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The Next Time a Critic Gripes Re: Church's Business Interests . . . Quote Quinn


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So the Trib has an interesting article today: Records reveal how money from Utah and U.S. Mormons props up LDS operations overseas Some excerpts: "{T}he U.S.-born church is subsidizing its

As well as trying to cope with secularism and falling congregations, the UK has low wages, which are almost stagnating, and high prices, particularly in housing costs.  Its one of the most expensive m

The only people currently not feeling good are 'the skeptics', and I have serious reservations that anything at all would succeed in making them feel better.

21 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

This is exactly the opposite of the automatic assumptions normally made by Bill Reel.  Or am I wrong?

It was a very positive article and sounds like a fascinating book to read. Cheap shots by critics are easy but decades of financial historical analysis placed in context takes a bit more effort.

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36 minutes ago, bsjkki said:

It was a very positive article and sounds like a fascinating book to read. Cheap shots by critics are easy but decades of financial historical analysis placed in context takes a bit more effort.

I admit I was ready for some poop to hit the fan on church finances when Quinn's book was in the works, I guess that didn't happen. I have this book on Kindle, but for some reason it's not working very well or so many pages are full of sources and if I had it on a book it's be much easier to read. I think this is very true that the leaders most likely aren't in it for the money. 

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Just now, Tacenda said:

I admit I was ready for some poop to hit the fan on church finances when Quinn's book was in the works, I guess that didn't happen. I have this book on Kindle, but for some reason it's not working very well or so many pages are full of sources and if I had it on a book it's be much easier to read. I think this is very true that the leaders most likely aren't in it for the money. 

I doubt it too! Pres. Eyring has had the same green striped tie for years and years now!

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10 hours ago, Tacenda said:

I admit I was ready for some poop to hit the fan on church finances when Quinn's book was in the works, I guess that didn't happen. I have this book on Kindle, but for some reason it's not working very well or so many pages are full of sources and if I had it on a book it's be much easier to read. I think this is very true that the leaders most likely aren't in it for the money. 

Agree. A well known heart surgeon could make a bit more continuing in his profession. It does bother me a bit sometimes when I see people bashing the General Authorities for this thing or that thing. So many of them gave up profitable careers to accept calls to the full time service of our Savior. (It probably bothers me more than it does them.) To see them serving, and so many up to the day they die instead of indulging in a reduced work load and reduced expectations is strong evidence that they are there for the service rather than pecuniary profits.

Glenn

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One thing the church could do that would make even the skeptics feel better is be transparent.There doesn't appear to be anything to hide. 

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I have been saying this for years.

Told ya so!   ;)

And so much for Quinn possibly being a "good guy" at least in my opinion.

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5 hours ago, Glenn101 said:

... I wonder what real difference it would make if the church revealed every detail of every financial transaction? Would it give someone a testimony of the Gospel? Would it keep someone with doubts from falling away? Or would people just find something else to criticize?

Glenn

This.  Thankyouverymuch. ;) 

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8 hours ago, Tacenda said:

One thing the church could do that would make even the skeptics feel better is be transparent.There doesn't appear to be anything to hide. 

Transparency is good but not if it is done to appease some "skeptics".  These people will find something else to complain about.

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9 hours ago, Tacenda said:

One thing the church could do that would make even the skeptics feel better is be transparent.There doesn't appear to be anything to hide. 

If there is truly nothing to hide, then give us some disclosure like the other countries require.  Perhaps it will be a big nothing burger or perhaps there is more there.  So, why not just disclose if there is nothing to hide?  Are they afraid that tithing receipts will drop if the membership truly knew how much money the church had?

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27 minutes ago, Pete Ahlstrom said:

If there is truly nothing to hide, then give us some disclosure like the other countries require.  Perhaps it will be a big nothing burger or perhaps there is more there.  So, why not just disclose if there is nothing to hide?  Are they afraid that tithing receipts will drop if the membership truly knew how much money the church had?

That crossed my mind too. I do see that the church builds beautiful temples and does pretty good with chapels. Sometimes the churches that get very old do need some help, maybe the members would be upset when there are needs where this is concerned and they see that the church brings in billions. I do think the church could keep our country together if it ever had to, that's sort of like what some leaders have made quotes about in the past. That gives me comfort that our church is as stable as it is. 

