Friday, July 13, 2012

Individual Rank-And-File Mormon Reaction To The Bloomberg Businessweek Article "How The Mormons Make Money"

The Bloomberg Businessweek article entitled "How The Mormons Make Money" has inspired a torrent of reaction within the LDS community, much of it critical. Most sharply criticized is the proposed magazine cover accompanying the story (at left), which at best trivializes the sacred origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and at worst openly mocks them. The LDS Church officially responded in two ways; first, with a detailed statement entitled "The Church and Its Financial Independence" which exposed Businessweek's failure to include many of the Church's additional humanitarian and other efforts as well as information on how church resources are used, and second, with an email from LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy which lambasted the cover as being in poor taste and the article as narrow and incomplete. The official LDS reaction is further addressed in my previous post.

But what about individual rank-and-file LDS reaction? For my part, I didn't view the Businessweek article as intentionally anti-Mormon; it did quote liberally from former Presiding Bishopric member Keith McMullin. But in retrospect, it appears to have been rather insensitive and shallow, using the term "so-called" in reference to the Presiding Bishopric. The author appears to be someone who took the time to explore the surface aspects of Mormonism without attempting to understand the inner soul; her response reminds me of that by Professor Charles Anthon when presented with character facsimiles from the Golden Plates, from where the Book of Mormon was transcribed. Anthon rejected a possible place in the history books because "he could not read a sealed book".

-- Religion Dispatches: In a post entitled "What’s Wrong with the Controversial Businessweek 'Mormon Money' Cover?", Joanna Brooks, a prominent social liberal Mormon who chronically nags the Church to be more accepting of gays, closed ranks and took issue with the provocative magazine cover, describing it as "cringeworthy". She explained that the profoundly irreverent tone of the cover illustration is totally out of joint with the story, which otherwise offers a generally balanced and straightforward assessment of LDS Church finances and enterprises, and projects that the mocking cover image will lead most Mormons to dismiss the entire article as an anti-Mormon hit piece.

-- Times And Seasons: In a post entitled "Business Week’s erroneous claim about LDS charitable giving", Kaimi Wenger thought many portions of it were very, very good, but noted that the Church’s extensive network of food storehouses, employment assistance, Deseret Industries thrift stores, were not included in the tally because they are not seen as church humanitarian assistance, but rather as church welfare assistance.

-- Millennial Star: In a post entitled "Why I Pay Tithing", Geoff B characterizes the Businessweek article as an absolutely disgusting hit job on the Church which fails at all levels, noting that it ignored the difference between a secular business and a Church that exists to bring people to Christ. For example, the story makes a passing reference to humanitarian efforts but ignores successes like the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. The article failed to explore why so many Church members are still willing to give at least 10 percent earnings and hundreds of hours of time to the Church each year despite the fact that the leadership does not publish detailed financial disclosure statements.

-- LDS Freedom Forum: Discussion thread entitled "How the Mormons Make Money" in progress since July 10th and has now reached three pages.

There's also reaction posted to Businessweek in the form of hundreds of comments. At least two-thirds are supportive of the Church. A few of the more informative comments by people who document the specific effects of the Church's charities are published below (after the jump):

Bridget, July 13th 02:56 PM (Businessweek):

What a deceptive article. As a member of the LDS church, let me fill you in on some things that I have first-hand experience with which are not fully explained:

1. Polynesian Cultural Center - I served as a Mormon missionary in Hawaii and took people on tours at the Polynesian Cultural Center. As a result I became friends with many students and locals working there. Countless students attend BYU-Hawaii, traveling from islands in the Pacific, from families that could not afford higher education for these students. The PCC paid their way through college, not to mention all the jobs it provides for residents of Laie in this struggling economy

2. Full-time, proselytizing missionaries are expected to pay their own way. We paid $400/month. However, as a missionary in Hawaii (our locations are appointed to us, not chosen by us) it cost a lot more than $400/month to live. The Church paid the difference, and many tithing funds of various members were also used to pay for the missions of those who wanted to serve but could not afford it. The tithing money also paid for the building chapels, temples, and the maintenance required to upkeep these buildings. It pays for the Bibles and Books of Mormon and other materials we would give to people for free.

