A few observations:
- Another lawyer on another vendetta is pressing to know just how much the church is worth, as various recent articles have chronicled.
- I have dear friends skeptical about the use of tithing for BYU or political campaigns like the gay marriage movement who have elected to pay their 10% to other charitable organizations.
- Americans since the early 1830s have distrusted Mormonism, labeling it a scam to enrich a few at the expense of the many. These critics have also labeled Mormonism as secretive to a dangerous extent.
- Many LDS feel that requiring reporting of church assets demonstrates a lack of faith in church leadership.
- Americans love to talk about money and wealth. Several books have been written hoping to look inside the church’s coffers. One reporter seems to have made it his specialty.
Before thinking this through again in light of the Oregon case, I think I probably could have been persuaded either way. Since pondering the issue, I find that I have one major reservation about disclosing the financial statements of the church.
Business-speak and the obsession with balance statements, earnings reports, and the ever present ROI (return-on-investment) have infiltrated a dramatic portion of our culture (Harvey Cox on the Market as God is useful here). There is seemingly no safe place left in a world where social encounters are turned into “networks” and marketing “demographics,” and even our acts of charity are encompassed by market metaphors. For me, however bureaucratic or programmatic some people find LDS church infrastructure, I cherish in my experience of the Gospel precisely that freedom from the world of business. I do not go to church to engage in business networking or sell products. I do not go to church because it provides me a return on investment. I do not stipulate the details of the use of my tithing to become a “venture philanthropist.” I go to be with God and to participate in a community he has called into being.
The church is not a business or a corporation and should not be one. To force it into the mold is to persist in the dominance of one (spiritually bankrupt) model of human interactions and the striving for something greater. So, as one generally left of left-wing Mormon, I say that, however tragic the plaintiff’s suffering in the Oregon case, don’t let this be another brick in the wall of the corporatization of our shared religious culture.