Andrew L. Seidel: In LDS Church scandal, spare a thought for the victims

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are introduced Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, before giving individualized insights into plans for extensive temple renovations set to close the temple Dec. 29, 2019, through 2024.

The bombshell Washington Post report on the greedy, predatory nature of Mormon church’s financial dealings clarifies the need of everyday Mormons to refuse to tithe to the church anymore.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has $100 billion reserves. It doesn’t need your tithes.

The Post report highlights an IRS whistleblower complaint made by an employee of the LDS Church’s investment firm. The claims in the whistleblower complaint are, if accurate, sobering.

Every year, the LDS Church demands and accepts $7 billion from the faithful. It spends most of that, but still has $1 billion left over every year. The church funnels that sizeable surplus into its investment firm, called Ensign Peak Advisors. In just over 20 years, Ensign amassed $100 billion.

Pause to fully comprehend that number and exactly what the church was doing. Like a greedy dragon perched atop a mountain of shiny gold, the church hoards its wealth. But worse, it demands more.

While hardworking men and women are struggling to support families, while wages are stagnant, while a tax cut enriched the wealthy but did little for most Americans, the LDS Church sits on an incomprehensible sum and continues to demand that every Mormon donate more.

As an atheist, it’s easy to be flippant. Memes abound, “I saved 10 percent by switching to atheism.” Instead, I feel for the victims. I empathize with everyday Mormons trying to make ends meet and honor what they are told, repeatedly, is their religious duty.

Mormons are told to donate under threat, not just of excommunication, but also of eternal torture and torment. Tithing may seem to many like willingly relinquished donations, but it’s more like spiritual coercion. In any other context we’d call it what it is: extortion. Donate this much or go to hell.

Of course, devout Mormons are not the only victims. This money was diverted from charity away from helping those in need. And every taxpayer in the state and nation paid more in taxes because this company paid none.

This insatiable lust and greed is immoral. The LDS Church could refuse all tithes this year and still cover its annual operating costs without noticing the dip. It could then give $3,000 to every single Mormon on earth — there are 15 million — and still have about $50 billion left. The church could do all of that and donate $10 million to every single one of Utah’s public schools and it would still have a $38 billion cache to bathe in like Scrooge McDuck. And that’s just the math for the LDS assets held by Ensign Peak Advisors.

Shame on the LDS Church. Shame the church and pity the churchgoer. Mormons are among the victims here. They will continue to be victims as long as they stand for this abuse.

Mormons must stand up to this unconscionable greed. Every Mormon should resist the tithing demands of the church, every Mormon should say “no” to spiritual blackmail.

The church does not need any more money, it wants more money. Not for good works or for God’s work, but to hoard. Why? According to the whistleblower complaint, “Ensign’s president, Roger Clarke, has told others that the amassed funds would be used in the event of the second coming of Christ.”

A Christian church ought to know better. For as Jesus is reputed to have said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Andrew L. Seidel

Andrew L. Seidel, Madison, Wis., is an attorney, author and director of strategic response of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.