This video discusses many items that have been in the media recently regarding finances for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as a possible $32 billion stock portfolio, building $1.5 billion City Creek Mall, welfare & humanitarian assistance, total tithing collected, living allowances for general authorities, and the heavy financial needs anticipated as the church grows internationally. To quote D. Michael Quinn, the non-member author of a new book on this topic in an interview by the Salt Lake Tribune: “These figures represent an astonishing accomplishment. It is an American success story without parallel. No institution, no church, no business, no non-profit organization in America has had this kind of history”.
This video on church finances I thought was timely. There’s been a lot of media stories about church finances, and I wanted to address some of these things that have been talked about.
First of all, I want to share, there’s a book that was just recently released by D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power. Tremendous resources in here. It’s a fascinating book. D. Michael Quinn is actually not a member of the Church.
In an interview that he did with the Salt Lake Tribune, and I want to share a quote from that, he said here, “The Church, launched in 1830 in upstate New York with six members, counts nearly 16 million members worldwide and untold billions in assets. It wasn’t always so. At one point, the federal government confiscated all its properties, withholding them for nearly a decade.
Thereafter, the Utah-based faith endured cycles of near bankruptcy every 20 to 30 years until it finally found its economic footing in the 1960s. No matter the precise bottom line, these figures represent an astonishing accomplishment. It is an American success story without parallel. No institution, no church, no business, no nonprofit organization in America has had this kind of history.”
Now, a little bit on the history or some background of what he was talking about. The last real crisis in the church came in in 1963. In the 30s, 40s, 50s, the church was saving quite a bit of of their income, but coming out of the Great Depression, they were quite fearful and were keeping the money, the reserves that had been saved in cash, in the banks and not investing the funds.
Then they went on essentially a building spending spree in the late 50s from ’58 to ’62, ’63, used up all the reserve, in fact went into debt. Today it would have been in 2010 dollars Quinn points out about $236 million in debt at that point, and in 1963, they even feared being able to make the payroll for the employees, the paid employees in the Church Office buildings.
So, it was a very challenging time. N. Eldon Tanner came in, a very sharp businessman, understood a lot about corporate finance, helped to develop policies and procedures and also introduce sophisticated wealth management techniques used by Harvard Endowment Fund is an example, the Ford Foundation, a lot of these sophisticated institutional money management processes that have been used now for decades in the Church.
This did help turn the Church around. To give you an example, if you were to have invested in the stock market in 1975, $1 million in 1975, today would be worth $228 million. That’s the growth that would’ve happened there, and we did get back in the black on the reserves in the ’67, ’68 period. So, reserves were being restored at that point.
Now, if you look at today, one of the huge stories that came out in June was broke by a group with the MormonLeaks that put out and it’s all over the place now online, that the church has a $32 billion stock portfolio, and I can get into the details of how they came up with this. They cobbled it together with different things and you could question some of the results for various reasons, but I think if you just set it on the face of it, let’s say they had 32 billion. Well, based on the math I just said, if you went back to 1975, that would actually be 228 million invested then would be 32 billion today.
Bishop Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric, shared a quote recently in a symposium, Church History Symposium in March of 2018. He says, “The Church also methodically follows the practice of setting aside a portion of its resources each year to prepare for any possible future needs. The money set aside are then added to the investment reserves of the church. They are invested in stocks and bonds, majority interest in taxable businesses, some of which date to the Church’s early Utah history, commercial, industrial and residential property,” and I’ll take a minute to add the City Creek Center.
There’s a lot of controversy of that, but $1.5 billion, that was part of this portfolio and diversification, and why not? Why wouldn’t you do that across from Temple Square as part of your portfolio of assets? I think it’s a very strategic decision, but it was people looking at that. There wasn’t any tithing funds used. This was part of the reserves there to build that, and it’s part of the investment portfolio.
Then he goes on to say, “Agricultural interests, the church’s reserves are managed by a professional group of employees and outside advisors. Risks are diversified consistent with wise improvement, stewardship, and moderate investment management principles. In the parable of the talents, the Lord who asks for an accounting from His servants, chastised the one who had not invested the money entrusted to him, but instead had hid that money in the earth. He characterized this servant as wicked and slothful for not investing that money for a reasonable financial return.
Consistent with this spiritual principle, the church’s financial reserves are not left idle in nonproductive bank accounts, but are instead employed where they can produce a return. These invested funds can be accessed in times of hardship to ensure the ongoing uninterrupted work of the Church’s mission, programs, and operations, and to meet emergency financial needs.
