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LDS Church Finances
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes erroneously called the "Mormon Church"), is now a world-wide church and the fourth largest church in the United States, but it is still small, at just over 14 million members (2011). The LDS Church has a reputation for being wealthy, mostly because of its sound financial practices, which follow guidelines the Lord has set. Because of the success of the Church, some try to find worldly excuses for its financial soundness, but it is possible to be successful following eternal principles — no cheating allowed.
History of the Finances of the Church of Jesus Christ
The Church of Jesus Christ was established as the restoration of the ancient Church of Christ, with the same organization as was had in the primitive church. The image of the early apostles performing their ministry without "purse or scrip" holds true today. There is no paid clergy in the Church, and members are called to split their time between their worldly pursuits and church service for which they are untrained. They learn as they serve through inspiration from God. Thus, in the first days of the restoration of the gospel of Christ (early 1800's), those who were able donated what they could to forward the work of the Lord. Martin Harris donated the funds for the first printing of the Book of Mormon and others allowed the prophet, Joseph Smith to stay in their homes when necessary for him to work on scriptural translations.
The Latter-day Saints established themselves in New York and Pennsylvania, but were soon driven out. They gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, where many were extremely poor. Speculation was rife in the United States at that time, and some of the early Mormons became caught up in that. Land prices rose in Kirtland. With the financial crash of 1837 in the U.S., the bank established in Kirtland failed, leading again to the destitution of the Saints. Driven out of Kirtland, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ gathered in Missouri, again mostly impoverished. When the Saints were driven out of Missouri, most of their goods and cattle were confiscated by mobs, and they had to begin again in Nauvoo, Illinois. The Saints built Nauvoo into a large, beautiful city during the five or so years they were there. Prosperity increased during this time. But then the prophet, Joseph Smith, was martyred and the Saints driven out to begin their famous exodus to Utah. Again, they started over.
Once in Utah, the Saints struggled again, but gained a foothold and increased in financial stability, establishing agricultural and manufacturing cooperatives along the way. However, in Utah the LDS Church publicly revealed its practice of polygamy (which was discontinued by revelation in 1890). The result was a series of more and more onerous acts of American congress, eventually leading to the confiscation of LDS Church property, the suspension of citizens' right to vote, the incarceration of the men of the Church, etc. Under Prophet Lorenzo Snow the Church was in debt to the tune of $2.3 million.
As was had in ancient times, and as commanded by God, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ made donations by paying "tithing," which is ten percent of one's increase, sometimes paid "in kind" (contributing goods). Members were afraid to pay tithing, assuming that the federal government would just confiscate it. After receiving a revelation concerning the suffering Saints in St. George, Utah, where there was a severe drought, Lorenzo Snow, promised them that if they would pay tithing, rain would come, and they would prosper. This came to pass. Other times of leanness included the period of the Great Depression, during which time, the Church of Jesus Christ established a welfare system that encouraged self-reliance, now a shining light to governments everywhere that desire to copy its principles.
The Biblical Principle of Tithing
The main source of the financial strength of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Mormon tithing. (See Doctrine and Covenants 119:4.) Members also contribute other voluntary donations and volunteer service as part of Mormon charity. All offerings, including tithing, are voluntary, and are also confidential — no collection plate is passed around during Mormon church services, and there are no plaques identifying donors in Mormon meetinghouses or Mormon temples. Since the paying of tithes has been a scriptural principle since ancient times, and since sacrifice is a foundational principle of the gospel, the paying of tithing is basic as a demonstration of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, only a full tithe-payer qualifies to enter Mormon temples and make higher covenants there. However, a member tells his or her bishop whether he or she is a full tithe-payer, and the bishop accepts that declaration as truth.
- Latter-day Saints regard the payment of Mormon tithing as a privilege and often tell of spiritual and financial blessings that have come through obedience to this law (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 508).
There are very exact procedures for the collection and management of Mormon tithing funds on every level. These procedures are standardized worldwide. Other sources of income for the Church of Christ include limited business investments. These investments all relate to the welfare of the Saints (communications for broadcasting Mormon media or farms for raising food for the welfare system, for example). The Church accrues financial reserves for difficult times, and pays even for its temples in cash. The LDS Church has no debt.
