The Power of the Word: Religion, Family, Friends, and Delinquent Behavior of LDS Youth

Most religious people, including Latter-day Saints, generally assume that the infusion of religious values into young people—through personal experience, church involvement, and religious training—will deter behaviors that society characterizes as delinquent. Theologians and social scientists have taught that the more religious a person is, the less likely she or he will be to participate in delinquent behavior.

These traditional assumptions about the power of religion to deter delinquency came under serious challenge in the 1960s by researchers who failed to confirm them. For example, Travis Hirschi and Rodney Stark found that church attenders were “no more likely than non-attenders to accept ethical principles.” Importantly, they concluded that church attendance was “unrelated to the commission of delinquent acts.”

Numerous studies in the 1980s further tested the link between religion and delinquency but produced mixed results. Some found that religion was indeed associated with lower rates of delinquency, while others concluded that the relationship was minimal. Other researchers discovered that religion seems to deter some types of delinquency more than others. Steven R. Burkett and Mervin White found that religion was more likely to discourage “victimless crimes” such as alcohol and drug abuse and “sexual offenses that involve consent” than offenses against others or against property.

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