The Cost of Being a Mormon

By: Jake
June 27, 2012

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Being a mormon comes at a cost. As Joseph Smith taught true religion requires sacrifice and implicit in the concept of sacrifice is a personal cost. Those who leave the church talk about the cost of leaving the church, in terms of losing friends, family and emotional upheaval. Others have pointed out to some of the psychological costs involved with being a Mormon. Today I want to work out what the economic cost is for the average Mormon during their lifetime to remain faithful.

Tithing

One of the major forms that the economic cost comes in is, unsurprisingly, tithing. I wanted to work out what the total amount of tithing paid by a member over their lifetime would approximately amount to. To work out this I am using the median wages in Utah, obviously there are limitations in using this, in that wages go up through a career lifespan and not everyone will earn this amount. Further complications come come from the fact that the church is a multinational church and wages across nations differ. For simplicities sake I am maintaining a western-centric perspective, yet it would equally apply to other cultures relative to their economy. The idea of this is simply to consider the cost generally. So using the average wage for the entire period will give a reasonable approximation as hopefully the lower starting salary and higher final salary will negate each other.

The median wage in utah is $46,000 per year. This would result in a donation of $4,600 a year in tithing (I am not going to get into a discussion on if it should be gross or net income for tithing – lets just say ten percent of total earnings) which amounts to a total of $218,400 being paid over a lifetime in tithing, assuming that they work for forty years and retire when they are sixty five years old . On top of this we must add the tithing paid from their retirement income which in the USA is about $29,412. The amount paid from retirement until they die at the average age of seventy eight would be $38,235.

Adding them together the total amount that the average member will pay in tithing is $256,635

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We can work out from this how much wealth the church gets from tithing from 14 million members. Given that the vast majority of the members on record are missing, fictional, or inactive, the actual amount of tithing paying members probably is no where near that high and is about a million members. That still means in a 40 year period in theory they would generate about $218.4 billion from this small group, of course this is an absurd figure as it assumes that there is no inflation over the 40 years and that everyone pays the same amount in tithing for the whole 40 years. In more realistic terms in the UK with a membership of about 186,000 the church generates about $60 million in tithing so for a million members we would expect it to be about $250 million dollars. Although I suspect that the actual total is a lot more then this. This makes the amount given to humanitarian welfare which the church says totals 1.3 Billion over the period 1985-2012 seem rather tiny. Especially when we look at the financial records in the UK (the church has to release them to maintain charitable status) which shows that the church shifted inter-compay debt of 265 billion to donations in 2006.

Mission

Tithing is not the only major expenditure that a Mormon makes. Another significant one is the two year mission. When famous people such as American Idol winner David Archuleta, or major players in NFL or Australian Rugby chose to go on a mission instead of pursuing a lucrative career, attention is drawn to the sacrifice that they are making for their religion. However, every missionary is making a large sacrifice, even those who are not famous. For instance, if instead of going on a mission they worked as a generic salesperson they would have earned $48,000 dollars. This potential earning is sacrificed in order to serve a mission. On top of this they, or their parents, have to find $9,600 for the mission fund. This is an opportunity cost of $56,000 to serve a mission. This is a bigger sum of money than I expected, as serving a mission it did not seem like I was giving up $56,000, yet, that is in essence what missionaries are doing.

Time

Establishing the value of time donated to the church is difficult as the amount varies greatly between people. I know people who spend every spare minute wrapped up in church activities, and others for whom the three hour block is the sum total of their activity. I decided to use an average of the hours temple reccommend holding members I know spend on church-related pursuits. It is purely anecdotal, I know, but I am not making an specific claims just a speculation. It seems that they generally devote the following amount of time:

  • Church 3-4hours per week (including travel and time spent after)
  • Hometeaching 2-3 hours per month
  • Callings 3-5 hours (this is more difficult to quantify as every calling is different but I am going to work on a minimum level here of a sunday school teacher – I spend this long preparing for my lesson)
  • Gospel Study (including reading the bloggernacle) 2 hours a week.

Total Time: 40 hours per month (approximately)

To work out how much this time is worth I am using the assumption that if we used the time spent on church callings, meetings and activities in working at a minimum wage instead how much would we get. ($7.25) This equates to about 10 hours a week given to the church, although I suspect the actual total is higher for many. This is about $4,650 worth of lost time per year spent doing church callings. Obviously, if you have a job with a higher income then the cost will increase. But even at the rate of a minimum wage over a lifetime the lost time amounts to $147,900 in lost earnings through church service. Of course, this is artificial as I doubt that if people were not members that they would use the additional time in working, but it highlights the monetary value of time spent in church service.

Other Costs

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Along with tithing and time there are various other costs which over a lifetime add up. For instance, assuming that the fully active mormon pays $15 every month in fast offerings for the 60 years of time they are active they will have paid $10,800 in fast offerings. If a member subscribes to the churches magazines as we are encouraged to do for their whole life time they will have spent $1,575 and I approximate that the cost of garments and their replacement over a lifetime is about $1,500. Added together this is $14,000, half a years earnings for some. This misses out on other costs such as fuel costs, materials for the relief society handouts, and other incidental expenses.

Adding all of the above costs together I reckon that to be a faithful temple reccommend holding member of the church for your whole lifetime it requires a donation of about $483,535 to the church in time and money. This figure is, of course, rather basic and inaccurate on many levels, but it serves as a figure for us to think about. As it is a decent guess at what being a Mormon would cost the average person. Obviously, this will be different for everyone, as we all earn different  amounts and donate different amounts, but it provides a rough guide for us to adapt to work out how much it costs for us individually. When I added it up, I was stunned at just how much it costs in sacrifice to be a member. I knew the church took up a lot of time, I just did not realise the full extent of it.

So what do you get for just under half a million dollars of money and time invested?

  • You get a manual every year. So you get in total 40 church publications.
  • You get 2 hours of free childcare on a sunday.
  • You get a free weekly youth activity for your teenagers.
  • You get to enter and visit the temple. (in comparison to visiting Canterbury Cathedral that costs you $13 to visit)
  • You get to not be burnt when the Saviour returns.
  • You get salvation.
  • You get to go to a posh mall (Utah Residents only).

What else could you get for the same amount?

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Who cares?

Ultimately, the question can be asked why bother to calculate how much it costs to be a member. For many of those who pay tithing, they have made temple covenants to consecrate all that they have to the church, so why work out what they give specifically if everything that we have is God’s anyway? The reason I raise it is to inform us about the nature of the choice we are all making to be and continue to be Mormon. Being a Mormon requires a substantial investment of our time, money, and emotion. For many their commitment began at age eight. To an eight year old, tithing just means giving 10 cents from a dollar as the Primary lesson teaches. Put in those simple terms, it’s an easy principle to support.  Donating half a million dollars to a corporate church doesn’t seem nearly as reasonable as foregoing some sweets and putting small change in an envelope to proudly give to your bishop.

The fact that we are not fully informed compromises our ability to act.  Even doing this simple calculation doesn’t create full transparency as there are many church expenditures that are not public knowledge.  Consider the recent City Creek Mall and the recent change to tithing slips which says that:

“Though reasonable efforts will be made globally to use donations as designated, all donations become the Church’s property and will be used at the Church’s sole discretion to further the Church’s overall mission.”

I can’t help but ask: would we be comfortable with donating half a million dollars to a corporation that does not disclose how the money is used and informs us that money donated can be used however they see fit?  Of course, the church is not just any corporation; it has a president at the top and twelve CEO’s whom we accept as apostles prophets, and seers. In contrast, as much as Apple fans may have loved and worshipped Steve Jobs, I never heard him claim any divine guidance.  When there are so many poor and starving in the world is donating half a million to an exceptionally wealthy church the best use of my money to follow the Saviour’s injunction to help the poor and needy?  

