MormonLeaks’ recent discovery of what looks like LDS Church-owned firms bearing stock-market investments valued at more than $32 billion is cause for renewed calls for financial transparency. Use of secret companies and reliance on a few lines from an accounting firm at General Conference are not good enough.
Recently in my ward’s sacrament meeting, a speaker claimed that tithing is also used to relieve global poverty and hunger. No one corrected her, even though the church’s own website doesn’t say that. Leaders’ denial of financial information fosters misperceptions, leaving members to blindly trust a huge bureaucracy to manage what they devote to God.
Members pay tithing to “store up treasure in heaven.” The church invests tens of billions of dollars of heaven’s treasure in major industries such as oil (like Exxon with a devastating environmental record), banking (firms at front of a global economic system of gross inequality), pharmaceuticals (lucrative companies that make themselves the true beneficiaries of broken health systems often denying adequate care to those who suffer most), and even major arms dealers (that sell all methods of mayhem including fighter jets, bombers and missiles).
Jesus taught that peacemakers will inherit the Earth. Would the Prince of Peace hide links to companies that invest consecrated funds for weapons of mass destruction that militaristic governments use to kill people while he simultaneously preached the end times? The church apparently does.
Some members therefore wrongly assume identity between the institutional church and almighty God. Jesus forsook the world and its riches by living by the word of God — by faith. He taught to give riches to the poor as a path to perfection, which he emulated by owning nothing.
The modern church is rich. The Book of Mormon teaches that with wealth comes a tendency toward pride and corruption. In the last days, churches “have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted. … They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing. … They have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ” (2 Nephi 28:13-14).
Yes, a global institution requires a large operating budget. Yes, if we give full benefit of doubt to those in power, the vast wealth of the church sustains and builds the Kingdom of God. Wealth is preserved to serve God’s purposes, yet to unfold. I hope so.
If so, why not allow light to shine on how the church spends and invests all consecrated funds and runs all its business interests? Otherwise, members who sacrifice adequate food and basic family needs to pay tithing to the church may not realize that the church hands a portion not to those in greatest need, but to mega-companies that serve mammon: a love of money, “the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
If so, why not allow light to shine on untold millions spent for political battles, as against U.S. marriage equality that the church ultimately lost?
When will church members finally be “ready” for the celestial law of consecration when the church is so flush with tithing?
Churches and individuals alike will answer to God as stewards, including with respect to our offerings. The church owes transparent accounting to enable members’ assessment of its institutional worthiness as a true agent of God’s funds. The church should rise to its profession of being the Kingdom of God: separate and holy from the current world of inequality and plunder so at odds with the prophet Joseph’s vision of Zion.
Samuel Wolfe is a writer and attorney living in Mexico City.