.
In most organizations I belong to, I have a say and a vote. This includes representatives in several professional organizations, clubs I or my children are members of, representatives in my workplace, and even my credit union lets me vote every year. On top of that is the right to vote to choose elected officials. When I think things should be different, I can call, write, etc.
On the other hand, I do not have standing to directly influence things in companies I do business with (amazon, etc.,) but the relationship is governed by contract law and those companies do have certain responsibilities to me.
With the church, none of the many sustaining votes count in the sense of participatory democracy, and publicly arguing for different policies than the current ones is now grounds for excommunication. The institution has no obligation to its members, in my analysis.
Surveys are weak replacements for real discussions with upper leadership and public voicing of opinions in a context where the voicing of different opinions is considered to be valid and part of a a democratic process.
Surveys don’t cut it, and we are selling ourselves short if those of us who are fortunate to live in a real democracy accept a system that is utterly hierarchical and anti-democratic and where members don’t have any rights.
End of rant…. I have enjoyed the comments of others about this post.
I think the premise stated in your very first sentence needs to be examined. You state that surveys are used by the Church to “improve programs”. If it was that simple I’d have no problem with the surveys in general.
However, it seems as if surveys have been used to modify doctrine and even sacred temple ceremonies. That is troublesome to say the least.
The cojcolds might be lead by the Lord via revelation. Maybe, maybe not. And even an organization lead by the Lord needs improvement since men and women are doing the work. But once this “improvement” bleeds over into doctrine or official narratives, count me skeptical.
I’m highly suspicious using surveys to generate useful actions. Hawkgrrl listed a lot of issues with the creation/execution of surveys which lead to trouble generating useful conclusions or follow up actions. There are some other deeper fundamental problems with using surveys to drive actions. When people respond to a survey, they don’t necessarily speak the truth–what they say they want and what they actually want don’t align. So people will fill out surveys saying we should spend money on the arts (as an example), yet when it comes to spending their own money, they don’t spend it on the arts.
My dislike of surveys comes mainly from my experience in working in a large corporation. Surveys come out regularly, but have little impact on what is really important. Even worse, sometimes the survey results are assumed to be the result that is important. Employee satisfaction is important, but it is not the result that success in your company is measured by.
So rather than a survey, I’d appreciate a look at results for these topics. For example, rather than asking whether people liked lessons on modesty, look at the results of relevant metrics (temple marriage/% active 1 yr later/mission %/etc) for those units who taught specific curricula or did certain activities. Better to look at what people do than what they say.
On another note, I have a pet peeve with the handwringing over modesty lessons. My pet peeve is that this somehow gets laid on the feet of over-controlling men telling women what to wear because they can’t control their lecherous thoughts. If you think that, I’ve got news for you. The men aren’t the ones giving this pressure or lessons–they are coming from the women leaders. The men are just perplexed about the crazy rules for girl’s camp not allowing shorts or swimwear. If they sign off on those restrictions, it’s to placate women who are inserting these modesty codes. My daughter stopped attending girls camp because of the craziness. Whenever I have brought up objections, the most strenuous defenders of the code have ALWAYS come from the women leaders.
My first reaction was that I would love to be able to respond to a survey. Then I read the questions. I was VERY surprised that my second reaction was that I would throw the survey away, rather than respond. I would be afraid that my responses would somehow be identified and used against me. I know that I do not see church as a safe place. I am very careful in how I present myself and my beliefs. But I truly had not realized I lack trust to such a degree.
Yes, it’s nice the Church does this sort of polling and data collection. Unfortunately, a data-in garbage-out process isn’t any better than a garbage-in garbage-out process. What is needed is not simply better data getting to decision makers. We need some changes in that decision process. The guys at the top are pretty good at ignoring facts and data they don’t like. We need to shorten the time in which the Church adjusts to reality from two or three decades to two or three years.
I got one of these surveys about ten years ago in California. Everyone in the ward got one. It asked general questions about doctrine and so forth. But there were bar codes on every envelope. So I didn’t trust the anonymity claim that accompanied the packet and I didn’t complete and return it. I’m fairly sure they didn’t want to hear my input. If they want to know what I think, they can read my blog posts and comments.
I’ve taken a number of church surveys as well as BYU surveys in the past. I’ve never been particularly impressed with the wording, although I can’t quite remember any examples right now.
I recently received a survey recently (not this one). Spent 2 hours on a survey meant to take 20 minutes (so it said) mainly because I like to take every opportunity to expand my choice of answers from the selection in the other box, and further comment box at the end.
