Why the church should practise financial transparency

Two initial points lest this post evoke all manner of silliness:

1. There is absolutely no evidence that the Mormon Church’s reluctance to disclose details about its finances are the result of any corruption. All evidence points to an honest stewardship.

2. It is absolutely fine for a religious institution to invest money to make money.

Having established those principles, I would like to suggest that the church be open about its finances as a way of modelling wise and ethical stewardship for the benefit of its members. This thought came to me as I read an interview with the Church of England’s “Head of Responsible Investment.” Some interesting things that came out of the interview:

  • The CofE has a £6.1 billion investment portfolio. This is obviously needed to help pay for the running of churches and the payment of clergy salaries and pensions, among other things. Big institutions need big money.
  • Parishes contribute just under £1 billion a year to the Church’s coffers.
  • The Church Commissioners’ first legal duty is to maximise the return on the assets of which they have stewardship. Doing so ethically is a moral but not a legal duty.
  • The Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) advises the Church Commissioners on how to invest money ethically.
  • Usury: there has been a development over the centuries. Calvin taught that lending money to help people set up businesses was acceptable. For this reason, the Church invests in high-street banks but not pay-day lenders (except when it does; see below).
  • We live in a “messy and ambiguous” world. Some investments are off the table (defence, tobacco, gambling) but following the chain of investments can lift a lid on some dubious practices. For example, the Church recently discovered it was indirectly helping to fund a pay-day lending company (Wonga), whose practices the Church had condemned. This was embarrassing.
  • The Church’s concern for ethical investment can lead a public conversation. The Wonga thing helped shed more light on pay-day lending, which has led to better regulation of the sector. Another specific example: the Church invested in Glencore but a link with the Anglican Church in Zambia highlighted the problem of sulphur-dioxide pollution, a problem Glencore is now addressing. (“No-one wants the CofE being critical as an investor, because it can result in negative publicity.”)
  • The Church is beginning to set-up credit unions as an alternative to pay-day lending.
  • Venture capital is tricky as you don’t know how it will ultimately be invested (cf Wonga).
  • The Commissioners’ target is to make a return on investments that is the Retail Price Index plus five per cent. They have met this for the last twenty years.
  • The Church of England is the state religion in a country whose economy is built on financial services. A church head-quartered in London cannot escape the City.
  • “Jesus spoke about money more than many other subjects.”

This last point is important. Christianity needs an ethic of money if we are to live with mammon. If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were to open up its financial affairs to public scrutiny it might better demonstrate how the kingdom of God can engage with capitalism in a way that blesses lives. We need to make money but we also need to do so in a way that minimises, as best this fallen world can allow, the blood and horror to which our money might contribute. Churches can and should lead the way here.

I have no idea if the church invests ethically. If it doesn’t it should; if it does, it would be a tremendously prophetic gift if it were to tell us.

(P.S. Mormonism needs a St. Paul’s Institute as well.)

Comments

  1. I believe the Church already practices “modelling wise and ethical stewardship” by keeping private matters private.

  2. Well, I guess I disagree that a church’s finances should de facto be a private matter. I think it would represent a greater good to show us how to invest ethically and thereby encourage others to do the same.

  3. Interesting idea, RJH. I hadn’t thought about members modelling their investment and savings behavior on the church’s, but I think you’re right that a subset would.

    Which actually leads me to the opposite conclusion it leads you to, I think: while I agree that the church and members should invest ethically, individuals investing in the same manner as the church would be disasterous for those individuals. At least, if the church invests like most large non-profits in the US.

    That’s because the church probably has differenet investment goals than individuals: a lot of what it needs to do is park money short-term until it needs that money to pay salaries, building expenses, etc. But the general way to park money–commercial paper–isn’t available to individuals. Similarly, I assume its portfolio has a lot of closely-held businesses, and investment funds that are out of the reach of the average member.

    That’s not to say that financial disclosure wouldn’t be a good thing–it would certainly have both positive and negative aspects, but it certainly would have positive aspects–but if its disclosure gave details about its investment assets and practices (not a foregone conclusion under US law), it would need to educate the membership on necessary differences in investment styles and objectives.

    Is there any other way that the church could encourage ethical, thoughtful investment among its members? Because that is certainly a worthy goal, to create a positive financial ethic.

