A Rainy Day Parable

Like many of you, I’ve been dismayed by the SEC scandal and trying to grapple with the fallout. [1] What does it say about our leaders? Why can’t we have a better accounting of our donations? Should I be a better steward of my donations and send them elsewhere? These are the types of questions I have when I consider this situation as a businessperson.

But as a Christian studying the New Testament, I can’t help but consider several of the parables as potentially illustrative. The first parable that came to mind when the huge quantity of money at Ensign Peak came to light was the parable of the talents. Talents are, as I hope we all know, units of money, not personal skills. It’s a parable about stewardship. In the parable, the Lord has given different quantities of money to his servants before he leaves on a trip: one receives 5 talents, another 2 talents, and the last one receives 1 talent. While their master is gone, the first two servants, knowing their master likes to make money from his money, invest their money and return double the value to their Lord. The third servant, whom the master wisely gave the least amount to, was afraid of the risk and hid the money, returning just the same amount back to the master. He was punished severely (outer darkness!) for being an unwise steward. The two who took risks and doubled their money by investing it were rewarded.

There have been many interesting essays on this parable and its lessons. As a business leader, I often think of it in terms of employee contribution. If your contribution to the company is only equal to (or worse, less than) what you are paid, your job should be eliminated. If you contribute more, you should be praised and promoted in accordance.

Another reason to see this as a parallel for the Church’s amassing of wealth is that at a certain level of wealth, the interest on your wealth will continue to increase exponentially, creating substantial returns. This view of the Church’s “rainy day fund” paints Church leaders in a very positive light, the wise stewards who made a fortune out of a smaller pool of donations. This interpretation is reminscent of those in the GOP who extol leaders who paid minimal taxes, claiming that makes you smart. Mitt Romney has also accurately said that he only pays the taxes he is required by law to pay, even if those tax codes are unfair or regressive (and as a legislator he’s in a position to change them).

The Lord in the parable is kind of problematic. He is described as reaping where he doesn’t sow, and “an hard man.” He isn’t merciful or even necessarily just. He is portrayed as only caring about the return on his investment, not developing his employees, not building something beneficial for a community, not his family or people at all. It’s all about the Benajmins.

Seeing this parable as a parallel for the SEC incident requires a very literalistic interpretation of the parable. Alternate interpretations of the parable include considering it as a diatribe against the scribes for hoarding access to the scriptures, keeping the word of God out of the hands of the masses. In this interpretation, the scribes were not “investing” the word of God (talents) into the community of believers, instead maintaining their own power and control over them.

In another interpretation that is potentially salient, William Herzog sees a liberation theology lesson. The absentee landlord is exposed by the third servant who acts as a whistle-blower, revealing that the master has been exploiting others. The third servant is punished for being a sole whistle-blower, not for failing to make a profit. It is his criticism of the absentee landlord that has brought punishment, his failure to get in line. In order to confront social, political, and economic injustice, one must band together with others against the unjust system, not attack as an individual without sufficient power. In systems of accumulated advantage, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The SEC scandal adds a new component to this search for a salient parable, though. Now we are confronted with the fact that the Church’s company acted in deliberate deception to avoid disclosure of the amount of money so that church members would not stop paying tithing. Assuming generously that Church leaders wanted members to continue to pay tithing as a spiritual principle, for the salvation of their souls (rather than the enrichment of church coffers), the problem still remains that individual members who do not pay tithing are barred from the temple, and the Church is the arbiter of worthiness. One of the most frequent complaints I’ve heard since this information came to light is that the Church expects strict honesty and integrity from its members (or it applies social and salvational consequences), but it does not exhibit these same characteristics, and has declared the matter closed without further discussion.

