Jarvis: The LDS Church is a Big Business


Claire Peterson

(Design by Claire Peterson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Caroline Jarvis, Opinion Writer


Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay 10% of their monthly income to the church as tithing. I grew up in the religion, so as a child I gave 10% of what little money I had to the church. This means if I — at eight years old — did an odd job for a dollar, I’d set aside a dime. I did not question this. It was just what we did. In my teens, after I’d distanced myself from the church and stopped giving it money, I understood that it was very wealthy. Now, the general public is aware that the church has more than about $100 billion.

The church is dishonest with its money, violating tax laws and coercing its members into paying significant portions of their income. Rather than hoarding this money, it should help people directly like it teaches its members to do.

Buy Your Way to Heaven

Tithing isn’t simply a donation, nor is it optional for church members. Church leaders hold annual tithing declaration meetings to check that members are paying. My family attended these meetings together, where they asked us one by one if we were full-tithe payers.

I remember other members and church leaders telling stories to emphasize the importance of tithing. These stories involved wallets lost and found, or envelopes full of cash appearing on doorsteps — blessings from God in return for tithing payment. The church also teaches that paying tithing can break cycles of poverty and that you should pay tithing before paying other bills or spending money.

It’s not just anecdotal, it’s also doctrinal. Eternal salvation as a Mormon depends on entering the temple, something you can’t do if you don’t pay tithing. This salvation is central to members of the religion, which teaches that making it into the highest level of heaven is the ultimate goal. Still, knowing that tithes will be used for noble causes would put tithe-paying members at ease.

The Church’s Lack of Transparency

Church officials make it seem like paying the church is like giving to charity, and the organization is, like a charity, tax-exempt. The money in the church’s $100 billion fund was intended for charity but was stockpiled instead. It doesn’t need members’ money, but leaders continue to demand payment while hiding where their money really goes.

Non-profits with tax-exempt status are required to make their records available to the public. The church doesn’t just neglect to disclose its financial records, it “went to great lengths to avoid” doing so, hiding $32 billion in shell companies, according to the SEC. For this, it paid a $5 million penalty — only 0.005% of its rainy-day fund.

One of the church’s main teachings is to help those in poverty. Unlike in other spending areas, the church needs no push to announce how much it spends on charitable giving. In 2022, they claimed to spend $1 billion helping those in need. But for a church receiving billions every year, spending $1 billion on charity isn’t impressive.

Though the church has more money than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charitable organization, the Foundation donates about seven times more yearly than the church. The amount of humanitarian aid and welfare the church provides is a minuscule percentage of what it could afford to spend, and it often comes with strings attached. People seeking welfare from the church must meet with missionaries and attend church services, sometimes even getting baptized to get help. This means they often must pay tithing to get financial assistance.

According to the Widow’s Mite Report on LDS charities, only one-tenth of welfare and humanitarian aid the church provides is given without regard to religious affiliation. Most of its welfare assistance takes place within the church. The internal welfare record includes things like missionary proselytizing hours, something most people would not consider to be service. Church leaders urge all male members to go on mission trips, but make them pay for it themselves. Internal welfare also includes church facility volunteering — despite their regular payments, members are expected to clean their own church buildings.

The report, updated in 2022, also notes that the church measures its charitable giving with unclear metrics. This leads to the church double-counting some inputs, exaggerating impact claims and misleading readers about how much it really spends.

Greater Causes

The church spends tens of millions of dollars on buildings such as temples. Church officials plan to build 15 more temples in the next few years, a pointless endeavor as the church’s growth rates are declining. The church also owns office towers, skyscrapers and shopping malls.

As the church was spending at least $1.5 billion to build the City Creek Center in 2012, an increasing number of people were unsheltered in Utah, where the church’s headquarters are. Helping these people would have been a much better use of this money.

We should not look past what the church is doing right. It donated water to the Great Salt Lake this year and money for COVID vaccinations in 2021. While we can be grateful for these donations, we must expect the church to do more — a lot more.

The church should focus on spending its money to help members of the community, with no strings attached. Anyone should be able to turn to the church for welfare without being pressured to join the religion. Members of the church should also be able to receive help when they need it, especially after all the money they’ve donated.

The LDS church has the power to help many people, but it does only the bare minimum, dodging taxes as its fund keeps growing.


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