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Do you feel the Church is spending money inappropriately (i.e. Church employee salaries and GA living expenses are too high, etc...) or just that you feel the Church COULD at any time start spending money inappropriately and there's nothing anyone could do about it? (Two separate and distinct issues...)

I have little to no faith that my tax dollars are going to support things I believe in on either the state or federal level...yet I still pay taxes. By comparison, I have far greater faith that tithing is used properly and am happy to tithe (as part of my responsibility for building up the Kingdom)--yet even if I found my bishop had bought himself a new car or something I would be disappointed but wouldn't in the long run affect my future contributing...

They used to be a lot more open before some of the mismanagement under that whole "baseball baptism" bit when they built more churches than they had members for. I might be misrecalling, but I thought the church was nearly bankrupt then and they stopped reporting publically a lot of that stuff to keep the members from worrying too much.

This has the potential to lead to another authority/obedience discussion. But I would suggest that the reason is that the majority of members (excepting, of course those at T&S, BCC, and other spots in the Bloggernacle), I believe, trust the leaders that they sustain as being prophets, seers, and revelators. Not only do they not think that the GAs will steal tithing money, but they also, I presume, believe that the GAs won't allow any non-GA executives to do so. They guarantee us that the Church resources are being used properly. When they say so across the pulpit, it becomes completely irrelevant for most members what the actual numbers are. It boils down to trust. And it is not just trust of human Church leadership, but it is by extension trusting God that he won't allow such abuse in the Church.

Finally, you are overlooking the principle of "by their fruits ye shall know them." Latter-day Saints are presumably so trusting because they see the fruits of their tithing in so many ways, from churches and temples, and their upkeep, to new developments (such as the farmland you mentioned) added to the myriad stake farms and other useful property and projects that the money is spent on. The Church is very visible in its welfare and humanitarian effort through these stake farms and bishops' storehouses.

This is all nonsense from a secular point of view. And that is why the academic approach is only so useful when it comes to things of faith. In the end, people simply trust the authorities that they believe are put in their place by God himself.

Members trust the Powers That Be completely. While I don't think there are any shenanigans with money, I also don't think a complete lack of accountability for donated funds speaks well of any institution, including the church.

I was particularly irked by the statements made at the time of the Salt Lake City real estate purchases, that tithing funds were not used to buy the property. Every penny that the church possesses has, at it's root, the tithing funds of the members.

That said, once I stopped tithing, I stopped giving any thought to what the church does with its money. Now that I'm not contributing, it's not my concern.

Kevin, the proper inquiry is not how I feel about LDS finances (which is largely irrelevant) but about the odd fact the membership retains complete faith and trust in what the senior leaders do with all the money despite a complete absence of any kind of financial disclosure. Generally, such disclosures build trust (unless mismanagement of some sort is disclosed) so if they are being honest with the money and using it in ways most members would approve, there is no particular reason financial information shouldn't be disclosed.

Most people have enough common sense to realize that secrecy vis-a-vis financial dealings is a real red flag. But faith sometimes trumps common sense. As I've said from time to time, there is such a thing as too much faith (admittedly a minority view).

Clark, you've got a fine memory for detail. As noted by the Ostlings in Mormon America, the Church stopped releasing financial information as a result of a little-publicized cash crunch sometime around the late 1950s, which the leaders characteristically blamed on the members for not being faithful enough in paying their tithes and offerings. The assumed connection was that members saw LDS assets in the hundreds of millions and, as a result, supposedly came to see their contributions as enriching the Church and its portfolio rather than furthering charitable church work.

But some of us would really like to know what happens to our money. Wouldn't you?

I know what happens to my money: I hand it to the bishop.

And from that moment, it's not "my" money anymore. It's the Lord's. 100%, all the way, through and through, no strings attached. If the Lord wants the GAs to start burning stacks of bills to heat the temples, that's His business. I have absolutely no interest in it (in the sense of having a personal stake in it) any longer.

Looking at it then from a third-party standpoint, frankly, I'm all for the Church investing. If there's more tithing coming in than is needed for the immediate needs of the Kingdom, it would be foolish to throw it all in a hole in the ground and wait to hand back the Master His talent when He comes. [typos corrected, 10/12]

Nathan, you seem to be saying that once the money leaves your hand, you don't care what happens to it, that's not your problem--which is fine. The more general question is whether people should care about what charitable organizations do with donations.

Perhaps, like john fowles, you care but you also trust LDS leaders completely to not mismanage or misdirect Church money, so in that sense you do care but you don't worry about it. Alternatively, you also seem to be hinting at some sort of cloak of divine immunity attaching to LDS leaders so that even if they misdirected, mismanaged, or simply took a cut of Church money, that would be okay because anything they do is implicitly approved by God (even heating temples by burning stacks of Federal Reserve notes).

There's also the argument held forth by john fowles that God simply would not allow mismanagement of funds by LDS leaders, kind of an extension of the "God would not allow a leader to lead the Church astray" doctrine. Wrong plan--it was the Evil One who proposed a plan where no one could do anything wrong, whereas God championed a plan where all have free agency. Of course they could steal money if they wanted to (which I have not floated) or, more reasonably, mismanage it in various ways. Whether they do or not is an empirical question. The fact that no meaningful financial information is released certainly raises the probability that some mismanagement is occuring.