Paul said that the ‘free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Is it really a free gift if it costs half a million to obtain?

Thoughts

  • What do you think about the church’s lack of financial disclosure?
  • How do you feel about the significant financial cost of being a member?
  • Why do you think that the church requires such a substantial investment from its members?

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72 Responses to The Cost of Being a Mormon

  1. Stephen Marsh on June 27, 2012 at 6:10 AM

    Well, we have historical cash flow and expenditure records, which reflect that most of the Church’s income is consumed in buildings for continued growth and the missionary work.

    City Creek Mall, after all the angst and false reporting, has some nice Wall Street Journal articles. An approximately ~400 million v.s. 5 billion dollar project, with multiple investors, and the Church’s largest investment being the property under the mall.

    You make the point that we should just gut out the buildings and give up missionary work to do humanitarian work for a generation before the Church disappears. That fast offerings and other efforts do not really count enough.

    Might be. But I don’t think institutional suicide is the mission of the Church.

    Appreciate that without garments, you would just go commando. For those of us who would not, the economic cost is the comparison in prices between garments and the alternatives we would wear.

    Anyway, an interesting set of thoughts, including whether it is God that requires things of us or just the church.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on June 27, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    Wow, that figure seems incredibly low to me. Bear in mind that Utah has a very young populace, so wages are going to reflect that lower experience level.

    You could conversely argue that the 2 years of mission experience although unpaid actually contribute to skills (resilience and leadership) that result in higher salaries later in life.

    You could also argue that church attendance gives you leadership skills, teaching skills, organizational skills, and public speaking skills, all of which have downstream potential benefits.

    When I moved to Singapore, several people asked if I was going to join the American Club. Dues are $20K per year plus a monthly fee. I said I already belong to a different American club – my expat Mormon ward. The dues are also high, but I get pretty much the same benefits and people aren’t so materialistic.

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  3. Mike S on June 27, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    The numbers will be much higher than you project. For example, supposed you made 20k / year for your mission, which you forgo. That’s a start of 40k.

    Suppose you add 400 / month for 40 years to this 40k, and get 6.5% interest if you compound the interest.

    Just these equal $1.45 MILLION. This doesn’t include the other things, and also doesn’t include the fact that your tithing will often go UP from the $400/month.

    NOTE: If you use Church accounting practices, you could NOT pay tithing each year, but just invest it so that someday when you DO pay tithing, you can pay even MORE. Kind of like they do with humanitarian aid – where they invest money in billion dollar malls NOW so “someday” they can do something useful with even more money.

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  4. Will on June 27, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    What an ungrateful way of looking at the world. I am extremely greatful for the blessings that I have and realize 250 k is nothing compared to what God has provided. What’s more, my income is far greater than it would have been had I not paid my tithing–God has clearly opened the windows of heaven for me.

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  5. Jake on June 27, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    Hawk and mike s,

    I decided to go for the lower threshold as I figured that even at a lower rate it would still be significant. I hadn’t thought abou what would happen to the sum if you saved it with interest. Perhaps I might follow your thinking mike and save money and then pay all my tithing at the end of my life. Its kind of scary to think that being a Mormon requires a million pound donation. I used to get upset about Scientologys use of donations for higher level access but is it that different to our system those who pay higher tithing, for instance, are often called to be mission presidents.

    Hawk, this is true that it does provide valuable leadership experience, but is it any more then if they volunteered for the peace corps, or any other charitable gap year project?

    Stephen,

    I don’t think its institutional suicide. After all the saviour said take he no thought for tomorrow. If we really take that promise seriously then we should give all we have now, and trust that god will take care of the future.

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  6. Andrew S on June 27, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    This is definitely an interesting project…there are definitely flaws, as others have already mentioned…I would love to see an intro to finance or intermediate accounting class (just two of many, many classes in a business school that teach time value of money) take on this project again, building in assumptions about inflation, discount rate (granted, most folks don’t really invest their money as well as they should), etc.,

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  7. Mike S on June 27, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    Additionally, we would be even better off if we followed the Church’s accounting practices.

    For example, many estimates put the annual amount of tithing at $4-6 billion. But it’s not used immediately. The money collected in 2012 is used for expenses in 2015. The claim is this allows the budget for 2015 to reflect actual “money in the bank”, which makes some sense. The other advantage to this is that 6% of $5 billion = $300 million. Each year the Church can take off $600 million in interest (the prior two years of “money in the bank”) to spend on things like malls and bailing out wealthy donors to the Church yet still claim that “no sacred funds were used” for those types of things.

    Imagine if we could do the same things. Collect $50k / year. Collect 6% x $50k x 2 = $6k / year in interest. Keep that tax and tithing free. THEN pay tithing and taxes on what’s left. It would be great to have an extra $6k/year (above the $30k net). It sounds unrealistic but it’s what happens.

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  8. Bonnie on June 27, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Bah. It was hard to get through this without eye-rolling. Even in my consulting I have a hard time with analysis that focused exclusively on monetizing intangibles. Decision analysis goes too far in the monetization direction now anyway. I’ve seen these figures for years about how much it costs to raise a child and I think that doesn’t even begin to address the most pertinent issues surrounding childrearing.

    Prophets have said for years that tithing isn’t about money, it’s about faith. I just taught a lesson last week in SS about Zeezrom and Alma and Amulek and how his first concern was his pay instead of his life path. I just met with a friend who finished his MBA and wants very much to take a job making half what his colleagues will because he loves the work and believes in it. He will be really happy if that opportunity comes his way.

    I don’t think there’s anything inherent wrong with money but I think, as for Zeezrom, that spending too much time worrying about it is distracting. I’ve always paid a full tithe, never spent much time adding it up, had a life blessed with interesting experiences, and will have much to remember when I’m on the other side doing the next phase of things. I can’t imagine the $ figure will even be a concern.

    To me, the point of life is to ignore how loudly money shouts, drowning out everything else.

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  9. Jenn on June 27, 2012 at 8:13 AM

    When we lost our testimonies, only two things about our lifestyle has changed, one of which was we no longer pay tithing.
    I have never begrudged paying tithing. I’ve been very financially blessed my whole life, and I feel it is a good way to remember gratitude and priorities and de-emphasize the importance of wealth. And there was a time that we visited the bishop’s store house during a time of trial (and I will happily pay fast offerings the rest of my life).

    But City Creek Mall was pretty hard to rationalize. Looking into Church accounting practices and budget policies left a bad taste in my mouth- it really is a corporation, not a charity. Realizing just how little of our money was going to causes we support was frustrating. In short, I’m fine with giving that money away, but I want to give it to a non-profit with visibility, not a corporation.
    I strongly feel that a truly Christlike church would never have a huge amount of unspent money sitting around to be invested, because it would actively go to the poor, sick, and needy.
    We now use that 10% of our income on various good causes, and saving for our kid’s futures.

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  10. Course Correction on June 27, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Our family received many advantages from Church activity, but our finances were always strained. Our kids did without things they needed, but we paid a full tithing, budget, building fund, nd fast offering–sometimes about 15% of our gross income.

    If I could do it over, I would put my family’s needs first and make smaller donations.

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  11. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 27, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303717304577278993475062000.html.

    Taubman and church officials decline to divulge the cost of the development, which also includes offices, condominiums and apartments. But other developers estimate that such a mall, especially one with 5,000 parking spaces below ground, could cost about $600 to $800 a square foot to build. That would put the total price tag for the mall at $420 million to $560 million.

    This entire topic was gone over in depth in my HP group because a number of them have relatives, families and friends involved.

    My favorite comment was “the church is true but many of the people in the real estate department are going to hell” (paraphrase actually to protect someone whom specifics might embarrass)

    But the Church’s major investment is the ground lease of the property underneath the mall, which it has owned for some time. That, and facilitating investor interaction.

