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This entry was posted on May 6, 2014 at 7:28 AM and is filed under Agency, Church Policy, Faith, Morality, Mormon, Mormon Belief, Mormon Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Jake– You have performed an outstanding public service. If a few GAs begin to contemplate how their words will sound when played back as part of your depictions they might think them through a bit more. Some of their discourses should have been tossed into the Refiner’s Fire prior to delivery.
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Bro. Jake, you always do a great job of these videos.
Regarding you’re ironic comment “it’s not about control,” I would say that the purpose of tithing is to invite members to renounce personal control. The secrecy and lack of transparancy in church finances challenges us to completely relinquish ownership or any kind of say in how our money is used. Those who want to see how the church is using their money still see it as “their money” and that is the problem.
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I regard tithing settlement as my opportunity to check with the Bishop that their record of my payments does indeed match the payments I have made. Mistakes do happen. Things get missed. Titing settlement prompts me to check receipt against payments. I had one Bishop who changed suits, and left tithing sitting in the pocket of the old suit for months. It was queries at tithing settlement that prompted him to empty out the pockets and process those earlier payments. Back when I was younger and we were in the same ward, my sister’s tithing was attributed to me. We were able to get that corrected. It’s a little bit of transparency, at least at ward level.
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I love your spin! Here’s another one for you. The church used to publish financial information but now it does not. Please spin this so that my personal unworthiness/lack of faith is the cause for the change in policy.
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Hmm, let me see. Well, if more people had more faith in the church, they wouldn’t have to be so careful about airing controversial financial decisions. People would support the church no matter what, just because it was the church. We would all interpret decisions made by the church, like the Creek City Mall, as part of it’s mission to build Zion. I’m not sure about how to spin unworthiness into it, but I would say that lack of faith and unworthiness often go hand in hand.
As far as why the policy changed, maybe because of the increased critical scrutiny of the internet. That doesn’t have anything to do with faith or worthiness, but the seductive toy of the internet has given many people an illusion of knowledge, insight, and context when it is not actually there, so they stop using their faith and trust. Before the internet, people didn’t worry about anti-Mormon claims, even if they were true, because they were not accessible and easy to dismiss. They just trusted the church blindly. But now they are verifiable and extremely accessible, and people get hung up on these unflattering details and loose their faith in the church as a whole. But the church as it is presented on the internet is not a true portrait of the church, just as the church’s financial records are not a true portrait of its worth. The church might look like it spends way too much money on BYU, because it is unfair to the poor Latinos who make up a much bigger proportion of the membership. But this insight fails to acknowledge the financial realities and potentialities of the rich and the poor in the church, and how the church is actually honestly trying to make lives better, and how often it succeeds.
I find the assertion that tithe paying members should not know how the church spends its money troubling. It assumes that the church has some kind of existence apart from the church members. While legally that is an accurate description of the current corporate structure of the church, it falls far short of the canonical descriptions of Christ’s church.
As long as were making up explanation out of whole cloth, why not try this one on. Tithe paying members have already demonstrated more faith than any person on the Council of the Disposition of the Tithes. The vast majority of tithe payers do so as a sacrifice from earning that are far smaller than the compensation council members receive. When Alma was confronted with the accusation that he was glutting himself on the labors of church members, he could respond that he had always labored for his own support and that his finances were already common knowledge (transparency). What is the current response from the council when faced with similar accusations?
If they really do need assistance to provide for their needs, there has always been a mechanism to provide for them. There is no reason they should be treated any differently than a person who needs to have rent or utilities paid on their behalf for a modest apartment, or who needs food from the bishops storehouse (with counseling on how to avoid this situation ever happening again, of course). Are they living in a modest apartment and eating Desert Industries brand food?
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For me financial transparency is about protecting the church in the long run. The fact is that opacity and large sums of money are a recipe for disaster. It may come through scandal and fraud or through simple embarrassing mission drift. However, it almost always comes. Transparency to me is a safeguard to the institution. By requiring ourselves to publicly account for funds it provides a natural check against mission drift. Its amazing what one can justify with little accountability. I really don’t want to the church to be embarrassed. I don’t want it to erupt in financial scandal. I want it to be reliable and trustworthy and responsible. I am completely open to things like social entrepreneurship and a mix of for profit and non-profit within the church structure. I understand the need for financial responsibility and solvency. Why should the fear of unreasonable critics drive our church’s financial disclosure policy? Let them critique. Let us have a robust debate. Maybe the more conservative members of the church should apply the old Raegan mantra – “Trust but verify”. Honesty is always the best policy. The church should have nothing to hide. With transparency if it slips up it can be handled and we can move on. With secrecy and opacity, whatever slip ups that occur will be far more devastating and even reasonable decisions can be far less defensible.
