In the two previous parts of this series we have discovered that knowing the Lord involves dealing justice to the poor and the needy among us. We also reviewed from scripture the condemnations that rest upon the leaders of the Lord’s people who steal from the poor by requiring tithes of those who barely have means to support themselves. In this final installment we are going to explore the law of common consent and how church leaders set at defiance the word of the Lord by failing to disclose how church finances are allocated.
In D&C 26:2 (given July 1830) the Lord says:
And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen.
This principle is further reiterated nearly 4 years later when the laws concerning the operation of the United Order are set forth (D&C 104:71). With regards to taking money out of the treasury the Lord states:
And there shall not any part of it be used, or taken out of the treasury, only by the voice and common consent of the order.
Here we have two witnesses from the Lord that financial affairs are not to be kept hidden from the church membership. Rather, the consent of the membership is required to appropriate moneys in the church.
In 1838 there was a proposal made to pay Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith salaries for their work on behalf of the church in the amount of $1,100 apiece which was the equivalent of three times the average workers salary at the time. Despite being approved by the high council, when it was noised abroad to the churches that such an arrangement had been made it caused such an uproar that the salary agreement was rescinded at the next high council meeting. (See Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Chapter 17. See also D. Michael Quinn, LDS Church Finances from the 1830s to the 1990s, Sunstone, June 1996, p. 21).
Anyone who is familiar with my blog will look at the date this proposal took place and realize that it was many years after the people had rejected the covenant and that both Joseph and Sidney were under the burden of making an intercessory atonement for the people. Their desire for material comforts and wealth is consistent with their taking upon themselves the sins of the people and acting them out.
Since Joseph’s death the church has been very inconsistent and sporadic in sharing financial information with it’s members. As documented by D. Michael Quinn in LDS Church Finances cited above, the definition of tithing has changed over the years as has the application of consequences for the non-payment of tithes. More significant, however, is the lack of transparency that has hidden from public view the poor financial decisions that plagued the church up through the 1950s and the use of tithes for private gain by some church leaders.
For example, there are a number of church leaders who took personal loans from church funds and then had those notes cancelled without repayment to the church.
Three weeks before he died in 1877, Brigham Young obtained a cancellation of his debts to the church extending all the way back to 1849.
In 1879, John Taylor, as president of Zion’s Savings Bank and Trust, had two notes for $50,000 destroyed by the vice-president of the bank. He also convinced the Twelve to allow him a $10,000 claim for sugar machinery.
Quinn also documents:
“Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith did not use their office as Church president to cancel their personal indebtedness, yet they allowed tithing funds to serve as a loan pool for prominent Mormons.”
Among the debtors was Apostle Heber J. Grant for a cash loan of $34,000.”
As President of the Church, Heber J. Grant convinced his counselors to accept $30,000 worth of stock at face value (who knows what the true market value was) to cancel the loans.
“In 1930, First Counselor Anthony W. Ivins computed that the Church lost $900,000 in personal loans to Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley. Upon his appointment as second counselor in the First Presidency in 1925, Nibley had used stocks and bonds to repay his indebtedness to the Church.”
The point of sharing these vignettes is to highlight that there have indeed been abuses in the use of church funds that have been allowed to perpetuate largely because of the lack of transparency in the process in violation of the Lord’s stated law of common consent. Who knows what is going on today? I am not suggesting their are wholesale abuses. We just don’t know. We don’t know what amount of nepotism is reflected in the choice of contractors for building work and any number of the hundreds and thousands of contracts that the church enters into in their business dealings every year. We don’t know what the chosen 15 are paid, directly or indirectly. We don’t know how much goes to support the church bureaucracy, or how much goes to support BYU or any number of other endeavors.
What we do know is that since 1959 the church books have been completely and utterly closed to public view and scrutiny by the common membership. This was initially to disguise deficit spending to build meetinghouses under the theory that “if we build it they will come.” It took nearly a decade to recover under the leadership of financial wizard N. Eldon Tanner. The financial veil that was placed over church finances in 1959 was then firmly in place to disguise the financial successes that have been the hallmark of the church during the last 50 years.
Every general conference we are greeted by the church auditing department with an insipid non-disclosure that assures us that “in all material respects, contributions received, expenditures made, and assets of the Church for the year [insert latest year] have been recorded and administered in accordance with approved Church budgets, policies, and accounting practices.”
This is meaningless mumbo jumbo. It tells us nothing of substance about how our tithing dollars are being spent. We have no clue how much is spent on the poor which is the primary stated purpose of tithing as indicated by the Lord. When the saints rejected the covenant in 1834, Joseph and Oliver took a covenant of tithing FOR THE POOR and for the continuation of blessings.
As church members we should not sit idly by and allow our leaders to violate the law of common consent. We have been indoctrinated into believing that every change in policy or position or procedure is somehow a revelation from God. This is done subtly through implication without actually having to come out and say “Thus saith the Lord.”
Jeremiah has some choice words for those who take such liberties:
Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbour [endlessly quoting one another]
Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith [directly or by implication].
Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord.
Thus shalt thou say to the prophet, What hath the Lord answered thee? and, What hath the Lord spoken? (Jeremiah 23:30-32, 37)
My question is therefore identical to what the Lord instructs us to ask of our leaders. Exactly what has the Lord said to you? What has he answered? Did he tell you to close the books in contravention to an earlier revelation? If so, bring forth the new revelation. Let us see it and scrutinize it and decide for ourselves as a church whether it is indeed the Lord speaking or the precepts of men. It is really very simple.
There is an online petition that you can access here to petition the leaders of the church to open the books. I have very little hope that they will do so based on prophecies within the scriptures. For me, however, I believe it is important to make our voices heard in defense of the Lord’s word to us in the latter days.
In putting together this series it has become increasingly clear to me just how far afield we have traveled from what the Lord wants us to be doing with our tithes. His economic system is one of voluntary equality via covenant which allows each to fully develop their talents as documented in the parable of the talents. The systematic oppression of the poor via today’s tithing scheme in the name of the Lord can be labelled as none other than an abomination.
Finally, the following scripture is SO APROPOS today as so many are willing to hang on every word that comes from the pulpit of the conference center:
A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means [church empire of businesses and wealth]; and my people love to have it so; and what will ye do in the end thereof? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)