Specially dedicated funds also exist in the LDS Church to which members (and friends of other faiths) may donate as able. Mormon donations go to various funds. These funds include the ward missionary fund (to help local missionaries), the general missionary fund (to help finance Mormon missionaries in other locations), a Book of Mormon fund (to supply Books of Mormon to missionaries), the Humanitarian Aid Fund, the temple construction fund, and the Perpetual Education Fund (which helps to educate poorer members who have finished serving missions).
A large part of Mormon tithing funds are allocated to the construction of meetinghouses and temples, as the Church of Jesus Christ grows quickly around the world. Although members clean the meetinghouses in many locations, there are a myriad of other operating costs, including updating of buildings and temples.
On the first Sunday of each month, Mormons fast for two meals and donate the money they would have spent on food to the benefit of the poor. If a family has financial problems, they may be able to obtain goods from a nearby Bishop's storehouse, stocked with groceries. Some of these foodstuffs come from dairies and orchards and canneries owned by the Church and manned by volunteer members. Other products are purchased with "fast offerings." The poor may also obtain temporary financial assistance, along with employment counseling and other helps.
Like tithing, fast offerings are collected by the local congregation (branch or "ward"), but unlike tithing, they are first used for local needs with the excess then sent to LDS Church headquarters.
The Finances of the LDS Church
The Church of Jesus Christ has a Council on the Disposition of Tithes. It is comprised of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. This council supervises all expenditures worldwide and establishes financial policies. There are two subcommittees: the Budget Committee, and the Appropriations Committee, again comprised of the General Authorities of the Church. Financial controls consist of sound financial policy, budgeting, organizational structure, and regular comprehensive audits (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 509). The "Audit Committee" is made up of experienced businessmen who are neither General Authorities of the Church nor employed by the Church. It is independent of all other departments of the Church. This and other committees ensure that the Church adheres to ethical practices and set procedures.
There are other boards and committees that supervise investments and participation in business. General Authorities of the Church also participate in these committees. The Deseret Management Corporation has its own board of directors. The DMC functions as a holding company for most of the commercial businesses owned by the LDS Church. These companies pay the same taxes as do commercial corporations. Some properties are held to support the religious efforts of the Church, for development of sacred sites, and for the building of meetinghouses and temples. The LDS Church has divested itself of many commercial holdings in recent years.
Use of Funds
The Church uses most of its financial resources to construct and maintain buildings and other facilities. The Church also spends its Mormon donations on providing social welfare and relief and supporting missionary, educational, and other Church-sponsored programs. The Church does not pay its local leadership, though General authorities and mission presidents, both of whom serve in these capacities full-time, can receive monies from the LDS Church in the form of housing, living allowances, and other benefits while they are on assignment. (No funds are provided for services rendered.)
- Construction of facilities
The Church builds additional Mormon chapels (structures used for weekly worship services and for baptisms) and temples as wards and branches of the church are organized. On average, the LDS Church builds a little more than one chapel a day. The LDS Church built about 40 smaller temples between 1998 and 2001.
- Maintenance of facilities
The Church pays to maintain its chapels and temples around the world. These costs include repairs, utilities, grounds maintenance, and specialized custodial work. Members also assist with cleaning local chapels by providing general custodial work. These facilities are cost-centers for the LDS Church, and maintaining them represents a significant use of the Church's income. The materials used in church classes and the budgets to run activities and other things done by the various congregations of the church are also centrally funded. It also funds the printing and distribution of manuals for classes, and funds all congregational activities through centralized budgeting.
- Social welfare and relief
The Church operates a welfare distribution system, as it encourages members to seek financial assistance from family and the LDS church's Mormon charity first before seeking public or state-sponsored welfare. AgReserves Inc., Deseret Cattle and Citrus Ranch, and Farmland Reserve, Inc. are part of its welfare distribution system. Welfare resources are distributed by local bishops but maintained by the Presiding Bishop. It also sends relief aid to victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and others around the world. The relief effort has been recognized through many organizations and political leaders, including the United States leaders in reaction to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort by the church.