The questions and selection of answers available to choose from reveal some pretty telling blind spots in my view. This particular survey covered a range of topics from difficulties and other aspects of cleaning the church building (I had a lot to say about that ), a selection of possible alternative names for the addiction recovery programme (because why not introduce yet another euphamism.. how is that going to improve things…), what kind of missionary I am and how well I know the missionaries serving in the ward. But the question I could not answer until the comments at the end was the following relating to service missions:
Which of the following best describes the purpose of a service mission?
To allow all God’s children the opportunity to serve a mission, especially if they are unable to serve a proselyting mission.
To provide a lower cost option of missionary service.
To invite others to come unto Christ.
To provide a chance to be a missionary to those who are unsure of the strength of their testimony.
No option for none of the above, or any other purpose… A truly glaring omission in my view, was surely the most important and obvious reason for a service mission – To help and serve others. It beggared belief.
I did keep screen shots of all the questions, so that I was able to refer back to them in the further comments section at the end… and still have them…
I also am unconvinced that the surveys are truly confidential. But at this point I am past caring about that, and only too happy to get the chance to say exactly what I think.
Thanks, Hedgehog. You’ve renewed my faith in my opinion of the utter incompetence of the bureaucracy in SLC. I’ve seen it in architecture, Facilities Maintenance, musical instrument selection, policy making, and manual writing. I expect it’s pervasive, but thankfully with occasional hits on a good or appropriate decision. I wonder sometimes whether the latter are accidental.
Several good points here. Thanks for the fantastic comments!
1) Confidentiality is a definite concern among the membership taking these surveys. Historically it seems that the Church has deliberately wanted to be sure that those taking surveys are members “in good standing.” Members in good standing have been carefully trained from birth that only party line answers are acceptable. Like Hedgehog, I’ve just gotten to the point that I now feel like Kramer in the reverse peep-hole episode: “Let em look.” I don’t need to hide who I am or what I think for the comfort of other people. I like me more than I like them. But yes, I imagine many taking the surveys are going to give performative answers or choose not to respond.
2) Questions aren’t necessarily asking what people really want, so the answers aren’t necessarily going to reveal what people think. That’s a problem with some of these questions, and a focus group is even better than a survey for some of that (or as Dave astutely points out, blogs are a great substitute.) Thinking back to the garments survey years ago the one question they didn’t ask was “Would you rather not wear them at all?” If people are honest, you know for a fact many would say that. But nobody is allowed to say that they are a terrible underwear choice. (Admittedly, they aren’t that bad if you live in Utah, but they are awful in humid or warm climates or for women during large parts of our lives due to health issues).
3) Given these points, maybe the Church needs to do a survey on whether or not the Church is a safe place to express doubts or to be honest about one’s actual feelings and experiences if they don’t match the Church’s “ideal.” (Protip: it is not).
There’s also some interesting discussion in these comments about the differences between programs, policy, doctrine, and revelation. In the church we tend to think revelation > doctrine > programs and policy, and only the last category is subect to change, but these terms are really used interchangeably and only discarded later when a “revelation” didn’t really work out (or when it is suddenly revealed that there was really no revelation behind a now-defunct policy or program). The word “doctrine” really just means teachings, but when Mormons use the word “doctrine” it adds weight, as if it never changes and was literally written by God. All doctrine is subject to human interpretation within the context of our current time, so of course these things change. I’m not sure why, but we seem to require the comfort that it never changes. Well, given what doctrines have been taught (as “doctrine”) since 1830, I’m glad things change! It’s just too bad we have to pretend they don’t.
squidloverfat: Your suggestion to measure based on outcomes is interesting, but in reality, the problem is determining what to measure. For example, I would love it if the temple were not a central part of our requirements to be a member in good standing. I would like to quit being such a high demand religion, not because I don’t meet those demands (I do), but because focusing on them is a distraction of the actual gospel preached by Jesus and reinforce anti-gospel behaviors: elitism, fealty to human leaders, judgmentalism, SEXISM. I’m starting to wonder if there is anything else to the Church experience than these things. All I’ve heard about the last four times I went to Church is why we should always obey Church leaders, how to accost people and interrogate them about their loss of belief, and why we are so much better than people with doubts. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but here we are.
You are correct that women who uphold patriarchy and believe they benefit from it are the worst (Hello, “Deplorables!”). They do totally turn on other women and tear them apart. That’s how patriarchy works. It reduces women to consumable objects for men. Mothers who buy in focus on their daughters’ appearance, causing eating disorders, relegating their education and goals to supporting a man and a family, not having their own hopes and dreams, slut shaming them, and in general creating the type of insecurity that continues to uphold patriarchy. I thought that question was weirdly worded because I can’t think of a single time when a man taught modesty to me in the Church. It’s always the Aunt Lydias doing the dirty work that their mothers did before them.
