Fallibility, Trust, and Commercial Development

March 10, 2014 | 108 comments
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2014-03-10 Philly Dev SiteI’ve written about the fallibility of our leaders before (here, here, and here) because I think it’s important for us as members to develop greater spiritual independence and because the unrealistic expectations held for the leaders (as often by the critics as by the devout) set people up for unnecessary disappointment. But the concept of fallibility, like the even trendier concept of doubt, can be overplayed. Leaders are fallible, yes, but that doesn’t preclude room for trust.

The proximate cause of my ruminations was the announcement of the Church’s addition of a chapel and a commercial apartment tower next to the Philadelphia temple site. Based on reporting in the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, local reception of the proposed projects is quite enthusiastic. From the NYT:

[Philadelphia’s] deputy mayor for economic development… praised the church for taking a step that private developers were less likely to tackle, that is, committing to such a project without more evidence of economic vitality in the surrounding neighborhood.

From the Inquirer:

They [the Church’s developments] could end up as one of the most civic-minded projects now being built in Philadelphia.

The Inquirer was notably less enthusiastic about the aesthetics of the project (“The collection of architectural pastiches promises to be one of the weirder ensembles produced in 21st-century America outside of Las Vegas.”), but from everything I’ve been able to determine the residents of Philadelphia are happy to have the projects, both for the economic boost from the construction and for the longer-run contribution to revitalizing their city.

In stark contrast to this warm reception, however, I’ve seen numerous examples of Mormons decrying the Church’s profiteering ways and alleging abuse of sacred tithing funds (with numerous references to the controversial City Creek Center project.)

My understanding of the history of the project is that when construction started on the Philadelphia Temple (about a year ago) the lot where the chapel and 32-story apartment building will be built was owned and planned for development by another firm. Only after that developer abandoned their plans did  the Church buy the lot and draw up the plans for development there. The New York Times reported that Property Reserve, Inc. (a real estate investment affiliate of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) moved forward with the apartment tower because “the project … represents an investment opportunity for the church in a strengthening real estate market that is benefitting from a growing move from the suburbs to the city.” Tom King, a director of Property Reserve, is quoted in the Times saying “There was a portion of the site left over after the meeting house and that coincided with residential housing need.” It appears the investment arm of the Church happened to find a newly available lot in a desirable location right next to an ongoing temple project, but the two ventures are not linked other than by coincidence.

In fact, the only discrepancy I found between public accounts from Philadelphia politicians and the Church about the apartment building is that the latter emphasized that this was a sound investment rather than a community project. This isn’t a contradiction of fact, but simply a difference of emphasis. And it’s a telling one.

For those who view any and all connections between the Church and the world of finance as suspicious, I don’t think that any reasonable reply can be made. The Church, as a large institution, requires considerable funds to operate. To keep those funds in a bank would not keep the Church out of the realm of commerce (after all, banks use deposits to make loans). All it would accomplish would be to waste Church funds (due to lower interest rates) and hand over the power to decide how those funds ought to be invested to third parties. This would be, in essence, little more than a symbolic washing of hands.

In addition, it’s important to keep the historical context for the Church’s view on finances in mind. Institutions have long memories, and by those standards it was not very long ago that the Church was brought to the verge of insolvency by persecution. Given past experiences, it is no wonder that the Church takes the issue of financial independence and self-reliance very, very seriously.

This was most recently reiterated by Elder Bednar in the October 2013 General Conference talk “The Windows of Heaven.” This talk, however, borrowed heavily from an earlier 1991 talk given by President Hinckley (“The State of the Church”) where he explained the Church’s need to invest funds in historical context (this time citing personal rather than institutional perspective):

Some of us, I submit, are old enough to remember vividly the dark times of the Great Depression of the thirties. I hope we shall never see such again. But we know that they are not outside the realm of possibility. We are mindful of the story of Pharaoh’s dream of the fat and lean cattle and the full and thin ears of corn.

Philadelphia politicians are quick to thank the Church for its generous contribution to the downtown area. That is what matters to their constituents. By contrast, the folks at Property Reserve, Inc. have emphasized the high quality of the investment opportunity because their interests lie in serving and protecting the temporal interests of the Church. Given the necessity of managing large funds, proactively investing them for profit ventures strikes me as the most fiscally prudent and morally responsible course to take.

At a more abstract level it is worth pointing out that while leaders of the Church and employees of the Church and its investment affiliates are not perfect, we ought give them the same benefit of the doubt that we would extend to any other ordinary member of our faith community. It’s one thing to draw a distinction between a leader’s individual understanding of doctrine and revelation and the official canon or to observe that, in their day-to-day interactions, leaders are prone to the same faults as any other human being. It’s another to think that, given ample time for consideration and the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars, our leaders wouldn’t be able to exercise competent oversight of major, media-scrutinized endeavors. Big claims call for big evidence, and I don’t see any basis for concern with these projects other than, of course, the discomfort some people have in having the Church deal with large financial investments at all. From my point of view, clearly the Church should never exist for the purpose of financial investment, but just as clearly financial investment is a necessary element of the Church’s existence.

I am not suggesting that our leaders can do no wrong. I’m simply saying that we ought to be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt while we investigate and consider their actions and decisions and that, furthermore, nothing I’ve found so far in the Philadelphia project gives cause for concern or misgiving. The Church has lots of money, and the Church has invested some of it in a prudent and ethical commercial venture. I’m OK with that.

108 Responses to Fallibility, Trust, and Commercial Development

  1. Howard on March 10, 2014 at 7:57 am

    “The new residential building will total 400,000 square feet and have 258 market-rate apartments as well as 13 townhouses. About 12,000 square feet of the development will be dedicated to street-level retail. In addition, a church meeting house will be constructed that will have a chapel, family history and cultural center and courtyard.

    While church officials declined to say how much the project will cost, it is estimated to run roughly $120 million.”

    If you follow the money it’s obvious that the church aside from it’s religion side is largely a property development and construction company. As membership growth slows the need for meeting houses and temples slows so rather than slow construction they are moving into new projects.

    I hope these apartments are affordable. I was living in SLC in 2010/11 and at that time the lower floor small 2 bedroom high rise condos began at $1.7 million and increased rapidly as you moved higher. Beautiful views of Temple Square though.

  2. Dave K on March 10, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for this post, Nathaniel. I’m also okay with our church leader’s decisions to invest in these real estate projects. I’m sure my financial decisions would not hold up to the scrutiny of some critics I’ve read. And I have every trust that church leaders are not abusing the funds entrusted to them for personal gain. I will always remember fondly when President Hinckley came to speak at the MTC when I was a missionary. He arrived in an luxurious Chevy Cavalier.

    To be fair, some of the criticism of these investments is more reasonable than others. Some critique the focus on high-end properties which, while likely providing the best ROI, fails to accomplish any other purpose. Some critique the church’s decision to maintain secrecy over it’s financial dealings. And some critique what they see as a large discrepancy between the value of assets (money and time) the church spends on its own interests verses what it spends on helping the poor and downtrodden, in particular the poor and downtrodden that are not members of the church.

  3. Amy T on March 10, 2014 at 9:32 am

    “the only discrepancy I found between public accounts from Philadelphia politicians and the Church about the apartment building is that the latter emphasized that this was a sound investment rather than a community project”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the discrepancy you’re noting is between the reporting in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Of course this needs to be a sound investment, but it also has many features not found in comparable developments, and certainly not found in much housing in downtown Philadelphia. With the shops and housing units opening onto the street, it seems to be designed to increase foot traffic, and therefore safety in the neighborhood of the temple. That’s not a minor consideration for temple patrons visiting the area.

