So You Have $100 Billion.

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple weeks (interrupted, of course, for impeachment and Christmas) about the church’s $100 billion endowment. And I want to add to that discussion. Specifically, I want to think about the question of how the church could change with a $100 billion endowment.

I’ll note that in the earliest iterations of this post, I thought about freaking this as some sort of (unsatiric) modest proposal.

But that has a couple significant problems. What I’m going to lay out here is not at all modest; it would represent a sea change in church finances. Moreover, it’s not a proposal so much as it is brainstorming. But a $100 billion endowment absolutely requires brainstorming. And my brainstorm?

Basically this: according to the whistleblower, the church’s operations cost roughly $5-6 billion a year. Meanwhile, the church (or, rather, Ensign Peak Advisors) has been earning roughly a 7% annual return. On $100 billion, that means the church makes about $7 billion a year from investments.

So what if instead of tithing, the church used its return on the Ensign Peak Advisors fund for operations? As far as I know, that would be unprecedented in church funding. Few if any churches have that kind of financial cushion, so few if any could survive on investment returns rather than annual donations.

Before you nod in agreement, though, note that I’m not done. I’m absolutely not advocating the end of tithing. After all, the Lord introduced tithing as a “standing law” to us “forever.” The fact of an enormous endowment doesn’t change forever.

At the same time, though, the purposes and uses of tithing have changed. In its initial 1838 iteration, it was for physical construction and to pay off church leaders’ debts. By Utah, tithing was often paid in-kind, and that tithing was often used to help the poor. In the early 20th century, bishops were paid a percentage of the tithing their wards and stakes raised.

And our version of tithing isn’t identical to the Hebrew Bible version. Or rather, versions. Adam Chodorow writes about two types of Jewish tithes: agricultural tithes and maaser kesafim. The agricultural tithes were used to support Levites and to help the poor. While not identical, our version of tithing seems to derive largely from these agricultural tithes—we pay to the church, which largely uses it for administrative purposes.

Maaser kesafim encompasses the obligation to give between 10 and 20 percent of one’s income to help the poor. It isn’t (or, at least, isn’t always) centrally collected; rather, individuals decide how and to whom to donate.

As I pointed out above, a $100 billion endowment largely obviates the need for tithing as a funding source for the church. So what if the church were to shift from its quasi-agricultural tithe to a maaser kesafim model?

Again, this shift wouldn’t represent giving up tithing. Tithing—the idea of giving up something valuable to ourselves—is an important religious obligation, and not just because our scripture tell us tithing is a forever law. Jesus tells us not to lay up treasure on earth. Tithing is one way we can remind ourselves that our treasure isn’t (or, at least, shouldn’t be) here.

And imagine the good we could do in the world if we, as members, made $7 billion of charitable contributions every year. It wouldn’t solve poverty, of course, but it wouldn’t hurt. Moreover, it would force us to engage with charity, and would potentially ensconce us with organizations that do good in the world.

A couple caveats: as anybody who has ever drafted a mutual fund prospectus can tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future results. That the church has averaged 7% over time doesn’t mean that the market will always return 7%. Also, it’s possible that expenses could rise faster than the church’s return on investments, even if the market doesn’t fall. At some point in time, the church could reasonably request that members pay their tithing to the church again, at least for some period of time.

Also, it’s not like the church should get out of the donation-receiving business altogether. I think it’s critical that we continue to pay fast offerings, so that we can ensure that our fellow Saints who need help have access to the Bishop’s Storehouse and the help with rent and with housing and with other things that the church provides. I think missionaries and their families and friends should continue to pay into the missionary fund. And honestly, I assume that some members will want to continue to pay some or all of their tithes to the church. And that’s not a bad thing. That the church can open up its definition of tithing doesn’t mean that it should exclude itself from the set of appropriate recipients.

Would this work? I don’t see why it wouldn’t. The church wouldn’t increase its wealth as quickly but, at the same time, assuming that both the $100 billion number and the $5-6 billion of annual expenses are accurate, it would not have to dip into the principal—the church could operate purely on its investment returns.

I see very little downside to members of the church getting a reputation for being big charitable givers. And giving to charity has the added benefit of helping both our neighbors and our God at the same time. After all, when we’re in the service of our neighbors, we’re also in the service of God.

So should the church make this shift? Honestly, I don’t presume to know. But I do know that it’s important that we acknowledge and talk about money in the church. Because the church has money, and if we don’t think carefully about how to employ that money, it will just sit there, accumulating and not doing any good. And we won’t get the benefits that come with engaging and thinking carefully.

And it’s important to note that the money the church has gives it a lot of opportunities—new, unprecedented, and largely unforeseen opportunities—to experiment with how to best fulfill its salvific mission and its mission to create Zion. And this is one possible way to approach that.

