The Mormon Church Was Not Always Wealthy

The LDS Church’s finances have gone through at least three periods of serious financial instability. These periods of instability have led to the church’s current policy of saving for a rainy day while benefiting from times of financial plenty. 

The three most significant periods of financial instability for the Mormon Church were during the Panic of 1837, the Panic of 1893, and the 1950s-60s. In 1837, the leaders of the Mormon Church were attempting to build a bank or joint stock company called the Kirtland Safety Society. However, a nationwide financial crisis took hold at the same time that antagonists of the Mormon Church targeted the Kirtland Safety Society. Joseph Smith, one of the founders of the Kirtland Safety Society was plunged into deep debt for the rest of his life.

In 1893, the Mormon Church had recently had its property seized by the United States government. The Edmunds-Tucker Act was passed by Congress in 1887, making polygamy illegal in U.S. territories, disenfranchising women, and allowing the U.S. government to seize the property of the LDS Church if it exceeded a value of $50,000. The seizure of the church’s assets decimated Mormon Church finances and placed the LDS Church in deep debt. Then, the Panic of 1893 hit the Western United States hard. It was only because of several emergency loans that the church did not have to file for bankruptcy. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Church began many worldwide building projects. Members of the global church were often meeting in rundown, rental properties. By constructing new buildings, the Mormon Church sought to establish itself as a more permanent and respectable part of the worldwide community. The church built 1,000 new church buildings and two new temples. By 1962, the church accrued a large debt. It was only with a large curb on spending that the church was able to work its way out of this debt.