It looks like the LDS Church has once again found itself embroiled in a controversy over its finances. As many already know, James Huntsman -- of the megabuck Huntsman family -- has thrust himself into the limelight by becoming the wealthiest “tithing protester” in church history. Specifically, he is suing the church for what he believes is a fraudulent diversion of his millions in tithing payments into business bailouts and various other investments ventures.
He basically wants this money returned so that he can direct it towards its intended purpose. By implication, he is including all those LDS tithe payers who expect their tithes to go to purely ecclesiastical/charitable causes.
Whether or not Huntsman’s lawsuit succeeds is up to the courts. But every time the LDS Church becomes involved in financial controversy, religious academics marvel at how a small restorationist phenomenon in the 1830s blossomed into the financial colossus that is today’s LDS Church.
Nevertheless, many academics have also concluded that the glue that holds the whole Mormon enterprise together was Joseph Smith’s ingenious merger of multilevel marketing with the promise of multilevel glory in the afterlife.
For nearly two centuries tithing has played a crucial role in this process while lining the coffers of the LDS Church.
In the Middle Ages, a somewhat similar method of buying one’s way into heaven -- or at least out of hell -- was practiced by Catholics in what was known as “the paying of indulgences.”
The LDS Church has simply taken things to new levels.
Thomas R. Smith, Hurricane