Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped. 

A word of warning before I start: there’s no real narrative to this post. I’m just going to highlight a few things that jumped out at me, and give a couple thoughts on them. This is all done in a vacuum, though: I haven’t read previous or subsequent Church financial reports, or the financial reports of other churches, so I’m don’t have any context, intertemporal or interreligious, in which to understand the reports. Also, if you’re interested in reading the about the state of Church finances in 1947 yourself, the relevant section starts on page 116 of the April 1947 Conference Report. With that, here we go:

Situating the Report

The main context here has to be World War II and the Cold War. WWII ended in 1945. The Truman Doctrine of containment, and the beginnings of the Cold War, find their roots around 1947.

In 1947, the Church broke the million-member mark. It had 170 stakes, 1,293 wards, and 132 branches.[fn1]

Also, in 1947, General Conference last three days, rather than two. And rather than the weekend, it ran Sunday through Tuesday. I have no idea if that was standard,[fn2] but the third day was Tuesday, April 6.

J. Reuben Clark

President Clark read the financial statement, and prefaced it with some interesting commentary. He provided lots of detail about the Church budgeting process, including information on the committees involved, how expenditures were authorized, and what happens to any appropriation that isn’t used.

His remarks are remarkably frank, especially compared with the correlated world of today. He mentions that 1947’s expenditures out of general Church funds had more than doubled from the average of 1936-1945. He’s not terribly happy with it, either, and he voices his concern.

What led to the doubling? I’m not sure. That rate seems well in excess of inflation, and, while we hit 1 million members, were only up 240,000 from ten years earlier. He did make it a point to emphasize that the Church had no debt, which makes a lot of sense coming from the man who delivered the now-famous Interest Never Sleeps discourse.

Clark also inveighs against printing more money, like other countries have done. I found that interesting, because he seems to be coming to the issue late; it’s not just other countries that had been printing money: between 1939 and 1945, the amount of cash in circulation in the U.S. quadrupled.

The Financials Themselves

The Church budgeted $12.7 million for 1947. It actually spent $1.5 million less than it budgeted. By way of context, according the CPI Inflation Calculator, $12.7 million in 1947 that would purchase the equivalent of $135.7 million in current dollars.

I found it interesting that, according to the financial disclosure, the salaries, office expenses, traveling expenses of Church employees, and living allowances and travel expenses of GAs were paid out of non-tithing income. The disclosure doesn’t go into much detail about sources of Church revenue, so I don’t know where these salaries and other expenses would have come from, but apparently the Church felt in 1947 paying them out of tithing funds was inappropriate.[fn3]

President Clark mentioned that salaries, while livable, weren’t extravagant. He invoked the “Little Steel formula.” In my quick reading, I learned that the “Little Steel formula” was essentially wage controls on the employees of small steel companies. Basically, to fight inflation, if a wage increase would cause a price increase, the wage increase had to be approved by the Director of Economic Stabilization.

That, clearly, is not exactly what Pres. Clark was talking about; Church employee compensation wouldn’t lead to any sort of inflation. The phrase, though, seems to have become shorthand for small raises.

The Church’s single biggest budget item in 1947 was operation of various church schools (BYU, Ricks, LDS Business College, Juarez Academy), 15 institutes, and 100 seminaries. That kind of surprised me, even though that budget item includes a lot of different expenses put together. I would have thought buildings. Of course, back then, local members were largely responsible for raising money for and actually building their meetinghouses, which would have put building expenses largely off-budget.

That year, the Church spent $43,418 ($464,053 today) on repairing and maintaining various Church historical sites.

Church Welfare

In 1947, 24.2% of members paid fast offerings. Which is kind of cool that the Church kept that kind of fine-grained data.

Not only that, the Church broke out the number of people assisted by Church welfare in 1947. In the U.S., the Church assisted 24,458 people. In addition, it sent enough food and clothing to Europe to assist 50,000 more.

The financial reports are also interesting for seeing how things have changed. The report breaks out the number of people who have gotten off of government welfare during the past five years: 2,198. Of those 948 “have been rehabilitated and are receiving no aid from the Church”; 810 got some Church assistance, and 440 were receiving all of their needs from the Church. (I assume these numbers just represent members in the U.S.)

It’s interesting how this anti-government-welfare ethic has changed: Handbook 2 now says that “[l]eaders may also help members receive assistance through community and government agencies.”

[fn1] These numbers are all in the Conference Report, p. 115.

[fn2] And yes, I realize the answer is only a Google search away.

[fn3] I know, the idea that the money comes from a non-tithing source is kind of illusory. Money is fungible, and all. Still, presumably, if the Church decided that salaries and travel expenses didn’t come from tithing, if its other sources of income dried up, while it had a surplus of tithing, it would have to borrow or otherwise find the money for salaries. So, while artificial, the wall nonetheless has real-world impact.

Comments

  1. I listened to a session at this last MHA on the disbanding of many of the church schools around Latin America and was a bit saddened by that end of an era. They cited expense as the main reason in turning from providing educational opportunities to instead “moral, spiritual education” as in seminaries and institutes. So it’s interesting to see it here in more black and white. Quite fascinating.

  2. I’m not surprised to see education as a major budget item. From what I understand, it still very much is. Pres. Samuelson said last year that the leaders of the Church consider the money spent in this category to be a very worthwhile investment indeed.

  3. From my understanding working in CES the church/member funding ratio is typically a 70/30 split FYI

    During the first crash back around 01 they had a hiring freeze and “no creating new positions” guideline and said that keep in mind every new position created will cost approx $1 mil in tithing monies of salary, benefits, and other externalities the university (college) would have to bear (ie increased office space, parking, admin hr work, etc.) over the life of the position (which I assume calculates 1 persons long career).

    And having my husband currently an admin of byui, yes without a doubt CES has got to be our highest expense, methinks.

