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Tell us your thoughts: Is Utah one happy family, or two warring states divided by faith?

A Utah Foundation report found Utah still leads in community life, but the father of “social capital” has questions.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

“All in all,” declares a recent report by the Utah Foundation, “Utah performs impressively on the measures of participation in community life.”

Those measures — ranging from charitable giving and church attendance to volunteerism and neighborhood participation — have been used for years to gauge the health of American democracy.

The report draws on the work of distinguished Harvard professor Robert Putnam, and The Salt Lake Tribune decided to speak with Putnam and Utah native and co-author of “The Upswing,” Shaylyn Romney Garrett, about its findings.

The report looks at “social capital” — which takes the form of implicit trust within or between groups — in Utah. If a neighborhood has strong social capital, then a person can go to a neighbor down the street to borrow a drill or a cup of sugar.

But social capital takes two forms: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital means you implicitly trust members of your own group. Bridging social capital means you trust those outside of your group. In his 2010 book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Putnam found that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the strongest bonding and among the weakest bridging social capital of any religious group in America.

For Putnam and Garrett, the study raised more questions than answers, so we’re turning to you.

Tell us in this survey if you trust your neighbors and what contributes to bonding — or lack thereof — in your communities.

(Story continues below survey)

Is it Utah or Latter-day Saints?

“Utah always ranks at the top for social capital,” said Putnam, “but is that Utah or is that the Mormons?”

Putnam and Garrett point to where Utah scores high and where it scores low for clues.

Utah is high in church attendance, charitable giving, volunteerism and neighborhood participation. Much of this may be the direct result of the LDS Church’s volunteer clergy and administration through lay church callings and ministering. Charitable giving may be explained by the faith’s teaching that members give 10% of their income in tithing.

Utah scores lowest in the nation for nonprofessional organizations and near the bottom for professional organizations.

For Garrett, this raises the question of whether the LDS Church displaces other forms of social capital, other ways people might come together?

“Utah and Vermont both rank very high in social capital,” said Garrett, “but Utah is top in religiosity and Vermont is bottom. Vermont is top in nonprofessional associations and Utah is the lowest.”

Garrett, who now lives in New England, feels a distinct difference.

“Here in New Hampshire and Vermont, everything is civic,” she said. “Every time I turn around there’s a community choir concert or chamber orchestra at the community center, and you just don’t see that around every corner in St. George.”

Is Utah united by community or divided by faith?

“The question I’ve always had when we look at social capital in Utah,” said Putnam, “is ‘is it completely nonbridging. Is Utah a tolerant place for nonbelievers or not?”

If not, Putnam sees it as only bonding social capital driving Utah’s high ranking. “This would mean to be non-Mormon in Utah is to be on the outside, to be excluded.”

Are Utah LDS more like Romney or Lee?

Putnam wondered if Utah’s two senators might be used as an analogy. “[Mitt] Romney is a political bridger,” said Putnam, and while noting that he likes Mike Lee personally, “he’s obviously stridently partisan.”

Garrett added that Lee has also been divisive in his use of faith, such as his comparison of President Donald Trump to Book of Mormon hero Captain Moroni.

“Yes,” said Putnam, “so is the LDS community in Utah more like Mitt or more like Lee in dealing with its neighbors?”

Garrett suggested that it may not be that simple. She sees in recent years something of a “battle for the soul of the faith” between more cosmopolitan, progressive Latter-day Saints and more insular, less-tolerant members of the church.


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