City Creek Mall

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Salt Lake City, Utah was founded by leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1847, as they arrived after a difficult overland trek to escape religious persecution. Over time, the church has grown from a small, regional group to a world-wide, thriving major religion. Likewise, the city has grown into a major center of commerce and industry, with residents of many religions. Despite the broadened scope of each, a special relationship between the Church and its headquarter city remains.

Salt Lake City has faced many of the challenges common to cities: upper-income flight to the suburbs, aging infrastructure, an influx of low-income residents with heavier claims on public services, decreased economic vitality, and increased crime. Like many cities, Salt Lake City has sought to attract businesses in order to provide jobs for residents and prevent the degradation of the city environment.

The Church has shared the city’s concern for economic vitality, both out of concern for the residents’ livelihoods and because of the Church’s downtown Temple Square which attracts thousands of visitors annually. Were Salt Lake City to suffer urban decay, these visitors would be affected.

In recent years the area around Temple Square in Salt Lake City looked likely to suffer exactly that fate. Many businesses had moved to other areas of the city and the area was becoming run down, decreasing the quality of life for residents.

The Church has responded in two ways. First, through its Inner City Project, the Church has assigned service missionaries to provide job training, transportation, and other help to inner-city Salt Lake City residents. The hope is that the city environment will benefit from residents who are less plagued by joblessness, health troubles, and feeling hopeless to rise economically. Second, the Church has invested in the City Creek Mall as an economic development project, in hopes that the construction and other jobs will provide opportunity for residents and that the new infrastructure will stave off urban decay.

Some criticize the church for its investment, judging that the funds could have been better spent elsewhere. (The total estimated cost of the project is $1.5 billion; it is not known how this was shared between the church and its development partner, The Taubman Company.) These criticisms ignore the merits of the Church’s strategy–the City Creek Center addresses the roots of urban decay, and the Inner City Project addresses its symptoms. There are many places in the world with greater need–and the Church’s humanitarian programs commit significant resources to them–but the Church shouldn’t be condemned for helping its own neighbors in the city to which it has special historical ties.

Whatever funds the Church spend on City Creek did not come from member tithes; the funds came from returns on church properties and investments. The Church owns these assets from the happy historical accident of acquiring them many decades ago and prudent management since then.

22 thoughts on “City Creek Mall

  1. Howard

    Why do you state that the total estimated cost is $1.5 Billion when multiple
    News articles refer to it as a $5Billion cost? Without playing shell games or spin, what funds does the church actually have the did not come directly or indirectly from tithes? Some estimate the church takes in about $6 Billion a year in tithes and another $1 Billion in profits from businesses. But world wide humanitarian aid expenses average only $13 Million per year! Why so little? When you compare this to the City Creek project or to the church’s annual cash flow it is just a tiny fraction of what is being spent. The vast majority of the church’s funds are spent on buildings. Why does the church care so much more about buildings than third world lives?

  2. Cassandra Hedelius Post author

    I refer to the cost as $1.5 billion because the cost was $1.5 billion. If you read more carefully, you’ll see that the $5 billion figure is the SLC Chamber of Commerce’s estimate of the TOTAL spent on a the revitalization of downtown SLC, and City Creek is only a portion of that total project. (See http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=19428181.)

    If you know much about third world philanthropy, you might know that dumping money into the situation is not always a very good solution. The church focuses on projects with long-term solutions, like electricity generators and clean-water projects, that tend to produce better results for families and communities than dumping a ton of food or cash, which gets diverted into corrupt systems. The church focuses on buildings because it is a church, and needs reliable places for its members to worship. You can disagree with the church’s allocations, but it’s hardly an outlandish or obviously immoral decision for a church to build churches.

  3. Howard

    So the church and it’s businesses has no investment beyond $1.5 Billion? Who is handling the rest?

    “Dumping” money into the situation is not at all what I had in mind. I was thinking of putting more money into materials and equipment to support well managed projects and calling more service missionaries to work with and train local labor. It’s not a new idea Christians have been doing it for a long time.

    I’ve read the articles, the church has “dozens” of clean-water projects manned by “dozens” of missionaries around the world. Sorry but that’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the world wide need and the church’s ample resources. The church’s income seems to greatly exceed it’s need for meeting houses and temples given it’s ability to participate in multi $Billion urban renewal projects. It wouldn’t hurt them a bit to double, or triple or even quadruple humanitarian aid, gee that’s only $52 Million, chump change compared to the building projects.