  4. Probably few members of the C of E expect their church’s financial investments to be a guarantee of personal financial bonanza for members who go and do likewise.

    I can’t say the same for too many of my own people — the ones who believe President Monson personally approves every paragraph in every church-issued writing and the recipe for every cookie served at Ward socials.

  5. it's a series of tubes says:

    Exactly, Ardis. One of many, many reasons why I am thankful the church does not follow the OP.

  6. Ardis is on to something.

    The primary reason why financial transparency would be undesirable, in my view, is because Mormons can be absolute turds when it comes to money matters. We are schemers and money-grubbers, the result of hardscrabble living for generations.

  7. That said, Ronan, I think your post here is the most convincing argument in favor of financial transparency that I’ve read.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    Perhaps a seven-year delay in investment disclosure would satisfy any interest in knowing how the church invests without entering into whatever problems would come with its current holdings being known by everyone.

    My impression is that there is more desire to know the breakdown of the church’s spending than that of its investing.

  9. Per #1, I don’t think that a lack of financial transparency is necessarily a result of corruption. However, it can be a temptation to engage in corrupt behavior. I don’t know whether or not anyone has succumbed to that temptation, but it seems to be playing with fire.

  10. Frederick says:

    Isn’t your point no. 1 a huge assumption? Maybe there is no evidence of corruption precisely because there is no disclosure?

  11. Quick clarification (more later): I don’t think the CofE makes a big effort to disclose every jot and tittle of its investment strategy and I am not suggesting the LDS church does that. Rather, the very fact that there is the EIAG and the occasional issue (e.g. Wonga) it brings to light, is very useful.

  12. Frederick, probably not. It tends to be really, really hard for a large institution to keep financial misfeasance quiet; given the tight community of the church and the number of people who would have knowledge of the church’s finances, I suspect that significant misfeasance doesn’t happen.

    Of course, there is clearly going to be some waste and abuse. As long ago as the June 1919 Conference, Pres. Grant said:

    The tithing has been well handled by the Bishops. Very little loss has been incurred, except through the failure to find a market for the large potato crop of the year 1917.

  13. RJH, are you envisioning something like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an accrediting body for Evangelical churches? It has seven standards, three of which (Standards 3, 5, and 7) seem to go to your point.

    Having looked at the financial disclosures from some of its churches, they don’t provide a whole lot of detail, but membership represents a commitment to best practices and a certain baseline level of transparency.

  14. Regular disclosure of church finances does precisely what it’s supposed to do — holds the church accountable for its accounting.

    J. Rueben Clark knew this, which is why he encouraged the disclosure of the church’s deficit spending in the 1930s and ’40s. Other powers that be worked behind the scenes to close the books precisely so the deficit spending could not only continue, but grow.

    According to Michael Quinn, deficit spending in the 1930s (when the church was disclosing its expenditures annually) rose from $100,000 to almost $1 million. By 1962, when the church had shut its books, it ballooned to $32 million.

  15. The more I read your post the more I was convinced that the church–both the institutional church and the members–are better off without one more list of items for the disaffected to crab about. Because they surely would–there would be crabbing about investing in businesses that do (or have done) something wrong, whatever the favorite hobby horse of the perennially crabby might be this season, and then there would be counter-crabbing by the free-marketeers. And then some wise guys who delight in finding fault, no matter how miniscule, and blowing it all out of proportion, would discover that a mutual fund that the church had invested in owned shares in a bank which loaned money to a tobacco company or a tin-pot dictatorship, and all hell would break loose.

    So, keep it private.

  16. Deborah Christensen says:

    As is commonly known the church use to disclose it’s finances during General Conference. I’d like to know why the church discontinued the practice. Policies and procedures change if there is an issue. Were people overly critical of how the church spent tithing as some comments suggest? Did legal issues develop over from transparency? Are did the church want the members to focus on spiritual growth rather than money? A reason for the change in practice may help with this discussion.

  17. I love that this posts finds positive externalities to financial disclosure. Maybe we don’t even need FULL disclosure, but even the basics would be a step in the right direction. (Hypothetically) Who knows, once we realize some wards around the world get less budget funds than we get for a Christmas party, maybe as a people we’ll be ready to give up some traditions and look more outwards. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  18. As soon as I hit “post”, Ardis’s (and Steve’s) points occurred to me.

