Religious organizations should show us the money
December 24, 2019
On this Christmas Eve, which falls in the midst of Hanukkah, I'm thinking about what gift faith communities might give not just to their own members but also to the communities in which they serve.
One good answer would be financial transparency and accountability.
Many congregations and denominations from various branches of religion do quite well at this. For instance, I know I can always find out exactly how my own congregation is doing in terms of the money it receives, the money it spends (and for what) and the financial resources it relies on, such as endowment funds.
But I'm also aware that there are other faith communities where that's much more difficult information to discover.
And this opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune makes the valid point that all religious organizations should be open books when it comes to financial transparency and accountability -- if for no other reason than that they are granted tax advantages of various kinds.
The author of the piece, Robert Gehrke, is writing about a recent financial revelation about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
He cites "a bombshell story in The Washington Post citing an IRS complaint by David A. Nielsen, until recently an investment manager for Ensign Peak Advisors, an arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — you know who they are. Nielsen alleges that the church maintains a $100 billion reserve fund with money given in member tithes for charitable purposes, but not used to that end.
"In the past 22 years, the church, Nielsen claimed, didn’t use any of the money from the fund for charitable or humanitarian purposes, but did dip into it to prop up two for-profit businesses. . ."
The article did note that the "church, in a statement Tuesday, acknowledged it maintains reserves but said it uses 'the vast majority' of tithing proceeds 'immediately to meet the needs of the growing church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work and missionary efforts throughout the world.'”
But as Gerkhe properly notes, "Transparency is good. It’s good in government, it’s good in business, and it’s good for charities. So why not churches?"
Why not, indeed? Why not all charitable organizations, including all faith communities?
For one thing, people are apt to be more open to giving to charity if they can believe that the charitable organization is being truthful and open about its finances.
The Bible, after all, disclosed the donations made to the Holy Family by the wise men from the East, though even there it might have helped to tell us how many ounces of gold.
(I'm not a charitable organization, but I'll start. Here's how much I get paid to write this blog: $0.00.)
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A LITTLE PROGRESS ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
The U.S. State Department has released its annual list of the most egregious violators of religious freedom around the world. The report notes some improvements in Sudan, and the RNS story to which I've linked you quotes Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom this way about that: “They've stopped bulldozing churches; they've redesignated Christmas — both the normal Christmas and Orthodox Christmas — as national holidays. They have brought, now, people of other faiths into the new cabinet.” All Americans should be glad that the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom promote the foundational human right of religious liberty around the world.