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Millennial Mormons leaving faith at higher rate than previous generations

Millennial Mormons leaving faith more than previous generations (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Mormon millennials are the focus of a symposium at Utah Valley University this week.

Research shows Mormon millennials are becoming more Republican than their parents, but leaving the faith in larger numbers than previous generations.

BYU researcher and associate professor of political science, Quin Monson, was a presenter Tuesday at UVU and said millennial Mormons are Republican with a twist. They like smaller government but tend to follow religious leaders on issues like immigration -- a decidedly more left-leaning issue. He spoke about his book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics.

Another researcher at the UVU symposium talked about the faith of Mormon Millennials who are trending towards a break from formal Sunday worship.

Jana Riess addressed Mormon millennials, 18 to 35, and how they have stuck with their religion in larger numbers than millennials of other faiths. They have however followed national trends in leaving behind organized religion in greater numbers than generations before.

"We are now at 64 to 65 percent, which is very good nowadays, but not as good as it used to be within this tradition."

Jana Riess is starting to look at millennials in the LDS church, and quotes numbers from Pew Research, showing a retention rate of Mormon millennials at 64 percent, compared to the 1970s and '80s when retention was at 90 percent for born-and-raised Mormons.

Riess, the author of "Flunking Sainthood," is a senior columnist for Religion News Service and spoke on a panel at UVU Tuesday. She spoke of change within the LDS church, to which she belongs.

"Many of the values of the millennial generation have stated inclusion, tolerance, and are not values they feel are being reflected."

Millennials are more supportive of social change, like gay marriage, than their parents, and don't agree with some of the stances the LDS church has taken in recent years.

"Yes," Riess says, "that is a factor, but on the other hand, Mormons are doing some things right. Some innovative things to retain young people that are working wonderfully: like lowering the missionary age and just having singles wards."

The missionary age was lowered recently to 18 for men and 19 for women who previously had to wait until they were 19 and 21, respectively .

Missions are now possible for teens as they leave high school. This gets young members involved with more depth in their religion sooner, as they transition to adulthood.

It is not enough to stop the hemorrhage from organized religion seen across all faiths.

"In the wider culture, disaffiliation from religion is the trend. People are organized religion and it is very hard to resist what is going on in the host culture."

When Mormons leave their faith, it's not in search of something else according to Reiss.

"It's not that they are leaving Mormonism and primarily becoming Evangelical or Catholic. They are not becoming anything. They are just leaving."

While some millennial Mormons don't like the strict rules and time commitment, it is a differentiation that helps some millennials stay.

"For some, that is actually an attraction. It is something that makes them different from their peers and has a sense of identity."

Follow Heidi Hatch on Twitter @tvheidihatch for breaking news, updates and more.

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