  4. Cassandra Hedelius Post author

    “So the church and it’s businesses has no investment beyond $1.5 Billion? Who is handling the rest?” I have no idea. I don’t work for the church or have access to its balance sheets. Neither, I presume, do you. So all of this is just speculation, including your assumptions about what “seems” this or that way and would or wouldn’t “hurt them a bit.” The church commits significant funds to necessary causes, like building churches and supporting missionaries, and additional significant funds to highly beneficial causes, like developing SLC and humanitarian projects. That’s all that can be factually stated, and your further carping is based on assumption. So perhaps you’re correct, but what do you have to back it up with? Just hostile speculation based on bad numbers (President Hinckley said the $6 billion estimate is grossly exaggerated, and that was pre-recession).

    And why hostile? This is a church that does, in fact, commit very large sums of money to selfless ends. Hostility would make more sense if that pattern wasn’t in place. I can think of a dozen practical reasons why it may prefer to allocate funds in the measures that it does. I just think it’s a little strange to set yourself up as the charity police who sets the standards for how a church may reasonably spend its money without incurring condemnation, especially when you can’t read reports about the amounts correctly, and when you don’t know for certain any other relevant figures, either :)

  5. Pingback: 31 March 2012 | MormonVoices

  6. brettogden

    I think that revitalizing downtown SLC is a good goal. But as a church member I have two questions:

    1) Why have we spent more on a single local revitalization project than we have over the past 25 years of humanitarian aid? You can claim that the City Creek funds came from sources other than tithing but in the end everything the church has came from tithing (including the sacrifices made by our ancestors in settling the Great Basin).

    2) Were there no other more appropriate ways for a church to revitalize SLC? It seems inconsistent for our church to be promoting extreme consumerism in very high priced retail outlets. Perhaps another church college or university could have filled that space. Or maybe the church could have given the land to companies that might have been interested in relocating to SLC.

    On Elder Oaks’ good-better-best scale… where does this project rank? Was it a “good” that could have been “better”? Was there a “best” option?

    Maybe it would be easier for myself and other members to understand the expense of this mall being greater than the sum total of decades worth of humanitarian aid if the Brethren would give us some insight into how our tithing funds are handled. But they choose not to do that so we are left to wonder.

  7. Cassandra Hedelius Post author

    Hi Brett,

    These are legit questions. I have some legit thoughts for your consideration :) Some of them are informed by a smarter article here: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2012/04/city-creek-and-the-choices-of-thrift/

    (1) All church assets did not come from tithing. Many many people give additional gifts of cash, stock, and land to the church. The gifts are probably in the same spirit as tithing, but can be used more flexibly.

    (2) Decades ago, church leaders made the decision to retain a significant surplus at all times. I think that this was wise because (a) church expenditures tend to grow as the church grows, because more people means more tithe-payers means more money to spend and need for chapels and temples etc.; and (b) an economic or natural shock could cause expenses to significantly outrun tithing income pretty suddenly. The church wants to stay out of debt (D&C 19:35), and so the decision to run a surplus is a defensible one.

    (3) Humanitarian expenditures are a Very Good Thing. Keeping the taxes paid and the lights on in chapels and temples is an Essential Thing. Some have problems with that statement, insisting that humanitarian aid should be prioritized above all else, but I think that’s not sensible. The church is a church, and its #1 job is to organize people so that they can learn the gospel, receive ordinances, and go out to lift others. Therefore, keeping the surplus on hand (and wisely invested) is in furtherance of that essential function.

    (4) A church college or university is a money sink, no matter its other virtues, and therefore would not fulfill the church’s purpose to save and receive a return on its investment. The mall serves multiple purposes: development for SLC, and asset management for the church.

    (5) As for the “extreme consumerism,” a few thoughts. (a) The church is not the only partner in this venture. They worked closely with Taubman and SLC. The church had some say, obviously, as with the limited no-Sunday rule, but they might not have been able to be so strident as to veto stores on such vague grounds as “extreme consumerism.” (b) As this is in investment, it needs to actually have a hope of producing returns or at least not completely crashing and burning, as it might have if it featured nothing but Dollar Stores.