    That is much like what Gene Jacobs at the BYU law school did when Provo got its first good commercial hotel or he put together the first steps of the urban renewal of downtown SLC in the late 70s.

    People forget that second south used to be dominated by streetwalkers.

    Anyway, I think that people obsess overmuch on the mall. Get the numbers wrong. Get the level if Church investment wrong. Want poverty relief without looking at the mall as a boost to the tax base, urban renewal and construction and skilled trades jobs.

    Otherwise, I am with Bonnie and Andrew. I was an applied economics undergrad. Got the departmental honor when I graduated. Had an 800 GRE score with only one upper division class completed.

    Sorry of I got a bit snarky.

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  12. Mike S on June 27, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    #8 Bonnie: I’ve always paid a full tithe, never spent much time adding it up, had a life blessed with interesting experiences, and will have much to remember when I’m on the other side doing the next phase of things. I can’t imagine the $ figure will even be a concern … To me, the point of life is to ignore how loudly money shouts, drowning out everything else.

    I absolutely agree with this. Money is not the most important thing. There are many reasons to give away money, and if I didn’t give it to the LDS Church, I’d give it away somewhere else (and still do – just not as much). So, it’s not the amount of money that bothers me and I’ve always been a full tithe payer as well. There are two things that DO bother me, however:

    1) Corporate nature of the Church: I’m not talking about having smart business people involved. If I’m going to give money to someone, I’d rather they be smart people. At the same time, when I give it to a church, I want it to act more like I expect a “typical” church to act.

    When I think “church”, I think charity. I think of feeding the poor and helping the downtrodden. I think Mother Theresa. I think of humble people spreading a simple message of hope.

    When we “mock” religion (which we do), we make fun of “mega-churches” with expensive meeting halls. We talk about “fine-twined linens” and such. We talk about the commerce that corrupted Rome and the Catholic Church. We read in the Book of Mormon about people consumed about what they wear and expensive goods.

    So, when I see that we spend a few tens of millions a year on humanitarian aid, yet billions of dollars on a mall with Tiffany stores and Porsche stores and million $ condos and everything, I get sickened. Perhaps it’s just me, but I honestly don’t see Christ building malls around the temple in Jerusalem to “preserve its environment” or to “invest his money” or to “provide jobs for the Jews”. Those are all shallow excuses that ring weak in my mind.

    The gospel at it’s heart is calming – the corporate nature of the Church is sickening.

    2. Transparency: If there’s nothing to hide, why not do like the majority of other reputable non-profit organizations and churches and publish a true accounting of what’s happening. If there are “embarrassing things”, then perhaps we shouldn’t be doing them. There is absolutely no way I would give as much money as I do to any similarly non-transparent organization if it weren’t required for full-membership and a temple recommend.

    Again, I would still give the money away. I would still help God’s children. I would support missionaries. I would build wells. But I would do it in a way where I actually knew where the money was going.

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  13. Jake on June 27, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Andrew s,

    I agree I think I would be fascinating to see a proper financial analysis rather then by flawed and reductionist approximations.

    Mike s,

    You speak wonderful words of wisdom. Perhaps this is a great case in which economically it makes sense to emulate the church.

    Bonnie,

    I agree with you that there is more to life then economics and that In theory it is about faith and not money. But. If that’s the case then why are they so prescriptive about the fact that our faith must be expressed in money. If its not about the money then why can’t I donate a tenth of my time to god, or give ten of my chickens. Why do they explicitly determine that the only meaningful expression of faith and sacrifice is in terms of money? In institute we were taught the temples are so luxurious and expensive to show their value. If its not about the money then make them basic and simple and use the money for christlike service. Faith and devotion through the principles of tithing and the temple is equated to money. If its about faith and not money then why don’t they give away all the money they get as soon as the get it? The fact is that it is all about the money as they have equated money to faith.

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  14. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 27, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    Jake, they still take in kind donations.

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  15. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 27, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    My response to Mike S is not showing up. Ah well, I will look for it in the filter tonight. It was kind of long.

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  16. Bonnie on June 27, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Mike – We have a difference of opinion going here on how much the church spent on the mall. It seems we should clear that up before each side keeps using it as a prime example of anything.

    I do poverty alleviation. It’s heart-expanding and obvious to alleviate suffering. But in order to be truly effective, we want to do more than feed the poor. Much as I hate monetizing intangibles, I have to acknowledge that the best path out of poverty is self-sufficiency, and the best path to universal self-sufficiency is a robust local economy. I am continually impressed with the Church’s considerable efforts at teaching people to fish, and I think we, hands down, do a better job of that than any organization on Charity Navigator.

    Nobody is suggesting that the church is perfect, but the corporate model is truly the best model for managing a very large organization. As far as transparency goes, I think that’s a matter of faith too. Sorry it’s sickening to you.

    Jake – You make a good point about the place of our giving in our worthiness. To me, it’s because money, like sexuality, is a volatile influence in people’s lives. Both are quick step-off points in our faith. As a parent, I understand the importance of guardrails on treacherous roads. I get the warnings from BofM and modern prophets to beware the influence of money. I just don’t get this: “the only meaningful expression of faith and sacrifice is in terms of money” – I give TONS more time in church service than I do money. My life would be very empty if that were the only meaningful expression of faith and sacrifice. What the heck is going on in the life of someone whose only meaningful expression of faith and sacrifice is a paltry 10% of his income?

    We are WAY far from implementing consecration when we’re having this kind of discussion.

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  17. Bonnie on June 27, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    It’s not in the spam filter, Stephen, must be a browser problem.

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  18. Bonnie on June 27, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    “They have equated money to faith.” Jake, have you perused the latest General Conferences? How much discussion was there about money? They are talking consistently about character traits – ordinary morality – 99 to 1. The same at the ward level. The fact that 1 in 10 questions at a recommend interview is about money seems about par for its importance in our lives. And the purpose of the church is not to, from some kind of foolish pseudo-moral ground, bankrupt itself annually. No charity operates without reserves because reserves make possible quick action. The Red Cross has long said that they can do more with cash donations than in-kind because they can work lithely on the ground, have access to channels of supply and demand, and can reduce total costs while they improve service. Every charity knows cash is much more useful.

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  19. Alexander on June 27, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    I have been reading this blog for well over… well a long time and this is my first post so hope this does not come over too poorly. From the Old and New Testament it appears that the law of tithing is universal. Meaning as long as I profess to be a Christian or a Jew it is a requirement regardless of the denomination I belong to. Personally I do not underestimate the widow who threw in her paltry sum during Christ time. She knew what the requirement was. The obligation was between her and God and she fulfilled her end of the responsibility and had faith God would fulfill his. It appears much of the money listed is a sunk cost of being a Christian not of being some denomination of one type or another.

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  20. Jake on June 27, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    Mike s,

    Agreed about the corporate nature of the church. It concerns me when I read the vision of the tree of life and I can find more analogies between the great and spacious building and the church then I can with the tree of life.

    I also find the lack if transparency very concerning. If I am going to donate such vast sum of money to an organisation I want to know that it will do good. I just wonder whe did god become equated with the church. Why does my tithing have to be given to the church? Why can’t I donate it to what I feel furthers gods work? The fact that you have to pay it to get a temple recommend concerns me even more. I can’t see any other way of looking at it then paying for salvation.

    Bonnie,

    I was perhaps rather extreme in my rhetoric about it being the only meaningful way of service. As you point out there are so many other ways in which we can serve god in the church. Like stacking hymn books and the like.