Any way you slice it, tithing (like all flat taxes) is a regressive tax. If you are wealthy, tithing is less of a burden because you have excess resources. If you are poor, you can find yourself in a bind between paying the mortgage, buying groceries, and paying tithing. This is why we use another story to illustrate the importance of paying tithing in faith that all will work out according to your righteousness. In the story, the prophet Elijah visits the widow of Zarephath and asks her for bread. She uses her last bit of flour and oil to bake for him; in return, he blesses her that her stores of oil and flour will never diminish.

This is one reason that D&C 119’s explanation that tithing should be paid on one’s “increase” or “interest” sounds more like social justice: if you have no increase (excess above your needs), you have nothing to pay on. But that isn’t how we talk about tithing in the Church anymore. We expect members to pay on their “income” whether it be defined as net income or gross income. This makes it regressive.

The next parable that this tension between a Church that demands integrity while using shell corporations to flout SEC regulations (resulting in wrist-slapping fines, one pointedly requiring the Church itself to pay) brings to mind is the parable of the unforgiving debtor. In this parable, a man owed the king ten thousand talents. He begged for mercy, and the king was moved by compassion and agreed to cancel the debt outright. Then the man went to a fellow servant who owed him a hudred denarii (a talent was 6,000 denarii, so this debt was literally nothing compared to the one for which he was forgiven), and when his fellow servant begged for mercy, he had him thrown into debtor’s prison.

Jesus often spoke in parables like these, not because they offered clearcut black and white answers to problems, but because they pointed out the complexities of human behavior and sparked discussions and self-reflection about human interactions. The parables are equally good at providing a critique of individuals, leaders, and systems. The path of the disciple is always to ask “Lord, is it I?”

  • Do these parables speak to your experience as you think through these events?
  • Are there other parables you find more relevant?


[1] In fairness, I am more dismayed by the Church’s financial and leadership support for anti-LGBT hate groups which haven’t violated the law, but definitely violate my own principles.


  1. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I like these multiple possibilities for interpretation of this parable, Angela, as well as possible implications for this latest Church ‘scandal’. There are a lot of ways to interpret the parables Christ used to teach. Maybe there is no right way, but the wrong way is to take any of them literally (otherwise, they wouldn’t be called parables). The parable of the talents isn’t about money (or talent), just as the parable of the ten virgins isn’t about oil.
    (but I look forward to reading the many comments that will attempt to take this parable as literally as possible).

  2. These are interesting thoughts. The parable that comes most to mind for me is in Luke 12:

    And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

    Opening 13 different clone accounts because the first one got too big sounds like building bigger barns. Being confident that the savings will last many years sounds like folks calling the church’s investments a rainy day fund. And failing to be rich toward God sounds like focusing on building the balance sheet rather than spending to help the poor. It’s almost too on the nose.

  3. adano: Thank you for enriching my store of parables. I wasn’t thinking of that one!

  4. I wish this interesting post could have been written in a way that didn’t feel so slanted. Points can be made without hyperbole and unfounded assumptions. Saying things like, “Now we are confronted with the fact that the Church’s company acted in deliberate deception to avoid disclosure of the amount of money so that church members would not stop paying tithing.” That is actually not a fact and it reduces the credibility of the overall argument. Also, tithing is not a regressive tax. You should probably Google the definition on that one.

  5. Firefox, that factual statement based on statements by both the SEC order and the quote by Roger Clarke. Your comment, therefore, would have more weight if it relied on research and not claimed improper use of hyperbole and unfounded assumptions in an instance where none occurred.

  6. Brian,
    If the payroll processor puts your paycheck into an envelope with the total amount paid obscured, is it deceptive or maintaining privacy? You know what you are paid. The payroll processor knows what you are paid. other people looking at the envelope will have no idea.

    What the church did is closer to this, to a degree. The SEC knew what each of the LLCs had. The church and EPA knew. But the SEC, at least up until some point, might not have known that the church and EPA directed all of those LLCs and they weren’t separate business interests in their own right. So the SEC told the church to cut it out and the church immediately complied.