3. The Church Welfare program not only pays for Humanitarian aid around the world, it assists local members. For example, a family in my neighborhood lost their jobs and couldn't afford their mortgage. The Church GAVE THEM FOOD & MONEY for a time until they could get back on their feet. In return, they were expected to volunteer service (such as cleaning the church building). This is not an uncommon occurrence.

4. Spiritual vs. Temporal - There IS a difference, but there is a clear connection too. Why are high-crime areas also low-income areas? Why do people resort to selling drugs, being a prostitute, hurting their lives when they could be going to church, having a respectable job, etc? Simple Psychology--needs are not being met. They don't have food, shelter, income, a loving home, etc. By providing thousands of jobs for people, Mormon or not, the Church is building the economy and helping people become self-reliant. Helping people sustain their families and lives in our own country is just as important as helping those in other countries.

Kenny LeBlanc, July 10th 03:33 PM (Businessweek):
First, I like the parable in the Bible about 3 servants each given an amount of money. The servants were ultimately judged by what they done with what they had been given. The servants that invested and returned hansome interest were blessed with more. the other that hid the money due to fear of misusing the funds was chastised for not returning with increase and not even interest!

Second, I'm a Latter day Saint, I've paid my tithing most of the time. I lost a business due to the real estate collapse in 07 and spiraled downard in the next few years till i bottomed out. I went to the local unpaid bishop and he paid my rent several of the months with money from salt lake (headquarters) because I was unable to do so. He gave me over 6,000 dollars over a few months to help me. So, the burden that was lifted from my wife and I's shoulders. We were so down and out, but the money helped and we were able to get back on our feet and rebuild. I keep paying tithing to this day. Good local men hold the checkbooks to this coffer, standing ready to help those in need right in your neighborhood.

Maggie1213, July 13th 01:38 AM (Businessweek):
My two cents. I work in the utility dept of a small city (45,000). Every day I process the utility payments of the citizens and every single day I find at least 1 (if not literally dozens) of utility payments paid for by the church to help those who cannot pay for their basic electricity, water etc. One day I decided, out of curiousity to add up how much was paid for by the Mormon church in one day, I found that it was somewhere around $5700 that was paid for by the LDS CHURCH. I'm sure that somedays this amount could be higher or lower, but I was absolutely astounded at how much it added up to. I figured that if this was a weekly average, then for just this small town the amount the Mormon church paid for it's citizens utilities added up to $300,000!!

Then I got to thinking about how this is just one small city and how this must go on in each city, every day! The amount worldwide to help familites who are down on their luck with just their utilities (not to mention food and other necessities) must be staggering. Easily into the hundreds of millions if not more!! This experience was a real eye opener to me of how much it costs to make a real (practical) difference in the lives of so many.

John Watson, July 10th 03:35 PM (Businessweek):
As an active LDS member living in Utah, I felt the article was on the whole fair, with one exception. The downtown City Creek project was much more than a big shopping mall that cost a lot of money.

If you look at the numbers, Utah has fared this economic downturn amazingly well with lower unemployment and a more vibrant economy as compared to the rest of the country. Much of that (if not a majority) is due to the infusion of capital from the City Creek project.

As I understand it, the plan was a much more conservatively paced time-frame in the development of the downtown area properties. There was a specific decision made after the downturn to accelerate plans to infuse that capital into the economy and keep things going. Without it countless plumbers, electricians and other professionals, laborers and suppliers would have gone without work and been an added burden to the welfare system.

Why else were they the one of the very few investing in retail in such a grand manner in the country at a time when everyone else was preaching austerity?

Even the for-profit side of the LDS Church's holdings try and contribute to the overall mission of the Church. Better to employ them gainfully than have them on welfare.

There are things I disagree with the bureaucratic side of the Church on, but I have to say that the good done in the development of City Creek far outweighed any possible negatives.

As to transparency of the finances; either you trust and sustain the Prophet and the Brethren tasked to manage the funds or you don't. If you do, then transparency to the body as a whole is irrelevant. If you don't, then why would you give money to the Church anyway? If you don't donate to the Church, then what does it matter to you?