    I hope this helps.

  8. brettogden

    Cassandra,

    Some responses…

    1) When a faithful member donates money or property to the Lord’s church is it not considered tithing? Could we at least agree that it should be considered sacred funds? Or is your assertion that some people donate to the church with the intent that it NOT be used for the Lord’s work?

    2) & 3) Since I did not bring up the topic of a surplus, I gather that you are suggesting the City Creek mall investment acts as that surplus safety net that you refer to. But, to function as the safety net you describe, the investment would need to be relatively liquid. As someone with a bit of background in real estate investment & management I can assure you that there is nothing liquid about the church’s investment in City Creek mall. In poor economic times, it will not be available to help the church with its financial obligations.

    4) You assume that the mall will not be a money sink and that the church will receive a return on its investment. That is a tenuous assumption given that developers have largely moved away from projects like City Creek given their lack of profitability in our economy. But we’re left with an unanswered question because the church does not and likely will not ever let membership know if their investments are financial successes.

    5a) Your comment suggests that the church was somehow locked into a partnership with Taubman and SLC. Was it not their choice to enter into the partnership? The church owned the property, I doubt that anyone forced them into the City Creek plan.

    When a close relative of mine opened up a restaurant (outside of Utah/Idaho), they chose to not serve coffee/tea/alcohol and they kept it closed on Sunday. Your argument here suggests that even in the heart of the Mormon corridor, a successful investment must stand in violation of principles we hold dear. That’s an interesting position.

    5b) I would think there is some good middle-ground between the stores that currently lease space in City Creek and “dollar stores”. Could it not house stores that a low to middle income family might be able to shop at? A store for modest prom & wedding dresses? Perhaps a place that a young LDS mother could go to buy inexpensive, good quality church clothes for her children? If those stores don’t exist, than who better to foster their growth than the LDS Church? Maybe they could have provided space for wholesome family entertainment. And maybe, instead of uber-luxurious 2-bedroom condos, the church could have contracted the construction of modest, utilitarian 3-5 bedroom units for LDS families who would love to live in the shadow of the temple.

    I realize that the counter-argument to all of that is that church leadership did what it did to maximize profit and that we need to trust them. But this is the Lord’s money and I have a tough time imagining the Lord deciding that the best way to invest it is multi-million dollar penthouses looking down on a Tiffany & Co jewelry store.

  9. Cassandra Hedelius Post author

    Hi again Brett,

    (1) Nice try, but you can’t just assert that wise investment is not in furtherance of the Lord’s work. The donations are, as I said, in the spirit of tithing, but they can be used more flexibly. The church has legitimate needs that tradition and revelation re tithing don’t allow it to fill, but these other funds can.

    (2) The returns will be liquid. The principal will be less so, but still able to be unwound more quickly than tithing receipts might rebound.

    (4) The mall is unlikely to be a money sink; though it might not realize very good returns. That would still be a far better financial outcome than a genuine money sink like a college. This project was began prior to the current downturn, and it was defensible to continue given that SLC’s economy is performing better than the national average. The retailers seem to think it’s worth it to open.

    (5a)”Principles we hold dear?” I’m not a consumer of luxury goods myself, and don’t ever plan to be, but that’s a little strident. The church constantly begs people to stay out of debt and give their means to good causes; investing in a retailer is not enough, I think, to cancel that out. To an extremely poor person, just living in the US and shopping at WalMart is extravagant, and so I don’t think the jump from WalMart to Tiffany’s is a difference in kind as opposed to a difference in degree.

    (5b) Um, okay, you want the church to go directly into the retail business and foster stores that it sees as better values-wise? Complicated and risky. Just as you don’t want sacred funds spent on Tiffany’s, I don’t want them completely wasted in risky ventures. Once the church decided to invest, it had to stick to a course with a reasonable chance at a reasonable rate of return. I’m sure City Creek would love to give storefront space to those wonderful businesses at any time they exist and can pay the rent. But for the church to develop them would just be a really strange extension of its scope.

    The counter-argument to what you wrote is not just trust, but a recognition that the Church has made defensible decisions. Maybe not perfect decisions! But defensible ones. The church complies with strict auditing standards, and while I’m sure you’d love to see the details of church finances, as would I, there’s no evidence-based reason to suspect mismanagement.

