Monday, October 19, 2015

Defensive Protection of the Church's Tithing Mismanagement

The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a massive business entity, tied to staggering holdings and investments.

Some who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are bothered by this, knowing that all these business ventures trace back ultimately to tithes and offerings from the Saints, and that tithes and offerings are to be handled in ways that scriptures mandate (e.g. JST Genesis 14:37-38; D&C 104:18).  They are upset that the Corporate Church ignores and defies these scriptures.

When these people vocalize their dissatisfaction, a cascade of defensive denials and rebuttals sweeps in to refute them and protect the Church's image.

The most common rebuttal I see used to support the Church and silent these opposers is to reference a story from the New Testament.  Matthew and Mark leave two key players unnamed, but John sees fit to name them in his account:
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” — John 12:3-8 (compare Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9)
As the rebuttal goes, Christ rebukes Judas by telling him implicitly that there are better uses for money and valuables than helping the poor, and therefore the Church assumedly MUST be engaging in such justifiable enterprises when they use their money in ways other than aiding the poor, because the leaders can never be led astray.

The second most common rebuttal I see is not even derived from scripture, but from Telestial economics:  If we withhold from the 10 poor now, then with the profits we generate by investing, we can help 100 tomorrow.

I think both of these rebuttals are terrible, filled with logical fallacies and inconsistencies, and I think they need to be dismantled and exposed for the dark foolishness they are.


The efforts to rely on Mary, the spikenard and Judas, have a few problems.  Ok, a lot of problems.  While it may look like a slam dunk because they draw a comparison between the opposing voices and Judas the betrayer, in reality it reveals a staggering lack of critical thought and reason, as will be shown.  It exposes things about one's own position which should be deeply troubling.  It brings up ugly questions and exposes ugly action.  The efforts to draw one indicting parallel through Judas bring in hand other disturbing parallels which are ignored.  In a word, I think the rebuttal is bullshit.  Here's why.

Which investments in lieu of which souls?

To begin with the basic assertion, if the Church is indeed being wise and spending the tithing money in ways that are more sensible or appropriate than spending them to aid the poor, let's step away from the vague assumptions and push this into the light.

Which business ventures--EXACTLY--are the ventures that are of more value than obeying God's instructions and easing the suffering and even death among the poor?  When we are given the scales, and must place a business venture on one side, and the life and soul of a person on the other, which business venture is going to be of greater worth to God than the suffering soul?  When a child in a poor LDS family dies of starvation--and yes, literally hundreds do annually--which profit-gaining investment by the Church was purchased with that life?  The exotic game hunting preserve?  The coming high rise in Philly?  The massive tracts of land in Florida?  Which part of the City Creek Center was more important to erect with that money, than saving the life of an LDS child, or any child?

Or to adjust the angle, precisely which lives are the ones of such necessarily small value, that it makes better sense to withhold from them the aid they are entitled to as children of God--even Church members--so that we could generate more revenue? Especially when the Lord seems to hold the worth all souls in high regard (D&C 18:10)?  Which soul's suffering are we better off not easing, because the worth of that soul pales in comparison to the potential return on investment offered over here?

If you are so certain that God deems certain souls as being less valuable than business ventures, point out to me exactly which investments are worth more than exactly which souls.  Name them.

Or maybe, just maybe, that isn't what Christ was saying to Judas at all.

Persecuting the faithful

Our scriptures require that we, the church members, act the part of watchdog when it comes to our leaders and their spending of tithes (D&C 26:2; D&C 124:144).  Responsible consent requires familiarity and understanding.  When a person is examining the spending of tithing money, and then raising a voice of concern when they see that the tithes are being used in ways that go against the scriptural instructions, that person is doing precisely what the Lord has asked of them in scripture.  That person is being obedient to the will of the Lord.  

Therefore, attempting to rebuke and silence them for obeying the Lord's scriptural instructions, is necessarily persecuting the faithful. To do so as the expression of one's own faithfulness is perfectly ironic hypocrisy.

Unfortunate parallels

To paint the rather disastrous parallel between Judas and the opposing voices, we need to bring in the object of Judas's interest: the spikenard.  There is no disagreement as to whether the spikenard was valuable.  It is accepted that it is worth a lot of money.  In the parallel drawn by the rebuttal, it is the equivalent of the tithing money, as Judas is equivalent to the voices opposing the Church's tithing uses.