- LDS Philanthropies
The Humanitarian Aid efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ are so well-managed with Mormon volunteer labor that virtually one hundred percent of donations to the humanitarian aid fund go to the needy. There are both emergency and ongoing projects admired the world over. The LDS Church often partners with other reputable charitable entities to get aid to stricken regions quickly and is often the last to leave, rebuilding devastated areas after disasters. Thus, the Church is the ideal venue for donating to Humanitarian Aid.
- Church Education System
The Church funds from Mormon donations a large Educational System (CES) consisting of several institutions that provide religious and secular education for both Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students and adult learners. Approximately 1.2 million individuals were enrolled in CES programs in approximately 135 countries during the 2003–2004 school year. CES courses of study are separate and distinct from religious instruction provided through LDS Church congregations. The LDS Church owns and subsidizes education at three universities and an LDS Business College.
- Other programs
The Church also spends much of its money collected through Mormon tithing on missionary, educational, and other programs which the LDS church considers to be within its mission. Although the families of Mormon missionaries (usually young men ages 19–25 or young women ages 21–25) generally pay US$400 a month for missions, additional general funds of the LDS Church support missionaries unable to pay for their own missions. Additionally, the LDS Church provides a mission office and mission home for each of its 340 missions and pays for television advertising offering free copies of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and church-produced videos and DVDs. The cost of printing or producing these materials is also covered entirely by the church since they are distributed for free. Throughout the world, it also supports Scouting programs for young men. In addition, it supports its Seminary and Institute programs with tithing money.
A Lay Clergy
Everyone serves in some capacity in the "Mormon" Church, as there is no professional clergy, no divinity school to provide training for ministers or administrators. All callings except for the General Authorities of the Church are temporary. Missionaries support themselves in the mission field. If they can't afford it, they appeal to their families and then to the Church. The Church does, however, pay their transportation to and from their missions. Mission presidents and General Authorities must leave their professional vocations to serve full-time in the Church, so they receive a modest living allowance provided from income on Church investments and not from the tithes of the Saints.
LDS Church Statement Regarding its Financial Dealings
In July 2012 Bloomberg Business Week came out with a cover that was a sacrilege to the Church of Jesus Christ and raised the ire of other religions for its bigotry. Depicting the sacred event of Prophet Joseph Smith and associate Oliver Cowdery receiving the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood at the hands of the resurrected John the Baptist (one of the most holy events in religious history), the doctored work of art by C.C.A. Christensen shows the Baptist instructing Joseph to establish all sorts of for-profit entities.
Among others who decried both the article and the cover, the Deseret News    refuted claims in the article. The tone of the article was to expose all the Church of Jesus Christ money-earning interests, but never mentions its outlay. Just one of the LDS Church's programs -- its remarkable welfare program -- keeps millions of people from needing state or federal assistance when they encounter financial woes. An article in the Washington Post recommended letting the LDS Church take over U.S. finances to right America's financial woes. The article was humorous but went a long way in showing that the Church of Jesus Christ's well-managed finances and complete freedom from debt should be admired rather than ridiculed.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded with the following explanation:
- The growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from a fledgling band of frontier Americans to a global faith that blesses the lives of millions is one of the great religious success stories of the 19th and 20th centuries.
- From the very beginning, members of the Church displayed a remarkable ability to set aside material things for spiritual goals. One of the earliest Church members, Martin Harris, mortgaged his farm to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon. Other examples of self-sacrifice among the early Latter-day Saints abound.
- Driven from place to place — from Missouri to Illinois to the far reaches of the western frontier — Church members several times abandoned their homes, farms and cottage businesses they had lovingly nurtured. By the time they made the final great trek across the American Plains to the Rocky Mountains, many were already impoverished. Those who came by handcarts because they could not afford wagons are a poignant testimony to that fact.
- Brigham Young once remarked that if the Latter-day Saints could have 10 years unmolested in the Rocky Mountain valleys, they would establish themselves as an independent people. Over time, Brigham Young’s vision of a thrifty, independent and spiritual people largely came to be realized.
- Complete financial independence and freedom from debt would take several decades, however. Historians today point to the early 1900s as the time when the Church finally began to turn the corner and free itself from decades of indebtedness — specifically highlighting a sermon by Church President Lorenzo Snow in which he called on the Latter-day Saints to renew their commitment to the principle of tithing.
