This is one of a series of web pages I created between 2001and 2006. I was angry and frustrated at the LDS Church. Since then I have moved on and calmed down. So please remember, if you read these pages, that they reflect my past and not my present feelings. Thanks for your understanding!      -  Chris Tolworthy

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Tithing: do you know where your money goes?

By Chris Tolworthy
Based on an article I wrote for the Zarahemla City Limits Wiki.

The church gives around one fifth of one percent of its money to the poor. Meanwhile, the General Authorities are well paid, and the church is able to spend a billion dollars buying a large shopping mall., and other real estate investments. Don't believe me? Read on and check the evidence for yourself. 

Church income

The church has three main sources of income: tithing, offerings and business investments. Offerings are similar in principle to tithing - they are funds donated to the work of the church and church members consider them sacred. Business investments are based on donations made in the past, usually in the nineteenth century when the church practiced the United Order and members would donate their businesses to the church.

The church makes a distinction between tithes/offerings and business investments. For example, General Authority allowances and the recent purchase of a shopping mall are said to come from business investments so that tithing funds are not touched. However, the distinction is false because most church business investments were originally made with tithing money (or its equivalent) from past generations.

The church has 12 million members, or whom roughly 4 million can be considered nominally active, and many of these pay tithing. For 150 years the church has been buying land and raising buildings. Based on this and other information (See below), Time Magazine estimated in 1997 that the church then owned at least $30 billion in assets and had an annual gross income of $6 billion. Nine years later, taking compound inflation, modest church growth and real estate prices into account, the figure is likely to be much higher.

Accountability

Unlike most other churches, the LDS church keeps its accounts secret. In practice, fifteen men (apostles and the First Presidency) control all of the church's assets and are accountable to no-one.

Before 1963 the accounts were made public, but a series of bad financial results, largely due to an expensive building program in Europe, led to increased secrecy. Today at General Conference the membership are simply told that the finances have been "audited" and are told nothing more.

How the figures are estimated

Church financial accounts can be broadly estimated based on a number of clues. First, the 1963 accounts can be extrapolated. Second, they are adapted based on the occasional statement by an apostle. Third, reputable newspapers and magazines occasionally publish investigative reports that estimate church holdings. Fourth, some holdings, such as land, have to be registered on public databases, and their value and likely returns can be estimated based on market rates. Finally, it is common for unbelieving Mormons to be given callings that do not involve teaching others. This frequently means a calling as ward clerk. So there are a large number of unbelieving ward clerks and they are in a good position to estimate the typical tithing income per unit and the kinds of things it is spent on.

Church expenditure

Most of the church's income is spent on buildings. First, chapels, second temples, then visitor's centers, mission presidents' homes, historical sites, and so on. In 2005 the church announced that it would spend around one billion dollars buying a shopping mall in Salt Lake City. The Deseret News sometimes reports other major purchases, such as 17 million for farmland in Nebraska.

Does the church need all these buildings? The new Testament church did not own any buildings. The modern House Church Movement shows that you can run very successful churches without owning buildings - indeed, Jesus said that wealth can even be a hindrance to the gospel.

The next highest cost is the payroll. First, Church Education System employees, then LDS bureaucrats at church headquarters an around the world, and finally General Authority salaries, called "living expenses."

Finally, tithing is used for whatever other costs may arise. In particular, not every missionary can support himself or herself, and the church will contribute something either at a local or a central level

The church as a financial corporation

The church is more like a financial investment corporation than any other church. Time magazine said "There is no major church in the U.S. as active as the Latter-day Saints in economic life, nor, per capita, as successful at it." Much of the church's activities come through its commercial identity, the Corporation of the President of the Church. For this reason, unbelieving Mormons sometimes refer to the church as "the corporation."

Since the mid 1980s, the convert baptism rate has levelled off. So the church as a church no longer compares favorably with faster-growing churches. However, the church is number one in the financial arena. The church's great significance is therefore as a financial investment and not as a religious body.

General Authority salaries

"Because the Church has no professional clergy, it is administered at every level through lay participation and leadership, and officials other than the General Authorities contribute their time and talents without remuneration. ...Because the General Authorities are obliged to leave their regular employment for full-time Church service, they receive a modest living allowance provided from income on Church investments." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 510)

In most other businesses the term "living allowance" is called a "salary." The word "modest" is a relative term. The church is a multi-billion dollar corporation, and compared with other multi-billion dollar corporations the directors' salaries are very modest. Many General Authorities come from a business management background, so it is probable that their salary represents a substantial pay cut. But compared with the average member their salaries are very large. And unlike any other management position, "General Authority" is a job for life and comes with the additional benefit of being treated like God's mouthpiece on earth.

The salary given to a Seventy was reported to be $40,000 in 1983 (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9, 1983). That figure can be expected to rise with inflation. Twenty years later, a man who claimed to be an auditor in the church office building said (in 2002) that the allowance range from $72,000 for members of the Seventy up to over $400,000 for the First Presidency, though some wealthier General Authorities do not draw any allowance. (Source: a lengthy discussion at exmormon.org where all sides were vigorously debated.)

Junior leaders, such as Mission Presidents, receive a much smaller salary. "The calling [to be a Mission President] is not a regular remunerative position,...The family involved gives of its time and energies without salary, though there is a modest allowance for living expenses." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 914)

In addition to direct salary, senior General Authorities receive other benefits. The President of the church travels in a church owned and chauffeured car, or in a private luxury jet provided by church members the Huntsmans. The President of the church also has a luxury home: "The $1.2 million condominium at 40 N. State that is home to the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be exempt from property taxes, Salt Lake County commissioners ruled Tuesday." (Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 8, 1988) The figure of $1.2 million in 1988 should be greatly increased to allow for 18 years of house price inflation.

Money given to the poor

The church gives almost no tithing to the poor and needy. However, church members can choose to donate via "fast offering" or "humanitarian aid" and the church is duty bound to use this on good causes. Nevertheless, these figures are estimated to be only a tiny fraction of the church's income.

The cover-page article of the June 1998 Ensign said that during the 13 year period from 1985 to 1998, the Church has spent the equivalent of 162.5 million dollars for various humanitarian aid projects around the world. According to the Time Magazine article of the previous year (by David Van Biema, August 4, 1997) the church's income was then 5.9 billion dollars per year. Van Biema claims his source of information to be the Church itself. The sum of 162.5 million divided by 13 years comes to 12.5 million dollars per year, or 0.21% of the Church's reported non-taxed annual revenue.

This figure, one fifth of one percent, is supported by the most reliable figures available, the British Charities Commission Financial Statement for the year 2003.

A few years ago the church added "humanitarian aid" to the tithes and offerings, and encouraged members to give to this as well as to tithing. Since then the total amount has gone up. One report I saw said the total given was 750 million from 1984 to 2006 (i.e. over a 22 year period) . Over that same period the church took in around 130 BILLION dollars (based on 5.9 billion a year in 1997). There is no evidence that the amount given to the poor from tithing itself has risen above the one fifth of one percent benchmark.

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