I like the “Middle Road” approach to this story taken by Bishop Bill over on Wheat & Tares last Sunday. He wrote, “Wow, that is a lot of money. Maybe if we knew what they were going to do with it there wouldn’t be such a surprise to members. Lets hope this brings more transparency so we can feel better about this.”
The story broke in the Washington Post Monday evening as we gathered with our ward “empty nesters” family home evening group. We were enjoying an evening of socializing, singing Christmas hymns and munching on everyone’s favorite Christmas snacks. A brother next to us overheard as I casually mentioned it to Carol.
Trying to put $100 billion into perspective I said, “Of course, that’s only a part of the money the church has invested in properties and other businesses around the world. I think the church owns two percent of the land in Florida. It will probably take a trillion dollars to eventually develop that land and the planned city.”
Carol doesn’t like me talking about the church in this way so I didn’t pursue the subject. Instead we talked about the Christmas concert in the park our stake put on the previous weekend. We enjoyed singing in the choir again this year with other members of our stake. We were all amazed at how well it came together.
The Lord Blesses Us With Prosperity
Our stake is filled with good people. A lot of them are right in our ward. I see them every Sunday. We had our one-hour-only Christmas sacrament meeting last Sunday. We also sang in our ward choir, something we both love to do. Singing the tenor part in “O Holy Night” is always an uplifting spiritual experience for me.
Two scriptures come to mind in relation to this story. One illustrates the response of many members of the church who don’t like to learn about stories like this but when they do, respond that this illustrates how the Lord has blessed the church. Prosperity, particularly in the financial area, is seen as a measure of righteousness by many:
“And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.” (Hel 3:25)
Money Isn’t a Sign of Righteousness
Yet, on the other hand, Paul warns us to not be deceived by those who suppose gain is godliness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the leaders of the LDS Church love money, but the stockpile of over $100 billion seems inconsistent with the direction from the Lord to take care of the poor among us, especially those who struggle to pay tithing.
“… supposing that gain is godliness. From such, withdraw yourself. … But they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Tim 1:16)
The story has been one of the most active topics on LDS discussion boards, blogs, news stories and private email lists over the past ten days. Like most other controversial stories about the church, it will soon blow over. Nothing will have changed. The church will continue stockpiling money in it’s investment portfolio.
It’s Not Your Money Anymore
Is this so wrong? It doesn’t seem to be illegal, according to this writer’s opinion in Forbes. Does it matter that the church could survive without any new income from tithing? And what about the idea that once you give your tithing to the LDS Church, you have nothing more to say about the matter, how it’s spent, or not spent?
You’ve done your duty, right? You’ve paid your tithing. You are obedient to that law and the law of sacrifice for that matter. But should the church really be stockpiling money? Sam Brunson asks this among his three questions about this story in his post over at BCC, although he didn’t spend a lot of time on the question of “should”.
I think I understand the arguments of how this happened, that the leadership of the LDS church has been strongly influenced by living through the great depression. My parents also hoarded money, as they were children of that era. And besides, $100 billion is fairly normative when compared to other institutions the size of the church.
Where to Spend $100 Billion
Back to Bishop Bill’s middle road thought: Assuming the church has this money on hand (and they didn’t deny it), what are they going to do with it, and should we care? If I had given money to the LDS Church (and I have) and learned that a lot of it is stockpiled, I would be curious why more hasn’t been used to help the poor.
One of the purposes given for the hoarding of money is to prepare for the last days and the second coming of the Lord. I had to laugh when I read that. I’m not aware of anything the LDS Church is doing to prepare for building the City of Zion, other than buying up land in Jackson County, Missouri (Is that where Zion will be?)
Besides, money will be of no value when the Lord comes. By the time He arrives, all governments will have been thrown down, along with all symbolic trading value. The only thing of value at that day will be your standing with the Lord and how prepared you are through personal righteousness to abide the day of burning.
Tithing Should Not Be Used on Buildings
I have a fundamental disagreement with the way tithing is both calculated and the way it is used in the LDS Church. A lot of the arguments against the “10% of the gross” can be found in Rock’s timeless post on the subject. I also feel strongly the money should not be used for buildings, but should be used to take care of the poor.
A temple recommend in the LDS Church today is simply a tithing receipt. It makes you a member of the club. Receiving ordinances of salvation should not be dependent upon giving money to a church. That is not the way Zion works. There are alternative ways to obey the law of tithing and to help the poor at the same time.
I’ve always appreciated that fast offerings are used locally first, then, if there is an excess, the funds are sent to Salt Lake. We are in a period of high economic growth. For the most part, the needs of the poor in the stake are met through fast offerings. But this will not be the case when economic distress becomes rampant.
Tithing Should be Used To Help The Poor
Perhaps the Brethren know this. Perhaps that $100 billion will be made available to help members in distress when unemployment rises and mortgages can’t be paid. I wonder if there is a plan to redistribute the wealth back down to the stakes when the need arises. Nah. Wishful thinking. Like I say, there is a better way.
In small fellowships throughout the world, groups of faithful followers of Jesus Christ have implemented a new way of using tithing. Since there are no buildings to maintain, the money is used exclusively to help the poor. Each group ensures the needs of those who are in need within their local fellowship are met.
If there is any excess, it is donated to a central temple fund, which will be used for the construction of a temple in a coming day. No, this will not be built like the LDS temples, which cost tens of millions to produce. And no, it will not be in Jackson County. The location has not been revealed, but it will be built in our day.
The Church is Not the Hierarchical Institution
I am glad I never progressed beyond the stake level in my callings. I appreciate the way our Stake Presidency oversaw the funds collected and disbursed. And yes, the audits are taken fairly seriously. I suppose I always seemed to be pegged for clerk positions because of my career choice in tech support as a network admin.
I once thought I would work for the church in SLC the way my sister did. At the time, I was deeply perplexed by how it turned out that I didn’t get the job, even though the church flew me up there for a day of interviews. I see now I would not have liked to work for the church, with all the restrictions in expression.
There is no way I could have followed the path I have through writing this blog. At the time I started it, I envisioned it being a resource to combat all the distorted stories about LDS Church history out there on the Internet. Instead, it became a conduit for bringing the truth to me so I could analyze and understand it better.
Stuck in the Great and Spacious Building
If I had been hired on into the IT department of the church, how would I have fared with all I discovered? I would have been so conflicted with the demand of loyalty to the large corporate institution and what I now know to be true – that the LDS Church went astray even before the death of Joseph Smith back in 1844.
There is no way I can defend the practice of polygamy or plural marriage as having come from the Lord. It was not. It was Brigham’s invention. Joseph fought against it. I fully accept Joseph as a prophet and the Book of Mormon as the word of God, but am more than convinced the LDS Church is not the Kingdom of God.
There are a few others who believe as I do, that the church went astray, but that the Lord still intends for us to return to His presence and to help establish Zion in small groups. Zion will not be brought about through a large institution. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Zion. Zion does not work that way.
What the Lord is Doing Today
If you want to know what the Lord is doing today, visit Restoration Archives. As of this writing, the next conference will be held in Japan on 3-5 April 2020. I believe it will be recorded and broadcast on the Internet as previous conferences have been. I have been told there will also be a local conference in St George in March.