Episode 6: LDS Church Finances and the “Approaching Mormon History” Press Release

John Dehlin faith, history, LDS, mormon, Mormons 33 Comments

In today’s episode we are joined by 2 of our fabulously wonderful regular panelists: Ann Porter and John Hamer.

In addition, we are delighted to welcome 2 new panelists into the Mormon Matters family: PaulM and Blake Ostler.

Today’s topics include:

Also, music for this episode has been graciously provided by Clayton Pixton and Skye Pixton.  If you like their stuff, please consider supporting these young, talented LDS artists.

Please spread the word!!!

Comments

comments

Comments 33

  1. Pingback: Mormon Stories Podcast » Blake Ostler and My Buddy Paul Join us on Mormon Matters

  2. I’m very happy with this episode. What a wonderful discussion. Blake is a wonderful, thoughtful representative for traditional Mormonism. I hope that I’ll be able to talk to him more in future episodes.

  3. Great episode!

    One beef… I love the music but can’t seem to figure out how to buy it…

    Keep up the good work.

    Drake

  4. John,

    I respect your work and you as a person so please don’t take this personally. But I strongly disagree with your statement about how the church should not apologize because it is “not in their best interest.” John, I don’t understand how you can make a statement like this considering all of the pain and suffering people have endured at the hands of the church. How can you say this considering all the broken homes and family relationships left in the wake of the church’s deception? I don’t care what is in the church’s “best interests.” I care about the myriad of lives that have been destroyed and the tremendous human suffering that has been endured because some old men in SLC are interested in protecting their power and money. John, you are better than this and I am very disappointed you would make a statement like this.

    Wes

  5. Wes,

    This is just my opinion, but I don’t expect the church to always take the moral high ground. I would like it to do so, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect it.

    For example, what if the church were to make some huge retraction/apology, and it led to mass defection/inactivity? In the end, that could actually cause more damage than is being caused right now.

    So in my mind, this is way more complex than those of us outside can understand. There is a LOT at stake, in my opinion, and certain missteps could not only be irresponsible, but potentially disastrous for even more people.

    This is just my opinion.

    I’ve written more about it here: http://mormonstories.org/HowToStay.html#Understanding_the_brethren.27s_dilemma

  6. John,

    Sorry for the strong comments. I am big believer in the truth and full disclosure. The tremendous human suffering that has been experienced by tens of thousands of people needs to be addressed and alleviated. Continuing the deception only adds to the suffering. Keep up the good work.

    Wes

  7. ok, good episode, but I have to comment, on one thing that someone said, that why does the church need so much money?

    Well, what would you expect the church to do with it all? Burn it? I just dont get the question, you state that you understand the principle of tithing for the individual, so we do need to live it, and so theres millions who pay it theoretically, but where should it go? I think its a weird comment to make.

    as for wes and the thousands of broken homes caused by the church, I’d love to hear more about that, I want to hear how the ‘church’ that organization is cause of hurting so many people.

    cause I know it aint Jesus doing it.

    Andy

  8. Andy,

    Is this a serious question? If so, visit the Recovery from Mormonism board at exmormon.org and you can read page after page about people that have gone through horrific suffering because of the Mormon church.

  9. ok Wes,
    I jsut went to exmormon.org and on the first page, I see the general conference thread about Pres Hinckely calling wives possessions….seriously, I cant read more, its jsut too much for me. If you honestly feel that this was a slam to women, then not only are you unfamilar with the uses of the english language, but you dont understand the basic tenents of the church or this church leaders views on his own wife. I mean come on.

    I guess this boils down to me liking John and his podcasts, but the type of people that are also attracted to this podcast have so much pain and venom against an organization that I feel does not deserve it, that its hard for me to stay here.

  10. Andy,

    Just for the record, I like John and his podcasts too. The mormon church needs more people like him. You said “I cant read more, its jsut too much for me.” This is a typical TBM response when faced with information that does not fit their narrow spoon-fed mormon view. Are you afraid of what you might find if you go further and actually read about peoples’ experiences and their suffering?

    “….but the type of people that are also attracted to this podcast….”

    Just what type of person am I? This is the kind of arrogant, condescending attitude that turn people away from the Mormon church – in fact, I have heard John speak of this exact attitude before in one of his podcasts and encourage people not to use it.

    I encourage you to pull your head up out of the sand and consider other points of view, you may be surprised at what you find. I have been in the shoes of a TBM before so I understand the difficulty and the sheer utter fear of learning the truth. I can tell you from firsthand experience, it is bearable and well worth the journey.

