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Members of the LDS Church are to pay "one-tenth of all their interest annually." Every year, each member is asked to meet with the bishop to declare their tithing status: full-tithe payer, partial-tithe payer, or non-tithe payer. Tithing is considered a debt. However, it is also an entrance fee—only full-tithe paying members are allowed to enter the Church's most holy place, the temple, and participate in important saving ordinances.
Overview of LDS position
Tithing is an ancient law practiced in Old Testament times, such as when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. It was reestablished in 1838 through Joseph Smith. Tithing is a debt owed to God. No matter the financial situation, every member is expected to pay that debt. Failure to do so is the same as robbing God and is deserving of God's curse. However, honestly paying tithing guarantees that God will pour out so many blessings upon the giver, that they will not have enough room to receive the blessings. Statements such as this are often made: "I think it is not well known in the Church that payment of tithing has very little to do with money. Tithing has to do with faith." Such statements move the focus away from the monetary and toward the spiritual. Tithing is part of the obligations of sacrifice and consecration members are to follow.
Overview of Critics' position
One would expect that access to God's highest degree of glory would be free of monetary charge. Yet to attend the temple and receive the ordinances that are mandatory for such access, one must be a full-tithe payer. As nice as it might sound to say that tithing is more about faith than about money, tithing is paid with money. Although within the temple one makes covenants to sacrifice and consecrate all that one has to the church, it is left to the individual how to interpret that. Those who say that it seems odd for someone to want to go into the temple where they will have to agree to consecrate all they have to balk at a mere 10%, must not understand what it's like to depend on every cent to survive. For those who have very little to begin with and find it hard to make ends meet, they feel guilty if they do not pay a full amount and they have to make an accounting to the bishop. It is demeaning to have to ask the bishop for help to pay for the basics of life because money was used for tithing instead of food. The bishop may then ask that person to do things, such as clean the church to help "pay" for the food the bishop provides. Paying for food instead of tithing would maintain the person's dignity. In addition, why doesn't the church want its members to know how their donated money is being spent? The Church's unyielding emphasis on tithing is disturbing to many members of mainstream christian churches, especially when many of these 'apostate churches' are far more up front about their finances and salaries of their paid clergy than is the LDS Church.
The following essay from a LDS member shows that the definition of tithing within the LDS Church may have evolved from its original interpretation. Special thanks to Sarony for this: What is a Proper Tithe?
Additional comment: The members of the RLDS Church (Community of Christ) have always tithed on one tenth of their income - after expenses.
A Catholic Priest's interpretation of tithing
Critic's Comment: The above quote is from a Catholic priest who responded to an ex-Mormon asking about tithing. Perhaps the priest is correct. We are not called to tithe. We are asked to make offerings. When the elderly widow gave her last two mites, it was an offering, not a tithe. That would have been 10% of her last two mites. We are not called to tithe, but to make an offering to sustain the church. Plus, if I were to announce that I had given 10% of my income to a homeless shelter, that would not be acceptable to the church, but it is just what the Bible tells us we should do with our tithes. Please check out Deut. 14 for the Old Testament law on tithing. Christians are no longer under that obligation.
Editor comment: It appears that the LDS Church defined tithing differently in the early days of the LDS Church than they do now. Regardless of how it may have been defined in the past, the LDS Church expects its current members to pay 10% of their income to the church, in addition to fast offerings and other donations.
Gross or Net?
Some members pay on net income, some on gross income. Members often try to inspire others to pay on gross income by saying things like, "Do you want gross blessings or net blessings?" The Bishop is not supposed to inquire further on how people define income, although I personally have heard it specifically said from the pulpit by local church leaders that tithing is to be paid on "gross income, not net income" but I believe that leader overstepped his authority by declaring that.
On March 19, 1970, the First Presidency sent a letter to presidents of stakes and missions, bishops of wards, and presidents of branches in answer to the question, What is a proper tithe?
The General Handbook of Instructions quotes from the March 19, 1970 letter from the First Presidency sets forth a definition of what is tithed. Here is a portion of the General Handbook of Instructions from that section:
Because the General Handbook of Instructions quotes the 1970 letter from the First Presidency, the 1970 letter remains the official written policy on tithing.
Although that is the "official" definition (no definition), members are often told that tithing is to be paid on gross income (before taxes). Although in some foreign countries with very high taxation, they have specifically said that members in those countries should pay tithing after tax.
Right from the Church's website, is a direct quote from the Family Home Evening Lesson on Tithing:
Discuss the following attitudes and decide on the right solution:
1. A man once said, "I pay tithing on all my salary after deductions, since I don't get the money that is taken for taxes." Is he correct? (Tithing is one-tenth of all our interest or increase, before anything else is taken out. See D&C 119:4.)
So although some members may quote from the handbook above, there are certainly enough reasons for many members to believe that tithing should be paid on Gross Income before taxes or anything else is taken out.
Why doesn't the Church allow members to know how it spends our donations?
President Hinckley was interviewed just before the 2002 Olympics. The following is a transcript of the interview which can be viewed on the YouTube link below.
REPORTER: In my country the...we say the people's churches, the Protestants, the Catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.
HINCKLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
REPORTER: Why is it impossible for your church?
HINCKLEY: Well, we simply think that the...that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world. That's the only thing. Yes.
Editor comment: We are tithe payers (the ones that Hinckley referred to as making the contributions). When can we see the financial information?
The LDS Church does not allow its members to see any financial records. Most churches do publish some financial information and budgets so their members can see what their donations are used for and to assess the needs of the organization that they support with their hard-earned money. Why is the one, true church less open and forth-coming about their finances and how the money is spent than the apostate churches? Intuitively we would think that the 'false' churches would likely be more secretive about how much money they have and how it's spent and that God's one, true church would be very open about how they spend their members' donations.
No, past presidents of the Church published the financial records of the church. This was stopped in 1959. WHY? We presume it was because the church was relatively poor in the first hundred years of its existence and then started becoming very wealthy in the last half of the 20th century. The leaders do not want the members (or nonmembers) to know just how phenomenally wealthy that the church has become, perhaps in fear that the members wouldn't contribute so much if they thought the church didn't really need their money. The leaders also probably do not want to be held accountable to the members for how they choose to spend the tithes donated to the church. The church only publishes its financial information relating to specific countries if those countries' laws require it such as the United Kingdom. If our church is so honest and truly the one, true church, why can't we be at least as open with our finances as the apostate protestant churches?
Granted, as members of the LDS Church, we would likely have disagreements as to how to spend the money. We can accept that we 'appoint' leaders to manage the funds just like corporations do. However, even though stockholders of corporations aren't generally involved in determining how the managers of the corporations' assets spend their money, they do receive a stockholder's report every year summarizing how the money was spent and what is the financial position of the corporation. The LDS tithe-payers receive absolutely nothing regarding how their tithes were used. It's kind of hypocritical of the church to not reveal their finances as they require us, as members, to essentially reveal our finances to them each year during tithing settlement.
From a member of a non-LDS Church:
Many Protestant congregations put in their weekly programs, exactly how much they receive in tithes and offerings each week and year, as well as how much their expenses are. Wouldn't that be nice if the LDS Church included that information in their programs each week? The Adventists disclose how much they receive in tithes and offerings as shown here. Many Lutherans have told us that you can go to the Synod's website and drill down to any congregation in the world and see how they spent their money. Sounds like a model of trust and honesty that the one, true church should emulate.
Editor comment: Many protestant churches are highly decentralized and do not have much support beyond their local diocese. They are local churches that are part of a larger community of the faithful of that respective sect. The LDS Church functions as a worldwide organization (as opposed to a unified community) and distributes the collected funds accordingly.Perhaps a more practical comparison would be to the way in which the Catholic Church uses and maintains its financial resources. We don't know how the Catholic church handles its financial disclosures. If anyone knows, please email one of the staff at MormonThink.