I use the term "mismanage" broadly, roughly meaning "money spent in a way or on an object that would surprise the average active Mormon." It doesn't have to be an illegal objective, just one that many members would not necessarily approve of if they had a vote (which they really don't).

I have to second Nathan's comments. Once I pay tithing its not my money. I think if there is an error here, it is your approach that seems to treat the church as a corporation in which we are shareholders. That's simply not the case.

I'd add that the cash crunch over the late 50's, early 60's wasn't the only one the church faced. It's had these cycles fairly regularly. I'd also add that I think that if people had a perception of the church as rich and therefore stopped paying tithing that would be a good reason not to release the accounts. I think most people can't grasp the way large accounting works. Further, I'm not sure some error ought to be the basis for criticism of the brethren, which would be a sin.

Clearly they are human and some make mistakes. The baseball baptisms was a horrible situation, in my opinion. But that's the Lord's job to rectify that. We each have our own stewardships and frankly the Lord's storehouse isn't my stewardship. Looking back at the time of Joseph Smith, as soon as the members started worring about money and how the brethren were using it, that's when apostasy set in. Even if, some of the criticisms of the brethren were valid. Yet the consequences to the individual criticizing were quite terrible in that they lost their faith.

Clark, not a corporate model so much as a charitable enterprise model, where the chartiable enterprise generally makes available to donors a set of verified financial statements in order to (1) give assurance that donations are not diverted to objectives inconsistent with the stated aims of the enterprise, and (2) to identify the actual objects of expenditure. That covers churches as well as more secular charitable organizations and there's no reason it shouldn't apply to the Church as well.

It is, after all, the Church of the Latter-day Saints--we aren't just passive drones trudging off to meetings and assignments. We wouldn't say "if the Lord wants converts, let Him convert people," yet many are happy to say "God will take care of the money, we don't have to do anything."

Mormons are quick to recognize the value of financial controls at the local level to counter the natural fact of human nature that local leaders are subject to the temptations of available cash. Why is it so difficult to recognize the same dynamic with senior leaders (who control a vastly larger pool of money)? Of course, at senior levels the transgressions tend to show up as excessive perks and empire building rather than expense account transactions or the like.

Taking Nathan's observation, seconded by Clark, that once the money leaves their hands, it is no longer their money, one step further, we as Latter-day Saints could say (because of our eternal perspective) that the money never was ours in the first place, but was sustenance from God, who gives to us to breath daily, and so paying tithing is not an act of "donating" at all, but rather giving back a portion to show gratitude. From that the trust also flows--trusting God that he has not instituted leaders that will abscond with the money or abuse their office in other ways. I guess there is always room for doubt, but I would bet that God wants us to put that aside and just relax about it--trust in his servants.

Dave: What is your source for the claim that Church leadership blamed insufficient faithfulness in tithe paying by members for the financial condition of the Church? I have never heard it before. My understanding is that within the leadership the cash crunch was generally blamed on David O. McKay's decision to exclude the financial conservative J. Reuben Clark and place most Church finances in the hands of bigger spending counselors in the First Presidency. Furthermore, my understanding is that the fiscal crunch was not solved by increased tithing revenues but by an austerity program instituted by N. Eldon Tanner.

Is it true that all other large non-profits provide full financial disclosure statements? Obviously, many of them do, but my understanding is that it is hardly universal.

Finally, it is not true, legally speaking, that the authorities of the Church hold church assets as trustees for either the members or the church. There was a time when this was so, but it was largely as a device for circumventing mortmain laws that restricted the amount of property that a church could own. Today, the Church is organized as a corporation sole, which means that it does not have any share holders, nor are church assets held by individual church leaders.

Yes, I believe we should be told more. For me, it isn't a matter of whether I trust the church leaders. It's a matter of being prudent. It's a matter of stewardship. It's a matter of removing one source of temptation from church leaders. If there's nothing to hide, why hide it?

I'm guessing that if the church's financial books were open, people from all over the political spectrum would find something that they considered a misuse of funds even though it didn't rise to the level of corruption or fiscal mismanagement. This would predictably result in higher rates of withholding as more and more people found church resources going to programs that they don't agree with. I'm guessing that for a significant part of the membership, a willingness to pay tithing depends on a perception of both fairness in administration and that the money is being put to good use. In a voluntary system this perception may be more important than in a system with civil and criminal penalties such as government taxation.

Most Mormon's I have encountered see the 10% of your increase system of adminstration as fair. Poor people, for instance, whose money has a higher utility value, don't seem to question whether they should pay a lesser percentage or whether the wealthy should pay more. I think this comes in large part thanks to the flexibility that each member has in defining increase and in large part because of the simplicity of a model which applies a single number to everyone.

Not knowing how or where, exactly, the bulk of tithing dollars are spent encourages members to assume that the money is being put to good use--i.e. used to build up the kingdom. I think this is, in fact, what the money is being used for. But if we had more information, no doubt some would quibble with what the kingdom encompasses. As it is, this already happens. I have a friend, for instance, who tells me he won't pay tithing because the church spends funds lobbying against gay marriage. Perhaps he is just looking for an excuse not to pay--my point is that it would be easier to find excuses not to pay when you could finger expenditures that you disagree with.