  10. brettogden

    Cassandra,

    1) If that’s your opinion, that a wise investment alone is enough to be considered furtherance of the Lord’s work, than I won’t argue that. Your premise is that financial gain is part of the Lord’s work. But, I don’t share in that opinion… For me, it should also accomplish some higher purpose(s).

    2) The returns will be liquid but we have no idea how those returns will compare to other ways that one might invest $1.5B or use that land that the church owns. Stating that the principal could be unwound faster than tithing receipts might rebound is pure conjecture. I’m not saying that it can’t, just that it is not liquid and therefore not a safety net.

    4) Given that the church is dealing in all cash (assuming that they haven’t broken their self-imposed “no debt” rule), then the mall won’t be a money sink. The salient question is will the mall revenue outpace the other possible investments of that money and land. And if, with that basis, you are going to argue that it won’t be money sink than you also must not unilaterally conclude that a university would be a money sink. Private colleges exist and do so without continually sinking into more debt.

    Yes, the retailers have filled the spaces but we don’t know if the leases that they are paying will provide the needed return to justify the investment. In other words, we don’t know what kind of discounts/negotiations took place to fill the mall.

    5a) I was referring to the restaurants that serve coffee and alcohol and are open on Sunday.

    5b) No, I don’t want the church to go into the retail business. I don’t even want the church to go into the development business. And I find it interesting that you would consider a modest dress shop in SLC to be more of a risky venture than say, a multi-billion dollar mall. I don’t want the church to develop such stores, everything I mentioned already exists. I just thought that if the church was going to build a mall – it ought to be one that exemplifies Mormon values through the retailers that it leases to. Even if it has to lower the rent and take less of a profit.

    I agree with you that the church has made defensible decisions for its corporate interests. And, yes, I believe that the church submits itself to strict auditing standards… just as corporations do. You noted that once the church decided to invest, it needed to do everything possible to get a reasonable return. True, that’s the way a corporation acts.

    I think what this boils down to is that you are okay with our church acting as a multi-billion dollar corporation. I am not. This is not a safety net, it’s a long-term, risky investment venture. If the church has so much surplus cash, maybe it should consider asking for less from the members and letting them invest their own money as they see fit. Obviously, we aren’t going to change the definition of tithing, but how many more senior couples could serve missions if the church covered more of the cost? We could ask for less donations from the families of our young missionaries. Build more temples. Alleviate the overcrowded meeting houses. And, most importantly, provide more humanitarian and welfare aid.

    For me, those are the things that a church does. While downtown revitalization is a worthy goal, there are many ways to accomplish it. When the church ventures into commercial development, I’d like to see it done in a way that furthers our mission. Development of high-end retail and luxury condos is the province of the corporate world and not, in my opinion, the Lord’s work.

  11. mikebutler

    Cassandra, I’m interested in your statement that “The church complies with strict auditing standards, and while I’m sure you’d love to see the details of church finances, as would I, there’s no evidence-based reason to suspect mismanagement.”

    About a year and a half ago, the Church became the first church ever to pay a fine to the state of California (or any state) for its illegal activities in connection with the use and improper reporting of tax-exempt Church funds in California’s Proposition 8 Campaign. The fine itself was also paid using tax-exempt Church funds.

    The explanation given by Church leaders (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/statement-regarding-fppc-settlement) was that “the Church mistakenly overlooked the daily reporting requirement for non-monetary contributions.” The result of this “mistake” was that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now the only religious body in California history to be found guilty of political malfeasance.

    It seems to me either that the excuse given by Church leaders is not credible, or that they have provided you with a very well-documented “evidence-based reason to suspect mismanagement.”

    I am not surprised members like Brett would like to know where their tithings end up. As a non-LDS taxpayer who must foot the bill for the streets, fire and police protection, national defense, and all other services this tax-exempt Church gets a free ride on, I’d like to know where my money’s going, too.

  12. Cassandra Hedelius Post author

    “Political malfeasance,” eh? Dramatic, but legally meaningless, word choice (and “illegal activities” is flat-out wrong). The term you are looking for is “noncompliance with Section 84203 of the CA political reform act,” which is fairly easy to do, given that it’s 116 pages long and regularly changes. See this article (http://mormonvoices.org/1009/legal-issues-surrounding-the-church-and-proposition-8) for more background.