    And all this downtown, but north of the Vine Street Expressway? Remarkable.

  4. Nathaniel Givens on March 10, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Howard-

    If you follow the money it’s obvious that the church aside from it’s religion side is largely a property development and construction company. As membership growth slows the need for meeting houses and temples slows so rather than slow construction they are moving into new projects.

    To an ordinary, rational human being your conclusion is not obvious at all. In fact, it reminds me of nothing so much as the anti-Mormon conspiracy theories that the entire Church is a scheme to convince people to buy underwear from the Church. (Yes, I’ve met people who thought that was obvious, too.) To seriously propose that the Church views commercial real estate as an exchangeable activity with building Church buildings makes no sense, unless you are proposing that the ROI on chapels is higher than the ROI on high-end real estate development. I’d love to see the economic model for that. (It’s not the only problem with this theory, but it’s a start.)

    In short: no. Just… no.

    Dave K-

    I do think that some criticisms are a lot more serious than others, which is why I spent time investigating this one. On its face, it seems a bit incongruous (at minimum) for a Christ’s Church to be in the business of commercial real estate. I think that most of that intuition, however, just comes from not thinking about the necessity of running any large institution in a modern world. Throw in the historical context, and it makes perfect sense to me.

    I also realize that the Church’s behavior is very different from that of the original Church Christ established 2,000 years ago, but (based on Nibley’s “40 Variations” piece among others) this also makes sense. If the apostles understood that the time of the Church would be short, why would they waste time in capital investments? If, on the other hand, we sincerely believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in it for the long haul, then obviously you’d expect lots of real-estate purchases all over the place to try and dig in to weather all kinds of storms.

    Amy-

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the discrepancy you’re noting is between the reporting in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    They do come from those different sources, yes, but they also come from different people: Philly politicians vs. Church reps. I am assuming that that’s the distinction that actually matters.

    With the shops and housing units opening onto the street, it seems to be designed to increase foot traffic, and therefore safety in the neighborhood of the temple. That’s not a minor consideration for temple patrons visiting the area.

    Yeah, I think that’s a valid observation. I don’t think it would be enough to motivate the entire project, but I do think it may have had an influence on their exact plans. Still, it’s hard to see what they would have done significantly differently even if that weren’t a concern.

  5. jonathan on March 10, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Nathaniel,

    While I am not sure the brethren share your concern about the criticism of their decisions to invest our tithing money (and it is all tithing money, assertions that they are funds from business ventures to the contrary, trace the money back far enough and it all comes from excess tithing) in my personal interaction with members of all four presiding quorums I have experienced something between anger at being questioned, to condescending dismissal of any concern.

    But in the spirit of your post and believing that the world and the church is a better place when the benefit of the doubt is extended, I would suggest the following:

    1-The council on the disposition of the tithes should adhere to the revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants and publish all financial information after being audited by a credible public CPA firm (D&C 26)

    2-Those same quorums should acknowledge regularly and openly their fallibility and extend to us as members full latitude to make our own decisions to comply or not to comply with policy based strictures and requirements handed down to us by these same quorums.

    3-Conduct a thorough review and reversal of all practices of the institutional church that are invasively controlling of the most fundamental “unit of the church”, the family. remove restrictions regarding marriage attendance, baby blessings, mission farewells and homecomings, what I read and watch and wear etc.

    In a simpler and more encompassing expression:

    Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

  6. Howard on March 10, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Nathaniel,
    Discounting and dismissing my comment by comparing it to an underwear conspiracy is a ridiculous. I spent much of my career as COO of medium sized manufacturing companies so I know a bit about capital intensive investments. So, forget project specific ROI for a minute. The church flows a huge amount of money into buildings. They are set up (architects, engineering, land development and construction) to develop land and construct buildings and their need for meeting houses and temples is obviously not great enough to absorb all the available building funds so rather than invest or spend the money elsewhere they are choosing to keep their construction business busy with other projects.

  7. mtnmarty on March 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Nathaniel,

    I don’t have an opinion on the issues that Howard and Jonathan raise.

    What I do have an opinion about is not consistently applying the same tools of analysis (economic, sociological, political, etc).to the LDS as to other organizations.

    The fact is we have to give the benefit of the doubt about the investments because we do not have the data to determine how well the funds have been invested whether one looks at it from a charitable, religious or economic point of view.

    Pres. Uchtdorf counseled greater transparency about history. Wouldn’t financial records be a great place to start. In our current environment of wikileaks, NSA, anonymous, etc. maintaining privacy seems to be a big risk. If you are are doing what people think you are doing, why not disclose all? If you are not, sooner or later you will get bit.

  8. Peter LLC on March 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

    “If the apostles understood that the time of the Church would be short, why would they waste time in capital investments? If, on the other hand, we sincerely believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in it for the long haul, then obviously you’d expect lots of real-estate purchases all over the place to try and dig in to weather all kinds of storms.”

    So, in other words, the church is quietly distancing itself from Joseph’s millennial vision?

  9. Mark B. on March 10, 2014 at 11:44 am

    So, in other words, the church is quietly distancing itself from Joseph’s millennial vision?

    Didn’t 40 years of construction on the Salt Lake Temple settle that question?

  10. ji on March 10, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks, Nathaniel — I appreciate your article.

  11. wondering on March 10, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Oh boy, I so so agree with this post. Most of the complainers are just showing their anti-market bias.

    On the other hand, I also like Dave K’s comments. And if the church was a little more transparent, maybe we wouldn’t need quite so much trust. For example, I think Howard is probably wrong in his theories about the “need to absorb all the available building funds,” but how would I really know?

  12. Howard on March 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    wondering,
    So you believe this project is displacing or delaying needed meetinghouses and temples?

  13. theoldadam on March 11, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Where you have people, you will have sin.

    That’s just the way it is.

  14. Howard on March 11, 2014 at 9:48 am

    For those who don’t know, the big temple building years peaked in 1999 with 15 dedicated and 2000 with 34 then temple dedications dropped dramatically to 2001 – 5, 2002 – 7, 2003 – 2, 2004 – 3, 2005 – 3, 2006 – 2, 2007 – 0, 2008 – 4, 2009 – 2, 2010 – 4, 2011 – 2, 2012 – 4, 2013 – 1. So if you assume the church was able to cash flow the 1999/2000 peak averaging 24.5 temples a year PLUS the Conference Center which was completed in 2000 with an estimated cost of $240 million, the drop to 3 per year for the next 13 years would have freed A LOT of CASH for other projects (like City Creek and this one?) assuming meetinghouse completions remained reasonably flat.

  15. Jessie on March 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Should a church even be involved in profit making ventures? Doesn’t it take too much time away from the spiritual matters? And shouldn’t “church” people who get paid nicely devote all their time to the spiritual? Isn’t that why the members pay them?

  16. Bryan S. on March 11, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Jessie, so what you are saying is that you would rather the church give their money to a third party (i.e. a bank) who would then make all the decisions on how to invest the church’s money?

  17. Cameron N on March 11, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I see it more as an extension of the longstanding Temple buffer / neighborhood improvement strategy than anything else. Surely the church has learned from what happened to temples like Mesa, which now (from appearances at least) sits in the middle of a slum. I’m sure others could name other examples. Thus projects like temple square, city creek, this project in Philly.

    Jessie, I’m not sure you understand how the church operates. The job of the Presiding Bishop is to oversee both international humanitarian efforts and business/construction projects so the Apostles and seventies don’t get bogged down in administration. It seems that this is the most frugal path to accomplish those tasks, and I’m sure the role has evolved over 150 years to be fairly focused. The early church struggled to achieve financial independence and security and its collective memory that lives on in leaders is very sensitive to the benefits that affords (security from government intrusion, economic depression, capacity to help others, etc).