Jacob Larsen, July 10th 07:18 PM (Businessweek):

I am a practicing Mormon. I think the church would be better served with more transparency. I think it's a problem because it makes me question whether the funds are being used for the good purposes that I and many other faithful members intend them. I believe the funds and corporations are being used for good (for the most part) but I won't go into details in this post.

I also think this article and many comments are given in poor taste. "The church’s so-called Presiding Bishopric... McMullin... wears a gold band on his right ring finger, set with a red stone the size of a Chiclet, was a present his parents gave him decades ago for passing the ninth grade"

using phrases such as "so-called" mocks his position and mentioning his ring in this way is a non-sequitor when talking about the church's finances. For all we know it is a family heirloom. This kind of writing shows real intent to discredit the church, rather than simply looking at the facts and numbers. When writing of this nature takes place, one must question the motives of the author. Because the writing appears to slant towards discrediting the church, it may leave out important facts or not show the complete picture in order to paint the church in less favorable light.

I am not saying the author is lying, but no one should jump to a conclusion after seeing the above mentioned and other warning signs. It is my opinion that the author has an agenda beyond just gathering facts.

-thanks, and God bless

Kameron Smith, July 11th 07:15 PM (Businessweek):
A very well written article, but the blatant bias is a turn off to actually finish the article. "So-called Presiding Bishopric," and, "So-called Quorums of the Seventy" are not appropriate ways to describe a legitimate organizations leadership. You wouldn't say the "so-called Pope" or "so-called President of the United States."

As a Mormon and as an individual who is about to leave on a full-time proselyting mission all I can say is that this is all about faith. Honestly, I don't care if the LDS Church is putting my tithing into secular activities, I have faith that they are using it in a way that is building the Kingdom of God on earth (according to our belief system).

The LDS Church takes so much grief from others criticizing how we do our business and enough is enough. Report the facts and let others decide how they view this. Members will do as they please, if they don't believe in the "curtain" that the church headquarters hide behind than they can decide on that as a personal decision. But as for me I will do what the Church asks and let my relationship with God help me find the faith necessary to do so.

francisco2352, July 12th 12:10 AM (Businessweek):
The parable of the 3 given talents is very apropos for this topic. Incredible, both monetary and organized as well as simple efforts from the members are absolutely amazing. The Red Cross gave the Church an award for being the largest contributor in previous disasters.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has saved our family from certain destruction. I suffered a terrible loss that left my family in extreme debt and it has kept us in a home and fed for 2 years now thanks to this "undocumented" money. This story is repeated again and again. You have no idea how many families of which I'm aware that are saved by merciful aid again and again. I'm not talking a couple hundred dollars. I'm talking thousands and MANY TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars of continual aid to people who are good, honest and kind people who are caught in bad circumstances. And yes, I do mean many tens of thousands of dollars. It is not a money machine; it is all about helping the people and bringing good and light into this world.

Are you aware of the educational funds for people outside of the United States? What about the business funds that help people to start their own businesses up so that they can in turn serve and help their communities and families? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the most well organized and serviceable entities on this entire planet, bar none. No administrative costs and mercy aplenty.

Michael Johnson, July 12th 12:51 PM (Businessweek):

This article could have been served well by interviews with individuals like the Mayor of Salt Lake City where the City Creek Center has added tremendously to local property values and where a downtown that was struggling and where businesses where fleeing has now become a center for commerce again. Talk to even past Salt Lake City Mayors who had little nice to say about Mormon doctrine and see what they have to say about the good that Mormon investments has done in the Salt Lake City area. Talk to the thousands of construction workers who had paying jobs in Sat Lake while their peers across the country were out of work because this investment was made right at the worst point in a recession that caused hundreds of thousands of construction workers to lose their jobs. Maybe talk to Mayors in places like Ogden Utah where the church is investing money to turn a blighted area into an area that the city is proud of and excited about.

Maybe even talk to ANY of the millions of Mormons who are VERY comfortable with the way that the church handles the money that comes from the for-profit ventures as well as the way that they handle the money from tithing, humanitarian contributions and other offerings. People who are comfortable not out of ignorance but out of seeing the fruit of these investments regularly and people who pay close attention to the financial dealings of the Mormon church. Some of those conversations would have rounded out this article nicely.

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