Comments

  1. I’ve long insisted that tithing and charitable giving are two separate and distinct things (even if the IRS treats them the same in the U.S.) and that we all ought to be doing both. I’ve balked at the idea of individuals doing as you’ve described – of their own volition (as did President George Albert Smith):

    “When a friend of President George Albert Smith asked him what he thought of his friend’s personal plan to take what would have been tithing and donate his tenth in charitable donations of his own choice, President Smith’s counsel was:

    ‘I think you are a very generous man with someone else’s property. …

    ‘… You have told me what you have done with the Lord’s money but you have not told me that you have given anyone a penny of your own. He is the best partner you have in the world. He gives you everything you have, even the air you breathe. He has said you should take one-tenth of what comes to you and give it to the Church as directed by the Lord. You haven’t done that; you have taken your best partner’s money, and have given it away.'”

    Sharing the Gospel with Others, sel. Preston Nibley (1948), 46; see also 44–47.

    That said, I suppose the policy could be updated to indicate that it’s an appropriate manner of paying tithing, but it would justify those who currently limit their total annual charitable giving to 10% tithing). As I said, we should be doing both – which means we ought to be giving far more than 10% in charitable contributions (tithing and then some).

  2. Dave, I’m a little (lot) confused by your comment. I thought the OP was clear, but just in case it wasn’t: this wouldn’t be a unilateral move by members. It would be an explicit reframing of tithing by the church, similar to other reframings that have happened throughout our history of paying tithing.

    And would it prevent people from giving more than 10%? That elides a critical prior question: do we give more than 10%? (It’s an empirical question, of course, and I suspect the answer is that some of us do and some of us don’t.) For those who already give charitably beyond their tithing, I see no reason why shifting the definition of tithing would cause them to make fewer charitable donations.

  3. Dave, You might want to be more definitive about the use of “we” in your last sentence above. Consider:

    President Lorenzo Snow said “…I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child who has means shall pay one tenth of their income as a tithing…” Annual Conference, volume 2, page 28, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1899. https://books.google.com/books
    and
    “If it requires all man can earn to support himself and his family, he is not tithed at all. The celestial law does not take the mother’s and children’s bread, neither ought else which they really need for their comfort. The poor that have not of this world’s good to spare, but serve and honor God according to the best of their abilities in every other way, shall have a celestial crown in the Eternal Kingdom of our Father.” (The Latter-day Saints’ Millenial Star, Vol. IX, page 12, January 1847. Orson Hyde, editor) https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/MStar/id/552

    The Church’s tithing policies and teachings have changed multiple times. E.g., the deletion ofr “who has means” in favor of ellipses in “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church – Lorenzo Snow.” They can change again.

  4. Stephen Fleming says:

    It does seem appropriate to make more of the tithing money available to bishops to help out the needy at the ward level in addition to the fast offering money.

  5. This is pretty much how I tithe already, which means that I don’t have a temple recommend. I don’t have a strong personal desire to give my ten percent to the church (and haven’t for several years now), when it already has an sober abundance.

    Instead I’ve been giving to local organizations that serve individuals experiencing homelessness. Again, I don’t qualify for a temple recommend based on this, but I don’t feel that the Lord disqualifies my tithe because it isn’t going to the Church.

  6. Snapdragon says:

    I couldn’t get JR’s link to work. Maybe this one will. https://archive.org/stream/conferencereport1899sa/conferencereport692chur#page/28/mode/2up

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    We don’t need permission from the Church to start doing this. Many members tithe this way already, and have for years, maintaining good standing. Perhaps the Church saw the writing on the wall, and has been building a massive endowment for precisely this reason; to keep the organization afloat as the trickle of donations slows.

  8. I think this could work in principle, but it rests on the assumption that the whistleblowers figures are correct, which I can’t imagine they are. The Church has something like 33,000 employees in Utah alone. I don’t know how many people work for the Church outside of Utah, but I imagine it’s thousands more. Payroll and benefits alone must be at least between $3 billion but are probably in excess of $4 billion. Add to that everything else the Church does, the whistleblower’s claim on the Church budget seems very low, and his position to know that figure seems tenuous. For now, I’ll believe him on the size of the endowment and the amount the Church puts into it, but I have a hard time believing that the Church’s annual budget is only $6 billion. I’m not the only one: D Michael Quinn has estimated figures much higher.

  9. In the early 20th century, bishops were paid a percentage of the tithing their wards and stakes raised.

    For historical context, please note that the small percentage paid in late 19th/early20th centuries was not income for the bishop, but was intended to cover the bishop’s expenses in hiring an accounting clerk and in providing safe storage and distribution of all that tithing in kind. Stakes didn’t take in tithing.

  10. Thanks for the context, Ardis!

  11. Dsc, in addition to the good question about expenditures is a question about income. The church also has investments that make a profit, and how does that factor in to its overall assets / expenditures? There are just too many questions in the absence of real disclosure.