Update: A Catholic parishioner has responded:
Request for Financial Transparency in the LDS Church Petition
An online petition has been started to request that the LDS Church disclose its financial information the way that many other churches do. http://www.petitiononline.com/2915spar/petition.html
True-Believer Comment: Perhaps one reason that the LDS church does not disclose their information publicly is the potential liability. The LDS church, like many corporations are deeply afraid of lawsuits in which plaintiffs’ hope to game the system and achieve a windfall judgment by going after the “deep pocket” defendants.
Tithing as the Catholic priest said above should be a gift, but the LDS Church makes it an obligation. Fear is often used as a motivator to get people to pay a full tithing. How many times have you heard the term 'fire insurance' associated with tithing? He who is tithed shall not be burned at Christ's' 2nd coming. Malachi 8:10 is often quoted - "Will a man rob God, yet ye have robbed me".
The guilt placed upon Latter-day Saints can be considerable. We are not considered members in 'good standing' if we're not paying tithing. We cannot attend the temple if we don't pay our tithing. We cannot have temple-related callings or any high-profile positions if we're not full tithe-payers. And if we are full tithe-payers, we're often counseled to then start paying generous fast offerings, contributing to the missionary fund, etc.
Why is tithing so emphasized in the LDS Church along with the companion statement that "The Lord Does Not Need Your Money"? We are sure that the Lord does not need the money, but why does "His True Church" put so much of an emphasis on it to make it a frequent topic of Sacrament Meeting talks, to put it in the Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society lessons, to create a novel way of teaching tithing to Primary children (i.e. the teacher gives the child ten pennies and she is asked to put one penny in the tithing envelope and give it to the Bishop). Why are members called to tithing settlement once a year and reminded to settle their unpaid tithes? Why are ward audits held? Why do Bishops receive letters from church headquarters warning them that their wards have given out more Fast Offering funds to members than was collected from their wards, and that they need to exhort their members to contribute more fast offerings?
The financials of the church are a closely guarded secret. No one can say with any certainty just how much the LDS Church is worth. Whenever there have been lawsuits against the church, the courts normally require that the defendant supply financials to the courts to help assess how much a potential settlement should be. The church lawyers use every means to prevent having their financials disclosed to anyone.
The PBS special 'The Mormons' estimated the LDS Church is worth some $80 Billion. That estimate is probably low given the secrecy involved. It's likely worth over $100 Billion as it is the wealthiest per capita religion in the world with annual, mostly tax-free revenues estimated to be $6 Billion per year (per Time magazine back in 1997). The LDS Church owns 928,000 acres in North America, is the largest ranch land owner in Wyoming, is the 2nd largest land owner in Nebraska (Ted Turner #1), has the largest cattle ranch in 48 states (Adjacent to Disneyworld in Florida), is the largest foreign landowner in UK. The LDS Church owns several businesses, numerous radio and television stations, its own insurance company, and is rumored to be the largest single producer of commercial beef in the USA . They own enormous properties in Hawaii including a Marriott hotel franchise in Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center (which is the most visited tourist attraction in Hawaii), as well as of course Brigham Young University and thousands of chapels and meetinghouses worldwide. They also own shopping malls, are involved in property development and own enormous quantities of stock in many corporations. The list goes on and on. At the same time, it tells the poorest of members that it is important to pay their tithing before buying groceries. Members should have faith that the Lord will provide. What do these financial concerns have to do with providing for the spiritual welfare of its members?
Note: UK records for the LDS Church since 2007 are available at: http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/ (This links directly to the LDS financials. However, if there are any problems with links, go here http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/ and type The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Great Britain) in the search for a charity box. This is the name of the main corporation of the church in the U.K. There are others.)
Of course, some of the developing countries, like the ones in Africa, likely take in much less and their expenses may exceed their revenues.
The following web page lists dozens of corporations that the church owns. There is also an interesting dialogue taken from the Reed Smoot congressional hearings where the prophet (Joseph F. Smith) is asked about the numerous other businesses that he is president of that are owned by the church: LDS Corporations
From ward financial clerks
Check out this discussion from several ward financial clerks. Seems that the typical ward in the USA takes in $500k to $1M per year.
This blog is interesting. The author did some calculations using the church's vast cattle ranches in Florida to calculate that they own some 0.7% of Florida's land, or 12 times what Disney Corp owns. (Note: We haven't verified this - it's really just interesting trivia). Also, check out his commentary on the free labor they get for their non-taxed businesses in Florida.
Business Article - July 2012
Business Week reported the following in this July 2012 article:
Church responses to wealth statements
President Gordon B. Hinckley also commented on Church financial operations in these articles. They discuss the church's expenses such as temples and BYU as well as why the church has maintained some business operations.
True-Believer Comment: The ranches and farmlands are all part of the Bishops Storehouse and Welfare system as well as Emergency preparedness (this is also partially the motivation behind the hunting preserve. There is also the consideration of what else may be around the preserve, if anything, that the church may want to keep the land and simply uses it in an efficient way as an added benefit), which is directly related to the church’s mission of providing for the saints. The insurance company exists to cover the myriad of church employees around the world who facilitate the church’s international operations. The Oahu land (as well as the hotel chain and the so called resort” is probably related to the ability to expand BYU-Hawaii facilities. It also has to do with the Polynesian Cultural Center, whose purpose is to educate visitors concerning Polynesian culture as well as to provide work for Polynesian students, traditionally from poorer countries, to pay for their education at BYU-H. These tie into the church’s belief that “The glory of God is intelligence.” Facilitating the success of this institution, and therefore by extension the Polynesian students, is therefore tied to the churches mission.The radio and TV stations are to facilitate the broadcast of Conference. Rather than have the lie idle most of the year, the church, as a good steward, seeks to obtain he maximum return from its investment.
The newspaper serves a similar purpose, as well as allows the church to present its view of the story (Church News) when the Salt Lake Tribune tends to take a more secular approach to its reporting concerning the church. The condos, depending on their location, could accommodate senior missionaries and general authorities. The malls and restaurants, particularly the new City Creek Complex, are often to maintain the environment around the temples. In the case of City Creek, the Church wanted to prevent not just urban decay (with a potential increase in crime that would affect temple patrons and visitors) but also the placement of a strip bar across from Temple Square.Occasionally the church has divested itself of property and corporations it no longer needs or does not advance one of its purpose, such as President Hinckley’s discussion of the sale of ZCMI as well as several other institutions at the Priesthood Session of General Conference.
As the financial books of the Church are not subject to inspection by the members or anyone else, no one can detail what exactly the Church spends its money on and how much of what they take in each year is spent running the Church and how much is invested in non-ecclesiastical assets. Of course there are the expenses that we know they have such as buying real estate, building and maintaining ward meetinghouses, temples, historical sites, visitor centers, utilities, BYU, salaries of the Quorum of the 12 and First Quorum of the Seventy as well as the Second Quorum of the Seventy and the other church employees as well as some welfare and other social programs.
It should be noted that almost all of the Church facilities are run by unpaid volunteers on church missions so that drives down the costs considerably. BYU is expensive but of course students pay tuition. Given the enormous revenues the church takes in each year, estimated above at some $6-$8 Billion, it's seems quite apparent that they cannot spend anywhere close to that on an annual basis in building expenses and the other items mentioned above. The welfare-related expenses are likely very small in comparison to the income - based on the public expenditures listed in Church magazines.
President Hinckley, in a public interview, admitted that the Church is very wealthy. However, he then went on to say that the assets owned by the Church are not income producing but are instead income draining. This is very deceptive. The church owns many businesses that generate profits. The $6 Billion or so is profit that the church takes in from contributions by its members and its businesses every year. The church has very little expense in relation to its income. The tithing money it receives is all tax-free. The property is exempt from taxes. The church owns virtually all of its properties so it doesn't have to pay rent. The utilities on those buildings and the meager funds allotted to the wards for their discretionary budget funds are just a drop in the bucket compared to its income.
Just think about the ward you're in. Just the tithing on one middle-class full-tithe payer (in the USA) is enough to pay the utilities for the building. There's not many expenses left so the rest goes to Salt Lake. The Church of course does spend money building new buildings as the Church grows, but this is offset by the funds generated from the increased membership. We recognize that perhaps in some of the foreign countries the expenses exceed the revenues, but that's generally the case in any American-owned business that's trying to establish itself in new markets. Also the vast majority of active, tithe-paying members are still in the wealthy developed countries - particularly the United States.