Considering the scope of the church's operations, I have no doubt that this would apply equally to people across the political spectrum. Knowing that the church works with the UN is one thing, knowing exactly how many millions of dollars go to UN programs might be another for a UN hater (some of which I have already heard voice discomfort with the church's ties). Perhaps I am taking too dim a view of human nature to think that seeing the amounts of money flowing from the U.S. church to the church in other parts of the world would upset anyone, but I doubt it.

I realize that none of this really goes to what seems to be the primary area of concern on this thread--corruption. I'm just thinking about reasons why the leadership may not want to release numbers even though it might assuage fears of fiscal mismangement or corruption.

Opening its books would also open the church up to a slew of specific criticisms from outside the church. It seems when you weigh the options, from an institutional standpoint the church has little incentive to provide more transparency.

Nice comments, Nate. It's hard to speak authoritatively on what the "within the leadership" explanation was for the cash crunch because they don't release "within the leadership" explanations any more readily than they release financial data. I don't know the source of your inside version (that it was caused by Pres. McKay's move away from JRC as the financial decisionmaker). My inside version is inferred from the interviews of LDS leaders quoted in the Ostlings' book to the effect that they stopped releasing financial data because they were afraid members, seeing the large numbers, assumed the Chrrch had plenty of money and, in response, reduced their voluntary contributions. That may be correct, but that is a poor rationale for deciding to withhold financial data from the members, isn't it? Revenue maximization is an odd justification for Church leaders to employ under orthodox assumptions. There is, to my knowledge, no "public story" on the cash crunch because it was never openly discussed in public.

As to non-profits, they are of course not under SEC-type regulation for publicly traded corporations, but as a practical matter charitable enterprises that depend on voluntary contributions do release verified financial statements in order to generate confidence in existing and potential donors, as well as to inform them regarding how recently obtained funds (over the previous donor cycle) were spent. The LDS Church is somewhat unique, I think, in that most "donors" have little or no interest in obtaining or reviewing such financial information.

My use of the term "trustee" was loose rather than legal, relating to the general understanding that leaders act on behalf of the Church as a whole and with an eye to the welfare of the Church and its members (qualified, of course, with the pious disclaimer that it is Jesus Christ who makes the decisions, although the idea that he reviews the annual capital spending budget or the weekly cash report is probably more than even the most orthodox of Mormons would propose).

Mathew, yes I think you are correct: if the Church released detailed financial statements some people would pour over them and find things they object to. But that's the whole point of financial disclosure.

There are positive aspects to disclosure as well as a negative ones. Donors and potential donors would be reassured. Mismanagement would be deterred. Leaders would be showing confidence in the membership. Apart from prudential considerations, I think providing some disclosure is simply the right thing to do, but then I was an auditor in a prior life so I am generally biased in favor of disclosure.

BTW, I wasn't trying to make "corruption" the focus of the thread nor suggest it occurs outside isolated incidents that rarely come to the public's attention. I think the question of LDS financial disclosure in general and was my intended topic.

With anything in the Church, the problems show up in the details. If you examine the numbers of members on the Church rolls, the growth sounds phenomenal. But when you ponder what percentage of those numbers represent active members of the Church ... well ...

It's pretty predictable that if the Church finances were completely transparent to the membership (and thus the World), the Church would come under intense scrutiny and criticism. There's no way that this would be avoided.

Having said what I already said, I'll simply add that I trust the leaders of the Church, particularly the Prophet. I judge that it is President Hinckley's ultimate responsibility, and then of the Quorum of the Twelve, to make sure tithes are used in the best way possible. Once that tithing check leaves my hands, I'm not going to worry too much about how it is used. I am much more confident that our Church handles its money efficiently and responsibly than other churches, especially since the majority of the ministration in the church occurs by unpaid stewards.

Scrutiny from the world, yes. More likely to lose tax privileges, too, probably.

And couldn't we all draw a "living expense salary" if we, too, lived the law of consecration?

Dave,

I agree that there are positive benefits as well as negative consequences to transparency. I just think that in this particular instance the negatives outweigh the positives. (BTW, I didn't think your original post was about corruption, but that the comments following seemed to focus on moral hazards.) I'm convinced that the current level of opacity is a simply policy decision (and I've noticed that no one here or any other place that I've seen claims the contrary) and my inclination to trust our leaders gives me a slight preference for the status quo as opposed to more disclosure. I think that the attacks that disclosure invites would do more harm than the good that would come from disclosure.

I just gotta show up more often when interesting conversations are going on.

From Dave:

Alternatively, you also seem to be hinting at some sort of cloak of divine immunity attaching to LDS leaders so that even if they misdirected, mismanaged, or simply took a cut of Church money, that would be okay because anything they do is implicitly approved by God (even heating temples by burning stacks of Federal Reserve notes).