    I don’t want Mormons to *mimic* the church’s investment strategies; rather, I would like the church to *model* basic principles of ethical investment.

    Perhaps that is beyond us as a people, alas.

    Mostly I simply read the article about the Church of England and thought it to be a very healthy approach to money.

  19. Ronan, I agree that the CoE’s approach seems quite healthy. I am unsure that it would work for Mormons, but that’s more of an indictment of our culture and attitude towards money than it is about the approach itself.

  20. “I don’t want Mormons to *mimic* the church’s investment strategies; rather, I would like the church to *model* basic principles of ethical investment.”

    Bingo, and that is what the CofE is doing, which is why it’s setting a good example.

    Ronan, I don’t have much to add except to say I love this post and agree that this would be a godsend for us as a people. I also love your link to the website of the St Paul’s Institute. The work being done there is extremely important for creating a Christian concept of ethical finance and corporate culture.

  21. My sense it that, at the grassroots level, many members will privately choose not to invest in industries that are sinful from an LDS perspective, such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling securities.* However, this seems qualitatively different from the ethical investing you describe here. The evils of payday lending aren’t really on the radar screen in LDS parlance (and, in fact, Utah has a vibrant and colorful loan sharking industry). I wonder if a larger point here is, regardless of the Church’s financial transparency, whether we should look toward developing a morality that extends beyond just the stated commandments and approved interpretations.

    *Of course the legal separation between investment and management that the corporate form provides played out in fascinating ways for Mormons over Marriott hotel’s provision of pornographic TV channels.

  22. Deborah, see my comment two above yours.

    The church closed its books because it was over spending. By exorbitant amounts.

  23. Those interested in the project of “bringing Christian ethics to bear on our understanding of finance and economics” will find these recent videos of lectures and panel discussions hosted by the St Paul’s Institute very informative, uplifting, and urgently necessary:

    http://www.stpaulsinstitute.org.uk/Videos

  24. cough, cough, rome temple, cough, cough

  25. DCL has an interesting point, Ronan. Perhaps it is possible to separate the issue of financial transparency from ethical guidelines in socially responsible (and ethical, moral) investing. Church leaders could easily preach about the latter and enlighten the membership about ethical issues in investing even without budging on the question of financial transparency.

  26. Maybe, John, but it would work a lot better if they could say, “look, this is what we do. Have a think about it.”

  27. Except, John, for most LDS the issue isn’t a question of ethical investment; it’s a matter of budgeting and money management to even get yourself into a position where external investment is possible. That is why I find the argument here regarding transparency to be unconvincing. Most of us are not in a position to invest at all, so why is the Church’s investment strategy relevant?

  28. I can think of one solid reason to keep investments quiet.

    “Look, President Monson invested in my business, and you want to follow the Prophet in all things, don’t you?”

    A relative of mine used to work for the Office of the Presiding Bishop. They have one guiding tenet in all investments.

    “We can wait.”

    Investments are generally made for very long term profitability, not this standard corporate “quarterly bonus maximization” method. If they want something, they will wait years or decades for the price to drop. If they have something they want to sell, they can wait years or decades to maximize returns. Publishing holdings and strategies could seriously undermine that model.

  29. I think the Church needs to set the example of ethical investing purely because of the principle of it, Steve. Doing what is right because it is right.

    Having said that, I think the Church does do this. (Could almost say I know it does this.) But because the policy of financial secrecy ends up covering this aspect of the Church’s management and not just the actual balance sheet figures, Church members don’t know or at least don’t see the Church’s real-world example of shunning investment in big tobacco, gambling, porn interests, and other ethically questionable ventures.

    Church members must therefore look elsewhere for this example of moral investing, and the Church of England provides such an example as referenced in Ronan’s post. Thus, on this, the Church of England is providing moral authority/leadership where we are lacking. This is frustrating because we are certainly also following similar ethical guidelines in our investing.

    Anecdotally, I happen to know a fair number of Mormon financial advisors who follow similar ethical guidelines in investing in their business practices, exhorting their clients whenever possible to adhere to such guidelines and not invest in those ethically questionable ventures, though respecting their wishes as their clients if they choose to ignore this advice.