JCS: Your characterization of Church leaders as “those who have spent their whole lives immersed in study of the Gospel” makes me laugh. Do I think they pray and read their scriptures? Sure. Every Church member is encouraged to be engaged in a lifelong study of the gospel. The key difference with Church leaders is that they are in a bureaucratic and decision-making position, running the organization of the Church. They are not God. I grew up being taught that we all have access to the Holy Ghost and personal revelation. That didn’t use to come with the caveats that seem to be the only emphasis now. You could totally have personal revelation that you were an exception to some policy or rule, and your personal revelation trumped a church thing, although ONLY in the context of your own life. Now we’ve got kids singing “Follow the Prophet” like some kind of cult. We’ve come a long way down a dark path.
Ditto, Hedgehog. I never receive these surveys, but would welcome the opportunity to provide some kind of feedback directly to the Church. The closest I can get now is to complain to my bishop, who is usually too busy, too indifferent or too powerless to provide meaningful solutions.
I have been pleased to recieve 3 or 4 of these surveys. I answered honestly. I, like hedgehog wondered about consequences, but also thought if they want to make decisions about my membership, save me the trouble.
I was pleased, as I have no other communication with HQ, and figured there was more likelyhood of my thoughts getting through.
I see no reason, in this age, why we could not contribute our opinions re all decisions.
Writing on this blog is more “dangerous” than submitting any questionnaire. The Church has both the in-house expertise and the resources to ID any one of us.
I work for a large Fortune 50 company which surveys all its employees every other year (if not sooner). The survey is allegedly confidential, but I’m sure someone, somewhere in the company (or a subcontractor) could actually link employees with their answers. Still I take the survey every time it comes out because 1.) I trust my company will not retaliate against me (I’ve never seen the company take retribution against any employee for their responses) and 2.) I trust the company to use the results to improve (I have seen my company publish the results no matter how bad they are and then actively work to change).
I would not trust the Church to keep my responses anonymous (I’ve seen what the church does to those that disagree with it). Nor would I trust them to actually action against any negative findings. I would not waste my time
We had a ward survey about going back to church which I thought was anonymous. I went to town on it. Then at the end it asked for your email address so WC could best action our thoughts. I thought about going back and changing answers, nah. Although opening my opinion to 11 leaders of the ward was quite revealing.
I think we over-estimate the churches desire to weed out outliers from these surveys. 2 hour church, temple changes, etc etc. I’m pretty certain these came from surveying. I particularly appreciate surveys outside of the mormon corridor, its one of the few ways to get outside of the bubble to how the rest of the “world wide church” is thinking
Thanks for sharing these, hawkgrrrl. I love that questions like these are being asked by the Church, even if the survey seems like it’s a little slapped together. (I find the polygamy question hilariously out of place, like you said. It’s almost like they looked at the response options and thought “Well people maybe agree or disagree with polygamy, so surely this belongs here with these other statements.”) I’m with everyone above, though, who doesn’t expect anything good to come of such a survey. It will just be super easy for any results to be framed in terms like “look how bad people who believe X are.” For example, what if lots of people say they’re uncomfortable with the Church’s policies regarding LGBTQ members? Well, it would be trivially easy to go back and check and find that surely people who are less likely to agree with “The FamProc has been helpful to me” are more uncomfortable with the Church’s policies. Clearly such people are wicked and not fully committed to the Church if they don’t love the FamProc, so their concerns over policies related to LGBTQ members can safely be ignored as complaints of the damned.
@Hawkgrrl, I’ve never had an aunt Lydia, but now I’ll never be able to look on certain people as anything other than “Aunt Lydia”. It’s kind of the same way I view every person who feels the need to end a long meeting on Fast Sunday with a 5+ minute prayer as Brother or Sister Enos, no matter what their name is.
I see these surveys in a way as a response to blogs and internet discussions like this one. One obvious example I saw was when the chatter on Exponent was about the sexism of the temple ceremony. Shortly after that discussion, a survey came out. The survey questions were the exact items that had been discussed on the feminist blog, even using some of the same wording. Then a year or so later, changes were made, changing the exact things brought up as problems on the blog.
Coincident? I don’t think so. I think that there are committees assigned to follow such discussions, then report back to the powers that be. For example, the senior missionaries assigned to monitor feminist blogs might report back that the chatter is that women are actually leaving the church over the sexism in the temple. After getting such a negative report, admittedly from a “disgruntled” women’s blog, the powers that be wonder just how common such feelings are, so they order a survey to find out if “chapel Mormons” feel the same. The question the church wants to answer is that if angry feminists just hate the temple, or if the temple is turning believing women into angry feminists. The survey results show that about half of women have struggled with feeling that the endowment and sealings are sexist. So, the church tones down the sexist language without changing the underlying sexism.
