"Mormon moment" examined in U.S. survey

Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:05pm EST
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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Most Mormons believe their religion is not well understood by Americans and many sense hostility but a survey done as Mormonism gains political and cultural prominence shows they are also optimistic that tolerance of their faith is rising.

The New York Times and other media have dubbed this the "Mormon moment" with two Mormons - Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman - vying for the Republican nomination to run for U.S. president, a hit play ("The Book of Mormon"), a popular cable television series (HBO's "Big Love") and the best-selling "Twilight" vampire books written by a Mormon.

"We wanted to find out how Mormons themselves are responding to the Mormon moment," said Greg Smith, chief researcher at the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, which surveyed 1,019 adult Mormons in October and November 2011.

"We find a mixed picture," he said in an interview. "On the one hand, Mormons in many ways see themselves as misunderstood. They think they are discriminated against, that they are not fully accepted by other Americans."

Mormons make up nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population of about 313 million people.

Six in 10 Mormons in the survey said they believe Americans know little or nothing about Mormonism. Half said Mormons face a lot of discrimination and two-thirds said people do not think of Mormonism as part of mainstream American society.

"On the other hand, the survey also shows Mormons in many ways are optimistic. They are happy with their lives and with their communities and (63 percent of those asked) think acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise," Smith said.

So far during the Republican campaign, the focus has been less on Romney's participation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name for Mormonism, and more on the millionaire's past as a Bain Capital executive buying and restructuring companies and on his time as governor of Massachusetts.   Continued...

<p>Three Year-old Dean Call holds a sign reading "Go Mitt Romney Mormons Rock" as Romney speaks during a campaign rally in Columbia, South Carolina, January 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>