  18. Howard on March 11, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Deseret Management Corp.is a management and holding company of for-profit businesses owned by the LDS church.

    1996 - “The First Presidency has appointed Rodney H. Brady president and chief executive officer of Deseret Management Corp…according to the First Presidency.President Gordon B. Hinckley will serve as chairman of Deseret Management Corp. board of directors. His counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, will serve as board vice chairmen. Three members of the Quorum of the Twelve and the three members of the Presiding Bishopric also will serve on the board.

    Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy, recently named president of BYU, has been serving as president of Deseret Management.”

    2009 – “Willes, president and chief executive officer of Deseret Management Corp…Willes, who is a former stake and mission president, was appointed by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson to the Deseret Management position in March 2009.”

  19. Howard on March 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Beneficial Financial Group 100 year event.

  20. WalkerW on March 11, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    “Should a church even be involved in profit making ventures? Doesn’t it take too much time away from the spiritual matters? And shouldn’t “church” people who get paid nicely devote all their time to the spiritual? Isn’t that why the members pay them?”

    As management expert Peter Drucker explained, profits are “crucial—for society even more than for the individual business…Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but the test of their validity. If archangels instead of businessmen sat in directors’ chairs, they would still have to be concerned with profitability, despite their total lack of personal interest in making profits” (Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, 1974, 60).

    And I’m interested in what “the spiritual” looks like in light of Mormon metaphysics.

    “Should a church even be involved in profit making ventures? Doesn’t it take too much time away from the spiritual matters? And shouldn’t “church” people who get paid nicely devote all their time to the spiritual? Isn’t that why the members pay them?”

    As management expert Peter Drucker explained, profits are “crucial—for society even more than for the individual business…Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but the test of their validity. If archangels instead of businessmen sat in directors’ chairs, they would still have to be concerned with profitability, despite their total lack of personal interest in making profits” (Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, 1974, 60).

    And I’m interested in what “the spiritual” looks like in light of Mormon metaphysics.

  21. WalkerW on March 11, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Double pasted

  22. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 8:15 am

    WalkerW ,
    What do you make of Matthew 6:24?

    No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

  23. mtnmarty on March 12, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Walker W,

    I don’t have a problem with the church making investments, but the drucker quote is about profit not investment. Profit is about more revenue than expenditures not whether the profit is reinvested. Plenty of organizations are profitable but have small assets and little capital expenditure.

    The question then becomes how much the church’s investments provide revenue for a profit and reduce the need to contributions from the membership. If the church has a greater or lower ROI than what would happen to the funds as spent or invested by the members on an after tax basis, then the church being in for profit businesses is relatively more or less efficient.

    Howard does raise good questions about who benefits from the contracts for spending those monies including contractors, employees and managers.

    It is not clear to me what the religious foundation of a lack of transparency in the for profit expenditures is.

  24. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 10:39 am

    When will we reach a financially secure enough point to significantly (meaning well beyond the current token effort as a % of total cash flow)(meaning stop deaths resulting from malnutrition, thirst and easily curable disease) fund the fourth mission of the church: Caring for the poor and needy? Are buildings more important than lives?

  25. Jessie on March 12, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Bryan S

    The church should give the money back to the members instead of involving itself in profit making ventures. Profit making ventures should be ultra vires for a church corporation. A church should be about the spiritual not making money.

    The above questions about who gets the contracts etc. is valid as well. Is there any nepotism, etc.?

    Also, having an economically powerful church crowds out others economically. The big fish in the pond usually eats first. What percentage of the commercial land in salt lake is controlled by the church? It’s a lot and certainly crowds out others who may want to develop there.

    Finally, supposedly the church is about spreading the gospel. Does it really need all that money to do so? Does it need to be in the education business? Real estate business or radio and t.v.? I think not and we would be better served to have a less economically powerful church that devoted its time to actual church matters and let us handle the money.

  26. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Are buildings more important than lives?

    Do you live in a house?

  27. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Sure but if I had to choose I would give up living in a house (and I have done this) rather than give up my life. In other words depending on climate a building is not necessarily necessary to sustain life.

    Do you live in a glitzy mall?

  28. Karen on March 12, 2014 at 11:09 am

    The reformation occurred partly due to having to pay ‘peters pence’. Literally having to pay your way into Heaven. I fully agree with what Brian says.

    Money and power are very dangerous things. Look at Jesus in the temple. I just simply cannot square all of this with the Gospel he taught. I think this blog post is just another apologetic justification with some creative thinking to try and justify something that has no place in spirituality.

    The revelation to pay tithing in this amount was given when the church was in real financial difficulty. I simply cannot believe that a loving God would expect his members to continue to pay it, to invest in capital ventures. Some people in Africa who are LDS do not have enough food to eat. The pod cast of Mormon Stories – Corporation Mormonism by D Smith – and his Book, the Book of Mammon makes some very important points about all of this.

    Is becoming Christ like developed through paying tithing to build office blocks. Sorry … it does not compute.

  29. Mark B. on March 12, 2014 at 11:25 am

    All of those who decry the church’s investment in real estate would, I suppose, recommend that the church spend all of its income annually. If tithing receipts for a year were $10,000,000, for example, they’d suggest that the church spend that entire amount as soon as it’s received.

    And that, of course, would mean that the church had no money left over from “fat years” to help it through “lean years.” That would not be simply unwise, but outright foolish.

    As to the church “crowding out” investments by other investors: that is especially laughable in the context of the original post. Really? The church has so much money to invest that it’s likely to crowd out other players in the Philadelphia real estate market?? Salt Lake City? There aren’t opportunities for real estate investors because the church has “crowded them out”? That’s utterly ridiculous.

    What has the church to gain from transparency in its investment strategy? Absolutely nothing. The same people who crab and complain about the lack of transparency would then aim their crabbiness at the investment choices the church makes. And the rest of the church will go onward, realizing that there are better things to do with their time and energy. Better to keep the church’s business private and reduce the number of subjects of crabbing to one.

  30. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2014 at 11:26 am

    I’m just saying, Howard, that based on your own lofty rhetoric, shouldn’t you have sold your house by now and donating all you money to the poor? How many lives could you have saved?

  31. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I don’t think this project is intended to support the church’s fourth mission of caring for the poor and needy, these are market-rate units. The tower will encompass 258 apartments and 13 townhouses, none of which will be designated as affordable housing.

  32. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Thanks, Mark B. The amount of misconception about basic business and economics in this thread is mind-boggling and–frankly–too much for me to attempt to address comprehensively in the comments.

    Walker and I have been working hard at addressing some of these questions and confusions in a more direct way, and hopefully we’ll have something to share in that regards soon. In the meantime, however, your observations are spot on.

  33. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Howard-

    I don’t think this project is intended to support the church’s fourth mission of caring for the poor and needy, these are market-rate units. The tower will encompass 258 apartments and 13 townhouses, none of which will be designated as affordable housing.

    Two things. First, the idea that anything less than direct contribution to anti-poverty efforts fails to address poverty is a false idea. Poverty is best addressed in a balanced way that includes (1) targeted redress of specific symptoms (2) systematic economic growth. Or, to be even more obvious about it, the jobs provided in building the apartments and in staffing the retail section will do real good.

    Second, the Church has 4 missions. Not 1. Part of the Church’s strategic vision has to include a reserve. Given our history, it’s going to likely be a substantial, diversified reserve. If you contest that (if you think the Church should have 0 savings) then say so. Otherwise, we’re just quibbling about how much the Church should invest and in precisely what vehicles. Frankly, that’s a boring discussion that involves a level of micromanagement I have no stomach for (I have my own full-time job, thanks) and precludes the kind of lofty, fanciful rhetoric that makes people feel so happy to be complaining.

