The Church as the Knights Templar and #MakeItATrillion

I tried to get it to show a missionary swimming in a pool of coins like Scrooge McDuck, but it wouldn’t let me produce images that it deemed to be satirical of religious beliefs.

Once upon a time there was a devout, hard-working, highly efficient religious organization that started stockpiling and investing money for the glory of God. Because of their business acumen and scrupulosity, the pile grew fabulously large until…

King Phillip (the French King in Braveheart) and the Pope collaborated to steal their money and had the leaders arrested, tortured, and executed. 

Given the title of this post, you can see where I’m going with this. Now, I don’t think the Church leaders will get burned at the stake or arrested, but it’s a truism that the larger the amount of money you have the bigger the target you have on your back for people to just take your money. Because you really can buy (almost) everything in this world with money and money can make people weird and unscrupulous, with the unscrupulousity increasing with the amount of money at stake. 

It’s why super rich people have bodyguards and have to deal with a constant stream of lawsuits and bad-faith friends and relatives (and why I’m okay with Church security being more than a guy with a radio outside President Nelson’s apartment). For the Church I don’t know what the actual mechanism might be, maybe some out of control juries and lawsuits, an “excess wealth tax” on religious holdings (which yes, would never happen in today’s jurisprudential environment, but who knows 70 years down the road when a bunch of New Atheists are in charge) or maybe missionary or general authority ransoms, again who knows, but as a general principle that amount of money does make me nervous in terms of incentivizing bad actors.(And as an aside, because of these dynamics I completely understand why the Church tried to keep its funds hush hush, sorry/not sorry). 

Thankfully as of now the Church is headquartered in a nation that has decent rule of law (yes we’re not perfect, but let’s not both-sides this and pretend that the Church’s situation would be the same if it were headquartered in Russia or the Congo). But a Knights Templar-type situation sounds par the course for our own experience as a religion. And if we enter into a socio-political stage where there are fewer scruples about using the state or other institutions to target individuals or organizations the number of possibilities for pilfering the Church’s wealth opens up. 

There’s a kind of fun hashtag that circulated in some circles after the 100 billion (or is it 150 billion now?) number was leaked, #makeitatrillion, and I love the idea. If the Church can turn my 10 dollars of tithing money into 50 dollars through wise investment, more power to them (and people who think the money is just sitting there rotting and not doing any work don’t understand how securities investments and financing works), and I hope they are even more successful and the fund gets bigger. Still, at some point that number becomes large enough that we become a tempting target for the King Phillips of today, even if they are less able to go nuclear on us like he did with the Knights Templar, and that makes me nervous, even if I am in principle fine with the Church managing a trillion dollar portfolio.

53 comments for “The Church as the Knights Templar and #MakeItATrillion

  1. I definitely don’t really understand how securities investments and financing work. It would be super helpful to explain what good work those investments are doing. There are a lot of members like me who feel that the amount of money the church has could be put to use in far better ways.

  2. It’s not so much that they are doing “good work,” but it’s that they are doing work in the economy until the Church needs to tap into the funds. Putting money into stocks helps finance corporations, so essentially your tithing money is going into, say, Apple’s development of their new M3 chip. Of course, that’s not why one pays tithing, but the point I was making is that that money is in circulation and helping lubricate the economy; it’s not just sitting inert in some vault.

    On another point, until the Church actually puts the money to use, i.e. cashes in their liquid or illiquid assets and uses them, one can’t really talk about whether it could be put to use in better ways, because we don’t know compared to what.

    Take the “feed the hungry” example. If one thinks the Church should spend their money *right now* on, say, high-value, effective altruistic endeavors incentivizing vaccines in Sub-Saharan Africa or what not then in addition to the judgement call about what the Church should spend its money on, there is also a judgment call that, say, $10 billion dollars in vaccines now is worth more than $20 billion in vaccines later (and if we spend the $10 billion now we don’t get the $20 billion later). So in a sense the issue with investing so much isn’t that they aren’t spending it right–that’s orthogonal to the stockpiling discussion–but rather whether it is better to spend that money now versus later, and we have no reason to think that now would be better than later.

  3. That is an apologetic justification for the church not being transparent about what it does with your tithing money I hadn’t seen before.

    I hate it and totally disagree with it. But if it helps you to justify whatever the church does and fend off a faith crisis go ahead.

  4. The church and its money is a fascinating subject on so many levels for me. We were poor and close to closing our doors for so long in the early days of the church, we are kind of over compensating today. My wife blames my immense desire for spending money on “things” to being poor most of my life. Just as we dont know as members how much mulla is in all the accounts of the church, we really have not been told the future plans for that mulla. Sure we know the basics (temples, buildings missionary etc) but we are not told in advance that the church plans to write a check for $192 mil to the Church of Christ. What other big checks are getting written and what are they for? They could be buying half a state for the new Jerusalem as I type. The land, development and building cost for that is a massive #. Every time they announce 10 new temples and members get all giddy about it, my thought is how much $ they just spent with that announcement! Side note, I think its a safe guess to say that Pres Nelson has spent more of the churches $ than the last 5 presidents combined! Someone needs to get the checkbook away from that man! ( I kid) He has probably spent $6 billion just on temples. At some point I think most of us feel more could be spent on humanitarian needs. When I see what the US gov does with my “donations” to them and the poverty issues and debt issues we have…church is doing really really good!

