Gordon Monson: What should the LDS Church do with its billions? Turn it into trillions? What would Jesus do?

More can be better — if we’re talking about more going to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the cold, the forgotten.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

What is the money for?

That’s a question so often asked among those inside and outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believers and nonbelievers alike.

What is the purpose, the intention, the goal for the church’s estimated total wealth, which now is climbing toward $300 billion? Is it to make more money? Always more? Is it to push that overall value to a trillion dollars, which financial analysts say could happen within a couple of decades? Is the organization to be run not like the Lord’s church, but rather like the Lord’s corporation? How does the song go, “We thank thee, O God, for a … profit”?

I’ve hit this topic before, but the church’s wealth number keeps growing. And as it increases, the weight of the matter increases. It’s like being in 5 feet of ocean water and trying to outrun a wave that stacks higher and higher.

This celestial-focused church — its investment arm, at least — holds lots of stock in terrestrial-focused companies like Microsoft and Apple and Mastercard and JPMorgan Chase and Tesla and Amazon and Home Depot and Walmart, among many others.

Makes you wonder if Latter-day Saint ecclesiastical leaders precede their daily scripture study with a few glances at how Tim Cook’s phone and computer sales are doing, how Elon Musk’s cars are selling, how much product Sam Walton’s stores are moving.

Turns out, the church is not just knee-and-knuckle deep in exhortation for righteous living among its members, but also in buying low and selling high across the markets.

And I and more than a few other followers of the faith are trying to figure out how we feel about a supposedly divine outfit being so wrapped up in worldly affairs, in being in the world and of the world. Especially since faithful followers, whether poor or wealthy or somewhere in between, fork over 10% of their hard-earned annual income either to honor the Almighty or to further boost the church’s investment opportunities.

“Bring ye all the tithes...”

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There’s something remarkably convenient in the duality of a church calling for and sanctioning the collection of tithes from its members, regardless of their personal financial situations, for God’s glory, but also bolstering its own billion-dollar bank accounts en route. And that’s coming from an ink-stained wretch who annually pays his offerings and hopes for the best. That’s what faith is, brother.

We’re told the church’s funds go for the “building of the kingdom.” There are chapels, temples and other sacred spaces to erect and maintain. There are shopping malls to construct. There are operating costs to pay, universities and land to tend. There are charitable causes to support. On that last one, the church reported it donated more than a billion dollars to such endeavors in 2022.

Is that enough, when the overall need is so much greater? Remember, we’re talking about what is proclaimed to be God’s true church here. That’s a lofty claim that should require the highest of standards and sums for humanitarian contributions to a world so sorely in need.

How would Jesus handle such matters? Would he give all he had to help the poor and needy or would he be more concerned about preserving his stock portfolio, figuring it’s better to invest in a few thousand more shares of Merck & Co. or Berkshire Hathaway?

If you’ve read the New Testament, not The Wall Street Journal, you might know how those questions would be answered.

Some inside the faith say the church’s stockpile is the rock-steady thing to do. Nothing wrong with being responsible and rich. The church has weathered difficult financial times in the past, and it should be prepared to handle such trials in the future. I get that.

In large part, the church deserves credit, not criticism, for overseeing its investments wisely, to the extent it tends to its financial and organizational needs, and to the needs of many of its distressed flock. That’s quite a success story. But nearly $300 billion, and growing — to soothe its two-fisted worries about possible economic downturns and its preparation for the end of times — seems excessive.

Charity begins — now

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A mother and child receive nourishment at the Ifo Refugee Camp in Garissa County, Kenya, in 2022.

When the apocalypse comes, when the Four Horsemen ride, when the beasts rage and the whirlwinds stir, when the millennium and the Second Coming arrive, will God’s true church rely on proceeds from Eli Lilly stock to battle its way through? I do not know. But I kind of doubt it.

Better for God’s church to act like God’s church, not like God’s corporation — now, not one day, not some rainy day — and follow the example of the biblical Jesus, sitting among the afflicted and sinners, not at the head of a company board table. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give to the poor, treat the suffering, educate the uneducated, not with a relatively small portion of what is available, but with a whole lot of it, most of it.

“Charity never faileth,” right?

That’s what the Bible says, the Book of Mormon says, and the women’s Relief Society motto says.

Doesn’t matter, then, what Ensign Peak Advisors says.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune columnist Gordon Monson.

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