  4. The BYUs are yet the largest expense for the church. I’m curious to know how the fraction of expense for temples has changed over the last few decades.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    You ask what led to the increase in expenditures. The answer is that the Church was involved in deficit spending for building purposes, in a field of dreams “If you build it, they will come [and pay tithing]” theory that wasn’t working and almost bankrupted the Church. In the early 60s, N. Eldon Tanner came along and righted the ship. See here:

    https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/102-17-29.pdf

  6. Re conference scheduling. As an Older Brother, I remember the three-day conferences, always scheduled to include April 6 or October 6, even if they had to take a day or two off to also include the weekend. That schedule changed sometime in the 50s I believe.
    Wrong! I just did the search. The schedule change was made in 1977, according to Wikipedia.

  7. Ebenezer, I remember three day conferences when I was a girl. So the 1977 reference is most likely right.

  8. It was only in April that conference always included the 6th, no matter what day of the week it fell on. October conferences were Friday–Sunday, and April conferences were Saturday and Sunday and April 6. If the 6th was a weekend day, then the third day was Friday.

    And, the main body of the church still went to work/school/whatever on that Friday. I was a student at BYU before 1977, and classes were held on the days of General Conference.

  9. I’m not sure what the local portion of building capital expenses was in 1947–it was 100% 10 years earlier when the Snowflake Stake built a stake center (and saw it burn down within a month, whereupon they started all over again). In 1985, when I became aware of the way operating expenses were handled, all utilities were paid by the local units. I can’t remember if our stake was reimbursed for custodial expenses, but we had to write the payroll checks, make the tax withholdings, deposit those withholdings with the IRS, etc., etc. All with volunteer clerks. Amazing that we didn’t all go to jail.

  10. Yeah, for all of the people who complain about the way finances are handled now (outside of lack of transparency), there is no way I would want to go back to how things were before I was born.

  11. Sam, did it say how much money sending the 50,000 persons’ worth of food and clothing cost?

  12. Can someone explain to me the origin of “non-tithing dollars”? As best I can tell these are funds generated by investments and businesses owned by the Church. How did the Church originally obtain these investments? It would have to be some sort of donation, tithing or otherwise. How is the distinction made?

  13. I used to work for a couple of public-traded companies in Salt Lake City. When one of them first went public, 10% of the shares were donated, and they were held by the Church for several years. They also own commercial property – one of the best examples was parking lots in downtown SLC that were leased to various businesses for employee parking.

    I also had a great aunt who never married and never had children, but she’d made some good investments over the years. When she passed away, she left everything of value to the missionary department. It wasn’t tithing, it wasn’t fast offerings, and she had hoped that income off her properties could fund a missionary or two in perpetuity.

    One of my ancestors was an early settler in SLC. He incurred some gambling debts, so he put a piece of property in what is now downtown SLC up for sale. Brigham Young called him in and advised him not to sell it, telling him that the day would come when the land would be worth more than the dollar bills it would take to cover it. Ancestor insisted on selling, so Brigham bought the property himself. I don’t think our family bears any ill will on that deal – reasonable business advice was given and refused, and I’d guess the land would now be worth more than the $10 bills it would take to cover the parcel. The Church has been in an excellent position to make careful long-term investments, and the Parable of the Talents would indicate that they don’t feel putting money in a savings account is the best possible use of capital.

  14. J. Stapley says:

    Interesting Stuff, Sam. One of these days I’d like to figure out when the shift towards encouraging participation in governmental programs occurred. I imagine in my lifetime, but I am not certain.

  15. Molly Bennion says:

    Interesting question, J. When I was first a RS President in the early 80’s, we were definitely not encouraged to participate in government programs. Now I have the job again, and we do encourage government welfare. I wonder if the switch is partly because the government programs are so much more generous than they were back then. Is it just too much aid to reject? (That is to make no comment about whether it is too much or little, managed efficiently or inefficiently. or wise or unwise, just to say there are so many programs and so much money at stake that it naturally becomes part of the equation.)

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Is it just too much aid to reject? I think so, Molly, and there is no sense in creating martyrs over this battle with the Cold War so far over, I think.

  17. Last Lemming says:

    When I was EQ President in the late 80s, I went for some training at the Bishop’s Storehouse and was told that government programs should be used before turning to the Church. The trainer got some pushback from other attendees who felt that the instruction contradicted what they had been taught their whole lives. So I had the impression, it was a relatively new policy at the time.

  18. 1990 was when the ward budget program changed drastically (from ward earned to tithing dollars) so perhaps that direction you heard in the late 80’s, Last Lemming, was part of or preparation for those changes.

  19. Ron Madson says:

    The Doctrine and Covenants requires that “voice and common consent” is required in all things and in particular expenditures from the treasury of the church. Voice and common consent cannot be meaningfully given unless it is at least minimally informed. Financial transparency is something that needs to be re-instated.

    Here is a Petition created two years ago that has steadily received signatures every month for the last two years from members around the world who have by their signatures expressed their “voice.”

    http://bycommonconsent.org

  20. Ron,

    I bet you can guess why that particular URL isn’t especially welcome around these parts. I agree with the sentiment that members should be informed. Maybe that effort would have gained more momentum with a more carefully chosen name.

  21. yeah, that URL has nothing to do with this blog — two completely separate enterprises. Just for the record, in case there is any confusion.

  22. Totally unrelated, and I don’t support that petition.

  23. Ron Madson says:

    John,
    I did not choose that URL. I was then and am a technotard. The person I hired to prepare this website thought the word “by common consent” was a natural for those wanting to actually use their “voice and common consent” in a direct way. And you may not believe it but it was done and put out and only after the fact did I/we receive some criticism from the BCC crowd (some) about using it. There was no malice or design to embarrass the BCC group by creating confusion with other members seeking to actually use their “voice and common consent” rather than simply have it as a title/badge to wear.

    Not really sure? Maybe the moderators here and others can inform us as to what is really at the core of their concern about other members, albeit commoners, actually using that phrase?

    But for heck sake, it would be nice to move past that perceived slight to the substance of the Petition and the 1,700 voices that have actually expressed their voice? And whether you or anyone else would endorse the same? Or come up with your own Petition with another URL. If so, I will sign it also.