    The goal was privacy. Now, it can be argued that the public has a right to know and to snoop around and know what every organization has for variety of reasons. And it can be argued that the church didn’t want others to know for a variety of reasons (not just tithing related).

    It is interesting the SEC used the word deception, as that sounds like an accusation that the church leadership acted fraudulently where there was some injured party. It would obviously be extreme, but piercing the corporate veil and holding the actual owner(s) financial liable is a remedy for true fraud and deceptive practices conducted by an owner hiding behind an LLC. In theory, that could apply to the individual LLC shell corporations and the Church itself. Settling sounds like a good alternative to that (if it was the slightest possibility)

  7. Sute, this has been argued quite a bit and I believe you have read and commented on the Sam Brunson’s OP linked to in this OP. I will not rehash the many arguments here that have been adequately addressed over there. This is just to say that the the sentence in this OP, “Now we are confronted with the fact that the Church’s company acted in deliberate deception to avoid disclosure of the amount of money so that church members would not stop paying tithing,” is entirely accurate. You are welcome to question the validity of it, but that the facts and situation are there for everyone to see. Attempts to pretend the situation is otherwise are pointless. The SEC order is out there and speaks for itself. The Roger Clarke quote is out and speaks for itself.

    This thread is about parables relevant to the situation. And it’s a great OP at that. Let’s not highjack it. The other thread is still open to comments.

  8. Unregistered says:

    Everyone need to read the settlement the church negotiated with the Sec before commenting. There are a lot of assumptions on this thread.

    “ 3 Facts Ensign Peak’s Form 13F Filing Requirement 3. The Church created Ensign Peak in 1997 as an integrated auxiliary of the Church to manage the Church9s investment securities. Ensign Peak has no shareholders or members. The securities portfolio managed by Ensign Peak consists of what the Church calls <reserve funds= or <reserves,= which include U.S. equity and debt securities purchased with excess tithing, income and returns generated by Ensign Peak, and the assets of other Church integrated auxiliaries. Ensign Peak does not charge the Church management fees. 4. Section 13(f) of the Exchange Act and Rule 13f-1 thereunder require that institutional investment managers file Forms 13F with the Commission on a quarterly basis if they exercise investment discretion over at least $100 million in securities that are traded on a national securities exchange or on the automated quotation system of a registered securities association (<Section 13(f) Securities=). Pursuant to Rule 13f-1(b), an investment manager is deemed to exercise discretion over all accounts for which any person or entity under the control of the investment manager exercises investment discretion. Form 13F requires such institutional investment managers, among other things, to disclose to the Commission the fair market value of its Section 13(f) Securities under management. Forms 13F filed with the Commission are available to the public for review. 5. Throughout its history, the securities portfolio Ensign Peak managed for the Church contained a wide range of equity and fixed income assets. At its inception, Ensign Peak managed approximately $7 billion of Church assets, a significant percentage of which consisted of Section 13(f) Securities. The portion of Section 13(f) Securities in the portfolio grew to approximately $37.8 billion by 2020. 6. Throughout its history, Ensign Peak was required to file Forms 13F identifying and providing certain information about the Section 13(f) Securities that it managed for the Church. Formation of the Form 13F Filing Entities 7. By at least 1998, senior management at Ensign Peak was aware of Ensign Peak9s requirement to file Forms 13F and communicated this requirement to senior leadership of the Church. 8. To prevent disclosure of the securities portfolio managed by Ensign Peak, the Church approved Ensign Peak9s plan of using other entities, instead of Ensign Peak, to file Forms 13F. The Church was concerned that disclosure of the assets in the name of Ensign Peak, a known Church affiliate, would lead to negative consequences in light of the size of the Church9s portfolio. Ensign Peak did not have the authority to implement this approach without the approval of the the Church9s First Presidency ……”

  9. Lazarus and the Rich Man, Luke 16:19-31. The LDS Church is the rich man. Lazarus represents all the poor people who could have been helped by the money.