    As a side note, my husband and I do already pay a portion of our tithe to charity rather than to the church. We believe you can give money to God by giving to other organizations than the church. I think the OP is a great idea.

  12. Excellent thoughts Sam Brunson. Maybe the Light the World Giving Machine campaign is a type and shadow of things to come.

  13. Actually it may be closer to $124,000,000,000

    https://www.swfinstitute.org/fund-rankings/endowment

    Either way it’s still an appalling pile of money.

  14. Grant Hardy says:

    The Church could use its surplus to fund large-scale projects in healthcare and education (BYU-Mexico City!), much as the Seventh-day Day Adventists do. Indeed, perhaps not coincidentally, the SDA have overtaken our own Church of Jesus Christ in numbers and growth. But if our leaders were hesitant about taking on such long-term, capital-intensive projects, the idea in the OP is lovely. I would be delighted to pay 10% of my income to a few of the many organizations that use their money well to do good both locally and internationally, and Latter-day Saints would greatly increase their reputation for making the world a better place. (As an aside on the Maaser Kesafim, I teach at a state university where many of the buildings bear the names of Jewish donors. Their individual and family commitments to higher education have made a tremendous difference.)

  15. Let’s assume that one year, returns are 7% and that the church has 7 billion in returns that year. Operating costs are 6 billion and there is a remainder of $1 billion left over to reinvest into the endowment/fund that continues to grow the fund. How quickly does the fund grow if 1 billion is reinvested each year?

  16. it's a series of tubes says:

    How confident are we that annual operating costs are actually $6B? About 30.5k units (wards and branches) as of end of last year. Treating all central expenses, payroll, temples, missions, university operations, CES, etc, as overhead, and smearing them across all units, that still means a total annual expenditure per unit of only about $196k, inclusive of the shared overhead. Seems awfully low.

  17. Some context that hasn’t been discussed for endowment sizes:

    Harvard has a $40B endowment for 22K students.

    Stanford’s is estimated in the 100s of billions (counting their real estate holdings) for 17K students.

    The BYUs alone are 80K students against the 100B it’s a much lower endowment per student size… not counting the other operations of the church including 100K+ fulltime missionaries.

  18. Yes, but those students are going to HARVARD and STANFORD.

  19. I love the idea of using tithing dollars as individual charitable donations. It’s hard to distribute $100 billion in a way that ensures that the money is spread over a variety of international projects in a way that makes responsible use of large amounts of funds. On the other hand, I know of a number of local charities that really help people in our area that could benefit greatly from $1,000. Making this a personal giving responsibility helps to distribute those funds and make a local impact.

    I could even see stakes or wards that choose to sponsor one or more organization in their area for a year, and encourage members to donate in that way if they were inclined, to get the same group impact. I don’t know that a change like the one Sam mentions will ever happen, but it’s an interesting and optimistic thought.

  20. Last Lemming says:

    I’m in the camp that thinks $6 billion in annual operating expenses is too low, but that is not the point I want to make.

    If I’m wrong and operating expenses could truly be funded out of the endowment, I still don’t see the church giving up control of tithing funds. Redirecting them toward relief and third-world development projects, perhaps. But not letting members direct the funds themselves. Just as an example, if an LGBTQ-friendly organization is going to get tithing money (and that could actually happen), you can be sure the church is going to insist on selecting the organization.

  21. Interesting discussion. Some of the language here elicited a gut response from me that we likely don’t have all the information we need, and that even if we did, “we” are not charged with deciding how to handle church finances. For the time being I’m going to assume that church leaders are aware of how much money the church has, that’s it’s not a surprise to them, and that they have a long-term plan for it.

  22. Mike, why would you assume those things? What facts support those assumptions? You may very well be right, but there’s really no basis for that other than “trust the Brethren” which is becoming less and less effective from what I’ve observed (I’m not very young but am around a lot of young people). Modern organizations don’t get away with secrecy when they require so much time and means from their members. I don’t see how this should be any different. If church leaders are indeed being led by Christ in how they use tithing funds, and have a plan they feel is inspired, they should have no fear in giving more information about that plan to church members.

  23. I have a hard time envisioning this would happen but would welcome it. I had a windfall year this year and so paid a pretty large lump of tithing relative to most years of my life. I also gave to charity, but not nearly as much. It makes me absolutely sick to know that there are people in my community who are going without food and I just gave an amount of money to the church that is essentially immaterial to it (in light of their 100B) but could have made a huge difference to my brothers and sisters right in front of me.

  24. Sidebottom says:

    What about consolidating fast offerings, tithing, and humanitarian funds into a single 10% offering? (e.g. in the same way we eliminated ward budget assessment in the late 80s). This would need to be accompanied by more transparency, but seems doctrinally feasible.

