Charitable Giving

Appearances Christianity Community Culture

One of the things I find I disagree with some active LDS about is the extent of formal LDS charitable giving and service related activities.

One of the arguments that I’ve read in various places on the internets is that the Utah LDS church DOES have a strong record of charitable giving. See the comments in Runtu’s post here. The comment I’d like to discuss is:

“These less publicized forms of service aren’t supposed to bring wide recognition.”

I can bring to the table what I remember of youth service growing up as an active LDS teen. I can discuss what I know of ward farms and stake canning facilities. This is my own experience, and things might have changed since I was younger. And things might be different across the U.S. and the world. But I’m not sure how any of us can really know for sure without hard data. Until we have that data, it’s also conjecture – one perspective vs. another.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a large LDS extended family. Of my eight cousins who have served LDS missions, none have served service related missions. If they did service (building sewers, homes, etc.) on their missions, they have never talked about it. One of my grandmothers served in a genealogy mission in Salt Lake City. While the value of genealogy can be debated, I also don’t count this as charitable service either. What she did was useful. My grandmother would not be physically capable of building homes or sewers, and I’m not trying to give that impression.

Is it reasonable for a person (like myself) to ask an organization to be forthright about its charitable giving?

Many corporations and churches are very upfront about their donations. I think it’s reasonable (I’ve mentioned this before) that non profit organizations be required to discuss their charitable giving to maintain their tax-exempt status. If nothing else, to discuss their giving with their own membership/donors. To my mind, there should be nothing to hide. This is the same information that a corporation discusses with their shareholders.

If the LDS church does indeed donate a majority of their tithing funds to building maintenance and charitable service, why wouldn’t that information be a missionary tool?

From the above poster’s comment, the explanation is that the Utah LDS religion is choosing to be humble. They don’t want to be ostentatious with their giving – I’m assuming like the biblical parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

My argument is that there is a great deal of suffering in this world. That suffering is not unique to the LDS people – or even potential LDS converts. The flooding in Iowa, the recent earthquake in China and the typhoon in Burma/Myanmar are current examples. No doubt there will be some aid from the central organization in Salt Lake to these efforts. But how much? And those are simply the most publicized examples, there is devastation from numerous wars, instable governments, world hunger and disease. While I’m sure that the LDS tithe paying members who can use the bishop’s storehouse have need and are grateful, there are plenty of other humans are also in need.

I donate a portion of my income each year to those in need.

I know where my donations go because I receive information from those organizations about my donation OR I can look up the information on the internet.

Those organizations are not trying to be showy. They are simply providing information to their donors (me) about where they spend their funds. It is a balance. I find out that my (hard earned) money is going to those in need, and they show to their donors that they are not misusing those funds. Again, I’m not implying that the LDS central organization is indeed misusing funds. But without data, there is really no way to know where those funds are being spent.

13 thoughts on “Charitable Giving

  1. Interesting timing. I just caught this article today about LDS efforts in Iowa:
    http://www.munciefreepress.com/node/19017

    I thought it was a nice article covering their charitable efforts until I realized that it was actually sourced from an LDS Press Release (see the very bottom).

    I don’t know how much charitable giving the LDS religion actually does, but it does seem like they do it for show, kind of like the hypocrites denounced in Matthew 6:5-6:

    “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

  2. thanks Profxm. But your point seems to support the poster’s comment that LDS Inc. IS trying to do their charitable giving in secret because of that scripture in Matthew. They don’t want to publically talk about their giving, so “men” will respect them.

    There are two options to my mind. You can publicize your giving, as a non profit organization, so that your membership knows where the money goes. The downside to that is that then you are giving “in public”.

    The other option is to not talk about your good works or your giving. Then everyone is left to wonder if you are really giving or not.

    AND – with that said, why would tithing settlement be important then? If the philosphy is to give in secret, why make an account of what each individual has donated?

  3. Last time I saw figures, the church spent less than 2% of its income on charitable efforts. And my experience at the COB tells me that a lot of their charity work is designed with public relations in mind.

    As I said in the post you cited, I do appreciate that Mormonism made me more likely to engage in charitable activities and service, but I certainly recognize that their motives weren’t always altruistic.

