Tax time in the US and as people are leaving the church, they are receiving real blessings. In many countries, donating money to a charitable organization is tax deductible, meaning this decreases your taxable income. This is a perk to tithing for some people, it can save you some money on your taxes, though not as much money as not paying tithing at all. Consider diverting your tithing donations to other causes, and stop feeding the church. The church has enough and desperately hides what it has so you keep giving. They do little real good with your donations, so give to other causes that actually make a positive difference in the world.
Death, Taxes, and Tithing
The only certainties in life are death and taxes. And for Mormons, there’s one more according to church leaders: tithing. But at least in reality, paying tithing can be avoided. That’s what church leaders don’t want us to know.
The Church Secret is Tithing Is Not Needed
Tithing is no longer needed, as the church can support itself on the massive wealth they have built on the backs of faithful members. Tithing was never even meant to be permanent. They know this and have worked endlessly to hide the fortune they have. The Mormon Church, along with Ensign Peak Advisors, its investment subsidiary, recently reached a settlement with the SEC to the tune of five million dollars for illegally hiding and obfuscating their invested wealth. Why did they do this? According to the head of Ensign Peak, Roger Clark the leaders were afraid that members would pay less tithing if they knew the church didn’t need to use it for church operations as they claim. He said “Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money. So they never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.”
For more than half a century, the Mormon Church quietly built one of the world’s largest investment funds. Almost no one outside the church knew about it.
Some of that mystery evaporated late last year when a former employee revealed in a whistleblower complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that the fund, called Ensign Peak Advisors, had stockpiled $100 billion. The whistleblower also alleged that the church had improperly used some Ensign Peak funds. Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormon Church, denied those claims.
They also declined to comment on how much money their investment fund controls. “We’ve tried to be somewhat anonymous,” Roger Clarke, the head of Ensign Peak, said from the firm’s fourth-floor office, above a Salt Lake City food court. Ensign Peak doesn’t appear in that building’s directory.
Interviews with more than a dozen former employees and business partners provide a deeper look inside an organization that ballooned from a shoestring operation in the 1990s into a behemoth rivaling Wall Street’s largest firms.
Its assets did total roughly $80 billion to $100 billion as of last year, some of the former employees said. That is at least double the size of Harvard University’s endowment and as large as the size of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the world’s largest tech-investment fund. Its holdings include $40 billion of U.S. stock, timberland in the Florida panhandle and investments in prominent hedge funds such as Bridgewater Associates LP, according to some current and former fund employees.
Church officials acknowledged the size of the fund is a tightly held secret, which they said was because Ensign Peak depends on donations—known as tithing—from the church’s 16 million world-wide members. The church is under no legal obligation to publicly report its finances.
But the whistleblower report—filed by David Nielsen, a former Ensign Peak portfolio manager—has heaped pressure on the church to be more transparent about its finances, something the church has avoided for decades.
The firm doesn’t tell business partners how much money it manages, an unusual practice on Wall Street. Ensign Peak employees sign lifetime confidentiality agreements. Most current employees are no longer told the firm’s total assets under management, according to some of the former employees; few employees understand what the money is intended for.
In their first-ever interview about Ensign Peak’s operations, Mr. Clarke and church officials who oversee the firm said it was a rainy-day account to be used in difficult economic times. As the church continues to grow in poorer areas of the world like Africa, where members cannot donate as much, it will need Ensign Peak’s holdings to help fund basic operations, they said.
“We don’t know when the next 2008 is going to take place,” said Christopher Waddell, a member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak known as the presiding bishopric. Referring to the economic crash 12 years ago, he added, “If something like that were to happen again, we won’t have to stop missionary work.”
During the last financial crisis, they didn’t touch the reserves Ensign Peak had amassed, church officials said. Instead, the church cut the budget.
A former employee and the whistleblower in his report said they heard Mr. Clarke refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ as part of the reason for Ensign Peak’s existence. Mormons believe before Jesus returns, there will be a period of war and hardship.
Mr. Clarke said the employees must have misunderstood his meaning. “We believe at some point the savior will return. Nobody knows when,” he said.
When the second coming happens, “we don’t have any idea whether financial assets will have any value at all,” he added. “The issue is what happens before that, not at the second coming.”
Whereas university endowments generally subsidize operating costs with investment income, Ensign Peak does the opposite. Annual donations from the church’s members more than covers the church’s budget. The surplus goes to Ensign Peak. Members of the religion must give 10% of their income each year to remain in good standing.
Dean Davies, another member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak, said the church doesn’t publicly share its assets because “these funds are sacred” and “we don’t flaunt them for public review and critique.”
Mr. Clarke said he believed church leaders were concerned that public knowledge of the fund’s wealth might discourage tithing.
“Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money,” Mr. Clarke said. “So they never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.”
