Dr. Brooks is a practicing Catholic and PhD economist. He loves Utah and admires Latter-day Saints. He was skeptical about the relationships between charity and prosperity. Ultimately, the data showed Arthur that comparing like families and individuals demonstrated that giving made people happier and more prosperous on average.
People giving to charity are 43% more likely to say they’re happy. People who give blood: 2x as likely to say they’re happy.
I created another post here that details the parsonage/stipend that our up to 108 full-time leaders are eligible for. That discussion — do LDS leaders get paid? — has tended to be poorly understood topic, in my experience.
This post below, however, will more broadly focus on the full scope of LDS finances, tithing, etc.
These videos and articles provide useful context:
This might be the best summary on the topic of the LDS Church’s endowment I’ve ever seen:
– Are the Church’s reserve funds illegal or somehow evading taxes?
– Is saving $1 Billion a year for a “rainy day” fund wrong or abnormal?
– Why would the Church have a rainy-day fund?
– What about the two alleged distributions, those must be illegal, right?
– Are there other public policy concerns?
– Should a church hold $100 billion that could otherwise be spent on helping those in need?
– Should a church have the freedom to avoid transparency into its finances and should it avoid “opening its books”?
– Is asking the poor to tithe morally wrong?
– Should wealth escape taxation because it’s owned by a church?
– What about just taxing the excess wealth of a church? If the money is just sitting around, why not have the government put it to better use?
– Why not tax huge endowments, where the nonprofits have more than they could ever need?
Final paragraph: In the meantime, Latter-day Saints can appreciate the impressive arc of a church that was once on the cusp of financial ruin, and now, thanks to faithful tithing and prudent management, appears to have all it needs and more to carry out what they believe is a divinely-appointed mission.
First paragraph here: ” The Washington Post’srecent news story, captioned “Mormon Church has misled members on $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund” is likely to be met with little resistance to its message. It is a familiar one: Mormonism is too rich and stays so by exploiting its members. The old canard takes its new form in a former employee and devotee’s complaint to the IRS that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is hoarding money, which should be given to charity.
Indeed, it has hoarded so much, according to an accompanying video, members would not have to pay tithing if that money were used instead of saved. What’s wrong with this picture? A lot and, not least, the facts. Forbes has already responded to the fallacies related to the legal claim: “there is nothing in the tax law that prevents churches from accumulating wealth.” [See also a subsequent analysis here.] However, the moral claims in the complaint – miserliness, dishonesty, and exploitation – invite us to investigate further. …”
Michael Quinn, a credible Latter-day Saint scholar, shares additional context in these interviews with Rick Bennett:
This video discusses a review of the Biblical foundation and teachings across Christianity regarding the law of tithing, yet from surveys and available statistics, it appears the Latter-day Saints are the only Christian body observing this law of God and this serves as another evidence of the fruits of the restoration.
Book – Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide by Arthur Brooks
Overall, researchers found that members of the LDS Church are the most “prosocial” members of American society.
“Regardless of where they live, they are very generous with their time and money,” Cnaan, an expert in faith-based social services and the lead researcher, said. “Through a theology of obedience and sacrifice and a strong commitment to tithing and service, Latter-day Saints are model citizens.”
An average American Latter-day Saint provides almost 430 hours of volunteer labor annually. This equates to approximately 35 hours per month. In comparison, the average American volunteer provides about four hours of volunteering per month.
Latter-day Saints serve mostly within their wards. Much less time was spent serving in the community. But, even in Mormons only served outside their ward callings, they’d still equal the national average of all Americans.
The study also reports on tithing. Nobody takes tithing more seriously than Latter-day Saints. This was also interesting:
“The study shows 48 percent of the respondents reported donating money through secular giving. On average, a Latter-day Saint donates $1,171 annually to social causes outside the church. “
“A lot of research suggests that Mormons are the most pro–social group in America. Active Mormons report that they volunteer an average of 35.6 hours per month, including church callings but not missions. Even if you take out religious volunteering (callings and other church service), Mormons still volunteer as much as the national average. Also, Mormons donate more than twice as much (9.3%) of their income as the national average of people who give to charity (4%) and more than four times as much as the national average overall (2%). Excluding tithing, Mormons still contribute a large amount to charity: $2,024 annually.”
Researchers found higher self-esteem, lower anxiety, and lower behavior problems in kids that know their family’s stories. This could be because they develop a sense of identity that’s larger than just themselves. They’re embedded in a larger, intergenerational context. Knowing that your great-grandma was able to cross the plains after her husband died could give you a greater amount of grit and self-determination.”
3. Purpose and meaning
“There is a substantial relationship between an individual having purpose and meaning in life and their well-being. Mormon doctrine offers its members an explanation for the purpose of life. The belief that life is a temporary learning experience to help God’s children develop lasting joy may help Mormons have positive emotion, character development, resilience, grit, and meaning.”
