You may have been reading about new questions surrounding the finances and charitable giving of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — specifically up north, in Canada, and Down Under, in Australia.
This story provides a summary of those findings along with reports about the latest membership numbers from those nations:
BYU’s Canadian pipeline
The Utah-based church has funneled more than $1 billion in the past 15 years from Canada to its three Brigham Young University campuses in the U.S.
Most of that tax-free money, according to an investigation by “The Fifth Estate,” came from the tithing of the 200,000 or so members who live in Canada.
In 2010 alone, the church sent almost $103 million across the border to BYU, the news show reported this week, and more than $93 million last year.
No one doubts the church’s right to shuffle this money — under Canadian law — but some question if it’s the right thing to do, because it deprives the Canadian treasury of taxes.
“The church is taking away [the Canadian] government’s ability to fund health care, the ability to fund education, the ability to provide other essential services,” accountant Nigel Kennett, a Latter-day Saint, told “The Fifth Estate,” the CBC’s equivalent of “60 Minutes.” “It’s done little to benefit the people here, and it has done everything … to fill the coffers in Salt Lake.”
The program quoted tax experts who said the money steered to the three BYU campuses — which include small percentages of Canadian students — cost other Canadian taxpayers 16 to 28 cents for every dollar donated. The total hit to the country’s tax wallet could reach $280 million.
A church spokesperson said “the tax provision administered by the Canada Revenue Agency is both legitimate and well-known.”
You can view “The Fifth Estate” program here.
On the up and up Down Under?
This news from up north comes in the wake of similar tax concerns from Down Under, where news outlets raised questions about whether the church has been dodging taxes in Australia by forming a “charitable trust fund” and directing members to send their tithing there.
Australia does not allow tax deductions for church donations, but it does permit generous write-offs for charitable giving.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported this week that the church overstated its charitable contributions by more than $1 billion between 2008 and 2020.
The church has asserted that its global giving — through its humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities — grew by $1.35 billion during that time frame. But an analysis by a partnership of news organizations put that total at $177 million.
“The Mormon church will have you believe that it’s a religion that dabbles in business,” Ryan McKnight, a former Latter-day Saint and co-founder of the now-closed MormonLeaks website, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “But the evidence clearly shows that they are a business dabbling in religion.”
A church spokesperson responded, saying that the faith of 16.8 million members “uses its resources to carry out its divinely appointed mission.”
Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess said “this kind of financial practice looks terrible for the church. It feels covert and deceptive. … It’s unfair to the Australian government, which has been shortchanged millions in taxes. And it’s unfair to those tithe-paying Latter-day Saints Down Under who had a right to assume their tithing was going where it was supposed to.”
What about membership in Australia and Canada
In June, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the percentage of Australian Latter-day Saints who self-identify as members has fallen — from 41% in 2016 to 37% last year.
Well, the same phenomenon may be happening in Canada.
According to that country’s newly released 2021 census, 85,315 Canadians identified as Latter-day Saints, or nearly 43% of the church’s reported membership total of 199,534. A decade ago, that percentage was closer to 57% of the 185,149 then on the faith’s rolls.
Moreover, the latest overall census figure is 20,050 below the 2011 self-affiliated tally of 105,365, says independent demographer Matt Martinich, who tracks church growth at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com.
That 19% drop, he points out, is “one of the most significant percentage declines in the self-affiliation of Latter-day Saints noted on a national census.”
While those numbers suggest a “major” decrease of active members, Martinich points to other statistics that counter such assumptions. For starters, the number of congregations rose from 477 to 499 during that time frame, and the list of stakes increased from 47 to 53.
“The significant decline in census-reported Latter-day Saints indicate[s] that significant congregation consolidations may occur in the foreseeable future,” he added. “However, it is unclear whether the decline in self-affiliated Latter-day Saints was primarily due to larger numbers of less active/inactive Latter-day Saints no longer self-affiliating with the church on the census, active members leaving the church, or a combination of the two.”