    Great piece.

  4. Face it aerin, we can’t win here.

    If we talk about it profxm will call us hypocritical Pharisees tooting our own horn.

    If we keep it secret, he’ll accuse us of not being transparent enough with tithing money, or of not doing anything at all.

    Best to just admit up front that “the LDS Church sucks” is the only correct answer for some people around here – regardless of what data set you’re dealing with.

  5. “If the LDS church does indeed donate a majority of their tithing funds to building maintenance and charitable service, why wouldn’t that information be a missionary tool?”

    and I though Gordon “PR” Hinckley was dead.

    Is there anywhere online I can order some of those T-shirts?

    BLECH

  6. Seth, I guess I would feel a little better if each charitable act weren’t turned into a PR extravaganza. When I volunteered with other church members to help with hurricane cleanup, we wore bright yellow shirts to tell everyone who we were, and we were told in advance that our main concern was to make the church look good. That’s the part I have a problem with.

    And yes, the LDS church sucks, but that’s beside the point. 😉

  7. I could interpret the biblical scripture (about giving in secret) as not pertaining to an organization at all – but to an individual.

    Most mainstream Christian churches DO publish this information, at least to their members.

    GNPE – I’m not sure I understand your comment. I think this is a valid topic. I think that it’s worthwhile to discuss why it would be in the greater LDS interest to report this type of information. After all, self interest is a great motivator.

    In general, it’s been difficult for me (and many of my posts here should point this out) to understand why the LDS church goes against so many policies that would be in its interest (IMO). Greater financial transparency, diversity in its leadership, apologies for past wrongs, no longer excommunicating scholars that disagree with them, etc.

    One of the things I appreciated about Helen Whitney’s documentary was that she didn’t list if the commentators were LDS or non LDS – forcing the viewer to hear the information without that filter.

  8. Seth and Aerin, I can understand your point as it does kind of seem like a double-bind: If you publicize your charitable efforts, you look disingenuous. If you don’t tell people where the money is going, you look secretive. But I think you are falling into a false dichotomy.

    Why can’t Mormonism take a complex middle-road:
    (1) Don’t wear bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “WE ARE MORMONS; WE’RE DOING CHARITABLE WORK; WE MUST BE GOOD; ASK ME TO SEND MISSIONARIES YOUR WAY.” Do the charitable work for the sake of charitable work and not for publicity. Wearing the yellow shirts seems an awful lot like the “hypocrites praying in public.”
    (2) The United Methodists take a slightly different approach when it comes to charitable work: They publish news stories on their website: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=2433457&ct=5488657 If those stories get picked up by the press, great. If not, well, not a big deal. It’s not a press release; it’s news for members. I think this should be the key difference: Don’t wear your charitable acts on your sleeve for “the world” to see it. You can describe activities for members, and, hopefully, it will encourage more members to do charitable acts. I think I just have a problem with using charity for garnering converts rather than for charity. That’s seems duplicitous and disingenuous.
    (3) Publish a financial accounting every year and increase transparency of financial records so people know where the money is going. I really don’t see how this is showboating. If you give a lot to charity, great. If you don’t, shame on you. But why shouldn’t members of the religion know where there money is going?

    As it stands, and as Runtu pointed out, it seems like the charitable work is less about helping the needy and more about putting a good face on Mormonism. Maybe I’m wrong (if so, please let me know). If it’s about Public Relations, I think that warrants criticism. If I’m wrong, and you have evidence, just let me know. Also, the LDS religion, as everyone knows, is super-secretive when it comes to finances. I don’t know why, but it gives the impression that they have something to hide. That, too, warrants criticism.

  9. I don’t care about the PR, either. What bugs me is that PR seems to be the main motivation. That kind of goes against the “do not thine alms in public” teaching that someone once said.

  10. What makes you say it’s the main motivation?

    Because we handed out some T-shirts and made a few cheap commercials for BYU TV?

  11. Nope, I’m saying that because, with both hurricanes, we were told this was primarily a missionary effort, not a relief effort. It was PR first, charity second.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *