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Author Topic: Financial transparency
scifibum
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Pete made a couple of comments on the "God Damn America" thread that touch on something that I've been thinking about lately:

quote:
According to Newsweek, the [LDS church president] prophet receives the salary of a public schoolteacher.
quote:
I recognize there's a lot about Mormons you don't like, but when it comes to our leaders not exploiting religion for personal profit, I hope that is one small point where you'd acknowledge mormons are doing right.
quote:
But my main reason for jumping in was to set the record straight for my former church ... which I think behaves in an exemplary way when it comes to handling of money.
Pete, can you cite the salary story? I did some looking around a few weeks ago and wasn't able to find any recent information on what the general authories get paid. Nothing seems to turn up when I google for the story you're referring to.

Aside from that, I wanted to point out that the LDS church does not provide you or other members, let alone the outside world, an accounting of what it's doing with money. So I want to ask, how do you know your church is doing a good job of it? Because it claims to be doing a good job?

In reality, if the first presidency were drawing 7 figure salaries, you wouldn't necessarily know, because what they ARE paid is a secret. I doubt they get more than mid six figures, but I'd be shocked if their stipend was equivalent to a Utah school teacher's pay.

More to the point, there's something weird about people who want to defend the way the church spends money - particularly how the highest officials use it - getting their information from Newsweek, is there not? Why doesn't the church want you to know the details? What harm would it do if this information was public?

I have family members that claim that accounting for how the church spends money would simply lead to distracting criticism, but I think that's silly. The church would be free to ignore any criticism it got, although some of it could be constructive enough to be worth listening to. As it is, they get plenty of criticism for being mysterious, to the point where I've seen several active members mention they are pretty troubled over it.

In my view, the lack of transparency must lead to corruption. Not necessarily the sort where individuals directly act to enrich themselves, although that's likely enough. But certainly the sort where conflicts of interest aren't acknowledged and controlled.

Now, if the church does thorough audits and polices these things adequately with internal controls, then everything is probably fine. But you'd have to take that on faith. I'm not sure why you'd be so confident that the LDS church is exemplary in this respect, since there's no way to examine their virtuous handling of money in any detail.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
In reality, if the first presidency were drawing 7 figure salaries, you wouldn't necessarily know, because what they ARE paid is a secret. I doubt they get more than mid six figures, but I'd be shocked if their stipend was equivalent to a Utah school teacher's pay.
That's also leaving out the possibility that, as with beneficiaries of large generational trusts/foundations, it's completely possible to offer a nominal salary, but then have the trust do much of the heavy lifting where it comes to actually buying and owning things. (As it was noted already happens to some degree, in regards to the house and apartment that the church owns and maintains, but he gets the use of)
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LetterRip
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Many Churches (though don't know about LDS specifically) are under the same salary that non profits in general are supposed to adhere to, which is based on the total income of the organization and a comparison with private sector organizations of the same size. So if CEO of a 10 million dollar a year for profit org gets 300k per year, then a similarly sized non profit org the CEO would make the same.

One nasty way that organizations get around this is transfers between organizations - ie org A raises n$ and donates them to B and org B raises n$ and donates to to org A; so both orgs income can be boosted by n$ twice (the income they raised counts as their income, and the income they recieved as a donation counts as income). So each gets 2n$ they can count towards income and use as the basis for executive pay even though the actual income was only n$. It allows the executives to skim more without additional benefit to the organization.

Another nasty practice is massive advertising to bring in donations where the marginal additonal donations is less than (or even close to) the marginal additonal dollars spent on advertising. Ie 1$ advertising brings in 50 cents of donations.

Again there isn't any real benefit to the organization (indeed a net negative benefit), but the basis for the executive pay is larger.

Pretty sure a charismatic church I attended way in the past did the first sort of thing (the pastor was in the news a few years ago for a number of questionable and likely illegal practices related to their income and the benefits etc the pastor was recieving, but didn't see a mention of that one specifically).

[ August 13, 2012, 04:28 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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Pete at Home
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The Newsweek article was over 10 years ago; I couldn't find it today.

" I'm not sure why you'd be so confident that the LDS church is exemplary in this respect, since there's no way to examine their virtuous handling of money in any detail."

I was pointing to the information provided within that discussion itself. That president Monson lived in a church owned apartment across from Temple Square where he works. That was in comparison to a preacher of another faith who lived in a 1.25 million dollar house located far from his personal ministry.

