FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Use of Church funds
Use of Church funds
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "not a financial institution or a commercial corporation. [It is] the Church of Jesus Christ, and this Church has no other objective than that which the Lord Himself assigned to it—namely, to invite all to 'come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.'" Thus, the use of Church funds is to fulfill that purpose. Presiding Bishop Gerald Causse explains the primary uses of Church funds:
Sacred tithing funds are approved and appropriated to support the spiritual and religious mission of the Church. They are spent in support of six major areas: (1) providing and maintaining places of worship for more than 30,000 congregations around the world; (2) administering the Church’s welfare and humanitarian aid programs, including more than 2,700 projects in 2017; (3) providing education programs, including Church schools, universities, and seminary and institute programs; (4) supporting our worldwide missionary operations, including 420 missions and the resources needed by approximately 70,000 missionaries; (5) building and operating nearly 160 temples around the world, with many more to come, and administering an expansive family history and records preservation program; and (6) supporting the general administration of the Church.
Reviewing these six major areas demonstrates the need for significant financial resources.
- Places of Worship. As of 2023, the Church had nearly 19,000 meetinghouses throughout the world. The construction, maintenance, and utilities of these buildings requires considerable resources.
- Welfare and Humanitarian Aid. In 2022, the Church spent $1.02 billion in welfare and humanitarian aid.
- Education. For higher education, the Church operates four traditional colleges and universities. As of 2022, the total enrollment for these institutions was over 55,000. In addition, the Church operates an online university program that enrolls over 30,000 students in certificate and degree programs and another 36,000 in their PathwayConnect program. The Church also offers Institutes of Religion to young adults not attending a Church college/university. There are over 350,000 students in this institution program. The Church also provides seminary to high school students worldwide. As of 2017, there were 404,000 students participating in this program. While the institutions of higher education receive generous funding from donors, the Church is the primary support for those institutions. For example, as of 2013, Church funds provided more than half of BYU's regular operating costs. With a large education program, the Church needs sufficient resources to support the hundreds of thousands of students participating in its educational programs.
- Missionary Operations. At the end of 2022 the Church had 62,544 full-time teaching missionaries who serve away from home and are significantly supported by Church funds.
- Temples. As of April 2023, the Church operates 176 temples, is constructing 56 more, and has 83 in the design and planning stage. These buildings are essential to the wellbeing of Church members, both now and in eternity, and these buildings require significant funds to build and maintain.
- General Church Administration. To administer the Church's extensive efforts to help others come unto Christ, it employs thousands of Church members and has major administrative offices throughout the world. These resources require a significant amount of funds.
- Gerald Causse, "The Spiritual Foundations of Church Financial Self-Reliance," Ensign, July 2018.
- Causse, "Church Financial Self-Reliance."
- "Education," Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, accessed 16 May 2023.
- "Facts and Statistics", BYUPathway.org, accessed 16 May 2023.
- "Frequently Asked Questions—Institute", ChurchofJesusChrist.org, accessed 16 May 2023.
- "Seminary and Institute at a Glance", Ensign, August 2017.
- Camille Penrod, "BYU tuition costs almost half the national average", Daily Universe, 22 January 2013.
- "2022 Statistical Report for the April 2023 Conference", Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, 1 April 2023. Although missionaries from some countries contribute $400 each month to the missionary fund, the total contributions are far less than what is needed to support missionary work worldwide. See Scott Taylor, "First Presidency announces increase in monthly missionary contribution", TheChurchNews.com, 27 June 2019. This increase was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- See Scott Taylor, "See the 15 new temple locations announced by President Nelson", TheChurchNews.com, 2 April 2023.
- In 2002, the Salt Lake Tribune estimated the Church has over 33,000 employees. See Associated Press, "Mormons Cut Hundreds of Jobs From Utah Workforce", Los Angeles Times, 24 December 2002.
Caring for the Poor
Why does the church spend so much money on temples and other activities when there are so many poor people throughout the world? Wouldn’t the money spent on these buildings be better used in feeding the hungry?
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that tithing is commanded for the building of temples: "Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you. Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people. (D&C 97:10-11, italics added)
Likewise D&C 119:2-3 commands tithing for a variety of purposes: "For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people."
Thus, tithing is properly used for temples and other activities consistent with building the kingdom of God ("laying the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood"). Joseph Smith used tithing for such purposes throughout his administration.
The anointment of Jesus Christ with expensive oils
Just prior to the crucifixion, Christ was anointed with expensive oils. The act was criticized by Judas who suggested that the items could have been sold to benefit the poor. Christ's response was telling. He said "for ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial" (Matt 26:11-12). Just as with this event that served to the preparation for the eternal sacrifice of Christ, even so temples make available eternal blessings through Christ's sacrifice. The reality is that eternal salvation is the point of this earth life. Poverty, while certainly tragic and deserving of our individual sacrifices and attention, will only pertain to this existence. In the gospel, we must seek to find the appropriate balance.
Temples are built for the blessings of individuals and families into the eternities. Like the anointing of Christ, their existence serves an eternal cause and are in fact considered the House of the Lord. Just as the use of the oils were deserving of the expense, Latter-day Saints likewise consider constructing temples where sacred, eternal covenants pertaining to eternal exaltation are made, are deserving of our best efforts and sacrifices. Because the ordinances of the temple make all of the purposes of life complete and worthwhile, the temples command a level of attention like almost none other in the church.
The Church does use funds to help the poor and needy
In addition to temple work and other Church-specific activities, the Church uses its funds to help the poor and needy. The Church has an extensive network of farms and canneries that are used to help feed individuals around the world. Its welfare system is based on generous donations of the value of foregone meals from monthly fasts serve to benefit untold individuals. The Church has programs to improve lives throughout the world (for example, helping build wells for safe drinking water and irrigation in Africa), and the Church is constantly preparing to rush aid to disaster stricken areas. The truth is that Latter-day Saints are known to be extremely generous in their efforts to give and sacrifice for the benefit of others. And Church members always have the choice of increasing monetary donations to fast offering and humanitarian funds.
Determining the use of funds
The question about the appropriate balance between using funds for worship, instruction, eternal ordinances, and the relief of poverty is one that, without a doubt, weighs heavily on church leaders. They no doubt consider that there is a need for these other items or else they would not have made such a choice. Just as one might have to chose to expend money and resources on a computer and internet connection, or a home and personal clothes, or a car and other personal items, the Church likewise must consider all the expenses and choices. Bringing temples close to individuals in poverty stricken areas is one eternal blessing that the Church feels is important to sacrifice for. Families in poor areas of the world have sold everything that they had so they could attend the temple to be sealed together as an eternal family. Building a temple close to people such as these makes such future sacrifices unnecessary and will bless tens of thousands. The faithful Saints in poverty stricken countries are willing to sacrifice greatly for the privilege of having a temple close to them, just as did the early Saints in Kirtland, Ohio who made substantial contributions in the midst of personal poverty to construct the first LDS temple in that city. The Kirtland Temple was one of the most expensive ever constructed if you consider the relative poverty and cost of living of those who built it. The point is that temples are so sacred and valuable to Latter-day Saints that their temporary periods of poverty are not as critical to them as obtaining the blessings of eternity.
- Caring for Those in Need: 2022 Annual Report of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- See Thomas S. Monson, "The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World," April 2011 general conference.