    I don’t see why on earth the church’s account is not credible, given that the state of California agrees with it. You see, when someone does what the church did, which is to not comply with a reporting requirement, they do not flip out, call the police, and grandstand about “illegal activity.” They instead investigate, and track the case into one of a couple regulatory processes depending on the severity of the violation. The church’s violation was deemed so routine that it was handled through the enforcement mechanism analogous to a traffic ticket. The full documents are available online from the CA FPPC, which concluded that there was no evidence whatsoever of deliberate wrongdoing, that the oversight was unintentional, and that, along with every other similar case, the appropriate disposition of the case was an automatic fine of 15% of the late-disclosed amount (which was, contra your uninformed assertion, in-kind and not monetary, although for the purposes of calculating the fine it doesn’t matter). It was handled as a completely ordinary, accidental non-compliance case by the FPPC, despite Karger’s best efforts to blow it up into a matter of “election fraud” (which the FPPC’s own explanation says that it by definition cannot be).

    The fine might have been paid with tithing funds, though I doubt it–that sounds like an investment-income expenditure to me, given the traditional and revelatory constraints on tithing expenditures. It’s regrettable, absolutely, but doesn’t really prove anything more than that compliance with election regulations is hard.

    You need to read a little more closely–you note that the church’s statement mentioned the reporting requirement for non-monetary contributions, which is the only sort of contribution the church made, but then you accuse the church of donating tithing funds to Proposition 8. They did not. The only contributions were non-monetary.

    So sorry, you aren’t really grasping this, or the niceties of election law. You need more than accusatory rhetoric to make your case :)

    And your last paragraph, about footing the bill for streets and such, is a whole ‘nother argument. If you really think it would be good policy, and constitutionally feasible, to remove churches’ tax exempt status (you’ll have to do it for all, not just the ones you don’t like for mistaken reasons), you’ll have to start from square one as to why. But what did or didn’t happen in California doesn’t really have anything to do with it.

  13. brettogden

    Cassandra,

    I’m fascinated by your ability to simply write-off different types of funds. You’ve now added a “non-monetary” category.

    I happen to be extremely bothered by our church using non-monetary funds (not to mention its considerable pull with members) to remove the constitutional rights of a minority in California. An action that stands in violation of our own scripture (D&C 134). Non-monetary means that they donated facilities (that were likely paid for with tithing funds) or time from employees that also were likely paid with tithing funds.

    You also differentiate between investment income and tithing. While there certainly is a difference in the eyes of the “auditors” I still see any assets that the church has as belonging to the Lord. Even though they legally belong to Thomas S. Monson, I always thought that theologically speaking it was ALL the Lord’s money.

    I guess it works well for you to differentiate between tithes, investment income, non-monetary assets, and assets that the church magically owned from the beginning of its existence. But for me, it’s all stuff that was donated to the church for the furtherance of the Lord’s work (including the non-monetary stuff that was donated and land that was gained through the sacrifices of our ancestors).

    There is nothing apostate about asking the leaders of the church to disclose financial information. It does not violate the principles of our doctrine. In fact, it’s clear through our scripture and history that these good-hearted men are human and fallible. It’s appropriate to expect full-disclosure so that the membership of the church can properly participate in the principle of common consent.

  14. Cassandra Hedelius Post author

    Brett, I apologize for allowing my lawyer brain to run away with me. Let me clarify a few things.

    You write: I’m fascinated by your ability to simply write-off different types of funds. You’ve now added a “non-monetary” category.

    Me: That’s because “non-monetary” is occasionally legally significant, and because Mike was making incorrect assertions that they were monetary, and that bugs me. I’ve collected a ton of press clippings wherein lazy journalists just pass on the assumption that the church “funded” proposition 8, which is a total lie. I’d like for people to be properly informed.

    You write: I happen to be extremely bothered by our church using non-monetary funds (not to mention its considerable pull with members) to remove the constitutional rights of a minority in California. An action that stands in violation of our own scripture (D&C 134). Non-monetary means that they donated facilities (that were likely paid for with tithing funds) or time from employees that also were likely paid with tithing funds.