  34. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Well Nathaniel that shows how little you know about me. I’m a sell what I have, give to the poor and follow him disciple of 10 years now. I no longer own a house though I’ve owned several and I am saving lives with my funds and improving lives with my time.

    But it’s interesting that your best defense is a binomial – ALL my money? no I keep enough to eat and enjoy a bit of (not much) entertainment. How about you?

    What a poor argument to apologize for $ millions and $ billions being spent on buildings while third world people literally die due to malnutrition, thirst and easily curable disease. don’t you value human life?

  35. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Re: 33 Tell it to the dying Nathaniel!

    You’re a smart guy and quite intellectually convincing they might even buy it!

  36. Karen on March 12, 2014 at 11:47 am

    It’s comments like this that re-enforce the belief that the LDS is not a Christian religion, Rather a club of business men who know nothing about theology. I strongly suggest you all go and read the New Testament Gospels. Religion and capitalism can only end in disaster. Howard you are spot on! For once lets talk about the real message of Jesus – LOVE.

  37. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Howard,

    It would appear that your answer in 35 implies that the Church should have no savings and spend all on helping the poor. This seems to be in conflict with the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Could you please explain how you either don’t believe this is actually a conflict or how you navigate this conflict in teachings?

  38. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Karen, I would also appreciate a response to the question I asked Howard in 37.

  39. Mark B. on March 12, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    So, “make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness” is not part of the “real message of Jesus”? The parable of the talents is not part of the “real message of Jesus”?

    Who appointed you, Karen, the arbiter of what constitutes the “real message of Jesus”?

  40. mtnmarty on March 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    NG;”Thanks, Mark B. The amount of misconception about basic business and economics in this thread is mind-boggling and–frankly–too much for me to attempt to address comprehensively in the comments.”

    I assume you are including agency issues in basic economics. What does basic economics say about trust and fallibility? What does basic economics say about the LDS church is maximizing?

  41. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Jared vdH,
    Did you miss #24 where I pose the question: When? We all heard the same savings/reserve argument years ago with City Creek so we allowed the dying to continue dying while the church increased it’s reserves. So When? How many $ millions and $ billions is finally enough reserve to feel comfortable spending serious money to stop third world deaths?

  42. mtnmarty on March 12, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    MarkB,

    When you say “the church” has nothing to gain from transparency, do you mean the members of the church or do you mean the legal corporation?

    I’m not saying you are right or wrong, I’m just trying to understand who you meant by the church.

  43. Mark B. on March 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Howard, if you’re going to use fancy words, at least use the right ones. I suspect that you meant “binary” not “binomial.” Maybe it’s time for a refresher course in junior high school algebra.

    Don’t you think that the juxtaposition of “spending millions and billions of dollars” on buildings and “people dying” is a classic case of what you accuse Nathaniel of doing?

    Besides, if the church’s investment is successful, the money it invests will generate a stream of income for years (if the apartments are rented) or will result in an even larger amount of money being available in a few years (if the units are sold) than is available today. In addition, the temple will have as a neighbor a high-quality residential/business building rather than an asphalt parking lot. So the church improves the quality of the neighborhood surrounding the temple, and ends up with more money for its other purposes than it has today. And the problem is??

  44. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Howard-

    You didn’t actually reply to the logic I presented. Far from advancing a binary view, I’m critiquing it. My whole point–whether you own a house or not (I’m actually not assuming anything other than that your standard of living is measurably better than the bottom .1% or so)–is that you withhold not just enough to survive, but enough to be healthy and enough for some entertainment. Let’s say you watch one movie a year for $15. That’s $15 you could have spent saving someone’s life. (Probably several lives, at the cost of a dose of malaria vaccine.)

    Does the fact that you watch one movie per year (hypothetically, I don’t care what you really do) imply that you value a movie more than you value human life?

    Do you get it yet? You write:

    What a poor argument to apologize for $ millions and $ billions being spent on buildings while third world people literally die due to malnutrition, thirst and easily curable disease. don’t you value human life?

    But who cares if it’s $ millions or $ billions? How do you justify your $15 movie ticket? Don’t you value human life?

    The purpose of that question, in case it needs explaining, is to highlight how deeply, deeply flawed (and hypocritical, to be blunt) your logic is.

    Obviously you’re not actually asking the right question. Maybe you should figure out a better one to ask. (Although I grant you that it probably won’t afford the sheer exquisite comfort of demanding, in bold font no less!, to know why people who are morally inferior to you just don’t care about human life. If that’s your goal, keep on doing what you’re doing.)

  45. Mark B. on March 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    mtnmarty

    I probably was thinking of the leadership of the church, and should have been more precise. But, I think that a large portion of the church membership doesn’t see a divergence in the interests of the church membership and the institutional church.

  46. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Mark B. wrote: And the problem is?? Dead people!

  47. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Howard,

    That doesn’t even begin to approach an answer to the question I asked. It is instead an evasion by accusation of wrong doing.

    What in your mind is the proper balance in saving/investing and serving the needs of the poor in relation to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25? You appear to imply that the proper balance is $0.00, but I may be misreading you. Or do you perhaps subscribe to the belief that the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 should not be directly attributed to Christ and is a non-divine addition to scripture?

  48. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Nathaniel,
    Simply re-frame you question as a comparison of my personal contributions and savings as a % of total cash flow to the church’s and it will become much clearer. But you knew that already didn’t you?

  49. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Jared vdH wrote: I may be misreading you. Indeed. I’m not arguing the church should have no savings and spend all on helping the poor. I’m asking how much savings is enough? And. When can we spend more on the dying?

  50. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Howard,

    Every responsible savings plans that I know of advocates for a safety net that expands with income. Thus you will always be saving more. You don’t just reach a fixed cap and everything becomes disposable income after that point.

    On the other hand, we are spending more on the dying. We’re sending relief supplies to Syria and medication to Africa. Is your concern more with the lack of transparency, thus we cannot point to a specific document that says we are spending XX% of our assets on savings and XX% on humanitarian aid?

  51. Mark B. on March 12, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    And the problem is?? Dead people.

    Actually, I think that one of the central messages of the gospel is that Jesus solved that problem.

  52. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Jared vdH,
    The church does a good job of taking care of it’s own and on disaster relief but it’s footprint appears to be much smaller when it comes to chronic third world situations. Little data has been released by the church but there was a 25 or so year summary that when compared to the church’s cash flow estimates appears to be small %.

    Every responsible savings plans that I know of advocates for a safety net that expands with income. Thus you will always be saving more. So we may never be able to help the dying more than we are today but we can build more malls and apartment buildings?

  53. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Mark B. wrote: Actually…Jesus solved that problem. Meaning what? That it doesn’t matter that they died early of malnutrition, thirst or easily curable disease while we looked the other way?

  54. Amy T on March 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Howard (31): “The tower will encompass 258 apartments and 13 townhouses, none of which will be designated as affordable housing.”

    Not to pile on, but are you familiar with Philadelphia, Howard? Do you know what the Philadelphia Housing Authority is? (I’m guessing that you aren’t and don’t, or else you wouldn’t have made that statement like it’s a great expose.) I’d kindly recommend doing some homework before suggesting that the lack of designated affordable housing in this development is a problem.

  55. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Howard,

    Just keep on going with that quote from me instead of cutting it off. As income increases we must spend more on savings, while at the same time “we are spending more on the dying”. Thus as income increases we will spend more on savings and more on humanitarian aid.