    Wes

  11. It took me a long time to realize that there were more stories about the impact of the church on peoples’ lives than the ones I knew, heard in church, and read about in church publications. I’m comfortable accepting that “the church” in this context is faceless…that is those that are in leadership at all levels are for the most part good, well-meaning, committed and passionate people. That fact, however, does not make it impossible for the organization and the culture/world view that it presents, espouses, and promotes to create a context for people that end up being harmful.

    My biggest lesson in this regard hit me like a ton of bricks as my little brother struggled with the standards expected of him in spite of his non-conforming sexual orientation. I watched and helped (so I thought) as he tried to be the straight heterosexual male that he was told God had created him to be. No one was more sure that God would help him through it. He worked and worked, confided in and confessed to bishops and stake presidents, sought counsel from LDS psychologists and other specialists at BYU; all this on top of his consistent prayer, scripture study, and devotion to the church, including a faithful mission to France. But the guilt and the shame grew and grew, pushing him into deep depression and toward self-destruction. It took incredible courage for him to finally accept the beautiful and wonderful person that he always had been “in spite of” what he had been taught and believed without question for so long about being gay. In spite of cruel abandonment and condemnation by his family, including me (may God forgive me), he struck out on his own life’s path and is very happy and successful…and he has forgiven me, in spite of my sin toward him. I hope to live to be as merciful as he is.

    It is not easy for most gay people to come to peace with themselves and the world around them, but the extreme intensity of my brother’s experience was due to his love and devotion for, and membership in “the church.” He blames no person, nor do I, but “the church” must accept responsibility for much of what happened with my brother and countless others in similar circumstances.

    In that people are the stewards, perhaps there are things that they can do to help “the church” to take steps to make things better for all of God’s children.

  12. One more thought…the RfM bulletin board tends to get pretty intense and strident, but many of the stories that people have posted on the RfM bio board are heartbreaking and from the depths of their souls. I guess it may be easier for me than it may be for others to see through the anger to the genuine feelings of hurt and pain…I have to do that a lot in my line of work…it’s genuine.

  13. I enjoyed the range of perspectives (and the addition of Blake Ostler and Paul) on the two relavant topics highlighted in the podcast.

    As a note, Blake’s initial comments about ‘first’ and ‘second stage naivete’ were lost on me (I kept wondering if it was similar to James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith” which has received some attention in past Sunstone articles). Perhaps, other newcomers to the podcast would not have ‘caught on’ at first … a quick explanation of some of these terms might be helpful for future podcasts.

    As a follow-on to the discussion presented, I would be interested in an upcoming podcast on how / when the ‘innoculation’ of LDS youth could be approached. I think that Blake’s precocious exposure to the ‘messy’ LDS issues as a high school junior is unusual … and agree that the internet has changed the information and medium through which LDS youth will be exposed to much of the messy issues.

  14. Andy (10), I was the one who asked the question why the the church needed so much money. Let me see if I can be a little more clear. We probably wont agree but at least you’ll know where I’m coming from.

    According to http://www.providentliving.org/welfare/WelfareFactSheet2005.pdf, the church has spent over $800M in humanitarian donations in the past 20 years. This is great.

    But the church could double, triple, even increase that ten fold if it stopped building SLC malls, reduced BYU subsidization, built fewer buildings, sold a little land, sold non-essential assets like our hunting preserves, stopped pumping money into political endeavors like the promotion of gay marriage legislation, etc. Countless hours must have been spent by our general authorities managing these sorts of causes. They ultimately seem distracting to me.

    I don’t relate to people that want to see the church’s financial empire grow. Jesus didn’t seem overly concerned with building a financial empire.

    While I see the value in a person giving a tithing to God (e.g. the benefit of not being overly obsessed with money that Blake alluded to), I don’t see why that tithing needs to go to the church as an institution or why the institution would want it beyond its needs.

    I guess the ideal in my mind would be for the church to push more of the burden of chosing how to make tithing impactful to the members. The church could teach correct principles and then require members to donate their tithing to the causes they feel inspired are most important. For some members, this would equate to giving their tithing to the church. For others, it wouldn’t.

  15. John,

    I tried to post a question on the Recovery From Mormonism bulletin board asking people what they thought of your podcasts but the moderators would not even let the question go through (I think because I mention your name). I just thought that was interesting – seems like the moderators don’t like you over there. They are just as wrong as the mormon church is trying to control ideas and information.

    Wes

  16. Wes,

    Yeah…those dudes over there are WAY more into censorship than the Church. For me, the comparison isn’t even close. I’m WAY more free to speak openly in Elder’s Quorum (about the tough stuff) than I am at RFM (about almost anything).

    They are anti-Mormon, plain and simple.

  17. I thought the question of why the Church needs so much money was spot on. I don’t think there is any fraud or anything like that going on, but I have to insist on complete financial transperancy. I also honestly question whether the Lord would want his Kingdom to be investing in a mall project and things of that nature. How much wealth is too much for a religious organization? I wish my wife would let us divert some or all of our 10% to the Church’s humanitarian effort or a charity of our choice. I want my money going to the less fortunate.

  18. thanks Paul.
    I understand the concept that it sounds good that we could give our 10% to some charity that we like. And I appreciate your clarification. I get the point that the finances does become a burden on the church in a way, the simple addage “more money , more problems’ comes to mind. Possibly its a neccessary evil because of the expanse the church is at in this version of the gospel. I have this ‘trust’ that what is done with my tithing, is ultimately not my desicion to make, I give it to God in that sense and I dont think about or even care where it goes. If it was burned I would be fine, because really, I come from the thought that it isnt mine in the first place, that money was Gods so he can do what he wants with it. very simple I know, but its where I see things.

    thanks again.

  19. “But the church could double, triple, even increase that ten fold if it stopped building SLC malls, reduced BYU subsidization, built fewer buildings, sold a little land, sold non-essential assets like our hunting preserves, stopped pumping money into political endeavors like the promotion of gay marriage legislation, etc. Countless hours must have been spent by our general authorities managing these sorts of causes. They ultimately seem distracting to me.”

    Paul, I absolutely agree. Especially if you combine those points with the reality that if the church were to set up more (as in quantity) humanitarian groups and programs, the nature of the obedience of LDS membership would make them an unbelievably powerful force in the world. In a recent post on The Cultural Hall, a California resident wrote about how her ward was released after sacrament meeting and asked to spend the remaining block time campaigning for Prop 22 (gay marriage issue). Think about the effect if that same ward had instead advertised a 2 hour open house at the church for the homeless to come get a meal and learn some skill or receive training in how to find jobs, etc.

    That said, through some pondering and the insights of some good friends, I am realizing that it will not have any good effect to proclaim that the church or the bretheren need to be doing this or that. Just look at the blacks/priesthood change. For decades there had been singular individuals within church leadership who would speak up to the bretheren about it and to no result. Ultimately, it was simply the goodness of the people who were suffering that broke the heart of Pres. Kimball enough to really push for it with the Lord. Likewise, I think the only path to change is to lead out with action ourselves, even if only in small scales in the beginning. To demonstrate how ideas have virtue and merit, and the ones that are truly “right” will flourish. The Relief Society itself is an example of this as well.

    This concept of leading and teaching by example is a core principle of Mormonism.

  20. but isnt it a matter of faith?

    More than just faith to pay the tithing, but faith that its God’s will, and we dont have charge to determine what is done with it?

    What we think are good ideas, arent they really irrelevant, becasue its not ours, we pay it and it ceases to be our money, its the Lords and what he will do will be what is done by those that are in its stwedardship.

    It just seems that everyone has better ideas than the Lord and I think thats a dangerous place to be.

    AJ

  21. Andy,

    I am not sure it is irrelevant. How can we trust men in Salt Lake City to be honest with billions of dollars when they are unwilling to be honest with church history, theology, and beliefs? These men have demonstrated their willingness time and time again to be dishonest so I don’t believe they are trustworthy enough to be blindly trusted to manage billions of dollars.

  22. Re: #19 “Anti-Mormon Plain and Simple”

    John, I don’t know that it’s plain and simple. I think there’s no question that the administrators of RFM are opponents of the LDS church and can fairly be describeds as “anti-LDS church”. However, the LDS church is not coterminous with the boundaries of all things “Mormon.” I think one of the reasons Mormons suffer disaffection, heartbreak and pain is because they equate the entire package of their Mormon culture and heritage with the most important single institution within that culture, the LDS church. If Mormons felt freer to live by different templates — the way Catholics and Jews feel — we won’t be in this situation where everything is black and white and everyone is either in or out.

    If we had that more inclusive understanding of being Mormon, a crisis of faith needn’t lead to an institution like RfM — which, I agree, is designed to get people out the door. It could, instead, lead to an institution that helped people within the culture and the heritage craft an identity as cultural or secular Mormons that is free of the vitriol that so many Mormons who are newly disaffected with the LDS church tend to exhibit.

  23. Re: #17 SLC Malls and such

    There is so much controversy over this SLC mall business, I really think we need to have the malls be an upcoming topic on MormonMatters. I would like to be one of the “conservatives” on this question. I think that the LDS church has every reason to be in the SLC mall business. Buying two near-defunct malls next to the church’s HQ/tourist central complex and reenergizing them by converting them using a new urbanist concept was absolutely the right decision in my book. The church’s history is filled with city-planning as a core value and attempting to make the area around its HQ thrive is extremely important.

    In my opinion, the question is not whether the LDS church should be doing this; it’s whether it has the capacity to do it right. The jury is still out on that, but I continue to be hopeful.

  24. “It just seems that everyone has better ideas than the Lord and I think thats a dangerous place to be.”

    Andy,

    I think we are coming to the crossroads in our differences of belief at this point. It would appear that you see the financial management of the church as if they are carrying out a direct order from God, as if He were sitting in the flesh (and bone) in a board room with them and telling them to build a mall and make sure they have the zoning worked out by the 15th of next month so they can save the late filing fee. I think this literal “phone-line-to-God” view of church leaders’ decisions is common, and I’m not intending to mock you for it, so hopefully you won’t take it as an insult. Most people who see it this way would consider it the better view.

    For me, I see revelation a little differently, both personal and revelation that one might receive for their stewardship whether that be a small family or the whole world. I see God as being a little more distant and disconnected from the mundane affairs of humans. That sounds weird, but I mean that in the sense that as parents sometimes you have to step back and let your kids try to do things on their own so they can learn. I DO believe that God will gift you clarity of mind to make wise decisions when you petition Him for guidance. I DO NOT believe that He will just tell you what to do. Even if you are the Presiding Bishop and you need to figure out how to spend His money. I see those financial choices as a combination of those men being smart in the ways of business and finance and being very dedicated to trying to do what they feel is right according to their understanding of spiritual direction, but ultimately they make a judgement call and live and learn according to God’s plan of agency and progression, line upon line, precept upon precept.

    You see it as disagreeing with God’s use of His money, and I see it as that we all have a joint responsibility to help each other learn how to do this stuff the best way, all of us equally seeking that gift of wisdom and clarity from God.

  25. Clay, thanks for your comments.
    I am 100% with you up to the last bit.

    I agree that God isnt neccessarily engaged in the small desicions, but I’m sure he is aware and as we petition he can influance us in the smallest of things, but the point I disagree is that :

    “I see it as that we all have a joint responsibility to help each other learn how to do this stuff the best way, all of us equally seeking that gift of wisdom and clarity from God.”

    I dont see the law of tithing or sacrifice as a joint responsibility. Once its out of our hands or tithing slipped, thats where our stwerdship ends. Thats my opinion. We differ there. and thats cool.

    Hypothetically, I think if we were to determine, each his own what or how we would sacrifice, it would turn out a big mess. Maybe in the millennium when we are better or have more faith, but I personally like that fact that I pay it, with faith, God sees that and thats it for me.

    again thanks for the respectful tone.

    Andy

  26. “In my opinion, the question is not whether the LDS church should be doing this; it’s whether it has the capacity to do it right. The jury is still out on that, but I continue to be hopeful.”

    I can see your point about reviving two defunct malls across the street. My question is whether tithing funds are being used for this project, or if the funds are coming from another source, such as profit from a business, which I also question whether the Church should own. This is why it’s so important to me for the Church to make its financial information available.

  27. Re: #30 I think I said in the episode that all non-profits, charities, churches and clubs ought to disclose their financial information as a general principle. The US federal government probably ought to require that as a prerequisite to receiving tax-exempt status.

    Although people talk about the distinction, I don’t see much difference between direct tithing dollars and money gained from interest or returns on a church’s endowment fund (investment portfolio). Where did the money for the endowment fund come from in the first place? Ultimately it all has to derive from a charitable donation (a tithe, offering or bequest in money, kind or donated labor). It may have been a gain on an invested tithe that was originally donated a century or more ago, but the source is the same—tithing.

    In terms of the rightfulness of owning business ventures — Mormon churches have a long, rich history of owning businesses. It goes back to the beginning of the movement. Of course, you can rethink anything and decide the LDS church should no longer own businesses, but that would represent a change.

  28. Another great podcast. I actually enjoyed hearing from Blake Ostler, with whom I have sparred on occasion at various blogs. There is something about actual talking and interacting on a personal level that I think softens things up compared to on-line written communication.

    On the press release dealing with Mormon history, I enjoyed the discussion but would have liked to have heard from the panel on the basic issue of whether setting policy or explaining church policy through anonymous press releases is really the way the Church of Jesus Christ ought to be communicating to its members and the world. I think a good discussion could be had concerning how the church is choosing to get its messages out now compared to the way it did things in the past. I can’t imagine Joseph Smith leaving the answers to the big questions that came his way to a PR spokesperson, for example.

  29. Pingback: John Hamer in Mormon Podcasts « Saints Herald

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