As I pointed out in “LDS Inc. (Part Seven),” I understand the desire for greater financial transparency on the part of the Church and — like one now-departed senior leader of the Church of whose position on the subject I was personally aware — I’m not unsympathetic to it.
That said, however, I can think of at least one serious reason not to be fully open and transparent.
Already, in the little discussions here, we’ve had avowed and unbelieving critics of the Church solemnly advising us on how the Church’s understanding of its divine mission needs to be altered and, accordingly, what sweeping changes need to be made to its budgetary priorities. To the extent that Church financial data were made generally public, such complaints and demands and campaigns as these would now have the power of actual numbers behind them.
Can you imagine the debates that would erupt, and the demonstrations that would be organized, were the overall Church budget to be made public? The Church should spend less on temples! It should give more to humanitarian aid! Too much for missionary work! Too much for family history! Too little to this country! Too much to that country! This temple cost too much! This temple is too small! Is it small because Church leaders consider the people who will attend it second-class Saints? Are different ethnic groups being treated exactly alike? Should they be treated exactly alike? Should the Church be equitable, or should it practice affirmative action? Does x really deserve a temple? Why doesn’t y get one? Are tithepayers like shareholders? Should they be allowed a vote?
The slogans practically write themselves, and I can already see the placards in the demonstrations at Church headquarters and elsewhere: “Food for the living, not temples for the dead!” “Keep our tithes at home!” “American members are suffering! No aid for foreigners!”
The issues are innumerable, the possibilities are limitless, and, in our divisive and litigious society, there would be no end to the controversies. There would be a feeding frenzy with every release of financial data. The Church would be under constant attack, and it would either defend itself or go silent and, thus, remain undefended.
I’m reminded of the Hebrew biblical book of Nehemiah. In chapter four, we’re told that those who worked to reconstruct Jerusalem’s temple after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity were obliged to labor with trowel in one hand and sword in the other. Here is Nehemiah 6:1-4 in the English Standard Version (ESV):
Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.