Latest from Mormon Land: Should this rich church lose its tax exemptions?

Some yell yes, but the laws quietly say something else. Also: How to enrich your Easter; “The Book of Mormon” musical turns 12; and women’s leaders tour Africa.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

What the tax laws actually say

Headlines scream of the church skirting federal reporting rules in amassing its billions (and billions and billions) and the cry echoes out: Take away its tax exemptions.

Well, those breaks have been afforded to religious denominations for a long time, tax law expert Sam Brunson explains in a By Common Consent blog post. “And churches have been exempt from income taxation since the introduction of the modern federal income tax.”

If so, some then say, those churches best be giving plenty to the poor. Jesus, of course, would agree: Churches should never faileth at charity. But the Creator of the world did not create the tax code. The Internal Revenue Code, in fact, views religious organizations themselves as a charity.

“And that’s the case even if they do no poor relief,” writes Brunson, a Latter-day Saint and a tax law professor at Loyola University Chicago, a stance upheld by the Supreme Court.

The justices reasoned that “different churches do different amounts of it,” he says, and ordering them how to divvy it would undercut First Amendment protections for religion.

As for the Utah-based faith, it provides substantial relief across the globe, amounting to a self-reported nearly $1 billion in 2021.

Brunson also points out that nonprofits are allowed to make profits — big profits — as long as they don’t “distribute” that money (excluding reasonable salaries) to insiders or share it with identifiable individuals.

“One can certainly make the argument that the category ‘nonprofit’ or ‘charitable’ or ‘tax-exempt’ should be narrowed,” he concludes. “That’s fair as a normative matter. But this (plus a handful of other rules) is what the law as it currently stands looks like.”

So the church, it turns out, is free to pile up as much moola as it wants. But how much (if there is such a figure?) is too much? And it gives away more than enough legally (since there is no set minimum). Is it enough morally?

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Foul balls are fair game

(Jim Mone | AP) Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Eric Sogard gives over the fence and into the net to catch a foul ball in 2020.

We’re moving on to the next gem from the baseball diamond.

Third inning • Teams play the game in fair and foul territory.

Baseball allows — even encourages — participants to make plays out of bounds. However, if, say, a right fielder recklessly chases a foul ball too far into foul ground, the player could land in the stands and on the disabled list. So, courtesy of baseball, comes this word of warning about life:

Don’t run too far afoul or you could get hurt.

Punching the time clock a few minutes late can cost you money, but skipping out early to catch a matinee movie can cost you your job. We all test the limits at times. After all, living on the edge can be invigorating, but it also can be dangerous, even deadly. A motorist who travels 5 mph too fast may wind up in traffic court. A driver who races 50 mph over the speed limit may end up in the morgue.

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: A holier Holy Week

In his new book, “Greater Love Hath No Man: A Latter-day Saint Guide to Celebrating the Easter Season,” Eric Huntsman, a Brigham Young University professor of ancient scripture and academic director at BYU’s Jerusalem Center, explores the scriptural accounts for each day of Holy Week, explains how those events have been celebrated in various Christian traditions and shares suggestions for how Latter-day Saints can get more out of the Easter season. Listen to the podcast.

Can you believe this musical is 12 years old?

(Jeff Christensen | AP) Andrew Rannells from "The Book of Mormon" performs during the Tony Awards in 2011.

Twelve years ago — you could call them, in this instance, a dirty dozen — “The Book of Mormon” musical debuted on Broadway.

Since its March 24, 2011, premiere at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre — after some preview performances — the bawdy but beloved show went on to earn nine Tony Awards and pack playhouses across the globe, including in the heart of Mormonism, Salt Lake City.

African journey

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson receives a warm welcome from Latter-day Saint women at a meetinghouse in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.

Presidents Camille Johnson and Bonnie Cordon, global leaders of the Relief Society and Young Women organizations, respectively, are in the midst of a nine-day African tour during which they are meeting with members and government leaders and visiting humanitarian outposts.

In Nairobi, Cordon discussed Kenya’s young people with Pastor Dorcas Rigathi Gachagua, wife of the deputy president. Kenya’s second lady expressed concerns about her nation’s many young men who suffer from substance abuse and turn to crime.

“Now we have girls who are very well educated, but they have no husbands,” she said in a news release. “If not corrected, we’re going to lose a generation.”

From The Tribune

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) American actor Sean Astin is introduced at the RootsTech genealogy conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 4, 2023.

• Latter-day Saints can’t “root out racism,” as they’ve been directed to do, unless they examine its roots, historian W. Paul Reeve writes in his new book, “Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood.” It may be a “heavy” history to tackle, he says, especially Brigham Young’s bigoted views, but it’s a necessary step. Read excerpts from our interview with Reeve in last week’s “Momorn Land” podcast. Join Patreon to get the full transcript. Relisten to the show.

• A 78-year-old former bishop and onetime Utah mayor will likely spend the rest of his life in prison after being sentenced on multiple felonies of child sexual abuse.

Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess examines the church’s slow shift away from demonizing working moms.

• “Lord of the Rings” star Sean Astin and apostle Gerrit Gong highlight the final day of RootsTech 2023.