    Anyone here privy as to how much cash/gold the church keeps in those mountain vaults by chance?? Cant be just genealogy stuff…

  5. Brian G – Ever sense I made my first tithe donation (I am freakin old) the church has not been transparent with me and my donations. I am not a fan of it either but I knew this when I chose to donate. Kind of like the issues I still have regarding my wife that I knew about when I dated her 40 years ago. I can still wish/hope they would change, but I really cant complain or blame my wife. IMO.

  6. You know, there’s this Jesus guy that once had a parable about talents . . .
    . . . Talents are a money measure, not skills, as has so often been misinterpreted. The Lord expects each individual who serves Him to maximize what He gave us.

    That doesn’t mean Jesus cared about how rich or poor someone is as a condition for entering His kingdom, only that there is, quite literally, multiple stories He told to illustrate what would happen when His kingdom comes, and many had to do with how well His servants used the resources He gave them. Talents are not a small amount of money. I take no issue with the Church’s wealth because clearly, they’re working on being a 10-talent servant.

    Here’s the thing: the Church doesn’t ask me to pay tithes – the Lord does. He blesses me for it, not the Church. And though the Church may benefit from my mite, I benefit more from paying it.

  7. EC, parables are symbolic. The parable of the talents isn’t really about money. The parable of the ten virgins isn’t really about oil. The pearl of great price parable isn’t really about jewelry or molluscs. Sheep and goats, not actually about farm animals. The wheat and tares is not about grain and weeds. I could go on.

  8. Jesus also told the rich young man to go and sell all he had and give it to the poor. So, he didn’t tell the rich young man to keep investing money so the economy could work, or to give it to the church, but to give it to the poor, and to follow him. Right now, we don’t know how much the church even has, but we know enough to know it has way more than it needs to live off the interest for ever without asking for more tithing money, and we may not know the half of how wealthy it actually is. It could pay janitors, and build enough church buildings that we don’t have 5 wards struggling to share one building in hot, hot climate and the air conditioning doesn’t work and the church doesn’t get around to getting it fixed. There is no need to guilt the very poor into paying tithing before feeding their children. It reaches a point where it is nothing but greed. There is just no excuse for making member suffer so they can hoard wealth. There is no reason to allow children to starve or have no clean water when we have enough money to help. What would Jesus do? Oh, yeah, he would let hungry children starve so he can have a 20 billion later instead of 10 billion now.

  9. A few weeks ago I was part of helping Church funds to make sure children didn’t go hungry. They have been helped repeatedly since then. The Church has a whole system in place for it.

    And the great thing about it is that we didn’t have to check the balance in the account first. There was a need, and the need was met. That’s the great thing about having a big pile of cash at your disposal – you can feed the hungry AND keep your buildings running AND operate universities AND donate to humanitarian causes AND secure the future of historical sites without having to choose between them. It’s fantastic.

    The Church got to this happy state by being careful in its spending and setting aside funds for savings and investment. If the system is working, don’t mess with it.

  10. Hey Anna, Jesus also taught something called the Parable of the Talents which serves as the theological basis of investing. Why do so many people minimize and dismiss that? Wealth is not a curse and poverty is not a virtue. Christ telling the rich young man to sell everything to the poor was an individual sacrafice he had to make, not counsel for everyone.

    And if you think “making” poor members “suffer” by asking them to pay tithing (following the commandments in scripture) you clearly dont understand the story of the Widows mite. Christ did not condemn the temple for taking the widows meager amount, he praised her for donating all that she has. In other words, Christ praised the poor woman for contributing, not saying “Oh its so horrible the temple is “making” her pay such a meager amount”.

  11. Money has nothing to do with the parable. Parables are stories to help teach other points, concepts or meaning. In this case it was the kingdom of heaven. If I dont use the skills/abilities that God blessed me with for good while on the earth, then I go to outer darkness in the next life. Nothing to do with money or investing. If I am using those skills/abilities and increasing them for doing more good that God wants me to do, then I am given more skills/abilities to do even more good.

    I dont think God had the stock market in mind with His tithes. The church, IMO, should just go back to the days where it was more of a free-will deal and not a “pay to play” deal like it is now. We are buying our salvation. Kind of like buying forgiveness that another church tried. I will say that Snow did the right thing, as it did save the church financially shortly after the changes. We have certainly out grown that need and we should go back to the old way. Blessings come with tithes, but I dont think curse/punishment comes if you dont.

  12. My take on a lot of the arguments over various controversies related to the church is that I think there can be a perspective that lands between what I often see as the critic’s take–“this is horrible and completely undermines any of the church’s validity” and the common apologetic one: “there’s nothing to see here, this is utterly unconcerning.”

    My sense of the church’s money and the SEC fine (like many issues, I think) falls in between those two poles. This is how I explained my own thoughts to my group. “The SEC papers said the improper attempts to hide investments went back to Hinckley’s administration and during that time, Time (which used to be a big deal) had a cover story called ‘Mormon’s Inc,’ that talked about the church’s money. There were other similar stories in other venues of the church’s wealth, so I’m guessing the leaders decided that was a bad look and wanted to keep their money quiet.