  25. Bellamy Brown says:

    Guys we should look at this issue through scriptural lens. I view this news as fulfillment of Moroni’s prophetic vision of what we would become in the last days. It is also an additional testimony of the truth and historicity of the Book of Mormon.Mormon 8 prophesies that in the last cays ALL churches yea EVERYONE would become corrupt and we would love our fine clothes and adorning our places of worship more than we loved the poor and the needy. Is this not proof that his prophecy has been fulfilled. If you take the scriptures seriously I think you need to re-examine you practices. Whose work are you furthering if your tithes and offerings go to corrupt institutions rather than feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and ministering to those in need . Remember the parable of the talents . God will require an accounting of how we use the resources he blesses us with. It isn’t enough to just give it away without consideration for how it is used. We are obligated to use it as the Lord directs not as our ecclesiastical leaders direct. It is a wonderful and scary thing to live in a day when the prophecies of the Book of Mormon are being fulfilled.

  26. Grant and BeeCee, you both have good points. The church could do a ton of good with it’s huge chunk of money. But that chunk would presumably go to a small handful of projects; if members chose, each charitable group would get less money, but presumably could have a local impact. In either case, the church and/or its members could make a powerful, positive impact.

    An additional note for everybody talking about Harvard’s endowment: I’ll note that it hasn’t been uncontroversial in my world. And, in fact, a couple years ago, Congress imposed an excise tax on some large university endowments.

  27. Elisa: “Mike, why would you assume those things?”

    Uh, because these people didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. There are some very intelligent people in that group, and I think I’m fully justified in assuming that they are aware of how much money the church has (which is what I stated above), that it’s not a surprise to them because of how the church operates and how meticulous they are at looking at local finances, and that, because they’re aware, they also have a plan (again, because these are experienced and intelligent people).

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion and desires. That said, I find laughable the implication that these leaders need my input or advice. Would I be interested in transparency? Sure. But transparency would buy them nothing but headaches from people who think they know better than they do how to run a large religious organization.

    And, oh yeah, there is that little thing about them having been given charge over those things, and the rest of us . . . not.

  28. And, oh yeah, there is that little thing about them having been given charge over those things, and the rest of us . . . not.

    I’m not convinced that this is how we are meant to approach the church. Certainly, church leaders may know how much the church’s endowment is, and certainly they may have a plan. But there’s no reason to think that they’ve thought through all of the possible implications and uses. In fact, to the extent that we’re stakeholders in the church, it’s incumbent on us to think carefully about what being a stakeholder means. When we abdicate that responsibility, when we assume that our leaders are somehow omniscient, I don’t think we’re actually sustaining them. I believe that to sustain requires us to engage with and think through the problems. Passively experiencing the church, and counting on them to provide us with our spiritual nourishment, strikes me as deeply unhelpful, both for our personal spiritual growth and for the church itself.

  29. Mike, that’s a fair point. My point is that such logic is no longer working for many members, especially younger ones. If that’s the path leadership continues down—no transparency because they don’t want the headache and an assumption that members will simply accept that it’s the leaders’ charge and move on—I suspect they will lose people who choose to donate their money where they believe it will be put to use helping others now rather than sitting in an investment fund, or at the very least where they know how the money is being used. Perhaps they think that people unwilling to continue to pay tithing for those reasons are not worth having around, but I know a lot of those people and I’d disagree. I whole-heartedly agree that these leaders are intelligent and thoughtful people and I do not doubt they are aware of the church’s finances. But what many are increasingly feeling is that the leadership’s values do not seem to reflect the God we know, and that the leaders are looking more like businessmen running a savvy business than prophets leading God’s kingdom on earth. (And I echo Sam’s point that for many this doesn’t appear to be the way the church ought to function.)

    I don’t expect you’ll agree and I appreciate your perspective. Just sharing one I’ve heard from many I’ve discussed with with (and personally hold).

  30. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I like this, Sam. The rationale and uses of tithing have changed over time, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t happen again. I’m on board with having members take responsibility for distributing their own 10%, as it allows each of us to engage more directly with those in need (and many of those in need are the same people who pay tithing). At present, I am actually LESS likely to donate to charitable causes and to engage with those in need because, after giving 10% I just don’t have enough left (there are other ways to contribute that don’t require money, of course).

    But the cynic in me envisions a nightmare where millions of church members now have a chunk of money they are looking to distribute and there develops a host of organizations (or scammers) who are ready to separate them from that money. I envision Utah becoming a hotbed of small (sometimes VERY small) charities being run by very ill- equipped people who mean well but have no idea what they’re doing (even doing more harm than good, in some cases). And that’s not to mention the outright criminals who would enjoy some measure of profit.

    Anyway, I’m not a fan of what the Church does (or doesn’t do, in this case) with tithing funds, and would be happy to do that work myself. I just like thinking about some of the unintended consequences.