    Perhaps you can tell Jesus that his sermon on the mount is based on a pseudo moral ground. As he quite clearly tells his apostles that they are to bankrupt themselves and trust in god to provide for them. Perhaps I am mistaken however in my reading of the sermon of the mount and he was in fact telling them in code to follow the philosophy of men in how they manage his church. Or maybe that is one of the principles that no longer apply today. I mean it certainly contradicts the principle of food storage. I agree it makes sense for a charity to run on reserves they have stockpiled, but we’re talking about gods kingdom here not a man made charity. Perhaps when christ said Consider the lilies of the field, thats all he meant is just to consider them and then ignore them and follow modern economic principles.

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  21. Andrew S on June 27, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    There’s been some discussion on Facebook over this post, and here’s one comment that I wanted to re-publish over here (if this is not ok, then I’ll take it down):

    It also fails to take into account savings of being a member, such as money that might have been spent on coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol. I come from a proud line of alcoholics who easily spent more than half a million in alcohol and opportunity costs each, so it’s quite possible I’ll come out ahead as a result of not taking up such habits.

    How about money that would have been spent on football, basketball, or baseball tickets for Sunday games? Or how about money received through programs such as the bishop’s storehouse–I know of many Ukrainian members who have made out like bandits through programs like these.

    Another one that comes to mind is the networking value of being in such a socially tight knit community. I have relatives that made millions off of network marketing in Utah, which thrives because of the connections made at church and through membership. These people are in the net positive due to their membership in the church.

    Anyway, it’s a fun exercise and it makes several great points. But it is missing a lot of the intangibles that can sway things dramatically one way or another.

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  22. Jake on June 27, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Alexander,

    Thats a really interesting perspective to say that there is nothing distinctive about tithing to Mormons. I would probably argue that it’s not as dogmatically adhered to in other faiths. But that’s as a outsider looking at them.

    Tithing surprisingly has a remarkable scarcity of references in the bible. I dont, at least I can’t recall the saviour ever teaching the principle of tithing. He certainly taught the principle of sacrifice and giving all tha we have to god, but it was never in terms of donation of a percentage of income to a religious organisation.

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  23. Mike S on June 27, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Stephen M and Bonnie:

    The estimate cost of the mall DOES fluctuate, as no one will actually release any “true” figures. The costs Stephen quoted in the WSJ article are purely an estimate based on “average costs per square foot”, which gives around $500 million. Note, this is not based on reality, but on developers predicting what a mall that size SHOULD cost.

    If the WSJ predictions are typical, the Church built extremely expensive real estate. The Church’s own news station (KSL) puts the actual cost at least 3 times higher at $1.5 billion, so we know it’s AT LEAST that much. Other estimates for the mall are $3 billion. The Salt Lake Chamber states that $5 billion has gone into downtown, with “a major part of that is soon to open in the new City Creek Center”. So, the actual cost is likely in the $2-3 billion range. If so, this is nearly an order of magnitude higher than national developers estimate it “should have cost”.

    As far as where the money came from, I’d go back to the same Wall Street Journal article that Stephen quoted:

    …The church financed the development without taking a mortgage or construction loan. Taubman, one of the country’s largest mall owners, has said that its investment is limited to a $76 million stake in the retail space and that it expects a 12% return on that….

    Note two things from this:

    - Taubman only put in $76 million. This is a pittance compared to the overall cost. At the $3 billion cost, this is only 2.5% of the cost. The Church therefore paid for essentially ALL of it (unless there is some other secret company that put in something).

    - The Church didn’t take out a loan, mortgage or anything else. This means that they financed it purely though extra cash they had on hand. Since they state they did NOT use “sacred funds”, this implies that the billions of dollars used for the mall were profits on yet other investments. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if a company has billions in profits, it is reasonable to assume that they have tens of billions of $$$ worth of businesses.

    Given the billions of dollars in extra cash we have laying around, it is pathetic that we only spend $15-30 million a year in cash on humanitarian aid – again per the Church’s own figures. Maybe some people on here like malls and Tiffany stores and condos for rich people. It sounds a lot like what is condemned in the Book of Mormon, yet we as a church seem to have embraced consumerism, business and riches as a people. We say it is “good stewardship” to build high-end stores that 99% of the membership of the Church couldn’t even afford to patronage. We say it is good to have billions of dollars laying around in investments “in case” we someday want to use it to actually help people. And so on.

    I don’t buy it.

    It seems supremely ironic to me. If “by their fruits ye shall know them” were true, it seems Mother Theresa was much closer to the Truth than we are.

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  24. Mike S on June 27, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    #21 Andrew S:

    Those were terrible examples (I know they’re not yours). Making millions off a “tight knit community”? That has nothing to do with the Church, but is common in ANY organization – whether it’s being a member of a fraternity, an alumni of a particular business school, a member of a local Rotary society, or whatever. If people weren’t LDS, they’d just do like everyone else and make connections other ways.

    And, in reality, is there something to truly be proud of making millions bilking other members in “networking” schemes? Utah is the fraud capital of the US – nothing to flaunt.

    Similarly with “tickets for games”. The number of people who actually live in an area where profession sports are an option, and who actually GO to the games is minuscule. I don’t think being a member changes this at all.

    Bad examples.

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  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 27, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Mike, there are three outside investor groups listed as well as the Church. In addition the various stores took building costs.

    In addition the construction costs came in under budget.

    Now, one thing that did happen is that the value of the real estate the Church put into the project went up dramatically. So the value of the inputs went up.

    But the dollars spent by the church did not.

    So, 450 to 570 million to construct. But, under budget with numbers that indicates 400 million to build on land the Church owns.

    T put in 76 million. Tenants probably put in 200 million. Cowboy
    LC probably the same as T and H is probably on that level. So $210 million from the outside investors.

    That leaves the Church with buying the one piece of land it lacked and putting in the land it had.

    But the land value (which I do not doubt went up with the project being built) is not an expenditure of significant liquid dollars.

    Nor would it have much sale value absent the development.

    Hope that helps provide some clarity.

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  26. Mike S on June 27, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    I apologize to all for introducing the mall into this conversation and taking it in the wrong direction.

    As I said in another place, my own personal preference is that churches were run more like humanitarian organizations than corporations. I think that is closer to what Christ had in mind than expensive real estate, etc., and am quite passionate about it.

    However, given the preponderance of businessmen in the LDS hierarchy, my view is certainly in the minority and is at odds with the actions of the Church. The goals stated in conference talks, etc. aren’t about material things, but an organization’s actions speak at least as loud as words.

    I’ll shut up now and stop commenting on this post.

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  27. Jenn on June 27, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    I think the mall, regardless of its costs, is an important part of this conversation because of the questions it raises, and I think various people have hit the nail on the head: it brings up issues of both transparency, and of the church running like a business rather than a Christ-centered organization.
    As for whether or not the church puts value on wealth, Brother Ballard’s talk at last general conference (http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/that-the-lost-may-be-found?lang=eng) did just that:

    “Equally worrisome is the ever-growing gap between the rich and poor and between those who strive to preserve family values and commitments and those who have given up on doing so.”

    (Does anyone think the pairing in that sentence is a bit unnerving? Am I wrong in thinking he is equating rich with “strive to preserve family values” and poor with “those who have given up on doing so”? He goes on to say:)

    “Statistically, those who have less education and consequently lower incomes are less likely to marry and to go to church and much more likely to be involved in crime and to have children outside of marriage. And these trends are also troubling in much of the rest of the world.

    Opposite of what many had thought, prosperity and education seem to be connected to a higher likelihood of having traditional families and values.

    The real question, of course, is about cause and effect.”
    (I’ll agree with him there: definitely a discussion needs to happen about cause and effect)

    “Do some sectors of our society have stronger values and families because they are more educated and prosperous, or are they more educated and prosperous because they have values and strong families? In this worldwide Church we know that it is the latter. When people make family and religious commitments to gospel principles, they begin to do better spiritually and often temporally as well.”

