“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
I’ve never seen the LDS Church in such damage control.
Interviews, statements, and letters have been published trying to dampen down the Ensign Peak Advisors (EPA) scandal that erupted when a disgruntled former employee turned whistleblower.
Legally it all boils down to this:
The EPA was set up 22 years ago by the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a supporting organization. A supporting organization is a 501(c)(3) that functions as a public charity and as such it has an obligation as a tax-exempt entity to make charitable distributions.
The whistle-blower’s complaint to the IRS was that in its 22 years EPA has not made a single charitable distribution.
In all likelihood, this complaint to the IRS will be resolved quietly over the next few years. There may be a slap on the wrist – but the public is likely never to find out the results of any formal inquiry if it ever gets to that.
Yet, there remain many questions that demand honest answers;
Why has EPA, a supporting organization of the Corporation of the President, taken a tax exemption without doing its duty as a public charity?
Why are its only two disbursements to the Corporation of the President’s own for-profit businesses?
Why the lack of transparency?
But, more importantly;
Why on God’s blue Earth do they think they need so much money?
According to the claim, EPA (bearing in mind that EPA is just one of the church’s many auxiliary corporations) has been stockpiling a $1b surplus of donor revenue annually which has blown out to $100B.
To give you an appreciation for what $100B looks like in numbers:
1. 1.000E+11 (1.000 x 1011)
3. 100 billion = 100,000 million
The published responses of the church have been wholly dismissive of these fundamental questions. Church PR has tried to spin the ‘all is well in Zion’ wheels inviting the blind trust of the membership. And for some people, that’s all they’ll need. They’ll turn their heads away from the bruhaha and get on with their lives.
But, for others, this will be a deal-breaker.
It will be a deal-breaker because it’s deeply immoral.
I’m not suggesting that there is anything illegal going on (above the pesky questions regarding EPA). Rather I’m saying that for all of the smoke and mirrors, the LDS Church will not improve its trust relationship with the people and the public until it answers, to their stakeholders’ satisfaction, the raft of ethical questions about the purpose of their hoarding.
Nathan and I have been that ordinary Mormon family just trying to make ends meet. For years we saw our domestic economy plundered by the church through threats of temple ‘unworthiness’ if we didn’t settle our ‘dues’ to the institution.
We went without.
And we believed what the church told us about scaling back and cutting out. It felt like we were supposed to live like it was the bottom of the depression and accept the exigencies of sometimes near poverty. All the while the church was stock-piling the reserves made possible because of donor giving for that proverbial ‘rainy day’.
And we gave up time.
So. Much. time.
We extracted from our family economy incalculable swathes of family and personal time to do the unpaid labor of the church.
But, for all our giving of time and money, over the years we’ve noticed that the Corporation of the President seems untouched by the stories of human need among its own. Sure, they’ll show up with cameras and journalists in order to make a show of their giving to outside charities; Sure, they’ll stump up with a cash payment here and there to persons in need.
There is this strain of extraordinary arrogance in the way that the LDS Church treats ordinary Mormons as if their daily concerns are wholly disinteresting. With cynical and dismissive contempt they have demanded that the members give, give and then give even more; financially, in unpaid labor, time and in submission.
And to add insult to injury, there’s pressure in Mormon discourse for its members to behaviourally respond to the church as if the organization is in need. While at the same time they want the members to spiritually respond to their own financial needs as if those needs are a matter of faith not food.
And for what?
Salvation or exaltation?
If someone’s understanding of Jesus Christ is that he would demand a financial offering to be given to the religious elites on pain of one’s reduced status in the afterlife, then I beg you go back to the Bible and actually read it with some maturity.
The First Presidency has offered that they are following the injunction in the Parable of the Talents. Their interpretation, that accruing wealth is their religious charge, confirms suspicions that the LDS Church is guilty of trafficking a prosperity gospel.
But, perhaps Jesus wasn’t talking about financial wealth at all (after all it is a parable). Perhaps he was charging his disciples, to turn the spiritual freedom and liberty that he offered them into something abundant.
Jesus never said he needed anyone’s money. In fact, the LDS Church would be better guided by the injunction:
“Go and sell what you have and give to the poor.”
The upside is, that it now seems that the LDS Church has endorsed, by their example, this pretense of charitable giving (in order to earn benefits) without actually giving at all. Think about that as you ready yourself for your next worthiness interview.
You are most welcome.