Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Church Stockpiling $100 Billion?

Several articles this morning (Daily Mail, Forbes, Business Insider) reporting that David A. Nielsen, a 41-year-old former employee of the church's investment arm Ensign Peak Advisor, has complained that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka "Mormons" or "LDS Church") is sitting on $100 billion which, he contends, have not been used in compliance with tax laws on tax-free charities. Neilson decided to make his report after he and his family left the Church, and because the IRS offers those that report tax evasion a percentage cut of any taxes that are collected.

     Assuming that Nielsen is correct, as a member, I have to admit some relief. While I didn't know how much the Church took in as tithing every year, I was always suspicious that the money mostly went to operating overhead--especially to Brigham Young University (BYU) which is sometimes jokingly referred to as "the black-hole of tithing." But, perhaps more importantly, in most any other organization I can think of, this money would have long been gone, appropriated by powerful members. (Just think of another famous charity, the Clinton Foundation). The money (or more likely, investments) isn't gone, however, and given the amount claimed by Nielson, must have been well invested.

    The various articles quote Nielsen as saying that the members have been deceived about how the money was spent, and questions whether members would continue to pay tithing if they knew how much was being set aside. Addressing the latter issue, I would note that the commandment to pay a tithe (which is, by definition, 10% of income or increase) is from the Bible (see, e.g., Leviticus 27:30). So, even if the Church is running a surplus it doesn't make the commandment go away. (And the Church has not always run a surplus--there have been times in Church history when the Church was heavily in debt).

    Turning to the former issue, whether it was spent in the way members expected, is actually misleading. I don't think most members expect it to be used in any particular way, other than anticipating that it will be used for Church expenses. There is certainly no promise that it will be used for particular things. But we regular members know that the operating funds for local congregations, for temples, for the various missions, and so on, come from tithing. I expect that other portions go to support the various schools and educational programs supported by the Church. And I expect that portions go to various charitable activities, whether disaster relief, development aid in former Soviet Bloc countries, Africa, South America, etc.

     Would I agree with how the money is spent (or, in this case, not spent)? Probably not. I'm irritated at how low are the operating budgets for the ward and stake in which I now find myself since I think the youth programs could use more money. But on the other hand, the Church just purchased some prime real estate for use as a youth camp not too distant for here for the use of, and to be operated by, a consortium of seven stakes (each "stake" is composed of multiple congregations), including the stake in which I reside. And the Church ponied up 90% of the funds, with the local congregations being responsible for the rest. It was hard digging up a little extra money around Christmas to contribute toward the rest of the purchase price, and I'm sure many others that gave probably felt the same way. But it gave us skin in the game, so to speak.

     As for whether the amount (and keep in mind that it probably isn't cash, but investments in other things: stocks, bonds, property) is being stockpiled in the event of Christ's Second Coming, I don't know and I doubt that Nielsen does either. But I can tell you that the Second Coming will be messy with a lot of buildings and infrastructure being destroyed, and those buildings and infrastructure aren't going to rebuild themselves.

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