  31. The notion of being asked the question “What Good Have You Done in the World?” as opposed to, or in unison with “Are You a Full Tithes Payer?” truly is what offers a fullness of charitable giving along with meeting the requirements of Tithes, as based on financial resources afforded any one or many collectively of a household.

    As a church serving the greater good to buildup communities collectively and not merely relying on the return of investment, serves as a demonstrative example of faith and purpose to any that would cause concern of need for tithes or any questionable accounting of scale of endowment for purpose beyond future catastrophic disaster, loss or even famine; while exercising hope to choose the greater good of proportional value of tithes and endowment use towards investment, development of blighted communities in needs of affordable living and based on educational endowments which are broader beyond our own BYU but inclusive of where there is a greater need and offers potential of changing and making a less served community of individuals more vitally engaged and therefore enhancing the lives of many to bring more positive influence to a broader dynamic would be a well placed use of resources. The building up of Zion starts now. In so doing, we are perfecting the Saints and serving to show the collective nature of love for all mankind. The residual impact of giving in this broader sense would make a more economically vital and socially engaged community this would ultimately result in less crime and enhance the lives of many, while continuing to encourage self sufficiency and reliance.

    Resolve to Be Good to Others, Be Well with Trusting in the Lord and All those of proper Authority that are called to serve, to various capacities mining our financial soundness and the intricacies of management of endowment and limits or ceiling there realized or perceived. For those who have given or not done so to the fullness of their capacity or lack of resources not realized and Be Ready in faith and purpose for planned and unplanned events to occur by placing surplus residuals where they might growth our faith more abundantly in purpose as opposed or in alignment with tithes, offerings and charitable giving, left to swell and idle at the pace beyond numbers unaccounted and given not to any.

    When we give, we give with the understanding that good things will be done and more will be blessed from the collective received. When that which is received has far grown beyond the needs and which by unissued relief, gained and not yet distributed or used, but beyond a measure of numbers unknown, what good is done to hold a blessing?

    What Good Have You Done in The World?

  32. I no longer itemize deductions on my federal taxes because of the size of the new standard deduction, but when I used to, I always felt a little squeamish about including my tithing donations. It was the biggest item for me on Schedule A, but calling it charity seemed like a stretch. In retrospect, I wish I would have listed just my fast offerings rather than selling a bit of my soul for a pittance off the bottom line. I’ve
    recently joined the crowd that tithes to charities of my choosing, mostly local. No more temple recommend for me, but I’m ok with that.

  33. Mike

    Our federal, state, and local governments are also largely run by people who are credentialed in their field. So do you apply the same test to your tax dollars? That our political leaders are smarter and more educated than you? So they can do what they want?

    Believe what you will. But what an insult to say it’s laughable that some of the rest of us want a literal seat at the table. It’s not at all laughable that we want to be more than passive participants in this work. That doesn’t mean that I think I’m smarter than anyone. It simply means I believe my perspective is also of value. How you choose to value your life experiences is up to you.

  34. Part of why the Church has so much surplus now is that people pay WAY too much in tithing. Ten percent of your gross wage each month is not the same thing as “ten percent of all your interest annually,” which is why it was obvious to church leaders and everyone else a century ago that there would be some who would not be required to pay, since they would not necessarily have experienced an “increase” from one particular year to the next. I used to give 10% of my gross wage and struggled for years. I never saw the oft-touted financial blessings of tithing until I started calculating my payment as the scriptures direct. The idea of paying the Church before you feed, house, and clothe your own family is an abomination.

  35. Michael, fwiw, it’s pretty clear that “interest,” in its original form, meant something like imputed 6% return on the value of your assets. It’s also pretty clear that within a very small number of years, that definition had change. And it’s not clear to me why we would think that the appropriate tithing base shouldn’t change, especially given the massive changes in the way we work and the way we earn.

  36. Thank you for your perspective, Chadwick. I’ll change “laughable” to “arrogant.” I think I’m a fairly intelligent, educated person, but would never demand that I “have a seat at the table.” The difference between our church leaders and government workers is that government workers have not been called by God to their positions. I understand the argument that just because someone is called by God doesn’t mean they are infallible, but I think the application of that argument at times to be a bit lazy.

    The church is not a democracy, so I suppose disappointment may be your lot for some time.

    (BTW, I’m not saying there should be no discussion whatsoever of these issues. I just think a touch of humility may be a bit more becoming)

  37. Along with this brainstorming thought experiment, I wonder how tithing receipts would change if tithing were removed as a requirement for a temple recommend. My hypothesis is that most full-tithe payers pay from a position of faith and dedication to the church, and a desire to be obedient, with a tangible representation of their faith being a temple recommend. I doubt most tithe-payers do it from a position of true charity for their neighbors, but more of a sense of obligation to the church (not that they don’t have charity). If that obligation were removed without penalty or negative repercussion I can imagine a myriad of ways to justify not paying a tithe.