    Also there are documented examples of chronic third world situations being perpetuated by humanitarian aid being co-opted by those in power. Are you suggesting that the Church should invest in deposing abusive and corrupt governments? Sounds a lot like colonialism to me.

  56. mtnmarty on March 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Mark B.

    I agree with you that the membership and the institutional church agree at a given point in time, but isn’t it a bit circular in that the membership has significant enough flow in and out that the membership changes to match the leadership and the institution.

    Only the leadership has the information to see what is going on in detail with the membership and the money.

    I understand the “what do the details matter the majority of us all basically agree anyway” and I understand that.

    The church changes and is changing all of the time. It seems to me that some of the traditional voices in the church think the institution is changing in ways that threaten them. Don’t we have a member of the First Presidency calling for more openness and transparency?

  57. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Amy T,
    I don’t live in Philadelphia so please enlighten us as to what the Philadelphia Housing Authority will do to the affordability of these units.

    Jared vdH wrote: Are you suggesting that the Church should invest in deposing abusive and corrupt governments? No, not at all. I’m suggesting that given the church’s expertise with placing proselytizing missionaries into so many countries and their expertise in disaster relief they should be able to do at least as well as the Christian denominations are in chronic third world situations.

    Are you suggesting that the job is finished with the exception of deposing abusive and corrupt governments?

  58. Old Man on March 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Howard,

    A suggestion: sell your computer and save more lives. We’ll know you truly value human life if you stop posting in the bloggernacle. (O.K., that probably will be read as a little snarky.) But lets take it further, You can be the rich young man of the Latter-day Saints. Give your possessions away. Follow Christ.

    But I will add that the entire current resources of the Church could be thrown into alleviating the problems you desire to correct and you know which of these tragedies would be completely resolved? None. The only way to truly change the world is to change the people. And on that front the church is slowly growing.

    Church leadership obviously feels that investing is important for the future of the church. I know a few of these people, and they DO donate and aid humanitarian efforts both local and global with their personal funds. Why don’t they do so at this time with the Lord’s funds? I don’t know.

    But we can follow their example and donate a significant portion of our discretionary funds to efforts we feel are important. We can FREELY CHOOSE to do so. I like that. I can give my possessions away. I can follow Christ. That is keeping my covenants. These are decisions that will save me and help others.

  59. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Old Man,
    So it’s just a waste of money? There’s no intelligent way to stop or significantly slow the deaths, so let them die?

  60. Karen on March 12, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Howard – I totally understand what you are saying. Unfortunately, the world view that many hold is obviously very different to yours and I’d add, mine too. There appears to be a limited, or no ability to look at the LDS church in a critical way. Critical thinking cannot be addressed to the LDS church because the default position is that it is perfect and only human beings running it that are at fault. Um ….. that argument has lots of problems I think.

    Empires fall. Corporate activity can cause this. Do listen to Pro. Douglas Davies 2008 presentation at the World of Joseph Smith’s conference in Washington. The only way the LDS church will survive is not through corporate investment but by creating safe places for a variety of beliefs. From my perspective, and experience, they do this very badly. ‘Katie finds a way’ in the ‘friend’ hardly shows religious tolerance to her parents differing choices to hers. Her way is right, and her parents wrong, is clearly the message here. And putting that kind of article in a magazine for children to a non LDS appears pretty insidious. I’m basing that on having shown it to a number and that’s the feedback I’ve been given. Do try it yourselves.

    If this thread is anything to go by safe places for a variety of belief is a near impossible prospect. Investment, no investment. Whether the LDS church has people sitting in their pews in 10 years time is the real question. I wish you all well. Karen

  61. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Karen,
    Thanks for your comment.

  62. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    This will be my last comment on this thread unless I am directly addressed.

    The push back against defending the dying is profoundly saddening. What I’m hearing is dying third world people are a bad investment, it’s hard to do and has a poor ROI and you’d rather have buildings! Where are your moral compasses?

  63. karen on March 12, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Howard – when morality is based on ideology rather than humanity, this is what can happen. I too am not commenting further. Great to read you here. All the best on your journey and wonderful good works for the less fortunate. I too work with those that have little – it is an honour to do so. One gets back so much more than one gives. I do it ‘just for the sake of it’ not for blessings or anything else. I see all human beings as human beings and I don’t treat people like objects. Many church leaders struggle to not treat people as objects. So sad.

  64. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Howard and Karen,

    Thank you both for your condescension in speaking to us poor-in-morals and rich-in-the-things-of-this-world reprobates. I wish your words had been a bit more substantive than “there are people dying in Africa and the Church doesn’t do enough to solve it”, but I suppose I shall have to glean from your prophetic writings whatever mana I can.

  65. karen on March 12, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Maybe We’re All Right

    August 12, 2013 | 25 comments
    By Nathaniel Givens

  66. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Humm Jared vdH, Sorry you took offense but, lives vs. buildings. Buildings vs lives. It really doesn’t get much more substantive than that. No complex formulas or advance degrees required to understand the trade offs.

    That some can see it and some can’t or won’t pretty well defines our differences.

  67. H.Bob on March 12, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    It’s interesting that the thread has devolved into accusations that we as a church don’t do more for the poor and needy, especially in light of the relatively recent addition of that tenet to the mission of the church.
    Interesting as well that there’s not a similar accusation that perhaps the money would be better spent in, say, paying for every senior missionary couple’s expenses rather than asking them to pay, or selling all we have and building more family history centers, or . . . well, I tried thinking up something to use the money for in “perfecting the Saints,” but other than a wholesale refund, I got nothing.
    The point being, the “mission of the Church” is FOUR-fold. While there’s overlap between all those folds, to focus exclusively on one is to miss the point of the rest. My service in the cannery helps to care for the poor and needy; it also helps to perfect at least this “Saint.” I might have, through temple attendance, searched my conscience and decided that I wasn’t sacrificing enough, and so begin paying more in fast offerings, or volunteering more often for welfare assignments or missionary splits or dinners. Like it or not, all of those things I’ve mentioned intersect the world of money. Canneries cost money to build and operate; the farms and ranches that supply them with food to can do as well. Temples and meetinghouses cost money to build and maintain, as do family history centers. Missions and missionary support eat money too. Do we ask for more than a tithe, or do we make better use of the tithes we have through investing our talents?
    No less a person than Christ was tempted to feed the world, too–if you’re inclined, as I am, to accept Dostoevsky’s interpretation of “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). Was it wrong, I wonder, to say that the word of God is more important than bread?

  68. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Jared vdH,
    I’m indirectly involved with a lot of charities so I get to see what can be done via very limited budgets, a lot willpower, volunteerism and God’s help. Here are two of my favorites:

    H4O was started by a Christian family in Santa Barbara, CA and managed by the son when he graduated High School because his father encouraged him to find a way to give back to the world. He chose water. “To date, H4O has provided clean water to more than 100,000 people in 10 countries around the world. Our work has carried us to Africa, Latin America and Asia.”

    LOVE Lilly of the Valley Endeavor is a South African AIDs Orphanage. Costs are well controlled. You can sponsor a child with AIDs for $80.00 per month.

    Arguing it is too hard to do makes no sense to be because I’m witnessing groups like these actually doing it.

  69. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Howard,

    Thanks for the non-apology. I’m glad you took the time out of your busy day of serving the needy to write it and all your other posts today. You are a sterling example of Christ-centered living. No need to respond. I think I’ve reached my fill of holy light from you for today.

    Also I’m glad that you have some examples of charitable service to bring up. I’ll refrain from mentioning the thousands of wells that have been dug, the millions of vaccines administered, or the thousands of babies that have been saved by the hundreds of nurses and doctors trained in neonatal resuscitation all on the Church’s dime. No need to make this into the spitting contest you apparently want to make it.