Anna: I agree with the substance of your comments. The thing is, it’s nearly impossible for a person in their 70s, 80s or 90s to come to grips with their ACTUAL sexist beliefs. It’s so much easier to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic than to understand how your lifelong assumptions have been wrong and harmful. And honestly, I hate even using the word harmful in this context, not because it’s not true, but because we can walk away (albeit with difficulty) from beliefs that are irrelevant and unwise and unkind. Them being harmful is phrasing it in terms of how “victims” / women are impacted, but the reality is that the Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant and will die with its geriatric leaders (or continue on its path to Westboro Lite) if it doesn’t learn to listen and change assumptions that aren’t eternal, just a byproduct of post-WW2 reactionary ideas.
Angela, exactly why I said they change the wording without changing the underlying sexism. I really don’t think they “get it” because they honestly think women are fundamentally different than men, rather than being, you know, like the same species.
Like with the last temple changes, they made a lot of changes, but they did not change the basic idea that the husband is the woman’s “lord” where he takes her through the veil into the CK, in exactly the same way Jesus is the man’s Lord and He takes the man through the veil into the CK.
By the way, good thought provoking post.
Anna: Even more galling was the doubling down on polygamy by adding fealty to the “New and Everlasting Covenant” into the wording. Exactly whom do they think they are fooling with that? Not me. Not anyone who is listening to the wording and has read D&C 132 where that phrase appears. What I hear is that we will pry their trophy wives out of their cold dead hands (not that I’m keen to choose which spouse someone remains with eternally, just that it’s a ridiculous double standard that is obvious to all of us).
Angela, I haven’t been to a sealing ceremony since the changes were made (reportedly adding a limited covenant of the man to “preside”). I think the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” was already in the old language. Was it added somewhere in the endowment also? If so, I missed it. They changed some of the sexism and not all of it. I take it from Anna that they’re still having a groom take the Lord’s place in that part of the ritual that represents the Lord taking the groom’s bride through the veil into His presence. I thought that a bit weird many decades ago, but there were at least some Mormon teachings that resurrection is an ordinance to be performed by a husband for his wife. I haven’t heard that one for decades. Is it still hanging around? I always wonder what I’ve missed in the background of LDS sexism.
It seems to me, however, that the Church sexism is not only a function of “post-WW2 reactionary ideas” but also of 19th century ideas. While I think its true that our geriatric leaders are unlikely or even unable to change those post-WW2 ideas that were drilled into them, the 19th century legacy is tied to the cultural notion of the de facto infallibility of JS (and others). That notion is dear to a lot of active Mormons who are not at all geriatric and who would have a difficult time giving it up, however much they dislike both polygamy and the Brighamite (v. the Orson Pratt) version of the celestial kingdom in the hereafter..
Incidentally, D&C 22 claims baptism is a new and everlasting covenant. I think the Church website includes a lot of material asserting that the “new and everlasting covenant” is celestial marriage (See D&C 131.) and not as polygamous marriage despite the language of Section 132. On the other hand, it seems at least many of the 19th century and early 20th century saints were convinced that polygamy was essential to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Here’s where we ask again “whom do they think they’re fooling.”
I suppose eternal polygamists like DHO and RMN don’t want to offend their second wives by giving up polygamy; their firsts are safely dead — reckoning with them comes later, if at all. 🙂
Wondering: IIRC, the N&EC language is in the body of the endowment, not just the sealing, replacing the hearken language in which wives literally subordinated themselves to husbands. So, basically, SSDD (same sh!t, different day). If anyone wants to update me on that (e.g. if that’s not where it is), please do. I’m interested, although have no dog in this fight. I’m too old to get excited about their foot-dragging changes and the crumbs that fall off their fat tables.
That Oaks would mock women who worried about being relegated to polygamous wife status in the eternities over the pulpit in Gen Conf is peak Church attitude toward women. Head pats and jokes at our expense are not acceptable. The laffs he garnered are damning of the Church membership as a whole. It’s interesting that this survey specifically addresses this issue. Clearly the message got to someone high up that women didn’t think that his callous self-serving joke was funny, despite the disgusting courtesy laughs it got.