I don't know if that would correctly characterize what I'm thinking. Let me try again:

At best, I feel that God directs the work of His Church, and thus I feel that tithing funds are in general handled as He would want us to. Of course, every person who can sign checks for the Church, from the President down to the Financial Clerk, has some personal discretion, and there are bound to be quibbles. (Would the Lord have wanted me to pick up the copy paper for the library at Office Depot, where it's less expensive, or at the local office supply store, where the profits are staying in the community?)

At worst, I believe that the leaders of the Church are men of good conscience who, in the absence of direct guidance, still feel the responsibility to use the tithing funds judiciously.

But at its most basic, once the money leaves my hands, it just isn't mine. I have given; I have severed my ties to it and surrendered any title to it I may have had. I don't feel that the Church owes me an accounting for it, any more than I feel that the Church owes me a temple recommend for it.

This whole exchange is illuminating a rift between a few people and I want to tease it out with a silly little question. Imagining that everyone who has posted is a tithe payer, would you stop paying tithing if you found out that your tithing funds were being misused by the church leadership (by misuse I suppose I imagine misuse in your mind which could go anywhere from picking Wilford Woodruff over over George Albert Smith for next year's relief society/priesthood manual to finding out that President Monson put this month's tithing haul on red and it came up green). In other words, transparency to what end?

If the answer is that regardless of how badly tithing was mismanaged you would keep paying tithing, then the model that Dave seems to be advancing is really a non-sequiter; comparisons to organizations seeking donations in a free market are totally inapplicable. If you would stop tithing if you found the money was mismanaged then maybe it is better that you not know, at least from the Church's perspective (that last statement can be taken on two levels, one imagines a self-interested corrupt leadership, the other imagines a nurturing leadership) and quite possibly from your own.

In other words, depending on your view of tithing the church is either a monopoly or a monopsony and it turns out that the Sherman Act doesn't apply to God, at least so far as I know. In that situation does disclosure really matter? I know, I know, we would find out sooner that leaders are doing bad things, but would the costs be worth the benefits? It would seem like the only reason for disclosure in a monopoly/-sony situation would be to give us information so we could agitate for regulation of the monopoly/-sony; this doesn't translate well to a faith-based system where you would be petitioning God, who presumably already knows about the problems.

Nice comments, "Tachyon City" Nathan (I didn't connect the dots the first time). I think most Mormons have "a feeling" that tithing is "in general" handled well--I'm not really disputing that. If there were some financial disclosure, we could have actual assurance, as opposed to just a feeling, about how the money is handled. Accounting should no more be a matter of faith than plumbing or dentistry.

Given the number of comments, it looks like this whole topic is of some interest to Bloggernackers. Many are voicing the opinion that financial disclosure by the Church would be inappropriate (for a variety of reasons) and that faithful members don't need to see any financial statements (slyly suggesting such an interest is inconsistent with good or faithful membership). This perspective conveniently ignores the fact that up until 1960 the Church released annual financial reports, suggesting it is not improper for the Church to do so and that it served some positive purpose when it was practiced. Leadership opinion on this matter changed, but it is clearly a practical policy decision, not a moral issue or a question of faith.

As long as temple worthiness is important for so many things, and tithing is required for temple worthiness, it doesn't matter what the leaders do with the money...people will tithe, because they have to in order to have a temple recommend. Even if the leaders WERE mismanaging funds, people would still tithe, because they have to tithe to have a temple recommend.

These discussions often seem to happen as if God weren't in the picture. For example, Mat wrote I'm guessing that for a significant part of the membership, a willingness to pay tithing depends on a perception of both fairness in administration and that the money is being put to good use. This seems inaccurate to me for a system in which paying tithing is actually considered the law. I would argue that most Latter-day Saints are willing to pay tithing because God commanded JS that it was still the law of the Gospel, and not because they have adjudged the amount and administration of it equitable. Only when viewed from outside the Church can tithing really be considered a "donation" because viewed from within the Church, it is the law of God to pay it. Thus, we still have to choose to pay it (i.e. "volunteer" to do so), but it is a choice to obey or disobey the law, not to gratuitously give our money to our favorite charity. In other words, failure to do so not only makes one a miser, it also makes one a sinner. And as with any law, failure to comply brings punishment and the wrath of God, although as President Faust expressed in conference the punishment likely won't come immediately, otherwise it might abrogate free agency.

Ann,

Temple recommend interviews may serve as a gentle reminder to tithe, but isn't the primary reason for tithing simply a belief in the restored gospel?

Washy,

Why doesn't agitation for reform translate well in a faith-based system? I don't necessarily expect church problems to be solved by some verison of deus ex machina. Although we see through a glass darkly, the moral onus to act remains.

John,

You wrote that most LDS would be willing to pay tithing simply because they believe it is a law. I wrote that a significant percentage of LDS may not pay tithing without a perception of both fairness in administration and that the money is being put to good use. These are not conflicting statements.

I also accept your argument that "most Latter-day Saints are willing to pay tithing because God commanded JS that it was still the law of the Gospel, and not because they have adjudged the amount and administration of it equitable". I agree that most LDS accept this prima facie--but also contend that subsequent perceived inequities in the system could delegitimize the law in the eyes of some and they would no longer feel bound by the law.