    “In a way, the church’s wealth is a success story that suggests great sacrifice by the members (a good thing, I’d argue) and good management by the leaders (also a good thing). Yet, the very act of trying to keep facts hidden suggests an acknowledgement by those hiding the facts that the facts are indeed a bad look (I’d argue that Sam Brunson’s BCC post on how much savings charitable organizations are expected to have is a good overview of many of the issues).

    “The efforts the leaders made with shell companies (to the point such efforts were deemed improper and the church had to pay a decent fine) suggests an acknowledgement of the bad look. Thus people/members finding concerning what the leaders clearly thought such people WOULD find concerning can’t be surprising.”

    My take away I said was “that it would seem that the church has more money than they know how to spend. Many would consider this to be a good problem to have, but the leaders themselves, by trying to “hide” the money, seem to acknowledge the bad look. So that looks like a mistake (and we had a general agreement that good leaders can make mistakes). Our leaders are good, competent, but fallible, and so mistakes can be made. Hopefully this is an opportunity to improve.”

    In other words, I don’t see lots of money as the end of the church’s validity, but also don’t think that people who find the church’s holdings to be problematic are completely off base. Again, why hide the money if “there’s nothing to see here”?

  13. Hey Nate, why do so many people minimize and dismiss literally every scriptural utterance against wealth-accumulation and for giving all one’s wealth to the poor? Matt. 19:21-24, Matt. 25:41-45, Luke 12:16-21, Acts 2:44-45, 4 Nephi 1:3, D&C 49:20, Mosiah 4:16-18, Mormon 8:35-37, etc. and etc. The scriptures fairly beat us over the head with it. My personal favorite is Jacob 2:18-19: “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”

    According to this passage from the keystone of our religion, seeking riches is distinct from and antithetical to seeking the kingdom of God; in fact, the only valid reason to seek riches at all per Jacob is exclusively to help the poor with it. If, for the sake of argument, Christ’s parable of the talents really is about the importance of investing prudently in the stock market, then such investments can only be for the sake of helping the poor. That is the only logical reading of these passages. What’s more, I can stone-cold guarantee you that if Church HQ were donating every last red cent of it’s $100b+ hedge-fund (that is, not a token 1% of their wealth like they currently do, but *all* their wealth, like the widow with her two mites) to fund humanitarian aide and poverty-alleviation world-wide, that not a soul would be complaining about their massive hedge-fund! Heck, even if the Church donated just 90%, or even only 50%, of their massive wealth to the poor, the Church’s conservatives and liberals alike would be singing hosannas, and the Church’s harshest critics would begrudgingly tip their hats, saying, “I don’t agree with most things the Mormons preach, but you can’t deny they put their money where their mouth is!” Not that the Church should be giving all its wealth to the poor for the praise of the world, mind you, but because, again, its what the Lord has repeatedly and explicitly and obviously commanded us to do.

    But the fact that Church HQ is *not* currently using 99% of its unfathomable wealth to help the poor–that they do not appear to have *any* plans for it at present, or no interest in sharing their plans if they have them–is the entire crux of the issue.

  14. I was hoping the OP would incur something more than the standard back-and-forth about the Church’s wealth accumulation, but I do think the OP responds to @Stephen Fleming’s point about why hide it if it’s nothing to be ashamed of; specifically that if people know you’re loaded all the bad actors come out of the woodwork and try go get your money. It’s the same reason people who win the loterry want to remain anonymous; I would imagine that the security risks to missionaries alone is a big potential issue. Confidentiality in itself isn’t a de facto admission of guilt that something is wrong.

  15. Now the the word has been out for a few years on the church’s wealth, do we have evidence of the missionaries being less secure or other problems of people “coming out of the woodwork to try to go get [the church’s] money”?

  16. I am actually surprised that there haven’t been more missionary abductions, but it’s not an unreasonable concern; I do think that the rash of former members trying to sue to get their tithing back isn’t unrelated from the now widespread knowledge about the Church’s wealth.

  17. I’m curious of that timeline, as my understanding that the first tithing suits started before the financial revelation (but would be curious to see that laid out).

    The Templar example does seem quite removed from our world though: accusations of gay sex, pledging allegiance to the devil, and then having the accused being burned at the stake don’t sound like anything related to the the American legal system.

    If the issue is simply people wanting to sue wealthy organizations, then yes, lots of people try to sue Walmart, doctors, churches etc (a more relevant context it seems to me). But I think it was pretty well known the church had some money to pay out lawsuits prior to the 100 billion revelation, so am I curious if that revelation did indeed cause an uptick in suits.

  18. Thanks, Stephen. I’d just point out that I wasn’t arguing for “guilt” so much as a possible awareness of bad PR. Working to create a good image for the Church in order to advance its mission has been quite important to Church leaders.

  19. The Kingdom must rise up and put on its beautiful garments at some point–and that includes an increase in temporal as well as spiritual prominence. I’m elated by the church’s prosperity–it opens doors to so many wonderful possibilities. I’m exited to see what the future will bring–if I live long enough, that is.

    Re: Protecting the Funds: If we do get robbed it won’t have been the first time. Even so, we know that there will be special powers given to Zion for its protection–so much so the peoples of world will keep their distance because “the inhabitants of Zion are terrible.”