If the Church can’t / won’t give up their polygamous hopes because the top leaders are so invested in it (either as beneficiaries or descendents of it), then the ONLY path forward is to create gender parity around all sealing practices and reply with ambiguity about what will actually happen in the eternities. So long as women are affected differently than men in language and policies (specifically harmed to the benefit of men and patronized as dependents of their husbands when it comes to sealing cancellation), it is simply unacceptable, unscriptural (aside from D&C 132 which it doesn’t take much digging to see was JS bullying his wife after his infidelity, not actually divine in origin), and points to transparently selfish patriarchy, the opposite of Jesus’ preaching. While I’m sure you’re right that there is zero appetite for calling a spade a spade when it comes to our founder, it’s not a hopeless situation.
The solution is obvious. Why our elderly male leaders can’t see it is beyond me. It doesn’t require any doctrinal change. It’s easy to make this happen. They just have to have the will to do it, and be able to see women as fully human people, not another species as Anna aptly points out.
Angela, per one web post reporting the 2019 changes, you’re right to remember the addition of the “new and everlasting covenant” language, but it’s not in the change to the old hearken-to-your-husband covenant (replaced by a covenant to obey the law of the Lord). Instead, it’s in the description of what happened in the initiatory and in what could happen later — presumably in a second anointing. The practical effect is a significant elimination of the sexism in the covenant of obedience but a reinforcement of the same old 19th century concept of familial status, organization and function in the celestial kingdom, IF one understands “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” to refer to polygamy (historically reasonable, but not essential in current church teaching.
Wondering: unless there was a second change, when I last went in 2019 the women directly covenanted to God but “within the new and everlasting covenant.”
Also; when you say the “Orson Pratt” version of the CK, what do you mean?
Bro. Jones. Not as reported March 2019 here: https://thoughtsonthingsandstuff.com/temple-changes-for-2019/. I haven’t been back recently to check current status against that report.
I remember from decades ago learning in Church about two different theories on how we were in the pre-existence “children of God” One was the now pervasive theory (said to be not necessitated by any scripture) that has been called “viviparous spirit birth”. You know — the model of celestial parents having children in the same way fertile, heterosexual parents do here — though somehow without blood and somehow producing offspring that do not have bodies like their parents. The other was the idea (an interpretation of some language of the book of Abraham about intelligences) that God took eternally co-existing stuff called intelligence that had at least some “will” and formed it into spirits whom he adopted as his children. I cannot now find where, if at all, Orson Pratt took that latter view and suspect that my memory may have expanded his disagreements with Brigham to include that one.
You’ll find a relatively even handed review of the historical arguments about JS’ teaching on the the subject here:
“A Continuation of the Seeds”: Joseph Smith and Spirit Birth, Brian C. Hales , Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Fall 2012), pp. 105-130
Among Hales’ summaries: “…some scholars have concluded that Joseph Smith did not teach that resurrected couples would give birth to spirit offspring or that he gave only general hints that were expanded or possibly conflated by Church members like Lorenzo Snow, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, William clayton, Parley P. Pratt, W.W. Phelps, and Eliza R. Snow.”
Discussed in part here: https://bycommonconsent.com/2012/10/23/a-wildly-popular-folk-belief/
Bro Jones, I think my response is hung up in moderation. Briefly: your memory does not match a March 2019 on-line explicit recitation of the 2019 changes. I haven’t been back recently to refresh my memory of what is currently in that covenant.
I think my memory was likely wrong to attribute the alternate Mormon theory of the origin of spirit children to Orson Pratt. The currently pervasive “viviparous spirit birth” theory that was clearly subscribed to by BY is not the only theory I learned in Church decades ago and not the only one consistent with the Book of Abraham on “intelligences”. Maybe someone will fish the full comment out of moderation.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? If the “viviparous spirit birth” theory is right, then the anti’s were right in the Godmakers movie. I do not accept the “viviparous spirit birth” theory — I see it as part of Mormon folklore but not doctrine. But one member’s folklore is another member’s doctrine.
I am extremely dubious of any survey that sets up a litmus test of sorts with the first few questions. If a respondent is unsure regarding the “true prophet” status of either js or rmn, for example, the surveyers could simply ignore the rest of the respondent’s answers. This is a nifty way to ensure that the views of ” apostates and feminists” as hawkgrrrl put it, don’t skew the desired results. It seems to me that the yes-men who created this survey designed it to reconfirm the dogmatic biases of its intended audience. Speaking of surveys (and only to derail the topic. a little bit), I wonder if anyone on this forum read the recent trib article or listened to the podcast featuring. not Jana Riess, but the other guy. He extrapolated from another survey that 1 in 5 20ish? (forgot the age group exactly) Mormons identify as lgtdq+. I assume the church is aware of this data and find it extremely troubling and baffling – even after the whole BYU honor code debacle. I wonder if this specific question will be on the next survey. Also, you people are getting sent surveys from the church?? Do you have to live in Utah? I haven’t been asked my opinion on anything even on the local level my entire adult life in the church.