So here's what this rebuttal's attempted parallel looks like:

That is certainly going to make a person feel better about supporting the Church's spending of tithes. But it is not only a staggering over-simplification, it actually involves misrepresentation and deceit to sell that parallel.  Let's expand the parallels another level and clear up some twists, and see what we find.

Mary brought this expensive spikenard, and obtaining no fair-value exchange for it, expended it all for the sake of anointing the Lord (which in this situation is far more meaningful than generally realized, as will be touched on later).  She asked nothing of Him in return, she received no payment, no interest on her investment.  In a word, this was a sacrifice.  The importance and value of sacrifice for the Lord’s sake should be understood by those who claim to follow Him.  So Mary sacrificed that which she had, which was of great value, entirely to the Lord Himself, rather than aiding the poor.

The Church, on the other hand, takes its valuable resources--members' tithes--and rather than using them to aid the poor, first invests them into profitable business ventures, in hopes of generating a return on investment.  (The notion that this return-on-investment can then be later used for the Lord’s purposes is the argument of the second rebuttal.)

Let’s illustrate these expanded parallels.  Rather than using expensive resources to aid the poor:

Looking at this, it is easy to see why one would prefer to ignore or avoid certain details of a proper parallel comparison, instead oversimplifying to hide these relevant details.  Yes, by using this rebuttal, a person is necessarily making it their own stance that “investments” are equal to “sacrifice,” and that “The Lord” is equivalent to “business.”  Or in other words, Jesus Christ, the King of Zion, is equivalent to Babylon the Whore.  One cannot assert that these opposing voices are like unto Judas, without also declaring that the Lord is like unto Babylon the Whore.

And that’s before we dig even further into the parallels by examining the tithes the Church is using for its investments.  Through evolutionary changes in Mormon rhetoric, involving a shift from tithing our "increase" to instead tithing our wages, tithing came to include among its tappable populace, the poor.  According to the scriptural laws governing tithing, tithing money is to be flowing to the poor, to aid them in escaping poverty (JST Genesis 14:37-38; Mosiah 18:27; D&C 104:18).  Instead, their meager wages are robbed to erect shopping malls and the like.  More on this can be read HERE and HERE.  Demanding money from the poor is necessarily grinding upon their faces (Isaiah 3:14-15; 2 Nephi 26:20).  So really, not only are the tithes not being used to aid the poor, but you could add a previous step to the Church’s parallel above, with tithing money flowing notably from the poor (along with everyone else) to the Church, and then on to investments.

I do acknowledge that years after the fact, once sufficient returns have been gained on investments and the original tithing amounts are turned to Church use, the poor might see some aid from those original tithes.  But they aren’t necessarily at the top of that list either.  First there are multi-million dollar temples and meetinghouses, salaries and “stipends” for Church employees and clergy, and a slew of other expenses before the poor can hope to see any aid from the tithing money, unless a major disaster provides a sweet PR opportunity.  And that’s assuming that there is money left over in the budget for the poor, and that the Church bureaucracy approves the use of that money for aiding them.  (I am not addressing fast offerings, which are supposedly handled by the Church as a different matter than tithing.)

What is missed completely

Aside from the awkward difficulty of naming which investments are worth more than which souls, and beyond the ugly parallels illustrated above, there are important details in this scriptural event which are altogether missed, which stunt this rebuttal even further.


First, John offers some insight into Judas, once Judas raises his complaint against Mary.  This insight is both useful and necessary, because it tells us important details about Judas’s heart and actions.  (It is only reasonable that if we want to make comparisons to Judas, then we’d better know exactly what Judas was rebuked and indicted for.)
This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” – John 12:6
John tells us that the reason Judas cared about the potential money from the spikenard was because Judas was the one who “had the bag.”  Judas handled the tithes and offerings, it was his responsibility to oversee their collection and maintenance.  But Judas had sticky fingers.  He would “bare what was put therein,” or in modern English, he treated the tithes and offerings like his personal piggy bank, periodically withdrawing stipend payments for himself and his needs.  Therefore, Judas wanted Mary to sell the spikenard and give him—as steward of tithes and offerings—the money, so he would have a larger pool to draw his paychecks from.