    This may apply well in the US, but imagine being a member in a poverty state in Mexico or the Phillipines and hearing this message. Ugh. I guess I just don’t understand the point of discussing this at all- either be righteous or don’t, but don’t be righteous because you will get material blessings out of it.

    Sorry, I know this is only slightly related to this thread, but we can’t pretend the church does not equate righteousness with temporal wealth.

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  28. Bryan in VA on June 27, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    “•What do you think about the Church’s lack of financial disclosure?”

    Since tithing is not my money to begin with, but already the Lord’s I have no problem with the Lord instructing his servants to limit disclosure regarding the use of His money. I claim no inside information indicating that this is the case. Even though it’s not my money I still get plenty of access to chapels, temples, church history sites, BYU, etc.

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  29. KT on June 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    #4….Are you serious? So, you only have good things happen to you because of the money that you have invested into the Church? What about the rest of the world?

    Ultimately, people will belong to what they want, and pay the amount they want. That doesn’t bother me so much. What really bothers me is the hyposcrisy.
    #1 Don’t expect me to go into tithing settlement and account for my tithing money when you (the corp) are not doing the same back to me.

    #2 Don’t try to rationalize and throw words around, claiming that “no tithing funds were used to build the mall”, or that you give “millions” in humanitarian aid when the percentage is actually smaller than what Walmart gives!

    #3 The insinuation by any member, including leadership that if you pay tithing, you will recieve blessings is abhorent to me. First of all, this isn’t even the reason one should be doing it in the first place because then it’s for selfish reasons and second of all, if that’s what it takes to get membership to pay us, there’s something wrong with that!

    #4 I would say the mall is an important part of this discussion because it speaks volumes. That little move really speaks toward the Church as a corporation/business. It also speaks toward Church leadership as businessmen running a business/corporation. It speaks toward the top down structure (pyramid scheme) of the organization.

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  30. Frank Pellett on June 27, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    At what point in Tithing Settlement do you have to account for your money? You’re not audited, nor does anyone ask you to prove you actually gave 10%. Only one question is asked, and not elaborated upon.

    For the Church making its finances public, what would the point be? It wouldn’t make people feel better about where the money is spent. For what transperency we have in government spending, no one ever talks about how nice it is that some small portion of their taxes goes to some project or another – they only complain that it’s going to something they personally would not fund themselves.

    The church has massive amounts of expenses in just maintenance. I’d much rather see the finances spent like a business (which has very little non-donation revenue) than be concerned about being insolvent, as it had many times in the past. I’m glad for the investment in the mall, even if the tenants ended up being higher-end. Being part of the community means investing in the community.

    For the talk of blessings, it should never ben an expectation of getting something back that drives you to give. We pay tithing because it is a commandment; because it is the right thing to do. When we talk about the blessings we’ve recieved from doing so it is not to gloat or to prove to others that the principle is true. It is to share in the joy we’ve seen, to share our gratitude with others. Giving isn’t about what you get, even though the stories can make it seem that way.

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  31. Will on June 27, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    Mike,

    I hear and respect what you are saying, but there are some things you are overlooking in my opinion:

    1) it is diffucult for a poor entity to provide meaningful help. You need a financially stable organization like the LDS church.

    2) The way to wealth is to spend less than you make and wisely invest the difference

    3) real property and precious metals are the best investment when our government is borrowing 3,000,000 per minute

    4) the INVESTMENT the church made in City Creek put people to work; kept the economy going; and, will translate into a good ROI for tithe payers. If you figure a cash on cash return of 10 percent per year, this translates into 300 million per year. That can do a lot of good and/or buy more wealth. Either way it fulfills the Saviors parable of the talents.

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  32. Jenn on June 27, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    There is a huge difference between financially stable, and wealthy. The goal of a christ-centered church (or person) should not BE wealth.
    Staying in the black? Very worthy goal. BILLIONS of unspent dollars sitting in an account? Not a worthy goal for a true christian.
    Use it for good. If you’re going to invest, invest in more education, or housing real estate, or small businesses in sub-saharan africa. Heck, do what the mega-churches do: create preschools and parks and gyms that give back to the community (not just mormons) while encouraging positive ROI.

    Joseph Smith’s church was all about helping the poor- even if it meant going deeply into debt. That may not have been the right approach, but we’ve swung far to the other extreme now. We should never have gotten to the point that we had billions of dollars lying around to invest.

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  33. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 27, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    The real cost of being Mormon comes in not going drinking with business contacts, with time and other commitments and in trying to remember to seek God’s will and not my own.

    Money is the least of it. I have noted before that I pay tithing not because I expect the destroying angel to pass my first born by (she died and I was paying tithing) or for any other reason that it pleases the Spirit of God. I know no other reason would keep my wife agreeable.

    God is not a vending machine. Tithing is not a guaranteed lotto ticket. It merely is.

    The Church is a church, not the Red Cross and not PETA and not a host of other causes. It has a primary duty to preach the gospel. For the last 150 years or so it has done that while running minimal surpluses.

    At present it may have turned some land in Salt Lake into a successful investment with growing value. However, I do not see that as an indictment of the church or an invitation for everyone to pick their favorite place to spend money and demand more money there, now.

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  34. Nick Literski on June 27, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    #3:
    NOTE: If you use Church accounting practices, you could NOT pay tithing each year, but just invest it so that someday when you DO pay tithing, you can pay even MORE. Kind of like they do with humanitarian aid – where they invest money in billion dollar malls NOW so “someday” they can do something useful with even more money.

    Knowing, of course, that the actions of LDS leaders reflect what pleases their deity, I’m sure that LDS members can safely make the following declaration:

    “Though reasonable efforts will be made individually to use income and other blessings as directed (i.e. tithing, volunteer labor and other contributions to the LDS church), all income/blessings become my property and will be used at my sole descretion to further my overall mission.”

    After all, a deity who feels no obligation to use your generosity for the purposes you gave it should have no problem with you doing likewise. Problem solved!

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  35. Howard on June 27, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    The church does a great job of taking care of their own and disaster relief but they only make a token effort at and give lip service to chronic third world poor who face malnutrition, thirst and easily curable disease.  Given their ability to place proselytizing missionaries into so many countries they seem ideally suited for this life saving mission.  Teaching people to fish is a very desirable goal that I strongly support but solving these basic problems, the multigenerational nature of malnutrition and the absence of a local economy capable of supporting many new fishermen means we must first vaccinate, feed and water people for some time or be prepared to answer why we didn’t on judgement day.  What will President Monson answer when he is asked why buildings and malls were more important to building the Kingdom of God than human lives and their second estate experience?  And it is even a greater issue than just those lives, we are condemning their offspring for generations to come in favor of a fancy SLC shopping experience!

    To the church’s credit I recently saw a news article talking about a $1.5million donation for vaccinations to be matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  This is a nice contributation and a smart way to do it but this is a drop in the bucket compared to the need and compared to the church’s income!  The church now has a four fold mission that includes caring for the poor and needy.  It would be nice to see some serious budget money allocated to this and a significant number of service missionaries called to actually support this stated goal.

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  36. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 27, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    “billions” in an account. That is “hard” or cash money. The facts seem to show 400 million in construction costs covered by three large investors and the tenants and contributed to by the smaller investors.

    That is the hard cash development money. The LDS Church bought some land to complete the parcel, but the growth in valuation of the project all seems driven by the increased value of the land it is on.

    Either the project has become one with a square foot construction cost of between three and twelve thousand dollars a square foot from the initial estimates and the WSJ article or the way that cost is being measured is covering things other than cash outlays.

    That would be a huge news story, if the project had turned into that kind of expense in hard cash dollars.

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  37. Henry on June 27, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    Nick:
    Leaves the church but can’t leave it alone.

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  38. Howard on June 27, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    Henry I don’t know why Nick left, but would you stay if it meant being celibate for the rest of your life?

