I mean, I see it occasionally. And I kind of assume that its provenance is the Aug. 4, 1997, Time magazine cover.
The thing is that while contextually, the use of “LDS Inc.” is clearly meant as a criticism, I can’t figure out what is being critiqued. Saying “LDS Inc.” may make a (vaguely) factual assertion, but it makes no substantive moral or ethical assertion.
As best as I can tell, saying “LDS Inc.” is meant to communicate one of three things: (a) churches shouldn’t be organized as corporations, (b) the church is too money-focused, or (c) the church is too bureaucratic. Let’s look at each of them.
Churches Shouldn’t Be Corporations
Look, religions weren’t the first groups to incorporate. (It looks, from a quick search, like municipalities or other political subdivisions were.) But they incorporated early on.
Why? Largely for property reasons. A corporation is a legal person. As such, it has the ability to own property, among other things. Without the legal personhood, church property would have to be owned by a natural person; when that person died, it would somehow have to be differentiated from that person’s personal property, and would have to be passed on to some other person. That passage could potentially create problems.
As a corporate entity, a church can continue to own its property indefinitely; there are no worries about who to trust and who to pass it on to.
And there are other advantages, too: a legal person (including an incorporate church) can sue and be sued. That is, if a church is incorporated and causes harm to you, you can sue it. If it’s not incorporated, that’s a lot harder.
Finally (for these quick-and-dirty purposes), in the U.S., any entity that wants to be tax-exempt has to be incorporated. That applies to churches, and also to universities and museums and non-profit hospitals and all sorts of other charitable entities.
The Church is Too Money-Focused
So two things about this. First, there’s a problem lumping all corporations together. For-profit corporations are owned by shareholders who presumably invested to make a profit. Shareholders share in the corporation’s profits, either through dividends or capital gains (or, in closely-held corporations, through employment or other streams of income).
The church, though, doesn’t have shareholders. Because it is tax-exempt, it could not distribute profits to to shareholders, even if it had shareholders. A tax-exempt corporation is something entirely different than a for-profit corporation.
But even for-profit corporations aren’t required to pursue profits at the expense of all else. While shareholder primacy is a theory of corporate governance, it is not a tenet of American corporate law. Corporations can pursue a wide range of un- or less-profitable endeavors. (In fact, benefit corporations and B corps, both types of for-profit corporations, can also have explicit social benefit obligations.)
The Church is Too Bureaucratic
That may well be true, but it has nothing to do with its status as a corporation. True, for-profit corporations have to follow certain formalities. But outside of that, they can be as hierarchical or informal as they want. There’s nothing about incorporation that creates bureaucracy.
Incorporation is also not necessary to create bureaucracy. Law firms, often organized as limited liability partnerships, can also be bureaucratic. State and local governments can be terribly bureaucratic (see, e.g., your local DMV).
I realize that typing “LDS Inc.” is quick. And it’s probably satisfying. But it’s also imprecise and lazy.
Look, I don’t have any problem with criticisms of Mormon practice and organization. The church isn’t perfect; thoughtful critique helps the church—and its members—improve.
But specificity, folks. That’s the key. And “LDS Inc.” as an assertion just isn’t specific enough to be valuable.
[fn] Note that, in its conception, this was going to be much more comprehensive, linking all over the place. But “LDS Inc.” as an assertion doesn’t justify that much work on my part; this post would probably work just as well if I simply wrote, “LDS Inc. is a meaningless assertion; if you have a complaint about the church, please be specific.”