Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you.
—Alma 39:14 (LDS)
This post is specifically written to those who are still members of the LDS church, in hopes you will consider some scriptural truths in light of recent revelations. And though there’s bad news at the beginning of this post, there’s good news at the end.
I realize it’s old news by now that a whistleblower has reported the LDS Church’s Ensign Peak Advisors has accumulated approximately $124 Billion in tax-exempt investment accounts meant for charity, without ever distributing a single dollar to actual charity. Much of the commentary I’ve seen has addressed various facets of this story, without quite getting to the heart of the matter. I’ve read commentary by church members defending this accumulation, even marking it as a sign of God’s favor. Some have praised the church’s forethought, preparedness, and frugality, calling this accumulation inspired, godly, even prophetic.
At the risk of rehashing last month’s news, I’d like to make a few observations about the LDS Church and some notions that really should be considered by anyone who believes the scriptures.
First, let’s look at the church organization. There actually is no legally organized church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. It doesn’t exist. That name is actually a trademark under which a number of different entities do business. Ultimately, the corporation that owns all the businesses is called The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter COP, short for Corporation of the President). This entity is a somewhat obscure sort of corporation, in that it does not have stock or stockholders. Rather, the entire corporation is vested in the person of the single owner, and that owner is whoever happens to be the most senior living apostle (and is, therefore, automatically, made President of the Church.) He literally, legally owns everything: the malls, the temples, the church buildings, numerous for-profit companies, the investment accounts, the land holdings, the historical documents, the office buildings, the universities, the commercial real estate projects, the money—all of it is his sole, legal property.
Therefore, the moment you make a tithing donation, it becomes the legal property of this man to do with as he pleases, in secret, with no oversight whatsoever. All other donations are likewise his, and as noted on the donation slip, he is under no obligation whatsoever to do anything in particular with your donations, even if you mark them as donated for specific purposes like fast offerings or humanitarian aid.
Recent whistleblower documents indicate LDS church representatives have been dishonest about what they do with tithing, including directly spending tithing funds to build a lavish, luxury shopping mall while publicly denying this was the case. But no laws were broken; as I mentioned, the owner of the corporation can do whatever he wants with your money. It says so right on the donation slip. He can spend it on a luxury shopping mall if he wants to.
With that in mind, let’s talk about just how big this corporation is. To be short in writing, I’ll just lay out the facts directly.
In terms of assets, the COP is likely within the top ten largest companies on earth. Probably even in the top 5. We’re talking about the upper stratosphere where companies are valued between $500 Billion and $1 Trillion. Keep in mind, though, that these other huge companies are all publicly traded. Apple and Microsoft may be worth a Trillion dollars each, but they are owned by, literally, millions of people who own billions of shares. Though the LDS church has millions of members, none of them have any claim whatsoever on the corporation or its assets; they own nothing. The COP is owned by one man, who owns everything.
This makes that man, currently Russell M. Nelson, easily the wealthiest man on earth, many times over. Let that sink in for a moment.
Even if we exclude all the other assets, the buildings, the businesses, the universities, the real estate, and so forth, and only focus on the Ensign Peak holdings of approximately $124 Billion dollars, he is STILL the wealthiest man on earth, handily beating the next-richest Jeff Bezos by about $14 billion.
Likewise, the COP is likely the most cash-rich company in the world. According to the Financial Times, as of Aug. 2019, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, held $117 billion in liquid reserves, and Apple held $102 billion. The COP beats them both.
Again, that’s just talking about the Ensign Peak holdings alone, and ignoring the majority of the corporation’s assets.
OK, just one other fact to point out. Given the average rate of return in the Ensign Peak accounts alone, this man makes about $24 million per day, or a cool $1 million per hour, in what amounts to interest. Let that sink in. The one you call prophet, seer and revelator makes about a million dollars per hour, 24/7/365. That’s around $17,000 per minute, or $275 per second in investment income alone. While you were busy reading this paragraph, Russell Nelson made ten thousand dollars in investment income—not including any donations that may have come in.
The COP has a serious problem. It—literally—cannot spend money as fast as it makes it. Even if the COP wanted to spend the assets as the Ensign Peak charter requires—on charitable causes to do good and bless lives—it’s nigh-on impossible to spend money that fast. But that’s OK because the COP doesn’t try to spend a dime of the Ensign Peak money on charitable causes. It simply continues to accumulate, and has done so for 22 years running, without giving a single penny to any charitable, educational, or humanitarian cause. In 22 years Ensign Peak has made only two distributions, and they were both made to bail out failing business ventures in for-profit businesses (which appears to be a legal no-no).