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  39. Henry on June 27, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    Life is short. WHen the Savior was in the spirit world for 3 days, he gave the missionaries there power and authority to preach the gospel. He could not go to them personally because they had defiled themselves while in the flesh. This is a very stern warning against sexual sin. If someone comes to me wanting to jump into the homosexual lifestyle, I would encourage repentance and not indulgence.

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  40. Widespread Panic on June 27, 2012 at 9:29 PM

    #3 – Yes, the opportunity cost is often overlooked. Good catch.

    13 – Ah, paying for salvation. Indeed. A true test of one’s faith would be to have absolutely no links to paying tithing. IOW, not required for anything… to obtain and maintain a TR, to hold a calling, no need for tithing settlement, etc. That would truly be a test and evidence of one’s faith.
    Anything other than that and the argument could be made that it is really more a measure of one’s fear rather than one’s faith.

    #29 – Props! I feel exactly the same way. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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  41. Howard on June 27, 2012 at 9:30 PM

    So, your answer is yes, or no?

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  42. Julia on June 27, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    I guess I didn’t realize just how little I cared about exactly how the church invests money, until I read the OP and all of the comments. I am sure there are those who will say I am too trusting and that I should passionately care wbout every detail of a mall in Utah, but I don’t.

    What I do care about is the things that make a difference in the lives of people, whether they are members of the church or not.

    I don’t know what the exact amounts of money are that the church puts into humanitarian services, or how it is calculated. I know that there are millions of dollars of in-kind donations that the church then distributes throughout the world. I personally helped with the facilitation of three large donations of goods, valued at over 6 million dollars, in a six month period.

    I don’t know exactly how those donations got accounted for on a ledger. I really don’t care. I am grateful that my calling allowed me to be part of facilitating donations that did a lot of good for a lot of people. I don’t know exactly where all of the 200 hospital beds, medical equipment, 5,000 coats, over 100,000 books, or the hundreds of prescriptions worth different medications ended up, but I am confident that none of them were used to build a mall.

    I know that many of those donations were sent through other organizations to the people who needed them most. I do know where some of the items ended up. I know that some were given out through official LDS charities or service missionaries, but most were given to organizations who already had the networks to distribute the items quickly and efficiently.

    My life has been blessed in ways that I can’t begin to describe, because I have had the chance to pay my tithing, offerings, and donate my abilities as a Volunteer Coordinator and Development Director, as an in-kind donation, beyond my official calling(s).

    My testimony of the Gospel is strengthened by the opportunities I have had to serve, even if some of those ways have been unusual. So many times my faith has been strengthened when I had the chance to be involved in seeing the way that the Lord leads us to resources and, like the loaves and fishes, makes those resources so much more than they would have been, without the structure of the church to distribute them most effectively.

    If you calculated my “gospel net worth,” based on tithing, offerings, time spent on callings, visiting teaching, praying for others, following promptings, etc., the percentage of that worth that would come from monetary donations, would be pretty low. I am not sure how you calculate the benefit someone gets when they have a prayer answered because someone else followed a prompting.

    How do you calculate the profits from a family home evening lesson, or the dollar amount that corresponds to a prayer? What is the monetary equivalent of a life changed when a friend receives a testimony of the gospel? What is the value of supporting an alcoholic as they quit drinking? What is the value of a phone call, email or text sent when someone is feeling alone or scared? How would you value a smile or wave from a child to an elderly ward member whose family lives far away? Is there a particular price that can be put on the visit from my visiting teacher on a day when I thought I would go crazy, if I didn’t get at least a few hours of rest when my twins were tiny? Is it more valuable or less valuable because she came over without calling first?

    What is the price of a card, sent because of a prompting, to someone who is close to suicide? If that card is received in the mail, on the day that person had chosen as the last day of their lives, and it gives them the strength to hold on a little longer, until they find the help they need, how does that change the value of that card? Is the value only in the card stock, envelope, stickers, pen ink, and postage stamp?

    I HAVE had the chance to impact the lives of thousands of people I have never met, by using the skills, opportunities and connections that the Lord has given me. If you asked me what I get back for my half million dollar investment in the church, (the monetary value as assumed in the OP) I would say that I get WAY MORE in return, every day of my life, both tangibly and intangibly.

    My testimony is priceless. Without the chance to serve others, in a meaningful way, my feelings of self worth would be much less than they are. The value that comes from being able to serve the Lord, by serving others, is what sustains me and my testimony, even in the midst of great trials. I hope that I am a MORE profitable servant, that my “gospel net worth,” my lifetime’s contributions and money and service equal much more than half a million dollars in value. I see that as the lowest end of what I want to give – to my eldest brother Christ, His church, and my earthly and heavenly brothers and sisters, no matter where they live or what religious practices they follow. I guess I would feel like an unprofitable servant if my impact on the world only amounted to a half million dollars in value.

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  43. Howard on June 27, 2012 at 11:07 PM

    Julia,
    Thank you for your comment.  You made some interesting points with regard to valuing the benefits you receive.  The church published some numbers regarding what they spend on humanitarian aid ending a few years ago,  it averaged $13million per year plus other donations estimated in the $millions which appears to be the value of donated time.  They take in multi $billions per year most of it is spent on buildings so there is more than enough income to increase aid in support of the fourth fold of it’s mission.  It is difficult to get accurate information from the church so I am interested in this part of your comment: I personally helped with the facilitation of three large donations of goods, valued at over 6 million dollars, in a six month period…my calling allowed me to be part of facilitating donations that did a lot of good for a lot of people. I don’t know exactly where all of the 200 hospital beds, medical equipment, 5,000 coats, over 100,000 books, or the hundreds of prescriptions worth different medications….  I would love to hear more about this.  What was your calling and evolvement in this?  Did the church purchase these items or were they donated by others?  etc. Thanks.

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  44. Chino Blanco on June 27, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    The human cost is the infantilization and co-dependency that lack of transparency and community control engenders in the membership, not to mention the cost to democratic society imposed by an institution that preaches self-reliance but teaches blind faith in self-appointed authoritarians.

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  45. Glenn Thigpen on June 28, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    I don’t mind anyone toting up the “costs” of being a Mormon. But please, let’s get the balance sheet out and compare our “costs” to those of the Savior, the price He paid for us.

    There is no comparison.

    Glenn

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  46. Julia on June 28, 2012 at 12:48 AM

    #43 Howard -

    I am not sure exactly what those numbers are or what they specifically relate to. I have worked for several non-profits over the years, and usually you don’t report the value of volunteer time or donated items in money that you “spend.” That money is usually money an organization has raised through fundraising and then spent.

    The usual exception to the volunteer time being reported in terms of dollars is when that time is done by a professional, at their place of business, and the person or business officially writes off the balance in the name of an organization.

    (So, if a dentist pulls a tooth or does a filling for someone, and they are “donating” that service by writing off the bill, that would be included in the value of goods or services provided by the non-profit, if they are giving the dentist a receipt to use as a tax write off. The dentist officially donates the “money” for the procedure, and then the organization pays the dentist for the work he did. If the dentist is volunteering at a clinic that the non-profit owns, then his time would be included in the volunteer hours an organization tracks, but would not necesarily be considered in monetary calculations.)

    The laws about reporting non-monetary donations vary between states, and in-kind and volunteer hours are not reported in the paperwork that the IRS requires for 501(c)3 designation, as long as the volunteers are not paid for their time.

    The specific experiences I referred to above came while I was called as a Stake Humanitarian Services Coordinator. I was on the regional humanitarian services coordination group, and was involved in charitable efforts done in our region for people who lived in our region, as well as exploring, networking and coordinating in-kind donations from our area that became part of the church’s world-wide humanitarian services projects.

    There are some things that are on an on-going needs list, that are always needed by humanitarian services. Creating relationships with organizations that may have access to those items happens all over the world, but especially in the US. There are also specific needs that get communicated when the church has been asked by partner organizations, or church service missionaries, to find something(s)specifically needed.

    Most often, in creating relationships with other organizations – for-profit, non-profit, churches, and other 501(c)3s, we became aware of items that were available, that would be thrown away or scrapped if there wasn’t an organization that could take them.

    Sometimes they were things that were being replaced, like the hospital beds. An older hospital was having a wing torn down to rebuild one that was more up to date. The beds that had been used on two of the floors were an older model that did not use electricity to move any of its parts, and they were narrower than what most US patients expect a hospital bed to be. The head of the procurement department had tried for almost six months to sell the beds, and no one was interested in them, both because they were older and not very beautiful, and because moving that many hospital beds is expensive. He hadn’t found anyone who would take them, even for free, and find them a new home. His wife was a friend of my visiting teaching companion. I went and met with the gentleman, we took pictures of the beds, measurements, created a full description and I wrote a several page report that included the shipping cost issues that were potentially difficult. I sent the entire packet of information to Salt Lake to the Humanitarian Services department, asking if the church knew of a place they could be used, and if the cost of transportation was prohibitive.

    A week later I got a phone call from a very nice man who introduced himself as a member of the seventy, and then asked me a number of questions about the beds, most of which I didn’t have the answers for. He asked me to find out what the answers were and then call him back at a given phone number. I got the requested information, called him back and gave him my best ideas to deal with the transportation issue.

    You don’t need to hear about all the back and forth over the next two weeks getting the beds ready to be transported. I will just say that I was glad I had unlimited long distance on my cell phone. In the end, about 2 months after the process started, I was there when the two cargo containers were filled up with the first 150 hospital beds. The donating hospital, and 25 LDS volunteers made sure each bed had all of its parts, that the beds were first secured with rope and then had plastic put around them, (to keep them from being harmed while in route to Cambodia), a translated copy of the instruction manual, and a tag with a reference number. It took about five hours to get them wrapped up, loaded into the containers and on their way to the port. The other 50 beds were shipped to Salt Lake to go out with a larger shipment that was going out later in the year to a Eastern European country.

    What was essentially scrap metal here in the US, was invaluable in the countries those beds were sent to. Here a bed without power controls is a pain, and no one wants them. In the countries they were sent to, power for beds would have been a luxury that the small hospitals that serve the poor could not have afforded. The clunky mechanisms that made them unusable here made them a beautiful gift in an area where most hospitals only used hospital type beds for surgeries.

    The estimated value of the beds was about $600,000. (I didn’t do the valuation, it was based on what the US government pays for similar beds when it is setting up foreign hospitals.) The church paid the entire cost of transporting the beds once they left the hospital, although I know that they worked with several organizations to distribute them once they were “in country” on the other end.

    I really don’t have the energy to go into that much detail about every donation I handled. In my earlier post I only talked about the biggest ones, but there were a LOT more smaller scale donations that I was involved in. Many of the things that went to Salt Lake would go back on trucks that brought goods for the nearby Bishop’s Storehouse. Some were crated and then taken to the airport for transport to Salt Lake, or directly to the country or organization that would be distributing the donations.

    The only time that I am aware that the church “purchased” the donations, that I was involved in, was when the church paid a fee that accounted for 3% of the retail cost of a vaccine that the organization asked for to help cover their administrative costs. I do know that the church covered the cost of transportation in almost all of the donations I helped facilitate, with the exception of the coats that were donated. The company donating the coats paid for them to be shipped after we had sorted them out by sizes and how warm they were, before they were sent off to 10 different countries.

    I hope that answers your questions.

    Julia

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  47. Julia on June 28, 2012 at 3:53 AM

    Here are some links that might be helpful for those who honestly want to know what the church humanitarian services do, and how members are encouraged to get involved.

    This is the main page for humanitarian services.

    http://mormon.org/humanitarian-aid?gclid=CKnbgMvD8LACFQ9whwodxxLwmQ

    The church’s relationship with the Red Cross, in the US:

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-and-red-cross-sign-agreement-to-continue-relationship

    Howard #35 – Sorry, your comment really galled me when you said the church doesn’t do anything for third world countries. It is so ignorant I have debated whether to say anything. I know church service missionaries who have spent their entire missions working to make sure that local populations who are dealing with starvation, drought and deep poverty and their governments have access to Atmit, which is part of one of the successful programs for fighting starvation. There was a lot of research done at BYU, by a variety of disciplines, to tweak the formula to give the best nutrition possible to those who are struggling with starvation. Atmit is produced in Welfare Square, and has been sent all over the world in the last 10 years.
    So, Howard, next time do a little more research before condemning the church for not helping people in the Third World. I can’t think of anything that is further from the truth.
    So Howard, here are your links:
    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/background-information/atmit

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-partnering-help-east-africa-drought-victims

    Continuing efforts to make Atmit even better!

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/61569/BYU-scientist-specialists-work-together-to-fortify-Atmit.html

    Other ways that the LDS church, and students at church schools, are addressing the needs of poor people around the world. The focus is on programs and solutions that are requested by the governments, local church leaders, or service groups from the community who has the needs.

    http://marriottschool.byu.edu/emp/WPW/byuprograms.cfm

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20845/Missionaries-perform-humanitarian-service.html

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-sending-relief-supplies-to-pakistan

    One theme that goes through these articles, and almost every program I have personally worked on, or that church service missionaries I know have worked on, is that the church partners with other organizations whenever possible. This quote, from the link right below it, does a great job of explaining what humanitarian service means. Notice that this definition makes it clear that as the Presiding Bishop, Bishop Burton is responsible for two different populations, and makes it clear that humanitarian aid money is NOT going to the welfare program that focuses on members. The church welfare program, mostly accessed by members through a bishop’s storehouse or local fast offerings, is not included in the $1.3 billion figures spent on humanitarian aid.

    “According to Bishop Burton, humanitarian aid differs from Church welfare in that humanitarian efforts are aimed at non-members while welfare is assistance dispensed to members by the Church’s 27,000 bishops. He said a primary objective of Church humanitarian outreach is to “relieve suffering by responding to emergencies — on the average, there is an emergency someplace in the world related generally to a natural disaster every two days.” He added that the program’s “secondary objective is to help families and individuals become self-reliant.”

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58333/Humanitarian-services-0-make-things-better.html

    Okay, that is the end of my rant. I have had so many truly positive and faith promoting experiences while participating in humanitarian service projects in my own state, as well as projects that are focused on worldwide needs. I find it sad that I was able to find all of the links in this post in less than 30 minutes, with the help of Google. I knew all of the information in the post before I started writing/researching for this comment.

    Do you what the church does outside of Utah and the US? You never thought to check to see if your assumptions were true? A mall is really more important to talk about when asking about what the church does?

    I wish that I could see a more detailed report of where fast offering, bishops storehouse and church humanitarian service funds are used. My curiousity isn’s so important that I would say there is nothing good coming from those programs, just because I don’t have that information.

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  48. Julia on June 28, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    I haven’t had it tell me that my post needs moderation. I am not offended, I am just curious how the program chooses what to moderate.

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  49. Howard on June 28, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    Julia,
    Thank you for your detailed response and for your wonderful contribution to humanitarian aid through the church.  Your description of the valuation of the 200 hospital beds is a good example of how difficult it is to get a sense of the numbers.  The beds had zero market value in the US but by transporting them you and the church turned them into an invaluable asset elsewhere and for accounting purposes they were valued at $600,000.  

    So bloggers can argue about the relative size of the church’s investment in City Creek and the value of the church’s annual humanitarian aid but I think the main issue regarding the church’s humanitarian is; there is an abundance of life saving need that is not currently being relieved in chronic third world situations and the church has an abundance of money that wisely used could provide that relief.  Additionally as Christians it is very disheartening that this is not self evident and compelling to church decision makers.