    I write: Your D&C 134 argument is fine, but not all that persuasive IMO. I might as well say it orders us to sustain “the law” as it existed at the time that section was recorded, which law very severely restricted marriage to the man-and-woman formulation. Neither is a slam dunk argument, so let’s move on. You say facilities and employees are “likely” paid for with tithing funds. Possibly. I don’t know. It’s definitely within your right to have a problem with it, and I’m sorry for your struggle, but I also don’t think that you’re anywhere close to an open-and-shut case that it was ipso facto improper for the church to act as it did. Lots of members are fine with it. Some aren’t. Isn’t this bound to happen sometimes?

    You write: You also differentiate between investment income and tithing. While there certainly is a difference in the eyes of the “auditors” I still see any assets that the church has as belonging to the Lord. Even though they legally belong to Thomas S. Monson, I always thought that theologically speaking it was ALL the Lord’s money.

    I write: I differentiate because they’re different. The Lord directed how tithes need to be controlled via revelation (go scripture chase D&C 120:1, for starters) and we know that the brethren treat tithing and investment income very differently because, for instance, Pres. Hinckley made the particular point that General Authority stipends do NOT come from tithes. Tithes are offered in fulfillment of a covenant. Other donations are given voluntarily and while they are used to further the Lord’s work, there is less of a restriction as to what that can specifically mean.

    So you’re wrong that it legally belongs to Thomas S. Monson (he’s just one officer in control of the corporate legal entity that owns all church stuff), but you’re right that it’s ALL the Lord’s money. You just don’t understand that there are a few meaningful differences.

    You write: There is nothing apostate about asking the leaders of the church to disclose financial information.

    I write: I didn’t say there was, man. Why so touchy?

    You write: It’s appropriate to expect full-disclosure so that the membership of the church can properly participate in the principle of common consent.

    I write: Well, you can make a defensible case for it, but I don’t think it’s a good one. Most churches don’t release their finances, and aren’t required by law to do so, and I suspect one good reason for that is the fact that SLAPP suits would be filed to the moon and back if all the nits could be picked about what’s being spent where. An unfortunate corollary of the membership being able to access church financial data is that the rest of the world would be able to, also. Just one possible consideration.

    Capiche?

  15. Logophile

    mikebutler wrote,

    As a non-LDS taxpayer who must foot the bill for the streets, fire and police protection, national defense, and all other services this tax-exempt Church gets a free ride on, I’d like to know where my money’s going, too.

    Free ride? Hardly. As an LDS taxpayer, I also pay for the streets, fire and police, national defense and other government services.

  16. mikebutler

    Cassandra, it appears you prefer to quibble over wording rather than to address the substance of my comment. Fine:

    1. “Dramatic, but legally meaningless”:
    Legally meaningless or not, “political malfeasance” –thirteen counts of it– is the term that made it into my local newspaper and many other news outlets to describe the findings of the FPPC, as any reader who can operate Google can ascertain. You said earlier that the “details of Church finances” are undisclosed because there is no reason to suspect mismanagement. But this negative publicity about “malfeasance”—properly worded or not—came about because of admitted mistakes made by Church leaders. I agree it is dramatic; in fact, it is unique. Whether it is the same as a “traffic ticket” is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder. If it were the only traffic ticket ever issued in 162 years of California history, I suppose the analogy would be apt.

    2. “… and ‘illegal activities’ is flat-out wrong”:
    Church leaders broke the law. They were fined for doing so. Most English-speakers consider breaking the law to be an “illegal activity”.

    3. “I don’t see why on earth the church’s account is not credible”:
    I don’t either. Clearly its lawbreaking was the result of mismanagement and not malice.

    4. “… you accuse the church of donating tithing funds to Proposition 8. They did not. The only contributions were non-monetary”:
    The videographer who filmed the multiple Prop 8 campaign ads that are still up and running on the Church-owned website preservingmarriage.org and on YouTube was paid four thousand dollars, not four thousand jelly beans. Whether these dollars were in coin or check or credit card form, they were money. When Elder Clayton flew to California to meet with Prop 8 campaign directors, he did not pay Southwest Airlines with spare copies of the BoM. The funds used to pay for these and for the Church’s other “in-kind” donations were money, pure and simple, regardless of whether the result was still in cash form by the time it reached ProtectMarriage. And the people who spent this money did not find it growing on bushes in Temple Square.