Perhaps you believe that (strictly hypothetically speaking) tithing revenues would be largely unaffected even if it came out that a massive financial fraud was taking place and hundreds of millions of dollars of tithing funds were being siphoned off to fund lavish lifestyles. If you believe that, then we must agree to disagree.

Even in my extreme hypothetical I am sure that many people would continue to pay tithing because they understand that it is a law that they have conventated to uphold. But I also believe that a significant percentage would hold back.

I agree with Ann. I tithe because it is a commandment. What is done with the money is not my concern. I have faith in the leadership of the church and belive that this is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. The only reason I would stop tithing is if I lost my testimony of the church (this doesn't even seem to stop some that I know).

I have always taken the simplistic approach that all I have been given is "of God". He has asked me to return 10% and in return will "open the windows of heaven". That is enough for me.

Here's another take on the general question. The Church allows open access to its vast library of genealogical data and publishes General Conference talks, including the closed-circuit Priesthood session. But it is secretive about its finances and limits access to many items in its historical archive. The Church is very open in its Sunday meetings ("Visitors Welcome") and at LDS.org (the One True Website), but limits access to local ward websites essentially to ward members.

So, depending on the resource or activity, the Church sometimes exhibits complete openness and other times shows extreme secrecy. And, as with financial statements and with access to historical archives, it may veer from one extreme to the other almost overnight. What explains this rather puzzling track record of all-or-nothing access with the occasional complete reversal?

Since "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" has been firmly established as a correct, scriptural principle, it seems to me that open accountability of the Church finances would be in order.

The first witness would be the GA who reads the statement made by the auditors of the books (who would serve as the second witness), and then open financial statements themselves would serve as the third witness.

Maybe the general membership is happy with just the two witnesses already offered, but I can't help but wonder why so many are willing to forego what I believe are standard principles and practices of accounting. Isn't the membership entitled to a little "return and report" too?

Mark N.
Isn't the membership entitled to a little "return and report" too?
Members of the church aren't entitled to anything. It's a one way street.

Let me offer a personal perspective on this issue.

On my mission when we would teach the principle of tithing (which wasn't really that often, because in Germany we didn't usually get that far into the discussions), I found myself feeling very uninformed when I would try to explain to the investigator what tithing was used for. I intended to ask my mission president about this, but I never got around to it. But I just assumed that some general information on where the money goes would be available, and the idea that it would be some kind of big secret didn't even occur to me.

Finally, after my mission, I went to the BYU library to try to look up some information on how tithing is spent. I don't think this represented any lack of faith on my part, I just wanted to be informed about the kingdom. I was quite shocked to find out that there is no such thing available. I confess that the fact bothered me quite a bit, and it still bothers me today. I can understand to some extent why the leaders don't want to publish detailed accounts of all revenues and expenditures, but can't we even get a pie chart? I have no idea how I would explain such a complete lack of disclosure to a nonmember.

Maybe it is just a cult after all and we are all deluded.

Ed, while the Church doesn't release any financial statements, that doesn't mean we don't have a general idea of much of what goes on. It is publicly known what many LDS long-term investments (apart from temples, chapels, and the like) are: radio stations, farms and ranches, commercial real estate, securities. And it is not difficult to sketch out the primary objects of the annual LDS operating budget: maintenance for buildings, salaries for employees, publishing for curriculum, travel for officials and missionaries (think 50,000 plane tickets per year!), two-thirds of the operating budget of BYU.

So despite the failure to release detailed financial statements, it is fairly well known about how much is spent and more or less what it is spent on. LDS officials do grant interviews to those researching LDS finances, and while they don't give specific details, they are at least willing to talk in general terms (see chapter 7 and appendix B of Mormon America. One can argue that "a general idea" isn't enough, but I think your general concerns are answerable based on what is publicly known already.

It may be that the writers of "Mormon America" were able to piece things together pretty well. I don't have the book, and it wasn't available at the time I went to the BYU library. I'll take a look at it.

You say it's "pretty well known" how much is spent, but I doubt I know a single person who knows it. Is "Mormon America" the only source you know of? Would there be any way for me to get information for the current year, other than doing a few weeks of laborious research myself? (I'm not even sure where I'd start.)

John Fowles: was that sarcastic comment meant for me? I don't think the church is a cult, that is why it's so puzzling to me that it acts like one in this regard.

I remember an interview with Gordon B Hinkley were he was asked about financial disclosure, he said only those who contirbute were given the information and that it was not given out to the public. I wondered why I didn't get a disclosure statement as I was a full tithe payer, then someone suggested that this disclosure was the ward budget, this doesn't add up as that only constitute 2-3% of our ward tithes. I was also told that the conference talks that say your money is in good hands was all the financial disclosure we needed. I question the idea that investing extra funds into real estate is a good idea when there is so much good that could come from those funds both in and outside of the church.

To be really cynical about it, the church will never release any information that they see as a threat to any members testimony.
If a financial disclosure revealed that a GA was paid $70,000 a year in "living expenses", someone out there would say "Damn, I wish I could earn as much as 'living expenses'". And that might just sour them. IMHO, the church won't risk that. Besides, someone might wonder why the church is buying 88,000 acres, but won't foot the bill anymore for church custodians. Or,why is it that the church can buy a big mall, but need to call a missionary couple to manage a DI store at the couple's own expense. Why not give them "living expenses?"

