Boy. Where to start?
I left Mormonism for a lot of reasons, but their financial practices were in the three main reasons that made me go "Fuck this shit." I'll start small and work my way up to the story in the OP. Pardon the rambling but I'm just typing and linking. This probably won't flow that well.
The church teaches as a commandment that you must pay 10% of your income to the church to build the kingdom of God on Earth. It also commands that you fast once a month and donate the money you would have used for food to the church as a fast offering. I did this from the time I started working part time as a teenager through my mid 20s when I had graduated and was working full time. $20 from a $200 check when you're 16 living at home with no expenses didn't seem like that big of a deal back then. Because it wasn't, tbh.
At 19 I decided I would tithe 10% of my life and went and did a Mormon mission for two years. In addition to handing over every facet of my life and mind to the church I also had to pay them $400 per month for the privilege. My family helped me out in that regard. I taught people the Law of Tithing as part of the conversion process. I went to Chile. It's a pretty developed nation. The most developed nation in South America. But there is still rampant poverty. It wasn't uncommon for me to be teaching people that had dirt floors and tin roofs. One of the things I was teaching these people was that if they paid 10% of their earnings to the church that God would bless them. And if they didn't do so then they were robbing God. I firmly believed that back then.
I got home and started going to college. I got married a little over a year later. The church really emphasizes this and makes you feel like shit if you're not married by your early 20s. Also, I wanted to fuck. I started working 3/4 time while going to school. This was the first time it was actually hard for me to pay tithing. I was taking out student loans (which I'm still paying off) to pay for school and some of our living expenses. So why was I paying 10% of every check to my church? I could really use some of those blessings that I hear so much about... I'm sure they'll come in time.
Pretty much every member of the Mormon church has a "calling", which is an assignment given to you by your local bishop (pastor/priest) to help out the ward (congregation). During my school years the calling given to me was to be the ward financial clerk. This meant that I counted the donations/tithes given to the bishop for the week and deposited them in the bank. I also wrote reimbursement checks and checks that the bishop authorized to help a struggling family with an expense or similar things (these are what fast offerings are supposed to be used for). This is when my foundation got its first crack.
I lived in the poorer part of Provo, Utah during this time. My wife and I attended a Spanish-speaking ward (she's a native Spanish speaker). On average I'd say our donations every week were in the $2,000 range. On fasting Sundays it would be closer to $2,500. So our congregation was pulling in around $9,000 per month. On the donation slips that you put with the money you donate, there are several line items. In big, bold, black text at the top is the first line item: Tithing. Below that is more bold, black text: Fast offerings. Followed by several other line items that aren't bolded: Humanitarian aid, Temple construction (more on this later), Book of Mormon printing, etc. I started wondering why there were different line items if I'm putting all of the money in the same bag and depositing it to an account owned by the church headquarters. Every penny donated goes to the LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City and is redistributed from there. You have zero insight as to what happens with it. I asked our bishop about that. He pointed to the fine text at the bottom of the donation slip which basically says "You can tell us how you'd prefer we spend your money but go ahead and fuck right off. We'll do what we want with it."
I graduated school. Simultaneously I was laid off. I got another job lined up pretty quickly, but I wasn't going to start for a month. Which means I wasn't getting paid for at least 6 weeks. Okay, now I could really use some of those blessings because all the money in our savings account isn't going to cover 6 weeks' expenses. I went to the bishop. I told him my situation and that I was going to need $200 to cover our rent. Could the ward help me out from the fast offering funds (which I personally had definitely put well over $200 into over the course of my time in the ward up to that point)? The bishop said he was sorry about my situation and he'd love to help out. But he had some questions first. "Did you ask your parents for help? What about extended family? Do you have money in savings or investments that can be used? Etc." My family lives out of state. I'm asking for $200 because my savings aren't covering everything. I'm graduating college. I have no investments to speak of. "Are you paying your tithing?" Yeah. That's at least partly why I'm in this situation. "Good. The Lord will bless us if we pay our tithing." So, basically, you weren't going to help me out if I wasn't current on my tithing payments? So all the other people that come in here asking for help go through this? Not only are they in a humiliating situation, but you shake them down? Are you fucking serious? He authorized me to cut a check for $200. But since I was the financial clerk I couldn't cut a check for myself and we had to have somebody else in the ward do it in the system. That wasn't humiliating either.