  24. Ron Madson says:

    Steve,
    would you share with us why you do not support such as Petition? That would be helpful and informative. thanks

  25. Ron,

    You can verify that I signed your petition long ago, despite my misgivings about the name. You can plead ignorance, but stomping on well known domain name and “brand” within the LDS on-line community is rude. That should be obvious. And rather than try to belittle those that you slighted, intentionally or not, it would be appropriate to apologize and attempt to make amends. Basically, pick your own name and don’t piggy back off someone else’s work. If you did it inadvertently, fix it.

  26. Not sure why someone would be opposed to a petition asking the Church to simply comply with a direct commandment to share financial details for “common consent” review and approval.

    Near as I can tell, the assurance from the pulpit that all financial decisions are in accordance withe established accounting practices is not what The Lord had in mind when He placed the Church under the law of common consent.

    Further, if this group is opposed to the use of the phrase “by common consent” by another group (a phrase not legally trademarked by this group), perhaps you can explain what exactly you think that phrase means?

  27. You know what? I apologize for even bringing it up. I have no affiliation with BCC and was just expressing my opinion. I regret bothering.

  28. it's a series of tunes says:

    Near as I can tell, the assurance from the pulpit that all financial decisions are in accordance withe established accounting practices is not what The Lord had in mind when He placed the Church under the law of common consent.

    Thanks for sharing with us the mind of the Lord. Hubris much?

  29. The commandment is clear and unambiguous. And not being followed. There is no common consent being practiced. It has been replaced with “just trust us.” If that was sufficient, why have the commandment in the first place?

    The Lord Himself established a process which was canonized into scripture – and it has now been replaced with a policy. Near as I can tell, policy does not ever trump scripture. Pointing that out is not hubris. Name calling is a cheap attempt to avoid the question.

  30. I think petitioning for change in the Church is, in general, a fairly stupid thing to do. There are exceptions, I suppose [1], but this is not one of them. I don’t feel particularly inclined to dive into why a petition aimed at our apostles and prophets is dumb. I don’t like the URL or perceived affiliation with the BCC brand, but we weren’t first to the phrase “common consent” and I don’t begrudge someone else using it.

    [1] Some time ago, attention was brought to women participating in temple baptisms during menstruation. I believe (I think) there was a petition then, and the practice was changed. This is the only time I can think of when a petition has even remotely worked in the Church.

  31. Further, I’m fairly certain that I took the photograph being used on your site, and I’d like it removed.

  32. Which photo?

  33. Thanks for all of the thoughtful and interesting discussion; I love to see how and when the Church changes. My grandparents helped build (or, more likely, raise money for) their San Bernardino ward building in the 1950s (funny story: my grandpa told me that they didn’t have a flagpole topper, so a ward member who was a plumber provided one of those buoyant toilet bowl things that they painted to match the pole—it may well be apocryphal, knowing my grandpa, but it’s still a great story).

    Ron and bam1021, I deliberately avoided making any normative commentary about whether the Church should provide financial disclosure. I’d love it if the Church did, from the purely selfish position that I love reading that kind of stuff. But it’s really hard to say (a) that it’s scripturally mandated, or (b) that it would allow members to make a more-informed decision when they endorse Church leaders.

    I’m skeptical any time somebody asserts that anything is “clear and unambiguous,” because that’s rarely true. That said, D&C 104:71, which is quoted on the petition, is relatively clear, and it doesn’t support your position. D&C 104 is specifically referring to the United Firm, and verse 71 refers to disbursements from the treasury established out of the stewardships of members. I’ll undoubtedly blog on it sometime in the future, but the idea of a communal religious community that followed the pattern of Acts wasn’t terribly uncommon in the 19th century, and the treasury referred to is something specific. And that specific type of treasury doesn’t exist in the Church today. We don’t have the United Firm, or any other type of united order. D&C 104:71 doesn’t say anything about the dispersement of tithes or offerings unconnected to the United Firm, and thus fails entirely to support your position.

    What’s more, even if the D&C were ambiguous, contemporaneous evidence suggests that early Church leaders—those who would have been most familiar with the context of the revelation—didn’t believe that it required disclosure. As Mike Quinn points out in the article Kevin links to above, regular financial disclosure didn’t happen until 1900, 70 years after the founding of the Church (and 66 years after Joseph Smith received the revelation). That is, those who received the revelation and those who were his contemporaries didn’t believe that D&C 104 required public financial disclosure.

    Even if we were to return to the half-century that such disclosures were made, moreover, they wouldn’t meaningfully help members decide whether or not to consent. Most of us don’t have the financial literacy or experience to understand what’s going on in the disclosure. Even those of us who are financially sophisticated enough to understand the disclosure generally don’t have the intertemporal or interreligious knowledge to know how it compares.

    And even if they did, you can’t do any meaningful analysis of a disclosure that is orally read immediately before voting. (Not to mention problems with voting—like that most of us aren’t present at the Conference Center.)

    So sure, it would be cool if we got the financial disclosure, but it’s neither scripturally-mandated nor terribly helpful on a practical level.

  34. Ron Madson says:

    I did not know that was your photo, so to give your proper attribution I noted on our website below the picture the following: “Photograph courtesy of Steve Evans of By Common Consent.” Okay just joking. I will check with the web site designer and find out where he got it and change it if necessary.

    I do get your point as to why you would object to a Petition. Whether or not the Q12 or FP or any church leaders even see it or are ultimately influenced is secondary to our primary objective in allowing members to experience voicing their desire to return to full transparency. That very act of signing is a precursor to confidently finding our voice once again and see that we are not alone (signed by members in 48 states and dozens of countries).

    So the very fact that some see signing (not referring to you or anyone in particular but feedback from some) such a simple and doctrinally sound, not to mention practical, request as being radical or even apostate shows just how much we have lost our voice and how unwelcome it has become.

  35. This isn’t an unreasonable request. Look at the top five churches in the US. Every single one of them posts their full financial information online, and it is easily found and accessible to any casual browser.

  36. I’m not willing to give more space to a discussion of your petition. Feel free to discuss the post.

  37. Thanks, Steve. I don’t have time to thoughtfully moderate, so further discussion of petitions will be summarily deleted.