    There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” “No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

  10. The parable of the mustard seed. The smallest of seeds grows into the largest of herbs.

    A farm boy emerges from the woods and [re]establishes a kingdom that will eventually fill the entire earth.

    The kingdom must prosper temporally as well as spiritually in order to grow in strength and beauty and fulfill its ultimate destiny.

  11. Firefox – tithing is a flat tax, which, while not regressive in rate, is regressive in proportion of income (do some googling or read basic economics on the subject). Someone who pays $100K of tithing on $1mm in income will not have to reduce their grocery bill, put off fixing the car, or lower their college fund. Tithing simply reduces the amount they pass down to their heirs. Someone who pays $4K of tithing on $40K of income will most definitely have to reduce their basic needs.

    Jack – how much does the church have to prosper temporally to grow in strength and fulfill its destiny? It’s at a point where it is no longer using tithing funds for those objectives – they’re simply going into an investment fund. And more importantly, do the ends you cite justify the means? Seems that the church is like many “worldly” organizations in that regard, which sort of takes away from the divine mission aspect.

  12. The fact that people with differing perspectives can use the same parables to support their own agendas is perhaps a demonstration of why parables might not be the best teaching tool. When Jesus explained what he meant, they became useful analogies. Without an explanation, they’re too vague to take a definitive position on anything or teach us concrete principles.

    By contrast, Jesus was being pretty straightforward when he said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” and “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor” and “ Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

  13. The Church used the parable of the talents to justify its wealth when the news of the 100B broke. That struck me as a total misapplication of the parable.

    In my view, the Church is the one burying its “talents”. It’s scared to spend money so it’s holding onto it (albeit in productive investments) rather than making use of it to bless the world and fulfill its stated missions / purpose.

    But you’re right that I guess this is better than spending billions instead of just millions fighting against LGBTQ rights in the US and abroad.

  14. Bryce,
    If the church stopped collecting tithing for a few years, the fund would be gutted. Then what?

    Tell members not to pay if they don’t feel they can? Fair enough, but that will become a terrible standard to follow.

    Progressively tithe based on income? Really? So for the church to be better we need to follow the pattern of tax and spend governments around the world that are all spending themselves into massive debt.

    It seems the tithing program is one of the most effective programs in the church, and perhaps they must effective financial program in the world. And it’s under attack to be more like the rest of the world.

    Isn’t it obvious why the church wanted privacy because know it alls who have run nothing of this scale and significance suddenly know just how it should be done and argue about it all day long.

    It’s one thing to criticize a legal tactic that seemed doomed to fail (let’s just keep adding llcs and dividing up the portfolio every 18 months). It’s another to criticize tithing and saving and investing in the first place when it’s working so well.

    We may suck at minstering, reading scriptures, or even sitting in church without staring at our phones as a people. But I’m amazed at how well we do tithing. We don’t need the armchair bloggers and commenters to change that.

  15. Sute – The fund would not be gutted if members stopped paying. The church has well over $100B in financial and real estate investments. Assuming a conservative return of only, say, 8% yields annual income of $8B. The church’s annual expenses are approximately $6B. So the fund is essentially a self-sustaining endowment fund in which the principal isn’t spent and is in fact still growing even without member contributions.

    Who said anything about a progressive tithing structure? While a flat 10% is certainly regressive, no one in the comments has proposed a progressive marginal rate based on income. A simpler way is simply to tell members to pay on their increase or surplus and let them make that determination for themselves.

    You’ve really turned the point of the OP around from – the church clearly did a dishonest thing with respect to its financial disclosures, to – tithing works so well and the church is so financially successful, why should we criticize it (i.e., the ends justify the means). Not a good argument for a church that should take the moral high ground.

  16. How about the story of woman who washed Jesus’s feet and anointed Him? We have Jesus with us now via the church. It was the traitorous disciple Judas Iscariot who suggested that the goods be sold and given to the poor, instead of being used for Jesus. People who suggest donating their money to another cause instead of paying tithing are like Judas Iscariot.

