Commentary: Members of the LDS Church and other religious groups have the power to force change

Mormons and Catholics have both made a lot of news lately, and, for very different reasons, have faced a backlash from their members.

The official branding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the need to be referred to by its full name is apparently a top priority for leadership; while the lobbying arm of the LDS Church is focused on stopping medical marijuana from becoming legal in Utah, despite overwhelming public support.

At the same time, a recent investigative report revealed roughly 300 sexually abusive Catholic priests in a single state, and a massive cover-up effort to protect said priests from legal prosecution. After more than a decade of uncovering large scale abuse cover-ups, the Catholic Church has ostensibly done nothing to prevent further abuses from happening.

While frustrations continue to rise, it is easy for outsiders to wonder why there are any members left in these institutions. If the leaders are doing so many things wrong, why won’t the people leave? The reasons are many and complicated, but for some, leaving their church will just never be an option. For those who choose to stay, there needs to be a shift in power and accountability.

Anyone who is still in a position to pay tithing or who regularly donates money to a collection plate on Sundays does in fact have the option to withhold that money until there has been satisfactory change in the way abuse is handled at every level. The power of an organization has always been determined by how much wealth that group has accumulated, and how they utilize their funding. The Catholic Church has used millions of dollars from its coffers to pay settlements to abuse victims in lieu of having their dirty laundry aired in courtrooms across the globe. The Mormon church is currently spending an unknown amount of money on an unnecessary PR agenda that will almost certainly fail in its mission. They remain tax exempt as a religious institution, despite using their official platform to influence public policy and individual voting habits, most recently sending an email to voting-eligible members in Utah regarding how to vote on Prop 2 in November.

Bishops and priests may be the gatekeepers of spiritual well-being, but members have the power because they have the money churches need to survive. If there was ever a time to demand a change in accountability, that time is now. Withholding financial donations to churches will not lead to a collapse of services offered. (Their pockets are too deep for that to happen.) It will get the attention of financial decision makers, and send a clear message that donations should never be used to cover for abuses, and should never be used to influence politics. All members should ask their spiritual leaders to also be champions for human and civil rights.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A church that has lost its voice for justice is a church that has lost its relevance in the world." To remain relevant during these trying times, a church must commit itself to doing the most good by helping individuals before itself. A church obsessed with its public image is not helping any individuals. A church obsessed with minimizing its own scandals to maintain its popularity is not helping any individuals. A church with billions of dollars and millions of followers has no excuse for protecting abusers. Full stop.

Tithes are not tax dollars taken from paychecks in good faith that those dollars will fund public roads and services. They are hard-earned and then voluntarily given donations. The collection plate is not mandatory, and generally expects much less than 10 percent of one’s earnings. The amount and source notwithstanding, charitable donations that have been earmarked for religious structures and/or social services should never have the option of being used for political or personal gain, but too often can be found doing just that.

It is time to boycott all tithing and donations. It is time to demand change from religious leadership worldwide. For those who choose to stay in the pews, reclaim this space from contaminated powers that be, and destroy the financial power structure the abusers could rely on. Dismantle the entire system and build anew. Rise from the ashes of the imperfections and create with love.

Also, put women in charge.

Chiemi Maloy

Chiemi Maloy, Salt Lake City, is an activist and a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.