  38. Steve, as to your footnote–there was no policy change, only a clarification of the (non)existing policy. And it wasn’t a petition, it was people calling temples to see what the local policy was and recording the widely varying answers on a spreadsheet to show the confusion.

  39. Ah – thanks, Kristine.

  40. This post about church finances made me wish that there was some way I could formally voice my concern to church leaders about the failure to disclose church finances per the D&C.

    If only there was a way to do that…

  41. @Michael

    Your story about your Aunt leaving money to the missionary department.

    We recently had a missionaries parents in my ward unable to make the payments for their missionary. I thought “well at least the church is wealthy enough to cover this”, haha well guess who ended up picking up the missionaries payments? The ward council has had to pick up the payments now, we basically had a shake down in our monthly meeting to get everyone to give extra money.

    Its things like this that make me demand transparency with the church finances. I pay tithing, I have to support my family, I now need to support the missionary. Maybe the church can stop building $1.5 billion malls to help support the missionary efforts.

  42. it's a series of tunes says:

    Its things like this that make me demand transparency with the church finances.

    I know, Bob! It’s outrageous, isn’t it? A ward supporting a missionary from their ward. The cheek of it!

    Oh wait, I guess there is that “all that with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you” covenant thing… but no matter! Facts that run counter to the preferred narrative must be glossed over or discarded!

  43. The consistent dismissal on this thread of anyone who expresses concerns by responding with sarcasm and mockery is quite disappointing. It is legitimate to wonder why the church has the money to build malls and land in Florida, but not enough to support missionaries or feed the poor. In fact, this issue is a leading contributor to faith crisis. The failure to provide financial information, like nearly every other major church in the US does, simply raises questions that transparency would clear up. Or maybe it wouldn’t…

  44. to be fair, I think it’s only “it’s a series of tunes” who is doing that. Not sure if that is the same anonymous commenter as “it’s a series of tubes”.

  45. Tunes do you not see a problem with members already paying tithing, struggling to feed their families and then being told to give more money to support a missionary when you see President Monson shouting “let’s go shopping” in front of a billion dollar mall?
    Am I supposed to suck that up?

  46. it's a series of tunes says:

    Bob, allow me a moment for a more nuanced response. Take it for what you will, from someone who grew up well acquainted with the kind of poverty that arises from attempting to spread a very small income across a very large family…

    The heirarchy of support in the church is family –> ward –> stake –> SLC. If a family cannot support a missionary, the obligation passes to the ward. If the ward cannot, the obligation passes to the stake. If the stake cannot, then the obligation is passed up the chain.

    Are you asserting that your ward, collectively, cannot support the $400 monthly pricetag of this one missionary? That may, in fact, be true. Likely, only your bishop would be positioned to make such a determination. But that being said, as you look at your own finances, can you honestly say that you cannot give anything? Not even ten bucks a month? Do you subscribe to premium cable channels, or frequently eat out for lunch at work, or enjoy any of the various other comforts and conveniences that we take somewhat for granted in the modern world? Can you honestly say that there is absolutely no room in your budget for a small amount of support for a missionary? If so, I believe you. But if not, why such strong resistance to assisting someone in your ward who appears to be less financially well off than yourself?

    So – bottom line: I don’t see the connection between SLC’s decisions on expenditures and your opposition to supporting your local missionary, unless your ward and stake in fact are entirely unable to support that missionary.

    My perspective may, admittedly, be colored by personal experience. Our ward currently supports a missionary, a recent convert, who overcame an abusive home, an imprisoned parent, and many other challenges in order to serve. I consider the small amount that I donate each month to his account to be a very small offering compared to what he is laying on the altar.

  47. This “they built a mall!” refrain is really getting old. Is it just a visceral reaction to a church building a commercial center ? Is it the scale? Is it the concept of earning money? Is it the contrast of a Christian religion indirectly encouraging consumer spending? Is it the Prophet opening it? Seriously, get over all of those issues. It made economic sense to do it, it’s doing pretty well and has revitalized an area of town where the Church has numerous investment properties. It has been, economically speaking, a no-brainer for the Church. The same goes for many of the other investments the Church has made and continues to make, such as those in Florida. Further, there’s no evidence that the Church makes these investments at the expense of aiding the poor, and suggestions to the contrary are ill-founded and do not withstand even incremental levels of scrutiny. As to the support of missionaries, this has always been a local concern, and frankly, Bob, you sound like a jerk and a miser about it.

    If you don’t like the idea of a religion building shopping malls, that’s fine but good luck finding a religion that does not make secular investments of this kind. The objection shows vast naivete about how organized religions operate on a regular basis, and seems to desire an organization on the brink of economic collapse. I daresay that you wouldn’t prefer the latter, in real life.

  48. One may want to consider that the “they built a mall” refrain comes from an inability to reconcile it with the itinerant preacher from Nazareth and the words and deeds attributed to him by various gospel writers. For mormons, there is that other text, even the Book of Mormon, that has strange things to say about robbing the poor with fine sanctuaries and even more to the point about holy churches becoming corrupt due to a love of money, substance, and fine apparel which is contraster with a lesser concern for the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. It’s fine to think such ideas are naive. Many people think Jesus sermon on the mount is incredibly naive but one shouldnt be surprised by it. After all, many still believe miracles haven’t ceased and that the arm of the flesh and investments are not part of Zion. For many, its incredibly difficult to think that Jesus as portrayed in the NT would be okay with cutting the ribbon and proclaiming lets go shopping as opposed to staging a protest in the heart of city creek and attempting to shut down the whole enterprise. At a minimum he would much more likely be found with the homeless moved out of the neighborhood and found at the local catholic charity.

    This sentence is particularly interesting to me: “If you don’t like the idea of a religion building shopping malls, that’s fine but good luck finding a religion that does not make secular investments of this kind.” I like the shift to secular investments away from malls because the reality is Im not sure there are any religions other than the LDS church which has actually built a shopping mall. Finding a religion that doesn’t build malls would be quite easy I suspect. However, we can’t have a religion on the verge of economic collapse because after all a church is only as true as the diversity in its investment portfolio

  49. I’m sympathetic to your idealism, I really am. I get that Jesus was itinerant. Perhaps you are too, gathering your internet access as the disciples gathered corn from the fields as they walked. But if you feel that investments are not part of Zion, then Mormonism is not the religion you’re after, and it never has been. Investments, including real estate speculation and consumer spending, have been part of this religion since its very beginnings. Building for-profit public institutions have also been part of this religion since the beginning. The arguments you are advancing have already been hashed out and decided hundreds of years ago, and you lost.