  17. Bryce: I’m literally an economics professor. Tithing (and flat taxes in general) go against the definition of a regressive (or progressive tax). You can definitely talk about “regressive as a proportion to income” or something, but calling tithing a regressive tax is just wrong. That is not the definition of a regressive tax. Sheesh.

  18. Firefox – you’re an economics professor and you don’t understand how a flat tax is regressive? Hmmm. Also, regardless of the definition that you’re hung up on, you can’t argue with my example of how a flat 10% has a far larger impact on the person earning $40K than the person earning $1mm (hint: it’s regressive).

  19. @jader3rd: Wow. The contempt. I absolutely support every member of our church to spend their money to the best of their ability, including those that choose to tithe. We need to start celebrating people as they are. It’s interesting to see such defense over someone living their life different than you. My reaction to the name-calling is quite visceral as I would hope we could expect more from each other.

    @Firefox: I see your economics professorship-ship and I’ll one-up you as a corporate tax CPA. A flat tax is a regressive tax. Both wikipedia and dictionary.com agree. I’ll avoid links to stay clear of the spam filter but I trust you can look for yourself.

    I’ve thought a lot about this post since I read it yesterday, so thank you Angela. It’s been an extremely important thought experiment and I’m truly left seeing both sides of the argument based on the parables found in the NT. The conclusion I have come to for myself is similar to Kirkstall that Christ’s actual words to people are more difficult to misunderstand than a parable. When Christ tells the rich man to sell all and give it to the poor (note he didn’t tell this gentleman to give it to Him or to the church Christ never founded), I find it easier to take that literally.

    I’ve calmed down quite a bit since I first read the SEC order. I just want to be part of a faith-based community that is willing to live with the nuance and truly respect and love everyone, including those that don’t wear white shirts to church, or don’t take the sacrament with their right hand, or may have a second set of ear piercings, or have chosen a different path regarding how to use their time and resources. Based on these comments, that church is not the church I was raised in. I find that very depressing. If lifelong members are not welcome, how can visitors stand a chance?

  20. J. Mansfield says:

    For a commanded religious offering that actually was regressive, see Exodus Chapter 30:
    “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls.”

  21. Going back to my question at the end, considering “Lord, is it I?” how would each of us have responded if we were the employee instructed to sign off on the 13F without actually having the information we were attesting we had? Would we have signed off or resigned from our position (and been hastily and easily replaced by the next person asked who willingly signed off)? Is it right to trust the organization more than you care about following the law and being honest? Or is it right to put your own family’s financial situation in jeopardy rather than do something dishonest that your employer requires?

    I’m not sure if they received some kind of payoff, but if not, they are probably owed something for their loss of job. But I can also empathize with those who did sign off, knowing their attestation was false. I can even empathize, to a lesser degree, with those who thought the LLC scheme was a good idea. As I’ve said elsewhere, if they had simply given each LLC its own mandate (e.g. build housing for the homeless, or upgrade existing church structures, or create service missions in new countries, or provide healthcare services) and made them truly independent, this wouldn’t have been against the law. Other churches do things like that. Since correlation, we don’t seem to be capable of diversifying control and decision-making in any meaningful way.

  22. Grizzerbear55 says:

    Personally, as a lifetime member of the Church, I’m becoming increasingly disgusted by a presumed “Church of Christ” managing an investment and real estate portfolio of over $100 billion dollars. This, plus the behavior and choices of leadership over following the law – have pretty much destroyed any trust I had remaining that “our” resources are being used as Christ would. This is not good.

  23. My first encounter with the church deliberately being dishonest was during my mission, two missionaries got in a car accident and it was their fault. They were ‘ghost-riding’ which involves driving on the freeway at an incredibly high speed, then putting the car into neutral and turning the engine off to then coast for quite a ways. The objective was to travel without the odometer counting the miles traveled while the vehicle was turned off. They really wanted to drive to another zone to play dodgeball on p-day, but didn’t want to go over their monthly miles allotment.