- Tithing is an ancient biblical principle and has been practiced by many churches through the centuries. Independent studies show, however, that nowhere else in America today is the principle of tithing so widely and faithfully followed as among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The vast majority of the income used to manage the Church comes from tithing, not from businesses or investments.
- Tithing has thus proved to be an enormous blessing to the Church and its people, along with simple but sound economic principles such as avoiding debt, living within one’s means and setting aside funds for a rainy day.
- The key to understanding Church finances is to understand that they are a means to an end. They allow the Church to carry out its religious mission across the world.
- Does the Church own for-profit businesses? Yes. In the Church’s earlier history as it was establishing itself in the remote Intermountain West, some of those businesses were necessitated by the simple fact that they didn’t exist elsewhere in the community. Gradually, as private businesses developed and the need for Church-owned businesses diminished, they were sold off, donated to the community or discontinued. Zions Bank and the LDS Hospital system are examples.
- Today, the Church’s business assets support the Church’s mission and principles by serving as a rainy day fund. Agricultural holdings now operated as for-profit enterprises can be converted into welfare farms in the event of a global food crisis. Companies such as KSL Television and the Deseret News provide strategically valuable communication tools.
- Tithing funds are used to support five key areas of activity:
- Providing buildings or places of worship for members around the world. We have thousands of such buildings and continue to open more, sometimes several in a week.
- Providing education programs, including support for our universities and our seminary and institute programs.
- Supporting the Church’s worldwide missionary program.
- Building and operating nearly 140 temples around the world and the administration of the world’s largest family history program.
- Supporting the Church’s welfare programs and humanitarian aid, which serve people around the world — both members of the Church as well as those who are not members.
- From time to time, some people, including journalists, try to attach a monetary value to the Church in the same way they would assess the assets of a commercial corporation. Such comparisons simply do not hold up. For instance, a corporation’s branch offices or retail outlets have to be financially justified as a source of profit. But every time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints builds a place of worship, the building becomes a consumer of assets and a financial obligation that has to be met through worldwide member donations. The ongoing maintenance and upkeep, utilities and use of the building can only be achieved as long as faithful members continue to support the Church.
- On occasion someone will try to estimate the Church’s income and determine how much of that is used to care for the poor and needy. Again, they rarely capture the whole picture. The bedrock principles underlying the Church’s welfare and humanitarian efforts are Christlike service and self-reliance.
- Nearly 30,000 bishops who oversee their respective congregations have direct access to Church funds to care for those in need, as they help members achieve self-sufficiency.
- At Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, where the Church cans goods for its distribution warehouses, some procedures would be more efficient if automated. Instead, the Church has opted for more labor-intensive production lines that provide opportunities for people to give service and for welfare recipients to work for what they get. This is not the pattern of a commercial business, but it is the pattern for helping people to help themselves. The Church’s aim is to help individuals to overcome temporal barriers as they pursue spiritual values.
- Published numbers related to our humanitarian efforts include only dollars spent directly on humanitarian service. The Church absorbs the administrative costs. Furthermore, these numbers do not reflect the Church’s extensive welfare and employment services that serve many thousands worldwide. They also do not represent Deseret Industries thrift stores that provide vouchers to other charities for their use, donations to food pantries, or humanitarian- or welfare-focused missionary service or support given to aid other relief organizations in their missions. Hundreds of thousands of hours of donated service underpin Church programs such as these.
- The Church exists to improve the lives of people across the world by bringing them closer to Jesus Christ. The assets of the Church are used in ways to support that mission. Buildings are built for members to come together to worship God and to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionaries are sent to invite people to come to Christ. Resources are used to provide food and clothing for the needy and to provide ways for people to lift themselves up and be self-reliant. What is important is not the cost but the outcome. As former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The only true wealth of the Church is in the faith of its people.”
- Those who attempt to define the Church as an institution devoted to amassing monetary wealth miss the entire point: the Church’s purpose is to bring people to Christ and to follow His example by lifting the burdens of those who are struggling. The key to understanding the Church is to see it not as a worldwide corporation, but as millions of faithful members in thousands of congregations across the world following Christ and caring for each other and their neighbors. 
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