Mormonism and church finances/Twenty-first century/Disclosure

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Public disclosure of Church financial data

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Question: Why does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) not provide public disclosure of its financial data?

The Church complies with all legal requirements for reporting income, business profits, and donations

Some have claimed that the Church ought to provide full disclosure of its financial records to members or interested on-lookers.

Believing members typically believe that their tithes and offerings are consecrated gifts to God, and do not feel that they need a detailed accounting of their use.

That said, the Church complies with all legal requirements for reporting income, business profits, and donations. These laws vary by country and political jurisdiction. But, the Church has no duty to provide more information than that required by law.

Providing "full disclosure" would not provide much more information than is available now without considerable time and expense

"Full disclosure" is a nice slogan or buzz-word, but those who advocate for it do not seem to realize the difficulties with it, or the fact that doing so would not provide much more information than is available now without considerable time and expense. Many critics would also likely be impossible to satisfy on this front, and complaints would then turn to micromanaging and Monday-morning quarterbacking Church expenditures.

Financial experts discuss these and other issues here:

Accusations that the Church does not provide "full disclosure" are often intended to cast questions on the honesty of the Church or its leaders

These accusations are often intended to cast questions on the honesty of the Church or its leaders. Similar strategies are employed in other such complaints, such as:

For a detailed response, see: Mormonism and church integrity/City Creek Center Mall in Salt Lake City }}


Question: How does the Church decide where to spend money? Shouldn't they use the money instead to feed the poor and help the needy?

The Church manages an extensive humanitarian effort

Some have insisted that funds would be better if directed to charitable works such as feeding the poor. The Church does have an extensive humanitarian effort. Critics on this point often overlook the fact that Church funds are best managed not by sitting in a bank account, but through prudent investment. Investment in land and real estate development is often a wise and ultimately profitable investment approach.

It is entirely possible that the City Creek Center Mall will eventually become a money making venture, as the Church collects rent from mall merchants. This investment strategy would allow the Church to, over time, recoup its initial outlay or even make money that could be further dedicated to the Church's religious and humanitarian goals.

Church funds are best managed not by sitting in a bank account, but through prudent investment

Critics also overlook the fact that if money is spent to feed the needy, that money is gone. On the other hand, if the Church reinvests in Salt Lake City's downtown core, this provides jobs and economic stimulus (for example, via construction and then the service-industry jobs which will fill the mall upon its completion). While providing fewer short term gains, this long term "teach a man to fish" strategy could ultimately benefit many more people, by allowing them to "help themselves." Presiding Bishop H. David Burton noted:

Reflecting on City Creek, Bishop Burton said that if he'd known seven or eight years ago that "we'd be facing the second-worst recessionary period in our history, I may have not suggested we proceed this quickly with the City Creek project. But knowing there would be on any given day upwards of 1,700 jobs in the community — and that could bless the lives of a lot of families," the church decided to move forward.

"And when you get the secondary impact of those 1,700 prime jobs and the multiplier effect, it is a substantial contribution to this state and this community and its tax base, Bishop Burton said. "Any parcel of property the church owns that is not used directly for ecclesiastical worship is fully taxed at its market value." [1]

Investment of funds and service efforts are not mutually exclusive

Further, property investment does not preclude the Church from continuing its service efforts with other monies. This is not an "either/or" question.

If Salt Lake can avoid the fate of so many other inner cities--a lapse into disrepair, poverty, and crime--this will likewise benefit all the city's inhabitants. The Church seems to be taking a longer view to preserve the city core for the future. One observer has noted economic and social benefits already:

Natalie Gochnour, the executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber, points out that the development will include 524 residential units and is already pumping life into downtown. Over the last two years, more than a dozen new restaurants have opened within a two-block radius of the development. [2]

What about the meager 40 million dollars the Church gives to humanitarian aid out of its massive profits?

It is frequently claimed that only 40 million dollars per year us given to humanitarian aid by the Church. Daniel C. Peterson recently[3]reviewed an interview from Latter-day Saint historian D. Michael Quinn in which Dr. Quinn spoke about his book The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power. From Dr. Peterson's review:

In this interview, Dr. Quinn expresses frank admiration for the Church’s management of its finances, which he sees as essential to the global expansion of Mormonism. Moreover, although some enemies of the Church have been denouncing it for un-Christian corporate greed and, as is sometimes said, for giving only 40 million dollars to “charity” each year out of 15 billion in annual “profits” — see, on this, my recent blog entry “A church run by greedy and rapacious robber barons"— Dr. Quinn points out that this claim grossly distorts the reality: Those 40 million dollars represent only the cash that the Church devotes to humanitarian efforts. The food and clothing and medicines and other goods that it gives, as well as the service that it coordinates and sponsors and provides — in other words, its non-cash humanitarian and welfare assistance — represent contributions many times the size of that $40m cash sum.[4]

Dr. Peterson made similar points on his own in another post:

As things stand, though, the Church is building chapels and temples, supporting missionary work around the world, subsidizing schools and universities, and, yes, helping the poor and the needy.

Consider, for example, the work of LDS Charities. You can study its full report here, or read a much shorter summary here.

And please recall that LDS Charities represents only a fraction of the work that the Church is doing in this regard. There remain many other things, including fast offerings and service missions and Church Welfare (see also this) and the myriads of projects undertaken by home teachers and visiting teachers and local congregations around the globe. Not to mention the private initiatives undertaken by Latter-day Saints, such as the Liahona Children’s Foundation and a number of others.[5]


In 2020, the Church released a large piece in the Deseret News revealing that since approximately 2015, the Church has "doubled its humanitarian spending over the past five years and now provides nearly $1 billion in combined humanitarian and welfare aid[.]"[6]

Further Reading

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Through a Glass Darkly: Examining Church Finances"

Larry T. Wimmer,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (February, 16, 2018)
The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power is Michael Quinn’s impressive response to a century of books and articles that have often distorted the finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This third volume in The Mormon Hierarchy series covers Church history from 1830 to 2010, and represents a staggering commitment. For 46 years Quinn has diligently gathered data on Church income, expenditures, taxation, and “living allowances” paid to Church leaders. The results are significant and engrossing, with but one possibly serious error. If you are interested in any aspect of the Church finances, the enormous effort required to bring us Wealth & Corporate Power may well be the final word. In Quinn’s own words, it tells an “American success story without parallel.”

Click here to view the complete article


Notes

  1. "Mormon leaders and Salt Lake City work together to transform land," Deseret News (7 March 2010).
  2. Deseret News (7 March 2010).
  3. Written 27 December 2018.
  4. Daniel C. Peterson "The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power" <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2017/10/mormon-hierarchy-wealth-corporate-power.html> (27 December 2018).
  5. Daniel C. Peterson "Why does the Church give so little to charity?" <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2017/04/church-give-little-charity.html> (27 December 2018).
  6. "Church finances: Presiding Bishopric offers unique look inside financial operations of growing faith," Deseret News (14 February 2020).