    This got them in an accident, because when you turn the car off, the power steering turns off too. So when someone merged into their lane ahead of them they were unable to brake or swerve out of the way in time, and thus ended up in quite a serious crash, both missionaries ended up in the hospital, the airbags did not deploy because the car was turned off.

    In the hospital they confessed to the mission president what they had done, later a church lawyer called them and told them to NOT tell the police that the car was turned off, and to NOT tell them what they had been doing.

    The driver of the other vehicle, a black woman, was furious about the accident and argued that the missionaries were at fault. The missionaries did as they were told and lied to the police. I don’t recall if culpability was officially assigned to the woman, or if it ended up in some kind of ‘it’s no one’s fault’ thing. But the missionaries, and the church, were able to avoid responsibility.

    As a 20 year old at the time, I was disturbed by what the church’s lawyer did, it definitely ran counter to the various kinds of ‘we believe in being honest, chaste, true…etc.’ sort of statements we have in the Articles of Faith, Temple Recommended interviews, and primary songs.

    Honesty for thee, but not for me

  24. ideasnstuff says:

    I can think of one very good reason why the Church is building a reserve fund of 100 billion and more. It’s not very comfortable to talk about, but it’s a very real possibility. In the coming decades, church growth will take place among the poor in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, while membership is likely to shrink in rich countries, following the general trend seen throughout the Western world. Funds flowing in from a shrinking or stagnant number of well-to-do members in the Mormon corridor, California, and other LDS enclaves will no longer generate the surplus that is now used to meet the needs of the Saints in less prosperous lands. It could take decades for this to happen, but I see the accumulation of these financial resources not as a “rainy day” fund, but as a way of taking a very long look-term look at the needs of Church members, extending to the end of this century and beyond.

  25. ideasnstuff, I’d be more sympathetic to that idea if church leaders weren’t saying that two meals a day are enough for members in Africa. This is from a talk that President Nelson gave in 2019:

    “I will never forget my first visit to West Africa in 1986. The Saints came to our meetings in great numbers. Though they had little in terms of material possessions, most came dressed in spotless white clothing.

    “I asked the stake president how he cared for members who had so little. He replied that their bishops knew their people well. If members could afford two meals a day, no help was needed. But if they could afford only one meal or less—even with family help—bishops provided food, financed from fast offerings.” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/46nelson?lang=eng

    It’s possible he was telling this story to give some perspective to people in the US, but I was a Relief Society President in a small branch in Africa when President Nelson said this and it tracked very well with the attitude of the (American) branch president. It wasn’t until he moved out of the country and a new branch president called that I was finally allowed to start using church funds rather than my own money to make sure that families in the branch had (barely) enough food. Based on what previous Relief Society presidents in that branch told me, it was typical for RS presidents to buy groceries for families since previous branch presidents also didn’t think they could/should use fast offerings for that purpose. I would love to see all this extra money actually used to simply make sure that children all over the world are going to school and eating fruits and vegetables and getting a decent amount of protein without having to rely on cheap sugar calories to get through the day.

    (I will mention that our Area President starting in 2020 would always, always say that no one should be hungry and didn’t discourage making sure people had decent food.)

  26. @ideasnstuff

    I think that’s a reasonable assumption, but it does make me wonder what ‘meeting the needs of the Saints’ actually means, or should mean.

    In wards and branches both inside and outside of the mormon corridor, socioeconomic challenges are a major hurdle to active church participation. I know a lot of low income families, including my own, that feel very burnt out from just getting by, and we often have little energy or desire to do things like ministering or the unpaid labour required by several types of callings.

    At some point, the suits in Utah are going to have to realize and accept that ‘meeting the needs of the Saints’ has a material basis as well spiritual, and building more chapels and temples can only do so much to help with that…

    From my limited perspective, seems like they ought to just get rid of tithing altogether (they certainly don’t need it anymore), OR making a more serious effort in improving the material conditions of the rank and file membership.