  30. Transparency would perforce demonstrate human hands up and down the entire project. From my anecdotal experience though, most members, even when they say otherwise, assume or desire to assume divine hands up and down the entire project. Non-transparency creates/contributes to a sense of wondrous mystery that many or perhaps most members don’t want to lose. People desire a marvelous work and wonder even if it is in the finances of the church. This is especially the case in this modern world where we have come not to expect to see biblical miracles performed by our leadership. This form of non-transparency is where the secret really is something like the sacred.

    I’m all for transparency, but like all other disclosures, it would be attended by a sense of loss.

  31. >Why is the church’s investment strategy relevant?

    I need to return to a point I made earlier as it appears that the OP was not precise enough.

    I do not think the church need publish its investment strategy as an insert to the Ensign or anything. That is not my point.

    What I mean to say is that even a little macro-level transparency would be useful, for two reasons. First, as a donor to the church, I am interested in my donation being used ethically to the degree that that is possible in our “messy and ambiguous” world. Second, a quiet discussion about ethical investments can open up a wider conversation, one that effects even people who don’t invest much or anything themselves, as the Wonga case in the UK highlighted.

    Does the church have an ethical investment strategy? Would they invest in an arms company? Why, or why not? If venture capital were used to buy a brewery/tobacco company/adult movie studio/etc. would the church be concerned, or is it laissez-faire capitalism all the way? As the CofE chap says, Jesus was very interested in money and so we simply have to talk about it if we are to be Christians. These are not irrelevant questions.

    I recommend the publications put out by the EIAG:

    https://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/eiag.aspx

    If we are saying that the Mormon church’s membership lacks the maturity to deal with these issues, then we are indicted. What a pathetic people we must be.

    (Personally, I have more optimism. We cope with this, if done wisely.)

  32. Or what Fowles said. #hivemind

    Real moral leadership in something other than bare shoulders. Money is the root of everything. Let’s set the example.

  33. That’s fine.

  34. Deborah Christensen says:

    @ Jay- thank you for getting back to me about my post. But I’m not sure my question was answered.The post provides data points from the 30’s and 60’s which proves an increase in deficit spending. But no data to support the claim that “Other powers that be worked behind the scenes to close the books precisely so the deficit spending could not only continue, but grow.” How do we know the books were closed to hide more increases? That fact that closing the books was preceded by an increase in deficit doesn’t prove causation. What am I missing?

  35. Btw, I think the church would likely say that they already provide macro level guidance around these points. Perhaps a little too macro.

  36. Right, but we need to see (some of) it in action.

  37. it's a series of tubes says:

    First, as a donor to the church, I am interested in my donation being used [insert adjective here]

    Methinks this clause contains a presumption of ownership that may be inconsistent with certain statements attributed to the Lord in Malachi, and inconsistent with covenants made in the temple.

    Returning something to its true owner is not a “donation”. A steward handing the masters property back to the master is not a donation.

  38. “A steward handing the masters property back to the master is not a donation.”

    That might be true but what relevance does it have at all to the idea that the Church should be modeling socially and ethically responsible investing and not supporting big tobacco, gambling, porn, or other morally wrong endeavors (environmental abuse, labor exploitation, human trafficking, etc., all of which are pitfalls to the morally conscientious investor)?

  39. Don’t play silly semantic games, tubes. If the church wanted to remove all ambiguity surrounding the word “donations” it might consider not making them tax deductible. In the UK at least, “membership dues” do not attract tax relief.

    Anyway, that’s a minor point. Our society is desperate for leadership when it comes to ethical capitalism. The Mormon church could play a role here. That’s what prophets do.

  40. it's a series of tubes says:

    RJH made two points in his comment; my comment was responsive to his first point. Your inquiry is directed to his second point.

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    Don’t play silly semantic games, tubes.

    Sorry you view it that way. I view the conception of supposed ownership, and the attendant presumption of entitlement to input and information, as near the core of this topic.

    As to “what prophets do”, that’s a bold assertion for you to speak for them.

  42. Are you making the assertion that prophets would not provide moral leadership on bringing Christian ethics into finance and economics?