  20. Anyone who says that tithing ought to be spent to help the poor doesn’t understand the principle of tithing. We have been given direction in the Doctrine and Covenants as to what tithing can be spent for:

    “For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.” — Doctrine and Covenants 119:2. Perhaps, on occasion, tithing can be used for various charitable needs but the charity is not the purpose even then — tithing funds are only to be spent to settle debts, building God’s house, and laying the foundation for Zion and for the Priesthood.

    There is nothing there about charity — there is an entirely different mechanism put in place for that (offerings of the members). We have been commanded to tithe and then, in addition, to give offerings to help the poor and those are two separate things with two separate purposes established by doctrine (“thus sayeth the Lord” in verse 1). If you want the Church to do more charity, contribute more in offerings. If you want to follow God’s commandments and contribute to the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, pay your tithing. But don’t expect (or, even worse, demand) that the Brethren ignore or act in opposition to revealed doctrine in order to use tithing funds in ways you want when that explicitly contradicts the words of the Lord.

  21. You know, it wasn’t until quite recently that (after many years of life) I was prompted to ask myself “really, in any form of specificity, what has this Church ever done for me?” In response, the standard answers leapt to mind that (of course) it has given me community, it has provided a solid platform for my belief in Christ and it has taught me some moral boundaries that have been quite helpful; throughout the course of my life.

    However, I had to honestly answer myself that there are a great many things that “the Church” has never done for me. Even during my darkest moments (i.e. the Financial Collapse of 2008) they’ve never paid a utility bill, my mortgage, my disabled child’s medical bills. The only food or provisions ever offered were provided by friends, neighbors, loved ones and family members. I’ve never received a single food stuff from “the Church”. They never helped me find employment or offered any monies to assist my family and I in any way. Candidly, they’ve never really lifted a burden from my mortal shoulders; all while the expectations of me to the organization continues.

    Of course, my belief in Christ has brought me comfort and hope in my darkest of nights; but Christ did that for me….not “the Church”.

    I acknowledge that LDS Temples (and most buildings) are beyond beautiful; with the most remarkable workmanship, finest materials and displays of wealth. And yes, going there can bring a respite from the World for a short time. But, there is such need to make this mortal sphere just a bit better for humanity; while we are all here. Oh, what “the Church” COULD do – in the World – with a $250 billion dollars.

    I suppose what I’m conveying (with respect) is that (through my eyes) as “the Church” acquires ever more wealth the organization is becoming less a reflection of the teachings of Christ. I think they are approaching a point where they will “cross the Rubicon” and participating members will see the disparity for what it is.

  22. I want to go back to scripture here. The pericopes I have in mind are John 12:1-9 and Mark 14:3-9.

    Let me make something ABSOLUTELY CLEAR. I do not presently accuse anybody of acting with Judas’ motives, though tbh I do think there are some who are angry with this because they are generally angry at the Church and wish the institution ill. But for most people the motives are not in question. What I have to ask is: even if Judas’ motives had been genuine, would the Savior have answered differently?

    On the contrary, by my reading the Savior praises Mary’s keeping of the spikenard “against the day of his burial.” The church’s investments are treasured up against the day of crisis, whenever it comes. I cannot, reasoning from scripture, countenance the idea that this is categorically a bad thing.

  23. No doubt the $250 billion, or whatever the church’s net worth is, would fix many acute needs. Pay medical bills here, feed a village there. And those are good and worthy to be sure. But even if the church were to liquidate itself entirely, surely the scripture would be fulfilled “the poor you will always have with you”.

    $250 billion is 3% of the federal budget. It’s less than the portion of the federal deficit incurred in the month of February alone.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of money on our scale, but the church’s ability to FIX problems with its wealth is very limited. I think there is wisdom to do what it does now: pick and choose partners and programs which have the ability to address long term issues while also putting a lot of money towards many acute needs in emergencies, natural disasters, through fast offerings, etc. Oh and also put money toward the running of the church too.

  24. Jonathan – Completely agree with your tithe vs fast offerings comparison and the designated uses for those based on scripture. In my case, and probably others in the church, I know that the church has not followed scripture for various reasons in the past so maybe this level of wealth could be cause to re-think what we do with the $ or how we get the members to give the $. If we removed it from the temple rec requirement (like in the early days of the church) I think members would feel less incline to tell the church what to do with the money as it more a free-will offering than a buy salvation kind of deal. I think the church would actually get more tithes if they did this. Those members that believe in tithes are still going to pay a full tithe regardless if they are forced to for access to weddings or actual salvation for themselves and dead relatives, and the members who dont typically pay may donate 3 or 5% that they are not doing now.

    Having said all that, its not the churches fault that there are enough members that tithe to meet and exceed the churches need/purpose for said donation. Nice problem to have and I think lots of religious orgs are wishing they had the same problem. I also get that the church has to do something with that $. What some people/members are saying, I think, is there may be a better purpose for the excess $ than building Vatican West condos for the rich, and managing a huge stock portfolio. Is that the best thing they can do? The church comes off to me as being a bit obsessed with hoarding the $. It is as-if they think the parable actually means Jesus will be ticked if they dont increase the funds! I think He would be more ticked that we didn’t.