Here are things that I actually worry about:
1) The process of bidding for contracts and nepotism. The church has large resources and necessary spending on lots of things from legal council to construction to banking to real estate development. With opacity contract bidding becomes ripe for all forms of abuse and unethical behavior. If it was me I would have a policy that no substantial contract can go to a firm owned in whole or part by family members of apostles or 70s (especially those that have any say over the contract process). Maybe this safeguard exists in church procurement. If not, we are just asking for problems where top leaderships family are found to be directly benefiting (or appearing to directly benefit) from their position.
2) Payment to apostles for board membership of the for-profit arms of the church. How comfortable would we all be if it turns out our leaders are paid large sums for their service on the boards of Deseret Industries, Ensign Peak etc? We do know that they sit on those boards, but we have no idea whether they are paid token salaries or large outsized sums. It would be an easy and semi-legitimate way of funneling money to leaders. Again, I am not accusing at all, but I worry for the sake of the church that a scandal could erupt there.
3) Book contracts that provide advances and sweetheart deals are another potential issue.
4) Mission drift. Tails tend to wag dogs especially when large sums of money are involved. it doesn’t have to be ill-intended or nefarious. The mall could or could not be a good example. I think even many very trusting members cringed at “Let’s go shopping!” I understand the potential positives here – invigorating downtown, providing jobs during the recession etc. I am open to those. But a luxury goods mall with an insanely expensive retractable roof? Maybe if the church’s profits went directly toward say a fund to help poor garment workers (many in south america where we have many, many church members) who are making the luxury clothes) then that would be cool. But…I don’t know…mission drift.
5) Someone revealing what GAs stipends and pay really are. Again I have no idea how publicly defensible these are. They could be totally defensible and I would consider myself personally to be pretty liberal in what I would consider appropriate. But why risk that? Lets just be open and honest about what it is. Doing so will make everyone take a good hard look about what is really appropriate. And we as members can be completely solid in our understanding of what our paid clergy receive. For example, I have read the Mission President handbook that was linked. It was basically modeled on standard corporate expatriate packages. I can understand most of that (having been an expat myself). It is an interesting question to ask oneself – how much would an apostle have to be paid in total before I felt it was problematic? $100,000/year I would be fine with that. $500,000…not so much. At least, that to me would feel like they were violating my trust given how they present this to the membership. Everyone may have their own cut-off and maybe some people have no cut-off. They could take the position that whatever they are paid it is the will of the Lord.
I will admit that it is the transparency issue that has caused me to rearrange my own tithing habits. I give some to the church to help cover my use of buildings and things. I give fast offerings which I know stay local and I understand the process in which they are given out. I have donated to the perpetual education fund until I learned that the church has more money in it then they can give out. I give a lot of my other tithing to God through other institutions that I feel treat me with more respect as a contributor and where I know more or less where the money is actually going.
My understanding from individuals who have consulted directly with the church finance department as outside consultants is that the church now has enough capital assets to run its total operational expenses out of interest alone (though it would have to rearrange it portfolio to do so). I take the information to be credible given who they are. That means the real issue the church faces is how to invest all that money wisely and well. Given that I much rather consecrate my tithing dollars to alleviating hunger and to a variety of charities I believe are doing God’s work through other means. I am comfortable with that.
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My biggest issue with tithing (as it is currently constituted) is that it is essentially a regressive tax. Given Christ’s attitudes about earthy wealth and poverty, I have a hard time thinking that He would be the author of a policy that is much more financially onerous on the poor than the rich. I have a hard time with the fact that church members (especially poor 3rd world members) are fed lines in church publications like, “If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing” (Dec. 2012 Ensign), while at the same time the church gives out all kinds of financial perks to Mission Presidents, GAs, and their families. It sadly reminds me of Isaiah 3:15.
A much better policy for tithing would be for it to be 10% of one’s disposable income. The rich would still essentially pay the same amount and the poor would pay very little. (There is scriptural precedent for this: Genesis 14: 38-39, JST.)
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$100,000 would be reasonable? really? Alma thought the reasonable rate was not even a senum. There are hundreds of missionaries of a similar age and financial background to current general authorities and they are asked to pay their own way when devoting all their time to church service. Why would we ask less of the very people who are supposed to be the greatest examples of discipleship?
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“Are they living in a modest apartment and eating Desert Industries brand food?”
Or even, “Do their kids pay tuition at BYU?”
There is no need to resort to a shaky interpretation of JST Genesis to rationalize a progressive tithing structure. D&C 119:4, the scripture that establishes the law of tithing in this dispensation, says that tithing is to be paid on INTEREST.
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rah (#7), great comment. So even though it’s likely that Church finances weren’t made secret to hide any particular wrongdoing, what you’re saying is that the fact that they’re secret now is (possibly) enabling wrongdoing–or other shady stuff–on an ongoing basis. Is that right? Thanks for the list.
That is about right. I don’t think the finances were made secret to hide wrongdoing but the mix of secrecy and other people’s money are the toxic ground in which fraud and other shady stuff flourishes. It is almost inevitable really. I see no reason why we should believe that the church as an organization/institution is immune from this. In fact, scripture would indicate that priestcraft and other related issues dogged the religious institutions/organization of our spiritual forbears. Also, that we don’t need really icky wrongdoing by people of evil intent to get there. Mission drift, that natural tendency for us to find institutional self-justification for whatever we want to do is ever present and dangerous. Public accountability/transparency is a nice, natural check on that. It means we have to consistently justify the use of funds to stakeholders. I can’t see that being a bad thing.
Daniel Smith (#9) That is a totally reasonable, scriptural take on what is appropriate. As I said, people will have all different types of views about what is appropriate. I think hiding that discussion under an institutional veil of secrecy is just asking for problems.
Andrew, You’re forgetting a couple of things. Jesus never renounced “regressive” taxation. That is fully an invention of the liberal mind, not Jesus. Jesus told us the poor would be with us. Jesus spoke approvingly of poor people giving away all their money. Jesus was OK with wealth inequality and income inequality, read the parable of the talents.
When inventing your own god to worship, please recognize that not everyone starts with modern day liberalism and back-projects it onto Jesus. Please.
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h_nu, There are myriad ills that we have no record of Jesus ever explicitly renouncing during his mortal ministry. This argument has been employed to support unequivocally evil acts and is especially weak here because of the actual ways that Jesus did interact with taxes and the poor.
“ye have the poor with you always” Are you trying to suggest that continual poverty somehow relieves us of responsibility for helping the poor? In the story you pulled your paraphrase from, Jesus uses a partial quote from Deuteronomy to justify a singular departure from his instructions on helping the poor. If by default we have no responsibility towards the poor, the story is nonsensical. The gospel writers also insinuate that money for the poor could not be entrusted to Judas who held the purse. Oh yeah, what’s the rest of that quote from Deuteronomy 15:11? For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
“this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” Jesus spoke approvingly of all people sacrificing; it demonstrates faith. I can only assume that you are alluding to the story of the widow’s mite. This story is traditionally used to illustrate how God views our meager sacrifices; it comments on the God-Poor relationship. What might Jesus have to say about the Rich-Poor relationship? Oh, look. Just a couple of verses earlier, Mark 12:38-41. And he said unto them in his doctrine, beware of the scribes … which devour widows’ houses …these shall receive greater damnation.
“who called His own servants, and delivered unto them His goods” You started off strong; this story is about money and not abilities. But does this story have anything to do with wealth or income inequality? Just as you recommended, why don’t we all stop and read Matthew 25. (You could even read Luke 19 if you feel especially ambitious.) All of the talents in the story belong to one person, “a man travelling into a far country”. The servants are not given income or personal wealth when they are entrusted with their master’s talent. They are given a stewardship and will have to return all that they were given and any profit they obtain. Even the worst of the servants doesn’t dare consume the talent with which he was entrusted. This story can’t be about wealth or income inequality because only one person is wealthy or receives income. Does the story have anything to say about how all this man will dispose of all his money? About how Jesus wants us to dispose of our resources? You stopped reading at verse 31 didn’t you? Try reading to the end. Matthew 25: 40, And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
“Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s” So how does Jesus deal with taxes when he explicitly addresses them. In an effort to entrap Jesus he is asked if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus responds, Matthew 22:21 …Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. Now if you accept that Jesus is legitimizing roman taxation, you would have to admit that Jesus is explicitly recommending a tax system that is both progressive and redistributive (for the roman poor). While that would be nice and put a quick end to the argument, I don’t think that was his intent. He doesn’t actually pay a tax in the story. He only avoids the double bind trap his questioners had laid for Him. For this to be an explicit acknowledgement of roman authority it would also acknowledge that God’s authority does not include Rome. The more likely interpretation is this statement is a clever phrasing of the pragmatic solution to the problem. People in a vassal state to an autocratic empire should do what’s necessary to avoid getting hassled and get on with more important parts of their lives.
What party is Jesus in and should we get a different Jesus to match our chosen party? I assume you live in one of the many modern liberal democracies that now exist. Otherwise your final statements don’t make much sense. If that’s not the case, I’ll let you get back to trying not to get hassled and kudos for avoiding the state censors. None of the previous close readings of the scriptures you picked are particularly Liberal (current American political usage). These are ways those passages have been understood from before there was an America let alone a peculiarly American political usage for the word liberal. Every small section of scripture that could conceivably be used to argue against helping the poor is couched in a larger context that makes it undeniably clear that Jesus wants us to help the poor. I happen to live in a modern liberal democracy and will continue to use my say in how the government functions to ensure that this Christian ideal is followed by the state whenever possible. So I will support progressive tax structures and I don’t need to invent new scripture or a new Jesus to justify myself. If that bothers you, I may have finally found one of the people trying to curtail religious freedom Elder Oaks keeps talking about.
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