Last week I posted on the latest Pew Forum survey, arguing that the prevalent media summary of the survey — that many people are drifting from faith to unbelief — was misreading the data. Today there’s an op-ed piece in the New York Times, “Defecting to Faith,” suggesting the Pew Forum data show that most people raised to be atheists end up drifting into belief and participation in a faith community. What are they after?

The primary reason for this “flight of the unchurched”?

Most said that they first joined a religion because their spiritual needs were not being met. And the most-cited reason for settling on their current religion was that they simply enjoyed the services and style of worship.

The piece notes that what people who turn to the practice of faith seem to be after is not dogma and doctrine but rather affirmation, fellowship, and a feeling of transcendence. So an interesting question might be: How does your congregation or denomination score on that scale?

Mormonism certainly gets an A on fellowship. Affirmation is a little trickier. The flow of rhetoric from senior leaders constantly tells LDS women they are sugar and spice and everything nice, but from reading the blogs one certainly gets the sense that message isn’t getting through. At the same time, the men are regularly told they are moral reprobates on the fast track to hell unless they repent, quickly and mightily. I think that message does get through to the men, as evidenced by the growing gender gap in Mormon activity statistics. See this JI post from last year, which summarized an earlier Pew Forum survey as follows:

The Mormons’ [gender] gap, however, remains among the most extreme; 56% of American Mormons are female, higher than any tradition other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses and black Protestantism.

On the other hand, LDS temple theology is a powerful message of affirmation for many temple-going Mormons. So the experience of individual Mormons on the affirmation/condemnation scale is decidedly mixed and seems to vary widely.

How about providing a sense of transcendence? I think the LDS Church gets another A here, which may be surprising given the this-world orientation of much of LDS practice. The sense of transcendence comes from the experience of fellowship the LDS Church provides (with one’s local congregation and also with the LDS Church as a worldwide community), combined with a comprehensive plan of salvation (now often termed “the great plan of happiness”) which is rooted in the scriptures (both the Bible and LDS scripture), focused on the family, and given active, uplifting expression in LDS temple practice.

Affirmation, fellowship, trancendence. How does your congregation or denomination do on these measures?

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