  25. Very nicely narrated, REC911. My compliments.

    I suppose that each member of “the Church” will have to come to grips with this ever evolving issue in their own way; and in their own minds and hearts.

    Personally, I’ve heard the somewhat worn-out statement of “they’re simply saving for a rainy day” all of my adult life; and (for me – and many others) is simply no longer enough. With the Ensign Peak fund being projected to grow to over a trillion dollars in the next 20 years, I’ve decided that I would like greater transparency and accountability for where my faithful offerings are going.

    In seeking the counsel of my Bishop and Stake President – and in asking them for direction as to how I can keep my offerings from making their way in the investment arm of the Church – thus far, the best counsel I’ve been given is to simply flag all of my payments as Fast Offerings; thereby channeling the monies to “local use”. When I asked them if they would accept these offerings as being sufficient in fulfilling my covenants for a Temple Recommend they responded “We’re simply going to ask you if you are a full tithe payer. If your declaration is to the affirmative, the details of that declaration are between you and the Lord.”

    I perceive that this particular issue is not going to go away and that well worn platitudes will no longer give the members peace; not when a Church of Christ is becoming one of the most wealthy institutions in the World. I’m an older, life-long member and I’m not going to stand for it any longer – the next generation is already demanding much, much more of their Religion in the service of human kind. What an interesting time to be alive.

  26. “Building up the Kingdom of God is one thing”…..Acquiring a fortune worthy of the Fortune 50….in something else entirely. IMHO.

  27. Are you sure that Fast Offerings are used only for “local use” or for charitable purposes? The Church’s donation form explicitly states that you cannot be confident that this is the case. It says: “All donations to the Church are free-will offerings and become the Church’s property. In furtherance of its overall mission, the Church may shift donations from any designated use to other uses, at its sole discretion.” So no matter whether you designate your contributions as fast offerings, tithing, or humanitarian aid, the Church is free to use the money for any purpose whatsoever in furtherance of its mission.. I doubt they would say this unless they do in fact exercise their discretion to apply all funds in whatever way they consider appropriate, no matter how you designated your contribution.

  28. If the Church were stacking coins in a vault where nobody could use them, it would be one thing, but that’s not how this works…it isn’t how any of this works. The hundreds-of-millions stock portfolio represents assets. With the exception of dividends and income-producing assets like City Creek, which produce actual cash in real time, the portfolio consists of potential cash – which potential could be realized by selling assets. This isn’t zero-sum at all.

    Maybe I’m deficient but I just don’t see the moral charge inherent in the choice of letters preceding -illion.

  29. To your point, Gary; of course we can’t be certain of much – but, at this stage, I’ll try to do what I can to keep my monies out of the investment fund. I acknowledge that this might very well have more of a positive emotional effect on me – than any earth shaking impact on the Church. I’ll do it none the same – for now.

    On related note – I have backed away from giving the Church any more “free labor”; whether it be offering up my talents at no cost, cleaning the buildings, shoveling snow, working at the cannery, etc. This is something tangible I can respectfully do to display my discomfort with the Church’s ever growing treasury. They now have more than enough to pay for the services they need – and in many cases – it might provide much needed employment to some. I’ll just carry on.

  30. Gary and Grizz, the church apparatus does have the ability to move money around, but the standard structure is to use fast-offering money for the local charitable help bishops give out. Generally speaking, bishops are strongly encouraged to not give out more in fast-offering aid than the ward gives. Bishops who regularly go over that “take in” amount get calls from the stake.

    I was usually under because watching the budget is my natural tendency. When we got a request from a member for a lot of money that my “team” (eq, rs, counselors) wanted to grant, I called the SP and asked if sending out a big check would raise any concerns. His only question was “how far under are your payout than what you’ve taken in?” I was more than enough under, so he said no problem.

    Lots of people shifting tithing to fast offerings would massively change that fast offering budget, but I’m guessing the leaders would do some tinkering if that became a trend.

    I’ll just say that I try to make it to as much as the “free labor” stuff as I can: I usually clean the building every week it’s our month. I really feel like the great value of the church is all forms of community we partake in and see the shared labor as one of the best ways to participate in that.

    I here lots of people say they will boycott building clean up to send a message to the GAs, but that message in no way gets through to them. It only heaps more labor on your fellow ward members. If your building is dirty, that in no way impacts the GAs in anyway whatsoever. Just your ward.

