The 12th Article of Faith

Most days I am forward focused. I don’t often look in the rearview mirror with regret or sadness. I am a person who holds tightly to the belief that whatever may have happened in my past, good or difficult, ultimately these things have shaped me into the person I am today.

I had a nearly 17 year pit stop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1998 – 2015. You may more easily recognize this organization as the Mormon church.

During my time there, I was all in. I was faithful and dutiful. I read the Book of Mormon on a regular basis, I followed the teaching of the leadership, I was a Temple-worthy member.

You may have driven passed a Mormon Temple. If you live in the West, you may have seen the beautiful building in San Diego. The first time I saw this particular Temple, I was on my honeymoon. Long before I was a member. I must have taken 50 pictures of this building. I wanted to go inside, but our friend who lived there informed us I could not. I had to be a Mormon to enter.

Why would a church build a building that only a few people could enter? I was baffled.

Years later I would become a member — only to learn that was still not enough to enter this building. Mormons hold these buildings as sacred houses of the Lord. Here ordinances are performed that their founder, the man named Joseph Smith, prescribed to the membership. Mormons believe that beyond Christ’s Crucifixion there is more work to be done for “exaltation”. Exaltation is the ability to a) live in the “highest level of heaven”; and b) the ability to become a God/Goddess yourself and rule over your own world…

In order to achieve this status, these ordinances must be preformed on Earth. The Temple is where this happens (initiatory blessings, baptism for the dead, confirmation, endowment and sealing).

How does one get to go into the Temple?

As an “active” Mormon, you can go through an interview process to obtain a Temple recommend card issued by your Bishop and signed by both your Bishop and the Stake President. The Bishop is basically the pastor of the congregation and there are about 8-10 congregations that are overseen by a Stake organization. There’s a whole hierarchy that eventually works it’s way up to the top of the food chain — the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The First Presidency is formed by three men. The President (or as the membership refers to him: the Modern-Day Prophet), and his two counselors. There is also a group, called a quorum, of 12 additional men, known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These my friends, are the decision makers for the Church. So, the buck stops at the top.

One of the questions you attest to during your Temple recommend interview is, “are you a full tithe payer?”

Tithing here would mean giving 10% of your income to the Church directly. Is this gross or net? That is between you and God, but there is a fun saying that goes around the membership — do you want gross or net blessings? Ugh.

There were times, as an early member, when Frank and I really struggled. Money was tight, and our kids were little. But you better believe, I paid my tithes. At first we only tithed on my income because Frank took 10 years to follow me into membership. Once Frank joined the church we tithed together.

All the tithes are collected and sent to church headquarters in SLC. Like all churches, this money is used to pay for buildings and the utilities that keep them going. It is not paid out in the form of salaries to it’s thousands of leaders throughout the lower ranks of the church.

Mormonism is a lay-ministry. A bishop, for example, is a member of the congregation who is called into leadership over the congregation for a period of about five years. They generally hold this position while holding down a full-time job, a marriage, and a family. They are not financially compensated for the many, many hours they serve in this position. The family dinners they miss or the children’s sports games they miss. There is a deep belief that they will be paid in blessings they receive for doing the Lord’s work. And though there may be some truth in that — I want to be clear, this is not where my tithing was going.

The Mormon church is also a proselyting religion. Most of their 18 year old young men and many of their 19 year old young women serve missions around the world. Do the tithes cover this activity? No, they don’t. Each missionary, or their family, pays for this mission. It costs ~$10,000 USD to serve a mission. Depending on where your son or daughter is called to that number can certainly be higher.

So what happens to the money? I can’t tell you exactly where it all goes, because I can’t find a joint IRS 990 form filed by the church as a whole which would give us the general operating budget. What I can tell you is where the SEC says some of it has gone.

Recently, the church got their hands slapped by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The U.S. governing body that protects investors. They are the body that oversees the U.S. stock market, making sure everyone complies with the rules/laws of the exchange.

Why would the SEC sanction a church?

Back in 1997, just before I became a member, the Mormon church had a surplus of tithes. They were taking in more money then they needed to cover whatever it is they use this money to cover. So the First Presidency of the time formed an investment arm called Ensign Peak Investments (“EPI”) and through this auxiliary they entered the stock market.

