Mormon Church Finances: An Object Lesson in Joseph’s Interpretation of Pharaoh’s Dream

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Image from LDS.org

All Aboard the Roller Coaster!

Since the Church was established in 1830, the history of LDS Finances and the management of Church assets has been a roller coaster ride of ups, downs, and dramatic twists and turns. A guiding philosophy of LDS Finances, or as it might be more formally referenced, finances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, might be summed up by the Old Testament story of Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. As stated by First Counselor, W. Christopher Waddell, of the Church’s Presiding Bishopric:

“There will come a time when all of these resources, reserves, will be necessary. We don’t know when, we don’t know exactly in what form, but you think of the (Bible story of the) seven fat years and the seven lean years, there’s so many examples in the scriptures that we strive to follow, whether it’s the parable of the talents and not to bury the talent. We saw what the Lord did to that individual. We want to be ready for any contingency.”

Critics of how the LDS Church manages its money–mostly from enemies with an axe to grind–have been commonplace throughout the organization’s nearly 200 year history. However, at times such criticisms have originated from within, especially at the time of the collapse of the Kirkland Safety Society in 1837 that depleted the wealth of many Church members, including Joseph Smith. Also up to and including recent so-called “whistleblowers,” who were employees of the investment arm of the LDS Church called Ensign Peak Advisors. Such “whistleblowers” will be compensated generously if ongoing audits prove to be actual improprieties, an accusation which the LDS Church vigorously denies.

A CBS 60-Minutes segment that aired in 2023 focusing on these Ensign Peak whistleblowers suggested that the LDS Church has estimated assets of 150 billion dollars, although sources for this number were not revealed in the broadcast. Nevertheless, even conservative sources estimate that such assets are valued at around $30 billion.  

What Are Donations to the LDS Church Used For? 

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints give voluntary financial donations in two basic categories:

–Tithing

The term Mormon Tithing is defined as 10-percent of an individual’s income, as outlined in the Bible. This money is used for the following purposes:  

  • To build chapels and provide places of worship around the world for its current membership of around 17 million people.
  • To support the infrastructure and pay for the associated resources supporting its education programs, including colleges like Brigham Young University, as well as seminary and institute buildings.
  • To support its missionary efforts worldwide, including more than 65 thousand full-time men, women, and couples. Often missionaries cover much of these expenses themselves, but many missionaries are fully financed by the Church.
  • To construct and operate temples in many different countries. Temples serve a separate and unique function in LDS theology beyond that of typical chapels and meeting houses. 
  • To pay for extensive genealogical efforts, tying families together across the globe.
  • To fund welfare programs used to benefit its own members as well as many non-members, regardless of belief, nationality, or racial identity.

LDS Fast Offerings and Humanitarian Aid

Once a month Church members are encouraged to go without food and water for 24 hours and donate the estimated cost of two missed meals. The proceeds are then given to individuals and families in need with the object of eventually helping them to become self-reliant. The Church also offers its members an opportunity to donate funds for humanitarian aid, including emergency assistance to areas hit by natural disaster, as well as other social needs, including maternity and child care, vaccinations, clean water, mental health counseling, and many other categories.

Looking to the Future

In 2022, the LDS Church reportedly distributed more than a billion dollars in charitable donations. Nevertheless, considering its overall wealth, critics have demanded that an even greater percentage of Mormon Church Tithing and other Church assets be donated to charitable causes. Similar criticisms are often leveled against other sizable Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church. 

Some have emphasized that even if the assets of the LDS Church are $100 billion dollars, such totals are easily surpassed by the combined endowment values of just Harvard and Yale Universities. Currently the fastest growth in LDS Church membership is taking place in Africa and other 3rd world regions. Such growth might mean that the average income of Latter-day Saints will decrease over time and that significant resources will be required to sustain it.Considering the financial volatility that the LDS Church has experienced in the past, it seems likely that such volatility will be experienced in the future. The covid-19 pandemic of 2020-21 demonstrated how easily dramatic shifts in value and resources can be experienced by world economies and private enterprise in a remarkably short period of time. In light of the self-described mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its practice of accumulating a healthy and robust “rainy-day fund” in the event of unforeseen events and emergencies may reveal that its current principles governing Mormons and tithing prove to be a wise and prudent course of action.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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