Judas knew enough to lip-service the responsibility to use church funds for the poor.  But his heart was far from this (Matthew 15:8; 2 Nephi 27:25; JS-H 1:19), his actions exposing his hypocrisy and drawing criticism from both John and Christ.  This is not the first time that those entrusted with the tithes and offerings saw fit to glut themselves on the monies placed in their care (Ezekiel 34:2-10Malachi 3:8-11, in its proper context), nor would it be the last.

In the words of John the Beloved, when an apostle with stewardship over tithes and offerings sees fit to take from that money for their own support, then such persons do not “care for the poor,” and even more damning, are worthy of the label “thief.”  This is the nature of the indictment that John the Beloved makes concerning Judas.  So if a person wishes to use this scriptural passage to make a comparison to Judas, then we need to actually look at Judas and ask who fits his same description. 


After first ignoring John’s comments concerning Judas, this rebuttal then neglects to actually look at Christ's response to Judas, preferring instead to manufacture an inference that supports their own confirmation bias that Jesus wouldn’t let the Church go astray.

For context, it should be beyond obvious that Jesus has a keen interest in taking care of the poor, that those who have enough should share with those who do not, thereby lifting them out of poverty.  (Matthew 19:21; Mosiah 18:27; Mormon 8:37-39)  He even said the same in Mark’s account of this very event (Mark 14:7).

Jesus says Mary wrought a “good work” in anointing Him (Mark 14:6; Matthew 26:10).  Not only was this a good work, but there are some startling details involved with it.  

Jesus already understood the need for His death and burial, as He had both explained these things in His previous teachings, and makes mention of His coming burial at this very time. (The apostles, as usual, seemed a bit dazed and confused, which was a running theme pretty much until after Christ had finished His work and left.) Christ knew His death and burial were now imminent, because He knew that He was experiencing the anointing intended to precede it (John 12:7; Mark 14:8; Matthew 26:12).

But if He knew He was experiencing this anointing in preparation for His burial, then He must have known that the anointing itself was coming. Else He would not have recognized what Mary was doing and how it related to His burial. But He didn't ask Mary why she was anointing Him, or reveal any surprise when she did so, or declare that it was serving some other purpose. He declared the purpose and relative timing of the anointing, which means He knew the anointing was coming.

If Christ knew this anointing was coming, how did He know? Who told Him? Who could have told Him but God? If God told Him that this anointing was to take place prior to His death, then is the anointing not Divinely ordained? And if the anointing was Divinely ordained, then how is it anything other than an ordinance? That’s what an ordinance is, something ordained to happen. This was an ordinance.

But Jesus was not the only one who understood what was happening. Though the apostles didn't seem to get it, there was another present who was necessarily privy to what was really taking place: Mary.

We, like the apostles, tend to treat the event as though Mary is merely acting on impulse, coming in with the spikenard and being overcome with her love for Christ, and Christ just makes the best of it. This is how it looks in all our modern depictions. But that’s not what the words say.

Mary was the one who “kept” the spikenard “against the day of [His] burial.” She didn't keep it to express love or gratitude, and certainly not for its monetary value. For her to keep it for His burial requires that she knew about His coming burial, and prepared for it. The apostles still struggled with this, but she got it.

Even if Mary understood Christ was to die, what would prompt her to obtain, prepare and reserve the spikenard for this ordinance? Well, if Christ knew she had been saving the spikenard for this--as He did--perhaps that was because He's the one who told her to keep it. The idea had to come from somewhere, and He seems the most likely source.

Mary was also the one who recognized when the time of Christ's death was nigh, and that the time for the anointing had arrived, setting her even further apart from the apostles as she arrived with the spikenard.

And above all, she was the one trusted with the performance of the ordinance to prepare the Savior of the world for His death and burial, part of His Atonement. She contributed to Christ's fulfillment of the Atonement. Not one of the apostles. That is worthy of a "memorial" indeed (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9).

