FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Question: Why does the church spend so much money on temples when children are dying of starvation?
Question: Why does the church spend so much money on temples when children are dying of starvation?
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that tithing is commanded for the building of temples
Why does the church spend so much money on temples when children are dying of starvation in other parts of the world? Wouldn’t the money spent on these buildings be better used in feeding the hungry?  One critic of the Church states, "Tithing is for the poor."
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that tithing is commanded for the building of temples:
10 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you.
11 Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people. (D&C 97:10-11, italics added)
Likewise D&C 119:2-3 commands tithing for a variety of purposes:
2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
Thus, tithing is properly used for temples and other activities consistent with building the kingdom of God ("laying the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood"). Joseph Smith used tithing for such purposes throughout his administration.
"The poor" are nowhere mentioned in these commands, since the scriptures have a different mechanism for providing for them—the fast (Isaiah 58:6-7).
Christ was anointed with expensive oils. The act was criticized by Judas who suggested that the items could have been sold to benefit the poor
Just prior to the crucifixion, Christ was anointed with expensive oils. The act was criticized by Judas who suggested that the items could have been sold to benefit the poor. Christ's response was telling. He said "for ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial" (Matt 26:11-12). Just as with this event that served to the preparation for the eternal sacrifice of Christ, even so Temples serve to the eternal blessing of the rest of us and make Christ's sacrifice effective to the exaltation of others. The reality is that eternal salvation is the point of this earth life. Poverty, while certainly tragic and deserving of our individual sacrifices and attention, will only pertain to this existence. In the gospel, we must seek to find the appropriate balance.
Temples are built for the blessings of individuals and families into the eternities. Like the anointing of Christ, their existence serves an eternal cause and are in fact considered the House of the Lord. Just as the use of the oils were deserving of the expense, Latter-day Saints likewise consider constructing temples where sacred, eternal covenants pertaining to eternal exaltation are made, are deserving of our best efforts and sacrifices. Because the ordinances of the temple make all of the purposes of life complete and worthwhile, the temples command a level of attention like almost none other in the church.
Church members always have the choice of directing their cash donations to specific funds
It should be noted that, that according to some reports, Mormons donate more to charities than almost any other denomination. We have an extensive network of farms and canneries that are used to help feed individuals around the world. Our welfare system that is based on generous donations of the value of foregone meals from our monthly fast serve to benefit untold individuals. The church has programs to help build wells for safe drinking water and irrigation in Africa, and the church is constantly preparing to rush aid to disaster stricken areas. The truth is that Latter-day Saints are known to be extremely generous in their efforts to give and sacrifice for the benefit of others.
Church members always have the choice of directing their cash donations to specific funds. In addition to categories for tithing and fast offerings, there are also a temple fund, perpetual education fund and humanitarian aid. Tithing donations are dedicated to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth, which includes financing the building of places of worship. Fast offerings are used to assist people in need, first for members of the Church, but second for all others. If one wants a temple built, one may pay into the temple fund. If one wants to help third-world countries, they may pay into the humanitarian aid fund. If one wishes to help people in poor countries obtain a better education, the perpetual education fund would be appropriate. It would be objectionable if the Church took money that was specifically donated for humanitarian aid in order to finance temple construction. Likewise, it would be objectionable if they took money that was donated for temples in order to finance humanitarian aid.
One must keep in mind that there is an element of personal responsibility that also must be weighed when considering what and how to donate to a person or group. As the saying goes, “It is better to teach how to fish and feed a man for life rather than to give a man a fish and feed him for a day.” The church expends considerable resources to this end with programs such as the perpetual education fund and other programs.
The Church and humanitarian aid
The primary focus of the Church is to help people to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. To be perfected in Christ also means that we learn to lead an active life, where we use our agency and take responsibility for our own situation.
Tons of relief goods and huge amounts of funds have been transferred from the 1st world to the 3rd world, yet hunger still persists. For example, the "Granary of Africa", Ethiopia, has become a region of scarcity. People have ceased to be self-sufficient and instead have become reliant on that which is given to help them. Funds intended for humanitarian purposes are instead being used by warlords to purchase weapons. Relief goods intended for the people deteriorate on ports and airports, because warlords do not let them pass. In short, the situation in Africa, instead of getting better through European and American help, has been worsened.
Nevertheless, the Church sends humanitarian aid in goods to regions in need and is always among the first organizations to do this.
But the Church also takes another approach by sending welfare missionaries to the 3rd world, teaching the people how to become self-reliant again with a minimum of foreign capital. This, of course, is not a "cheap" solution, where you can send down money and stop worrying, but rather an "expensive" one, in that you need specially trained people for the job, people willing to fulfill such a mission. You do not need young men on those missions, but seasoned specialists, and there are only so many of them.
The blessings of having a temple nearby
On the other hand, it is still necessary to have chapels and temples that "do the job,” and it is the LORD who tells us how this is accomplished. If the Lord commands us to build a temple, then we build it without second guessing His reasoning.
It should be noted that there are practical benefits that result from families preparing to attend the temple. When great efforts are made by the Saints to attend the temple, they tend to become better people both before and after they attend. This effort generally results in an increase in faith and faithfulness for husbands and wives, and hopefully causes them to become more nurturing parents. This in turn impacts the children in these families, as they are raised knowing that they are loved and cherished. These children come forth into the world with less baggage and fewer "hang-ups" than a child who is neglected and not loved. The end result is another citizen who is ready to serve and contribute to the welfare of the poor and neglected rather than one who depends upon society to help them. In a sense, one could consider this our way of "teaching a man how to fish." As in all things there must be a balance, and aid to the poor cannot be neglected while we prepare future generations to go out and render such aid.
The question about the appropriate balance between expenses for worship, instruction, and eternal ordinances and the temporary alleviation of hunger is one that, without a doubt, weighs heavily on church leaders. They no doubt consider that there is a need for these other items or else they would not have made such a choice. Just as one might have to chose to expend money and resources on a computer and internet connection, or a home and personal clothes, or a car and other personal items, the church likewise must consider all the expenses and choices. Bringing temples close to individuals in poverty stricken areas is one eternal blessing that the church feels is important to sacrifice for. Families in poor areas of the world have sold everything that they had so they could attend the temple to be sealed together as an eternal family. Building a temple close to people such as these makes such future sacrifices unnecessary and will bless tens of thousands. The faithful Saints in poverty stricken countries are willing to sacrifice greatly for the privilege of having a temple close to them, just as did the early Saints in Kirtland, Ohio who made substantial contributions in the midst of personal poverty to construct the first LDS temple in that city. The Kirtland Temple was one of the most expensive ever constructed if you consider the relative poverty and cost of living of those who built it. The point is that Temples are so sacred and valuable to Latter-day Saints that their temporary periods of poverty are not as critical to them as obtaining the blessings of eternity.
- John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
- Denver Snuffer, "Preserving The Restoration," Lecture 10, Mesa, Arizona (9 September 2014), 30.https://www.scribd.com/doc/239760895/10-Phoenix-Transcript-Preserving-the-Restoration