  50. @it’s a series of tunes

    ” I consider the small amount that I donate each month to his account to be a very small offering compared to what he is laying on the altar.”

    Well I am sorry I offended your holiness, I am ashamed to have put my complaints in front of someone so pious.
    I would like the church to say “I got this guys, dont worry, we got billions in the bank!!!!”.
    When you have a church with 0 financial transparency, I am not amiss in asking where the money is going? When I hear about welfare changes that make it harder for members to apply for, when I see cleaners being taken away to “make the members feel more responsible about their ward building” (hahaha even the most gullible members of the ward saw through that one), LDS adoption services shutting down, I have to wonder where my tithing is actually going.
    I will ultimately pay for the missionary (my eternal family depends on it), still feels like a shake down by a man with pockets full of cash though.

    @Steve

    So are you saying that if the church spent the money on inoculations in developing countries instead of a mall and high end condos the church would not be looked after? The restored church of this last dispensation that is never to be taken off the Earth again. Sounds like you need to exercise some faith brother. Why does the church not sell all of its non religious holdings and property ventures and take care of the poor instead? I think I can find a guy who said things about that in a few books I have about the house.

    Do you realise how many thousands of lives could have been saved with that $1.5 billion. Sure people around Salt Lake would not have anywhere to buy their tiffany lamps, but I am sure they would get over it.

    “Church makes these investments at the expense of aiding the poor”

    I dont know that, the church wont release its financial records, I can speculate though. When you spend $100 million more on a mall then the entire amount you have spent on humanitarian aid in 25 years I have to sit up and start asking questions. I am astounded how people can defend that building. Ultimately I thought this church was run by Jesus Christ, not accountants.

    “you sound like a jerk and a miser about it”

    You do not know a single thing about my life or my circumstances.

  51. Bob, I don’t need to know a single thing about your life. I can just read your comments, which do indeed make you sound like a jerk and a miser about it. It sounds like you don’t trust the church leadership one bit, but it does also sound like you are fairly ignorant about how the Church operates.

    So, to sum up, Bob, on the basis of your comments:
    1) you sound like a jerk
    2) you sound like a miser
    3) you sound like you don’t trust Church leadership
    4) you sound like you are fairly ignorant about how the Church operates.

    You also sound like someone whose participation at BCC is drawing to a close. Good day, sir!

  52. Joseph Smith was building a luxury hotel in Nauvoo that included a bar. I think maybe were he to rise from the dead and walk down South Temple he wouldn’t have a heart attack the way some folks think he would.

  53. He might at the sight of so many homeless people begging and Mormons driving by in $100,000 Range Rovers.

  54. John F., indeed, though JSJ might drive one himself. Hard to say. No man knew his mind, and he was married to an enigma.

  55. I’m sorry, but I think I need to jump in now. I’m an accountant, and there is nothing wrong with accountants running things. We make sure that the books balance, funds are spent properly, and make sure that things run smoothly. I do have some knowledge about the mall, and Church finances in general.
    1st the mall was funded 100% from non tithing funds. Most of the funding came from the Church’s for profit businesses, and other internal sources. It gets really tiresome to hear this refrain constantly. Also, Many of the changes you mention such as eliminating cleaners at buildings meant that tithing and other money was saved because full time employees were laid off.
    I don’t know what you are looking for in transparency, or what you want brought to a vote? Do you want to vote on the monthly rent of every single missionary apartment? yes, I know that was a bit of a reductio ad absurdum, but is that the level of specificity you want? Also, the Church runs on budgets, there are numerous internal controls in place, far beyond what is required by law, to verify that all tithing money is spent appropriately, eliminate fraud, both internally, and externally, and to make sure that payments are done properly. The Church has many different “revenue streams” Tithing, donations, donations in kind including stocks, land, and other assets, profits from for profit business, and some others I am probably forgetting.
    At Church Headquarters the constant refrain is remember the widow’s mite. Employees are enjoined to think about that in every use of sacred funds.
    I can assure you the church does not run a deficit, or have debts. I cannot assure you that every single use of tithing funds in all the world is appropriate, but I can assure you that every reasonable measure is taken to assure that it is, and violators of these policies are terminated, and sometimes excommunicated.
    I’m sure you won’t take my word for it. You seem pretty well entrenched in your opinion, but please have an open mind. I do understand your concern, but the way I look at my donations is that the second the money leaves my hands, I have no concern as to the money anymore.

  56. Ron Madson says:

    I still have hope that there is some divine purpose that shapes our LDS faith community which I still hope to be a part of in seeing it fulfilled. Years ago while living in a large metropolitan area I had the privilege of working with representatives of St. Vincents, Salvation Army and a few other christian denominations on projects. I was moved to tears at times seeing what they did and how they followed in my opinion the example of Jesus.

    I read recently of a small Christian faith community in California that had been saving up for years to construct their first church house. They needed $750,000 and had reached $500,000. Seeing the needs around them they voted to take all the money they had and donate it to local charities. And so they did—every single penny. They found that they could worship the Lord without a building.

    That church that gave up all their savings, like other examples such as a Mennonite church I had a chance to fellowship with, are not investors but truly give all they have. They are not investors. I believe they have chosen wisely.

  57. Ron Madson says:

    ….and to follow up my last comment when Steve mentioned to Josh Madson that “you lost” I would say that “we all lost”….

  58. Ron, your view of the divine purpose seems to imply that the current leadership of the Church has lost its way. While those examples you cite sound very humble and inspiring, they are not how this Church has ever operated. We have always built buildings and made investments. Further, I’m sure you recognize that the St-Vincent-de-Pauls and Salvation Armies of the world are heavily funded by investment income, both directly and indirectly. If you are moved to tears by these organizations, I would recommend that you volunteer more within your own Church to provide service with LDS Humanitarian Services. Opportunities abound.