Imagine if you had a corporation where the business model was to have your customers give you 10% of their income every year, and all you primarily had to provide in return were the buildings to meet in, a few social programs and some speeches made periodically by the owners. Just how phenomenally profitable would that corporation be?
The Church hardly spends any of its money on humanitarian aid. It appears that less than 1% of its revenues goes to really help the poor and needy. And those funds are usually donated as a high-profile contribution.
The LDS Church has donated some $1.1 billion towards humanitarian aid around the world between 1985 and 2011. During that time period the average membership of the LDS church was 10 million members (today it's 14 million). Doing some simple math quickly shows that on average during the past 25 years, Mormons have contributed $5 per member per year toward humanitarian causes. That seems embarrassingly low for a Christ-centered entity.
However, in more recent times, the Church has loosened its purse strings in some areas that it is often criticized for. The LDS Church did make some sizeable contributions to Haiti after their devastating earthquake. Most of the contributions came in the form of material goods. Here's an article discussing the Church's Haiti relief efforts. They have also made some significant donations to some Utah homeless shelters. We're very glad of course to see the Church helping these people and hope the Church will increase its efforts in this area as it does have the means.
The following is from one of MormonThink's contributors who served as a bishop. Here is his perspective:
The church helps members in need, if you have a generous bishop. Like any bureaucracy or system, there are successes and experiences that make you cringe, because humans manage it. Each priesthood leader has the guidebook but also has their own interpretation of the guidelines. As a bishop, if a member was in serious financial trouble, I considered it a privilege to assist them. Not every bishop with whom I served felt the same way.
As a bishop I interviewed the member to determine what the family needed, when asked for help. Sometimes they needed cash for a car repair, a doctor's visit, or rent. Sometimes they needed food or toiletries. Of course it was customary to inquire as to whether or not the ward member in need, was managing finances responsibly; without being too nosey or too invasive. A generous bishop works hard to help members retain their dignity through the process. Many others do not. Some are people oriented and some are task oriented. Some focus more on the person in need and some focus on protecting the church's "sacred tithing funds." Some are generous and some are anything but.
It was customary to ask members to "work" at the local church cannery in exchange for food. When the "clean-your-own-ward-building" program appeared, it was also a natural way to allow those receiving welfare to "earn" it. The philosophy of the church, as explained in the Handbook, was to help members in need retain their dignity. I found that more often than not, these menial tasks, were the equivalent of exposing them as needy, to the rest of the ward. But I did what I was told to do. I gave them assigned tasks in exchange for help.
In the 1970's and 80's it may have been easier to get assistance. I received assistance myself to pay tuition for a mandatory class required by my job as a young married man on a limited income. Perhaps because of the current economic hardships, and limited resources, the church has restricted assistance. Currently, members report that they must be full tithe payers in order to qualify for assistance. Of course, if members could afford to pay tithing to the church, they could probably buy enough food for their families if they spent those funds on their families instead of giving to the church. I found it bizarre or odd to offer assistance and then require the family to tithe a tenth of the assistance and agree to pay tithing forever. That kind of church bureaucracy was worse to me than the federal government's assistance programs. But that's just me. I used to get into trouble for being too generous. Yet I never offered assistance to anyone unless they were down and out. It appeared to me that my upline leaders were more concerned about not giving any money away, than they were about helping out the less fortunate.
I can tell you unequivocally that who the bishop is, and what philosophical views he holds, determines whether a ward member will be treated well or not; given assistance or not. A good friend of mine who served as bishop before me, was, for lack of a nicer term, a tightwad. He bragged about it. He offended so many members who were without work and needed help, that the stake president confronted him and asked him to "ease up." He thought the stake president had no right to question his judgement and vowed not to "relax his standards." The kind of treatment one receives when asking a bishop for assistance depends on the personality and personal philosophy of that particular bishop. If the Holy Ghost really made those decisions, there would be far more uniformity and consistency that is present in the process. Some bishops are approachable, likeable and humble. It is manifest in the way he deals with people. Some bishops are task oriented and unaware of how their actions affect others, and thus their members are made to feel guilt and unworthiness. The bishops who are not emotionally intelligent receive the most complaints from members already hurting from difficult circumstances. The ward members feel guilty and ashamed for asking for assistance but are often made to feel more guilty or unworthy by their bishop.
The church has attached more strings to welfare assistance over the last decade. The program has changed. It no longer offers the same degree of security it once did. That isn't a criticism. It is what it is. The new Handbooks reflect the new paradigm.
True Believer Comment: As you point out, the church has attached more strings to welfare, in part to address the problem of abuse. I know someone in a former ward who would hold a job only long enough to get back on Church welfare. Nor is the church ignorant of the problem of its own frugality. President Faust and President Iring have often commented on how they, as local leaders, should have been more generous with church funds. However, that problem of frugality is also associated with any large organization which just make independent local decisions. Statements are amplified in the effect and importance as they are passed down the line of command. A simple statement to be more careful with church resources could become an immense mandate as it is interpreted and handed down.(I had a Stake Presidentthat cancelled Road Shows and Youth Basketball until home teaching numbers were up because of that very reason). But we should discuss these issues, in conjunction with how the church can be abetter steward of this money. How it can better care for the poor?
Most LDS are quite aware that the church spends money on its temples, chapels, funds to subsidize Brigham Young University and the periodic well-publicized humanitarian effort. But how many members know about its Hunting Preserves?
The LDS Church owns and operates at least two hunting preserves; Deseret Land & Livestock, and Westlake Hunting Preserve in Utah County. Many LDS were appalled to learn about a Church-owned/run/sanctioned hunting preserve where missionaries are called to tend to flocks of birds and other animals so that they can multiply and be hunted down for large profit. You can read about it on Deseret News as well as listen to a Sunstone discussion on the LDS hunting preserves.
Deseret New Article: Tending the Flock
2004 - Annual financial statement sent to the Charities Commission shows that members of the Church in the UK donate £252,000 to the Humanitarian Aid fund. Church spends £52,000, all of it on projects within the UK .
Donations to the Fast Offering Fund totaled £1,319,000. This was added to the existing balance of £1,186,000 already in the fund. £500,000 of this was transferred to the Church's 'sister' charity, LDS (Welfare) "which will apply these funds to the relief of the poor and needy not only in the UK and Ireland but to other countries in Europe and Africa."
26th December 2004 - at 07.58 local time an earthquake occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia , measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale. The resultant Tsunami devastated thousands of communities around the Indian Ocean, and the death toll was measured in the hundreds of thousands.
29th December 2004 - First Presidency of the church issues a statement which was read from the pulpit at Sacrament Meeting the following Sunday:
1st January 2005 - Humanitarian Aid Fund begins the year with a balance of £200,000. Fast Offering Fund begins the year with a balance of £2,005,000.
2005 - Annual Financial Statement submitted to the Charities Commission show that members of the Church in the UK donate £509,000 to the Humanitarian Aid Fund. Church spends £34,000, all of it on projects within the UK .
Donations to the Fast Offering Fund totaled £1,597,000. This was added to the existing balance of £2,005,000 already in the fund. £500,000 of this was transferred to the Church's 'sister' charity, LDS (Welfare). This money was spent on 'Direct Charitable Expenditure' which is defined as "expenditure directly relating to the objects of the charity." In theory this could mean the building of chapels, or paying staff (which accounted for £1,094,000 over 2005).
(* Given the money was spent in the UK and Ireland, other parts of Europe and Africa are probably nil. We know some parts of Africa were affected by the Tsunami but not much, and nowhere in the report was a reference made to helping Tsunami victims.)
Why worry? We will say that we know the church provided very real assistance to some affected areas; we won't deny that the church does some good with the money. What gets us is that we sat there in sacrament meeting when the letter was read out and having seen the news over the last week felt moved to take the church at its word and really donate an amount that would make a difference. However, the money just sat in the church's bank account earning them interest.