The funds are also needed to provide additional financial resources to support the Church’s mission to prepare for the Lord’s Second Coming. They will help all nations of the earth. We anticipate that a large part of this growth will take place in the developing and populous nations of the world. Ever-increasing financial means will be required to provide thousands of meeting houses, additional temples, and other essential resources to bless members’ lives wherever they are. In short, all these funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church’s divinely appointed mission.”
So, the church is actually building a new building somewhere in the world every day. That’s the average, and to give you an idea, also Quinn’s book was great on some details of this. If you were to look at the nations of the earth, the United States is the only area that is self-sustaining, where the tithing receipts are able to cover the expenses for operating the Church.
Actually, I’d say there’s one exception. Canada goes in and out a little bit, but it is self-sustaining, but to give you one example, the United Kingdom, the UK on average gets a 40% to 60% supplement from Church headquarters because they’re tithing there in the UK is not enough to overcome the expenses of operating the Church there, and to give you one dramatic example, in 2006, the Church sent the United Kingdom $450 million in that one year. This is a developed country. It was the first one the Church was in, 1837, one of the first ones that the Church was in. Also, if you look at where the Church is growing dramatically, Africa, the Philippines, and over 90% being supplemented from Church headquarters.
So, these funds are extremely important and needed especially for the future, and that’s also where this becomes a very critical thing in trying to develop what is being done and how to allocate it. There are some challenges that are sometimes presented with, is the church doing enough from a humanitarian perspective, especially with these kinds of dollars, and I think they’re trying to also be cautious in not doing their alms before man, but also letting their light shine and finding the right balance, and there has been some statements that have been confusing about amounts that had been said.
There was recently a comment that was made on the Mormon Newsroom site. It says “The Church has spent billions of dollars over the past few years to meet welfare and humanitarian needs around the world. We anticipate these needs will continue to increase over time. Church affiliated, for-profit entities also contribute to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Foundation, which gives to various charitable causes.”
The brethren through revelation were told, the Council on the Disposition of Tithes, which is the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Presiding Bishopric are to seek revelation on how to use these funds for the Church, and so they do seek revelation and try and guide both now and into the future, but particularly being aware of these massive costs that could be coming down the road. Remember, every time that the Church builds a building or a temple, it’s not an income-producing property, it’s an income-using property and with future costs to the Church.
Also in Michael Quinn’s book, he did an estimate on maybe the tithing funds that are being brought into the church. It may sound dramatic from some of the analysis that he’s pulled together. There’s lots of assumptions that are used. I take this with a big grain of salt, but he came up with a number of $33 billion a year and then maybe another 15 to 17 billion from the portfolio of the Church as well that provides the resources for the operating of the church.
Some others have done analysis that show numbers less than half that and have some good assumptions associated with those too, so it’s hard to know there. Those are huge numbers, but again, remember some of the numbers I just shared with you. Also, to give you an example, The Economist several years ago talked about the operating budget of the Catholic Church just in the United States was $170 billion a year, to just give a frame of reference of the operation.
There is a powerful concept though of the lay ministry of the church and if you think about on the local level, all of the services done by all these bishops, stake presidents, all the leaders, no one’s paid, and all of those dollars for other churches that’s a cost, an expense, that has also helped to lead to where we are today with this large growth in the assets that can be used for the furthering of the growth of the Church.
Okay, some have complained about transparency as well. The Church does not publish financial reports. It does in certain countries where it’s required to. Here is a piece on the lds.org site about this. It says, “The Church is not a financial institution or a commercial corporation. It has no other objective than preaching the gospel and inviting all to come unto Christ. While the Church chooses not to publish the details of its finances, the church does provide public information on the financial principles it follows, the financial controls in place to protect Church funds and the source and use of these funds. The Church also provides all financial information required by law.”
Now, I will say, I kind of wish they would publish, and I think it would be phenomenal, but I understand there’s probably an aspect to this of the micromanaging and the criticisms that could come with people that probably have 1/100th of the information of those that were making the decisions and that were also seeking inspiration from God about what to do. I do understand that there are controls and processes in place.
Here’s a, I’ll just put it up on the screen for a minute here. You can pause the screen if you want to read about the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes and the principles they follow, as well as Bishop Caussé’s breakdown of the Church spending into the six major areas out there.
Now, another controversial thing that’s come about recently has been discussions online, particularly about the living allowances that general authorities receive. I will talk first of all just about the scriptural basis for this. If you look in both the New Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants, Luke 10:7, “And in the same hour remain eating and drinking such things as they give; for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.” D&C 70 verse 12, “He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer temporal things.”