4. Autonomy and agency
“The motivation that drives behavior has a significant impact on well-being. Behavior that is self-motivated results in more positive outcomes. Mormon doctrine holds that part of the purpose of life is to exercise agency and learn to choose between good and evil. Mormons are taught that compulsion is not God’s way, and Mormon doctrine emphasizes agency, autonomy, and free-will.”
5. Physical health
“There’s a lot of research, of course, on the negative consequences of smoking and drinking. The Word of Wisdom includes a range of healthy behaviors, and also supports the general idea that there’s a deep connection between our bodies and our minds. Positive psychology research calls this thesomatopsychic principle, that the body and mind are so inseparably connected that it’s misleading to regard them as two separate entities.
I then asked Hunter about conflicting research that shows that even though Mormons in general rank as very happy, Utah (which is nearly 70% Mormon) has a high suicide rate and a lot of women on antidepressants.
How do those two facts square with Utah as one of the happiest places in the USA?
“Research shows that some of the happiest places in the world also have the highest suicide rates,” Hunter explains. “Some people think that this paradox is explained by relative comparisons of utility. People compare their happiness to other people’s. It may feel particularly painful to be unhappy when everyone around you is happy. There’s also a lot of research that talks about elevation and suicide.” (See here for a brief discussion of the role of altitude and mountains in suicide rates.)
“It’s possible that Mormons are not self-medicating with alcohol and drugs like some people do to combat depression. In addition, Mormons are more likely to seek medical help, evidenced by the fact that Utah ranks high for people seeking prescriptions for other things like thyroid medication or anticonvulsants or anti-rheumatics. It’s not just for antidepressants.”
Bro. Roger Hendrix is an active Latter-day Saint who was a mission president in the 90s before he started working as a board member at Deseret Trust Company. His career was in construction and consulting in Southern California before he was a mission president.
This fellow, Roger Hendrix, went onto LDS critic John Dehlin’s podcast to discuss the Church’s finances.
They discussed a range of topics, including auditors of the Church, Deseret Management Company (Church’s holding company), Bonneville, Ensign Peak and other investment entities, management of tithing, the Church real estate entity, financial transparency, the Church’s net worth, and other related issues.
John repeatedly asked about conflicts of interest, nepotism, possible fraud, directing money to General Authorities’ kids’ startup businesses, the City Creek project, and other common critics’ claims and innuendo.
Bro. Hendrix repeatedly swatted those and related conspiracy theories away. Where Bro. Hendrix worked for 18 years — Deseret Trust Company — was a business that followed the law. And all his time around others in Church management operated just as he did: ethically, professionally, and legally.
Roger explained that he got a stipend when part of the trust company, but not close to what he earned on other boards. In fact, Roger stated on other boards he’s “made a lot of dough.” His stipend at the trust company didn’t change in 18 years. Sounds like it was around $10K/year. His colleagues who worked with him gave up lots of “dough”, according to Roger to work in a Church environment.
Further, no General Authorities sit on these boards. But back in the 1960s, N. Eldon Tanner started this trust company. And other LDS leaders did sit on the board. But not any longer.
No, the Church doesn’t steal money from ex-Mormons’ inheritance, though John Dehlin suggested otherwise. Dehlin also suggested General Authorities’ families and companies directly and inappropriately benefited from the trust. John made all these claims and pushed innuendo, all without evidence. Out of thin air.
Short answer to these claims: no. Such actions are unethical and illegal. This trust company, like any other, is run according to state and national laws.
Roger described the bright, trained people that work for the Church. He included that these same bright people have the Spirit, pray, and practice their faith.
John repeatedly asked questions that revealed John’s ignorance of trusts, non-profits, and investments in general.
In my opinion, John is looking for a boogey man. He believes in a sort of Bigfoot. Something the Church is hiding, lying about. Something he’ll never find. Cuz the Church doesn’t operate that way. Never has.
More questions about Church finances, tithing, etc.
John Dehlin tried another gotcha interview with Michael Quinn. Michael was excommunicated in the 90s, but despite not being a member today, still has faith in the Church. He is an excellent researcher/historian and shares a lot about the Church’s finances.
Michael details the history of stipends for LDS leaders and how the Church got onto solid financial footing. He further shares details of the multiple entities the Church uses to invest and handle its assets and overall portfolio. The Church behaves ethically and in line with its mission throughout the globe.
In addition, Michael takes the side of transparency, saying that this would be faith promoting. He quotes others who were connected to all Church finance details who suggest the Church has nothing to hide and would benefit from sharing financial information.
Michael even discusses the few financial abuses in our history: Brigham and his son accumulated wealth, an accountant who embezzled in the 60s.
Yet, he explains that the values of our leaders have been exemplary in their attempts to manage the Church’s assets. He finishes by saying faithful members should likely adjust their view by understanding Quinn’s data (book), but in his view, should remain faithful.