Mat, I live in the UK so a long way from Utah. The first survey I was sent was lots of demographic/ belief type questions… at the end of which I was asked if I was willing to participate in further surveys… The survey mentioned in my comment above is the first of those further surveys I received…
mat: I am working on a post on those results for next week, if I get it pulled together. I found those results interesting and surprising, but in retrospect, maybe not that surprising.
I didn’t get this survey but would have loved to. I’m glad they are asking theses questions.
But it’s so weird – are they trying to identify whose needs they care about meeting? Are the honing in on topics they think they need to teach better (I.e., if people think women should be ordained, we need to do a better job of teaching why women should NOT be ordained?) or are they actually thinking of making changes? And while I totally agree that information invites revelation, it is a little rich that they claim to be literal conduits for the will of God yet actually apparently do care about popular opinion.
On the temple side-topic, totally agree with Angela. It’s the same. The more obvious / egregious stuff got removed but it’s just been repackaged in a less obvious way. But it’s still the same, and I think even worse that they’re trying to make it *look* like it changed when in fact it didn’t. (Examples: women are priestesses in new and everlasting covenant instead of to husbands, but new and everlasting covenant is marriage so it’s still husbands; women covenant directly with God instead of husbands BUT husbands are still Saviors to their wives bringing them through the veil; women no longer covenant to hearken but the sealing covenant now includes “preside” which is the same concept). I know this term is overused but it’s gaslighting.
In all my interactions over the years with the Church, women are treated poorly. The analysis of the questions in this article demonstrate bias against women, so I don’t think much good will come of the survey other than for the committee to recommend a doubling down on the doctrine and a continuation of women viewed as lesser. The Church’s own doctrine and policies reinforce in all Church males their dominant position, which develops misogyny and hyper conservative views. And this is a cycle that has no sign of breaking.
I’m a faithful member. But I’ve been put down so many times by men in the Church, including thru Church policies, that I’ve taken to self-care instead. I no longer view the Church as everything I need, nor do I accept everything the men at Church would prefer I do with my time. I am my own person now. I pray. I try to listen to the Spirit. I’m interested in studying about Jesus’ life and teachings. I’m more interested in inter-faith guidance, meditation, social issues and community service. I’m also much more centered with my Gospel practice. Just not in the way I was 5 years ago because I’m done with dealing with the male dominance and everything that comes with it.
Just a brief observation that not only are many of the questions in these surveys poorly designed in a general sense, they also tend to reflect (and are constrained by) a ‘Utah Bubble’ mentality that does not articulate well with the lived experience of Church members in the wider world – either within or without the Church. Sadly, cogent attempts to highlight these matters in the surveys my wife or I have completed have yet to bear any fruit in the far and mysterious orchards of Correlation.
So I professionally am responsible for overseeing employee surveys and have done so at multiple companies over many years. Like you Hawwkkk girl, I follow 538 and of the small number of things I would consider myself an expert in, this would be among them. The Church has legit social science researchers that work in that research department. However, this particular survey feels like what happens when professional survey writers are overridden by bureaucratic input from less competent sources. (This happens a lot in the corporate world too). Usually I find myself defending professional surveys against lay criticisms (everyone thinks they are experts at question wording and survey construction). So here is my take for what it is worth:
1) On the lead question – this is probably considered by the survey writers as one of, if not the primary, key “outcome” questions they are going to regress things against. Asking it first has plusses or minuses from a surveying priming perspective but in general unless you have a situation with really high compliance the general practice is to put this first so that you have it for as many respondents as possible even if they abandon the survey before completion. This question is very analogous to the one asked in many employee surveys around “intent to stay” – depending on the population and their career horizons you might ask it anywhere from 6 months-2 years out. It is interesting to think of this in a faith identity or practice context. I could see it both ways. I think we all know people for whom belief, faith identity and practice change really rapidly in a faith crisis – all in to out in a matter of months. I think we also know people for whom that process is much more planned – ie. “I active for now but once the kids leave or my parents die or I become financially independent from my parents or when my spouse’s stance changes or we move out of Utah/current ward….and that will probably be X years”. Here they are focusing specifically on “activity”. So I would argue that the exact time target of the question is probably the least important wording in the question. They will probably get an ok reliable one-item measure here on activity and it’s hard to do better. If this was framed in terms of belief then I think Hawwkgirls critique holds but people can speculate pretty well on their plans to show up to the church. Now granted if there is a shock to their beliefs they don’t see coming then they can’t know that but they aren’t asking that.
