Latest from Mormon Land: A simple solution to financial questions dogging the church

Nostalgia for the “I’m a Mormon” ads. Is something missing without them?

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Temples in Montreal, Canada, left, and Sydney, Australia. Financial and tax questions surround the Utah-based faith in both countries.

The Mormon Land newsletter is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Support us on Patreon and get the full newsletter, exclusive access to Tribune subscriber-only religion content and podcast transcripts.

Dollars and sense: Open up the books

He’s said it before and now — in the wake of the latest news stories hounding the church over its money — he’s saying it again:

“This issue would go away,” Sam Brunson, a Latter-day Saint who teaches tax law at Loyola University Chicago, writes in a By Common Consent blog post, “if the worldwide church were transparent about its finances, a thing entirely within its power.”

Trouble is, the Utah-based faith seems “obsessed with being financially opaque,” he states. “It values its financial privacy to a degree that it can be harmful to the public’s perception.”

The church’s secretiveness not only raises questions among the public when these news stories arise but also makes it difficult to judge the accuracy of the news stories themselves.

Brunson points to questions surrounding Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, and a Sydney Morning Herald story accusing the faith of overstating its charitable giving.

“In the church’s 2021 disclosure, it doesn’t mention anything about Latter-day Saint Charities in connection with its giving,” the tax professor notes. “And, frankly, here the opacity gets in my way. I don’t know the purpose of LDS Charities. I don’t know whether the church does the bulk of its humanitarian giving through LDS Charities or if it just uses LDS Charities for particular endeavors. But without knowing whether LDS Charities is the exclusive font of church humanitarian aid or not, its financial statements don’t tell us much. Again, it is clearly possible that the church is overstating its humanitarian aid. Its lack of transparency means that’s something we can’t objectively evaluate.”

The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, releases annual reports of income and expenses detailing numbers in the millions, and is much more transparent about its finances than its much-larger Salt Lake City-based cousin, whose principal investment arm alone amasses reserve assets in the tens of billions.

So do faithful Latter-day Saints — who may have the biggest stake in how their tithing dollars are spent — want their leaders to be more open about church wealth?

Maybe not. A 2020 Salt Lake Tribune poll showed barely a third of “very active” Utah members would back a law requiring churches to disclose their finances.

Given the litany of headlines about the faith’s riches since then, however, that percentage may have changed.

“I believe that the church should be more financially transparent,” Brunson writes, “and that such transparency would be good for it in both the short and the long run.”

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: More on church $$$

The producer and director of “The Fifth Estate” documentary about the church’s financial practices in Canada and Australia discusses the expose, how it came about, what else it uncovered, the faith’s response and calls for reform and governmental investigations of a faith “in crisis.” Listen to the podcast.

‘I’m a Mormon,’ er, uh, wait…

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Some 250 double-decker buses in London featured "I'm a Mormon" advertisements in 2013.

Remember the church’s sweeping “I’m a Mormon” media spots?

Taylor Kerby does, and he misses them.

“Many of these videos are etched in my mind,” he writes in a By Common Consent blog post, “and when I think about them, I feel a sad mix of nostalgia and longing for the sort of Mormonism they endorsed and proudly displayed in Times Square and other secular spaces.”

Yes, they showed outsiders that Latter-day Saints come in all shapes, sizes and colors. That they’re not so different; they’re your friends and neighbors. In addition, Kerby says, the diversity on display in the ads — despite the use of the now-verboten nickname — also served to unite the members themselves and to be more accepting of one another.

“People outside our faith will view us however they’re going to view us. But how we view ourselves matters. In fact, I would argue it matters much, much more,” Kerby concludes. “And if we are serious about creating an eternal community here on earth, we must begin with accepting a version of a ‘Mormon us’ that is bigger, and infinitely more complex, than the ‘Mormon me.’”

From The Tribune

• See what teens think of the new principle-based “For the Strength of Youth” guidelines.

Tribune columnist Gordon Monson poses this provocative question: Would you turn away your own daughter and her newborn?

University of the Pacific pulled out of its volleyball match in Provo against Brigham Young University months after a Duke player alleged that she was called a racist slur during a contest against the Cougars. Previously, South Carolina’s women’s basketball team canceled its home-and-home series with BYU.

From sports

(Matt Rourke | AP) Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper celebrates after his RBI double during the fifth inning in Game 4 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Phillies on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Philadelphia.

• Bryce Harper and his Philadelphia Phillies came up short in the World Series, falling to the Houston Astros in six games.

Although Harper, the highest-paid Latter-day Saint athlete, had an outstanding postseason — batting .349 with six homers and 13 RBIs, he hit only .200 with one round-tripper and two RBIs in the Fall Classic.

• Elsewhere, former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson led the resurgent New York Jets to a 20-17 upset victory over the Buffalo Bills.