Mormon church lashes back at magazine over portrayal of prophet and profits

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RNS photo courtesy Bloomberg Businessweek

RNS photo courtesy Bloomberg Businessweek

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(RNS) The Mormon church is lashing back at a business magazine that parodied their prophet’s mission and portrayed the church as lucratively rich but miserly with charitable donations. By Daniel Burke.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    You note that the article claims “the LDS church donates less than one percent of its annual income to charity, according to a study cited in the article. Other churches donate nearly 30 percent.” Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not publish the amount it receives in donations, exaggerations in estimated contributions and other income in the denominator of the ratio tend to correspondingly decrease the numerator. The article actually uses the United Methodist Church, the third largest denomination in America at 7.8 million members versus the Mormons at number four with 6 million. However, the article admits that the Mormon Church has provided an average of $52 million per year in humanitarian aid. A web site that rates various charities shows that the United Methodist humanitarian relief organization (UMCOR) has provided an average of $60 million a year in recent years. When the two amounts are divided by their respective memberships in the US (the source of most of the funds), they BOTH average out to about $8 per year per member, whether Methodist or Mormon.

    How this $60 million ends up being 29% of the Methodist Church’s funds in a year is puzzling, until one realizes that most of the major expenses of a Methodist congregation, including building a meetinghouse, paying utilities, and supporting pastors, are funded locally, not by the central Methodist Church. That is unlike the Mormon Church, in which all donations are submitted to the central Church, and the costs of building new chapels and utilities are paid centrally. There is NO cost for Mormon pastors because there is no career clergy in the Mormon Church. The leaders at the local and regional level are all part time leaders serving for a few years, while they support their families with mundane jobs like being dentists, attorneys, farmers, or newspaper reporters.
    Additionally, the comparison does not count the Mormon programs which care for the poor and unemployed among its own membership. One of the programs is based on a monthly 24 hour fast from meals on the first Sunday of every month, in which Mormons donate the food money saved.
    The article is obsessed with the many farms which the Mormon Church operates. Much of the food from those farms is packaged and redistributed around the Church and provided to the needy, as well as offered to victims of natural disasters. Much of the labor on those Church farms is donated by Mormons. The farms create food reserves to assist Church members in the event of major economic disruptions.
    Both the Church Welfare Program and the Fast Offerings are in addition to the $52 million a year given through the Humanitarian Program. I am sure that local Methodist congregations are also involved in supporting local charities, such as Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens, but that is also true of many Mormon congregations in the same communities.
    The Church also maintains the Perpetual Education Fund, making low interest loans to Mormons in developing nations so they can obtain additional education that will help them to be self-supporting. The Church supports the Brigham Young University campuses in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii, as well as LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. Adjacent to universities across the US, it builds Institutes of Religion to provide religious education to help balance the lives of Mormon college students who do not attend BYU.

    One of the primary costs for the Mormon Church is the need to build a new meetinghouse on average every day of the year, to keep up with growth of over 300,000 new members every year. That is the equivalent of two or three new congregations every day. This is an expense that most other denominations do not have to worry about, but it is a significant need for the Mormons, whose membership doubles in size about every 20 to 25 years. That means that by 2035, the Church must build as many NEW meetinghouses as already exist in 2012!
    Enterprises that employ people are not to be sneezed at. During the same period when President Obama was praising himself for spending billions of dollars for various public works programs around the country, the Mormon Church spent some of its own money from business income to employ a couple thousand people in construction of the new City Creek Center neighborhood. The retail stores on the land (land the Church has owned for a century) will continue to employ hundreds of people, and help ensure the neighborhood around the Salt Lake Temple and Church Headquarters campus is attractive and safe, unlike many deteriorating downtowns. Don’t you think Detroit would love it if a group of churches made a similar investment in its city center? Mormons believe that a job is superior to a handout.

  • Neal

    Great response, Raymond. I might add that while I served as a Ward Financial Clerk (overseeing Church funds) there were many weeks when we wrote checks to indigent members, members out of work, and non-members alike to help them cover basic living expenses. These disbursements were often far more than the total donations for the week. Having a centralized financial structure allows the Church to respond to need swiftly, no matter where that need might be, and no matter what the local resources may look like. Its a brilliant system, administered with the utmost integrity. I feel more confident that my donations to the Church will help those who need it most than I do givign to any secular charitable entity…

  • Daniel Burke

    Thanks, Neal and Raymond, for your thoughtful comments. If I write a more in-depth piece about LDS finances or charitable giving, I will be sure to keep your perspective in mind.

    Daniel Burke

  • tony bright

    “I feel more confident that my donations to the Church will help those who need it most than I do givign to any secular charitable entity…”

    Why? Do you need to read the bible again and study what Jesus said about rich people? Rich people like the Romney clan? You people are a farce.