There’s an interesting post up today at By Common Consent analyzing one of the LDS Church’s most recent financial reports. The report makes clear how much money the Church brought in through tithing and other donations, and how much went out by way of building, salaries, church-run schools, and charitable work.
It’s a fascinating report. One issue, though, is that “recent” means 1947. The LDS Church ceased its practice of full disclosure in 1959.
For more than half a century, Mormon money has operated under a code of radio silence.
Every once in a while, a journalist or magazine conducts what research it can to estimate the ins and outs of Mormon finances. This month, Business Insider magazine ran a slideshow of images of LDS temples with the headline, “These magnificent temples point to how rich the Mormon Church is.”
It’s not exactly the last word in investigative journalism if a magazine merely has to showcase a few photos of expensive buildings and extrapolate that the Church is “rich.” But on the other hand, what else is a journalist supposed to do, in the absence of hard data in the United States? (In many other nations where the LDS Church has members, the Church is required by law to release certain financial figures, but in the US this is voluntary.)
What right, if any, do rank-and-file Mormons have to information about what happens with their tithing money?
This information used to be provided, right down to the dollar: how much was collected in tithing, how many people received Church welfare, what kind of fast offering was given each month. (About one in four Mormons gave fast offerings in 1947, for example.)
There is a healthy accountability in Mormon leaders standing up before the membership twice a year to go over the budget. Boring? Yes, certainly. But boring is kind of the idea. What better way to counter salacious news stories about “the Mormons’ billions” than by showing, line by line, where all our money is going?
In 2013, the news media capitalized on a report that with the purchase of an additional 400,000 acres of land, the LDS Church had become one of the largest — if not the largest — landowner in the State of Florida.
The land purchase is a fact, but because it’s not balanced by additional facts about the Church’s significant operating expenditures or philanthrophic work, it’s a fact that can be misleading by itself.
What better way to prove that the Church is not the for-profit business the media sometimes paints it as than by releasing its actual financial records?
What better way to counter accusations that tithing money is being used to fund shopping malls or wage legal fights against same-sex marriage than making those records public?
The full disclosure of the Mormon past was a healthy thing — not just for leaders and members inside the Church, but for observers on the outside who can easily be swayed into viewing Mormonism as a multi-billion-dollar business rather than a religious organization with a mission to help the world.
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