Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
323:  Making Money for Jesus:  The LDS Church’s Untaxed Wealth:  Mark Barnes

323: Making Money for Jesus: The LDS Church’s Untaxed Wealth: Mark Barnes

“When Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19), the term “lay-up” did not simply speak of having possessions, but of your possessions having you. “Lay up” could be better translated “hoard” or “stockpile.” – Greg Laurie

Theologically what are we to make of a church that religiously taxes its adherents, demands their labour for a lay clergy and then banks its money only to watch it accrue? 

Is it justifiable?
Most actively participating and paying Mormons won’t question it.  They’ll call it good stewardship and an indication of the care with which the LDS Church Corporations treat its donor revenue.    For others, including my guest, Salt Lake City tax attorney Mark Barnes, there are more than legal reasons to question the LDS church’s outsized fortune.    

Photo Credit | Sling@Flickr


  1. Chad Dawson

    Excellent discussion. One clarification of an item you discussed. The church has offered a bit of an explanation of how the LightTheWorld funds are used. The FAQ site states:
    “100 percent of your donation will be used either for the purchased item, similar items, or services of greater need as determined by the applicable charitable organization. To ensure this, administrative costs for this campaign and costs associated with its nonprofit partners are covered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
    By this I am interpreting that the money gets donated to charitable organizations to use as they see fit. This is probably the only practical way to handle donations since the logistics of figuring out how many goats, chickens, pairs of socks, etc… are needed ahead of time would be daunting.

    Still, I agree with Mark that the donation process is intentionally misleading. You are led to believe you are buying a specific item for a person in need when in actuality your money is just being passed to another charitable organization to do their work as they see fit. You’re not really donating a goat or whatever. You’re donating money to a non-LDS charity that you could donate to without the church serving as a middleman.

    Annoying as this is, I would be able to overlook it as just a catchy, but effective marketing gimmick if it wasn’t for the fact that the church has so much money it could make these donations itself without batting an eyelash. (The church reports $6M was raised by the 2019 campaign. In round figures, the church makes about $1M/hour interest on the EPA fund.)

    The only conclusion I can make is that LightTheWorld is purely a PR ploy and the church has little or no interest in actually performing charitable work.

    1. Gina Colvin

      Thanks for this clarification Chad. Yes, I agree, it seems well-intentioned but it’s misleading. My conclusion would be similar. It seems rather disinterested in ensuring that a need is met.

      1. Chad Dawson

        And just to pile on a little further, The church has an army of 60+ thousand missionaries around the world that could be doing all kinds of amazing things. When most churches mention missionary work, they mean doing something tangible for someone in need, particularly for disadvantaged people in poor countries.

        LDS missionaries are limited in the number of service hours they can do and (in my area at least) they spend most of their time walking circles around the neighborhood looking for something to do. Imagine the good that could be done if LDS missionaries spent 50% of their time in actual charitable activities.

        The financial situation shows that the church is sitting idly on a pile of money. The missionary situation is not too different. The missionary force is a tremendous human resource, but it is accomplishing so much less than it’s potential.

      2. J

        Gina, thank you for the podcast. In talking with my daughter who still has a tbm husband…she wondered if you could address do you eadeal with a husband who still tithes…your feelings? She struggles.

  2. David

    I think I’ll tide on my surplus now which was only $900. Still I tithed $1500 in order to feel a bit more generous, whereas before I was tithing full Net. Expenses have gone up and I have less to offer and give.

    Surplus Tithing = (Net Incomes – Basic Living Expenses) x 10%
    Basic Living Expenses = Budget for Food, Transportation, Housing)

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