Joe Jensen has crafted an eloquent and moving open letter to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in which he expresses concern about the possibility that the LDS Church has tilted the balance between faith and works too much in the direction of works. He also expressed concern about the degree to which the Church honors personal agency, citing the excommunication of the September Six and Denver Snuffer as justification for that concern. I share his disagreement with the excommunication of Brother Snuffer, and I've publicly expressed that disagreement, although I refuse to allow it to color my attitude against the Church.
So far, so good. The issues surfaced by Jensen are worthy of discussion, and may have some validity. Oftentimes local Priesthood leaders, failing to see the forest for the trees, can act Pharasaical. Such are the nature of unfinished products. But where Jensen and I begin to part company is when he discusses the LDS Church's financial expenditures. Here's the defining excerpt:
We stand across a gulf from one another, each pointing an accusing finger toward the other shouting “apostate!!” Has the church itself not gone away from the original teachings of the Savior and the core revelations of the restoration? Have we not rationalized our condemnation by pointing proudly to the fact that we now have 15 million members across the globe and are building many fine structures? Do we, as a church, offer a pittance to the suffering around us while an investment in a shopping mall dwarfs decades of humanitarian efforts by the church?
So Joe Jensen is critical of the "fine structures" we're building. Does he not realize that many of those "fine structures" are temples? And does he not remember that the LDS Church has not only been COMMANDED by the Lord to build temples, but was actually chastised in Kirtland for delaying the construction of the Kirtland Temple? First, from Doctrine & Covenants 88:119-120:
119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
120 That your incomings may be in the name of the Lord; that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord; that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with uplifted hands unto the Most High.
Next, let's go to Doctrine & Covenants Section 95, where the Kirtland Saints were specifically chastised by the Lord:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you—
2 Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face;
3 For ye have sinned against me a very grievous sin, in that ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house;
It's plain to see that the establishment of temples is not an option, but a requirement. And verses 13-17 gave specific instructions on how the Kirtland Temple was to be built. Since we are building it for the Lord, it must be constructed of quality workmanship. We offer our first fruits -- and our BEST fruits -- to the Lord. This is why we're counseled to tithe before paying any other obligations in a given month. This is why the ancient Israelites were directed to bring animals WITHOUT BLEMISH to the sacrificial altar.
Jensen also considers the Church's humanitarian efforts a "pittance". Hmmm. I supposed that if you live in a trophy home up on the Draper Bluffs in the Salt Lake Valley, you might consider $1 billion in humanitarian aid in 167 countries since 1985 to be a "pittance". But to us 99 percenters who have to work for a living, it's still an impressive sum. By the way, that $1 billion "pittance" only reflects known and documented expenditures by the LDS Church as an institution; it does not reflect the private efforts of millions of Latter-day Saints who do their alms more privately. One other thing to keep in mind; while only the Church can build chapels and temples, ANY OF US can do humanitarian work. So if we think the Church is not dispensing enough humanitarian aid, any of us can choose to step up our own game. We don't need to be judging our contributions by the standards of other organizations, but by the Lord's standard.
The LDS Church was commanded to build temples, NOT soup kitchens.
The City Creek Mall deserves separate treatment. On the surface, it may seem like an extravagance. But the area of downtown Salt Lake City where the center was built was becoming seedy and in danger of going "ghetto". Imbued with a sense of community responsibility, the LDS Church saw that it had the opportunity and the means to reverse this process. So they partnered with others to make the City Creek Mall happen -- and now the area has come back to life economically. They decided to improve their surrounding neighborhood.
And is that so different from what many of us try to do? Those of us who don yellow Helping Hands jerseys and go forth to pick up trash, repair playgrounds, or assist in local disaster recovery are improving their neighborhoods. Those of us who assist local non-Mormon charities such as Habitat for Humanity or the American Red Cross are also improving their neighborhoods. So when the LDS Church embarked upon the City Creek Mall, they were just doing on a much larger scale the same thing many of us are doing on a daily basis. Why is that worthy of condemnation?
Before you condemn the LDS Church for spending a "pittance" on humanitarian aid, look into your own hearts, look into your own wallets, and see if you're doing all you're capable of doing.