The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want Mormon Land in your inbox? Subscribe here.
This week’s podcast: Mother in Heaven
In 2015, the LDS Church issued a short essay matter-of-factly affirming its belief in a Heavenly Mother. Some argue whole books should be written about her. And that’s precisely what Rachel Hunt Steenblik did with her volume “Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother.” She discussed her writings and research on the latest “Mormon Land” podcast. Listen here.
Faith and finances
The LDS Church pulled back the veil a bit this week on a sometimes touchy topic: money. No, the information released on the faith’s Newsroom website didn’t disclose any amounts. It didn’t say how much tithing the church received. It didn’t note how much it paid in taxes. It didn’t reveal how much it has in reserves. In fact, the document contains not a single $ (dollar sign).
But the materials — including an article by Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, building upon a speech he gave in March — did provide some insights into the faith’s finances.
Here are some highlights:
• Does the LDS Church pay taxes? Yes and no. In the United States, for instance, it doesn’t pay property taxes on, say, its meetinghouses, schools or charitable facilities. As for state and federal income taxes, well, churches and other nonprofits are generally exempt from those.
The church does, however, pay taxes “on any income it derives from revenue-producing activities that are regularly carried on and are not substantially related to its tax-exempt purposes,” the release states. And its for-profit businesses pay federal and state corporate income taxes on their net income. As a worldwide faith, the church also must cover the taxes and fees as required by law in those countries where it operates.
• Heeding the same counsel it gives its members, the church doesn’t spend more than it brings in. It even socks away money and investments to fund the growing faith’s future expansion and to guard against tough times. Its guiding budgeting policies call for expenditures not to exceed revenue forecasts and for operating expenses not to rise more rapidly than the anticipated take from members’ tithing (the latter is by far the largest source of revenue). At the same time, the church has spent billions in recent years on welfare and humanitarian aid.
• Yes, the church invests in stocks and bonds. It “strives to be a good steward,” the release says, and relies on certified professionals to invest in a “broad and diversified manner.”
• In addition, the church points to its development of the $1.5 billion City Creek Center as serving several purposes. Besides working as an investment, the retail-residential-office project “enhanced the environs of Temple Square” and provided “economic activity during a financial downturn” while attracting locals and out-of-towners to downtown Salt Lake City.
• So how much is the church worth? The document doesn’t say, of course, and challenges the notion of posing such a question. “Some people may try to attach a monetary value to the church in the same way they would assess the assets of a commercial corporation,” the release states. “Such comparisons simply do not hold up.” For example, every time the church builds a chapel, a temple or a seminary facility, those buildings, although assets, cost money to maintain.
Historian D. Michael Quinn, in his recent book “Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power,” attempts to put a price tag on the church’s riches. He estimates — based on historical data and extrapolations — that the church took in about $33 billion in tithing in 2010 and earns another $15 billion annually on its profit-making investments. A Bloomberg Businessweek piece from more than five years ago cited an investigation pegging the LDS Church’s worth at $40 billion.
“We are not a financial institution or a commercial corporation,” said Caussé, who oversees the faith’s financial, real estate, investment and charitable undertakings. “We are the Church of Jesus Christ, and this church has no other objective than that which the Lord himself assigned to it; namely, to invite all to ‘come unto Christ.’”
A first at BYU
Brigham Young University has named the first female dean of its business school.
Brigitte Madrian will become the ninth dean of the Marriott School of Business on Jan. 1, according to a news release. She is currently at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and previously worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the University of Chicago.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics at BYU, Madrian received a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She will succeed Lee T. Perry, who has been serving as dean at the Provo school since 2013.
Pulling back in Nicaragua
Not even two months ago, the LDS Church’s future looked bright in Nicaragua as President Russell M. Nelson announced plans to build the faith’s first temple in that Central American country.
Now, clouds are arising.
Increasing civil strife prompted Mormon leaders to move more than half its missionaries out of Nicaragua, home to nearly 100,000 Latter-day Saints in more than 100 congregations.