Yes, no doubt leaders have a variety of concerns and fears about the consequences of releasing financial data to the members, but I don't think they are legitimate. I think few of those who presently pay would change their habits because of financial disclosures.

Instead, I think they simply prefer to avoid the PR burden that meaningful financial disclosure would create. Right now, they can answer every media or member question or inquiry with a simple "your numbers are inaccurate and we don't comment on finances" line. If they disclose, then (1) they can't stonewall anymore, and (2) they would find it much more difficult not to offer some rationale or justification for the spending and investing priorities, a game they don't want to start playing.

The Church has changed policy before (polygamy, the 1978 revelation) but not easily. Here's a fun question: What scenario would cause the leaders to decide to change this policy and again start releasing regular financial reports? My guesses: (1) a significant LDS financial scandal undermining tithepayer confidence; (2) a significant drop in tithepaying, confirmed by LDS internal polling suggesting a lack of financial disclosure is somehow to blame; (3) a revelation from God to the LDS President directing him to release financial data to the members of the Church.

If I recall correctly, the decision to discontinue releasing financial statements in the 1950s is also discussed by Mike Quinn in his biography of J. Reuben Clark's church years. Quinn says the reason is because some of the Church's investments went bad, and the GAs wanted to cover up the losses. Shortly thereafter there was a scandal with a Church bureaucrat (not a GA) stealing money, but that had more to do with the Church's then antiquated accounting system rather than lack of public disclosure. This provided the impetus for having N. Eldon Tanner update the Church's finanical systems.

I have reviewed some of those 1950s financial statements (which were published in the Improvement Era as well as being read at General Conference). Generally, they were very basic income statements, no balance sheets, statements of cash flow, notes, etc. I don't even remember if they gave revenues -- maybe they just showed what percentage was from tithing and what from other (then as now, tithing was the primary revenue source). Detailed numbers (to the penny) were given on expenditures, but only by broad categories (missionary, education, temples, etc.). You wouldn't have been able to tell how much went to BYU, let alone the GAs' salaries.

If we are asking for the release of financial information by the Church because we may not trust the GAs to make a proper allocations of the money (even assuming no financial shenanigans), I think we do run into a moral issue of sustaining those authorities, who are vested with that authority by specific revelation (D&C 120). However, I think that there may be good practical reasons to recommend the resumption of the release of some basic simple numbers like in the 1950s:

(1) As noted above, to enable Church members and missionairies to respond to innocent and reasonable inquiries from outsiders as to the use of the tithing money.

(2) To finally put an end to widespread wild speculations about the Church's wealth. The Church is always claiming that the estimates from such as Time magazine and the Arizona Republic newspaper are way high. From a PR point of view, the surest way to make those denials credible would be for the Church to release their own numumbers.

(3) I believe that it would be faith-promoting to Church members to see that the large majority of their tithing donations were being used for religious purposes. I also do not believe that the fact that most of it goes to temples, missions, buildings, etc. rather than poor relief will not be disturbing to Church members becasue Church members believe that they do benefit from having temples, chapels, missions, etc.

However, these are all practical reasons, which lie within the discretion of the presiding authorities' stewardships.

A few have stated that the Church is not a corporation and therefore have no need to disclose their finances. This statement is in error.

The Church IS a not-for-profit corporation. One might argue that we are giving our tithe to God when we hand the bishop our envelope; but, really, we are giving this money to an earthly organization. The Church is NOT God; rather, it is an organization of men... the Church is the body of believers and all of us are mortal.

Now, the Church may very well be the authorized organization and government of God's kingdom on the earth; but it is still not God. The Bishop isn't God, the Stake President isn't God, the Apostles aren't God nor is the Prophet. They are representatives of the Church (eg. "we the people") who worship God as LDS. God may even guide the Church and instruct the General Authorities through revelation; but the Church still isn't God.

So, doesn't the Church (legally aka "Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints") have a responsibility to account for the corporation's finances by disclosing audit summaries for the use of tithing and other donations offered to the Church?

I willingly tithe 10% of my income to the Church, not because it is a commandment or to obtain a TR, but I do it because I love God and my fellow men. I also love the Church, make frequent use of it's institutions and facilities and wish to help support the Church financially. However, I would appreciate an accounting of how these donations are spent.

We must also remember that men are susceptable to temptation and the last time Jesus set up His Church, it fell into apostasy and power and money were misused. The D&C even warns us that the restored Church may fall into apostasy; but having the books closed is only inviting Satan. Closed financial records are never a good idea. Most other churches and organization even supply quarterly or annual financial reports to it's members. Even the LDS church used to provide public financial reports.

"doesn't the Church (legally aka "Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints") have a responsibility to account for the corporation's finances..?"

Yes. The question is, to whom does the Church need to account? To its members? To the tithepayers? That's by no means obvious. As has been pointed out, the members of the church are not shareholders; there are no corporate duties for church leadership towards us. The only clear accounting that must be made is to the government, and to God. Outside of that, the only real responsibilities for disclosure are those Jim cites.