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37 minutes ago, Tacenda said:

That crossed my mind too. I do see that the church builds beautiful temples and does pretty good with chapels. Sometimes the churches that get very old do need some help, maybe the members would be upset when there are needs where this is concerned and they see that the church brings in billions. I do think the church could keep our country together if it ever had to, that's sort of like what some leaders have made quotes about in the past. That gives me comfort that our church is as stable as it is. 

Knowing a few of the current general authorities and personnel who have worked for the church, also, knowing a little bit about how the church pays its employees, my guess is that disclosure would show the church to be extremely wealthy and a little too miserly. 

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4 hours ago, Hamba Tuhan said:

The only people currently not feeling good are 'the skeptics', and I have serious reservations that anything at all would succeed in making them feel better.

Finally got a chance to read the article. Interesting that Quinn basically agrees with me:

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If the church did reveal its finances, it would be “a positive story,” Quinn says, “but that would never satisfy outsiders and insiders who believe religion and money should never mix.”

 

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I started reading Quinn's new book (kindle edition) a couple weeks ago but haven't made it very far.  It is very interesting but also long and detailed.  Lots of sources, tables, graphs, etc.

The first chapter is covering the early Utah church finances including what the Brethren were getting paid back then.  Their pay was a bit random for a while until they standardized it.  Interestingly, one of the junior apostles felt that the senior apostles should be paid more but they nixed that in favor of equalizing it.

There were some indications of problems with nepotism (one of Brigham Young's sons getting paid excessively) but I acknowledge we don't have a totally clear picture of something that happened so long ago.

This is probably not a surprise to anyone but Brigham Young died an extremely wealthy man.

I've got to finish another book that I have "in queue" ahead of this one but then I plan to devote more time to it.  Quinn definitely does not come off as trying to attack the church with this, in case any were wondering.  As you'll note with the article linked in the OP, he is approaching the subject in an open-minded and fair manner.  From what I know, that is pretty much typical of Quinn who loves the church even though he was excommunicated.

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The church in Canada received $166,728, while the Philippines got $63.8 million — 85 percent of its revenue.

Quinn is a  historian, not an international financial manager.  As I remember, Canadian funds are sent to the US for educational institutions because of the tax laws, and so they receive money back from SLC.  Often money may be moved around due to legal issues so it can be tricky to draw conclusions strictly from a cash flow analysis.

I remember, several decades ago, that fast offerings in the US were being subsidized from outside the US.  The BYU professor who possessed this information pointed out the irony of the members of poor countries who had dirt floors in their meeting houses were feeding Americans.

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This article by Peggy Fletcher Stack is about Quinn's most recent book: Historian digs into the hidden world of Mormon finances, shows how church went from losing money to making money — lots of it

Some excerpts:

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Some Mormons — and plenty of others — were appalled to witness their church build a $1.5 billion mall in downtown Salt Lake City and hear their prophet proclaim, “Let’s go shopping.”

Isn’t religion, they argued, supposed to be about feeding the hungry and clothing the poor? How is selling Tiffany jewelry, Nordstrom cocktail dresses and luxury condos any part of a Christian faith?

Such critics, though, fail to understand Mormonism, says historian D. Michael Quinn. The American-born movement has always seen its mission as serving both the spiritual and physical needs of its people. It doesn’t distinguish between the two.

“It’s as spiritual [for Latter-day Saints] to give alms to the poor,” Quinn told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2012, “... as it is to make a million dollars.”

Hmm.  The gravamen the article is how the LDS Church uses its resources to build up its people and feed the hungry and clothe the poor, while not enriching the individuals leading the Church.  But you would be forgiven for not catching that based on these first few lines.

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On that last score, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been wildly successful, says Quinn, author of the newly published “Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power.”

The church, launched in 1830 in upstate New York with six members, counts nearly 16 million members worldwide — and untold billions in assets.

...

Quinn estimates — and estimating is about the best even a top-notch researcher can do — the church took in about $33 billion in tithing in 2010, based on a model of projected growth rates that followed a consistent pattern starting in the 1950s. It earns another $15 billion annually, he says, in returns on its profit-making investments. (The Bloomberg Businessweek piece from five years ago cited an investigation pegging the LDS Church’s worth at $40 billion.)

No matter the precise bottom line, these figures represent an astonishing accomplishment, Quinn says.

“It is an American success story without parallel,” the longtime historian says in an interview. “No institution, no church, no business, no nonprofit organization in America has had this kind of history.”

And despite this "success story" our critics regularly pillory the Church regarding its finances.  But if the Church's finances were being handled poorly, I suspect the critics would complain about that, too.

Darned if we do, darned if we don't.  The faultfinders are going to succeed in their endeavors regardless of what the Church does.

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Yet LDS general authorities — from the most senior apostle to the lowest-ranking Seventy — all receive the same yearly “living allowance”: $120,000. Though the church has enormous wealth, he {Quinn} says, none of the leaders is getting rich off it.

...

{Quinn} says the LDS Church’s financial trajectory, as well as the self-sacrificing actions of its hierarchy, is “an enormously faith-promoting story.”

If everyday Mormons could grasp “the larger picture,” he says, they would “breathe a sigh of relief and see the church is not a profit-making business.”

Others, though, may not be as comfortable as Quinn with how corporate the church has become. For that, it takes some historical perspective.

I've never really understood the discomfort some have with the word "corporate" as applied to the Church.  It is clearly intended to have a negative connotation.  As a derisive epithet (note how the Fletcher Stack describes some folks' discomfort with how "corporate" the Church is).  I sense that it is intended to characterize the Church as been preoccupied with the accumulation of wealth, at the expense of its members.  For-profit "corporations" are regularly lambasted in the media and in popular culture for having such mercenary, we're-only-in-it-for-the-money-so-screw-the-little-guy motives.  And yet the article overall (and the other quoted previously in this thread) demonstrates that this is not what the Church is doing, that the Church has instead put its financial affairs in order, that it has learned from its past less-than-ideal management of its finances, that its leaders are not amassing wealth unto themselves, and that the profits generated by the Church's for-profit enterprises are being used for the good of the members and society in general.

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Quinn’s tome does not reveal any hidden slush funds, untoward personal spending or malfeasance at the highest levels, Wimmer says, but it offers insights through the arc of history the professor has never before recognized.

“I felt by the end I knew where the church is today,” Wimmer says, “and how it got there.”

Like Quinn, the economist was impressed by the skilled leadership of men who brought their financial wizardry to their religious assignments.

"{T}he skilled leadership of men who brought their financial wizardry to their religious assignments."

It is these same "skilled . . . men" whom our critics regularly complain about for . . . well, breathing.  Critics frequently complain about how the Church's leadership positions are staffed by men who bring their substantial secular skill sets and experience and apply such things to the administrative matters of the Church.  This includes the "financial wizardry" described in the article.  And this, according to our critics, is . . . a bad thing?  But then, if the leadership of the Church were regularly bungling the Church's finances, the critics would complain and find fault about that, too.  Darned if we do, darned if we don't.

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“If you compare the 1930s, when the church was in real financial straits, to the 21st century,” Wimmer says, “you can see the church now has incredible resources at its command.”

For instance, the price tag for building temples and new chapels used to be borne by local members. Now the Salt Lake City headquarters picks up the tab.

“If someone had told my parents or grandparents that the church would take over all building expenses,” Wimmer says, “they wouldn’t have believed it.”

It now subsidizes the cost of Mormon missions and provides far more humanitarian aid than it ever was able to do earlier, he says. “And that is due, in large part, to the financial ability and experience of the leadership.”

Just last month, LDS Charities provided an additional $11 million in relief to eight famine-stricken nations in Africa and the Middle East.

The Church's leadership is doing a great job of handling the Church's finances.  Add to that the faithfulness of many of the Saints and their ongoing support of the Church (including financial support, and also the untold amounts of ongoing, unremunerated volunteerism in the Church).  Add to that the blessings which I believe accrue from God and relate to the obedience of the Saints to revelatory principles.  Taken in the aggregate, the Church has enough money to provide for its members and to substantially contribute to humanitarian aid efforts as well.

And yet the critics will complain about this.  It's almost as if criticizing the Church is an end unto itself.

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{The early} church and its leaders faced repeated fiscal hardships — losing everything each time they had to abandon their homes and communities.

That would have been tough for any group, but Latter-day Saints were especially hard hit.

...

Like Smith, the “vast majority of Mormonism’s 19th-century leaders,” Quinn writes, “had previously been subsistence farmers or working-class townspeople with limited finances.”

Congregations were led by lay clergy, who received no remuneration. But even those leaders who worked full time in ecclesiastical roles received little payment.

...

Most believers had paid tithing, but they did so in an uneven and unpredictable fashion until about 1900, when then-church President Lorenzo Snow asked members to pay on a “regular and consistent basis,” Quinn says. Tithing became a requirement for admittance to LDS temples, where Mormons take part in their faith’s highest ordinances.

That mandate had a clear and immediate impact.

At that time, the church was $2.5 million in debt, he says, but because of the tithing push, Snow’s successor Joseph F. Smith could announce in 1907 that the institution was debt-free.

Within a couple of decades, though, the red ink again began to flow.

From 1933 to 1950, the church saved about 72 percent of its annual income, creating a large reserve. But a building program from 1958 to 1963 blotted out all the reserve funds, and the church didn’t have enough liquid assets to meet all its obligations.

Starting in 1959, the faith began deficit spending, Quinn says, and thus stopped reporting its expenditures in General Conferences, hoping to keep that fact from the members.

By December 1962, the deficit had ballooned to nearly $33 million (or about $236 million in 2010 dollars) and, in 1963, the historian says, LDS headquarters “didn’t think it could meet its payroll.”

Such anxiety led leaders to take steps to ensure that would never happen again.

They brought Canadian N. Eldon Tanner on board as an apostle. Tapping his enormous financial know-how, the church began to rebuild its nest egg, cutting back on building projects and overseeing investments until it could get back in the black.

Tanner was “methodically rescuing the church from the brink,” Quinn writes. “By 1964, commercial income accounted for about 40 to 45 percent of its total income.”

Step by step, the historian writes, Tanner introduced the church to “corporate financing.”

It never looked back.

"Corporate financing?"  Ick!  Terrible!

But it's "corporate financing" and the Church's revelatory mandates that, when paired together, are allowing the Church to have sufficient resources to meet its obligations, to stabilize and strengthen the Church's financial state, to subsidize the Church and its members in areas where such help is needed, and to do all of these things with the leaders of the Church living decidedly modest, non-profligate lives.  Read on...

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At the same time, Mormon authorities did not act like corporate giants, enriching themselves on profits.

Through the years, they paid themselves less than what others in their employ made, Quinn says. Today, that is sometimes barely half as much as some of the church’s skilled bureaucrats.

CEOs of other top nonprofits, including Harvard, Yale and the United Way, make almost 10 times as much, he says. “It was truly humbling to see these men who preside over an institution making tens of billions of dollars turning [the funds] back to the benefit of the rank and file.”

That fulfills what Mormon leader Brigham Young, known as the “Lion of the Lord,” said in 1875. At that time, Joseph Smith’s successor and his apostles signed a document, decrying America’s approach to unregulated capitalism, including the “growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals.”

The country’s “priceless legacy,” they wrote, was “endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations.”

By pocketing such relatively small salaries and using church assets to serve the members, Quinn says, Mormon leaders have “maintained the spirit of that attitude.”

I think this is objectively and factually correct.  The leaders of the Church live fairly modest lifestyles.  They have access to literally billions of dollars.  They are in positions of authority which could allow them to allocate substantial portions of those funds to themselves.  And yet . . . they are not doing this.  

Our leaders are by no means perfect.  They make mistakes.  They are human.  But in terms of the financial management of the Church, they seem to be doing a very good job.  And yet . . . the critics will complain about this.  To wit...

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Utah Valley University anthropologist Daymon Smith isn’t buying Quinn’s numbers or his perspective.

“His estimates regarding revenue are nothing more than ‘faith promoting’ in the key of ‘prosperity theology,‘” Smith writes in an email, “and his intentionally limited view of ‘stipends’ neglects the obvious other financial interests these humble men benefit from.”

Wow.  Stinging words from . . . an adjunct professor of anthropology (who, it so happens, authored a self-published a book about kinda sorta the same general topic of the Church's finances).

I normally don't tweak people based on their scholarly credentials, unless those credentials are used to "puff up" the personal and unrelated-to-the-subject-matter-of-their-scholarship opinions of the individual.  That seems to be the case here.

Anyhoo, he is only proving my point about critics.  They will always find a way to criticize and complaint about something, even if that means going so far as to obliquely accuse D. Michael Quinn (!) of running interference for the General Authorities of the LDS Church.

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Smith points to a major unanswered question: Why keep the finances secret, even from faithful members (working in downtown Salt Lake City’s Church Office Building, for example)?

“As a Mormon, I don’t care about the story the corporation tells about ‘church’ finances,” says Smith, who once worked at headquarters. “I’d like to see them — acting like a religious nonprofit — submit their financial activities to the light of independent accounting, and then we’d all have a fine testimony meeting about how rich our church has become, at least in materials pertaining to this world.”

Hmm.  He seems to answer his own question here.  Putting aside his snideness, he may actually have a point here.  Do any of us want to have constant discussions about "how rich our church has become?"  Do we want to "have a fine testimony about" such things?  I think . . . not.  I would be fine if the Church was more open with its finances.  But I'm also content with the Church's current course, particularly given the generalized reports we receive at General Conference, the generalized sentiment and perception that the Church's finances are in good order, the generalized lack of apparent financial mismanagement, and even the occasional outsider perspective on the Church's finances which confirm - often begrudgingly - that the Church is doing very well at managing its finances.

If there is no smoke, and if there is no fire, then I am not sure I see the complaint here.  Our critics are preoccupied with the finances of the Church, but not because they care about the Church or its members.  They are just looking for dirt.

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If the church did reveal its finances, it would be “a positive story,” Quinn says, “but that would never satisfy outsiders and insiders who believe religion and money should never mix.”

He's right.  

Ours is a missionary church.  I want all possible focus and attention to be on the Church's message of Jesus Christ.  That is what the General Authorities focus on regularly.  That is what I think we all need to focus on.  I am very happy to hear that the Church is doing well financially.  But that's just a means to the ends.  The "ends" being the vitality of the Church and its message and teachings and saving ordinances, the well-being of its members, the outreach to those not of our faith, and so on.

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LDS author, researcher and blogger Jana Riess hasn’t read Quinn’s book, but was intrigued by his positive view of Mormon leaders and their handling of money for the global faith.

“If the church was in dire financial trouble as recently as the 1950s, that means there are still people in the hierarchy who remember that,” Riess reasons. “I tend to think the generation gap that exists in the church [apostles with an average age of 76] as always negative.

But having institutional memory — at least among a few — can be very helpful.”

The Cincinnati-based writer is also impressed with Quinn’s description of LDS leadership as a “form of service,” she says. “They are clearly not in it to get rich.”

She said.  Through gritted teeth.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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23 hours ago, Tacenda said:

One thing the church could do that would make even the skeptics feel better is be transparent.There doesn't appear to be anything to hide. 

More financial transparency in our modern society is absolutely needed for all institutions, especially ones that the public has an interest in, including charitable organizations and religious institutions.  Members of those institutions have a right to financial transparency as well.  I find it sad that some people try to defend the lack of transparency as a righteous choice, as if its a moral tenant we should aspire too.  

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8 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

More financial transparency in our modern society is absolutely needed for all institutions,

This is rather vague.  And overstated.

8 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

especially ones that the public has an interest in, including charitable organizations and religious institutions. 

This is not self-evident.

8 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Members of those institutions have a right to financial transparency as well. 

Again, vague.  And overstated.  And not self-evidently true.

8 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I find it sad that some people try to defend the lack of transparency as a righteous choice, as if its a moral tenant we should aspire too.  

I find it interesting that you are speaking in the abstract, apparently 'cuz speaking in the particular (as to the LDS Church and its management of its finances) doesn't seem to yield an opportunity to criticize the Church.  

I find it sad that faultfinders will always succeed in their line of work.  Always.  

Thanks,

-Smac

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