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In an interview President Gordon B Hinckley explains that the reason the church is not open about their finances is because they think “that information belongs to those who made the contribution”.
In my country, the…we say the people’s churches, the protestants, the catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.
Why is it impossible for your church?
Well, we simply think that the…that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world. That’s the only thing. Yes.Salt Lake City, Utah January 29, 2002 Conducted by Helmut Nemetschek at 47 East South Temple, Prior To And In Preparation For, The “Mormon Winter Olympics” – Full Transcript: https://wasmormon.org/gordon-b-hinckley-interview-transcript-zdf-german-television/
This sounds nice and has a great ring to it. Unfortunately, it’s not true. “Those who made the contribution” would equate to tithe-paying members of the church, right? Hard to know what he means in a faith-positive way. Does he know he’s lying, or is he really thinking that the church does this? Maybe he’s referring to the church’s world financial reports?
Perhaps he in some way is referring to the church budgets which are all set at a local level. Even there though, members make their tithing contributions and then the church does what it wants with the funds. It does send some back to wards and stakes for their own activities and such, but this is embarrassingly nominal. We’re talking a fraction of a single percent annually. This is not what the question was asking, he isn’t referring to local budgets at all, he’s asking about overall church finances.
Perhaps he is referring to the specific members who donates money. Some members claim that they thought he was just talking about privacy of the members who donate. The church makes sure this information is available to members at what is called Tithing Settlement. This is when a member declares to their Bishop if they have paid a full tithe and receive a receipt for tax purposes – along with an admonition to settle up their debts to the Lord. Clearly, this is the same information available to donors when balancing their checkbook or keeping track of the yellow slips when paying tithing.
This interpretation is by design. The church has a way of making you think you agree with what they said, but you only agree with something that they didn’t say. What they actually say is something different, something scary. The reporter asked why the church isn’t transparent with it’s finances, and the response is a defensive statement of “privacy” for the members that contribute money. That is irrelevant to the question. A classic dodge. Knowing how the church (a tax-exempt, non-profit organization) uses the money it receives as donations in no way jeopardizes the privacy of those donors. The church is never asked to divulge who gives and how much they give. The world isn’t expecting to see specifically how much each individual donates. That’s different than seeing an accounting for how the church is spending these “widow’s mites”. Claiming that the information is for those who make the contribution is not remotely answering the question. No country asks to see who contributed to each non-profit organization, it may ask how much an individual contributes in their own accounting when filing taxes, but this is the responsibility of the individual – not the organization. It seems the church is just trying to keep things as closed as is legal, they don’t want the scrutiny and accountability.
Again, “those who made the contribution” equates to tithe-paying members of the church. The church is keeping the church finances from the rightful owners and is hiding the fact that it does this. They are, supposedly with a clear conscience, telling the world that the church is not transparent with the world because this information doesn’t belong to the world, it belongs to the body church, or the church members. Following this thought, as a body, the church puts all trust in the “leadership”. So in a twisted self-serving way this could be seen as a true statement.
The “church” receives donations from the “church” and the “church” manages this money as the “church” deems best, transparently sharing the information with the “church”.
In order to make sense of that, every use of the word “church” denotes a different group within the church. The corporation of the church, church members, church leadership, church finance partners like Ensign Peak, and finally the church presidency. So, the “church” donates the money and manages it and tracks it transparently within the “church”. This is reminiscent to the fine print disclaimer on tithing slips which states the church will do whatever it deems fit with the donations, though they will try their darndest to keep the funds allocated as earmarked on the donation slip. It’s all up the “church” to deal with, so don’t worry about it, just trust us to do what’s right.
As a tax-exempt religious organization, many countries require transparency here. The church opts to keep these finances secret to avoid scrutiny. Which begs the question, is it hiding something? Is it simply a power grab? Is it hiding the resources the church currently has in order to continue to milk the membership for more? Whatever it is doing, the church is simply not sharing this financial information with those who made the contributions in any way shape or form, even though the president of the church at the time claims this as the reason they are not fully transparent.
Not to mention the leaked information lately that the church has a slush fund alone that is apparently worth well over $100B ($100,000,000,000). In response to the allegations, the church’s First Presidency stated that “the Church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes, and reserves,” and that “a portion” of funds received by the church are “methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future.” So they’re doing what they legally are required to do – and nothing else. Even when they say (or allude) that they do more.
We can see some interesting details though from the countries that do in fact require transparency from non-profit/tax-exempt organizations like the church. For example, the donations received from members in Canada is largely (around 90%) funneled to BYU, take a look.
Too bad the the reporter didn’t ask a follow-up question to clarify what he means and how that information is shared. The only way to reconcile this is to understand that he knew what he was saying and the “church” knows what it is doing in secret with money given in good faith. This is abuse of trust and an example of the “church” acting more like a corporation. An answer honest with how the church behaves would be “that information belongs to the recipient of the funds“.