This week I’ve been poring through the page proofs of The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church, which Oxford will release in March. It’s been exciting to see the typeset, finalized book, almost ready to go.
This week was big for another reason. The book’s website is finished, thanks to Benjamin Knoll. There you can find out about the survey (including answers to fundamental methodology questions about how this data were collected), download a copy of the survey wording (which makes for great small group discussions), and follow topical links to every blog post, media interview and journal article that discusses the results we’ve published so far.
And . . . drum roll . . . although the publication date is still six months out, we already have final cover art. I simply love it.
What tickles me most about the cover is that the designer has intuited one of the most crucial themes of the book: young adult Mormons who are still in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are devout in many ways — for example, as the image would suggest, they exhibit some of the most devotion to the scriptures of any generation. (It’s a little hard to tell, but that’s a four-column book she’s reading. Scripture mastery for sure.) In their spiritual practices millennials often demonstrate a hunger for depth and relationality. They had the highest rates of home and visiting teaching, for instance, back when that was still a thing. They are also the generation of Mormons most likely to report regularly sharing their faith with others.
And yet, in other ways, particularly in their observance of the Word of Wisdom, consumption of explicit media, and greater likelihood of having tattoos than older Mormons, millennials are a different breed. They are not practicing your grandmother’s Mormonism. They are almost equally likely to be Democrats as Republicans.
So the way the cover subtly hints at this with the reader’s black fingernails is spot on.
Moreover, the use of the pink is symbolic to me of some of the shifts I’m seeing in the data. Younger Mormon women are more traditional than other women their age but not nearly as traditional as the Mormons who’ve gone before them. Change is underway. A majority say they are bothered by the fact that women don’t hold the priesthood, and about half report wanting a marriage where the husband and wife both work outside the home and share the responsibility for child care.
And those are just the women who remain affiliated with the church. Among former Mormon women, The Next Mormons survey found that the church’s emphasis on traditional women’s roles was a significant source of discontent for women who had left.
The book also chronicles that the overall tide of such disaffiliation is rising, for both young men and women. I’ll address this more fully when we get closer to publication, but for our purposes here let me say that Mormonism used to retain about three-quarters of people who were raised in the fold. Now we appear to be keeping about half, for a variety of reasons. That’s not terribly unusual in today’s religious climate, but it is of course a concern to many parents, bishops and seminary teachers who are wringing their hands and wondering what is causing the exodus.
As I have been talking about this research to groups of Mormons around the country, I’ve been so impressed by the questions and observations of the people who show up, especially young adults. If we alienate them, it’s our loss; I feel it keenly. But here’s the thing: The Mormon kids are all right. They may not look like you and act like you, but they are people of strong faith.