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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Church's Finances: Distorted Democracy in Mormondom

Recent articles inflaming the digital wires:

How The Mormons Make Money (Bloomberg Businessweek)

The Church and Its Financial Independence (from the Church's Newsroom)


Many across the Blogosphere are calling for the Church to be completely open in it's financials. I have several points to make on this topic.


1. The Church is not a democracy and we shouldn't expect it to be.


In a democracy, the leaders get their power and authority "from the people." This is NOT where the Church gets its power. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. He heads it. He controls it. He runs it. Obviously, he does this through his chosen leaders.


His leaders are not accountable to us and we should not expect them to be. The Church has no obligation to "account" financially to its members.


Consider that private companies do not have to account to their employees or customers either, just the government for tax purposes.


2. The Church is a top-down organization, not a bottom-up organization.


Democracies are bottom-up organizations. The Church has always functioned top-down and will likely remain so. This includes all Biblical and Book of Mormon times.

The notion that it should function bottom-up is a societal expectation from our history as a democracy. I suspect people in other lands wouldn't have this expectation.

3. It isn't your money.

From our beliefs, Heavenly Father gives us everything we have. When we pay tithing, or otherwise donate to the Church, we are simply giving Heavenly Father back what he has already given us. If you truly believe this, and I do, then it is incredibly arrogant to expect the Church to account to you for how it spends Heavenly Father's money and resources.

4. We know how the Church spends its money.

We may not know exact amounts but given we have a lay clergy and multiple people involved in all financial decisions, even at the lowest levels of the Church, we know how the Church spends its money.

Those of us who grew up in Utah (the Mormon equivalent of the Vatican), went to BYU, attended Seminary, went to Youth Conference, etc. ad nauseum know how the Church spends money.

We see evidence of it all around us in meetinghouses, the resources that stock them, our unit budgets, the programs the Church sponsers and produces, the curriculum resources we have, the web site resources, the historical areas, the temples, the educational facilities and resources, etc., etc., etc.

This is all right in front of us all the time. Don't tell me you can't see it. How the Church spends its money is OBVIOUS.

I don't think faith comes into play here. There is so much hard evidence for how Church funds are spent.

5. Church financial decisions always seem to save members money.

Remember how the 3-hour block cut member's own transportation costs to Church?

Remember how standardizing missionary costs saved members' money?

Remember how having the satellite system reduced transportation costs?

Remember how digital resources save the members money, especially the FamilySearch resources?

Remember how the new budget procedures save members' money by standardizing unit budgets?

How many of these examples do you need? The Church is not a self-interested organization spending money for its own ends or for its leaders' ends.

6. No evidence of financial misdoing or misappropriation has resulted in these calls for financial transparency. They evolved from a stupid, speculative article in Businessweek.


Everything out there, that we all know about, is positive. Why are people looking for dirt?


7. What purpose would be served by it?


You won't be able to understand financials when our objectives, outcomes and goals are so ephemeral.


How much money do we expend to attract one convert?


How much money do we expend to retain one convert?


How much money did we spend on table decorations in Relief Society?


How much money do we spend to instill a testimony in someone?


How much money do we spend to create a good father?


How much money do we spend to instill self-reliance in a teenager?


Good grief. There is no profit motive in anything we do. We can't reduce the Church's activities to numbers. How much we spend has no bearing on the value of any of our outcomes. It's like a city trying to figure out how many crimes they prevent or how much its street service improves people's quality of lives by measuring the amount of tax money it takes in.


The Church is primarily religious and service oriented. Financials aren't going to have much to add to what we really do and what is really going on. They'll only be a very sketchy and an incomplete snapshot in a great collage of images.


As long as the Church can pay its bills and operate frugally what is the point of knowing all these detailed numbers?

8. I think the reason most people want to see our financials is so they can figure out how best to sue us.

1 comment:

  1. The Church does not audit your financial statements at Tithing Settlement, it takes your word for it. Why should it be held to a different standard that it holds you?

    ReplyDelete