More cracks in the foundation. I had donated thousands of dollars up to this point. I had given two years of my life to the church and $10,000 in addition to do so. I had worked for the ward for free counting money every week and depositing it for four years. I was the only clerk in the stake (a group of wards that is the next organizational level up) that had never had even a penny missing in my quarterly audits. But I was being given a spiritual anal cavity search to basically borrow $200 in a time of need? From money that is supposed to be allocated for this purpose? This combined with everything else that I was questioning and having problems with in the church? Man, fuck this shit.
The church has ways of coercing you to pay tithing too. They maintain two main types of buildings for worship purposes: chapels and temples. A chapel is where Sunday services are held. Temples are where you go when you have proven yourself faithful enough to receive what is called an endowment. The endowment gives you the signs and passwords that you need to give angels and sentinels guarding heaven to be let in. So, if you want to be exalted and live with God you need to go to the temple. The temple is also where you get married when you are a Mormon. Your marriage lasts for "time and all eternity." To be able to attend the temple to do an endowment or to go to your family member's wedding or to get married yourself, you need what is called a "Temple Recommend". You get this by having an interview with the bishop and stake president. They ask you questions about your worthiness. Basically: "Do you keep the commandments? Do you pay your tithing?" You answer in the affirmative and they give you the recommend. It expires after two years and you do the process again. So, if you don't pay your tithing you don't get the club card. If you don't get the club card you don't get the keys and passwords. If you don't get the keys and passwords you don't get to be exalted with God. Also, if you don't have the club card you don't get to go to weddings (which are frequent in mormonism). You don't get to go on family temple trips. You don't get to do those kinds of things with your friends either. So everybody starts asking and assuming things about your worthiness. The culture is very effective at keeping you paying your tithing to the church. Oh, and these temples typically cost tens of millions of dollars to build. They recently built one in Haiti. I'm sure that's what they need right now instead of you know... houses and food.
Leaders give talks in the semi-annual general conferences. Tithing is inevitably touched on in the 10 or so hours that these things last over the weekend. A recent talk by a leader at one of these said "If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you." Evil, pernicious shit like that every six months from the top leadership. Then you hear about it frequently the rest of the year too from your local leadership. The mormon prophet recently said in a speech in Kenya, "We preach tithing to the poor people of the world because the poor people of the world have had cycles of poverty, generation after generation," he said. "That same poverty continues from one generation to another, until people pay their tithing." The GDP of Kenya is $75 billion. You're asking poor people to send money to a U.S. based church that has more money than the entire country they live in? How is that going to break their cycle of poverty? And it's not like you're building hospitals and digging wells in Africa either. You fuck.
The mormon church claims to have a lay leadership. That means they don't get paid. Not a penny. For the local leadership at the ward and stake level that is definitely true. And leadership at all levels likes to boast of this as a sign it's the "true church" and will pull out some bible verse to prove this to you. Whatever. But once you get past the stake leadership level? You're gettin' paid. Handsomely. There's the Quorum of the Seventy, the Twelve Apostles, and the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors). If you are in any one of those you get paid a six figure salary that was last known to be around $120,000 per year. Does that sound like a whole lot? Eh, no. But the men (and they are always men) that are called into these positions are usually independently wealthy and approaching retirement before receiving the job. Usually. Plus, the church takes care of every meaningful expense when you're in one of those positions: Housing, travel, automobile, food, medical, tuition for your kids, etc. So that $120,000 is basically fun money that you can use for whatever you want. When I found that out after being told my entire life that people in the church don't make money and they were virtuous because of it? I was a little peeved. Like, it's fine that the church takes care of your expenses when you're working for them. That makes sense. But $120,000 to invest how you want or play with every year? That is a shit ton of money.
