Tithing vs. Taxes: Winner – Taxes!

Caught this interesting article in Forbes about a Mormon who hasn’t been paying his taxes.  He’s currently trying to negotiate with the IRS the rate at which he will pay his back taxes.  He wants to pay them at a pretty paltry $3,000 a month, claiming his lifestyle requires that he “survive” on $15,000 a month (I wish I could do that).  His argument is contingent on his desire to pay his tithing BEFORE he pays back his taxes.  The court basically told him:

No F*$%ing Way!  Taxes first, buddy!

Orrin Hatch: “Gays and lesbians don’t pay tithing, their religion is politics.”

Hatch pleads for his job and proves he will say anything to avoid Bennett’s fate:

Tea Party members I know by and large are good, honest, decent people, but out of anger should not disrupt the few GOP [candidates] who can win, he said. He said the Republicans need to organize and pull together just as unions, environmentalists, personal injury lawyers and gay rights activists do for Democrat [sic] candidates.

Gays and lesbians dont pay tithing, their religion is politics, said Hatch.

Almost as funny as that time Orrin pretended to be a Washington outsider.

I’m guessing it’s a calculated ploy by Orrin to attract the ire of the Utah LGBT community so that he can then put on a show playing the martyr for the Tea Party crowd, but I don’t think it’s gonna work. It’s such a clumsy insult that all it’s going to trigger is a bunch of eye-rolling now and more schadenfreude later when Orrin gets the boot from the same folks he’s trying so hard to impress with his playground taunts.
Continue reading “Orrin Hatch: “Gays and lesbians don’t pay tithing, their religion is politics.””

General Conference predictions

Back in the days when I paid attention to General Conference, I always attended the priesthood session with my wife’s father and brother. I enjoyed the tradition of returning to report some fantastic fictional revelation to my wife and her mother. I call this a tradition because I did it every time, but I was the only one who ever did.

When I returned from the priesthood session in October 2000, shortly after I was baptized, I reported that President Hinckley had a revelation that all worthy women should be allowed to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, beginning on the next Sunday. They were flabbergasted and asked if that was really true. “No,” I said. “But he did say you’re supposed to wear only one pair of earrings.”
Continue reading “General Conference predictions”

the best use of tithing = hunting preserves?

In line with my earlier post about the LDS ranch in Florida, I just caught wind of this:

The LDS Church owns two hunting preserves in Utah.

Turns out the Deseret News has profiled the preserve and the missionaries who staff it. (Yep, you read that right – missionaries staff the LDS owned hunting preserve.) There is also a podcast available describing it from Sunstone.

A friend of a friend brought this to my attention. Included in his email was the following, which I asked if I could repost on MSP: Continue reading “the best use of tithing = hunting preserves?”

add a $9 million shopping center to the total

Inspired by a new news article about land development by the LDS Church in Hawaii, I did a little more property searching. Unfortunately, Honolulu County doesn’t allow searching by name, so finding all the property of Hawaii Reserves, Inc. and Property Reserve, Inc. (two of the holding companies of the LDS Church) in Hawaii is virtually impossible. But I did find this shopping center owned by Property Reserve Inc. – valued at $9 million (go here and use parce ID#: 550140010000). It is also the headquarters for Hawaii Reserve, Inc., which also owns the water and waste water treatment plants in Laie, HI.

LDS Inc. owns .7% of Florida

My brother-in-law came to visit last weekend. As science geeks, we tried to see a shuttle launch while he was here (the launch was canceled 11 minutes before liftoff because of weather – ugh!). On the way to watch the launch we stopped by Deseret Citrus and Cattle Ranch to see the Mormon Church’s ranching operations:

sign by main entrance
sign by main entrance

Alas, as former Mormons, we failed to consider that they wouldn’t offer tours on Sunday. But we stopped by the Visitor’s Center anyway and drove around a bit. Here’s the Visitor’s Center:

the Visitor's Center
the Visitor's Center

I knew from the Deseret Ranches’ website and this wikipedia page that the ranch was big, but actually driving around the ranch made me wonder just how big it is. So, I spent a good 10 hours or so trying to see if I could map out just how big the ranch is. After all that time, I realized it was simply too big for me to easily map out by myself. But, the research I did do provided me with some fascinating information.

First off, thanks to a corporation registration website in Florida, I was able to track the name changes of the holding companies for the ranch over the years, eventually finding the current name. It used to be Deseret Properties of Florida, Inc., Deseret Farms, Inc., Deseret Farms Inc., Deseret Ranches of Florida, Inc., Deseret Livestock Company, Deseret Properties of Florida, Inc., Deseret Ranches of Florida, Inc. (1), Deseret Ranches of Florida, Inc. (2), but it is now called Farmland Reserve, Inc.. Once I finally found the current holding company, I was able to visit the property tax appraisers’ websites for the three main counties where the ranch is located: Osceola, Orange, and Brevard. On those sites I found all the property listings of Farmland Reserve, Inc. Here’s a summary of what I found after I added them all up:

County Acres Value
Osceola 182,685.50 $763,252,812.00
Orange 64,843.57 $208,286,252.00
Brevard 41,559.66 $12,552,680.00
Hillsborough-FRI 3,952.94 $30,145,012.00
Total 293,041.67 $1,014,236,756.00

Yep, you’re eyes do not deceive you – LDS, Inc. has more than $1 billion in for-profit property in Florida. The acres convert to 457 square miles, or .7% of the State of Florida. I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that LDS, Inc. is the largest landholder in the state behind the government. For comparative purposes, Disney owns 25,000 acres (that’s all of their properties, not just Disney World), or about 1/12th of the land owned by the LDS, Inc. holding company.