The Mormon Church Amassed $100 Billion. It Was the Best-Kept Secret in the Investment World –https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mormon-church-amassed-100-billion-it-was-the-best-kept-secret-in-the-investment-world-11581138011
General Authority Living Allowances
The church leaders are in fact paid for their time. The church calls it a “living allowance”, not pay. What is the difference? They receive a stipend, while they make young (and senior) missions pay their own way. They make destitute members beg and plead for any church assistance, while church leaders high enough in the church get stipends, houses, reimbursed flights, vehicles, and living expenses galore. They get lucrative book deals publishing rehashed conference talks for residual income via their church celebrity status through companies that the church also owns like Deseret Book.
Should paying the church be a tax deduction? Should the church be exempt from paying taxes? It behaves much more like a company than a church. The government assumes that a church is actually charitable when it is categorized as a charitable organization and that it uses it’s funds for good. This is why governments allow churches to operate without paying taxes. But the church has gotten involved with collecting and developing real estate. It has built malls and shopping centers, it builds temples where previously the membership numbers were warranted insufficient to support the expense. The church is the largest landowner in the state of Florida. The church is involved with influencing politics and laws. An example is Proposition 8, where the church spent millions of dollars to influence a local California vote about legalizing same-sex marriage. A fight the church continues today. It supported the marriage act, not for equality, but for the exemption amendments which give the religious institutions loopholes to continue to discriminate.
They use the money to subsidize church-owned schools like BYU. They entice members to attend church schools which are less expensive than other schools due to the church using tithing money to fund them. They control what is taught and how by controlling who teaches and even who speaks at BYU devotionals and gives speeches. At these schools, they control the thinking of the faithful members. They control the research done by students and faculty. They even control what is eaten, which beverages can be found on campus, and what the students can look like. They control who can do what with the oversight of the strengthening church members committee overall and the honor code policies and enforcement.
The church devotes itself to investments galore with whole branches of the church devoted to stock market investments, portfolios, and day trading. They use these “sacred funds” to generate more money and have amassed over 100 billion dollars doing it! It’s like the church has taken to founder Joseph Smith’s early days of treasure-seeking. They are seeking treasure by whatever means necessary.
These are not activities of a tax-exempt church.
Claiming Charitable Work
To be fair the church does some charitable work. The church is quick and loud to share how much it donated to charities and the good they do, which is great, but when considering the scale of money available for the church to use, it’s frankly pitiful. It is a measly amount, next to nothing when viewed next to the hundreds of billions of dollars they reportedly have. The church also inflates its charitable numbers with factors like “man-hours”. They are known for helping to organize large numbers of volunteers for hurricane relief and such, but be sure they also claim full credit for these efforts and count the number of volunteers religiously so they can then count this as part of their humanitarian efforts. They get members to donate their time, often a whole weekend’s worth of time, and then total it up and claim it as a charitable church offering, when in fact it’s a collection of goodwill from church members.
I had a big moment when filing taxes using the popular tax software TurboTax. It asked if the same deductions applied as the year before.
Then, the website had to confirm that the deductions were to be removed from the filing. It felt like I was revisiting the dreaded tithing settlement where as a member I was required to report to my Bishop or local church leader, that I had fully paid the church an honest tithe for the year. The church requires paying them 10% of each member’s income. There are debates regarding paying on gross (before taxes) or net (after taxes) and historically members were actually only asked to pay on their increase. No surprise that today, “increase” is interpreted as “income” by the leaders who are asking members to pay.
It was like sitting in tithing settlement across from the Bishop’s desk as I’ve done for decades, but this time I defiantly said no, I didn’t pay a full tithe. I didn’t pay a cent of tithing to the church this year. The first time in my life I could say I didn’t give this church any of my money. I did contribute to other charities and causes I support, but the church is no longer among them.
What a moment to face reclaiming those donations! What a blessing to keep the hard-earned paycheck in order to pay for things we actually needed, like feeding and sheltering our own children, rather than pay the living expense stipends of church leaders and have the coffers of Ensign Peak grow hundreds of billions more at my expense. It wasn’t the main reason I stopped paying my tithing, since I’d just experienced a gut-wrenching faith transition, but it was a factor that really helped my guilty conscience move on faster.
What’s Your Story?
As tithing donations become a bad memory for more and more members who are leaving the fold, may we find other charities to continue supporting which might actually do something meaningful with the funds rather than pad their portfolios. May we also celebrate the freedom of no longer paying 10% of our income to a predatory organization bent on amassing as much wealth as possible. Using it to simply pay off a mortgage faster or even if only to enjoy our one life a little better, it is better spent. Let us know if the billions of hidden Mormon dollars was on your shelf. Did you find out after your faith transition or was it a catalyst in your deconstruction? How did it feel when you stopped paying tithing? Create an account and tell your own “I was a Mormon” exit story on your own profile. Many already have and you can see them in the wasmormon.org profile directory.