    How is Ronan making a bold assertion by simply assuming they do/would fill such a role?

  43. it's a series of tubes says:

    John, come on. When one advocates X in the context of a ostensibly prophet-led organization, and then says “prophets do/should do X” in support of one’s position, it’s begging the question.

  44. Prophets should comment on blogs, because that’s what prophets do.

  45. It boggles the mind that the thing which influences our lives the most (money and how the economy makes it) is of no interest to prophets. But in theory, I concede the point.

  46. Amen to this post!!! I got so excited reading it I actual kept saying “yeah” out loud until my wife asked me what was up. Just imagine what great good would happen in our community if the LDS church led members by example on this issue!

  47. Carl Youngblood says:

    “I don’t want Mormons to *mimic* the church’s investment strategies; rather, I would like the church to *model* basic principles of ethical investment.”

    That’s exactly what I was going to say in support of RJH’s position. I don’t think most members would be foolish enough to assume that because the Church invests in certain ways, they as individuals should do the same. Rather, an institution like the Church that is guided by the ethics it claims would (or should) behave in ways that would allow individuals to infer general principles about ethical conduct, from which they would hopefully be able to develop strategies for their individual life choices. Even if there is no direct application to investment from observing this transparency, merely seeing the Church behave ethically would increase faith and confidence in the institution as well as a collective sense of involvement in worthy causes on the part of members. It would also be an inducement to individual ethical behavior in general.

  48. “I don’t want Mormons to *mimic* the church’s investment strategies; rather, I would like the church to *model* basic principles of ethical investment. Perhaps that is beyond us as a people, alas.”

    I think it’s probably beyond us, not as Mormons, but as people generally. My experience is that an alarming amount of people don’t invest (or even save) much, and many who do don’t do it wisely. And I don’t think any of that has to do with a lack of good examples.

  49. Another way of looking at the CofE example is this:

    True, most ordinary people are not serious investors (beyond things like pensions, which in the UK are beyond most of our realistic controls).

    But leadership on this issue is also about modelling ethical economics on a *national* level. When it surfaced that the Church of England had indirect exposure to Wonga as part of its venture capital portfolio, it caused a national stir and a great deal of embarrassment. Controlling venture capital is notoriously difficult but the Church cut its link to that fund and is working on tightening controls where it can. No doubt there are other dodgy business still being indirectly funded, but the point was the Church’s ethical goals were compromised, leading to further public awareness of pay-day lending companies.

    The upshot? New rules capping interest rates. The Church of England’s willingness to discuss its portfolio and express regret when it goes wrong has been the major driver of that change.

    It has this influence because it is the state church. In its own sphere, the LDS Church also wields considerable influence. We can lead on this. The media makes much of the church’s wealth; it would be great if much could also be made of how that wealth is ethically made. Not great as a matter of pride, but great as an example to similar institutions.

  50. Ardis: “the ones who believe President Monson personally approves the recipe for every cookie served at Ward socials.”

    Uh, he does. And those lemon squares were DELICIOUS>

  51. Ronan, that would be magnificent: the Church as a light to the nation on investment matters.

  52. Well, of COURSE, BHodges, if we’re talking LEMON SQUARES! But if you think he approved those coconut things, the gospel is no longer true.

  53. Probably not for the reasons listed in the OP, but I do want more transparency, I want to know where my tithing goes. I am on a knifes edge of trust with the church presently, and I have faithfully donated money under the simple faith that it was going to the poor and needy and church support (I pictured low income wards, and stakes – then regular buildings, temples, etc.) Now I don’t know. I keep reading about Liahona projects. I would love to donate. Probably will but I assumed my tithing would be used to help that stake – does it? I don’t worry about investment – I worry about frugality and forthrightness. It’s required for me to be a wise steward, shouldn’t I expect the same?

  54. Your 2 initial points are hardly uncontroversial. #1, “there is no evidence the Church is corrupt” is moot: evidence is beside the point. In my experience, critics of the Church, members on their way out, Ordain Women (“men control 100% of church finances” — see discussion 1), and everybody else with a beef against the Church accepts this as an article of faith. I’d say only mindless TBMs along the Wasatch Front (like me) believe this. Yes, it’s true: I have no mind.