    Personally, as I have transitioned from paying money directly to the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to paying money directly to local charities I have found a renewed sense of obligation to my neighbor. Rather than rotely processing an electronic transfer from by bank account each month, I now am forced to pensively dedicate my heart and mind to worthy causes, taking the effort to understand needs in my community, and amongst my neighbors. I have felt my heart change. I admit that I end up paying less each month than I used to pay. Yet I believe I am actually doing more good, and I believe my heart has been softened.

    You can accuse me of justification and rationalization (I admit, I have more money in my bank account); but I feel like I am doing more good with the less amount I give, and more importantly it is connecting me more with my community.

    Given all the changes we have seen in the church in the last 189 years, and more explicitly in the past 2 years, there is no reason to deny the possibility of future changes relative to tithing. The church as an institution will grapple with the fundamental question of why they collect tithing, or why members pay tithing. Is it merely due to a scriptural command, to try the faith of members, to teach humility and modesty, to build up the Church, to take care of the poor and needy?

  38. Our sacrament meeting theme yesterday was on the importance of paying tithes and often even “extra tithes” to the church where it can do so much good. It made me extra aware of just how tone deaf my Utah ward really is.

  39. here’s one very simple reason why the Church will NOT change tithing requirements: a change will make many tithing payers feel like they were duped…that the change should have come sooner…that the change is only the result of public pressure. Many members would react to a tithing change the way many of us have reacted to the change from POX in Nov. 2015 to it’s April 2019 policy. Just as we ask “why did we have that for 39 months?” we’d start asking why we had to give up all that money previously. No way does the Church open itself up to that.

  40. Having thoughtful responsible discussions in our community is exactly why the Church would be transparent with its money. These are hard ethical questions that we as a community should struggle with. It also protects the church and its leaders to be transparent. If some of the ancillary reporting and claims that came along with the other documentation are true – the church masking the fund from BKP, its efforts to skirt auditing best practice to keep the size of the fund hidden etc. it is already showing the types of stresses and dangers opacity and large sums of other people’s money will always bring. So I applaud the OPs sober and thoughtful invitation.

    I would propose something like the following:

    1) Move to an “increase” model for calculating tithing which is more consistent with the biblical roots for the purposes of temple recommends. At the same time, encourage those from developed countries and more prosperous backgrounds to consider giving the remainder of what they would have given in the 10% traditional Mormon tithe as Christian charitable contributions. The church can continue to provide one avenue for those dedicated charitable resources under the church’s specific programs. This would apply some pressure on us as a community to increase the diversity and scope of our charitable programs as many members will want to run their charitable contributions through the church. It would also free members up to support charities in their communities and outside the church leading to potential greater civic involvement with the individual and organizational blessings that would naturally flow. Either path members choose this would have spiritual benefits for the organization and members.

    2) Run operations of the church out of a mix of the endowment interest and this reduced biblical tithe. With these mixed revenues continue the principle of spending less than you take in and establish a separate rainy day fund with a specific amount based on sound organizational principle – being able to run the church for X years with no tithing and no investment returns.

    3) This will still leave a huge PILE of money. The first thing I would do with it is launch projects for BYU-Mexico or BYU-Brazil and BYU-Africa. These are capital, operational and money intensive projects. However, bringing strong and affordable education to our sisters and brothers in the developing countries is consistent with some of our best spiritual and cultural community values. The glory of god is intelligence. It is the core way to provide economic self-sufficiency and economic mobility. Also, it can help the church solve one of its biggest inequality issues with tithing support BYU-P essentially catering to one of the richest and the least economically diverse student bodies in the US (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/college-mobility/brigham-young-university). It would serve so many critical objectives. It would help retain activity in one of our most difficult demographics. It would continue to build leadership in our expanding countries. It would be an amazing missionary tool if we opened up some of the campuses at affordable prices to broader community. It could continue the tradition of globalizing our members by giving those that don’t go on foreign missions the opportunity to study abroad within the BYU umbrella. Also, the church knows how to run universities so it has the know how.

    Practically lets say you start each of the schools with a $10b dollar allotment. It would probably take $1-2 billion each to get it off the ground. Lets say $2b. That would leave $8b in endowment for each which would be good enough for being in the top 15 of all endowments in US schools. Even if you just scraped that right off, right now that would leave the church with $80b in its EPA fund. So I don’t think it is irresponsible. It would take probably about 5-6 years to plan and launch these. I would start by taking some of our best university talent and hiring them to set up shop, select current faculty and administer grants for PhD students in the core subjects at strong US and international universities with an emphasis on opportunities for people from the countries that the university will serve. And go to.

  41. Mike

    How do you claim to know that a government official wasn’t called of God? How is it I’m the arrogant one? Where did I demand a seat at the table?