  27. “If your contribution to the company is only equal to … what you are paid, your job should be eliminated.”

    In other words, no business does well by compensating their employees for the full value of their labor. They expect you to kick in some extra for free. So it’s a job AND a service opportunity! How heartwarming.

  28. ideasnstuff says:

    Amira and anona37: You both make good points. It is legitimate to ask, “is the Church doing enough now for less affluent members of the Church, both in the United States and around the world?”

    My post was addressing a longer-term question: If active Church membership keeps shrinking in the “rich” world and expanding in the “poor” world, could the time come when there is no longer an annual tithing surplus of a billion or two that can be socked away in investments, but rather a yearly shortfall that requires the Church to draw on those funds, perhaps in a big way? It’s hard to see it now, but it could be looming. By way of example, my semi-affluent Orem neighborhood has seen a declining birth rate and a rising rate of young members leaving or drifting away from the Church, for at least two decades. That could mean a levelling off or reduction in tithing revenues once successful baby boomers retire and die.

    I don’t mean to brush off concerns about the needs of members in the here and now. But could there also be a 100-year issue that Church leadership sees and is preparing for? How to balance the two concerns, present and long-term needs, may be a source of disagreement but it may also be at the very core of the decision to build up a large reserve.

  29. ideasnstuff, do you think it might be possible that the Church’s handling of their money right now (saving it for a rainy day, dishonesty to both government and members), actually diminishes the funds in the long term because it halts so many potential sources of future tithing and offering from contributing? I mean, I’ve seen (and I expect to see) whole families and generations of families who have and (will continue to) stop contributing to the Church as long as this practice continues unchecked. People expect their Church donations to actually do good in the world right now. As well, the potential good the Church could do right now with those funds could very well convince more people to contribute to the funds. I know it would for me. As long as there appears to be no vision in this regard, however, the people (and their potential contributions) will perish.

  30. Stephen Hardy says:

    Several comments here have said something like this:

    The church’s way of raising money through tithing is system that is so good that it has resulted in the “problem” of a surplus. We shouldn’t play games with such a successful and obviously inspired system.

    Now back to me: I believe that our church’s ability to raise money so successfully has stemmed from a wide-spread belief that our church leaders, and the church, raise and use money in an inspired and modest fashion. I have continued to pay my tithing because I have understood that the church has needed money to accomplish its goals and missions. I have paid without regret. It was also easy for me to pay because I perceived little or no abuse of our funds. I have watched with smug satisfaction as pastors of other traditions have used their sacred money to pay for huge homes, expensive cars, ornate houses of worship (I worry about our temples!), fine clothing, and in some cases, jets. I freely paid always knowing that our general authorities are paid a stipend. When it became clear that the stipend was more generous than I had assumed I didn’t really flinch. I still didn’t believe that the stipends were flagrantly excessive and given the kind of people who are typically called as general authorities the stipends were not likely to be the reason that our church leaders accepted their callings. They all likely would have continued to make more money pursuing their private careers.

    I believe that our church starts to get itself on shaky grounds when it appears that the church is purposely misleading the membership, or willfully hiding inconvenient facts. It hurts.

    I am still paying, for now. Our church’s system of fund raising has been successful because of the enormous good will of the members towards church leadership and practices. If the leadership loses that good will, then the whole structure could be at risk. Transparency and honesty are the keys.

  31. Stephen Hardy,

    Keep paying your tithing bro! I think the church has good reasons for trying to keep a low profile with its finances.

    Just a quibble over you worry about the extravagance of our temples:

    If we were to assume that the church has 300 operational temples and 3000 stakes each with 3 meeting houses we get a ratio of 30 conventional meeting houses to 1 temple. (Though in reality there are less operational temples and more stakes–but I’ve simplified the numbers to get a conservative estimate.)