    After City Creek, even sheeple like me don’t believe #2, at least as applied to the LDS Church. The Church of England is a nice liberal crew with female priests, social justice initiatives, and an environmental impact campaign, and is firmly controlled by a fairly leftist state. They’re welcome to make a mint. The LDS Church is racist, sexist, homophobic, cis/het-centric, capitalist, oppressive, American, and run by old, white, privileged, elderly, old, white, pallid, caucasian, republican, conservative, reactionary, libertarian, racist, old, white American men. (note: I don’t believe any such thing).

    Seriously though, I’ve seen the Church taken to task ad nauseum about #2: “It is absolutely fine for a religious institution to invest money to make money.” No, not for Mormons. Read Gina Covin, Rick Waters, Denver Snuffer, or anyone on the New Order Mormon Forum: the LDS Church may not make money.

  55. “If we are saying that the Mormon church’s membership lacks the maturity to deal with these issues, then we are indicted. What a pathetic people we must be.”

    Consider the fact that a recent *retail center* project has turned to be controversial, even damning in some eyes — and the ethical issues involved in the project really only touch on opportunity costs (and to some degree a rejection of the second point you led with). Pathetic?

    Maybe. But it might lead one to believe that if the relatively minor issue of opportunity cost causes those kinds of waves, you might see bigger complaints and schisms coming out of trying to deal with all the ethical questions that can fall out of a review of, say, the Dow 30.

    I’m also thinking of the national discussion over public finances — general boggling over the sheer scale of the numbers, drive-by looks at budget items that seem inscrutable (“Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”), and that’s before we get to places where there populations can have genuinely diverging values.

    And the potential mistakes of the zealous and hagiography-subscribed that have been covered seem real enough too.

    Do the saints have the capacity to do better? Maybe so. And I like a lot of what you’re pointing out that the CofE is modelling. But recognizing the kinds of failure modes than can apply (and *have* applied) among the membership isn’t a tacit admission of how pathetic we are, it’s an admission of humanity and associated hazards.

  56. “Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.” I hope that most people who would be looking over church finances have more intelligence than the original author of that particular quote…

  57. I still think the interesting issue here is how the Church regards issues like environmental degradation and industries and policies that prey on the poor while fueling the the war machine. We don’t need financial disclosure to know that the answer is not much at all. So the sentiment expressed here (which I very much share) is, as much as for financial disclosure, a desire to see the Church actually care about these issues to the same extent it cares about alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pornography. We’ve seen movement towards an ethical view of immigration in the U.S., so there is hope.

  58. The church through its newsroom also recently moved towards an ethical view of medical care (specifically Medicaid expansion in Utah). Perhaps not as clear as its position on immigration, and just as likely to be ignored by LDS politicians, but it gives me hope that the church does care about these kind of things.

  59. I’m ambivalent about financial transparency, but I strongly believe that the church should practise British spelling.

  60. This point may have been made before, but the issue of investment transparency is not the same as full financial transparency in my opinion. Yes, I would like to know where the Church invests its (substantial) portfolio, but I don’t really care that much. The good folks at Ensign Peak Advisors (the Church’s secretive investment arm) seem to know what they’re doing, I am aware that they use outside money managers extensively, and that the portfolio is massive – many billions of dollars. Is the money invested responsibly? Probably. Is it invested ethically (which in my mind means in a socially responsible, sustainable, socially conscious matter)? I highly doubt it.

    What I really am interested in is knowing how the Church spends its money, which is a very different thing. I think the donors in any church deserve to know where their money is going. Here is what I would like to know: How much tithing comes in every year? How much are the Q12 paid? How much goes to facility management? How much is spent on building malls and where did that money come from? How much is spent on humanitarian aid? Etc. Etc.

    Will this give some disaffected folks cause to complain? Of course it will, but that is not a valid reason not to disclose these details.. The donors deserve to know, and openness will promote honesty and accountability.

  61. An Anon Nom says:

    I think Porter is spot on. Lack of this kind of transparency is a huge red flag. In addition to the CoE, check out ecfa.org for examples of financial transparency in religious organizations.

    Other kinds of transparency are just starting to occur within the church and are proving to be more painful. These may eventually require admissions of past wrongdoing, serious questions about the character of leaders, and possibly changes to doctrine.