  59. Interesting research, Sam.

    Trying to avoid getting too off topic here, but did church leaders ever talk about why they started disclosing financial information in the first place?

    And regarding the cessation of that practice, how much was ever said publicly as to the reasons for doing that?

  60. Jesus may have been itinerant, but he was financially supported by a group of wealthy female disciples and did not appear to mind or renounce the support. See e.g. Luke 8:3, which mentions Joanna, the wife Chuza, Herod’s high-ranking “steward.”

    “Most likely, Chuza was Herod’s business manager, but he may have been some kind of political appointee since the Gk term for “steward” may refer to a political office.”- Anchor Bible Dictionary.

    Luke also mentions Susanna. – “Along with other women, she probably supported the group both financially and by helping with the tasks of cooking, cleaning, and sewing. This suggests a rather well-to-do woman, perhaps of independent means, dedicated to supporting the itinerant ministry of Jesus.”

    The idea of Jesus as an anti-money ascetic owes more to our own discomfort with a modern economy and struggles with materialism than to clear teachings of the NT.

  61. Ron Madson says:

    Ben S –the fish and loaves miracle may be instructive here. The disciples had limited fish and loaves and a large crowd. They were reluctant, understandably, to even attempt to feed a large crowd. Jesus instructed them to distribute all the fish and loaves. The baskets filled and refilled. How did that happen? Was it a metaphysical refilling like magic? I choose to see that miracle one where the crowd seeing the unbridled charity of Jesus in mimetic charity they choose to fill the baskets with their own offerings.

    On one end of the spectrum is the “fish and loaves’ model and on the other end is the investment in the economy of this world. The former seems foolish and the later wise, but maybe there is a deeper wisdom at play here. The fish and loaves model—even if we increased our direct charitable giving from 1% to 10% is inspiring and causes members to want to follow the example in faith. The investment model is uninspiring and while an return from the investment is given I believe that the real source of a thriving faith community comes from a belief that what they are giving to is a charity and not just a corporation/investment building empire. So “they” kill the source.

    Or perhaps “they” are seeing the dwindling contributions and rather than cast their bread on water they seek to invest not having the faith that the baskets will refill.

    And in answer to Steve’s suggestion I work with LDS Humanitarian or volunteer I have had experience in that area and have found that the most effective humanitarian work being done by LDS members is in programs not sponsored or supported by our church.

  62. Ron, I’m not trying to rebut as much as problematize simplistic approaches to “Well Jesus said/did x, end of story” which often fail to accurately capture what Jesus actually said or did.

  63. To clarify, I generally think “WWJD?” (while a wonderful and necessary reflection for a disciple) is often simplistic and unanswerable, regardless of what side of any argument is invoking it.

  64. Ron Madson says:

    I agree, and the reality of what Jesus said and did and the context may never be discoverable. However, the power of His story could be more easily observed in the practice of what they called “The Way” by the early christians how what they understood from the myths/narrative provided the inspiration to change the world and defy the wisdom of the world. That “Way” involved a radicalness that still inspires sacrifice today—and without which the faith and hope in any faith community slowly dies. I see that happening with our faith community/church. Or maybe it is just a small minority like me and I/we are just projecting it. And finally even if it is just our imagination of WWJD what we have now seems so remote from that imagination/hope that faith is being lost and we are searching for something more inspiring—a vision of zion that does not involve looking so damn much like a vatican wannabe.

  65. Regarding Ben S. “The idea of Jesus as an anti-money ascetic owes more to our own discomfort with a modern economy and struggles with materialism than to clear teachings of the NT.”

    You draw an awfully broad conclusion about Jesus by citing a snippet from a particular bible dictionary that most LDS don’t even view as authoritative! Bravo! To be fair, I applaud that you are reading outside of the correlated materials, and applaud your belief that Jesus is a far more complex character than we generally suppose. However, to draw such a sweeping conclusion from such slender evidence is outrageous, especially given the abundant – ABUNDANT – evidence in the NT showing His views on money and materialism that don’t appear anywhere in your post (e.g., “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth…”)

    Whether one agrees with the mall decision or not, we can all agree that there are many members who find the mall decision to be problematic. For some people, malls symbolize a materialism and culture of consumption that appears at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – at least as represented in the NT and Book of Mormon.

    If a good return on investment could be made in strippers, rather than strip malls, would that make it ok for the Church? (Or, if you want to categorize “the mall” as high end, perhaps you can take the analogy a bit further). I’ve heard that casinos make a really good ROI as well – should the Church invest there as well? “No – of course not – those things are immoral,” cry the faithful. Indeed, indeed.

  66. Okay people, cut it out. Now. (I leave for a dance concert and see what happens. /grumble.)

    Seriously. Financial disclosure is cool, but not mandated by scripture, revelation, or (U.S.) law. And this post is not a normative post. That is, it’s not about what the Church should do. It’s about what the Church did do. In 1947.

    Arguing about whether or not the Church should do disclosure isn’t even tangentially related to the OP, and is getting tremendously tiring. So cut it out.

  67. John Mansfield says:

    Those old conference reports gave detail about a lot of things that get glossed over now. In the April ’48 report linked above, before J. Reuben Clark laid out the income, spending and assets of the church, Joseph Anderson named the two new missions, the four new mission presidents, the two new stakes, the eleven new stake presidents, half a page of new wards, the four discontinued wards, the three branches made wards, the nine new branches, and the one discontinued branch. The birth, marriage, and death rates of the church are given In other conference reports I’ve seen lists of the chapels dedicated in the year and ennumeration of temple ordinances for the living and for the dead. All anyone looks back and cares about, though, are the dollars.

  68. John, FWIW, I looked through the list of new wards, stakes, and such. But those were entirely outside the scope of what I was blogging (which was the financial disclosures), so I didn’t mention them.