It also seems to indicate that 'global' directives from the First Presidency don't necessarily apply to the whole church. Somebody at Solihull must have known that none of the money going through their hands would ever get to the Tsunami victims, yet they were happy to forward the letter with the directive it be read out in sacrament.
Editor comment: financial information from charities in the UK has to be disclosed publicly so this kind of detail is available. Thanks to Darque for providing this information.
Details from LDS critic Elder George Carlin: 1/30/2008
Note: The above-referenced links are no longer available. However, UK records for the LDS Church for the last five years are available at: http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/ (This links directly to the LDS financials. However, if any problems with links, go here http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/ and type The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Great Britain) in the search for a charity box. This is the name of the main corporation of the church in the U.K. There are others.)
Critic's Comment: As demonstrated by the Tsunami, the church doesn't always spend the money where the members are told it's going. The church refuses to publish how it spends its money so no one knows for sure what all it spends it's vast wealth on except for some of the things that gets published or leaked out. But it's clear that the church has far more than it needs and some of the things it spends its money on, like The Mall or the Hunting Preserves, are perhaps things Jesus would not spend money on if he was physically running the church.
How do other religions and charities spend their money?
"In 1997, U.S. congregations of the similarly-sized Evangelical Lutheran Church in America raised $11.8 million in cash donations for worldwide hunger. The same year it raised $3.64 million for domestic and international disaster response, for a one-year humanitarian cash total of $15.44 million, more than half the amount the LDS provided over fourteen years." P. 129, Mormon America, Richard Ostling
In Jan. 2006, from the Church PR department, (Deseret News Publishing Company): Edgley said, "that since 1984, the LDS Church has donated nearly $750 million in cash and goods to people in need in more than 150 countries." That averages to $37.5 mil per year or about $3-$4 per Mormon member went to the poor. The total of $750 million in 22 years spent in cash and goods to people in need is only a small fraction of what the church spent on a mall they bult in Salt Lake City.
Even many individuals and corporations spend more than 1% on charitable work:
Why does there need to be a corporate side? Why does the church need to buy malls, hotels, restaurants, condos, ranches, farmland, Oahu land, resorts, TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and insurance companies? How does owning these things contribute to the 3 missions of the church of perfecting the saints, redeeming the dead, and preaching the gospel?
The real point is that the church seems to get more money through tithing and investment income than it perhaps knows what to do with.
Business Week reported the following in this July 2012 article:
How should the Church spend the money?
Christ taught that one should sell all that one has and give it to the poor. While that's not practical in today's world, why couldn't the church sell its non-ecclesiastical assets and help the poor? Does the church really have need of anything other than chapels, temples, MTCs, family history centers, and visitor centers?
The church sometimes acts like it's poor and needs money. Around the year 2000, the Church laid off the meetinghouse custodians and other church workers, some of whom had worked in the Church Office Building. The church custodian, although not a high-paying job, was a nice job for at least one person in buildings which house 2-3 wards on average. It was often a nice way for the church to help out someone that really needed a job. Now they expect members (as if they didn't spend enough time in church service) to clean their own buildings on their days off.
The church also scaled back local spending. The church has started cramming as many people as they can into one building. Instead of just one or two wards sharing a building, they now cram in three or four wards. This makes one or two wards meet at awkward times. Who wants to go to church from 2:00 PM till 5:00 PM? That's fine if there's a real reason for it, but to just save a $100 billion entity the expense of building another building or a larger building is kind of selfish of the church leaders. Many Protestant Churches will offer two services in the morning like 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM but nothing that goes into the late afternoon.
The LDS Church also cut the budgets in many local church programs and they are generally less funded than they were 20 years ago, despite the fact that the church is considerably wealthier now than it was then. However, one positive move the church did make was to eliminate the building fund and have those expenses (utilities mostly) come out of the tithing receipts. We never understood why this wasn't the case from the beginning.
Church Employment Offices
Many large cities, particularly in the USA, have Church Employment Offices. The concept is to help unemployed members get jobs. This is a great endeavor and very worthy of funding in our opinion. The writer of this section has actually assisted many of those offices in their efforts and was the ward employment specialist. The workers in the offices are generally unpaid volunteers on 'work missions' so it doesn't appear to cost all that much for these programs. We applaud the church's efforts in this area. We hope they expand this program and to all areas.
We would recommend that the church give more money to the poor and needy (both inside and outside of the church) without expecting anything in return from the members. Also build enough meetinghouses so the members can use the buildings during reasonably desirable times. The church should raise the ward budgets so the members can actually use more of the money that they donated on a local level and bring back some of the fun activities like 'Road Shows'. The church should employ custodians again and give those jobs to people in the ward that really need them. The church should continue the good work it does with employment offices and expand them as they are able. The humanitarian funds, missionary funds, etc. should all be covered by the tithing receipts which are more than enough to completely cover them many times over. The church should keep enough funds invested to keep it sound, but billions and billions invested into businesses, when it could be helping others, is probably not really the way Jesus would have intended his church to be run, in our opinion.
A radical suggestion from a reader
Someone wrote us with the following suggestion: The RLDS Church (Community of Christ) tithes 10% of your income after your necessary expenses. Perhaps the LDS Church should consider something along those lines. We can't imagine the LDS Church adopting this practice but it might be more palatable to its members. Reportedly only about 30% of all LDS members pay a full tithe. Maybe the participation would be much higher if the net tithing, the members had to pay, was less by changing the definition of tithing to something similar to the RLDS Church but the total receipts would likely be comparable as many more members would likely pay a full tithing if full tithing was defined differently. Some people simply can't afford to pay that much while others can.
Editor comment: The RLDS Church is not financially wealthy and reportedly has had money issues in the past but some of the more wealthy members contributed some large sums to keep the church solvent.
The Church is building a large $5 billion City Creek development project with a $1.5 billion mall in Salt Lake City. There are many newspaper articles that talk about this. It's interesting to note that when the plan was originally announced in 2003, the project was to be only $500 million but keeps increasing with every news release till the present estimate of $5 billion.
This news article gives the current $5B price tag:
This news article gives the former $3B price tag: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705341784/Salt-Lake-City-high-rise-is-ready-for-occupancy-on-Main.html
During the October 2006 General Conference, Pres. Hinckley told Latter-day Saints, "The church is undertaking a huge development project in the interest of protecting the environment of Temple Square. While the costs will be great, it will not involve the expenditure of tithing funds."
That is a very deceptive statement. Although technically the funds may come from the profits of the church-owned businesses or merely from the interest on its enormous investment capital, where did the money come from to buy the businesses, stocks and other investments to generate those profits? Everything the church owns ultimately came from money donated to the church by its members - past and present.
Of greater significance: since the church can quickly raise $5 billion on merely the interest of its assets, then it doesn't really need any more tithing dollars. The church could very likely function indefinitely if no member ever contributed another dollar to the church. The interest on its $100 billion of assets can likely easily fund the yearly expenses of the church if it is managed right.
The church has no accountability to its members, government regulators, or anyone else for that matter. They have the attitude that because they are the "Lord's anointed", they should not be questioned. When they are questioned, they either decline to answer questions or respond with evasive obfuscation.
Critic's comment: Of all the things Jesus would tell Gordon Hinckley, He told the Prophet to buy a mall? For ten years, the only new light and knowledge given to the world by Jesus through His Prophet are the doctrines of "no penny poker," "no multiple earrings," and "no gay rights." And now we are expected to believe that the latest revelation is the need for His church to get in the shopping mall business? Church leaders are overly concerned about how Salt Lake City looks, about how bad it would be to have a closed mall across the street from Temple Square. A disproportionate concern for the goings-on along the Wasatch Front is not what one would expect from a God concerned equally for the welfare of all his children on earth. The mall decision is just one more in a long line of decisions made by church leaders that exemplifies their cultural and regional myopia. http://equalitysblog.typepad.com/equality_time/2006/05/more_than_a_mal.html
Editor comment: I, as coordinator of this section, am not as critical of the City Creek development as some others are. The development has some benefits of increasing tourism and protecting the area around Temple Square from elements that the church deems undesirable. In some ways I can agree with this line of reasoning. When you live in an area that is dominated by one religion, and a very wealthy religion, you must accept that they will control some things like urban development that others not of that religion might disagree with and see as unfair (such as someone wanting to open a tavern in SLC and the church puts pressure on the legislature to raise taxes on these 'undesirable' businesses). This certainly wouldn't be an issue in other major cities in the USA. Do other churches own malls? I personally like the mall and have shopped there many times since it has opened but the idea of a church-owned mall does rub some members the wrong way.