The COP’s press releases show it spends an average of $40 million per year on humanitarian aid and assistance. This works out to about a day and a half worth of interest income each year. That’s not even a rounding error in the corporation’s immense balance sheet. $40 million is, literally, chump change. Get out the yellow T-shirts and write up a press release.
The LDS church could do massive amounts of good with that kind of wealth. Rather than preaching to impoverished people living in squalor, about the need to give more money to the church, they could, instead, help with housing, safe water, adequate nutrition, and indoor plumbing for the poorest of their members. Doing so wouldn’t even make a dent in the interest, let alone the principle of the church’s vast, vast wealth reserve. With the assets at its disposal, the church could easily feed, clothe, house, educate, and provide medical care for ALL its impoverished members throughout the world. But it doesn’t. Instead, it sends well-paid ministers on first-class jets to ask the poorest to pay more tithing, even if it means going without necessities.
I could keep going and laying out the picture ad nauseam. But frankly, I’m so tired and sickened by this story that I simply don’t have the stomach to give all the details. The bottom line is that the LDS church is unimaginably wealthy, and does almost nothing for the poor and needy, the sick and afflicted.
So rather than continuing with ugly details, let’s get to what matters a whole lot more: God’s word, as recorded in scripture. Our Lord addressed this very situation, in detail, in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Sermon at Bountiful:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6:24 KJV; see also 3 Nephi 13:24 LDS emphasis added)
That word, mammon, sometimes causes misunderstanding. I’ve been told throughout my life that mammon simply means money or wealth. That’s sort-of true, but the more accurate definition comes from the Aramaic root of the word. It’s not just money; rather mammon refers to the accumulation of money or wealth.
And this makes good sense. We all have to earn and use money to live in this world. Our Lord himself also used money, and even paid taxes. So it’s not money that is the problem. It’s excessive accumulation that creates the problem. If your focus is on accumulation of inordinate amounts of wealth, you—by definition—cannot do the things the gospel requires. You know, things like—
“…to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:19 LDS)
The Lord directly stated you CANNOT serve God and mammon. Period. Therefore, by the Lord’s direct statement, the LDS church cannot serve God. It engages in the sort of accumulation that is the very definition of mammon, and is extraordinarily successful at it. If you argue against this reasoning, you might as well accept the fact your argument is not with me. It is with our Lord, who made the statement, and left no room for exception.
I’ll also add that when the LDS church leadership publicly claims they use these assets to serve God, they are claiming to do what is impossible. To put it more directly, they are lying. Oh, I understand they may think they’re serving God by accumulating a stupefying hoard of wealth, and they may have the best of intentions with what they plan to someday do with all that money—like build a trillion-dollar city in Florida—but they are only deceiving themselves. Nowhere in scripture is there any teaching that supports what they are doing—yet we can find many direct statements calling this what it is: Evil.
O ye wicked, and perverse, and stiffnecked people, why have you built up churches unto yourselves to get gain?…Behold, the Lord hath shewn unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come at that day when these things shall come forth among you. Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shewn you unto me, and I know your doing, and I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts…For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies? Because of the praise of the world? Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick, and the afflicted to pass by you and notice them not? Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain? And cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground for vengeance upon your heads? Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you, and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer. (Mormon 4:5 NC emphasis mine)
Moroni saw the readers of the Book of Mormon, and their church. Look again at what he had to say about it. Do you think he was kidding? Or referring to someone else? This is important—in fact, it is vital. If you believe his words even slightly, the behavior of your church must give you pause. Likewise, if his words don’t cause you serious reflection and concern, then you really don’t believe them.
Here are some questions to consider before you write that next tithing check:
- Do you really believe the scriptures above? Do your church leaders?
- Christ was born poor and humble. He died that way as well. He never accumulated any worldly wealth, but rather spent his life giving and blessing others. Should his church do the opposite?
- Did he intend for his church to become one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, led by the richest man in the world, which refuses to do more than lip service to helping the poor, even among their own members? Is this a sign of God’s favor? Is this what true religion is supposed to accomplish?
- Can you find any example in scripture of a true prophet being fabulously wealthy, let alone the wealthiest man on earth? Go ahead…I’ll wait. No? What does this mean to you?
- Some have argued that the Catholic church is far wealthier than the LDS church. Two thoughts here. First, each diocese of the Catholic church holds its own assets as its own corporation, not owned by the Pope. The thousands of corporations that make up the “Catholic church” are not all owned by one man, nor owned by the Vatican. So…no. The LDS church and Russell M. Nelson are wealthier than the Pope. But second, and more important, do you really mean to justify the actions of the LDS church by citing the actions of the Catholic church? Is that justification?
- The LDS church claims its vast reserves are necessary against a coming day of scarcity. And so it has accumulated enough reserves to run the church for decades, or possibly permanently, without tithing revenue. What does this demonstrate about the leadership’s mentality? Are they working by faith or by fear?
- D&C 107 states the Quorum of the Twelve is equal in authority and power with the First Presidency. With that in mind, consider the following excerpt from the whistleblower report:
Boyd K. Packer—when he was next in line to succeed then-President of the COP, Thomas S. Monson—came to Mr. Clarke wanting to know how much Ensign Peak had amassed and the details of its structure. Mr. Clarke told Mr. Packer that he could not share such details. Mr. Packer said, “I think I should know. I’m the most senior Apostle and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and I’m a breath away from being the next Prophet. I think I should be prepared.” Mr. Clarke reaffirmed that he had been instructed not to reveal that information to Mr. Packer, who went away perturbed and unsatisfied, as related to the whistleblower by Richard B. Willes, the Head of Fixed Income at EPA at the time.
With that in mind, are the Twelve really “equal in authority and power” with the first presidency, as required by D&C 107:24? If not, who is really running the church? Why is the head of Ensign Peak higher in authority than the President of the Quorum of the Twelve? Who is really next in line to the President? Is the church run by the prophets, or the money managers?
- And given the above, do the General Authorities really know anything about the church they represent? I honestly feel sorry for them, as I believe they were taken by surprise by these revelations, just like everyone else. I pity the poor GA 70 at some stake conference who gets asked to answer questions about the vast wealth he didn’t know the church has, and has to make up some phony non-answer on the spot.
- Does all the secrecy surrounding the church’s wealth have any connection to “them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? And who knoweth us? (2 Nephi 11:21) What does it mean to seek deep to hide counsel from the Lord? Why doesn’t the LDS church make their financial information known to the members who provide the donated funds? Nearly all other churches do…
- When chronically underpaid church employees are told year after year that there is no money for raises, even to keep up with inflation, and they are lucky to work for the Lord’s church, is that really accurate? Should they suffer below-market wages while working for one of the wealthiest corporations on earth? Does this have anything to do with Malachi’s condemnation of “those that oppress the hireling in his wages?” (Malachi 3:5)
- If church leaders have lied about the collection and use of tithes and offerings, what do they love more? Truth, or money? Whom do they serve? God or mammon?
What Can You Do?
In the face of the above scriptural passages and associated questions, how do you defend the church’s unbelievable hoarding of wealth and shearing of sheep? If you’re troubled by the things written here, if you find your church’s behavior unscriptural, if you value God’s word over man’s actions, I’d like to suggest there is a better alternative.
The Lord’s Marvelous work, all but dormant since Joseph Smith’s death, has begun again. A new dispensation is upon us, and those who will hear the Lord’s voice are receiving revelation, gathering in fellowships of equals, caring for the poor among them, attempting to live by God’s word, and preparing for Zion. If you believe in the divine mission of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the other revelations, but don’t believe in gargantuan corporations that hoard wealth while grinding the face of the poor, please rest assured there IS a way to live true to God without supporting the LDS corporate church.
In this blog, you can find out more information about the Lord’s work now underway. Here are a few posts to consider:
If you want to experience the restored gospel without the corporate church—among other believers who actually do attempt to study and live the gospel covenant and care for the poor among them, please check out Fellowship Locator to find other believers near you.
And now, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings? Yea, can ye lay aside these things and trample the Holy One under your feet? Yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts? Yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world? Upon your riches?
—Alma 5:53 (LDS)
Update Feb. 21, 2020: After I wrote this post, the Wall Street Journal published a large story on this topic, including interviews with the Presiding Bishop of the church, and with Roger Clarke, head of Ensign Peak. None of them denied the whistleblowers' allegations, and they confirmed efforts to keep this fund hidden from the members of the church, including efforts to hide the money in more than a dozen shell companies. They cited fear that members would be less inclined to donate if they knew the extent of the church's wealth. They also verified that the fund was tapped for building City Creek Mall and bailing out Beneficial Life. It appears the facts are undisputed and, in fact, verified by the church.
The only open question is whether any of this matters from a religious perspective. If this were solely a business, nobody would have anything to say about it, nor would there be anything to hide. But because this business claims to be a church, questions of doctrine, faith, and even tax law all come into play.
The most important consideration, however, remains the question of whether this fund and the church's actions can be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus Christ.