  31. @ your food allergy & REC911,
    Far be it from me to say that a parable cannot have more than one meaning. I know perfectly well that money can be symbolic of other things in certain contexts. However, your interpretation is clearly taken from modern English, which changed the meaning of ‘talent’, and has little to do with the actual parable.
    Let me give you another, less well-known parable, from Luke 19: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy [do business] till I come.
    But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
    And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
    Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
    And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.
    And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
    There are a lot of parables Jesus gave involving money that sound quite unfair. This one’s pretty clear, I think. If the servants (leaders of the church) cannot be wise stewards over small change and make it grow, they’re under condemnation, unless explicitly excused as in D&C by outside factors. It’s not about skills, because you can’t lend skills or spiritual gifts out for usury to make them grow, that’s not how any of that works.
    @ Grizzerbear55,
    I don’t know you and your individual circumstances. It sounds like you have some burnout on being very active in the Church – but if your attitude is that you want the Church to throw money at cleaning buildings, working at canneries, etc., you misunderstand why the Church asks us to do those kinds of service instead of paying for them. Cleaning a building we use every week is probably intended to help us feel ownership of that space; doing a cannery assignment does tangible good for the poor not only in our communities but in places we’ve never heard of before.
    If you have beef with the Church for not doing enough to help (with money earmarked for different purposes), but refuse to serve others through the avenues the Church has created, you’re part of the problem, frankly, because you have therefore increased the burden on the members closest to you.
    When my dad was bishop, he saw a lot of people who wanted handouts, not a hand up. He often gave them a few requirements before he used offerings of widows and other faithful, struggling souls: come to church, and serve at least an hour a week in the community or ward.
    Personally, I agree with Stephen C, Jonathan, and Hoosier; at the moment I see these acquisitions and investments as another part of Zion-building and I have no issues with it. However, I certainly don’t think that being cautious is unwarranted, since love of money is definitely condemned. If the Church is indeed simply gaining money for the sake of money that’s bad. Please keep being wary and bringing other perspectives into the conversation; saying ‘all is well in Zion’ is also condemned in scripture.

  32. Stephen: It is interesting that you received those instructions and is just one more example of the differences that occur with different leaders.. In our Stake (at least several years ago) we never received those kinds of instructions. In fact, we were simply told to use our judgement, be generous and help as needed. I suppose it is possible that a Bishop somewhere in our area was told that he was giving too much, but I certainly was never aware that this was a concern. We were told that the church had the money and the checks won’t bounce. And I can’t see how it makes any sense at all to tell Bishops to tie the aid they approve to the local donations received. Funds are not kept at the local level, they all go to headquarters and some wards are affluent while others have significant needs. The whole point is that the rich help the poor, and that can’t happen if funds are kept a local level and only local donations can be used to serve local needs.

  33. Yes, technically that is true. All the money does technically go to the church. I was never officially “told” that was the policy, only by two former bishops that they’d gotten been deemed “over spenders” by their SP’s at certain points (would have been two different SPs) and used the phrase “had their checkbooks taken away.” By that I think they meant, the SP (two different guys) told them they were now going to take a closer look at their fast pay outs and need to be the ones to approve them.

    I didn’t mean to make it sound like the question of intake of fast offerings was the absolute determiner of pay outs, just that I’ve seen in many wards it being used as something of a guideline.

    But all the church training I got did stress being cautious with payments and working hard to only give out to payees on a short-term basis. Therefore, I’m guessing that in most places there is such a thing as bishops being seen as giving out too much, and that leading to a conversation with his SP.

  34. For instance, every month all bishops and their clerks have to “review the financials” which includes a page that very specifically charts both fast-offering take in and pay outs: it charts the two on a graph. Seems like the chart is trying to get a point across.

    This is all to say that in my experience, having greater fast-offering funds would likely give bishops of a bit of a longer leash in terms of what they pay out. (all of that is a complex equation though).

  35. EC: No, I’m not part of the part of problem; and it’s arrogant presumption of you to declare such. I’ve given my all to “the Church” for over 60 years – and have paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars in faith offerings. I’m a child of God and a believer in Christ. I’ve also been been given my mind and intellect; along with my soul.

    My mind and my heart tells me that something is not “all well in Zion” and that “Christ’s Church” is doing – or not doing – some very important things. Despite your narrative, I do not believe that Christ’s teachings nor directives are consistent with having one of the largest hedge funds in the World; particularly when so many of his brothers and sisters are suffering in this mortal sphere.

    Take your condescending judgement elsewhere.

    FWIW: When I was a young man, the Church had paid janitorial staff throughout the Worldwide organization; including our local chapel. Our building was always spotless, the grounds immaculate and a really good man raised a wonderful family while working for “the Church”.

  36. Grizz, yes people make the “create jobs” comment a lot these days, but I’d just point about couple of factors. 1) The church employs a lot of people so aren’t adverse to paying employees, and 2) the church has a TON of money, so, you’re right, church clean up probably ins’t for that purpose of saving money.

    Having grown up in Utah, building clean up seemed to be put in place as the welfare farms were sold off. I know lots of our stake leaders loved the welfare farms for the communal service the members could do there, so my guess is that building clean up was an attempt to replace the loss of the work on the farms, and just a general desire for communal work among the members.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the church on the importance of communal work (why I show up every week for building clean up). This is one of the things I love best about the church. Lots of social commentators are saying that our larger societies’ social connections are falling apart and that is having dire consequences. The church’s community with all it’s opportunities for shared work really is a beautiful (and in my opinion) vital thing.

    So I certainly understand people’s questions about the church’s finances (I see the leaders as capable of not always making perfect decisions) but I also believe that our community is wonderful and worth hanging on to. I’ll post more about the topics.

  37. EC, I do not think the parable of the talents is about talents (whether talents is translated to money or skills). I’m surprised that my very explicit and repetitive comment did not convey that to you. So I will say it yet again: parables are by definition SYMBOLIC. Just as the parable of talents is not about talents, the parable of the pounds you quoted at length is also not about pounds. These parables are not teaching us about investing money. In fact, if the parable tells a story using a certain object, and we know it’s a parable, then we can be confident in our interpretation that the object is symbolizing something else. It is amazing to me how many people who have been reading and thinking about scripture their whole lives do not understand this.