I have some personal reservations about a church doing this with members hard-earned money because lets face it, playing the stock market, even with the most educated investors isn’t a sure thing — it’s akin to gambling. But Mormons don’t gamble…that’s a whole other tangent we could go on.

Staying the course here, investment managers are required to file certain SEC forms once they hit certain financial thresholds One of the forms is called a 13f. This form is required to be filed once the funds being managed hit $100,000,000. The first year EPI went live, they are believed to have been worth around $7 Billion dollars.

That’s a big number, so let’s break that into something tangible.

In 2021 the U.N. estimated that it costs about $0.43 cents per meal per day to feed one person suffering from starvation. There were approximately 42 million people suffering from starvation world-wide at the time. A quick calculation of math here would bring us to a need of $6.6 billion dollars to feed one meal to every hungry person IN THE WORLD every day for a year. That’s $6.6B in 2021. The church had that much in SURPLUS tithing in 1998.

But we, as lay people, wouldn’t have known that’s how much EXTRA the church had received from its faithful members because the church through EPI never filed a singular Form 13f. How did they avoid that, you ask?

Simple. The First Presidency, the faithful leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, rather than follow the laws of the land, got creative. They decided to create many separate companies with nondescript names and divide the wealth among them. These LLCs then filed independent Form 13fs for their portion. The names of these LLCs did not easily tie back to the Church. They weren’t named EPI 1, 2, 3 or anything that sounded church-like. This was done intentionally and at the specific direction of the President of the Church.

Pardon me while I take a moment to regain my composure. I can feel the anger creeping up through my veins. I’m sure my face is bright red as I type.

Each year the money grew. And the shuffle the money game continued. More LLCs, more denial that the Church was using tithing to gain more wealth for the church. And absolutely no accounting to membership for how this money was being used for good.

And then one day, one of the employees of EPI understood what was going on and his conscience told him something had to be done. See, the Church has a creed of honest dealings. It’s written right into their Articles of Faith. The 12th (of 13) Article reads:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

I think they may have to add a clause here that reads: Except for the First Presidency.

The SEC recently completed their investigation and issued their report — which is in the form of a settlement agreement with the Church.

The Order is contains wording that the Church AGREED to in order to consider the investigation complete and closed.

Within the Order, their is an admission that the Church Leadership — aka the First Presidency, was not only aware this was going on, it orchestrated the whole thing. Each of the fake LLCs that were opened were done so at the unanimous direction of the President and his two counselors. And this as passed from Presidency to Presidency through the years.

EPI began properly reporting Form 13f in February of 2020 – backdating the first report to 2019. As of their last filing (December 31, 2022 reporting) – the securities held are worth $44,397,568,449.

This number accounts for only about 1/3 of the Church’s holdings – if you include real estate (the Church holds more private land ownership in the state of Florida than any other entity) investments, etc. they are assumed to hold somewhere in the ballpark of $100B. $100 BILLION dollars.

Oh the good they could do.

I don’t have a problem with a church having money. That’s not the issue.

Today I am a practicing Christian. I belong to an amazing church in my community. About a week ago I attended our annual membership meeting where the leaders of our church shared our membership numbers, our donations/tithes received, and our annual budget (which includes the total amount spent on salaries). They also shared the vision of sharing the Gospel for the coming year and what it might take to fund that. I love that my money is going to support charitable endeavors in my own community and abroad. And I love that my money can help support the building I come to in order join with other Believers in worship each week and that it pays for the staff that gives of their time to oversee the mission of the Church.

I don’t have a problem with the church having money.

I have a problem with the organization and their leadership hiding and lying about it.

And why would they lie about such a thing, you ask?

I believe it’s for fear that the money would stop rolling in. Greed plain and simple. They don’t need another dime from their membership rolls. If this organization never received another penny, they could continue to grow their capital by reinvesting the interest earned alone. When is enough money enough? It brings to mind that it is not the money itself that is the root of evil, but the love of it.

Or perhaps a more apropos verse to end on might be…

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Matthew 7:16-20 (NIV)

If you are interested in more information and an easy listen about the SEC filing and what goes into whistleblower actions, etc., please tune into the Mormon Stories Podcast YouTube channel here.

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