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Church Finances: A View from the Pews
Many people seem to be interested in details of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ private financial affairs. Common questions include: How much money does the Church have? Why do they try to hide it? What will they do with it? There seems to be an implied suspicion of impropriety. Much has been made of whistleblowers David and Lars Nielsen and the February 2023 $5 million SEC fine. You may be interested in the perspective of faithful rank and file Latter-day Saints.
We consider the Church to be the literal Kingdom of God on the earth in the latter days (Doctrine and Covenants 65). It is led by prophets and apostles who are accountable not to shareholders or voters but to Jesus Christ. The Church has a divine mandate to prepare the world for the second coming. Kingdoms by their very nature do things a little differently than democracies, commercial enterprises, or NGO’s. Transparency is an expectation in the Internet age, but kingdoms, like privately held companies, are seldom fully transparent. Centralized financial management on a global scale seems entirely appropriate for an organization that aspires to fulfill the prophecy in (Daniel 2:44).
The Church is becoming more transparent in some aspects of its operations. For many years we were humble about our sizeable humanitarian efforts in the spirit of (Matthew 6:1–3). With increased public interest in Church finances, we are disclosing more details to the public such as the $1.02 Billion spent to care for the poor and needy in 2022.
Helpful Resources on Church Finances
The Management of Church Finances
The Church is extraordinarily well-managed (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119). Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé got his MBA from ESSEC, one of the most prestigious business schools in France. He managed large food distribution companies in Europe prior to his call as a General Authority. First Counselor W. Christopher Waddell graduated from San Diego State University and worked as a VP of investments for Merrill Lynch prior to his call into Church service. Second Counselor L. Todd Budge was Chairman of Tokyo Star Bank when he was called to join the Presiding Bishopric which manages the Church’s temporal affairs. Impressive credentials such as these are typical of senior Church leaders. President Russell M. Nelson was a world-renowned heart surgeon. First Counselor Dallin H. Oaks was a justice of the Utah Supreme Court. Second Counselor Henry B. Eyring received a Doctor of Business Administration degree from Harvard and served on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The amount of significant real-world experience among the General Authorities is truly impressive.
Senior Church leaders deserve our trust (Hebrews 13:18). The amount of corruption at Church HQ is practically nil. Financial scandals like those we see routinely in politics, business, non-profits, or independent mega churches are few and far between. The Church’s internal auditors are very good at what they do.
As members of the Church, we are proud of the fact that our endowment is world class. The Church sets a good example for all of us. We are in good company alongside wise financial stewards noted for their investment acumen in support of noble missions (Matthew 25:14–30). The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute ranks the top 10 global endowments:
- Ensign Peak Advisors
- Japan Science and Technology Agency
Note that this list of endowments does not include very large nonprofits such as the Gates Foundation.
The Purpose of Church Financial Sustainability
The Church has 4 divinely appointed responsibilities:
- Preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15). This is the Savior’s Great Commission.
- Perfect the Saints (Matthew 5:48). This is the famous Imitatio Dei.
- Redeem the Dead (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18). This references work done in temples.
- Care for the poor and the needy (Mosiah 4:16). This is humanitarian aid and welfare services.
All this costs money, lots of money. The Church has over 50K full-time missionaries out in the field at any point in time. The Church enrolls over 1 million students worldwide in its educational offerings. The Church has 172 operating temples with 143 more at various stages of completion. In 2022 the Church supported 3,692 humanitarian projects in 190 countries and territories. In March 2020 The Harvard Crimson reported that COVID-19 had put the university in ‘grave’ financial condition.
Harvard enrolls 35K students and it benefits from one of the largest endowments on the planet. If the pandemic can put this storied institution in financial trouble, how much more money will the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need in its rainy day fund to cover the needs of 17 million members in all 50 states and 135 countries?
One Quick Story
Richard Magleby is a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County. He recently took a 6 month leave of absence to volunteer at a Ukrainian refugee service center in Bucharest, Romania. The European Union supports this center. Ditto the country of Romania and the city of Bucharest. Important NGO’s such as World Vision, Save the Children, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army are on site. So is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, providing not only financial support and commodities but also volunteer labor in the form of full-time and senior missionaries. When Richard arrived at the center, they credentialed him in 5 minutes. “Since you are friends with the missionaries, we trust you. They are our very best volunteers.” Since Richard served his mission in Yekaterinburg, Russia, he speaks fluent Russian. Bonus.
The difference between God and man is stark. When God says “Let there be light” there is light. When man says “the check’s in the mail” it may or may not be true. God has the perfect integrity that comes from wherewithal to make good on all promises. The Church of Jesus Christ approaches this level of integrity. God bless the Church’s assets which do vast good all over the world.
Perspective from David Alexander
David Alexander searched for the true Church for 47 years. During that time, he personally pastored congregations in Ohio and Virginia as a “jack leg” or “tent-making” (unpaid) preacher (Acts 18:3; 20:34). He was baptized on March 19, 2023, in Australia. He denounces the “accusatory fog” that slanderers use to discredit the Church. On April 23, 2023, he posted a video entitled “$32 billion in Mormon Church Investment Portfolio & $5 million Fine?”
Some money quotes from this video which cites Deuteronomy, Haggai, Malachi, John, and Ephesians:
“I love that the Church has a $32 billion investment portfolio. $100 billion would be better. But $1 trillion would be best. May it be, Heavenly Father.”
“The Church bears responsibility for all 8 billion people on earth.”
On May 14, 2023, he posted a video entitled “Persecution Update! 60 Minutes … The Truth!”
Some money quotes from this video which cites Matthew 5, Luke 6, and John 15:
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” when men persecute you and revile you.
$32 billion for 17 million members is only $1,800 per member. “You can’t even fix your transmission for $1,800.”
“We’re poor as church mice.”
“The General Authorities are the most trustworthy people on earth.”
Upon hearing that the Church’s investment fund may have $100 billion which would be $5,000 per member, “Maybe we’re as poor as middle-class church mice.”
“Pray for David Nielsen.”