    Financial transparency requires none of that. It’s easy. It’s the low hanging fruit among a series of steps the church could take to rebuild trust. Just do it.

  62. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Why the need for shutting the books in the first place? Just show the world where God’s only true church on the face of the earth invests and spends it’s money. Why hide it under a bushel? I’d love to see the investments, it’s payroll, and it’s service to the poor and needy around the world. Open the books already!

  63. I think an argument against transparency would be the difficulty a global church membership might have contextualizing the numbers. Your $X tithing donation doesn’t seem to matter much to a church that pulls in $YYYYYYY/year. That’d be true among first-world mormons and developing-world mormons alike.

    On the other hand, it does contextualize the investments made in our meeting houses. On a local level, unless you’re in a bishopric I don’t think people realize that things like energy bills and carpet cleaning bills need to be paid. I would love to have this same transparency on a local level so we feel more stewardship over our temples, local buildings, ward activities, and programs.

    (Small example: our ward scout troop and YM/YW activities are almost entirely funded by the leaders. We live in a city with no cars, so scout activities and other stuff that requires transportation costs a ton, and the leaders shoulder the load without complaint. It’d be great for the ward to know that, as well as the budgets for the other auxiliaries.)

  64. The problem here is American law. No organization should be able to obtain tax-exempt, not-for-profit status without providing financial disclosure. It’s a simple as that. This is how things work in many other countries, and it’s my understanding that in those places the LDS church does disclose its finances but only for operations in that location.

  65. Lew Scannon says:

    A few minor points. First, the Church keeps insisting that it is not a secretive organization. It’s time, pardon the pun, for the Church to put its money where its mouth is. Second, I am a baptized member who pays lots of money to the Church. Call me an investor. Don’t I have a right to know what the Church is doing with that money, even if only to satisfy my curiosity? Third, this is just another way in which the Church is sending its members the message, “We don’t trust you.” That is a message based on the underlying philosophy that people are basically evil, which is rather in conflict with fundamental Church doctrine. Fourth, revealing its finances every year, even if only in summary form, would prevent a whole lot of inaccurate speculation, particularly from the media. Fifth, yes, if people knew how stinkin’ much money the Church had, we would probably see a massive rise in missionary kidnappings and demands for ransom. But since proselytizing is rapidly going online, soon missionaries won’t actually meet with real people anyway. (Can we find a way to virtually baptize somebody?) Sixth, if the Church did open up its books, within three years, this information would fade away into the relative obscurity enjoyed by the membership statistics revealed every April conference. Seventh (because seven is a number symbolic of any number of things), it would be enlightening to see how much the Church is paying for its hyperactive PR campaign.

  66. “Call me an investor”

    No. Charitable contributions do not make you an investor.

  67. I agree with Porter. Investment strategy is not at the top of the list. I believe the Church should become financially transparent. A beginning point would be a simple normalized pie chart. Percentages don’t reveal the hard figures behind them but they would certainly paint a picture of where/how the church spends tithing and donation revenues.

    Problems that arise from this relate to one of my primary issues. That is how tithing is interpreted. Officially we’re told that it’s between you and the Lord and are referred to D&C 119. Somewhat officially we get anecdotes in GC or the Ensign about paying tithing even if we can’t afford rent or food i.e. pay gross. Disclosure could trigger discussions around this type of issue and I think the leadership would prefer the ambiguity that leans toward higher donations. As I’m assuming the Church’s like individuals’ expenses generally grow to meet their income.

    Authority as they suppose etc…

  68. martha my love says:

    I wonder if the church began, once again, to provide full disclosure, how it would effect the share that goes to charitable giving.

    I remember that the church functioned very well when they were transparent and I’m much in favor of returning to it.

  69. If I’m to take the Book of Mormon seriously then I’d have to disagree with OP point #2. It is not okay for the church to make profit while poor people exist.

  70. TK, where does it say that, exactly?

  71. Mostly from King Benjamin’s speech, the story of both Almas, and 4 Nephi. But I can understand how people interpret that differently.

  72. Do bloggers for By Common Consent (and other blogs on the nacle) derive income from their blogging activities?