    In thinking about what these parables do mean, I think we should consider the context in which they were given, their audience, what prompted them. In this case, we have Jesus saying just before the parable, “the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We have Zaccheus the chief publican who has just been accepted to host Jesus, angering people because why is he staying with a sinner? Then we get a story about a ruler who wasn’t accepted by his people but leaves the valuable portions to certain servants, then returns to see what they have done. To me this sounds more like the gospel being entrusted to people with a special relationship with God, and what they do with that gospel while God is away.

    I’m sure there are other insights to learn from the story. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a convincing scriptural basis for Christ’s church to put the vast majority of its money into investments.

  38. I’m a bit flummoxed by approaching building cleaning as an opportunity to give service and build community. I have up helping because it did neither of those things.

    Everyone was endlessly in a rush to go, do, leave for the rest of their sat activities. Only the older people without kids at home took their leisurely time chatting and such. The rest of us needed to hurry off to our kids soccer, etc. And cleaning the building isn’t really service. Working at the homeless shelter or town pantry, that’s service. Cleaning the building doesn’t actually help anyone except the church itself and that’s just financial.

    What made me stop going was realizing that the work wasn’t a gift to either God or the less fortunate of humankind. I’d rather give my time and skills that direction (and do.)

  39. My experience has been totally different than that, ReTx. I made it my top priority to always show up as bishop and that that’s now paid dividends in the ward (numbers have increased). I have quite a lovely time with those who come, and find that the community building is one of the most vital things the church does. I don’t know if it’s a gift to God, but perhaps more of God’s gift to us.

  40. EC writes: “When my dad was bishop, he saw a lot of people who wanted handouts, not a hand up. He often gave them a few requirements before he used offerings of widows and other faithful, struggling souls: come to church, and serve at least an hour a week in the community or ward.”

    There is a time for handouts, and there is a time for a hand up. Someone who just experienced trauma needs a hand out as well as a supporting community and resources just to survive. Once they are able to process their trauma and move forward, and that will look differently for everyone mind you, we can begin talking about a hand up. There’s a lot of privilege in pretending like handouts are never appropriate. Please do better. One resource I would suggest if you would really like to understand how difficult the system is for the marginalized and those with generational trauma is to watch the show “Maid” on Netflix.

    I also enjoy cleaning the chapel but would never be so bold as to call it service. I don’t call cleaning my own house or washing my car service. I love to clean. But I recognize that I have never been trained to clean and therefore I’m just simply not doing a good enough job. Our worship spaces deserve better.

    What I would love to see is for the church to start paying for YM/YW camp. It’s going to cost well over $1,000 if my kids go to camp this summer. If the funds are for building the kingdom, as many commenters above suggest, then what better way than to pay for youth camps? Also, if we are going to pay seminary teachers in the Jello belt, we should also pay seminary teachers outside the Jello belt.

    Back to the OP, I’m with Brian G on this one.

  41. And I do what to acknowledge, ReTx, the challenges to church participation with busy lives related to children. But as you pointed out, not everyone is in that phase all the time.

    Chadwick, whatever you want to call cleaning the building, I really do think that communal work is a good thing. I think we kind of misunderstand Christianity if we say otherwise (have a post coming on that).

  42. I saw a comment above saying that the Church had never helped one of the commenters. No one can know his or her circumstances, of course. The Church includes its members, which may or may not include neighbors. God is the judge of us all and, undoubtedly, will also judge the leaders of the Church if they do wrong.

    I have been helped. I have had groceries provided and helped with employment by individuals using resources made available and facilitated through formal church channels. I am very, very thankful for the assistance.

  43. Stephen, fair enough if your experience is totally opposite mine. I imagine ward dynamics make a big difference in how things work out. I’m also a pretty extreme introvert who dislikes small talk and finds church-friendships to be too artificial to be meaningful, so maybe it’s me.

    From what I can tell, it seems like a good portion of my ward no longer helps. I wonder if that would change if the church paid for janitors and had a weekly assignment at the food pantry. (It would for me!) Possibly people would show up at first, but there’s still the problem of everyone being overscheduled. More than anything, I think we all need a true day of rest rather than more busy work.

    (Sidenote: I’m really enjoying your perspective and posts. Thank you for putting yourself out there!)

  44. Ugly Mahana:

    “I have been helped. I have had groceries provided and helped with employment by individuals using resources made available and facilitated through formal church channels. I am very, very thankful for the assistance.”