    5. “The fine might have been paid with tithing funds, though I doubt it–that sounds like an investment-income expenditure to me”:
    But this is a guess, of course, because no one who really knows is telling. In any event, do you truly see a difference in money obtained through tax-exempt donations versus the interest obtained through investment of those same donations? In my experience, the average taxpayer does not.

    6. “If you really think it would be good policy, and constitutionally feasible, to remove churches’ tax exempt status…, you’ll have to start from square one as to why”:
    If you prefer to argue against something I have not advocated, knock yourself out. I personally believe the good that comes from tax exemption for religious bodies promotes mountains of good work and far outweighs the harm done by the minority of these organizations who use such funds to play politics or build shopping malls.

    7. “But what did or didn’t happen in California doesn’t really have anything to do with it”:
    My point in bringing up the incident in California was to answer your claim that there is no “evidence-based reason to suspect mismanagement” of Church finances, and therefore that Brett (or I) are out of line in wishing those finances were a bit more transparent. If Church leaders were truly incapable of negotiating 116 pages of California election code while reporting a political contribution of less than $200,000, as you claim, then why should anyone expect they would be more competent in dealing with the immense complexities of a $1.5B business venture?

  17. mikebutler

    Logophile, you are a member of your Church, as I am of mine. But from a tax perspective, we and our respective Churches are different entities. Your taxes pay for the services your Church uses, as well as for the services used by my Church, by my neighbor’s synagogue, by the American Red Cross, and by any other tax-exempt organization.

    These organizations do indeed get a free ride when it comes to services paid for by tax dollars. You or I may debate whether such exemptions are a good idea (I happen to think they are), but for you to claim they don’t exist is to ignore reality.

    Legally, these organizations have remarkable latitude in how they spend their money and how much of their finances to disclose to the public. My point in making the comment about “free rides” was that most of us taxpayers do not begrudge paying extra taxes, as long as we think the money the Church or the Red Cross saves is going to a charitable cause.

    But when a tax-exempt organization uses its money to buy a business that competes with other business owners who had to buy their businesses with taxed funds, or when a church contributes tax-exempt money to a political campaign while its political opponents use money that has been taxed, many Americans feel there is a moral–if not a legal–obligation for the church to be a little more transparent in reporting how it spends that money.

  18. strider303

    I have read some and skimmed other comments and criticisms of the Church’s role in City Creek. I don’t understand the problem. The money is the Church’s to spend as the governing body sees fit. Are some Church funds expended in so-called humanitarian efforts? Yes. Are some funds expended on other ventures? Yes. It is not your money, stop the carping!

    Each of us is free to spend our funds/money time and effort on products/services we desire, why can’t other people or corporations do the same? Members of the Church are free to donate a tithe and offering as they see fit, once “donated” the offering is no longer the donor’s but the Church’s to be handled as policy dictates. If you do not agree you are free to not donate. Does the Church have money earning projects separate and distinct from Tithing funds? Yes, and those monies can be used as the governing body sees fit.

    If the critics want more done to alleviate poverty, sickness, suffering in the world they are free to donate more of their largess to any charity they choose, and are free to role up their sleeves and participate in any benevolent project of their choice.

    I am uncomfortable with others telling someone else be it a corporation or person how to spend their money, time or energy. Many of us have enough weeds in our own lawn to occupy our time without peeking over the fence to direct our neighbors efforts on his lawn.

  19. brettogden

    Cassandra,

    I agree with you that many have inappropriately said that the church committed election fraud. But I don’t think that you can dismiss D&C 134 that easily. I also don’t see anything in that section that requires sustaining the law as it was written circa 1835.

    When stating that we violated our own principles in supporting Prop 8, I refer particularly to this phrase in 134:4…
    “but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

    And to this phrase in 134:9…
    “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.”

    Those are reasonably clear statements.

    Returning to the matter at hand, I am not seeing the clarity in 120:1. It basically just says that property can be disposed as seen fit by the 1st Presidency and Presiding Bishopric. I’m not disputing that.

    What 120 does do is reference Section 119 which unscores my point about the definition of the term tithes. In 119 “tithes” is used with a broader definition than just the “one-tenth of interest annually”. The Lord states that those who gather to Zion with be *tithed* of their surplus property and then pay 10% of their annual interest.

