Is The Mormon Church Too Rich?

Between 5.25 and 7 billion dollars.

               That’s the statistic the “Washington Post” forgot to give in its expose on the finances of the Mormon church.

               Between 5.25 and 7 billion dollars.

               That’s how much the self-styled whistleblower in this matter is hoping to get, as a reward from the federal government for turning in a supposed tax cheat. He gets to eviscerate a church he and his family have become embittered against, and he makes himself multiple billions of dollars.

               Which might call into question his motives.

               Here’s the background. The “Washington Post” has run an article claiming that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has “misled” its members about a $100 billion non-profit investment fund it has. The article is based on the 76-page screed of a former employee of the investment fund who has given all sorts of internal financial documents to the IRS, claiming that the investment fund didn’t do enough charity to maintain its non-profit status and should, therefore, be taxed, and he, as a federal whistleblower, should get the reward that such whistleblowing typically merits.

               Here’s the math on that.

               If the $100 billion were taxed at the 35-percent corporate rate, that would be some $35 billion in recovered federal tax. Whistleblowers, under federal statute, are entitled to between 15 and 20 percent of that recovered tax. That works out to $5.25 billion on the bottom end and $7 billion on the top end.

               Which, in today’s dollars, is just about 33 pieces of silver.

               But let’s get to the point.

               The Mormon church is rich. It hasn’t always been. Once, its possessions were largely seized and liquidated by the federal government. Another time it was disenfranchised by the state of Missouri and its people ordered out of the state, upon pain of “extermination.” At a certain point, as its people moved into the Rocky Mountains, families starved to death along the way, from want of resources. Repeatedly, well into the middle of the 1900s, its finances slipped into red ink as it tried to meet the needs of its members and their neighbors.

               That hard history, along with a religious belief in saving for a rainy day, has led the church to conserve its resources – to save its money.

               One of the ways it has done that is through the fund in question, supposedly totaling something near $100 billion. It has taken the money that comes in from the tithes of members, paid to run colleges and build chapels and temples around the world, and dole out immeasurable amounts of relief to the disadvantaged, Mormon or not, and then saved and invested the rest.

               You do that well enough and long enough, and it’s going to add up.

               And that’s a good thing.

               A worldwide church, with a belief in taking care of its own and paying its own way, is going to need money. For today’s routine expenses, and for tomorrow’s emergencies and disasters. For the hurricanes and tidal waves, and for the disruptions of men and societies. Those we can imagine, and those we can’t.

               In the newspaper story and in the whistleblower report, there is snide mockery of the belief that there will be a Second Coming of Christ, and that being prepared for the calamities that precede it could require cash reserves. The notion that Jesus will come again, and possibly soon, is central to the founding and current belief of the LDS people, as Mormons prefer to call themselves.

               It might sound goofy to you, but it’s sacred to them.

               And so is the principle of tithing.

               In the whistleblower report, the former fund employee says that the entity misleads and defrauds members of the church, who often make financial sacrifices to pay 10% of their income to the church. He says that a church with this much money should not be taking more money from its members.

               Well, as a person who has decided not to be a Mormon anymore, the whistleblower doesn’t have a vote. And he seems never to have had an understanding of what tithing is.

               As odd as it may sound, tithing is not between the church and the person. It is between the person and the Lord, and the sacrifice is not given to the church as anything other than a steward. The money is truly given to the Lord. That is the earnest belief of tithe payers. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t pay.

               So it doesn’t matter how much the church has, it matters how much the person believes.

               And the average member of the church would rejoice in the church’s frugality and investment success. It is called to be a steward of sacred funds, and it seems to be handling its stewardship well.

               Good.

               Now, as to the notion that the monies in this fund have sat idle, and the claim that there has been insufficient spending to justify a non-profit mission and status, I would question whose clock we’re playing by.

               Inasmuch as Mormons would see these dollars as the Lord’s, then they would likewise see the timing as his. He will have them spent or directed the way he wants when he wants. Mormons believe that, and are completely content with that. And, these dollars belonging to Mormons collectively, their judgment ought to be given prime consideration in the matter.

               And the distribution of these funds, for charitable and other purposes, will be driven by circumstances on a timetable not necessarily in the control of man. Disasters happen when they happen. Refugees need help when they need help.

               It might not be today, it might not be this month. But it will happen. And on that day, the LDS church will need the liquid financial wherewithal to act decisively to alleviate suffering. And as spiritual opportunities present themselves, the church will likewise need to have cash on hand to do what needs to be done.

               And that need may be great.

               In a church where most of the members live outside the United States but most of the donations come from within the United States, the needs for chapels and temples and church infrastructure, as well as the personal humanitarian needs of members and nonmembers alike, are potentially huge.

               And the Mormon church has tried to prepare itself for that potentiality.

               But now a greedy, spiteful man wants those sacred dollars for himself, and he wants to tear down the church he no longer believes in.

               And the story is told by the newspaper of a man whose mammoth corporation paid no income tax this year.

               And it all happens at a time when American society is increasingly hostile to religious freedom and traditional religious organizations. So this becomes an attack. Not just upon the savings of the church, but upon the church itself, and upon its members.

Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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