  69. Timely Renewed says:

    Sam —

    The financial reports were not only announced in general conference, but published in the Improvement Era. I’m glad that you were given access to the one from 1947, but they are all readily available in any library which has a collection of Improvement Eras (which I know may not be readily accessible in the Chicago area). I am surprised that no one has done a comprehensive study of the reports over the entire period they were regularly published.

    I reviewed a number of them when I was researching the United Order (and whoever made the comment that D&C 104 is about the United Order, not tithing, is correct). What struck me in the ones I reviewed (mostly from the 1950s) was they had fairly complete income statements, but no balance sheets. This was a reasonable policy, since balance sheets can present a distorted picture of the asset value of an enterprise, especially one that is non-profit and has accumulated assets over a long period of time.

    i have always understood that the reason the Church stopped releasing the statements was because either (1) David O McKay’s aggressive building program had got the Church into an embarrassing deficit or (2) some of the Church’s investment portfolio had gone seriously in the wrong direction. In either case, as noted above, N. Eldon Tanner sorted out the difficulty in the 1960s, and the Church’s cash flow has been well-managed since then. If these facts are correct, it is probably just inertia that the discontinuation of the reports remained in place.

    I have often thought about the pros and cons of resuming the release of annual income statements. The pros are that it might finally put to rest myths about the Church’s wealth and accusations that the money is siphoned into non-religious purposes. I believe the reports would show that most of the Church’s outflow goes to non-profit religious purposes. The cons are that there would always be unhappiness in any number of quarters about one thing or another (certainly the expenditures on the BYU system), and the numbers would look big to many members, who might ask why the Church needs their widow’s mite.

    Personally I think the pros outweigh the cons. Recommencing the release of these income statements would create a stir initially, but over the long run they could put to rest a lot of unnecessary, distracting and damaging speculation about the Church’s finances. However, the criteria is what is most helpful to the Church, not some oppositional demand by unhappy Church members.

    With regard to the infamous mall on the block south of Temple Square, my understanding was that it was as much or more about maintaining a healthy downtown for Salt Lake City as making money. Imagine how the Church would have been criticized if it looked away as downtown Salt Lake City deteriorated as have so many other city centers. That said, when the mall fails, I would suggest that the land be used for Church purposes which would keep downtown Salt Lake populated and enhance the area as a showcase for the Church’s missions. For example, the BYU Salt Lake campus could be put there, and/or an MTC (staffed by RMs attending the U who would have a quick commute on the trolley) and/or a humanitarian center of some sort.

    Thanks for the article.

  70. Marion G Romney, in his book on the church welfare system, makes the observation that D&C 104 does not speak directly to the issues surrounding the United Order until verse 19, and that vss 1-18 are about stewardship, and apply to all of us, and the current church as a whole, today. This makes some of the commentary about God’s view of wealth, and wealth distribution, pretty interesting.

    Further, as was stated previously by Ron Madson, the idea of common consent is not restricted to the United Order. It appears in other places in the D&C, and Joseph conceded to the concept, and in one instance kept carried Sydney Rigdon due to the vote of the members when he wanted him cast out of the First Presidency.

    As I said earlier, look at the websites for the US Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. All of them post their financial information online, including balance sheets, for anyone to see. The information is unambiguous and easy to find. The problem is not that what some of us are asking for is unreasonable.

  71. John Mansfield says:

    Sam Brunson, I see that my comment above comes across as criticizing your choice of post material, and I regret that. Your writings on accounting and taxes are always interesting and informative and refreshingly unsensational, treating money like one more aspect of living on this planet. I wrote my comment with the rest of us in mind, who deal with the topic less purely.

  72. Timely Renewed, the BYU Salt Lake campus (and the LDS Business College) are both already downtown, in the Triad Center (300 W and North Temple).

  73. When I was younger, I would naturally disagree pretty often with various sensational-sounding statements that friends would make. Boys tend to do that- one will say something crazy and untrue, and the others may or may not challenge it (I was wont to challenge it most of the time lol). A common response was “put your money where your mouth is”, or in other words, demonstrate that you truly believe what you are saying by being willing to risk you resources on it.

    The way I see it, tithing is a great opportunity for all of us to that. If we believe not only in God but in His Church, we are invited (and commanded) to tithe. This does a few things. It makes it hard for us to take our faith too lightly, because 10% is a significant portion of one’s livelihood. It also lets us ‘put our money where our mouth is’ in regards to sustaining church leaders. We shouldn’t need proof or evidence that funds are spent exactly as we think would be best- we aren’t shareholders or even donors. We are believers, and faith is evidence of things NOT seen. I am glad that the Church doesn’t publicize financial reports because it would distract from the spiritual mission and likely lead to petty bickering, but I am even more glad that the financials aren’t publicized because it gives me an opportunity to act in faith, as a believer, and put my money where my mouth is – without having the evidence already before my eyes.

    10% every year would be alot to donate to a charity, and too large an investment in one organization if you were a stock owner following proper diversification strategies, but it is very little that God asks in return for all He gives. It’s good to remember that He isn’t accountable to me for how His church spends its funding; rather I am accountable to Him for how I spend mine. I’m happy that I’m not a shareholder, and not a donor, but a believer.

  74. Louise Lee says:

    I love not only what you said…the but the WAY you said it…Makes me even happier that I tithe…
    even though my 10% is minimal…. I also give a check for $25.00 every now and then to St. John’s
    Retreat in my area…I can go to that beautiful place and walk the 14 Stations of the Cross and
    also feel blessed….and my eldest son Darryl grew up and married beautiful Bonnie Lee…doesn’t
    get better..than that!

  75. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not save organizations–it saves people. The Savior’s injunction to assist the sick and the poor was not a commandment to an institution, but rather, to His disciples. Tithing is the Lord’s way of funding and running the Church as an organization. Assisting the sick and the poor is primarily the stewardship of the Lord’s disciples–we, the members–and NOT the institution of the church. This is why we have fast offerings and other offerings in addition to tithing.