  42. A 3.5-4% drawdown would be needed if you have a 7% return and plan for inflation. The Church is growing in places where average GDP is lower. So expect a future where costs increase and revenue does not keep pace. I also think the Churchs operatibg budget is higher than 6-8 billion. A large endowment will help our Church grow in the future and continue its wealth transfer to poorer countries members with a focus on the core Church institutional mission. Ask the question what is the Church subsidizing? It’s not the Church’s main purpose to solve poverty, that’s capitalism, individual, governments and the communities job. Of course the Church can be a player but it will need to grow to make more of an inpact. I think the Church investment reserve will need to grow and at some point in the future it may be able to expand programs in the future. For those paying attention, the Church is growing Pathways, perpetual education, LDS Charities over the past 20 years.

    Final thought: Tithing job isn’t to solve poverty and paying a full tithe is a bottom floor or a giving mindset where charitable giving and volunteering time are added.

  43. RL & Sam:
    Would having a method of matching gifts as a record of transparency be a tool the Church could exercise for financials as Tax Exempt? Considering this would serve to further encourage the mindset of many to see the power of the collective efforts towards charitable giving, volunteerism and general engagement of a greater good; all while making any portion of $100 Billion in resources reserved or dispersed more transparent, to validate its Tax Exempt status; worrying less on the growth of the endowment as the continued efforts of matching gifts would yield a shift to a prevailing balance of growth for rainy days with identifying and delivering of gifts, one or as many matched while being more transparent along the way.

    Is the Church, through Familysearch.org and efforts to provide Family History resources free to the world, able to calculate and reflect a more true value added from the platform and resources of Indexing and of Familysearch.org as being the worldwide leader of genealogical research and offered free access to many other resources that otherwise require paid subscription to anyone in the world? This area alone serves to show charitable giving worldwide to a degree that very transparent, yet not often talked about when mentioning the Good the Church does as part of its charitable giving.

    This would be something that can easily be shared at General Conference, much to the delight of all informed, tithe paying, charitable givers and all others to see and know the difference of tithes and charitable giving contrasted and balanced with the soundness in planning for future days and times of uncertainty.

    Would any that have chosen to not tithe be inclined to abide and restore their tithe fully through faith and purpose of additional option of exercising matching gifts for transparency, if The Church adopted such a method? That’s not to say that the endowment would be depleted to any degree, but merely a vehicle that served to display the collective charitable giving of the members reflected in the giving of The Church as a more transparent way to demonstrate and keep its status of financial tools and Tax Exempt in good standing.

    The notion of $100 Billion gives an appearance that The Church has too much, doesn’t do enough with it and isn’t saying enough regards its intent and purpose of gains, collected donations or reporting methods of it. There’s also an appearance that individuals feel inclined to not tithe but to find their own means towards charitable giving as their answer to avoid or not contribute tithe based on individual dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency as one source of contention.

    Implementing a Matching Gift Plan would capture by some means a record of the Good being delivered through charitable giving, volunteerism and deliver a more transparent report of both the collective individuals and for maintaining Tax Exempt good standing status.

  44. While I am sympathetic to Sam’s suggestion, I realistically cannot see the current Church leadership handing uncontrolled authority over tithing donations to individual members. Therefore, I believe we should explore some kind of middle ground where the Church would designate certain charities as acceptable recipients of some percentage of members’ tithing donations in lieu of the central Church. (I also think the suggestion would have more likelihood of official consideration if there were still some part of tithing donations which would still be sent to the central Church.)

    Of course this raises the question of what charities would get the official Church nod, and the specter of groups lobbying the Church to get on the list. A solution to this could be to not designate any existing charity, but rather create new ones. As my friend Warner Woodworth explains in his recent post here at BCC, the largest charitable needs are global:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/12/24/practicing-what-we-preach-ministering-charity-globally/

    The hundreds of thousands of Church members who have served missions in (or have personal connections with those who have) these countries maintain a strong interest in helping the people they served (member and non-member) in those countries. This has led to the creation by Latter-day Saints of many small charities to serve such countries, organizations whose know-how and resources often do not match their sincerity and enthusiasm.

    My suggestion would be for the Church to set up standalone charitable organizations appealing to all members who are interested in helping a particular country. Imagine the size of such an organization consisting of all Church members with a connection to or interest in Guatemala or the Philippines. (And such organizations would not necessarily be country-specific. For example a French organization could also encompass francophone Africa.) These organizations would be separate from the Church, but the initial leaders and boards would be initially be appointed by the Church drawing from prominent local members, returned missionaries, former mission presidents and so forth. This would allay Church leaders’ concerns that these organizations would run amok. These country organizations of Latter-day Saints would then vet and fund local charities which seemed most honest and effective, as well as generally promoting continued contact between US RMs and their old mission countries. However, these organizations would be one step removed from the central Church, thus shielding the central Church from any disputes or controversies which might arise from these activities.

