Gregory Wilder: Could the LDS Church single-handedly solve world hunger?

Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor.

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) In this Oct. 5, 2019, photo, The Salt Lake Temple stands at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

In Brazil, the impoverished build their home one cinder block at a time. Saving enough money to build a single additional room often takes years. During the lengthy construction, families live in any room that is “completed,” meaning it has walls and a tin roof.

In 2004, I was a 20 year-old missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Fernando, Ana and their three daughters were learning about the church in the only room in their home. Fernando and Ana had been saving to buy additional cinder blocks for a wall for a second room, which would eventually be their kitchen.

For the past twenty minutes, I had been sitting on their bed as they sat on the dirt floor. This family listened intently as I taught them one of the last lessons required before they could be baptized.

I looked up and recited what I had been told my entire life “If you pay your tithing, God will open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing.” The family was soon baptized into the church. Paying tithing meant that completing a second room to their meager home would take additional years as their payment of 10 percent of their earnings was an extreme sacrifice for this impoverished family.

In LDS culture, church members are told that their financial sacrifices to pay tithing are sacred. It is often explained that they are living examples of the biblical widow who gave her last mite to the church. These sacrifices are deemed to be sacred by the church.

Recently, the vast difference in wealth that exists between the wealthiest and the poorest has taken the forefront of discussion on social media.

Memes decrying excessive wealth have become ever-present. One common meme states that “Elon Musk could single-handedly solve world hunger, but chooses not to.” Indeed, this argument reignited at the recent G-20 Summit when Elon Musk sparred over Twitter with leaders who said that minimal help from billionaires could solve world hunger.

In 2019, it came to light that the church had amassed over $100 billion in stocks. These holdings exclude significant real estate, cattle and farm holdings that the church owns.

This discovery was jarring to many church members who believe that Jesus Christ, himself, gave instructions to a faithful, but wealthy follower to sell all of his belongings and to give the proceeds to the poor. When the follower left saddened, Jesus said it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it was for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The church’s vast accumulation of wealth goes directly against Jesus’s teachings of caring for the poor and raises a question regarding the propriety of requiring its poorest members to choose tithing over necessities and then allegedly using the funds to buy stocks.

Although the memes about Musk ending world hunger are often done in hyperbole, I do believe it would be worthwhile posing the same hypothetical question of the church: could the church single-handedly solve world hunger?

It is estimated that 3.1 million children die of hunger each year. These deaths are preventable.

Few people and organizations have ever been in as strong of a position to solve world hunger as the church is. By some estimates, the church owns one million acres of farmland. This farmland could uniquely be used to feed millions of the world’s starving.

Additionally, the church already has worldwide ties to most communities and methods of distribution of food to the needy. It also has vast worldwide infrastructure and real estate holdings.

Some experts estimate that the cost to solve world hunger is between $7 billion and $265 billion dollars per year. If the lowest estimate is correct, world hunger could be solved entirely by using only the interest on the church’s investments.

Even if the church were to put just one tenth of its interest toward solving world hunger, it could potentially make a significant dent in helping feed the poorest in the world and literally save millions of lives.

Could the church single-handedly solve world hunger? As a well-equipped charitable organization, it should try.

Gregory Wilder

Gregory John Wilder II, Provo, is an attorney with a degree in history from Brigham Young University and a law degree from Texas Wesleyan School of Law.