    Providing welfare for the poor has been recently added as ONE of FOUR stated LDS Church missions. The LDS church has as its primary source of funding the tithing of the membership of the church to pursue its four-fold mission. The LDS Church also receives funding from its business investments–including malls–to assist in fulfilling its missions. To say that the LDS Church makes these business investments at the expense of assisting the poor is to not have an understanding of the way the LDS Church operates. Funding for business investments—such as building a mall—comes from non-tithing investment income.

    I find it absurd to presume that the Lord’s church should not engage in creating additional wealth via business investments for the purpose of having additional resources available to fulfill its missions and to assist even more people than would otherwise be possible.

  76. Reread Malachi. You will discover that those being condemned for robbing God because they withheld tithes and offerings were NOT the individual to the payers, but the priests who had the tithes but kept them for purposes other than caring for the poor and needy. Then reread Mormon 8. Moroni sees our day and condemns the Church, and not the individuals, for their misappropriation of funds intended for caring for the poor, but instead used to adorn their churches. Who do you think Moroni was speaking to? (Hint, the Catholics don’t have the Book of Mormon, so it must be someone else. But who?)

  77. The LDS church has an extensive welfare system. It costs money and resources to maintain it. How can you fault the church for using some of its non-tithing resources to create even more resources with which to fulfill its missions–which includes assisting the poor? I just do not get the limiting mind set.

    Using the parable of the talents as a guide, I do not think the Lord would disapprove of the use of some non-tithing assets to create yet more assets and yet more wealth with which to be able to better carry out His work.

    Were the priests in Malachi investing the resources charged to their stewardship to create more wealth for assisting the poor and furthering the work of the Lord? I do not see a comparison to the LDS Church.

    And the Church as referenced in Mormon and Moroni is about an abuse of stewardship–getting caught up in the adornment of the churches using, as you say, funds intended for the poor. Are the chapels built by the LDS church today excessively well appointed and adorned? In my experience, they tend to be rather spartan and utilitarian compared to the churches of other denominations I have visited. I think that on the whole, the leadership of the church are wise and prudent stewards.

    Also, I believe the Book of Mormon is written for the benefit of all of God’s children–be they Catholic or otherwise.

  78. One million dollars for an exotic rainforest hardwood banister in the Draper temple versus the ability completely eradicate childhood malnutrition for every LDS child worldwide for $3.2M. Using their own numbers, the church spent more on the mall than all humanitarian aid provided over 25 years combined. Or, less than $20 per tithe-paying member of the Church per year. Very little of the Church’s for-profit enterprises support welfare in any way. The Church clearly seems more concerned about managing its portfolio than caring for those in need. Perhaps if the books were more transparent we could see differently, but the data they carefully choose to share tells a very different story, so I doubt it.

  79. Nebraska-Farmland Reserve Inc-Rex Ranch

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2004/10/06/national1932EDT0838.DTL

    Australia-Agreserves Australia Limited-Kooba Station

    http://www.lds.org.au/newsmedia/showmedia.asp?m=%7BA160E0E4-1EB2-493D-841D-4F2C85487485%7D

    Agreserves Australia LTD Kooba Station,Australia.
    Deseret Ranches of Alberta Raymond,AB Canada
    Agreserves LTD Cambridge,England
    AgroReservas, S.C. Los Mochis, Mexico
    Deseret Farms of CA Woodland, CA
    Deseret Farms of CA Modesto,CA
    Deseret Farms of CA Chico,CA
    South valley Farms Bakersfield, CA
    Deseret Security Farms Blythe, CA
    Naples Farms Naples,FL
    Deseret Cattle & Citrus ST. Cloud, FL
    Deseret Farms of Ruskin Ruskin, FL
    Kewela Plantation O’ahu,HI
    Rex Ranch Ashby, NE
    Riverbend Farms ST.Paul, OR
    Deseret Land & Livestock Woodruff, UT
    Wasatch-Dixie Farms Elberta, UT
    Agreserves Cottle CO.,TX
    Agrinorthwest kennewick,WA
    Handcart Ranch Alcova, WY
    Deseret Ranches of Wyoming Cody,WY

  80. Ron Madson says:

    The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 linked to the conclusion of Matthew 25 is instructive. Some scholars (Herzog-can’t think of first name right now) believe that the hero of the parable of the talents is the man who rejected the oppressive economic system of his day by refusing to invest in that “game” for the sake of the “hard man”. In Jesus’ day they understood the harsh capitalism where the rich got very rich while the subsistence level, non land owners were obliged to play the game and were always on the losing end. In fact it was understood that interest/usury was against the law of Moses and what is being illustrated in the parable of the talents is the antithesis of the Jubilee that Jesus was inviting Israel to participate in. SO, reading the rest of Matthew 25 when then have a shift after the first two parable where NOW the Son of Man Appears in “his glory”—not the hard man or social club where they exclude in the virgins parable, but now THE Son of God comes and judges. And what does he say? Well he says IF you gave to the least you gave it to me and if not then you did not. If you give it to the hungry, poor, cold, etc. then you gave it to me. It is only when that happens is it given to the Lord or the Lord’s money —until then it is not. We read, imo, these parables exactly opposite as they should be read in context to the historical setting in which they were given—to our condemnation I might add. This liberation theology was understood in Jesus’ time and early christians to mean the opposite of how we read it. And is applicable, imo, as to how us gentiles have to our indictment read it to justify investing in the game —which investing begins to become the end in and of itself as less and less is given. Sure there is welfare—but there are two types—one type for first world members and another for third world. The latter are not provided for as we are in the first world. There are strict limitations on how much help they can get to the point that they go without even basic nutrition

  81. John Mansfield says:

    “. . . completely eradicate childhood malnutrition for every LDS child worldwide for $3.2M . . .”

    Could you break down the math on that? Number of children, years of nourishing per child, cost per child per year?

  82. This is the number provided by the Liahona Foundation, a group of LDS doctors, dietitians, and advocates who have been actively providing nutritional support and medical care to malnourished LDS children in South America and Southeast Asia for several years. They have done extensive surveys and developed a series of pre packaged, low cost, high nutrition solutions – combined with regular check-ups – delivered through local stakes and wards. They are changing the lives of thousands of LDS kids. The $3.2M is an annual fee – less than what the Church spends on postage.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,462 other followers