Keep in mind if the church does have the ability to tie this back to your church record (which it might through your email etc.) they will also have some behavioral outcomes here to measure this against – does your recommend a status change, did you pay any tithing or declare yourself a tithe payer, did you remove your name from the records. It’s not like someone is documenting your sacrament attendance in a system attached to your name and the modal or at least first quartile active member of the church is probably a non-temple recommend holding, no or partial tithe payer. So they kind of need this in the survey itself. (And for the more academic types, yes this whole thing will then have single instrument measurement problems that keep it from being gold standard but I guarantee the Correlation Research Department people are good enough to know that.)
So I am defending the first critique and I was expecting to do this all the way through but….
2) All the critiques about double and even tripled barrelled questions are spot on and no practiced survey professional would generally do this. Some of it seems pretty unnecessary. In general, that sort of double and triple barrelling tends to confuse respondents, increase quit rates, and then it causes huge interpretability problems as well. So it hurts you twice. Knowing a bit about how research works at the COB, professional researchers have less ability to push back than those in most corporate environments. You don’t try and explain to certain people in the hierarchy why they shouldn’t ask a question a certain way. If they “suggest” it. You do it, no questions asked. I have to believe that is what is happening here. The questions are getting reviewed by a committee with 70s and maybe an apostle and whatever wording suggestions they make are just accepted no matter how bad. It makes me hurt for the researchers.
3) That agree-disagree is basically a “strength of belief” index and is probably how it will be used in the analysis – especially the first 3 questions. The second two feel like they are planning something else with those and they got stuck in there because they are on the same agree-disagree scale. The last one though does work in a belief context because its most obvious interpretation as written is “do you believe polygamy in the early church was inspired of God or not” worded as acceptably as possible for the COB. The family proc question is the only weird fit with how it is worded for a belief index.
I mean they must know that high belief correlates very highly with intent to stay. So I am guessing they use it to segment the analysis. Here is what “strong believers,” think. Here is what is influencing “moderate believer” activity etc.
4) I don’t understand the description of the next section. It seems maybe they asked about both the discomfort and importance separately for each item but I just can’t tell without seeing it.
5) The next agree section is interesting. I think they essentially mixed in a “hostile sexism” inventory in there. Maybe they are trying to measure the prevalence of hostile sexism in church membership? That could actually be interesting and useful. I agree with most the other critiques. Many of these are so gender tone deaf that only the COB could have written them – the race restriction question being a prime example. Its insane they don’t have a competent person review them for these gender blindspots at these points. This does make me call into question the professionalism in the research division or their powerlessness in the survey creation process.
So overall, given what they seem to want to go after I give them a C- and that assumes some of the blindingly bad decisions are coming from survey incompetent and agenda driven bureaucrats foisted on the researchers which is just the reality of creating surveys in an live organization full various stakeholders and not just an academic environment.
I do think the sampling challenges here are really difficult.. A competent research department would have a lot of tools at its disposal to monitor and try to address the potential selection and sampling bias issues. I don’t know the sophistication behind the scenes that they use to try and address it.
I hope this is helpful.
Rah: your insights are valuable, so thanks for chiming in. It feels accurate that given the yes man hierarchical culture, these weaknesses are likely driven by bureaucrats with no expertise but strong opinions. Given your expertise:
-What are your specific thoughts about better ways to word these questions?
-What do you think the purpose of this survey is? Your best guess.
-What do you think the likely results will be, in terms of how answers are tied together? What correlations do you think they are seeking? How would you expect results to tie together?
My best guess that the overriding purpose of the survey is to understand what issues are most related to increased likelihood of future inactivity. I believe you were spot on that the belief questions are probably used to segment the analysis by level of belief. I don’t think anyone should think that the church would be use this look at changing anything, I think they would think of it more as “what issues is our current effort to explain or position certain things not being accepted by strong testimony or moderate testimony members”. Or another way to look at it is “What bloggernacle/social media noise of the day are gaining widespread traction in believing members so we can work on addressing it.”
These last two angles are probably what I would see as the most useful. The survey can’t speak to causality as a point in time, single instrument survey. However, surveys like this (if the final returned sample is good) are an excellent way to understand how prevelant attitudes or concerns are in the membership at large. What is the bloggernacle or social media discussions of the day don’t necessarily translate into their reach to your pew sitting Mormon.
It is interesting there were no demographic questions. Either they are getting these through tie backs through the email and church records – location, age, family status etc. or they are going without. I would guess they are tied back because I would absolutely want to segment this by these things. So many of these attitudes shifts are tied to generation shifts.
