For at least a few critics of Church finances, the issue seems to be, to some extent anyway, one of aesthetics and politics. I have particularly in mind a certain critic — not surprisingly, an academic in an exceptionally impractical field (we’re akin, in that regard) — who has objected for years to the “corporate” character of the Church. His politics, so far as I can tell, trend distinctly leftward, and he apparently dislikes and distrusts business and the people who engage in it. (In academic circles, from my own experience, I doubt that he encounters very many people who don’t share such attitudes. It’s the water in which academic fish swim.)
I don’t know the family background of this particular critic. Of my own background, though, I can say this: I grew up the son and nephew of small businessmen. Nobody in the previous generation (of parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents) and very few among my cousins had earned a bachelor’s degree. When breaks and proximity allowed, I worked from high school through my doctorate at the family construction company. I have absolutely no sense that academics are, by nature, either more ethical or more spiritual than people involved in — as Jane Austen’s smug landed gentry would put it — “trade.” (Yuck!) Accordingly, I’m not disposed to see the term corporate as damning, in and of itself. In fact, I’m acutely aware of the fact that we academics (and especially those of us in unmarketable fields such as, say, Islamic philosophical theology and classical Roman history) survive off of the economic surplus generated by agriculture and commerce, including the taxes paid by corporations. So far am I, therefore, from looking down upon businesspeople and farm workers that, instead, I think that we unproductive intellectualoids should give regular and humble thanks for them and for the work that they do to sustain us.
Anyway, before moving on, let me simply restate the fact that I see nothing wrong or dishonorable in the term corporate. Corporations simply one way of organizing human enterprises. Operating under current national and international laws, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is legally organized as a corporation. There is nothing sinister about this, and it’s not clear what the alternative would be. In ancient societies under the strong influence of Rome and Roman law, authorities (Pliny will serve as an example) tended to view the early Christian church as a hetaeria or “burial society.” That option isn’t available today, and it’s not clear, anyway, how it would be superior.
The particular academic that I have in mind also seems to find the male leadership of the Church deficient because they wear business suits. Seriously. Perhaps, instead, they should ostentatiously dress as first-century Galilean peasant fishermen? Maybe he would prefer that they wear beards. Honestly, though, I can’t see why dressing in robes or wearing a beard should be deemed any more spiritual or ethical or “prophetic” than wearing a dark suit. The early apostles probably didn’t dress like ancient people in order to be quaint or “authentic.” They dressed that way because that’s the way their contemporaries dressed. And ditto for today.
To the extent that such objections aren’t mere jokes, they’re mere jokes.