This is what Judas would have sacrificed for money.  Even if he wasn’t just lip-servicing that it would be for the poor, even if he truly intended the money for that use, it would have infringed upon the performance of something ordained by God to occur, ordained as a component to Christ’s Atonement.  As good and virtuous as it truly is to aid the poor, fulfilling the ordained measures to complete the Atonement is a pretty unique matter to acknowledge as higher priority.  To treat profit-gaining as an equivalent priority above helping the poor is damnable.


This rebuttal may or may not be used as an extension of the first.  Either way, the thrust of the rebuttal is that the Church is being wise by withholding tithes from the poor now, so that through investing and generating more money, they will be able to help more poor later.  If we don't do that, we might not have enough to help all the poor that we might later have.

But let's take a look at this damnably poor reasoning.

There are no guaranteed gains in economics, period.  Withholding now for the sake of investing doesn't guarantee increase later, it is a gamble.  Investments fail all the time.  So to withhold aid now, banking on delivering aid later, is no guarantee of later success, but it is a guarantee of present failure to obey simple instructions from scripture.

Believing that the Lord is not reliable to provide sufficient for His people later shows a lack of faith in the Lord.  Especially if the people were being faithful in keeping His commandments.  When we obey the Lord, He has promised to prosper the people of this land (2 Nephi 1:9Alma 48:15).  Which means that yes, we can rely on Him to provide sufficiently from one day to the next, provided we do what He asks.

When, however, we determine to procrastinate obedience by withholding tithes from the poor with a promise to help them later, we lose claim to any such promise from the Lord.  Procrastination is a present refusal of obedience, with a theoretical I.O.U. for future obedience.  But you can't future-keep present commandments.  The Lord has expressly decried this sort of behavior (Alma 34:33-35).  We cannot presently refuse to obey God, and simultaneously refer to ourselves as "faithful."  To do so constitutes lying, and such behavior will curse us to pass through hell and into a Telestial Judgment if we do not repent (D&C 76:103-106).  So in this foolish attempt to claim to use Telestial economics to aid the future poor at the expense of the present poor, we simply refuse to be faithful, lie about it, and thereby sacrifice all claim upon the Lord for our sustenance and are left to our own devices, which devices always fail in time.

Further, when we choose to procrastinate obedience, when we say we must withhold from 10 today to help 100 tomorrow, we have no sound reason to believe that when tomorrow arrives, we won't say that we need to withhold from the 100 to aid 1000 the next day.  Some would argue we've already shown this propensity, and perpetually.  The most sure indicator of your future choices is your present ones.  It is only in the present that things change, it is only in the present that we are being tested.  How often must the Lord remind us "Choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Joshua 24:15), or "take no thought for the morrow" (3 Nephi 13:34)?  Why call the man who filled his storehouses against the future a "fool" (Luke 12:16-21)?  Because today, now, is the day of our proving.  Who we choose to serve today is a powerful foreshadowing of who we would choose to serve tomorrow.  When you choose disobedience today, you have no reason to expect anything but the same of yourself tomorrow.

If we have sufficient today to help the poor through our tithes, and we make a choice not to do so, then we will be held accountable for that choice.  We've already been told that the tithes in part must go to the poor, so we will be accounted as thieves for withholding from them what the Lord has ordained as theirs.  It is all His, and when we don't honor His instructions concerning His goods, we fail (Mosiah 4:22D&C 104:14-18).

If in the future we were to run out of goods to help the poor--the fear that this rebuttal aims to combat--then we would not be held accountable for not aiding those poor.  King Benjamin made it expressly clear that when we do not have sufficient to help the poor, then so long as we would help them in our hearts, we stand clean before God (Mosiah 4:24-25).  Lack of resources to share does not call down condemnation from God.  But abundance of sharable resources, withheld by choice, for the promise of sharing them later, calls down wrath.  For we allow the poor of today to suffer and die simply because we are unwilling to aid them, lying to ourselves and saying that we value the souls of the future poor more than we value the souls of the presently poor.  The present was once the future, and the future will yet become the present.  What we do today, rather than tomorrow, will exalt or damn us.


Hopefully it is clear now that we have no right or justification for withholding our available tithes from the poor.  It is a damnable sin, and perhaps the only thing more damnable is the paltry and foolish efforts to justify the sin and enshrine it in a false shroud of righteousness.  The devil laughs as he parades such down to hell with him, singing self-indulgent songs of Zion all along the way.