  70. Howard on March 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Jared vdH,
    It’s lives vs. buildings. Buildings vs. lives.
    Not my charities vs yours.

  71. Jared vdH on March 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    You know what Howard, I’ve seen the light. Your self-righteousness has won me over. I’m typing up an email right now to President Monson telling him that we should just wrap up this whole Church thing, close everything down, sell everything, and hand all the money to you. You obviously know how to use it much better than I or anyone else in the Church does. I’m also going to send all the people who used to be getting aid from my ward in the form of food, rent, or medical payment assistance over to you. I’m certain that you’ll be able to help them out. Sound good?

    Great. K, thanks, bye.

  72. James on March 12, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Matt 26:7-10
    Lives vs ointment. Ointment vs lives.

  73. jonathan on March 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

    The tenor, of this interchange leaves me very saddened.

  74. H.Bob on March 13, 2014 at 6:37 am

    So Jared vdH has said he’ll refrain from mentioning some things the LDS Church has done. I won’t. Because Howard mentioned other charities’ numbers (and knowing at the time only a little about what Jared mentioned), I did a little research and found that, in 2011, LDS Charities provided 57,000 people in 54 countries with wheelchairs, served 1.1 million people in 33 countries with clean water projects, gave emergency response aid in 50 countries (111 projects), served 51,000 people in 16 countries through the Benson Food Initiative (teaching others to farm more effectively), served 51,000 people in 24 countries with vision care, and 24,000 people in 33 countries through their neonatal resuscitation training program. They also had immunization projects in 5 countries.
    In 2012, the numbers were similar; in most cases, larger: 67,500 people in 57 countries through the wheelchair program, 890,000 people in 36 countries through the clean water program, 104 emergency response programs in 52 countries, 160,000 people in 27 countries through the Benson Initiative, 75,000 people in 25 countries through the vision care program, 28,000 people in 40 countries through the neonatal resuscitation program, and 89,521 volunteer hours (8549 volunteers) in 12 countries for the immunization program.
    Can we/should we do more? Yes. Are we doing more than nothing? Also yes. Will the Church’s long-term investments provide consistent monetary support for these programs? Certainly they have the potential to do so, and more potential, I might add, than turning around and spending every donation dollar as we receive it. That’s the lesson of the parable of the talents as I see it.

  75. SWM on March 13, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Is the entire goal of humanitarian relief for fewer people to die? Maybe, in the short term. But what about the long term? Are we building a better world for them to live in? Which countries have, because of humanitarian aid, gone from being third-world disaster areas to glittering first-world power states? The mission of Christ was never to merely keep sinners from dying. No, He wants them to be with Him, like Him. He doesn’t want to just make you less sinful, He wants you to be perfect. Figuratively speaking, He doesn’t want Haiti to starve less, He wants Haiti to be like France.

    That the Church is focusing on commercial investment over short-term aid serves as a proof to me that the Lord is behind it. I firmly believe that the prophecies we have of the Millennium are intended to be self-fulfilling. How do we turn Haiti into France? Double the rice shipments? Give more vaccines? Or maybe fund universities that can educate Haitians, invest in Haitian commercial developments (and earthquake-proof meetinghouses, those came in handy, huh), and try to improve the economy so that the people can uplift themselves?

    Criticize capitalism all you want, it has proven to be, in practice, the very best way to alleviate poverty. Nothing else has come close. And do you know what one of the worst things to do to a developing economy is? Give it food aid.
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa065.html

  76. Old Man on March 13, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Fist bump to James (#72).

  77. Mike on March 13, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you, HBob #74, and SWM #75.

  78. Marshall on March 13, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    What interests me the most about this is how it addresses this issue without any appeal to Christ or his teachings. It seems to me the only important analysis is to examine how this shopping mall project matches up with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, the author relies on gospel-of-prosperity inspired reasoning. I cannot take a defense of this project seriously until someone can explain how it fits in with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Please, next time, at least try.

  79. Mike on March 13, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    I’m a simpleton, but I’ll shoot from the hip. During His ministry, Jesus did not spend all his time healing the sick or feeding the hungry. He rode in boats, ate, slept, turned water into wine, taught, inspired, etc. According to some of the logic in these comments, Jesus should have spent every waking hour healing the sick and feeding the hungry. According to the scriptures he did not do that. He spread his “resources” among a variety of targets.

  80. Ron Madson on March 13, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    There are different financial models. On one end of the spectrum is the “fish and loaves” model and the other is the corporate model. The former inspires mimetic faith and the other fulfills prophesy (Mormon 8:35-39). http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/18th-of-an-inch/

  81. Marshall on March 14, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Mike, you make an attempt, and for that I am grateful. I don’t think, however, that Christ had to spend every minute of every day healing. I just think that his teachings, taken specifically and as a whole, don’t seem to jive with building shopping malls. He did turn water into wine, but he didn’t sell it. So, I think your point about leisure time and enjoying life is well taken. But how does that connect to building a shopping mall?

  82. Old Man on March 14, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Marshall,

    Why doesn’t this building project “jive” with the teachings of Jesus? Did Jesus work for a living for much of his adult life? Did Peter fish for recreation or was he a successful business operator? I don’t think the post has anything really in common with prosperity theology at all. Prosperity theology is based upon the assumption that the atonement involves the alleviation of sickness and poverty, not just sin. It suggests that righteous people are materially rich people. That is not in the post.

    The church as an institution exists in a material world and has faced very serious financial challenges in the last century. It can’t meet its obligations and responsiblities without establishing a solid financial foundation. Tithing alone is insufficent and can disappear in an economic crisis. Church leaders would be irresponsible if they did not make investments.

    Now, if I have misread your comment and the honest truth is you just hate shopping malls, I can readily empathize with your position.

  83. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Howard –

    Feel free to explain your Matthew quote within the context of the 1st-century Palestinian economy vs. the globalized economy of the 21st-century.

    Mtnmarty –

    My Drucker quote was specifically in response to someone who mentioned “profit making ventures.”

    Karen –

    Given that modern capitalism was birthed in Christian Europe, the dichotomy of capitalism and Christianity strikes me as odd. Plus, extreme poverty for the first time *ever* has been on the decline and experts acknowledge that this is because of global capitalism. Call it whatever you like: it’s working.

    If anyone is actually interested in what the Church does to help the poor, they should read Ann M. Hansen’s recent dissertation “The Minor Religions in International Relations: The Case of the Mormons in the 20th and 21st Centuries,” Babes-Bolyai University (2014). It is the most comprehensive review of the Church’s humanitarian efforts and their results that I have ever read. What is implicit in the article is that the Church is interested more in *sustainable improvement,* i.e. raising living standards permanently, not mere redistribution for temporary relief (though it does this as well).

  84. Marshall on March 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Hello Old Man,

    I appreciate what you’re saying. My position can’t be reduced to hating shopping malls or thinking that no one needs to work. It’s not a black and white proposition. I concede that money must be used (render under Caesar what is Caesars). I concede that Peter, and I, have to work for a living. But I’m uncomfortable making the leap that, as a church, we should have a multi-billion dollar real estate investment company that builds shopping malls. Again, it’s the degree that concerns me. I’m interested as well about something you said:

    “It can’t meet its obligations and responsiblities without establishing a solid financial foundation.”

    On what do you base this assumption? I tend to follow the teaching of the widow’s mite. That what is sincerely given out of need is worth more to the Lord’s plan than large sums given out of excess (or investment capital). How did you arrive at the conclusion that God needs us to have a multi-billion dollar real estate investment company?

