I’ve tried and tried over the years to figure out why the LDS church needs so much money. Estimates are that LDS Inc. owns about USD$375B, debt free. That makes them a Fortune 5 company. It feels sketchy and inexplicably off to me. I know, I know – I’ve heard all about the church’s rainy day policy but the more I think about it this runaway corporate train just looks like a huge conceit for the suits who run these ventures. I’m sure there is a lot of fist bumping, high fives and narrow eyed, smug self-satisfied hand shakes with every report of the church’s bank balance, their acquisitions and their commercial enterprises.
Except that its not really that impressive. It has all come at a price, and the price to get on this acquisitive gravy train has been paid by the sacrifice of everyday church members over successive generations. So don’t come the raw prawn and tell me that its commercial ventures began with a few million that magically appeared out of thin air. That money originally came from the sacrifice of the people. End of story.
When church members are asked to give up their money, their time, their resources and even their relationships for the church you’d think there’d be some reciprocity. You’d think that with the bulging pockets of the church there might be some generosity, some largesse and some thoughtful distribution of funds to support communities where its needed. But generally there isn’t. Bishops have to scrape by on tiny budgets while the bulk of their wards’ tithing contributions get sucked into the corporation. To make matters worse our careful allocation of funds to budget, missionary or tithing is a fiction. The small print tells us that all donations are fungible. That means the corporation can do what they want with it and that’s important because as we know ‘you can buy anything in this world with money‘; including shopping malls.
So here are some figures. There are around 225 units in New Zealand. Last year the New Zealand church’s local donations were $40,123,000. Yet of that $18,432,000 was paid to the LDS Trust Board employees (of which there 204 full-time staff members and 18 part-time). That puts the average salary for each employee of the church at $86,535.21. To put than into perspective the median New Zealand income is $45,000. Methinks that few church employees are getting $80K + in their take home pay, so some folks up in Auckland are sitting mighty pretty on the backs of the sacrifice of the New Zealand members. Perhaps the differential can be explained by how much is going toward the upkeep of the Area Presidency & co. (all Americans) who are housed in swanky multimillion dollar beach front apartments on 47 The Strand in Takapuna. There are also some US management imports who have been overseeing the property development project in Temple View and as it turns out Americans don’t come cheap.
Sadly none of this passes the ethical smell test. Sure its legal, but its not moral. Once I sent an email to the Area Offices in Auckland asking them to explain why it was that the incomes of church employees were so inexplicably high. They replied that they didn’t have the resources to explain. I pointed out that with a NZD $3,100,000 communication budget surely they could come up with some explanation. I didn’t hear from them again.
Across New Zealand members manage to scrape together an average of $178,324pa in donations per unit. With Stakes often pilfering some of the unit budgets for their ‘special event’s’ sometimes ward and branches are often left with less that $8000 pa to run programmes for their congregations. That means that units are contributing around $170,000 pa to the corporation to pay for the Area office’s incomes and operations. Sure member donations also pay for rates, maintenance and utilities, but with most church buildings housing multiple wards these costs can be easily covered through local donations with plenty to spare.
And here’s the final kicker! As of last year, units in New Zealand have to pay the church out of our budgets for donation slips and envelopes. That’s right – we have pay to pay. Our family contributes several thousands of dollars per year; enough to send our large family on a fancy trip each year. Instead we PAY to send various members of our family (using my husband’s holidays) on expensive trips to the temple. And we PAY through tithing for the ‘privilege’ to do so. We just keep paying and paying and the church keeps hoarding and hoarding while sharing some of its impressive profits with its favourite red chair occupying sons of Pioneers.
Its time for the church to get clean. They are in a position now to support their operations through its profits while they zero out their annual tithing income to invest in the well-being of its members. How about using some of their property for well resourced community gardens? How about sacking some of their over stuffed employees and thinning their management tiers? How about supporting projects that support LDS children who are suffering from malnutrition?
Or here’s a radical idea! How about they pay the General Women’s Presidencies a salary equivalent to the General Authorities or Apostles incomes? From what I understand the General Presidencies only get gas money for their full-time jobs overseeing the spiritual welfare of over half the church. Wouldn’t it be a small yet significant something to crack open the church’s coffers and pay these women like the General Authorities they are?
How difficult can it be to call it a day on the excessive and brazen taking and start giving something back aside from buildings? From what I understand of Jesus’ teachings that’s exactly what he would do. He took loaves and fishes, turned them into a feast for all to share. I wish the church that bears His name would do the same.