The only way I wouldn't want to see where my tithing goes is if I were afraid I might find out the truth. I would only be afraid to find out the truth if I had a vested interest in maintaining my faith (ie. to avoid fear, or the wrath of god).

I think people who say, "Trust you leaders" are the same people who wouldn't acknowledge a shovel whacking them over the head because they thought it came from their guardian angel.

Steve, your comment that The only clear accounting that must be made is to the government, and to God makes you seem sympathetic to mine and John H.'s views on this that you seemed to disagree with over at BCC.

John F, I have reviewed Steve's comments over at Bcc, and while I can tell who he disagreed with (the two Johns), it is very unclear exactly what statements or ideas he disagreed with. So nothing he said here seems to contradict any prior statements, and Steve is therefore cleared of the charge of self-contradictory blogging. Blog here anytime, Steve.

In fact, why don't you take a whack (not a guardian angel shovel-whack, just a regular verbal whack) at explaining what you have in mind in terms of reporting requirements for the accounting you see LDS leaders rendering to the government and to God.

I especially enjoyed JWL's comments above about what the benefits of disclosure would be to the church.

Separately, Dave, this terrific post has now drawn in several members of the DAMU (DisAffected Mormon Underground). Hello, guys!

Nothing like talking about money to get people interested. Well, except talking about sex. Maybe you could touch on that next.

"Steve, your comment that The only clear accounting that must be made is to the government, and to God makes you seem sympathetic to mine and John H.'s views on this that you seemed to disagree with over at BCC."

I could see how you might think so. However, outlining the minimum levels of accountability for church leaders is not the same thing as outlining the desired system. Additionally, as Dave intimated, the precise mechanism by which the Church ought to report to gov't and to God is not entirely defined, and could easily include a more expansive form of disclosure as I'd favor.

So there! Note that I still really havn't taken a clear position, which is the primary luxury of the blog sniper.

It is completely unnecessary for the Church to release its financial information to promote the faith of the members that the money is being put to good use, since most members already feel that way.

I can see two possible scenarios, and the possible outcomes of disclosure:

1. The church is mismanaging money, and disclosure will inform the tithepayers of that. Outrage will cause the church to get back on track.

2. The church is not mismanaging money. However, the large numbers involved and the sheer diversity of expenditures are bound to outrage or shock some tithepaying members (spending on farms/ranches, UN assistance, etc.) While most of the members would not benefit from the disclosure (since they already believed there was no mismanagement), there is essentially no actual benefit to the membership. However, some current tithepayers who did quibble with certain expenditures would cease to tithe, thus jeapordizing their eternal welfare. If it sounds serious, it is.

The church leadership's primary obligation at all times is to help the greatest number of God's children to reach exaltation. Every decision has that goal in mind. Disclosure should only occur if it brings more people to Christ. Period. But in the case of no financial mismanagment, it would have the opposite effect. I sincerely doubt that anybody who does not tithe now would begin tithing if the Church released its figures. However, some might stop because they disagree with some expenses.

So the right thing to do depends on whether there is wholesale mismanagement. If there is none, then the right decision to not disclose. With the Prophet having final oversight over all major financial decisions, I am willing to accept on faith that he will not agree to any major misuse of funds. People don't accept a call to be an apostle to enrich themselves, unlike CEOs.

So I guess I disagree on principle that anyone would benefit from having their faith confirmed that tithing is being spent properly. If we already believe it, having it confirmed is useless. And convincing a new convert in a third-world country that tithing is a law they must abide by for their salvation is easier when they can't say, "Your church doesn't need it because it has $6 billion in revenue a year."

Disclosure alone would not be enough for those who call for it. It would only raise more questions. For example, does your knowing that the Church paid $17 million for some farm land satisfy your desire for disclosure, or do you now want to know why the land was purchased?

Thus disclosure to please those who want to know where the money goes will not please them, it will spark more questioning. Then the brethren will be in a position of needing to justify each and every expense that at least one person disagrees with.

And how would they justify it? When it comes down to it, their justification would inevitably be, "Given all that we know about the state of the Church at this time, and given the inspiration we receive as the Lord's anointed, we feel this is the right decision."

Of course, this is exactly the current state of affairs. We have no input on spending; we simply trust the money is spent correctly. Knowing exactly what it is spent on does not help our faith that it is being spent correctly, since only the Lord knows if it is being spent as He wants.

Disclosure therefore only encourages the doubters to second-guess the brethren's actions, and forcing the Church to be on the defensive, devoting time and energy to justifying spending to skeptics, rather than devoting their attention to building up the kingdom.

Jonathan, nice comments. You have made an excellent statement of your position, and I know it is a common one among most members of the Church. Some who are financially very sophisticated share those views, so if I disagree I'm not suggesting those I disagree with are naive or simplistic in their views. But here's what I think you are missing.

1. Faith should not be confused with financial accountability. Wanting to see disclosure in the name of accountability is not equivalent to faithlessness. Recall that faith is directed to God, not men.

2. You said, It is completely unnecessary for the Church to release its financial information to promote the faith of the members that the money is being put to good use . . . . But the Church released financial information prior to 1960 and they had reasons for doing it, so it is obviously not "completely unnecessary."