    These organizations would then be designated by the central Church as authorized to receive as direct contributions some part of individual members’ tithing donations. Thus, the tithing funds would go to purposes consistent with Christ’s teaching to help the poor in parallel with the central Church’s need to build up the temporal well-being of its members in LDCs, while avoiding the appearance of a chaotic free-for-all which might result from the open-ended adoption of Sam’s suggestion.

  45. From the OP, “But I do know that it’s important that we acknowledge and talk about money in the church”

    Amen. I think Sam Brunson and Nate Oman are also right about there being nothing illegal that the church is doing, as the Letter to the IRS Director alleges. But I anticipate some more changes over the years regarding tithing collection and transparency. Ensign Peak appears to have arisen at the time that the 1997 Time Magazine article revealed information about the church’s worth. Clearly the brethren are highly sensitive about numbers about its worth and there is going to be a lot of conservation among the membership about the $100 billion figure for quite some time.

  46. It is time to be realistic about what some of the preferred charities of many US members would be. There are likely to be many non-profit educational institutions which would be the preferred charitable organization for many members. In Utah and many other areas with a high concentration of LDS, especially upper middle class members, there would be a multi-tiered educational system. The private schools would get massive tithing subsidies, and also become the elite educational institutions in the area. In other areas, the LDS preferred home school groups would also be heavily subsidized.
    For many LDS families, and probably for the church as a whole, education would be improved. This has been contemplated by previous church leaders, and strongly discouraged.

  47. This is such a frustrating topic compounded by the lack of good information. Without the actual data on total assets, investment returns, capital and operating costs, and forecasts of future need, we’re left with unreliable speculation. Transparency could enlighten all these ideas and proposals, either by correcting misinformed assumptions or confirming their feasibility. What risk is there to financial disclosure? It doesn’t force church leaders to act in any way, similar to the myriad other topics where there is a diversity of opinion but an official stance.

  48. I have been doing this for several years, and consider myself a full tithe-payer, although it means I don’t have a temple recommend (otherwise I’m fully active). When the Church decides to publish a complete annual financial statement that shows it needs my money more than the world’s poor, I will reconsider.

  49. Keith E, I’m not sure how to respond to your comment in a polite way, so I’ll just say I guess this is it.

  50. KlarityinAb says:

    First of all, anyone thinking that donating to various charities of one’s choice instead of to the Church of Jesus Christ–guys, Christ commands the tithe; this is HIS Church–needs to reread the George Albert Smith story above. I also donate to other local charities and homeless, but I don’t pretend that counts as my tithing. God doesn’t need the money. The Church doesn’t need the money. You’re missing the point. Go read the Gospel Principles chapter on tithing. It is a commandment. It has been clarified this last century as income–not just if I actually end up with any left over after trying to spend it all. He will direct his authorized servants to use it in many important and appropriate ways. Counsel God if you want to, it won’t end well.
    There are things in the future we do not see. There have been 10 years of plenty, maybe we are in for 10 years of want. New Jerusalem. Whatever.

  51. For reference, $100 billion US dollars, today, is about 87 billion dollars in FY2011, which is about this much money, in terms of military budgets: (all numbers converter to Fiscal Year 2011:)

    The entire military budget of the American Civil War, Union and Confederate.
    about 1 year of America’s military involvment in WW1.
    About 1 year of America’s military involvment in WW2.
    About 1 year of America’s military involvment in Korea.
    About 1 year of America’s military involvment in Vietnam.
    About the entire American military cost of Gulf War 1.
    about 10 months worth of America’s military budget for the Iraq War.
    About 3 years worth of America’s military budget for the Afghanistan War

    But that is ONLY the military budget: not the total government budget, not the civilian economy budget, not the budget of our military enemies or allies, not the value of any reconstruction loans after the war was over….

    Other items in the $100 Billion dollars range:
    building the entire San Fransico to LA high speed rail system, twice.
    sending 8 men on a mission to mars.
    The total lifetime cost of the International Space Station.
    1/4th of the cost of America’s international highway system’s initial construction.
    about 10% of Manhattan Island’s estimated real estate value.

    so from a certain point of view, it’s really not that much money.

    If, say, the Church was ever called upon to, say, rapidly expand the Church’s presence following a major change of government in China or Indonesia, or to build and defend a decent highway system in Africa, or invade Madagascar, or take possession of the Knights of Malta, or establish a temple on Mars, 100 billion dollars could disappear in about a year’s time.

    It’s also roughly the amount of money required to pay the household moving costs if all 16 million members of the church ever needed to relocate somewhere, simultaneously. using the average american interstate moving cost for each member.

    Quite frankly, if I were responsible for contingency financial planning on behalf of God’s Army, I’d want a nest egg of at LEAST 2 trillion dollars.

    I wonder what it would cost for the Church to establish it’s own currency?