Logical Fallacies Attacking the LDS: The Church is Rich!

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I’ve often wondered why it is that people complain that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well-financed.

A little history is in order. Historically, the Church hasn’t always been even-keeled when it comes to money. Honestly, when it comes to money, Joseph Smith was better off letting others manage that while he saw to the ecclesiastical duties.

During the Brigham Young years, the church owned Utah. If you want to see a command economy that works, you’d have to flip back to those years to see what Brigham Young did to bring about the rapid growth in the economy and society of that uninhabitable area of the world.

When the federal government illegally and unconstitutionally seized its assets, the church was on the verge of being unable to pay back the loans it had already taken out. Since that time, the church members have paid more attention to paying their tithing, and money hasn’t been a serious concern since.

Sounds reasonable, of course. A church shouldn’t have problems owning its own properties. After all, you don’t want the bank to foreclose on your meetinghouse because the members run into hard times. You don’t want to put your church’s assets into the hands of investors and loan officers. You want enough money for a rainy day should the lawsuits come in and should the political oppression begin again.

The bulk of the assets and costs that the church incurs is due to the property it owns for its meetinghouse and temples. This is quite logical. If you buy prime real estate (“prime” meaning a place where people are), and build a chapel, and don’t make any money off of using the property, then it’s going to cost a lot of money to maintain. At the same time, it is going to look like a wonderful asset on the books, although you will never use it to make money.

Of course, you can’t utilize that “money” in the form of property unless you take out a loan to balance the books. That’s what most businesses do with their real assets. They buy the property with a loan, or borrow money to buy the property, or simply leverage it. In the end, the business might own billions in property, but owe about as much because their company is only worth tens of millions net.

The church doesn’t have that option. We have to own the property outright, property we likely would never sell. Thus, the assets of the church are really just imaginary numbers that can’t be put to work. Everytime you step foot on church grounds, your standing on the assets of the church, and that’s exactly where they are going to stay.

As with any organization, for-profit or non-profit, when you have cash assets, you can’t stuff them into a giant pillowcase until you need it. At the very least, you have to stick it in a bank. That bank is going to turn around and loan or invest that money, giving you some of the interest.

If you’re smart, you’re going to take that money and invest it yourself, cutting the bank out of the picture. After all, the banks are made up of people just like you and me, and the fact that they work for a bank doesn’t make them better investors.

If you’re really, really smart, you’re going to invest in things that are nice to have and help you accomplish your ultimate goals. This is why the church has invested, heavily, in communications and real estate. They have also focused on real estate in prime farming country and near their church headquarters.

About the purchase of the mall near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, I am amazed at the absurdity of the detractors. What is it to them that the church has invested its surplus cash in an investment that will not only help the local community, but add to its image of a good neighbor? Any downtown city would gladly beat a path to such an investor to invest their cash into their downtown sector. It just so happens that the church decided to do so in Salt Lake City—the city that the church built in the first place.

As tenants move in, and as business picks up, those investments will be realized in more cash. In effect, the widows mite will be transformed into a whole lot of mites. What’s especially good is that the lump of cash that the church has will turn into a steady stream of consistent cash, which is even nicer when your primary cost (maintaining their churches and temples) requires a steady stream of cash!

Now, obviously, not every lot in the property is going to be a meetinghouse or temple. Of course, some of it has to be used for commercial activity. And when it comes to commercial activity, the church does not believe in imposing all of its high standards on the tenets and customers.

One of the things we clearly tolerate is alcohol consumption. We uphold the law, and the law says that people are allowed to buy and sell and consume alcohol, within certain limits. As members of the church, we forego this right. Our individual choices are what truly matter, not on the morals that we impose on others outside of the law.

I don’t know what happens in the private meetings between people entrusted with investing the tithing that I donate and the people they invest it in. Obviously, it’s none of my business. Private meetings are private for a reason. All that I care about is that the church is working to accomplish its ultimate goal, and using whatever resources it has as wisely as it can.

Another complaint I hear is that there are so many poor people in the world and if the church would simply take a tiny fraction of its tithing money it could eradicate poverty.

Folks, this may be news to some, but there are two massive funds of the church, and they are entirely separate.

The tithing fund is exclusively used to operate the church. This means acquire property, build meetinghouses and temples, and maintain them. None of it is used to help the poor, except as the poor may be hired to provide services to the churches, or as they might benefit from the investments from that fund.

The fast offering fund is used exclusively to help the poor. That is, distribute cash to the poor and also build systems and mechanisms whereby the poor can be helped around the world.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the church, as a group of people, are donating as much as they can to the latter account. I myself feel like I should be giving much more. I know the leaders are asking us to donate more to the fast offering fund, much more than the minimum savings of fasting two meals every month.

Helping the poor is not an easy thing to do. There are a lot of poor. And they are poor for a lot of reasons.

If we simply handed everybody the minimum food they need to survive, and gave them the minimal medical care they needed, perhaps we could treat the symptoms of poverty throughout the entire world with just a few hundred billion dollars. But I don’t know anyone that believes that handing out food and clothing and medicine is the right way to help the poor.

Instead, we should be encouraging and educating them so that they can make their own food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. We should work to elevate them until they are peers. This kind of work is not easy work.

The church has a few policies around its relief efforts. One is the simple principle of “No work, no food.” We do not hand things out to people that are capable of obtaining it for themselves. Instead, we motivate them to work and we help them obtain whatever education is needed.

Obviously, this is a lot more expensive than handing out the bare minimum food and medicine for basic health. And so, our limited resources don’t help as many people as they could if we simply opened LDS soup kitchens all over the world.

But the end result is what counts. As we lift people out of poverty, they can donate their time and money to lift others out of poverty. In the end, we are all lifting each other.

That’s really what capitalism is all about. Finding ways to take people that are under-utilized and put them to good use serving each other. Finding the needs and meeting the needs with innovation and hard work. And that’s ultimately what we want to teach the poor: You have all you need, just figure that out and put it to good work serving the people around you.

I don’t see how it is possible for the Lord’s work to move forward with a church paralyzed by finances. Only with amply financing can meetinghouses be built fast enough to meet the needs of an exponentially growing membership.

I also don’t see how people complain when the results of church relief efforts have an unprecedented track record of delivering people from poverty and keeping them out of poverty. Take a look at the church membership themselves. Are they rich because they steal from the poor, or are they rich because we lift each other out of poverty?

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