Practicing What We Preach: Ministering Charity Globally

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Today’s Guest Post comes from Dr. Warner Woodworth. He is a Global Social Entrepreneur and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Management at the Marriott School of Business, Brigham Young University where he designed and taught the first U.S. courses in Microcredit and Social Entrepreneurship.

Did you enjoy General Conference in October? Reflecting back today, I feel more strongly than ever that Conference was a blessing to me, and I hope my friends within and beyond the LDS Church had similar experiences.

In the weeks before and since Conference I’ve labored among the poor, refugees and the disenfranchised in the Middle East, Croatia, upstate New York, Romania, Native American reservations, and just returned two days ago from Indonesia. Abundant conference themes that stood out to me included an emphasis on faith, hope and charity. I especially was inspired by President Russell M. Nelson’s Sunday talk in the morning session as he emphasized our mission as Latter-day Saints to serve the poor and reduce human suffering. [Read more…]

Options for Financial Transparency

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In today’s Deseret News, Boyd and Chapman then acknowledge:

Of course, it’s fair game to question whether the reserves are adequate or excessive, or whether specific actions with funds are proper, as the Post article and the whistleblower does.  Vast assets require controls and nonprofit reserve investments can be controversial.

I agree wholeheartedly: let’s start asking questions about Church finances.  But first, we need Church financial disclosures. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts About Ensign Peak Advisers and the Church

The Religion Unplugged and Washington Post stories raise (at least) three important questions. I’m going to try to address all three here (though at least one will be really quick), and I suspect that this post will be unsatisfying both to those who want to see the church vindicated and those who want to see it get its comeuppance. And that’s because, contrary to popular perception, the tax law isn’t an area full of clear answers and bright lines. It’s also because many tax issues are fact-dependent, and we lack many of the facts. To the extent that you want more information and analysis, Peggy Fletcher Stack has been doing some great reporting on this.

The three main issues I see are these:

  1. Does the church have $100 billion in securities-type investments?
  2. Should the church have $100 billion in securities-type investments?
  3. Does the $100 billion in investments violate the tax law?

Now, I have absolutely no answer to number 1. I’m slightly skeptical, just because growing $12 billion in 1997 to $100 billion today (with two significant market downturns happening in those 22 years) strikes me as requiring some pretty aggressive assumptions. On the other hand, it’s at least plausible. And notably, the church has the ability to tell us how much it’s worth. To the extent it chooses not to do so, assertions like this will continue to find traction. Since the ball’s in the church’s court here, and since I have neither knowledge of nor the ability to find out the net asset value of the church’s investments on my own, for purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that he’s right, and that the church has $100 billion invested in Ensign Peak Advisers.

[Read more…]

The Spirit of Zakat, Tithing, and Christmas

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One summer afternoon a few years ago, a good Muslim friend and I caught up over ice cream. His family had just spent a year in the Middle East on a medicine fellowship, but now were back in the Midwest.

“How was Saudi Arabia?” I asked. “Were you able to visit Mecca?”

“Yes, and it was incredible,” my friend responded. “It was so inspiring to hear the call to prayer five times a day, to be a part of a community of fellow believers, to experience the majestic mosques steeped in history. But it was also disappointing.” [Read more…]

Where Can I Turn for Peace?

Christian Harrison is a longtime friend of the blog (see his recent post here) and an active gay Mormon. He gave this talk in his ward this morning.

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Good morning, brothers and sisters.

Before I dive into the meat of my comments, I’d like to ask you to do something with me. I’d like for you to close your eyes for just a moment and to keep them closed until I ask you to open them…

Please close them now.

With your eyes now closed, I’d like for you to imagine that you’re at the ballet… you have the best seats in the house… the lights dim… and a small troupe of dancers come on stage. They’re strong and graceful. They take their places as the orchestra cues up, and they begin to dance…

[ Hum one verse of “Where Can I Turn for Peace” ]

The music ends, and the dancers exit the stage. [Read more…]

Zina D. H. Young

Along with her close friend (and sister wife twice over) Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young was part of the power duo of Mormon women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Popular wisdom held that Eliza was the head and Zina the heart, complementing each other as they traveled indefatigably around Utah (and beyond) to do the work of the Relief Society. (Picture two women in their late 50s, traveling alone through the deserts of Utah, camping together under the stars when they didn’t manage to reach a settlement.) [Read more…]

Walking in Love with the Gospel Topics Essays

Here at BCC, amidst the recent interest in Joseph Smith’s seerstone (here, here, and here), we’ve also been revisiting the Gospel Topics essays (here and here). Collectively, the Church’s decision to publish pictures of the seerstone (and let’s not forget that the pictures appear in a landmark edition of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon) and the publication of the essays all participate in an institutional trend toward transparency about the Church’s history. Although I personally applaud this trend, it admittedly also adds some complications to the already challenging project of building Zion.

The basic problem is that some members have known about most of this stuff for years, while it comes as a sometimes unpleasant surprise to others, some of whom have been taught that ideas now given the imprimatur of lds.org were anti-Mormon lies. This reality presents the urgent question of how these two groups of members (and all of the people in between) are to live together in Christian community. Sam has recently written about one approach to teaching these materials in a Church setting, and I wish to add some theological reflections to his pragmatic discussion.
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On Oxfam and Your Taxes

OUS_Logo_h_greenAs Ronan mentioned a couple weeks ago, in 2015, BCC is going to encourage our readers to donate to Oxfam America to aid in its efforts to relieve poverty. Lest our altruism be imperfect, though, I wanted to mention that donating to charitable institutions doesn’t require pure altruism; that is, the warm glow of giving may not be the only benefit you receive from your donation. You may (at least, assuming you’re a U.S. taxpayer) also be able to reduce your taxes. [Read more…]

Gratitude & Selfish Altruism

Poverty creates a cycle of low self-esteem that is tough to break.

Why do we give?  Is our altruism ever purely unselfish or do we give in part because we hope to gain something? In the wake of Thanksgiving, my son was assigned a talk on gratitude in which he talked about some of our family experiences, and it reminded me of a post I did a while back.

Eighteen months ago, we had an opportunity to join a house building in a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  My husband was working as treasurer for a Cambodian women’s charity, the Tabitha Foundation, that provides jobs to women who would otherwise not be able to support themselves or their children.  In addition to providing jobs for these women, the foundation was also breaking ground to build a women’s hospital.

[Read more…]