It is interesting to me that as the United States’ debt limit was successfully suspended, another organization is in trouble because it has no debt at all. Why is that a problem?
I speak of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’ve been reading for months about the whistleblower complaint lodged by a former investment manager for the church. When “60 Minutes” did a segment about the situation, I was eager to watch as I knew it would be fair.
The whistleblower, David A. Nielsen, began working for the church’s investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors in 2009, but quit nine years later after becoming disillusioned. He says, “Once the money went in, it didn’t go out. We just grew the bank account.”
As for the money not going out, consider that the church spent over a billion dollars on humanitarian relief in 2022, such aid going to both members and nonmembers. When there is a crisis, the church sends pallets of food, water, clothing — whatever is needed by the affected people.
In addition, the church has increased its building of chapels and temples for its growing membership. Chapels are plain brick buildings with a sanctuary, a recreation hall, classrooms and offices, designed for worship, gospel instruction and social gatherings. Temples are centers of worship a bit more striking in design. I’ve been in Catholic cathedrals, so I know what extravagant looks like, with gold statuary and lavish decorations. Temples are rather simple by comparison yet inspiring of quiet reverence.
To say the money never goes out is not true.
As a member, I have been paying into the church’s coffers for almost 50 years now and have never questioned where the money goes. I have seen for myself how carefully the organization is run and know that the church is not paying salaries to or providing housing for its ministers. It never has and never will provide sports cars or air-conditioned dog houses as we have heard about in other Christian denominations.
Furthermore, the church has taught its members for almost 100 years to save for a rainy day. We’re urged to store food, fuel, household necessities and as much money as we can for future disruptions to our economy. Every day we hear about a flood, earthquake, or some other natural disaster that breaks down the supply chain and puts people at risk of starving or being homeless. The parable of the talents clearly teaches us to be good stewards. To hear that the church has accumulated reserves for the unexpected is totally consistent with what it teaches us.
A recent essay in The Tribune by James Sawyer postulates that the church is saving for the second coming. So what if it is? Most Christian denominations believe that Jesus Christ will return one day and that we should prepare for that return. As for his suggestion that the church is saving up to take over the world — political domination is not in the plan. Is the church preparing to be a part of Christ’s kingdom? Certainly. All Christians should be preparing to be a part of the savior’s millennial reign.
It’s noteworthy that the church was not always wealthy. In the 1800s, it had accumulated oppressive debts. In an 1899 talk, President Lorenzo Snow admonished members to pay their tithing. They did and the church was out of debt by 1907 and has stayed that way. Imagine if our government balanced its income and expenses so there was no need for raising the debt limit every couple of years.
Rather than investigating the church for its accumulation of funds, as Nielsen suggests, perhaps our government should study its operation so it can learn how to live within its means. Rather than condemning the church, perhaps our government should emulate it. Imagine if politicians were as careful with our tax dollars as the church is with tithing dollars. Taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for $248,000 each and the country wouldn’t owe $31 trillion.
I see no problem with the church’s reserves and am grateful to be able to contribute to them. Every home, organization and government should be run so frugally.
David Op’t Hof is a retired educator, a writer, a philosopher and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.