Now, I know there’s some concern with the concept of priestcraft when it comes to receiving any compensation in the Church. I’d like to share, and remember these general authorities are not seeking a career path here. They have been asked to do this. They are called to do this. Same thing with mission presidents. They’re asked to do this.
I’d like to read this from the FairMormon website on addressing this question of priestcraft. On here it says, “Church members have a particular sensitivity to issues surrounding paid ministries particularly due to admonitions in the Book of Mormon relative to a practice known as priestcraft, which is ‘That men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world, but they seek not the welfare of Zion.'” And then this is repeated multiple times in the Book of Mormon.
“For this reason, the idea of compensation for service seems contradictory to strongly held values of the Latter-Day Saint community. However, it should be noted that priestcraft as it has been defined is a condemnation of intent to get gain and praise and not for the welfare of Zion and not about an individual receiving support. Living stipends are not compensations for service, but recognition of a practice, a practical reality that individuals who decide to dedicate their full time to church service are sometimes unable to simultaneously provide for their own modest living needs.”
The example of King Benjamin adds to the LDS value of self-sufficiency of leaders in particular. Benjamin while king, still labored for his own support. This is a very admirable demonstration of humility on the part of the king. However, this example was being used in the context of his political position as king and would be comparable to a president refusing to accept his salary for his service,” which we’ve had three presidents in the U.S., Hoover, Kennedy, and Trump, that did this. “It should not be used to condemn the practice of helping provide for the modest living needs of full-time leaders who are unable to dedicate time to earning a living.”
Now, there are some examples out there of getting rich off the people, in a sense, from religion. Here is an example of the top 10 richest pastors in the world and their net worths, put up on the screen there: Kenneth Copeland, 760 million net worth; Bishop TD Jakes, 150 million. You can see these names. Pat Robertson, 100 million; Joel Osteen, many know him, 40 million; Billy Graham, 25 million; Rick Warren, the Saddleback Church there in Lake Forest, California, 25 million.
These are some examples, and again we talked about the lay ministry at the local levels are all volunteer service, and that’s part of the reason why the Church has been able to grow so much. Also, if the Church did not provide a living allowance for these general authorities or the modest living allowance for the mission presidents, then only the wealthy could serve. Nobody else who would be able to logistically.
So, it gives the ability to call anyone to those positions. Also, this has not been hidden. President Hinckley said in General Conference, “The living allowances given the general authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from the business income of the church and not from the tithing of the people.” Then the Ensign talked about mission presidents as they put their lives on hold, can often go through challenging financial situation with that and they are provided with the minimal living allowance because of that circumstance as well.
The dollar amount that was recently disclosed online on this also causing controversy, 120,000, if you were to compare that to the CEO of the Red Cross as an example, it’s 10 times that, it’s 1.2 million for the CEO of the Red Cross. If you were to look at the highest paid Church employee full-time paid employee running the administration or the bureaucracy side of the Church up in Canada, because they do have to disclose that up there, 250,000 is the top pay. So, twice the amount of the general authority. Keep in mind too, the general authorities are all getting paid the same. The prophet down to the newest called general authority all receive that same dollar amount.
So, the only additional income sources that the general authorities could actually get, especially the Twelve and the First Presidency that are called for life, would be books, book royalties, and so you might think that might be a decent amount. It’s not. It’s very, very minimal. A great example that Quinn put in here, the most prolific general authority writer, probably dozens of books, Joseph Fielding Smith.
When he died in probate they looked at his last royalty check and annualized it and figured it out. In today’s dollars, it would have been less than $50,000, and again, with dozens of books that had been produced, and to close I will say in the Doctrine and Covenants we’re told the Lord will hasten His work in His time. These resources are critical towards that measure, and I believe personally, that that’s part of why this is happening now, and it’s told that He will do it in His own way and it’s wonderful to watch and see where the Church is going.
Hopefully, this is a helpful video on the topic. Subscribe for more.
The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power by D. Michael Quinn
Talk by President Bishop Causee at the Church History Symposium, Mar 2, 2018: In the Lord’s Way: The Spiritual Foundations of Church Financial Self-Reliance https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/articl…
Mormon Newsroom Press Release: Church Finances & A Growing Global Faith https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/articl…
Summary on LDS.org on the financial information released by the Church: https://www.lds.org/church/news/read-…
Deseret News Article – LDS Church Leaders Provide Insight Into Church Finances: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/9…
Salt Lake Tribune Article on Michael Quinn’s book: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/local…
Salt Lake Tribune Podcast ‘Mormon Land’ with Michael Quinn on his book: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/local…
RadioWest Interview Podcast with Michael Quinn on his book: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/mormon…
Link to many articles within FairMormon on the topic of Church Finances: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mo…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.