    I think if we sincerely paid our tithes and fast offerings that our church would have sufficient for its needs. That belief is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. What is your belief based on? I know that sounds pointed, and I wish it didn’t. I really want to understand how this leap is made. From the outside looking in, it appears that it is more a result of reading free market capitalism and American pragmatism into the Gospel, but I fully admit I could be wrong about that. Any help would be appreciated.

  85. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Brigham Young’s decision to interact with the outside economy actually helped the Church thrive and expand. The utopian social experiments heavy on centralization were ultimately failures. They don’t work very well.

    We can say that the Church is influenced by American pragmatism and capitalism, which is likely true. But was the early Church not influenced by social experiments similar to the United Order taking place in America (it has even been argued that the use of the beehive was influenced by Robert Owen’s Working Men party)?

    It just strikes me as odd when people are nostalgic for this impoverished, economically-hindered way of life. If we care about the poor, we should care about what actually raises their living standards. So far, the evidence is behind markets and increasing globalization.

  86. Marshall on March 14, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Walker, do you have a scriptural basis? I am personally very nostalgic for the “impoverished, economically-hindered way of life” from 2,000 years ago. I understand that there is a very rational case to reject that today. I just want it to be clear what is happening. It seems to me that you’re arguing that Christ’s teachings on money have failed. What worked, on the other hand, was industry, pragmatism, and capitalism. From a rational standpoint, I think you have a lot of evidence on your side. From a faith-based perspective, however, it’s kind of a hard leap to make. Then there is the other great leap of then embracing real estate investment companies and such. Again, I’m not against working and earning what you need, but I am uncomfortable with the scale and the excess involved here.

  87. Jared vdH on March 14, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    I’ve always viewed the widow’s mite story as it pertains to attitude of the individual donating. In my reading, Christ is not critical of the fact that the rich men are donating to the temple, but in their ostentatiousness while doing so. Christ also spent much time at the temple at Jerusalem during his ministry, and there isn’t a single recorded instance to my knowledge of Christ criticizing its grandiosity, even though it was perhaps one of the most ornate structures in the ancient world outside of Athens, Alexandria, and Rome.

    Additionally, the previously mentioned parable of the talents endorses a capitalistic expectation of seeking the growth of one’s assets. Also the previously mentioned incident with the woman and the expensive ointment Christ explicitly endorses spending money on a gesture of reverence towards him in lieu of spending the money on the poor instead.

    In fact from my memory Christ rarely teaches that his disciples must give all they have to the poor and follow him. The rich young ruler is the only instance I can think of. All the other examples that I can think of are directed to the apostles, and then he doesn’t tell them to sell all they have, just to “forsake all and follow me” which to me means that they left their work and homes to their families and left to follow Christ. Most of his teachings regarding the poor and needy are that we should serve them directly, not just provide for them monitarily.

    Anyway, that’s from memory, and I’ve typed all this up on my cell phone, so please forgive any errors. I’ll happily confess to them.

  88. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    “Walker, do you have a scriptural basis?”
    Scriptural basis for what?
    “It seems to me that you’re arguing that Christ’s teachings on money have failed.”
    Considering Christ didn’t say much about economic development outside abstractions like “the rich,” it is difficult to say His teachings “failed.” If anything, His teachings have more to do with attitudes towards property (much like consecration) and materialism. Materialism and capitalism/consumerism are not one in the same (though they can reinforce each other, but so do many systems).
    What I think fails are your assumptions about Christ’s teachings. The economy today is not the same during Christ’s time or King Benjamin’s time or Isaiah’s time. The way money is understood has changed completely since Christ’s time. It was viewed as sterile and the rich often hoarded it. That is not the case today nor has been really since the Middle Ages as trade and banking began to expand. Historical context helps if we’re looking for proper application.
    “What worked, on the other hand, was industry, pragmatism, and capitalism.”
    In terms of lifting millions of people out of grinding poverty, yes.
    “From a rational standpoint, I think you have a lot of evidence on your side.”
    I do. As Nathaniel mentioned, we have some work on the subject hopefully coming out soon.
    “From a faith-based perspective, however, it’s kind of a hard leap to make.”
    I’m not really sure what this means. Evidence points to “industry, pragmatism, and capitalism” as beneficial to the poor; more beneficial than any system yet discovered. My faith teaches me to care about the poor. Much of my reasoning for embracing capitalism is
    But if you mean it in a similar way as “evidence points to evolution, but that’s a hard leap to make from a faith-based perspective,” then you’re right: I don’t hold your version of a “faith-based perspective.”

  89. Neal on March 14, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Marshall,

    Try this scriptural reference about investing. Evidently the Lord knew a little bit about economics. (NOTE: A talent at the time of Jesus was equal to 70 lbs of gold. A fortune, both then and now)

    MATTHEW 25

    14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

    15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

    16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

    17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

    18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

    19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

    20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

    21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been bfaithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

    22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

    23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

    24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

    25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

    26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

    27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

    28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

    29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

    30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  90. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    “I am personally very nostalgic for the “impoverished, economically-hindered way of life” from 2,000 years ago.”

    A life filled with more disease, more grinding poverty, more war, less equality, higher mortality rates, etc.?

    Why would you be nostalgic for that?

  91. Howard on March 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Third world nation-building via SLC and Philadelphia construction is going to be a very slow trickle down process leaving many to die before it finally arrives. Putting food, drink and medicine in the mouths of the dying is unlikely to bankrupt local producers as they don’t currently have the dying’s business and if they die there will be no business to be had.

    You would hand them a BoM or baptize but not place food in their mouths? What’s that supposed to be “tough love” or a lesson in self sufficiency? Or once baptized you would help because now they are one of “us”? What? Chalk that up to tribalism? No Good Samariatanism in your hearts?

    I am unpersuaded by these calous LDS prosperity gospel rationalizations. It comes down to lives vs buildings! How many $100s Millions and $ Billions are enough reserve to finally help the dying?

  92. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    “…prosperity gospel rationalizations…”

    Where has anyone said that prosperity equals righteousness? If they did, I missed it.

    “It comes down to lives vs buildings!”

    It comes down to providing immediate, necessary relief for the desperate situations you describe while kick-starting the kind of development that can make the rise of living standards sustainable and permanent. The Church does both.

  93. Howard on March 14, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    It comes down to providing immediate, necessary relief for the desperate situations you describe while kick-starting the kind of development that can make the rise of living standards sustainable and permanent.

    I totally agree!

    The Church does both.

    No, not nearly enough! They do a great job of taking care of their own and disaster relief but their contribution to chronic third world non-member desperate situations is sub par given the cash flow.

  94. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    “…their contribution to chronic third world non-member desperate situations is sub par given the cash flow.”

    Well, I don’t know what your scale of “sub par” is. The dissertation I mentioned above demonstrates otherwise, especially in regard to clean water/sanitation systems.

  95. Howard on March 14, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    H4O mentioned upthread was strated by a family and run by a sophomore on funds raised by High School and College students. An organization that funds multi $ Billion construction projects with cash can do much better than they currentlt are.

  96. WalkerW on March 14, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    The Church’s clean water initiatives have helped over 5 million people since 2002 with new programs added each year. The results of an 18-month initiative benefited 200,000 people in Uganda alone. It ranges from Sierra Leone to Ethiopia and Somalia to Thailand and so on.

    And this is coming from a Church with 15 million members worldwide that it builds churches and temples for, provides resources for, disaster relief, welfare systems, global missionary program, etc. Not to mention it pays all of its overhead costs.

    Can the Church do more? Sure. And I think it is trying to.

  97. Jared vdH on March 14, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    All, I really don’t think anybody or anything is going to convince Howard here. His posts are pretty much the same every time, rarely responds directly to any of the points made, nor quotes scripture despite claiming scriptural authority.