    And so, while I fully understand your concern about the comparative extravagance of our temples–when we consider the rather plain and comely look of the vast majority of the church’s buildings we see that, on the whole, the church is really rather modest in its building program.

  32. Stephen,
    Regarding temples being pretty expensive, I’ve felt the same. If anything, I think the money spent on temples should be like the grounds of the London temple. Plenty of garden space, blackberries (or other fruit) growing. A place where any family would want to come and picnic or read a book, etc. The modern temple designs have beautiful landscaping, but they have that model home/community look-but-don’t-touch feel to them. Even better if our regular church buildings were like that. Maybe someday when we all have quantum teleporters, we’ll turn all the parking lots into English gardens and will be thankful for the inspired leaders to spent so much money on asphalt :)

  33. ideanstuff,

    That could very well be one of the reasons why the church is putting away that kind of money. Imagine if the church were to take off bigtime in India? Or if China were to allow the church to set up shop? Or other places with large poor populations? The church would really have its work cut out for itself in its efforts to draw those folks in and help the becoming self-sufficient–let alone the task of setting up the church and maintaining its operations and whatnot.

    I appreciate your insights.

  34. I realize there are anti-business types, ignorant business types, and just anti-church types here. But it’s been estimated the church has $17 billion in buildings/land according to a recent article I read. To those who are disgusted that the church has a “portfolio” I’m not sure what can be done to placate your concerns. The church needs to meet somewhere, and we have a modern market economy. We might wish it would be nicer if we all lived in an agrarian economy, but then many of you would be dead or starving. So….. hurray for markets, even as they have their downsides.

    Microsoft has $100 billion in cash. Amazon around $60B*. Is that distasteful? They have bills to pay, assets to maintain, equipment, inventories, etc. to buy.

    I think we get into grumpy complainer territory when people start getting upset that the church has assets and cash to manage them. I see the complaint about the church wanting to conceal it’s assets, and I especially see the complaint about the manner in which the church did it. But it’s bizarre to insist that the church should not have a financial component or that it’s finances are excessive simply because the number sounds big.

    *Incidentally, a quick googling shows Amazon has $40B in land/buildings. But those buildings generate sales and revenue. The church’s buildings mostly don’t, although there are some big farm, etc. operations.

  35. Sute, Comparing Amazon and Microsoft to the church, any church, is apples and oranges. But then I suppose Amazon and Microsoft pay their custodians.

  36. ideasnstuff says:

    Brian, those are very reasonable questions. I can’t say for sure how others, in this generation and in future ones, will respond to the Church’s financial management. I can only say how I see it as a tithe-paying member, and I don’t think I’m atypical. I’m disconcerted by the way the Ensign Peak portfolio was handled. I see it as the result of a very poor decision. At the same time, I recognize the right of our Church leaders to make (and correct) errors in judgment, even serious ones. This is certainly not the first time such corrections have been made.

    The policy of building up a large reserve is a separate issue, and nothing about that causes me to be reluctant to tithe. Like you, I expect my donations to do good in the world “right now”, and I believe they do just that by building temples and meetinghouses, by helping many students obtain an education through the Church’s university system and other educational avenues, and by supporting thousands of missionaries who would otherwise not be able to serve. By way of example, my wife’s scholarship to BYU, which is heavily subsidized by tithing dollars, allowed her to help lift her family out of poverty in Central America.

    The Church’s direct charitable efforts are increasing, and I believe they will, and should, increase much more in the future. But if our Church leaders see fit to set aside, say, 20% of tithing revenues in a value-generating fund for future contingencies and needs, I support them fully. My own life reaches back into a period when Church finances were on shaky ground (yeah, I’m an old guy), and there have been times in am more distant past when the Church has teetered on the edge of financial ruin. The assurance that the Church is funding a resource that will enable it to carry out its mission for the foreseeable future, even extending to many decades, makes me more, not less, inclined to tithe.

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