Seems like I'd seen and heard the "schoolteacher's salary" cited in a number of non-LDS sources, whereas the LDS sources, like you said, don't talk about it. Anti-LDS sources try to provoke envy by blathering on about a "multi-billion dollar corporation," ignoring the fact that most of it is going to building and maintaining religious buildings, education, and various charitable works.

Obviously the schoolteacher's salary doesn't paint the whole picture, since like I said on the other thread, the church is probably providing housing and transportation, for security concerns if nothing else. (I was actually present during the Cody Judy bomb threat against President Hunter, so I may get a bit snippy if someone poo poohs security concerns).

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TomDavidson
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quote:
That was in comparison to a preacher of another faith who lived in a 1.25 million dollar house located far from his personal ministry.
Just a quibble: the "far from his personal ministry" bit is not accurate.
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LoverOfJoy
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To be fair, while there likely are preachers living in 1.25 million dollar homes, the vast majority live pretty humbly from what I gather.

And Mormons have their own set of superstar preachers like John Bytheway and others. I'm not sure how they're doing financially but it wouldn't surprise me if they live in exorbitant homes as well. I don't think they take money to speak at wards, though, but instead get money only from CDs and books (nor are those sold on tables outside the chapel).

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Pete at Home
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Here's more grist for folks to freak out over:

http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/13/13262285-mormon-church-earns-7-billion-a-year-from-tithing-analysis-indicates?lite

Oh dear. The mormon church is investing in food producing businesses, and has been doing so for the last 120 years. What shall we do? <wrings hands>

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by LoverOfJoy:
Mormons have their own set of superstar preachers like John Bytheway and others. I'm not sure how they're doing financially but it wouldn't surprise me if they live in exorbitant homes as well. I don't think they take money to speak at wards, though, but instead get money only from CDs and books (nor are those sold on tables outside the chapel).

Not only are their enterprises not part of the LDS church, but they are entirely private enterprises, subject to tax like any other business.
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LoverOfJoy
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
Not only are their enterprises not part of the LDS church, but they are entirely private enterprises, subject to tax like any other business.

That's a really good point. I was thinking merely along the lines of how most church members (Mormon or non) go to churches where they feel the work is being done (the focus is more on the work than the money)...but that there are individuals among both Mormons and other Christians that are willing to pay for...an "experience" for lack of a better word.

Among my other Christian friends I have heard a number say they don't go to [Large Church X with rich traveling preacher] because they felt it pushed money issues more than doing good. I've also heard things along the line of, "I support my local church but I buy all of [Preacher Y]'s books. He's really inspiring."

I guess I'm saying that while other churches may not have the hard clear distinctions between their equivalent John Bytheway and the church, many (if not most) members of those churches often seem to make a similar natural distinction for themselves. The fans of [Rich Preacher Y] generally don't kid themselves on where his book sales are going but simply like his inspiring message enough to buy some things from him. But again, most actual congregations that people attend are led by pretty modest (at least financially) pastors. At least that's been my impression from what I've heard from my own friends.

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LoverOfJoy
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quote:
Aside from that, I wanted to point out that the LDS church does not provide you or other members, let alone the outside world, an accounting of what it's doing with money. So I want to ask, how do you know your church is doing a good job of it? Because it claims to be doing a good job?

I don't know my church is doing a good job of it. In fact, church history suggests that there's likely some financial decisions that are real flops. I don't pay tithing because I know it's the most efficient way to provide relief to the downtrodden (in fact, I believe this is part of why many church members also donate to other good causes...they don't expect their tithing to be used enough or as efficiently as organization X for a valued issue Y). I pay tithing because of a personal witness from God and because of blessings I've experienced after paying tithing.

quote:

In reality, if the first presidency were drawing 7 figure salaries, you wouldn't necessarily know, because what they ARE paid is a secret. I doubt they get more than mid six figures, but I'd be shocked if their stipend was equivalent to a Utah school teacher's pay.

I'll admit, it would likely hurt a bit to find that the prophet and other church leaders were living large. However, for me it's more a matter of lifestyle than dollar amount. While financial details are not very public, the prophet's schedule is much more so. I haven't been reading the church news as much during President Monson's tenure but I remember being amazed at President Hinkley's travel schedule. These guys work their butts off well into their 80s and 90s if they live that long. I've known children and grandchildren of prophets and other general authorities; while they tend to be successful they aren't rich nor change their lifestyle once they inherit their dad's gazillions when he dies. [Roll Eyes]

I remember how palpable the pain President Hunter looked to be in when he would come speak at BYU devotionals or in General Conference. While it is not as vivid in my memory (I was young), I have similar memories of President Kimball near the end of his life. These guys aren't retiring in the Bahamas. They use every last ounce of energy in serving as best they can.

