Some insist on reading what I’ve been writing here as my argument that it’s perfectly fine for a Church to look like and behave like a typical American business or corporation, to be motivated by the same profit incentives that motivate profit-seeking corporations — while exploiting tax breaks that properly pertain only to legitimate churches and non-profits — and that corporate culture is somehow intrinsically good.
I’m arguing none of these things.
Fundamentally, I do not grant the premise that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a profit-driven corporation masquerading as a church. Not only do I not grant it, I find the allegation spectacularly false, both ridiculous and offensive.
Home and visiting teaching aren’t about profits. Ministering isn’t about profits.
Family history isn’t about profits.
Temples aren’t about profits.
Bishops storehouses aren’t about profits.
Latter-day Saint Charities is not about profits.
Now, I’m aware of arguments that attempt to demonstrate that nobody ever does anything for selfless reasons. They can be clever, but, in the end, they strike me as mere sophistry and equivocation. And I’m no more impressed when analogous arguments are applied to the Church. Temples are simply not profit-seeking investments. The various campuses of Brigham Young University and LDS Business College and the Church’s seminaries and institutes are simply not designed to maximize income. Even the much reviled City Creek Mall — which was clearly intended as an urban renewal project for downtown Salt Lake City, for the area immediately surrounding Temple Square, the Conference Center, and the Church’s leadership campus (a private investment that would be generally regarded, elsewhere and by non-ideologues, as deserving of praise) — closes on Sundays, and the decision behind such Sabbath-closure was plainly not driven by greed.
When I was serving as a bishop, it was certainly never about profits. Not for me and not for the Church.
Here too, though, I’m aware of some who argue that there is a difference between the sincere and devout rank and file and “the Church,” a distinct and distinctly cynical corporate entity. Local bishops and other leaders are probably idealistic dupes, but the higher leaders are, at the least, more complex in their motives — at the extreme, in the view of some very radical critics, the Church is rather like the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.) in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.
There is, however, no evidence for this. See, for example:
We have no distinct clergy or leadership caste in the Church, no elite with its own distinct interests. The men who currently serve in the Presiding Bishopric, the quorums of the Seventy, the Council of the Twelve, and the First Presidency spent most of their lives as missionaries, elders quorum presidents, bishops, mission presidents, counselors in stake presidencies, and so forth. They weren’t in quest of profits. They weren’t in it for themselves. Nor are they now.
I’ve always liked this reminiscence from Heber J. Grant, who was called to the Twelve in 1882, and who served as president of the Church from 1918 to 1945:
“I had a letter when I, as a young man, was made an apostle, from a nonmember of the Church. … Of prominence in the world so far as business affairs are concerned, he was the manager of a great corporation. … He said: ‘I never thought very much of the leaders of the Mormon people, in fact I thought they were a very bright, keen, designing lot of fellows, getting rich from the tithes that they gathered in from a lot of ignorant, superstitious, and over-zealous religious people. But now that you are one of the fifteen men at the head of the Mormon Church, I apologize to the other fourteen. I know that if there were anything crooked in the management of the Mormon Church you would give it all away’”
I believe in the divine mission of the Church. I recognize that money is necessary for that mission to be achieved. I believe that the law of the tithe is divinely given, that it was revealed before Moses and that it continues in this dispensation. I believe that the Church should prudently manage the funds placed in its care, so as to maximize the good that can be done with it. I believe that money is a means to an end. It is, most definitely and unequivocally, not an end in itself.
Pretty straightforward, that. No slavish worship of corporate finance, no apologetic for greed masquerading as religion.