Thursday, December 19, 2019

All That Mormon Cash

For those like me who think the idea of Jesus literally returning to Earth and ushering in the apocalypse is ridiculous, I have to say this is kind of a sad story. It is well-known that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a very wealthy organization. The church requires that members tithe a percentage of their incomes and allegedly takes in over seven billion dollars per year. According to a complaint made to the IRS by David Nielsen, a former employee of the church's investment division, this money is earmarked for charitable causes but is rarely used in that way.

Nielsen claims that the church's cash hoard has not been used for the charitable purposes that the church claims, and should be subject to taxation. He is seeking an IRS bounty that is paid to whistleblowers who expose tax evasion. The church, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from, told the Post in a statement: 'The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions.'

In his complaint, Nielsen described in a 74-page narrative how he became increasingly disillusioned while working as a senior portfolio manager at Ensign Peak. The church collects about $7 billion each year from member donations, or tithes, according to the complaint. But as the cash poured in, Nielsen said that he never saw distributions for the charitable purposes the fund was allegedly intended to support. Instead, the fund made only made two distributions over the 10 years he worked there, both to support for-profit ventures, Nielsen claimed.

According to Nielsen, $2 billion from Ensign has been used over the past decade to bail out a church-run insurance company and a shopping mall in Salt Lake City that was a joint venture between the church and a major real estate company. Ensign's president, Roger Clarke, told others that Ensign's cash hoard would be used in the event of the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to the complaint.

To be clear, I don't actually know if what the church is doing is illegal, since in the United States churches are given a fair amount of latitude in terms of what they can do with donations. That would be for the IRS or perhaps the courts to decide. The last part there is the sad bit as I see it. Instead of doing some good with all that money, the LDS Church is simply letting the cash sit there in anticipation of something that is likely to never happen - especially judging from all the failed end-of-the-world predictions that I keep making fun of here on Augoeides.

Now the LDS doesn't view the Second Coming the same way evangelical Christians do. Instead of "the rapture" that pretty much renders money meaningless, they believe that when the Second Coming happens, many more missionaries will be needed to accelerate the spread of their Gospel around the world. That at least is a vaguely plausible reason that they might need a lot of cash on short notice, but still. According to the complaint they may have as much as a hundred billion dollars.

I can't believe they could need that much, even if Jesus miraculously materialized on the steps of their temple this afternoon. I do realize that "God needs money" meaning "the Church needs money" is an old trope across a wide swath of religious denominations. But what was that Jesus said about the rich man entering the Kingdom of Heaven?

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