I knew it would be difficult for people to define their relationship with the church, but I feel that this is one of the most important elements of the survey.
In my prep research for this project, I read a study on body image in Jewish women where the researchers found that most participants could be categorized into 3 groups: ultra orthodox, modern orthodox, and secular. This is very helpful to see differences between sub-groups and identifies cultural shifts. I felt that this categorization method would also fit well with LDS women.
Over the past 10 years I've heard the words "nuanced" and "progressive" more and more in LDS circles when describing members who are hoping for change in the church or who reject certain teachings. This is a shift from the messaging I heard growing up, that you can't be a "cafeteria Mormon." In online spaces, words like "progmo" or "TBM" have become popular to define what type of relationship a person has with the church.
When others have written about issues with garments, I've consistently heard the issues invalidated because the person was progressive or liberal in their church beliefs. Some traditional members have labeled it as a fringe issue. My goal was to get data on a large population of LDS women with the ability to look at data from different sub-groups within the LDS community.
Judging from the feedback I received, this was a hard question for many to answer. There are many complexities involved, and the definitions I provided leave a lot of room for interpretation. Even with the complications, I still feel that this question and the exercise of trying to define church relationship is highly valuable.
These are the categories used and their descriptors:
Traditional/Devout (TD): I sustain the leadership and strive to follow the teachings.
Nuanced/Progressive (NP): Active, but I don’t subscribe to all teachings. I believe the Restoration is ongoing, so I’m hoping some aspects will change.
ExMormon (EX): I purposefully left or was excommunicated.
Inactive but believing (IB): I still believe in the church teachings but don’t consistently participate.
A few NP participants had an issue with the word "devout" being used for TD members, because they feel that they are still devout, especially to the teachings of Jesus Christ. My purpose was to assess relationship to the church as an institution, not devoutness to Jesus, but I understand and validate the complaint.
Here is the breakdown of TD's, NP's, EX's and IB's:
While ex-Mormons were the largest sub-group, it's important to remember that every other group identifies as LDS, and the majority are active. All those that marked "Other" were somewhere on the TD-NP spectrum. The high number of members who identify as NP is very intriguing to me and I'll post some thoughts on that later.
Geller, Shulamit, et al. “Exploring Body Image, Strength of Faith, and Media Exposure Among Three Denominations of Jewish Women.” Current Psychology, vol. 39, no. 5, 2020, pp. 1774–84.