LDS Financial Deficits?

Tithing

In a comment thread on a previous post at Latterday Mainstreet (see here) I got into a debate about LDS finances and how much the LDS religion brings in from tithing and other donations. I had heard/read the claim before that the LDS religion actually has an operating budget deficit in the UK (see: http://www.mormoncurtain.com/topic_money.html#pub_-1445867013). That just didn’t make sense to me. So, I fiddled around with some numbers and decided I don’t buy that claim. Here’s what I came up with, and please, if you don’t find these ideas compelling, please tell me where I’m mistaken in my analysis…

In 2004 the LDS religion in the UK claimed total donations of £26,151,000 (see here: http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/registeredcharities/AccountListing.asp?charitynumber=242451). Now, according to the LDS religion, there were 176,226 members in the UK in 2003. If every member were a tithe payer, that would translate into £148 per person (that’s less than 8% of what each person should be tithing (not 8% of their total, but 8% of the 10% they are supposed to be paying, or .8% of the total based on average incomes; see below).

Since we believe members will pay more than that in tithing for two reasons, let’s try something else… (What are the two reason? 1) Mormons are supposed to pay a full tithe, 10%. 2) This study Hoge, Dean R. and Fenggang Yang. 1994. “Determinants of Religious Giving in American Denominations: Data From Two Nationwide Surveys.” Review of Religious Research 36(2):123-150. found that Mormons do, on average, pay more than most, but only around 6% (naughty Mormons).)

We know the per capita GDP in the UK is £19,009.75 (that’s converted from dollars; see Wikipedia’s entry on the UK). That means a full tithe for the average Mormon in the UK is $1,901. How many full tithe payers would it take to make up the amount of donations claimed by the LDS religion in the UK? The answer: a whopping 13,757! Yep, if every tithe payer in the UK is a full tithe payer, then there are only 13,757 Mormon tithe payers in the UK. If we assume only men work in the UK (which is absolutely not true; well over 50% of the women in the UK work), then we can multiply that by 3 (supporting wife and kid) and we get a total Mormon population in the UK of: 41,270. That’s 23% of the claimed total by the LDS religion.
So, either everyone is paying a .8% tithe or only 13,757 people are paying all they should be.

That is, of course, a false dichotomy. The third option is: there are only about 1/2 the claimed members in the country (88,113) and 1/3 of those are kids, leaving 59,036 adult members. If those remaining 59,036 paid just 7% of their income rather than the obligatory 10%, total donations would be: £78,557,766. That’s 3 times what the LDS religion is claiming. Where the hell is all the money?

I’m not an accountant. Even so, those financial sheets are extremely fishy. Has anyone pointed out that the UK branch of the LDS religion is taking two depreciations – one for general assets, which it factors into its cash flow (misleadingly) and the other for buildings and land? And we’re not just talking a minor depreciation… We’re talking over £6,000,000 per year in general asset depreciation (it has that many computers?). Additionally, the alleged “loan” from Utah isn’t a loan at all but a “cancellation of debt.” That sounds like finagling numbers to come up with a financial report.

So, which is it? Is the LDS religion in the UK:
1) lying on its financial reports
2) severely over-reporting its membership
3) or full of non-tithe-paying leeches.

The answer has to be one of those three (or a combination).

9 thoughts on “LDS Financial Deficits?

  1. Hey Exmoron (love that handle, btw), since “the church” has no problem lying to its members about its own history, or misrepresenting their membership rolls, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lied on their financial reports. They think they have the one true thing after all, and the ends seem to justify the means with them a lot of the time.

    After some Utah newspapers reported through a series of articles that credible independent research firms could only find about 4 million people worldwide who claim to be Mormon (about 2 million in the US, and 2 million throughout the rest of the world), the church did come out with an official statement saying that their reported membership numbers include people who are inactive, but they think it’s about half of their membership that is inactive, not the 2/3 found in the independent reports.

    At this point I’m more inclined to believe the independent research firms as opposed to the LDS church. The church’s track record with honesty is not that great…

  2. One more thing – from what I’ve researched thus far, the church would supposedly do just fine without tithing from its members. They have extensive land holdings and own successful businesses that make up the bulk of their income right now. Tithing is merely a small drop in their big bucket of cash flow.

  3. Hi INTJ Mom (nice handle yourself – I have the same Meyers-Briggs personality),

    Yeah, I was basing my estimate of 50% of the claimed membership on two studies that recently came out by Rick Phillips and David Knowlton:
    -Knowlton, David Clark. 2005. “How Many Members Are There Really? Two Censuses and the Meaning of LDS Membership in Chile and Mexico.” Dialogue 38(2):53-78.
    -Phillips, Rick. 2006. “Rethinking the International Expansion of Mormonism.” Nova Religio 10(1):52-68.

    They compared reported Mormon data to census data and found that the correspondence is between 20% and 70%. In other words, in some countries only 20% of the people who are claimed to be Mormons by the LDS religion self-identify as Mormons when asked by an independent source. In other countries the number is as high as 70%. I split the difference and went with 50%, which is probably on the high side.

    As for how much the LDS religion brings in… Honestly, I don’t really know if they could survive without tithing. In my more cynical moments I’m inclined to believe that they could – as they do own lots of companies and have lots of investments. But they are also a major corporation with lots of expenses – upkeep on buildings isn’t free (even though they don’t pay taxes); flying GAs around the world to encourage more and more people to pay their money isn’t free (kind of like the letters you get from charities asking for more money, just so they can spend it on sending you letters to ask you for more money); broadcasting general conference isn’t free; feeding, clothing, and housing the GAs isn’t free; paying all of the employees at Church Headquarters isn’t cheap; subsidizing all the BYUs probably costs a bit (my wife, a UofU grad like myself, always hated the thought of her tithing going to BYU); etc. So, I think it would be pretty accurate to say something like, “Given its current trajectory, the LDS religion will probably be financially independent of tithing in the next 20 or 30 years, assuming they continue to invest that tithing in worldly pursuits (meaning the religion would be self-supporting without the forced donations of its members).” At present, I’m just not quite sure they are there yet.

    The interesting thing to consider is what happens when they get there… Is this the point when Thomas Monson goes, “So, yeah, Joseph Smith was a sexual predator and fraud. He made it all up. So long, and thanks for all the tithing (nod to Douglas Adams)!” Then the LDS religion sells off all its buildings and siphons off the major corporations to the elite “Mormon” families: the Kimballs, the Hinckleys, the McConkies, the Bensons, etc. and all the lay members are left scratching their heads and saying, “How the hell could I have been so stupid?” (My fantasy usually continues at this point when the men (and women) riding “white horses of truth” will ride TO Zion and help these people cope with the deceit. And who will be the riders of the “white horses”? The ex-Mormon community! Booyah!

  4. I have heard a statistical rumor on my mission that supposedly one out of six Mormons pays full tithing.

    While there will be many accomplished Mormons in Britain, I would suspect that households with low incomes will be over-represented. If you are doing well, you have no reason to embrace a new religion.

    Of course, there is more to life than money but I am pretty confident that my hypothesis would stand in light of data.

  5. Hey exmoron,
    I like your articles. Would you:
    – let me translate some of your info so that I can post them on my French site about the church wwww.mormonisme.com and,
    – advertize about it on here? ;o)

  6. Hi Fabcell,

    Not a problem. If you wouldn’t mind adding a link here for people to follow, that would be great. Also, let me know if people comment on it and you want me to respond.

    Best,

    Exmoron

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