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  50. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 28, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    Julia, thank you for your comments. As for how the spam filter works, I do not know.

    Howard, indeed, it is always possible to second guess how anyone spends their money and to assume the worst. It is, I think, our modern version of the tension between Nephi and Lemuel.

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  51. Andrew S on June 28, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    (I fished a comment out of moderation)

    the reason this one got into moderation was of so many links. But since we can all see that these are not links to (insert spam product here), I have approved the comment.

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  52. Nick Literski on June 28, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    #37:
    Nick:
    Leaves the church but can’t leave it alone.

    Henry:
    Has no actual response to the point at hand, so attempts to attack the messenger.

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  53. Andrew S on June 28, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    re 37,

    Henry,

    Can you refrain from making comments where that’s all you have to say? I mean, if you need me to email you more about it, I can, but quite simple, discussion about the church and Mormonism is not, can not, and should not be reserved only for current members of that church. There is no reason why even if someone has left the church, that they should have to “leave it alone.”

    So, comments like that really don’t add *anything* new to the discussion.

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  54. Howard on June 28, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Julia wrote: …you said the church doesn’t do anything for third world countries. It is so ignorant….   Well, you may have been galled but you misquoted me and used your misquote to call my comment ignorant and chastise me for  a lack of research and go on a rant!  I’m aware of Atmit, I’m also aware of Unimix and Plumpy’nut.  Project Mercy a Christian organization reformulated the US version of Atmit for use in Africa and sent 930 TONS of it to Ethiopa in 1985/86.  The apparently 2007 news article link you provided states the church sent 80,000 POUNDS (not tons) of Atmit in 2003.  There is no mention of additional shipments so they seem to be touting this one. The the Christian shipment was 23x larger than the LDS shipment!  This is typical of the kind of limited PR spin the church publishes, it leaves a very positive impression but not enough information to allow anyone to actually quantify the church’s contributation, but eventually by comparison a picture begins to emerge. 

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  55. John Mansfield on June 28, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    How transparent should a church’s or a Christian’s charity be? That’s in regard to the Christion teaching about left hand not knowing what the right is doing. Over the past few years there’s been a refrain that the LDS church doesn’t talk about it much, but here’s some of the good that it’s doing in the world. That can’t be repeated too many times before we actually do have a habit of touting the church’s almsgiving. Better to keep quiet, not hold the church out as a charitable enterprise, and let those who don’t trust the church with their money put it elsewhere as they’re doing already.

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  56. Jenn on June 28, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Does anyone else find it unnerving that the church DID disclose its finances until 1959, when there was a bit of a kerfuffle about the church outspending its income by 8 million (just a few years after losing money on government bonds)?

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  57. Nick Literski on June 28, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    #55:
    How transparent should a church’s or a Christian’s charity be? That’s in regard to the Christion teaching about left hand not knowing what the right is doing.

    I think this is a good question, John. Clearly, Jesus taught against individuals trumpeting their charity. On the other hand, he also taught that believers should let their light shine, rather than hiding it under a bushel. Where does an individual–let alone an organization such as a church–find the balance between these two?

    I understand those who criticize the LDS church for its financial secrecy, and if I was making donations to that organization, I’d want to know what it was doing with them. On the other hand, there are times when the LDS church broadcasts its charitable/service works in a way which seems quite self-serving, ala advertising. It seems like the LDS church is going to be subject to criticism at either end, but is there a midpoint where both teachings of Jesus can be satisfied?

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  58. Bradley on June 28, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    You forgot “your sanity”.

    To be fair, the principle of tithing works just as well for catholics and protestants as it does for LDS.

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  59. Jake on June 29, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    Nick,

    I think that is a crucial point. The church wants it both ways. It wants to have the right to have secrecy in terms of its finances, but at the same time to proclaim how much it does to help the world. I personally find it rather hollow that when the church does service it makes us wear yellow tabards saying ‘helping hands’ service seems as much a PR excercise because of it, then actually helping people. Can we really honestly imagine Jesus performing his miracles in a helping hands t-shirt? I can’t but then what do I know, I am obviously not in tune with the spirit as others.

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  60. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 29, 2012 at 7:38 AM

    Jake, I have not seen the yellow shirts. Where are you geographically? I am curious whose idea that was.

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  61. Jake on June 29, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Stephen,

    http://www.lds.org/bc/content/church/news/images/WelfareQuotes-299.jpg

    I am in the UK, but they are used all over the world. The link above shows them being worn. In the UK any church service project requires everyone involved to wear them.

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  62. Jenn on June 29, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    We all wore them when helping with Hurricane Katrina and again with Hurricane Ike. Members in Houston would wear them just out and about, too, almost like a souvenir for having helped with hurricane clean up.

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  63. Howard on June 29, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    I don’t mind church PR as much as I do apparently deliberately misleading church PR.  A church Newsroom article on Atmit from one of Julia’s links states: In 2003 the Church sent it’s first shipment of Atmit to help relieve the starvation that 12 million people were facing.  The first shipment comprised of 80,000 pounds of the mixture..  If you read this carefully or you are an attorney you realize that the church’s contribution was a just drop in the bucket to the problem of feeding 12  million people.  If you do the math, each person would only receive .0067 lbs.!  If you read it casually you might get the impression that they have the needs of all of the starving 12million covered! So while these PR sentences are accurately crafted they tend to be easily misread in a self serving PR way leaving a much better impression than what actually took place.  This is very typical of a lot of church news articles.  Call it magnifying their calling!

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  64. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 29, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Jake, thanks! I had missed that.

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  65. Mike S on June 29, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Aside from the money, there are other true costs of being a Mormon: This bothers me on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

    And note the sly reference to us in one of the comments (June 28, 14:48:57) and the “hitting it out of the park” response a few comments later. This is what’s being taught to our children.

    https://postpartumprogression.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/when-i-dress-modestly-i-respect-my-body-as-a-gift-from-god/

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  66. Jenn on June 29, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    I saw that comment a few days ago and wondered if she was trying to refer to this blog, or referencing the same scripture this blog does. Since FmH covered that a few days ago, I think her response was aimed more at them.
    And yes, that primary lesson was facepalm-worthy. Talk about missing the point.

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  67. Hedgehog on July 2, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    Interesting post.
    As a BIC, TR-holding, TM, full-tithe and other donation paying member, calling-fulfilling member, I flinch when the name of the church is used in the endowment session. It feels more and more they are bellowing it at me(the volume seems to increase, for sure). Am I the only one this gets to?
    I feel more and more and rather be consecrating to God directly…

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  68. Hedgehog on July 2, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    ‘I’d rather’…

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  69. Silhan on July 3, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    #67 Yes, Hedgehog, I noticed that too. The exuberance with which the speaker delivers that line always made it seem like concecrating to the Church was the climax of the endowment.

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  70. 2012 Brodies: Vote Here!! » Main Street Plaza on January 20, 2013 at 3:35 AM

    [...] The Cost of Being a Mormon [...]

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  71. [...] bloggers go…Jake and Mormon Heretic have both been entered in at least one category apiece. Jake’s piece The Cost of Being Mormon has been entered in the Most Insightful Discussion of Mormon Culture section. Additionally, [...]

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  72. Hondo Lafaver on December 3, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    Hedgehog, don’t worry. I had a chat with Jesus last night.

    I asked him specifically if he’d mind if I kicked in a bit of my limited extra money–I don’t know may be 10% or so (though that’s a stretch for me)–to trying to follow his guidance to love my fellow man and help those less fortunate than me.

    Jesus then told me, “Absolutely, and I love you my son, just make sure to make the check out to ‘Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc’ (and don’t back-date your check).”

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