    All that is given to the church is essentially tithing and should be used for building up the kingdom of the Lord. I feel that those funds are sacred and should only be used ventures that further the Lord’s work. Though admittedly, some feel that a mall & condos next to Temple Square accomplish that goal.

    Regarding, the prophet ultimately owning/controlling everything – take a look at the Corporation Sole structure and help me understand how I’m misunderstanding that. Granted I used the word “belong” which wasn’t a good word choice. It’s not as if the prophet could pass on the church assets to his Grandchildren when he dies. But, he could legally do whatever he wanted with those assets while he was living.

    You say that I don’t understand the “meaningful differences” in the “Lord’s money”. I contend that I do understand those differences, I just still believe that ALL the funds should have a more sacred purpose.

    You wrote: “Most churches don’t release their finances, and aren’t required by law to do so, and I suspect one good reason for that is the fact that SLAPP suits would be filed to the moon and back if all the nits could be picked about what’s being spent where. An unfortunate corollary of the membership being able to access church financial data is that the rest of the world would be able to, also. Just one possible consideration.”

    That is the best argument for not releasing financials. However, I ask you to consider that maybe the one true and living Church of God should possibly be able to rise above “most churches”.

  20. brettogden

    Strider303,

    The church and its various entities is certainly welcome to use its funds however it sees fit. The flaw in your argument is your premise that I can just go donate elsewhere.

    The church has tied my eternal salvation to its receipt of my tithes. It also wields the power to keep me out of keep me out of key family events (weddings) if I don’t pay tithes in accordance with their rules.

    If any other organization used charitable donations in ways that I disapproved of, I would cease donating. But for believing members like myself, the church is decidedly NOT “any other charitable organization”.

  21. mcerisano

    brettogden

    Who am I to say, but the flaw in your last argument is the premise that you are a believing member but portray yourself as being trapped between your belief and the “unsavory requirement” of paying your tithing. Especially in light of your perception that the church has tied your eternal salvation to its receipt of your tithes.

    For a believing member this is an extremely jaded statement and one that displays scant faith. Your eternal salvation has little to do with paying your tithing, and more to do with the intent of your heart.

    Much of the arguments and gnat straining I have seen in these comments would be infinitely worse if the church published its balance sheet. The truth is, we dont know the exact details of expenditures and we dont have all the details at hand with sufficient clarity to take a stand one way or the other. You are placing yourself in a precarious position by assuming a posture of judgement without all the evidence…and the only person who stands to lose is you.

    History establishes the fact that leaders are fallible. But in the economy of God it is abundantly clear that ‘ark steadier’ is a perilous occupation and not one that the Lord tolerates. Even if you feel that the Churches balance sheet should be open to scrutiny by intellectuals or sel-appointed auditors it doesnt change the fact that you are trying to steady the ark. And while, your mortal life is hardly in jeopardy by doing so, your outreached hand to steady a perceived weakness, places your spiritual life in decided peril.

  22. brettogden

    mcerisano,

    I agree with you that one’s eternal salvation is primarily dictated by the content of the heart. However, in the church we teach that certain saving ordinances are also required and access to those saving ordinances is not dictated solely by the content of the member’s heart. Tithes must also be paid, presumably to the institutional LDS Church.

    That brings us back to the heart… where it becomes difficult for some, even strident believing members, to pay tithes when they appear to be used for spiritually unpalatable endeavors. I disagree with the assumption that the church can’t possible publish its finances for fear of the resulting “gnat straining”. Many thousands of 501c3 organizations make their financial records public.

    The fact that our own church history demonstrates the fallibility of our leaders should not deter us from opening up the books, on the contrary… it’s the reason that we should. The one true and living church should be able to stand tall to a little financial scrutiny.

    Finally, your reference to Uzza being struck dead by the Lord is an interesting one considering your accusation that my “scant faith” would lead me to misunderstand the relation of tithing to salvation. Your Old Testament example places emphasis on the letter, not spirit of the law. I believe the more interesting conversation to have would be the contrast in Section 28 between prophetic authority and common consent within the church. Where does common consent allow us to have these kinds of discussions and when is it prohibited via prophetic authority.

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