Rah, You guess that they will get demographics through tie backs through email and church records seems likely. The likelihood of such tiebacks is precisely the reason some will not respond to the survey. One should accordingly expect the cumulative responses to be skewed in favor of attitudes/beliefs, etc. thought acceptable to Church leaders. Do you think the COB researchers can find a way to adjust results for such skewing? Will the ecclesiastical bureaucracy let them do it?
I see from the several responses that a primary question is glossed over – the purpose of the survey. It was also interesting to observe that each response to the blog could only be answered by a dichotomies choice.
Yes, some questions might have been better written. But we are not the ones requesting the information or designing the instrument being sent out.
If there is really a desire to be heard in a private manner, with issue question that appear to be the flash points, maybe a private part should develop and distribute a survey that addresses theses issues. But then again there is that issue with sampling. This is fun reading.
Darn it I wish I could have taken this survey!
Hello @hawkgrrl / @Angela,
I appreciate this article and your insights (as well as the many insightful comments from many others)! I would give anything to answer a survey like this in the church, I feel like it is way too late to be asking these questions, but at least the Brethren seem aware of the key issues (if they know enough to ask about them).
I have looked, but is there a way to see the survey and/or results? How did you access these questions? I would love to see the source.
I don’t know if you have any insight on this, but how would one participate in this survey (or ones like it)? I would love to share my thoughts with the church, I feel it’s important for the survey pool to be diverse and feel my contributions could be valuable!
Any advice/further insight you have would be extremely helpful, thank you!
I was converted to the church at age 17. I had a hard time understanding church culture and teachings because I have Aspergers Syndrome so I misunderstood the intentions of people a lot more when l was younger. I am 74 years old now. — I discovered that priesthood leaders including our bishops and stake presidents are constantly seeking the Lord’s will to follow His directions. — They are seldom mislead. Members keep the church leaders informed about what local leaders are doing and those who are inappropriately behaving are dealt with according to church policy and inspection of the Lord. — My daughter who was adamant about women and the priesthood has become inactive and occultism. Lack of teach ability (aka humility) is a factor in seeking to understand the mystery of Godliness. — All who possess the power of the Holy Ghost are in possession of the priesthood of God. — It’s the Holy Ghost that ordains a man to the priesthood and not the man saying the words (D&C 20:60). — On the Mormon Trail the Sisters gave healing blessings by authority of the Holy Ghost and received revelation and visions from The Lord on medical procedures to perform. The Lord is not a respecter of persons nor of gender. — The celestial reasons why women are not ordained to the priesthood is because it would lock them into a fixed position in the celestial hierarchy. — Without the formal ordination women can rise to a higher level of glory if they are progressing faster that their husband. — The would have a glass ceiling over them if they are ordained to the priesthood. — The women of the church who are temple worthy should teach morality to young women and girls, with worthy priesthood leader presiding with the objective of encouraging them to be worthy of temple marriage and faithful spouses to keep their sacred temple vows. — Priesthood men are taught strict morality in the church to be faithful and loyal to our wives.
— Learning to be true and faithful to the Lord and to our families is essential for eternal progress. — The ways of the world are the clouds of darkness that Satan uses to overwhelm our perceptions of the Holy Ghost. — The thing to recall is that women become Queens in Heaven to tule and reign over their children as their rightful natural Queendom. — Men in the church are very strictly controlled (and rightly so) in what they do. — The priesthood is for the administration of ordinances only within the family of God and their individual family. — Motherhood is the woman’s natural priesthood that establishes her Queendom. Priesthood establishes a man’s Kingdom. — My personal point of view is that the white worm holes between different portions and degrees of glory are according to the priesthood linage. — Not holding the priesthood enables women to rise to higher and brighter and more joyful portions and degrees of glory and not be held back by a slow progressing husband. — There are other details that the Holy Ghost will reveal to those who earnestly seek more truth and enlightenment. — I read and write and pray about the gospel. Writing one’s thinking strengthens one’s understanding by forcing me to organize my thoughts consistently when l critically edit my writings. — This has lead me to understand that earnestly seek enlightenment. — I testify from my close experience with the Lord’s Priesthood leaders both locally, regionally, and generally that l have received the witness of the spirit that they are holy men earnestly seeking to do the will of the Lord in all things which sets them above us whom they lead and guide. — I know that they are sacred men to the Lord because they seek to build the Kingdom of God on earth and dedicate themselves to doing so. — Women are divine Godesses over their natural Queendom of their progeny. The glory of God depends on the exultation of the daughters of God whom you women are. Every worthy priesthood holder views women as sacred vessels of the Lord who are worshipped by their husbands as Queens-in-Heaven. — We love and adore our wives and is that not worshiping them.