As for lower down the chain, would a more public accounting reassure me that all was well in Zion? Perhaps. But considering my experience as a clerk at the stake level as well as hearing of occasional church disciplinary actions over misuse of church funds I feel pretty confident that the church stays on top of it fairly well. I don't expect anyone else to take my word for it, though.

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scifibum
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I admire your take on it, LoJ.

If I were paying tithing I'd be more bothered that I was handing over money without being able to ask for accountability in turn, but if you feel it's worth doing despite knowing the money might not be handled very well, more power to you.

I agree, there's no real evidence the higher ups are abusing church funds for their own benefit.

I'm really not sure why there has never been any demand from the rank and file for more transparency, though. When it comes down to it, I can't think of any *good* reasons for keeping financial secrets.

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LoverOfJoy
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My understanding is that when governments have required public disclosure, the Church has always complied without any big fuss. I believe the Church used to in the U.S. as well when it was required (I think I read that estimates of the Church's wealth have been taken from those old records). I read recently that starting with McKay, I believe, all general authorities received the same stipend. I'm not sure of the accuracy of that report nor if it's changed in the years since but it wouldn't surprise me.

I imagine the reasons to not publicly disclose involve not inviting debate and protecting those who do screw up. Not in the push it under the rug sense but in same sense that church disciplinary councils are not made public. If the public learns someone was excommunicated, it is because the individual went public, not the church. We try to avoid the public shaming.

So a branch president may quickly and quietly be replaced for taking from the church coffers and individual members may gossip about it, but the details are never laid out for a big brouhaha.

I can understand those who take the skeptical view that this is just a selfish desire to prevent a PR nightmare and people deserve a right to know. However, from a believer's perspective those tithes were the Lord's and never mine to begin with. If he stole tithes, it is between him and the Lord (and His chosen representatives) and really none of my concern. The more public it becomes the more I am tempted to judge, hold grudges, withhold forgiveness, and possibly lose my faith (in part, due to the loss of Spirit from said grudges). That sinner may later repent and I won't ever be privy to that.

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LoverOfJoy
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I think another reason you may not see clamouring for the church to disclose is because we are all involved in our own callings. We don't see the Church as "other" responsible to us but we see the Church as US.

So when I was young I may have looked at all the sacrament meeting speakers and saw a real disparity in the amount of public speaking skills. I saw phenomenal teachers get released and then new teachers called who clearly had no clue what they were doing. That may have puzzled and annoyed me at first until I was asked to speak...and later called to be a sunday school teacher. And some people may be good public speakers/teachers but then later they get called to be the ward organist or serve in the nursery. Every active member is going to eventually get called to a position that is extremely challenging in some way. They're going to feel in over their heads and they're going to know others would do a better job and yet everyone will be patient with them and they end up totally loving the people they serve (and feeling loved and supported in return). You start to realize everyone is trying their best. You also start to realize the Lord can do amazing things out of the weak things of the earth. I've learned a ton from really "poor" teachers/speakers. I've been really inspired and uplifted by leaders who were severely lacking in social skills or knowledge.

I imagine most members go through a humbling process where either they are given a calling that is above them or they are wowed by some teacher or leader they once thought below them in some way. And through it all we're asked to sustain each other in our callings. When you've gone through that humbling process enough, you stop worrying about whether others could be doing their jobs better.

Most people you can tell are just doing the best they can. Sure, you can tell others seem to be doing the bare minimum to eke by but eventually you home teach one of them and learn they are suffering from major health problems or financial difficulties or family issues and you realize that even the little they do is the best they can right now.

At that point you start seeing your church leaders as just other brothers and sisters who were willing to do some of the harder jobs in the church when asked. It doesn't surprise me that there are so few members who are chomping at the bit to look over all the decisions made to make sure ever i is dotted and t crossed.

With all these weak flawed under-qualified people does that leave for a lot of screw ups? You bet. But the church is also designed with a lot of corrective processes. Every home teacher and every missionary has a companion. Every presidency has at least a couple counselors. Having been a clerk, I can say there are even more checks and safeguards when it comes to financial matters. So despite all the incompetent beginners in the church [Wink] meetings really do flow well and people really do learn a lot. The vast majority of the time things really are "good enough" or better.

On top of all that, we really do believe if we have a question or concern we have every right to ask God directly to help us understand or allay our fears or teach us truth. So if 60 Minutes comes out with a really damning expose on the Church, I can ask God what is true and expect an answer.

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