“Study Shows Mormons Getting More ‘Peculiar’” Ensign, Aug. 1978, 57
Church-going Latter-day Saints really are a “peculiar people” with a unique cultural emphasis and special moral judgments, concludes Dr. Wilford E. Smith of BYU’s Sociology Department.
In a long-term project to observe Latter-day Saint attitudes and how they differ from the attitudes of American society in general, Brother Smith administered the same “social practices” test to approximately 9,000 college students, both member and nonmember, in 1949–50, 1961, and 1972. The results? As society becomes more permissive, Church-going Latter-day Saints show increasingly wider divergence from general norms.
Brother Smith’s method was to ask persons to judge the seriousness of seventeen “sins.” He then ranked these practices according to the judgments given, from the most-accepted to the least-accepted “sin.”
The results reconfirmed the impact of regular Church attendance upon the lives of members. First, between Latter-day Saints and nonmembers there was a clear difference in attitudes toward sins. Second, non-Mormons, whether active in their own religions or not, tended to agree on the relative seriousness of some of the “sins”; the degree of church activity did not greatly affect their attitude about them. Third, inactive Latter-day Saints tended to lean more toward the attitude of nonmembers regarding the “sins.”
Another reassuring conclusion from Brother Smith’s research is that while the past twenty-five years have shown increasing U.S. cultural acceptance of premarital sex, swearing, breaking one’s word of honor, and even homosexuality, active Latter-day Saint men and women in 1972 were even less accepting of such practices than active members were twenty years earlier. This increasing difference among people who daily see the society around them condone such practices suggests that Church leaders and members have been and can continue to be successful in helping each other be “in the world” but “not of it.” (Reported in Measuring Mormonism, ed. Glenn M. Vernon, 4 (Fall 1977): 65–75.)