    The church has helped me in that way too–for which I’m very grateful. The church has also prepared me and given me every gift necessary to get my feet on the path that leads to eternal life. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

  45. Not trying to one up you Mahana. Your comment got me thinking about how grateful I am for the church–that’s all. :D

  46. @ Grizzbear,
    I’m very sorry if I gave offense; that is never my intention. I should have left insinuations out of the conversation altogether.
    @ your food allergy,
    That is certainly a valid interpretation of Christ’s parable. The thing is, the Restored Church is fairly unique to Christianity in that we believe that spiritual laws can also be temporal, and vice versa. I’m not saying I have more spiritual insight that anyone else, but haven’t we been trying to build Zion since Kirtland? That requires capital – lots of it – and though we are all fallible and fallen and as prone to corruption as any group of humans since time began, that doesn’t invalidate the Lord’s statements about the kingdom He is building.
    Personally I doubt that our monetary system will look remotely like anything we have now when Christ comes, but wise stewardship of resources is certainly within the purview of the Church’s fourfold mission to prepare for His coming.
    @ Chadwick,
    You can be sure that my dad gave out way more handouts, mostly food, than I ever knew about – mostly from his own pocket when he couldn’t balance the ward budget. He still does. We live in a semi-rural area; I’m no stranger to poverty. Our family always tries to be generous with what we have, including day-old bread from a local bakery that we take around to several families that depend on it.
    We ourselves never went hungry, in part because my dad wasn’t too proud to dig through dumpsters (unopened cans and boxes only!), and in part because we grow a garden from which we preserve a good portion of our food for the year.
    I live in America; I’m not in the throes of poverty as someone from a third-world country understands it, but I’m literally a maid-of-all-work. Believe me, I know whereof I speak when I talk about the different kinds of poor, because I’ve met them and lived that experience.

  47. Thanks, ReTx! And I totally get the challenges of introversion in our church community, it made the bishop thing quite challenging. But something I’m going to be sharing in future posts in something I think of as “a secular case for the church,” and the importance of community does play a big role in that. (I talk a bit about that in the post I just put up).

    I really like this talk from David Brooks which addresses a lot of important issues related to that topic. I think there’s a whole lot of things in the church does very well that his talk addresses.

    Your food bank idea is a very good one. No doubts there’s lots of things we could improve and we do have a tendency towards frugality and some insularity. Those can be good things, but thinking outside the box like you suggest can be good too.

  48. JB, thanks for your comment above. We do somersaults to explain away very clear scriptural teachings around the dangers of wealth. We are a very very rich church led by very rich people. Our money has even caused us to be deceptive. Instead of loving our enemies, we use our wealth to crush their opposition (thinking of the temple building disputes in small western towns) and fall over ourselves to explain that an eye of a needle really isn’t an eye of a needle. It breaks my heart.

  49. My problem with cleaning the buildings…If you are old, you know the church has gone back and forth on this…members clean, professionally cleaned. I believe I was bishop when the current members clean program was brought back and highly formalized at that. (meaning how to clean with what cleaner etc) At that time they stated in the materials to bishops that this was NOT A COST SAVING MOVE. This was for members to appreciate the building and take ownership of it. (not exact words but the idea) Everyone here that has cleaned church buildings knows, that typically those that already appreciate the building are the only ones cleaning the buildings. You cant force members to clean/appreciate the building. So, the reason for members to clean, IMO, is greatly flawed. This has now been moved to Temples and other church owned buildings. The members paid for these buildings. At the very least, let local wards decide if they want to clean or donate $ to clean the building they go to. This angle of making members clean to make the members appreciate it is just not something that works except for a very small % of members. The last time I cleaned a church building, and for the record I have always been against us cleaning the buildings even when I cleaned them, I was cleaning away on the vacuum and low and behold there was a paid worker cleaning the seminary portion of the building that was attached to the main building. Same church. That just stuck me as odd. The wards used that section of the building every Sunday too.

    I am glad for those who get “community” from cleaning the buildings have the opportunity to do so. Just dont give me or other members crap if we dont feel the same way. ;)

    Ask me to clean the small community church that cant afford to clean…I am there every chance I can with ReTx! That’s what Jesus would do IMO.

    E.C. – I am still with “Your Food Allergy” on the parable thing. His response to you is a ditto for me.

    Having been a bishop and dealing with the sacred fast offerings and all that goes with that, my personal motto that I lived by was that I would rather go to hell for giving too much of the sacred funds to the needy than not enough. Every bishop has to figure out what they are good with when it comes to the poor and church $. Whatever helps them sleep at night!

  50. I do want to thank everyone for sharing their perspectives and opinions on this subject. Nice to see other sides of issues.

    Also, if the church allowed me to deduct my time cleaning the church building from my tithes based on my current hourly earning rate that I pay tithes on, I would be fine with cleaning the buildings, mowing the lawns, etc. If the leaders think the only way I will appreciate the building is for me to clean it, then they will appreciate my tithes more when I reduce them cleaning the building that I paid for. :) At least Pres Hinckley used to thank the members for their generous donations to allow the church to build temples. Now the leaders seem to act like “look what we are doing aren’t we doing super good building all these temples!” The least the members can do is to pay for them and pay to go in them and clean them for free! When I was young and the church could not afford stuff, it made sense to ask members for $ for building the ward buildings we used and such but now not so much. The tithe thing works, dont make me clean what I paid for too! (can you tell this is a trigger for me? Thanks for letting me vent ;) )

  51. REC, I totally get frustrations with church finance, and I’m not claiming that church cleaning in reality often is a great community building experience (but that it can be be potentially). But one thing I will push back on a bit is a common claim I’m hearing that community building efforts by churches (including ours) are somehow less Christian than the things we deem charity. I’ll argue in future posts that I think that is a misunderstanding.

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