Thursday, July 19, 2012

Full disclosure

Thanks to the article in Bloomberg (see Jeff Lindsey’s great discussion of the cover and article here), a number of bloggers have started talking about transparency, disclosure, and general information about how tithing funds are used. (I’m not naïve enough to think this began with the Bloomberg article or even the City Creek mall in Salt Lake City, but those things tend to be lightning rods for these questions.)

I am a finance professional. I understand the value of an audit, the importance of reporting transparency, and the need to be accountable to ones shareholders, stakeholders and taxing authorities. In the large company that employs me, we go to great lengths to be sufficiently transparent in our financial dealings to honor laws not only in the US, but in the many countries in which we operate around the world.

I will say this, though: we don’t tell everyone everything. We report enough to be transparent according to applicable statute, but no more. We do have corporate secrets that we keep in order not to tip our hand to our competitors, just as every other business does. Corporate financial statements give enough detail to satisfy requirements, but not so much as to allow someone to draw a straight line to confidential information on specific costs of operation or specific pricing policies within the company (not that others don’t try – in my business, there are plenty of analysts who also examine our financial statements and other public data in order to predict our future profits, and I know we do the same with our competitors in an effort to tease out their cost advantages so we can think about how to compete.)

All of that is interesting, but irrelevant.

What is relevant for me, as I think about tithing funds and the church’s stewardship over them is this (and, yes, I’m going to appeal to authority here, and I realize that for some such an appeal is a retreat from the field of battle, but so be it):

Tithing is a commandment of God. Abraham paid tithing to Melchizedek (Alma 13:15; Hebrews 7:1,6). Malachi taught about tithing (Malachi 3:8). And in modern revelation, the Lord renews the call for a tithing of his people (D&C 64:23; 119:3).

The church eloquently discussed the use of these sacred funds in a recent press release:

Tithing funds are used to support five key areas of activity:
• Providing buildings or places of worship for members around the world. We have thousands of such buildings and continue to open more, sometimes several in a week.
• Providing education programs, including support for our universities and our seminary and institute programs.
• Supporting the Church’s worldwide missionary program.
• Building and operating nearly 140 temples around the world and the administration of the world’s largest family history program.
• Supporting the Church’s welfare programs and humanitarian aid, which serve people around the world — both members of the Church as well as those who are not members.

Each April in conference, there’s a report of the audit department which confirms the use of church funds, overseen by the Council on the Disposition of Tithes, as directed by Section 120 of the Doctrine & Covenants, consistent with the church’s mission and that proper reporting and safeguards are in place to protect the assets of the church.

In the end, the tithing I contribute ceases to be my concern when I contribute it. I contribute it freely, not just because I altruistically support the key five areas of activity listed above, but because I seek the blessings associated with paying my tithing. It is part of my honoring the covenants I have made, covenants I certify that I am keeping when I renew my temple recommend every two years, and when I partake of the sacrament each week.

I have read recently that some see a sinister motive in requiring members to be full tithe payers to attend the temple. I have to scratch my head at that suggestion. The sacred covenants I enter into in the temple are completely consistent with the requirement that I be a full tithe payer. Of course, so is baptism.

So I’m trying to sort out what full disclosure it is that people are seeking. Are they anxious to scrutinize how much the church spends building and maintaining chapels and temples around the world? Do they want a vote on whether the church will continue to support three BYU campuses? Do they wish to examine the extent to which general church funds help support missionaries around the world or family history centers?

For me, my paying of tithing and other offerings is linked to covenants I have made with God, not with the church. I recognize that the church is His instrument, and so I pay my tithing to the church. I have a personal witness of the blessings of paying tithing in my own life, and I’ve observed similar blessings in the lives of those who are close to me.

As for accountability regarding the use of those funds, I’m happy to leave that in the Lord’s hands. If He is capable of blessing me as He has for paying my tithing, He’s quite capable of instructing those charged with the use of those funds, as well. And he’s capable of holding them accountable for what they do with those funds.


  1. Thanks for this.

    I was thinking last night about the worldwide church and how "transparency" would be a bad thing. Imagine if a small branch in Africa or MOngolia was able to see how much money a traditional LDS ward spends in the US. Suddenly the concerns would change from salvation to money.

  2. Interesting thought that I had not considered at all. In terms of on-the-ground budget spending, there are comparable per capita allowances around the world, at least in the international areas where I have lived. Fast offering spending in South America was generally lower, but that is only because housing was so much cheaper. I suspect general church spending on missionary service is higher internationally because of the number of non-North American missionaries who require assistance. (In Venezuela when we lived there, for instance, rampant inflation made mission saving in any traditional way virtually impossible -- $100 saved in local currency this year was worth $50 the next.)

    In any case, causing us to worry about who gets what slice of which pie puts us way closer to Zoramites than to Zion.

  3. I so agree with you and your perspective about tithing and transparency, etc. I know it is a small thing but when I make out a tithing check I make it out to the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS rather than the particular ward I attend. I covenanted to give to the building up of Zion, not a unit therein. I trust the Prophet and Apostles much more than I trust the local leaders. Especially after moving to this tiny branch and learning that the previous Branch President LIED about attendance numbers so he could get the next phase of the building added. But that is another story. Thanks for sharing. I too wonder what details the "dissenters" would like to be privy to. The church is not a money making entity, all of its assets are money draining. The members are the true assets, and how do we account for the worth of souls?

  4. RL, thanks for your comment. Interesting thought about making out the tithing check. I used the ward name, but I guess the bank takes all sorts of names. Only when I was bishop did I learn that more members than I realized sent tithing directly to SLC (some because they paid in stock, and others just because they wanted to for their own reasons).

  5. Granted - the tithe is a commandment. Having made that important qualification, keeping that commandment is my conscious choice. To me, that brings the tithe to the status of a gift to God. Once I give a gift, I surrender possession of it. Later use is irrelevant to my choice of providing a gift. To do otherwise strikes me as seeking possession of someone else's property.


  6. wilt, I like your thought about our offerings being gifts. It is unseemly to keep holding on to a gift once it's given.