Mormons and Muslims
The Beehive State’s Mormon politicians are earning praises for holding the line against Islamophobia. First, BuzzFeed News reported that Utah is the only U.S. state in which a major Republican politician hasn’t spewed anti-Muslim rhetoric since 2015. Now, a guest column in The New York Times from a religious liberty expert is saluting Utah’s politicians for their sensitivity and urging others to model their example.
“Mormons know too well what it means to be singled out for persecution, and to have one’s faith maligned as a threat to America,” writes attorney and scholar Asma T. Uddin. “But it shouldn’t require that experience to understand that religious freedom for some is really religious freedom for none.”
A sorry state
On May 17, the day Nelson and his counselors in the governing First Presidency held their historic meeting with leaders of the NAACP, a Web page went viral for reporting that Nelson had apologized for the LDS Church’s former ban on black men and boys joining the faith’s all-male priesthood and on black women and girls entering Mormon temples.
Trouble is, it wasn’t true.
Jonathan Streeter, an ex-Mormon living in Texas, concocted it to “start a conversation” about what he sees as the Utah-based faith’s need to apologize for that racial prohibition, which ended in 1978.
But the ruse hurt and angered black Latter-day Saints, many of whom have been yearning, pleading and praying for just such an apology — a legitimate one — from their church.
So, a few days later, Streeter apologized.
“While I understood that apologies have tremendous power to heal, I was unaware the spiritual need for apology felt in the hearts of Mormon persons of color was so deep and abiding,” he wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune. “As a result, I caused tremendous pain for black Mormons who have patiently waited for so long. I am deeply sorry.”
MoTabs sing black anthem
On May 20, about two dozen national officers from the NAACP attended the weekly broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” during which the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs several musical numbers and announcer Lloyd Newell intones a short homily.
The half-hour performance, touted as the longest-running continuous radio show, goes out to listeners across the nation.
After Sunday’s regular broadcast, the choir offered a rousing rendition — accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square — of the black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, had asked the famed choir to present the song, whose words were written to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
As the first strains of the anthem filled the historic Mormon Tabernacle, the NAACP leadership and their new Utah friends rose to their feet in a gesture of respect. Soon, every person was standing and remained that way until the number ended before breaking into an enthusiastic applause.
Jordan River Temple reopens
South Jordan joined Provo as the only Utah cities with a pair of operating Mormon temples after President Henry B. Eyring rededicated the renovated Jordan River Temple on Sunday. The Beehive State boasts 17 LDS temples, and the church has announced plans for two more — in Saratoga Springs and Layton.
A new G.A.
It’s not General Conference time, but a new general authority has been named nonetheless.
Brook P. Hales, secretary to the First Presidency, has been tapped for the Seventy, according to a news release from the church.
Hales is no stranger to General Conferences. He has been a frequent speaker, not delivering sermons but rather giving statistical reports on Mormonism’s growth — new converts, new temples, the number of full-time missionaries and so forth. The church stopped giving those reports over the pulpit this past April, choosing instead simply to post the figures online.
Utah honors prophet-pioneer
A Mormon prophet being lauded as a pioneer is hardly novel. Think Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff.
But the fact that the LDS leader earning praises is the current one, 93-year-old Russell M. Nelson, and that his pioneering work came in medicine certainly set him apart from the rest.
Utah is honoring Nelson with the state’s highest science award for his lifetime achievements as a trailblazing heart surgeon. In 1951, for instance, he belonged to a research team that developed the heart-lung machine, making possible the first human open-heart surgery. Four years later, Nelson performed the state’s first open-heart surgery.
Quote of the week
“The law of tithing continues to be an essential practice of Latter-day Saints, regardless of where they live, their social standing or their material circumstances. It is also the foundation of the financial stability of the church.”
—Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, “The Spiritual Foundations of Church Financial Self-Reliance”
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.