We realize this is very controversial and there's no right or wrong here, just opinion. In the final analysis, it's still a bit of a hard concept for many members to fully embrace without having a few reservations about how this affects the church's image. It says more about how the modern church operates and doesn't really affect it's status as being 'true' or not. For a corporation to build a mall is one thing but for a church to build and own a mall just seems somewhat unsettling on some level. Let's just say it's not exactly the first thing I would want to bring up to an investigator after the tithing discussion.
Interesting website on the mall: http://truthmarche.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/church-finance-part-iv/
Growing up in the church many of us took pride in saying that our bishops and other local leaders are not paid like ministers of other religions. Although that's true, there are at least 150 or so leaders in the LDS Church that are paid, such as the 12 apostles, First Presidency, and the First Quorum of the Seventy and the Second Quorum of the Seventy. On top of that are a little over 400 mission presidents that receive compensation from the Church for a total of approximately over 550 paid church leaders, not counting Church employees. People naturally wonder how much they are paid. Most members are under the impression that the General Authorities receive some sort of living allowance or stipend. We don't have definite answers as that information is also kept private by the church. A few fair comments before discussing it further:
All of the published salary levels for non-ecclesiastical positions are relatively low. In the church postings listed on church bulletin boards for accountants, engineers, etc., the salaries are less than what most people would earn in the private sector. Church Education System teachers are not over-paid but do have good benefits. So the question is, do the General Authority salaries follow suit or are they significantly different? Perhaps one thing to consider is the housing provided to Mission Presidents. All of the Mission President homes we've ever seen have been luxury homes. Even mission presidents sent to developing nations live in luxurious quarters, their children attend expensive private schools for expatriates, and the church provides servants. It's quite a difference between where the younger missionaries and older couple missionaries live and where the Mission presidents live. If this is proportional the higher up the ladder in the church, then the GAs may receive significant compensation.
Regardless of the salary, being a General Authority has a lot of financial perks. Many are given a place to live, paid travel, chauffeurs, limos, paid expenses, etc. And of course the members are very helpful to the GAs. For example, the billionaire LDS member Brother Huntsman gave President Hinckley free use of his corporate jet all throughout his tenure as President.
In the early days of the Church, some leaders lived the law of consecration, more or less, where they turned over much of their assets to the church and then received a very satisfactory living allowance. Some church employees have said that leaders in the church have the church pay for their homes through interest-free forgivable loans. The forgivable loans also allow them to pad their stock portfolios. On the other hand, these loans tie them to the church, because if they get out of line, the loans can be called. These loans started in the days of Brigham Young and some claim it is still practiced in some form today but we can't verify that.
Just what would be a fair salary for an apostle? Any dollar figure named by anyone would either be too much or not enough. We're not going to pretend that the apostles of today should be like the apostles of Christ's time and live off the members as they travel. We personally don't think that the General Authorities should be compared to televangelists that try to swindle the members to line their own pockets. That being said, we do feel that GAs should be accountable to the members. The salaries of the paid authorities of the church should be made public as every member in effect must disclose their salary during tithing settlement (it doesn't take a math wizard to calculate someone's salary if they paid tithing of 10%). Corporations disclose how much their executives receive in compensation - even if it is extraordinary. Why can't the church do the same? Even the salary of the President of the United States is public knowledge. Perhaps much like the President of the United States, many of the GAs likely could earn more money in the private sector.
If the salaries were published, that would likely not tell the whole story anyway unless a full account of the paid expenses were provided as well as any loans or any other possible financial gain afforded their position.
Some CES teachers that we talked to estimated that the GAs probably received between $100k and $150k a year which would put them in the upper middle class. Based on some of the homes that the GAs, who have been long-time church leaders and not former doctors and lawyers, this appears to be consistent with that level of income. But of course no one outside the church hierarchy knows for sure.
From a former church financial employee:
Although we generally don't use information from sources we can't verify, the following is from someone that we feel is a trustworthy source. He claims to be a former church employee.
Editor Comment: The claimed salary of $600k (in the mid 1990s - probably 800k+ now) would probably be appropriate for someone assisting in the management of a $100 billion corporation. So in that regard the compensation wouldn't be considered excessive. But many members probably would not see it that way if it was publicly disclosed as it just doesn't seem right for an apostle to get rich from the church. However, if they are paid phenomenally well, it offers greater incentive to never leave the church or make it look bad for any reason. The GA compensation will forever be a mystery unless the church becomes more forth-coming in disclosing its finances which appears unlikely.
Another very credible Church leader (First Quorum of the Seventy) claims that the top 15 (apostles and First Presidency) receive a one-time payment of $1 million when they become an apostle. This is so they can take care of their worldly concerns and focus 100% on the church. We can't of course verify this and if true we don't necessarily have a problem with it given their responsibilities, but this should be disclosed to the members that pay their salaries.
Websites and articles that discuss this issue:
It's disgraceful to read some of the propaganda the Church puts out about tithing. Read the article 'Tithing Shoes' based on a true story from the Church's magazine Friend, Nov 2007:
The story recounts a destitute mother with a child that did not have any shoes to wear. She had just enough money to buy some shoes for her son. Instead, she feels too guilty if she spends that money on her son instead of giving it to the church as tithing, so she gives it to the church. Of course a 'miracle' happens soon afterwards and a neighbor gives her son some shoes she happened to have.
True or not, the fact that people are conditioned to feel that they should deprive their children of necessities like shoes to pay the church is just wrong. Have faith? That's taking faith to an extreme. It's like saying I won't take my kids to the doctor because I have faith the Lord will heal them. Irresponsibility, not faith. There's nothing noble about this and the church promotes it.
Where's the Christ-like compassion? Why does the church have to humble people by making them feel that they have to pay tithing first, and then these destitute people have to beg the church to help them with necessities? Doesn't it make more sense for the people to use the money they have to just pay for the necessities themselves? Why does the church even have to get involved? The church causes the problem in the first place by requiring all of its members to pay 10% of their income before ANYTHING else whether they can afford it or not?
From a member:
I remember my heart sinking when I first saw the pictures of the expensive Conference Center, and remembering the Mormon families I had known who let their kids go without proper medical care just to pay tithes.
In Sunday School the other day, the Gospel Doctrine teacher was speaking about church members who are "groaning under crushing debt." He expressed his sympathy for such poor souls and then asked, "What is the first step to getting out of debt?"
"Pay a full tithe!"
We can see it now: What is the first step to saving yourself from drowning? Add more water! What is the first step to surviving a robbery? Give the robber a bigger gun! What is the first step to stopping masturbation? Buy more pornography!
We've heard other members refer to this concept as "The Lord's Math." Unfortunately for them, Mormons will now have to deal with Banker's Math. The bank doesn't care that you paid your mortgage payment money to someone else when you could have paid your legal obligation to them instead.
Some people claim to have received financial blessings when they paid their tithing when they thought they couldn't afford to. Some claim to actually have more money by paying their tithing? If true, how can this be? The answer is that people naturally budget their money better when they know what expenses they will have in advance. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they know they will pay tithing first, then they do it and stretch what's left to cover what they need to.
If you do the math with and without tithing, it's obvious that you'd have more money at the end of each month if you don't pay tithing. Extra money won't magically appear in only the version where you do pay your tithing. The unexpected bonus from work, tax refund, birthday money, etc. would happen in either case. People compensate for tithing by buying fewer groceries, fewer luxuries, fewer toys for their children, lowering the thermostat, making their children go without something they wanted and whatever else it takes to live within their income.