3. You said, The Church is not mismanaging money. What you really mean is you assume the Church is not mismanaging money--since there's no disclosure, neither you, me, nor any of the "little people" really know whether your statement is true or not.

4. As I understand it, the specific event that caused leaders to stop disclosing financial information was a sudden building spree undertaken around 1960 that resulted in Church expenditures exceeding revenues for that year, which some would see as financial mismanagement. Rather than disclose that condition, leaders instead chose to terminate disclosure. Thus, non-disclosure and mismanagement would appear to be tightly linked in the LDS case, at least when first instituted.

I am not saying that those who want disclosure necessarily lack faith. I am saying that disclosure will not serve to increase the faith of doubters, since those who are concerned right now, like you, are more likely to be more concerned if figures were released, not because mismanagement is occurring, but because you might perceive mismanagement to be occurring.

I take it from your opening that you are skeptical about the purchase of the 88,000 acres. I imagine there are probably many more expenditures that you and others might similarly find questionable. However, just because you find them questionable does not mean mismanagement is occurring. You are not privy to all the information, and indeed revelation, that the leadership has access to. Thus expenditures that are right and good could easily be perceived to be incorrect if disclosed, and that perception could be detrimental to the salvation of the members who cease to tithe or falter in their testimonies.

With regard to #2, it is a logical error to assume that since the Church used to disclose, it therefore had a good reason to. They might have simply been doing it that way, and only learned as time passed why it was unwise.

In #4, when referring to the supposed mismanagement of 1960, you yourself used the phrase, "which some would see as financial mismanagement." Simply because some see it that way doesn't make it so. It is only mismanagement if God disagrees with the spending, not if men do. Therefore exposing the Church to second-guessing and cries of corruption from men simply for spending the money as God desires is counter-productive.

I think the key is that, even if the financials were disclosed, you still could not tell me if tithing funds were being mismanaged without knowing the will of the Lord. After examining the financial records, you would still have to pray to know whether the Lord approved of the spending to gain your own personal testimony that the brethren were correct. And my argument is that you can obtain the same testimony without the records being disclosed. At the same time, those with lesser faith, who would choose not to tithe if they saw the records, are saved from the temptation by not releasing the records.

Forgive the double post, but I thought of a more articulate way to sum up my argument.

I can see the following possible scenarios. In these cases, financial mismanagement is considererd to be spending tithing funds in a way the Lord would disapprove of.

1a. There is no mismanagement, and there is nothing that would be perceived by anyone to be mismanagement.

1b. There is no mismanagement, but there are expenditures that people would perceive as mismanagement because they do not know why the Lord would want the money spent that way.

2a. There is mismanagement, but it is unintentional on the part of the First Presidency. They work to correct it.

2b. There is mismanagement, but it is unintentional on the part of the First Presidency. However, they don't care, and they do nothing to correct it.

2c. There is mismanagement, and it is intentional on the part of the First Presidency.


With option 1a (which I consider very unlikely), disclosure has no downside, and very little upside. Perhaps some people who aren't tithing now might start, but probably not, since if they lacked the faith to pay their tithing without disclosure, they probably will find another reason to not pay.

With option 1b, disclosure is a bad idea from the Church's point of view. They are doing everything right, but will now expose the Church to attacks, and some people might stop paying tithing, which harms their eternal welfare.

With option 2a, disclosure would expose mismanagement, but it would provide no positive net effect, since the First Presidency would already be doing everything they could to correct the problem. This fits into the 1960 case. The church did not disclose, but they did fix the problem, because the Church leadership was opposed to mismanagement. The Church audits that report to the First Presidency help ensure that 2a occurs.

With 2b and 2c, disclosure could provide benefits. But to say that President Hinckley doesn't care about wasting of tithing money, or that he willfully engages in it, is to say that it is possible for the Prophet to lead the Church astray. At this point in time, you have a problem of faith--is President Hinckley called of God, and does he have the primary motive of serving Him and carrying forward His work in a sacred calling?

It seems to me that in the two most likely scenarios (1b and 2a) there are no real benefits to disclosure, but there are downsides (described in my earlier comments). The only real benefits would come under 2b and 2c, but at that point, you are saying that the Prophet would deliberately waste money or agree to the wasting of it. At that point, it is an issue of faith.

Again, nice comments Jonathan. No, I don't see anything wrong with the recent purchase of Nebraska farmland, that was just a newsworthy item that prompted my reflections on disclosure. I think it is easier to speak to disclosure than to "mismanagement." Generally, it is difficult to defend non-disclosure, and a stubborn defense of non-disclosure is highly correlated with having something to hide, which could be anything from serious improprieties to something as simple (and somewhat understandable) unwillingness to divulge financial details to a curious or critical public.

I think we have a different discussion if disclosure happens. Then we have a much broader discussion of how much spending should happen, what spending priorities should be, who should decide what those priorities are (with or without input from "experts" or the rank and file), and how accountability (if any) should be exercised over financial stewards. To say as you did, It is only mismanagement if God disagrees with the spending, not if men do, for example, opens up an interesting discussion that goes well beyond the simple topic of disclosure/non-disclosure.

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