Recently, Dallin Oaks--a counselor in the First Presidency--boasted that the church, on average, has donated $40 million per year to charitable causes over the past 30 years. That sounds awesome! Until you do the basic fucking napkin math. There are 16,000,000 members on the church's rolls. $40,000,000 divided by 16,000,000 = ... So you gave $2.50 to a charitable cause out of the several thousand dollars I gave you this year? I'd like to see your books please. Oh, I can't. They're closed and you're not legally obligated to share anything. So you don't. I'm sure everything is on the up and up and I'd be totally fine with how you're spending my money.
When I was in Chile I'd usually get a newspaper with my letters from home that the church would include. They have their own mini newspaper called "Church News" (in addition to the giant Deseret News that they own). One article one time was announcing that the church was building a mall in downtown Salt Lake City to revitalize the area. I thought that was weird. The article had quotes from leaders saying that no tithing funds were being used to build that mall, but the money was coming from other tax-paying for-profit ventures that the church owned. I never had a problem with those since they paid taxes and were very open about their for-profit-ness. And they seemed pretty humble. But I did wonder how a small bookstore chain and a small local broadcasting company was going to cover all that without financing as they claimed. But whatever. Not a big deal to me at the time.
Later, as I was going through my faith transition and really digging into all this shit I saw many articles pointing to estimated guesses that the mall cost $1.5 - 2 billion to build. And I remember the first time I visited that mall. It is a very swanky indoor/outdoor hybrid mall with a retractable roof and an indoor river flowing through it. It's full of stores I couldn't (and still can't) afford to shop in. And even when I was still believing I was just awestruck at the lavish luxury. And my mind immediately raced back to every single person with a dirt floor and a tin roof that I ever told to pay money to the church. I cried myself to sleep that night.
During this digging, I found out that the church and its holdings own 2% of the landmass in Florida and large chunks of Nebraska and Texas as well. They own skyscrapers in some of the biggest cities in the world and continue to make similar purchases.
In May of 2018, a guy named Ryan McKnight who runs a website called "Mormon Leaks" started poking around and found that the Mormon church held at least $32 billion in stocks. This is just what they were required to report to the SEC. Short version: He found this out by looking at domain names of some LLC companies and who actually owned the domain (the LDS church), combined with a church employee directory. The guys who were reported as managers of these funds on these SEC forms were also in the church directory. He placed a call to at least one and asked for him by name and if he worked for one of the LLC companies. The guy confirmed he did. He called this guy at the number listed in the church directory. He placed a call later and asked for the same guy and if he worked for the LDS church. The guy hung up the phone.
This sparked a huge conversation in the "Bloggernacle" (what the Mormon and post-Mormon community calls the blogosphere, chat rooms, social media, and podcasts). It was a bombshell. And even then, people were saying "This is just what they are required to report. It's probably just the tip of the ice berg." And what do you know? It was.
Many informed guesses had put the church's annual tithing income in the $7 billion range. That looks to be correct from what this whistleblower says. And of that, $6 billion goes into operating expenses (the church owns thousands of buildings, properties, and a handful of businesses) while the other $1 billion is given to Ensign Peak Advisors. It sounds like Ensign Peak is over all of the smaller investment LLCs. Ensign Peak is a 501c3.
I read this article yesterday and all the rage and guilt that I had let go of over the last few years immediately came flooding back. This whistleblower knows of $120 billion he helped oversee. That's just what he oversaw! All of the church's assets have to be in the $200 billion range. At least. $40,000,000 when compared to $200 billion or even "just" $120 billion is... like. Fuck. I am choking on my own rage here just typing this. You need all that money for the Second Coming? To what? Fund an army? I'm sure stocks are going to mean a lot when the sky is burning and people are killing each other for food in your doomsday fantasy. You can fuck right off. And the only times you used this money was to bail out your shitty insurance company and to pay the mall debt? This money was built on my tithing. Fuck. You.
Great book. Remember the gold mine mentioned in that book? The one that is totally real but the gold won't come until the second coming or whatever? My grandma owns shares in that.
EPA is not a for profit company. They are also a 501c3. If his claim that it has not made any charitable distributions in its entire existence is true, then that's quite a bit more than something he "doesn't like." But, even removing the question of legality it is a hugely shitty thing to amass that amount of money, hoard it, and not use it for charity while demanding that the poorest people on the planet give you 10% of their money or they don't get to be with God.