To tally all of this information, I actually built a spreadsheet that you’re welcome to download and peruse. I also started drawing the land parcels in Google Earth, but once I realized just how many there were, I decided I just didn’t have the time. I did complete all the land in Orange County and started on the land in Osceola County. If you want to see the maps or, better yet, if you’d like to improve/complete the maps, you can download them here: Orange County, Osceola County. If you do download them and improve them, please send me a copy of the updated versions as I’d like to have them.

As I was searching through these listings, on a whim I decided to see if Farmland Reserve, Inc. owned any property in my county, Hillsborough, FL, which is all the way across the state from Osceola and Brevard Counties. Turns out they do (see above table). That’s in addition to the $12 million owned by “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Corporation”, which is the company that holds the churches. This makes me wonder just how much property Farmland Reserve Inc. owns. I checked a couple additional counties in Florida but didn’t find any more property.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the ranch is because my aunt and uncle recently completed a mission there (I should have gone while they were there, but never made it). The amazing thing about the fact that they served a mission there is that they did zero proselytizing and they paid to serve their mission. So, what did they do? My uncle was a high school shop teacher. He knows how to build and repair homes. So, they put him to work building homes on the ranch. He’s round 70 years old and was working 12 hour days 6 days a week for 18 months. His wife ran some of the tours and did other odd jobs around the ranch. When I found out that my aunt and uncle were paying for the opportunity to work for Farmland Reserve, Inc., a billion dollar for profit company, I was not very happy. Not only did the LDS Church use tithing money to buy the ranch (I’m assuming, maybe it was profit from some other business venture), but now it makes people pay for the opportunity to make one of their subsidiaries money. How is that at all ethical?

To wit, the obvious question is: How does the billion dollar ranching operation of the LDS Church further its religious aims? Why does a religion need a billion dollar ranch? Anyone?

Finally, all this searching around for property owned by LDS, Inc. led me to realize that we, the MSP community, could probably put together a pretty good estimate of the property holdings of LDS, Inc. (in the US at least) fairly easily if we distributed the work among us. If each person looked up the holdings of LDS, Inc. in their county and put them in a spreadsheet, we could aggregate them and keep a running total of known property value of the LDS religion. It would make a cool little widget for MSP to display. Thoughts?

Utah bankruptcy isn’t about Mormons?

I caught this article while reading my science news this morning: Bankruptcy Rates Reflect Policy, Not People. Basically what the article says is that the different rates of bankruptcy filings by state are not due to spending patterns or characteristics of the people in those states but rather policies regarding bankruptcy filing. In other words, Mormons aren’t REALLY spending more than they are making or filing bankruptcy at higher rates (by Mormons I mean Utahans, just to be clear). What’s happening is the laws in the state simply make it more beneficial to file for bankruptcy. Additionally, the younger age structure of the state increases the odds of Utahans filing for bankruptcy.

Okay, those arguments make sense. However, look at the affiliations of the professors who wrote it… Brigham Young University. Hmmm… Anyone think this is a direct response to the claims the paper debunks about Mormons spending too much and being quick to file for bankruptcy (as outlined above)? I’m not going to challenge the article’s findings (not my area of expertise and I don’t have the time), but if there are any economists out there who want to dig into this paper and try to replicate the findings, I’d be really interested to hear what you find.

Your Sunday School Lesson: The First Vision

According to the philosopher Mircea Eliade, of whose work I learned at BYU, every community, tribe, or nation requires an origin myth. The account of a community’s or practice’s origin has far reaching consequences because it implies how they relate to the cosmos, which is necessary for human beings to imbue their world with shared meaning. Mormonism’s origin myth is the first vision.
Continue reading “Your Sunday School Lesson: The First Vision”

In addition to touring the temple…

I heard this story on Friday on NPR.

I support the Utah LDS church’s movement towards openness and honesty.

I admit, this effort seems a little like a drop in the ocean. Yet I have to acknowledge the attempt. One of the comments Quentin Cook made was that they were “surprised” by the reaction from the public during Romney’s campaign and with prop. 8. While I respect some of the surprise, I can’t say I’m shocked by the secretive perception that many non LDS have. Even some active LDS I know are shocked to find out certain things about their religion’s history and its doctrine. It’s easy to not take the pulse of current cultural opinion and trends when you live not “of the world” and spend most of your time in an office building in Salt Lake City (surrounded by yes men). Many active and former LDS (throughout the world) could give the leadership lots of input about choices and attitudes that could be adjusted. But I digress.

Continue reading “In addition to touring the temple…”

Estimating the cost of bad investments, or how much did the Church lose on you?

The NYTimes recently mentioned the Fermi game of figuring “ballpark” estimates of real-world numbers for questions you, at first glance, think of as un-estimatable – for example, how many piano tuners are there in Chicago?

Though I am generally bad at math (and shun it), I like this game, and it occurred to me to try to generate a ballpark figure for how much the LDS Church has lost in BYU grads who have become life-long non-tithepayers.

Here’s my estimate of the most basic, upfront parameters of what you would need to consider, and the conclusions you might draw from them. Of course, there are lots of refinements you could consider – which might significantly change the outcome – but I think it’s fund to get an estimate of a starting point.

So – How much did the Church lose on you, you dead-beat BYU grad? Continue reading “Estimating the cost of bad investments, or how much did the Church lose on you?”