Demanding Responsibility in NZ Church Finances

Demanding Responsibility in NZ Church Finances January 19, 2012

IMG_2275There will be some Mormons who will be deeply uncomfortable with the subject of my musings today. Because we Mormons have been studiously instructed to cease to think about our contributions to the church beyond sealing the brown envelope. Matters of faith and pragmatics are often held apart so as to imbue the mundane and secular with a more ‘spiritual’ aura. This is an important and understandable strategy in the development of faith which I most certainly don’t wish to undermine.

However, there are machinations in the arena of church finances that I think are worthy of our consideration, especially in the New Zealand context. In the United States the legal identity of the church is a ‘Corporation Sole’ and operates under the legal name ‘The Corporation of the President” (with the President of the church having the powers of the Trustee in Trust – blah, blah blah…). This means that they are not required to disclose their financial position in an annual return. They are however required to give an audit report which they usually do at April conference. The church also has numerous other financial interests such as: Deseret Management Corporation, Beneficial Financial, Zion Securities etc….

In New Zealand, in an Act of Parliament (1954), the Church was incorporated with all assets transferring to the New Zealand Trust Board who have stated interests in the promulgation of religious, charitable and educational activities. So, unlike the US, in NZ the church is a registered charity (as it appears to be in the UK and Australia). As such they are required to submit an annual return for public scrutiny which is, as we speak, freely available on the Charities Commission website.

This makes for the most interesting reading. By my calculations there are about the equivalent of 160 full-time employees of the church in New Zealand. The salary costs for these 160 employees (as stated in their annual return) is ….wait for it…$16,034,000. If you do some sums, that works out at an average salary of over $100,000 – which looks really odd for a church whose stated purposes are ‘charitable’. Noting that the New Zealand church donations are about $30,000,000 per year and that they are derived from the not insignificant sacrifice of families, widows, beneficiaries and the working poor, I recently asked the NZ Church Trustee – Rick Chadderton, for some clarification on these figures. He responded with ‘we respectfully decline to respond‘ citing lack of resources to do so. I noted that they also spent $3.1million dollars on communication and was at a bit of a loss to know exactly how they lacked the resources to communicate simple information on a publicly listed charity with a budget like that – but there the conversation dried up.

My point is not ask you to dip your candle in the profane and leave the church in droves, but to start to hold the church managers accountable. There are two very obvious arms to the church; one is ecclesiastical and the other is bureaucratic. Sometimes, (and the CCNZ debacle) is a good example of this, the bureaucratic arm forgets its place as managing the adequate provision of charitable services and instead it behaves like a private business taking liberties that responsible charities must not take.

Just as we are inclined to demand responsibility in private financial dealings I do believe we have every right to demand accountability, responsibility and decency in church financial matters. I do believe it behooves us to begin to question the church bureaucracy. They aren’t set apart, ordained, they don’t have a call – they are employees – full stop! Our rights as financial contributors to the church is to demand transparency and responsibility from those PAID to manage the finances. So the next time a church ’employee’ fronts up in the latest rental ‘Toyota Land Cruiser” or a Lexus, you do have a right to ask him why he didn’t hire a ‘rent a dent’ instead! Or you could even write to the NZ trustees and tell them to take a pay cut??!!

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