I listened late tonight (Monday night) to an interview with historian D. Michael Quinn, on the Mormon News Report. I highly recommend the interview. (It begins at just about precisely the 45-minute mark of the podcast.)
In the past, I’ve been critical of some of Mike Quinn’s writing, and I’ve published things that were critical of his some of his work. But I’ve also liked a lot of what he’s done — especially his early articles — and I’ve said so. Back in the day, I thought he was one of the most interesting and insightful historians working on Mormonism. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, of course — to coin a wholly original new phrase — and, to put it mildly, Mike Quinn is no fan of mine.
This interview, though, which focuses on his new book The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power, is well worth the half-hour or so that it will take out of your life.
As just about anybody who recognizes the name of D. Michael Quinn also knows, he was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in September 1993. That has made him a martyr and a hero to more than a few critics. But how, I wonder, will they react to what he’s saying on this topic? Detractors of Mormonism who might have been expecting his new book to be hostile to the Church and its leaders will, I think, be deeply disappointed. (Very possibly, they’ll simply pretend that he’s said nothing at all.)
In this interview, Dr. Quinn expresses frank admiration for the Church’s management of its finances, which he sees as essential to the global expansion of Mormonism. Moreover, although some enemies of the Church have been denouncing it for un-Christian corporate greed and, as is sometimes said, for giving only 40 million dollars to “charity” each year out of 15 billion in annual “profits” — see, on this, my recent blog entry “A church run by greedy and rapacious robber barons?” — Dr. Quinn points out that this claim grossly distorts the reality: Those 40 million dollars represent only the cash that the Church devotes to humanitarian efforts. The food and clothing and medicines and other goods that it gives, as well as the service that it coordinates and sponsors and provides — in other words, its non-cash humanitarian and welfare assistance — represent contributions many times the size of that $40m cash sum.
Dr. Quinn believes that the Church should renew its longtime practice of publishing basic information about its annual finances. Not, though, because he believes that there are dirty secrets to be revealed. Quite the contrary, he says — and I’m inclined to agree with him — that doing so would be “faith-promoting.”
I’m not sure why we don’t publish at least a simple annual financial report. I can think of one reason, which may or may not play a role: There are critics who would obsessively comb through the figures, complaining that more money should go to x and that less money should go to y, second-guessing Church leadership at every turn, and I can easily imagine that some leaders just don’t want to deal with such nonsense.
But I am, on the whole, in favor of more openness and greater transparency. We have nothing to hide. I favor such a policy for our history, and I favor it for our finances.
An acquaintance, a close friend to a close friend of mine, was in the Church’s leadership in the Philippines during a recent period of severe natural disasters there. The Church moved in to help in very big ways. As he put it, if the general Church membership had been aware of what the Church was doing in the Philippines during that trying time, they would have been enormously proud.
Analogously, for a number of years I had easy access to the marvelous unpublished journals of George Q. Cannon, a member of the Twelve and a counselor in the First Presidency to Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. Those journals have been kept under wraps. But I have no idea why. Not only is there nothing sordid or discrediting in them, they’re . . . well, faith-promoting.