The problem with Businessweek's controversial exploration of Mormon finances is not in the details but in the assumptions it makes about the LDS Church and its money.
At least that's the LDS Church's view as well as several Mormon writers.
Mormonism is not “just another form of prosperity gospel,” says Joanna Brooks at the online magazine, Religion Dispatches.
“The faith has a 170-year-long history of seeking economic self-sufficiency, motivated at first by Mormons’ desire for autonomy from a hostile mainstream and by necessity engendered by their Western isolation,” Brooks writes. “Today, that drive is motivated ... by the need to create an endowment capable of sustaining the global physical infrastructure of Mormonism (temples, churches, universities) even as the bulk of the church’s population shifts to the global south and tithing revenues flatline or even drop.”
Alan Hurst, writing at Patheos, a multi-faith site, argues that writer Caroline Winter not only gets it wrong, she gets it backward.
“Beneath the thin veneer of neutrality — really, she could have quoted at least one scholar who is not currently hawking a book attacking the church for being too much like a corporation — her article quietly suggests that if 'everything is spiritual.' “ Hurst says, “then the church is really about the money, more a holding company than a religion.”
That misses the point.
If Mormons truly believe that “everything is spiritual,” he writes, “even the money shouldn’t be about the money.”
Every resource available to Mormons and their church “must be devoted to preparing individuals and the church community for life with God,” Hurst writes. “It is an impossibly demanding ideal, and I’m sure the church and its members fall far short of it, but conversations about church finances should begin with it and not with the assumption that there is something unseemly about churches that don’t confine themselves to a distinct and separate religious sphere.”
The Businessweek article on the church’s businesses “comes closer than any I’ve read to grasping this point,” he says. “It’s a pity she still falls so far short.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack