Spiritual Money

Posted on July 11, 2012 by

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In Bloomberg Businesweek Caroline Winter writes an article entitled “How the Mormons Make Money”.  In this article there are a few misleading and misrepresented facts.  She writes…

“Says Quinn: “In the Mormon worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor, as the old phrase goes in the Biblical sense, as it is to make a million dollars.””

Here Ms. Winter is quoting historian D. Michael Quinn who was “a faithful Mormon who spent 12 years on the faculty at the LDS Church’s Brigham Young University in Provo before being excommunicated for apostasy”.  It shouldn’t be necessary to point out, then, that Mr. Quinn is not likely to present an accurate representation of how Mormons see their world.  Surely Mr. Quinn is referencing and contorting Doctrine and Covenants 29:34 which states:

“Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.”

In other words, the Lord gives commandments to men which are spiritual in nature – despite any temporal component to them.  Therefore, the laws of tithing and of giving of offerings aren’t about the temporal matter of collecting money but are about the spiritual matters of obedience, sacrifice, and charity.  Indeed, did not the Lord say this very thing during his mortal ministry in Luke 21:1-4 which says:

“And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.  And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.  And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:  For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.”

Was the Lord actually saying that widow’s two mites were temporally greater than the gifts which the rich men had cast into the treasury?  Not at all.  The Lord was teaching that there was a more-weighty spiritual component to the of offerings.  Mr. Quinn’s contortion of Mormon doctrine – that the quantity of money offered is the spiritual component of the law – runs completely counter to the truth as taught by the Lord in these verses as elsewhere in Mormon doctrine.

Ms. Winter continues…

“According to an official church Welfare Services fact sheet, the church gave $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid in over 178 countries and territories during the 25 years between 1985 and 2010. A fact sheet from the previous year indicates that less than one-third of the sum was monetary assistance, while the rest was in the form of “material assistance.” All in all, if one were to evenly distribute that $1.3 billion over a quarter century, it would mean that the church gave $52 million annually. A recently published article co-written by Cragun estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.”

In the United States of America churches are not required to produce public financial disclosures.  Consequently, Mr. Cragun appears to have derived his conclusions based solely from estimates of Church income and the $1.3 billion number provided by the Welfare Services fact sheet under “humanitarian aid”.  This was very careless accounting, however, since the $1.3 billion in “humanitarian aid” only refers to a specific type of charitable contribution and does not refer to all charitable contributions.

In Canada (as well as the United Kingdom), however, churches are required to produce public financial disclosures.  If we can use these disclosures as a pattern representative of the Church as a whole we can clearly show the error in Mr. Cragun‘s accounting.  The 2010 filing in Canada shows total revenue of CA$161,136,399 and total expenditures of CA$216,928,440 (so operated at a financial loss of CA$100M that year).  Among the revenues are CA$150,973,539 in receipts from “other registered charities” (presumably member donations) and CA$2,815,812 in “gifts for which the charity issued tax receipts”.  Among those expenditures are CA$101,545,355 on “charitable programs” and CA$115,152,906 on “gifts made to all qualified donees”.

In 2009 there were 179,801 members of the Church in Canada, 6,144,582 in the United States, and roughly 13,000,000 worldwide.  So in Canada each member contributes approximately CA$855 (US$727)and the Church in Canada disperses approximately CA$1,205 (US$1,024) per-member (although not necessarily restricted to members) in charity and gifts.  If we extrapolate that information to apply to US statistics then we would expect to see donations of US$4,467,111,114 and disbursement of US$6,292,051,968.  Clearly the Church cannot disperse more than it receives globally, and since we expect the largest donations to come from the USA it is likely safe to say that US disbursement was truthfully less than US donations (i.e. donations in the US went to disbursements elsewhere).  Nevertheless, this one year of donations and charitable gifting by the Church makes it very clear that the $1.3 billion (25-year sum) listed by provided by the Welfare Services fact sheet under “humanitarian aid” is not anywhere near representative of the total amount given to charity by the Church even in one year – let alone a summation over the past 25 years.

As for the actual percentage of its annual income given to charity, Mr. Cragun estimates the Church’s annual income at $7.4 billion.  So with global charitable spending likely somewhere near $5 billion it seems that 0.7% is a considerable understatement.

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