Beliefs Institutions Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

How many Mormons seek an expanded role for women?

A "snowball sampling" from a non-random population in 2013

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A "snowball sampling" from a non-random population in 2013

A “snowball sampling” from a non-random population in 2013

In recent (and polarizing) discussions of women’s ordination in Mormonism, one oft-cited statistic comes from a 2011 Pew survey that asked this via a simple yes-or-no question:

“Should women who are dedicated members of the LDS Church be ordained to the priesthood?”

According to the Pew results, only 13% of Mormon men said that they supported women’s ordination, and only 8% of women.

But what if that research is already out of date?

Right now, a team of scholarly researchers is raising money for a more in-depth survey of US Mormons on the question of Mormon women’s religious leadership.

In part, they say, that’s because even in three years the tenor of the discussion has changed, with greater openness to the idea.

And in part, it’s because the Pew question was an either-or proposition — either full ordination now or nothing — whereas many Mormons find themselves somewhere on a spectrum regarding women’s leadership.

In a small-scale survey conducted last year among a non-random population of Mormons online, a more nuanced and detailed question about women and the priesthood resulted in some surprises.

  • 43% felt that women would hold the priesthood in this life and in the next life
  • 26% of respondents felt that LDS women already hold the priesthood
  • 16% felt that women would not hold the priesthood in this life or the next
  • 14% felt that women would hold the priesthood, but only in the next life
  • 2% felt that women would just hold the priesthood in this life

Many of the respondents in that particular survey were likely more left-leaning than a random national sample, due to the survey’s advertisement on Mormon feminist websites, but even considering that factor, the differences with the 2011 Pew results are striking.

How might a more detailed break-out question like that fare in a random national survey?

“The Ordain Women movement has really opened up a space to at least talk about a formerly taboo topic,” says Professor Nancy Ross, a historian at Dixie State who is involved with the effort to undertake a national survey. “Ten years ago you couldn’t get ten people to publicly state that they felt that Mormon women should be ordained. We feel like that the landscape for discussing women’s ordination has shifted really quickly, and we want to capture that.”

Ross points out that there are now more than 350 public profiles of Mormons who support the Ordain Women movement. That may seem small compared to overall church membership, but it’s something that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Conversations about women’s leadership are happening at all levels, among both liberal and more conservative Latter-day Saints.

“Even though Ordain Women is very controversial, it’s really getting people to think seriously about what priesthood is,” Ross says.

There are more than twenty scholars involved in the survey project, which is partly funded with seed money from a Kickstarter campaign that ends Tuesday.

The group started with a goal of $3,000 of public support and have already reached $4,296 — but in case you’re thinking that means it’s too late to donate, think again.

“The more [money] we raise, the more data we’ll have and the better the data will be. More money equals better results,” Ross explains.

The project, which will have matching grants from the team’s universities and from other donors, has two main components:

  1. There will be a national, random survey of US Mormons, like Pew conducted. This is the most expensive part of the project, since the kind of professional research that can be published in top-flight academic journals is costly.
  2. Also, at the same time, there will be a “nonrandom snowball sampling” online. That’s when people take a survey online, and then they might repost it or forward it to interested friends. Snowball Sampling is useful when you have difficult-to-reach populations, like Mormons.

The snowball sampling will likely result in a wealth of qualitative information about what various Mormons think and how that is changing; the national survey will provide a statistical snapshot.

I just made my donation. Whatever the team’s findings turn out to be, I’m a strong believer in the value of information. I’ll look forward to hearing — and sharing — what they discover.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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