Mormon Church Finances: Winning Hearts and Minds

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

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A Topic of Perpetual Scrutiny

Recently a segment on the CBS program “60 Minutes” focused on LDS Finances, suggested the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engaged in efforts to hide its valuations as an organization, and may have even engaged in fraud. In fact, in February of 2022, the SEC levied fines against the Church amounting to $5 million. This same “60 Minutes” segment estimated the current value of the Church and its holdings at $150 billion. The Church denies any wrongdoing, but claims that if any wrongdoing occurred, it was the result of internal error rather than nefarious motives. 

If claims made by “60 Minutes” as to the Church’s overall holdings are correct, this fine amounts to a drop in the proverbial bucket and would hardly seem worth mentioning in any news cycle. Still, criticisms about the Church and how it allocates its resources have been leveled for many decades.

A Historical Perspective 

It wasn’t so long ago that the Mormon Church was on the brink of bankruptcy. In the 1950s, the Church engaged in a very aggressive building expansion that included chapels, temples, and even its famous skyscraper in downtown Salt Lake City known as the Church Office Building. Mormon Church Tithing, which amounts to a 10% of the income of every active Latter-day Saint, as well as other charitable donations made by Church members, still was not enough to cover these expenses. In 1962 the Church had incurred a deficit of $32 million dollars. Construction was already underway for the Church Office Building, including an extensive underground parking system. In light of the crisis, construction on the office building was halted for a period of five years, along with a moratorium on other building projects. The Church tightened its belt and waited for better days. 

This crisis in the mid-1960s was not the only occasion when the Church was teetering on the verge of default. Similar financial challenges coincided with periods of economic depression and recession in the United States as a whole. These mutual crises were experienced in 1838, 1893, and 1929. Even the economic downturn of 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2022 resulted in portfolio losses for the LDS Church on both occasions of more than 20%. However, in these latest downturns the Church managed to recover in a relatively short period of time, largely because of broad-based investment practices initiated in the 1960s and 1970s.

A Magnet for Modern-day Critics

Looking over the various comments posted below some of the recent news articles that have focused on the financial practices of the LDS Church, its seems harsh invectives against the Church have not abated on this issue. This is despite an increased effort by the Church to make more transparent how its funds are allocated. Those who ask the question: “What are donations to the Mormon Church used for?” will find no shortage of online articles that seek to provide sincere answers. 

The following represents a few of the largest annual expenditures for the LDS Church

  • Expenditures for the construction and upkeep of chapels, meetinghouses, and temples throughout the world.
  • Expenditures supporting Church-owned institutions of learning, including three campuses of Brigham Young University in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii and hundreds of seminary buildings and institutes. Such expenditures are not fully covered by tuition or other income streams. 
  • The Church’s missionary efforts across the globe, including, at present, 65 thousand full-time missionaries. Again, the contributions made by individuals and/or their families does not fully cover these expenditures.
  • Administration of the world’s largest genealogical and family history programs.
  • Supporting the Church welfare program that bless both members and non-members, regardless of religion or race. This includes the very basics of food and water as well as mental health, family therapy, and recovery from addiction. 
  • Supporting the Perpetual Education Fund in nearly 70 countries outside the United States, offering vocational and technical training to help individuals and families achieve self-reliance.

It has been disclosed that in just the calendar year 2022, the LDS Church donated 1.2 billion dollars in charitable aid. Some proclaim that the LDS Church ought to dedicate a greater percentage of its resources to charitable causes, despite the fact that annual donations to regions ravaged by war or natural disasters seems to increase year after year.

Should the Church Publicize Its Good Works?

As a general guiding principle, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not publicized the full extent of its humanitarian aid efforts. It has adopted a more humble approach to the topic of Mormons and tithing and matters related to the expenditure of its funds.  

This has been seen as in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, such as verses about “doing alms…in secret,” thus letting the Father, who “seeth in secret” to offer up blessings according to His will (Matthew 6:3). The Church in no way wants its humanitarian efforts to be interpreted as a tool for self-promotion. However, people have reasonable questions and calls for greater transparency are justified. Therefore, the LDS Church has tried to balance these two principles as best as it can. At its root, all funds for humanitarian aid come from generous donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations, many associated with the Mormon Church but others not. To serve the public interest, the Church will, when it is deemed appropriate, provide a fuller picture of its success and progress on various fronts. Finally, publicizing the logistics of an emergency response can allow those who suffer, as well as others who donate humanitarian aid, to better prepare for future emergencies.

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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Mormonism Explained is a resource that was designed to provide objective and factual information about Mormonism, its history, doctrines, and policies. Our team of researchers consults experts and primary sources to present factual information on a variety of topics relevant to the Mormon Church.