My tithing miracle happened when I QUIT paying tithing. When I paid tithing, I had one financial problem after another. When I quit paying tithing my problems ceased.
"If we decide now to be a full-tithe payer and if we are steady in paying it, blessings will flow." Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady," Ensign, Nov. 2005, 40.
And if they don't flow, what do we do - starve? Go crawling to the church like a beggar when we could have provided for ourselves?
True Believer Comment: Yes, it is true that you may pay tithing and still have financial difficulties. By that same logic, the Old Testament prophet Job should have given up. After all, he was living as he should, but that didn’t seem to work. Shouldn’t he have followed his friend’s advice then? It was the practical thing to do. Malachi does not say that the blessings are going to be physical. It makes no guarantee concerning financial prosperity. The scripture only says that the Lord will bless the payer as He sees fit. That is why the Church places such emphasis on the institution. It believes that there are blessings derived from the practice, and wants the members to receive these benefits.
The Winter 2008 BYU Magazine has an article called "How to Build A Solid Financial Future".
Of course, it states that tithing should be paid first. Then it goes on to say:
This seems to contradict all the stuff the General Authorities say in General Conference about 'opening the windows of heaven' and getting a blessing 'that their will not be room enough to receive it'? At least this article was a refreshing dose of honestly regarding the paying of tithing.
From the church's own web site is a somewhat disturbing story of how members of the church in Argentina felt so compelled to provide funds for the temple that they actually gave their gold fillings from their teeth to the church.
"[Faust] emphasized the need to sacrifice for temple building and shared how members in Argentina found ways to donate during the construction of the São Paulo Brazil Temple. They gave the gold from their dental work to help pay for the temple. He said that he had purchased some of the gold fillings for more than the market price to share with congregations the nature of the sacrifice made by these members (Church News, 9 May 1998)."
Although some may tout this story as one of 'faith', to us it is an example of pushing people to the limit of unnecessary sacrifice. The church did not need the gold fillings from these people to pay for the temple. The interest off of the vast church assets could have easily covered this. Are there any LDS members that actually wanted these poor people to feel that they had to rip the fillings out of their mouths and give them to the church?
In the July 2009 Ensign, a single mother of 6 tells the heart-wrenching story of her absolute devotion to tithing over anything else, even over feeding her children:
Nancy Kay Smith, “Could Tithing Ease My Worries?,” Ensign, July 2009, pg 73
Editor comment: This absolute devotion of choosing to pay a religious entity that is worth some $100 BIllion over feeding her children or paying the mortgage is nothing to be admired. It is tantamount to child abuse in our opinion. In fact when we read this, we wondered if this article wasn't written by an 'anti-Mormon' in an attempt to show Mormons as cult-like in their total devotion to the church. At any rate, the church chose to publish this article apparently as an example to be followed by its members. We can't help but wonder if Jesus would really want this poor mother to pay her tithing to an organization that doesn't really need the money over feeding her children.
The poor people paid their tithing and didn't starve. When the bishop asked how they were doing financially they said “We’re doing all right. Sometimes we don’t have much to eat, but we have enough. And more than anything, we trust in the Lord.”
From the Church's website is a lesson on tithing to be taught to children and families. It comes from the lesson manual Family Home Evening Resource Book, Lesson Ideas, Tithing, 227
The lesson provides the following activity game to stress that payment of tithing to the church has to come before anything, ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING:
Critic's comment: Do Mormon parents really teach their kids to pay tithing like this? Pay the church first and then pay what you can of bills that are left? It doesn't even mention other family needs like clothing or car maintenance. It bothers me greatly that there is nothing in this lesson about asking the church for help. Just advice to only pay partial rent? If Junior follows that advice, he will surely have his whole family evicted! Their credit will stink as well. I don't think their landlord is going to care that they feel they have an obligation to pay tithing.
Editor comment: This is very wrong in our opinion. We assume that in order to ensure that its members always pay a full tithing and never try to use "excuses" to pay less than a full tithe, the Church never allows any reason to get in the way of paying tithing. The teaching of short-changing every other legitimate person you owe money to, in order to pay the church a VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION, is unthinkable.
Imagine if you were the mechanic that fixed the LDS man's car, wouldn't you expect and deserve to get paid? The lesson says that the good LDS man should only "pay a portion of what you owe on each bill". Why does the church, with all its billions, deserve a charitable donation instead of the mechanic, landlord, dentist, government, kid who cuts your grass, etc. that you legitimately and legally owe money to? Following that advice, the mechanic that is short-changed that month, will now have to short-change his doctor and the doctor will have to short-change his alimony payment, etc. Try short-changing the IRS or even a speeding ticket and see what happens.
Following the church's edict on tithing can be so irresponsible. Many people try to pay off their credit card balances every month. But following the church's counsel, if you had more bills than income in a month, you should short-change all other bills such as credit card bills. That means you would incur interest charges on your unpaid credit cards that you wouldn't normally have had as well as finance charges from any bill you didn't pay fully. So it would end up even costing you more following the church's directive.
We can only hope that good LDS people, that are struggling financially, ignore this teaching and pay their legitimate bills on time, as they are able, before paying any voluntary contributions.
A negative consequence of paying tithing
The following article describes how Utah is extremely poor in terms of charitable giving to the poor and needy. The United Way of America ranks Utah 48th in the nation in per-capita giving to nonreligious charities.
The reason is obvious. If the majority of the Utah population is paying 10% of their income to the LDS Church, then they cannot pay very much to other worthy charities that most other people would donate to like The United Way, The Katrina Fund, Cancer Research, etc. The LDS people feel that they are very generous by paying tithing and feel little desire to give to other organizations.
Instead of money going to help cure terrible diseases like cancer and leukemia, the money is going to the church to build its asset base. The church of course isn't donating the money they receive to these worthy causes, so for every person that joins the LDS Church, these worthy charities will suffer. If every single person in the world joined the LDS Church, the other charities would be bankrupt, but of course the LDS Church would be embarrassingly rich. However, if everyone was a Lutheran or Catholic then the other nonreligious charities would be continually funded as they are now. That's something to think about. Most people don't consider the real tangible good that could be done with the money that they give to the LDS Church.
LDS leaders often hint at promises that tithe payers will receive increased income from paying tithes, yet Utah remains one of the poorest states in the US and ranks among the highest in personal bankruptcies. Utah has led the nation for the last few years in bankruptcy filings. Not only was Utah #1 in 2005, but it also had a record number of (bankruptcy) filings.
Households Per Filing, Rank
During the 12-Month Period Ending March 31, 2004
Some reasons for the large number of bankruptcy filings are due to: 1.) Mormons paying 10% or more of their gross income to the Mormon Church in tithing and other offerings, 2.) large families, and 3.) the pressure in Mormonism to be, or at least appear, financially successful as proof the Lord is blessing them. http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon356.htm
Lenders do not figure in charitable donations (i.e. tithing) into the debt to income ratios. So, when a person goes into the local bank to get a loan, and they are right at the top debt ratio limit, they can still get the loan even though 10%+ of their income is going toward tithing. If that same 10% were going to an obligation that demanded payment, they would not qualify for the loan. Same thing on mortgages, and the foreclosure rate in Utah is also one of the highest in the nation.
This is a huge problem because these financial people assume financial contributions are optional and come after everything else is paid. They have no idea that for Mormons, tithing is not an option, and it is often paid first.
The church demands that tithing be paid before all other obligations. A March 2004 Ensign article is written by a Mormon bankruptcy attorney who also advocates that tithing should be paid first.
Editor Comment: We wonder how much the bankruptcies would decrease in Utah if the members paid their legal obligations first and then gave donations to the church as they could afford them.
See related articles:
We've all heard the faith-promoting stories from the pulpit. However, here are just a few stories from active and former members regarding tithing:
So I had always been a full tithe payer AND made fast offerings. My bishop had also told me I had to tithe, not only on my $7/hour gross, but also I had to tithe on my scholarships and grants, and had to tithe on my child support (which was paid by my LDS ex who had already tithed on it). So I did. One year it was just too hard and I got behind on the tithing because my little kids needed some clothes. It was Christmastime, I didn't have any presents bought for them and they had holes in their shoes. I wanted to get them shoes for Christmas.
I went to tithing settlement, ashamed. I hung my head and told him my dilemma. I HAD paid tithing, for about 7 months of the year. I said, "I'm sorry, you'll have to mark me as a partial tithe payer this year. I would have to pay $500 to be a full tithe payer, and I only have $510 in the bank right now and haven't paid the bills yet or bought my kids shoes or food." He just looked at me, all disappointed. Asked me something about faith and trusting the Lord. I said, "I can't afford to pay it." and he said, "You can't afford NOT to pay it." After a minute of silence, I pulled out the checkbook and wrote him a check for $500. He smiled and checked the Full Tithe Payer box, and said, Merry Christmas.
My kids did get a couple things for Christmas, from Salvation Army, but they didn't get shoes. They did get a Christmas turkey from their elementary school who was giving them to the "needy" families, but honestly, we suffered. I have to wonder about a bishop who would ask such a thing of a single mom.
More stories are here:
Mormon Curtain, Tithing, Section 1 - http://mormoncurtain.com/topic_tithing_section1.html
Mormon Curtain, Tithing, Section 2 - http://mormoncurtain.com/topic_tithing_section2.html
Mormon Curtain, Tithing, Section 3 - http://mormoncurtain.com/topic_tithing_section3.html
Can you sue the Church?
Many people, that have come to the conclusion that the LDS Church is not really the one, true church feel betrayed, angry and foolish for donating many thousands of dollars to the Church. Some wonder if they can sue the Church for their contributions they have paid over the years. A lawyer and former member of the LDS Church gives his opinion:
Some zealous former members have actually formed a campaign to attempt to sue the LDS Church for their tithing money as they feel that they were defrauded:
A more current opinion can be found in this very interesting book (which several of us have read and really liked) by attorney Kay Burningham: It's titled An American Fraud: One Lawyer's Case against Mormonism
Mission Presidents and Taxes
At the end of 2012, the Church’s official Mission President’s Handbook (2006 edition) was leaked anonymously to the Internet. In Appendix B of this manual, the Church discusses, quite openly and tellingly, financial stipulations for the men presiding over its many missions across the world. It appears that the Church may be guilty of tax evasion by dictating to the mission presidents that all the monetary assistance they receive should not be reported to the IRS.
The following websites have articles that discuss this in detail:
Advice for those who wish to be a member but not pay a full tithing
Some members wish to remain in the Church but not pay a full tithing but don't want the embarrassment of having the bishop and some others in church know that they no longer pay tithing. Here's one suggestion. The Church has a program set up so members can pay electronically to the church headquarters. This was set up as some wealthy people do not want the bishop to know how much money they make. If pressed by the local bishop, the LDS headquarters will only send an acknowledgement to the local ward that some funds were paid in the year. They do not say how much money you paid to the church. You can donate $5 if you want and declare to the bishop that you were a part-time tithe payer at tithing settlement time and leave it at that. You could say you were a full tithe payer if you want to also, but we don't advocate lying.
To get the forms and instructions, just email Church headquarters at RE-FRD-Electronic-Donations@LDSChurch.org or visit this website: http://www.ldsclerks.com/index.php?title=Donations_to_Church_Headquarters
Note: We have heard that the Church is trying to discourage this on a wide-scale and maybe that's why the site is currently down, but if you contact them, they will still allow it. I personally still have an account set up with the LDS church for tithing donations and it is still active.
Call 1-800-453-3860 ext. 22554 and request the form, and they will promptly email the electronic form. [a reader just did this with no problem]
We regret that we could not find these issues addressed specifically in any church publication or web site. We could not find it on any LDS apologist web site either. We have, however, discussed this issue with several true-believing members to get their input. This is how one true-believer responded:
You act as if the church is primarily interested in getting your money. For those of us that have paid tithing faithfully over the years, we know it isn't really about the church making money. Tithing is about obedience, sacrifice and faith. To quote from the same Family Home Evening lesson on tithing that you quoted on your site:
And another quote worth mentioning from a church leader:
Critic's response: If tithing, the way the LDS Church practices it, isn't really about making money, then please explain this: At tithing settlement, a member of the church said he paid a full tithing by giving 10% of his income one year to various charitable organizations that really need the money such as The Katrina Fund, Red Cross, etc. He even provided receipts to prove he really paid what he said he did.
The bishop responded that he was glad to see him supporting some worthy charities but since he did not pay any money to the LDS Church that he was not considered even a partial tithe payer that year. The bishop said he would have to pay the LDS Church, in addition to what he already paid other charities, to be considered a tithe payer.
So it seems clear that the man sacrificed the full amount of money he was suppose to and helped many people that really needed the help. But since the LDS Church did not benefit financially from the sacrifice, then his tithing doesn't count as far as the church is concerned. So yes, we think that these days tithing is primarily about making the church rich or else it would count charitable contributions made to other charities by its members.
What would happen to a Ward that chose to redirect all of its tithes to some charity for even one month? I wager we would see just how serious the church would become about it.
True Believer Comment 1: The article treats tithing as if it is simply a financial mechanism for the support of the church, no different than any other donation to any other charity. It ignores, or at least downplays, the religious implications of the institution.Tithing is a commandment. Its purpose is not to benefit the poor, or even to provide funds for the church to maintain its operations. There are other, better means of achieving these goals. Rather, these are simply added benefits. The purpose of tithing is to provide the Lord’s people an opportunity to sacrifice and make an offering to Him. Why? Because it is a test of their faith. It is a request to set aside our material wants, and even sometimes needs, in order to gain a spiritual achievement (in that sense it is similar to fasting). That is why those who pay their tithing are promised that the Lord will open up the windows of heaven in their behalf.
Those blessing may come in what the article characterizes as the self fulfilled prophecy of simply being better money managers or being able to deny their material wants. However, they may also come in the form of miracles. Who is to say that a new job that pays better is not a blessing from paying tithing? or stumbling upon a deal on a cheap car at a needed time? Such stories, oft repeated in the Ensign, are legion. One of the best is Lorenzo Snow’s visit to St George. The drought afflicted Saints, formerly lax in their tithing, paid not just 10%, but more in “back tithing” in order to call upon the Lord to fulfill his promise. Sure enough, the windows of heaven opened, and the rain came. Was it, or better money management skills, or a new job, or needed resource, or even material prosperity a coincidence? Perhaps, but no more so than any other biblical miracle.
True Believer Comment 2: The qualms the article raises are really matters of faith, which is how the Church sees the issue. The commandment is not “pay when it is financially feasible” or “give it to a good cause that will benefit the poor.” It is “give it to the Lord’s church.” If you, Like Abraham on at alter with Isaac, believe that is a commandment from God, then you will strive to fulfill it to the letter, come what may, no matter the necessary sacrifice. If not, then why bother. It is voluntary. Nobody forces you to pay an amount beyond what benefit you feel you derive from the church (your current proposal). Nor does the Bishop ever define what is considered a full tithe payer. You are free to answer that question as you deem fit. It is between you and your maker. In focusing on one of the temporal purposes of tithing, it is this perspective that is lacking in the discussion of the Church’s emphasis on tithing. It is especially relevant in any consideration or recommendation that one abandon the practice.
Critic's Response: Using the story of Abraham as an example to be admired perhaps shows just how strict, unwavering devotion to a religious institution is not necessarily a good thing. Are we really to admire Abraham because he was willing to actually kill his son to appease God? I think it would have been far more admirable to tell God you would not harm your son because you love him and killing him for no reason would be wrong. I would admire a man that defied God for a good reason and risked suffering the consequences.
And what if you were wrong? What if that really wasn't God telling him to do that? In 1982, Rodney Lundberg of Logan, Utah believed God told him to sacrifice his son and he believed that God would prevent him at the very last moment, like God did with Abraham of the Bible, so he took a knife and started plunging it towards his 11-month-old son. Of course God didn't stop him and he killed his son. He was apparently mentally disturbed and pleaded insanity. But how is his experience really any different than Abraham's as they both believed in all their mind, might and strength that God wanted them to sacrifice their sons as a test of faith. (An archived backup of the Rodney Lundberg newspaper story is here)
If The LDS church isn't really, God's one, true church and they really don't have the power to save you, then how is paying tithing to them more beneficial than giving our money to a local charity or to someone that really needs it?
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
This section wasn't meant to prove or disprove the church - it is merely some reflections on one of its core practices. We certainly encourage people to give as they are able to worthy charitable causes. We think that all givers should carefully consider what organizations are most deserving of their funds. What they do with the money and how much do they need are two of the most important questions to think about. Many former Mormons continue to pay their tithing, but now do so to more traditional charities - where they know how the money will be spent.
The LDS Church is not accountable to the very people that contribute the money. Other churches and charitable organizations publish their budgets and other financial information, why can't the one, true church do this as well? Hearing the leaders say that they are accountable to the Lord is insufficient. The LDS Church holds such power and sway over its members that it demands absolute trust, and gets it, even though the church does not trust them back enough to let them know where donated tithing money is being spent or invested.
LDS tithes are hardly used for charity, but are used primarily to build the kingdom. Of course the LDS Church does some good with their money, like helping out with the earthquake in Haiti, but they could really do so much more with their enormous financial empire that's been built from the generous donations of its members over the last century. The church gives so little to the poor and needy in comparison to what it takes in every year. This is causing some members to consider just giving the money to the needy themselves (via Red Cross or other established charities or even to people they know directly that are in need) and know with some surety that their money is actually going to help people and not be used to buy non-ecclesiastical investments?
Many people feel especially good about giving money to someone specific that is down on their luck and needs a helping hand like paying to have their car fixed or a medical procedure performed, instead of merely writing out a check to a charity (any charity) and not seeing first-hand how it's spent.
The yearly tithing settlement has always struck us as very corporate and controlling. It reminds us more of the IRS than Christ. Somehow we can never imagine Christ's apostles having yearly tithing settlements and demanding that repentant people pay 10% of their income before being allowed to worship in the temples. Why is a tithing settlement necessary anyway? God knows what we paid and to whom. Perhaps we'd have an easier time believing 100% in the church if they didn't harp on money so much. With $ involved, it's obvious they have something to gain by your continued membership in the church, so how can you ever trust anyone to be totally honest on issues that would affect your membership and thereby their income?
How much to pay?
Perhaps giving to a church instead of a nonreligious charity requires additional consideration. Most people feel that they derive some benefit from belonging to a church and that makes sense. Is it perhaps $5 to $10 a service whenever the collection plate comes around or is it perhaps 10% of your income for your entire life?
If you totally believe in the church 100%, then of course you will want to pay a full tithing. However, people that still attend church for social reasons or whatever, often wonder what they should pay. That's entirely a personal choice and one in which you need to be comfortable with. Our opinion is that you should pay to the church (any church) based on what benefit you feel you receive from your membership in that church. To many middle-income people, that may be something like $100-$1000 a year. Some people, that have been paying tithing for most of their lives, and then stopped believing that the church is really 100% true, have told us that they have probably already paid enough money to the church to cover several lifetimes of perceived benefit in the church. They now consider paying other worthy benefactors for their charitable giving. But this is entirely a personal choice that everyone needs to make for themselves.
Comments from a former bishop
The following comes from a contributor to the MormonThink website and a former bishop in the LDS Church:
Regarding tithing, I would have one more thing to say.I have been a member of a major denomination - Protestant.I was never pressured to pay tithing like I was in the Mormon Church.There is a distinct and unmistakable preoccupation with money/tithing, that I never experienced in my previous denomination.In that church, you paid what you felt that God had asked you to pay.It was your decision.Furthermore, you were never questioned as to whether or not you had paid a "full" tithe.I was never, ever interviewed by the minister about how much I gave.
In addition, regular reports were issued to the membership accounting for every penny of revenue collected and where it was spent.I think the Mormon church's preoccupation with money, real estate, and other materialistic endeavors runs counter to everything that Christ taught (easier for a a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich 'church' to get to heaven - to paraphrase an axiom on the love of money).Finally, the church's refusal to account for every penny in revenue is embarrassing.Any organization labeling itself as the Lord's church cannot contradict the Lord's teachings about abandoning materialism and not be noticed, and called to account for it.
If an organization like the Moonies (Unification Church) said they required their members to pay their organization 10% of their income before paying their legal obligations like rent, mortgage, groceries, car repair bills, etc, people would label that extreme and cultlike. Likewise, if members of a similar organization were conditioned to believe that it is better to give to the organization and have your children go hungry or without necessities like shoes, most rational people would be alarmed and also consider that teachings of a cult.
Yet, this is what the LDS Church teaches. As mentioned above, the Family Home Evening lesson manual on the church's own website, instructs it's members that if they don't have enough money to pay all their legitimate bills, to "pay tithing first, and then you pay a portion of what you owe on each other bill". What difference does it make to the church, if as a result of this, you incur credit card interest and penalty charges that you wouldn't have had otherwise, have a worse credit score rating for failing to pay your bills in full on time or damage the relationships you have with the mechanic that fixes your car, your doctor, dentist or anyone else that provides services to you and expects to be paid for it in a timely manner.
Also, the articles in the Ensign, cited above, that show how conditioned members are to put the church before their families for basic necessities like food and shoes, is very disturbing. Obviously the church can do without the widow's mite, but it guilts its members into making them feel that they should choose to add to the church's bank account before providing for their own family's basic necessities. This doesn't seem very Christlike in our opinion.
Church spending on humanitarian aid
The critics state that the LDS Church spends a small percent of its donated income on humanitarian aid. The following link is all the information we have at present (and Providentliving.org used to show more information and break down the values better, but the information is a limited financial theory at this time).
The church doesn't need the money
There was a time when the LDS Church really needed the money. Even if we didn't fully believe in the church but used its facilities, many of us would likely pay a reasonable amount to it if it needed the money. However, thanks to the sacrifices of Mormons past, the church has built an empire worth many, many billions of dollars. It simply does not appear to really need the money. President Hinckley acknowledged that no tithing dollars were needed to fund a $5 billion City Creek development & mall. If it can make this kind of interest on its existing assets, then it doesn't appear to need any additional funding to operate quite comfortably on its income from the many businesses it owns without any tithing income.
Now if the church was struggling, even if it wasn't true, we would be inclined to help out but in this day and age it's like donating money to Bill Gates. And even then Mr. Gates is now using most of his wealth to help the poor.
We strongly support charitable giving - even 10% or more (if you can afford it) to organizations that need it, deserve it and help people in a tangible way. Many people feel a need to still pay tithing, even if they are no longer members of the LDS Church. Those former members might consider paying their tithing to reputable charities that distribute their money to the poor and needy or look for cures to diseases and the like. God knows you paid money to these organizations - even without a tithing settlement.
We simply hope the church will some day be more open with its finances than it is currently and at least listen to the suggestions of the people paying the tithing. Perhaps if enough members voiced our opinion about the secrecy of the church's finances, the LDS church might consider opening their books like many of the other, apostate churches do and change some of the practices like bringing back the paid custodian jobs and provide more local funding for ward activities like we enjoyed in the past.
MormonStories Podcast on Tithing and LDS Corporate workings
In John Dehlin's MormonStories podcast, there is a very interesting, informative podcast done by Daymon Smith Ph.D, a Mormon Anthropologist and the author of a new book called: The Book of Mammon: A Book About A Book About The Corporation That Owns The Mormons. The podcast is not 'anti-Mormon' and provides many insights not available to the average member from people that actually worked in the Church headquarters and are faithful members.
It is podcast # 150 - The LDS Church as a Corporation and the Corporation as a Church. Download available here.