    I’m fairly certain he’s just trolling at this point.

  98. Howard on March 14, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    I’m defending the dying Jared vaN against the rationalizations of the well-to-do by world standards. Your arguments lack moral authority when they trash human life.

  99. Chris Henrichsen on March 14, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    I support the project because I do not mind urban development, particularly the type of development which cities like Philadelphia cannot do under current political and economic conditions. For me, it is not a matter of giving the church the benefit of the doubt. I do not normally agree with Nathaniel on anything…ANYTHING…but he may be right about the reaction to projects like this. I can see why somebody would disagree of dislike them, but the negative motivations attributed to it go a bit far.

    As an investment, the money will come back. These type of projects benefit the city and allow the Church to be more secure as it does its other projects, both charitable and religious. It is not a zero sum game.

    I do not want to go back to first century anything. Heck, I do not even want to go back to 19th century Mormonism.

    I used to give T&S the benefit about of the doubt when it came to why they allow Howard to troll like he does. At this point, I assume y’all just do not give a crap about the comments section.

  100. Jared vdH on March 14, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Howard,

    Beat me over the head all you like with your supposed moral authority. Your actions only erode it away. Christ at least engaged the honest of heart, even if they did not have the ears to hear his message. All you’ve been doing is yelling and acting superior. Not exactly the actions on one who is “meek, and lowly of heart”.

  101. Marshall on March 14, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Neal, I think that is a good point. I will have to think more about that. Someone else mentioned the spikenard, but I think that cuts the other way. Christ clearly wasn’t opposed to an occasional personal luxury. However, he was criticized for not using the money wisely enough. The spikenard could be sold to raise money for the poor. I think this is more like the arguments for the gigantic real estate investment projects. Christ is talking about appropriate interpersonal relationships, but he was criticized for not being pragmatic and wise with money. The spikenard was to appropriately honor Christ, but the same cannot be said for a shopping mall.

    Walker, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I know it’s a touchy subject. I’ll admit that I’ve made assumptions. My only defense is that they are the most honest assumptions I can make based on the scriptures that I believe. We don’t have to agree. I was hoping we could come to an understanding. I guess in the end, this project feels like we’re giving something up as a church. I know the law of consecration failed, but I always thought we were somehow still working toward it. But, based on your statements and others, maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe we’re moving away from that. I’m guessing (perhaps incorrectly here) that you wouldn’t see that as a bad thing. I’m still quite conflicted about the idea.

  102. WalkerW on March 15, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Marshall –

    I’m not so easily offended, though much of the smugness on this thread is irritating. As to your conflict about the direction of today’s Church vs. early consecration:

    The United Order was more fitting for a 19th-century, agrarian-based economy. But even then, it didn’t work very well. I think the main problem is that we conflate the Law of Consecration with the various manifestations of the United Order. I don’t think this is correct. I actually think a recognition of Mormonism’s metaphysics (i.e. the spiritual and temporal are one and the same) is an important step in our movement toward consecration. That way, we can consecrate all that we do to the Lord.

    My friend Allen Hansen and I have laid this out at Worlds Without End: http://www.withoutend.org/all-spiritual-worship-corporeality-hasidism-mormonism/

    An edited and updated version of our posts will be presented as a paper at the upcoming Mormon Transhumanist Assocation conference.

    Nathaniel discussed some of my work on the subject here at T&S: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2013/11/the-marriage-of-heaven-and-hell-business-and-theology/

  103. SL on March 15, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Frankly, I would like to see everyone stop pussyfooting around the topic and just admit that evolution is a factual reality. Then we can begin the interesting work of thinking about what it means as far as the purposes of God and human life. Right now, those of us who believe in evolution still have to keep quiet in church.

  104. SL on March 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Hmm…that was supposed to post to the evolution thread…oops.

  105. palerobber on March 17, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    In addition, it’s important to keep the historical context for the Church’s view on finances in mind. Institutions have long memories, and by those standards it was not very long ago that the Church was brought to the verge of insolvency by persecution

    by persecution? that’s a weird way to summarize a long history of bad investments and gross mismanagement.

  106. H.Bob on March 17, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    palerobber, you wouldn’t characterize the Edmunds-Tucker Act as persecution? That’s weird, too.

  107. Allen on March 21, 2014 at 2:07 am

    I sometimes feel nostalgic for the way of life 2000 years ago, but then I recall something that Morton Smith wrote.

    “We must remember that ancient Palestine had no hospitals or insane asylums. The sick and insane had to be cared for by their families, in their homes. The burden of caring for them was often severe and sometimes, especially in cases of violent insanity, more than the family could bear—the afflicted were turned out of doors and left to wander like animals. This practice continued to the present century; I shall never forget my first experience in the “old city” of Jerusalem in 1940. The first thing I saw as I came through the Jaffa Gate was a lunatic, a filthy creature wearing an old burlap bag with neck and armholes cut through the bottom and sides. He was having a fit. It seemed to involve a conversation with some imaginary being in the air in front of him. He was pouring out a flood of gibberish while raising his hands as if in supplication. Soon he began to make gestures, as if trying to protect himself from blows, and howled as if being beaten. Frothing at the mouth, he fell to the ground on his face, lay there moaning and writhing, vomited, and had an attack of diarrhea. Afterwards he was calmer,but lay in his puddles of filth, whimpering gently. I stood where I had stopped when I first saw him, some fifty feet away, rooted to the spot, but nobody eise paid any attention. There were lots of people in the street, but those who came up to him merely skirted the mess and walked by. He was lying on the sidewalk in front of a drugstore. After a few minutes a clerk came out with a box of sawdust, poured it on the puddles, and treated the patient with a couple of kicks in the small of the back. This brought him to his senses and he got up and staggered off, still whimpering, rubbing his mouth with one hand and his back with the other. When I came to live in the “old city” I found that he, and half a dozen like him, were familiar figures. Such was ancient psychotherapy. Those not willing to put their insane relatives into the street, had to endure them at home. Also, since rational medicine (except for surgery) was rudimentary, lingering and debilitating diseases must have been common, and the victims of these, too, had to be cared for at home. Accordingly, many people eagerly sought cures, not only for themselves, but also for their relatives. Doctors were inefficient, rare, and expensive.”

  108. Allen on March 21, 2014 at 3:08 am

    Walker, thanks for the kind words on my mother’s dissertation.

    Here is an example of the church’s approach in Sierra Leone. A specialist goes in, identifies the site, and a contract is negotiated with the village where all the adults pledge to provide manual labour as well as some of the raw materials locally obtainable. The rest is provided by the church. Wherever possible, the wells are placed in school compounds which not only makes life easier for the children drawing the water, but also means that the parents must cooperate with the schools. Children then have a better chance at getting an education. The church follows up on the wells from time to time, but as soon as they are completed they are out of the church’s hands and into the community’s. The community becomes a little more self-sufficient as they maintain the wells. The specialists involved in the projects are able to increase their experience which is important in finding future work. On top of all that, government cooperation is increased as local officials see how well successful projects impact their own careers, so they are more motivated to seek out opportunities for improving their regions. I guess that sending in money to a region would be quicker, but this slow approach impacts hundreds of thousands of lives much more effectively.

    Going back to what Nathaniel was saying, the church takes many different approaches to issues. Obviously, wells are not as pressing an issue for downtown Philadelphia as they are for Sierra Leone. Older urban centers are usually in desperate need of revitilisation which comes in the form of housing, commerce, and investments. This makes a difference in the local community and economy, and the church is able to increase its options for both humanitarian goals and the needs of church members.