The Mormon Corporate Empire

It’s funny how the mind works. Like 600 million other people I keep in touch with friends around the world on Facebook. Several of my friends posted a link today to a YouTube video from Alex Boye, the Relief Society Birthday tribute song. Yes, I know it’s steeped in Mormon culture, but I like what Alex is doing with his talent.

One of the comments on the video made reference to Mormon Inc. My mind went back, way back to a flood of memories from my younger days when I was much more interested in the business ventures of the church. At one time I spent several dozen hours conducting first-hand research in the Utah Division of Corporations.

I made copies of all the original articles of incorporation for the Corporation of the President, Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, Deseret Management Corporation, Zion’s Securities, Beneficial Financial Group, Bonneville International, Deseret Book, Deseret News, Hawaii Reserves, Farmland Reserve and on and on and on.

Many Published Resources

I made a master list of all entities I could find that were owned by or associated with the church and then spent literally hundreds of hours researching each one of them. I intended to publish a book on businesses owned by the LDS Church but Heinerman and Shupe beat me to it in 1985 with The Mormon Corporate Empire.

John Gottlieb and Peter Wiley had a chapter on the subject in their 1984 book America’s Saints. That was followed by the Arizona Republic’s series in 1991, “Mormon Inc. Finances and Faith,” Time Magazine’s “Mormons Inc.” in 1997, and a chapter in Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling published in 1999.

Of course, another great source for information on church finances is the chapter from D. Michael Quinn’s book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power published by Signature Books in 1997. I don’t care what you think about Quinn, he did some serious research. The footnotes alone are more than half of his book.

Successful Church Businesses

Let me make it clear. My interest in researching the financial and business interests of the church was not to try to dig up dirt, make accusations or slant things in any kind of an unfavorable light. To the contrary, my intention was to highlight the great successes of the church in creating and maintaining prosperous businesses.

However, I soon learned that I was wasting my time. The majority of people I talked to about my project simply were not interested in LDS Church finances. Despite the fact that most people were surprised when I shared just how extensive the business holdings were, invariably they asked, “So what does all that matter?”

So even though I put that project aside in favor of concentrating on my new family and career, I have always had an interest and sense of pride at how well the church has managed its finances and business endeavors. It’s an amazing success story if you’re curious about that kind of stuff. Every so often it pops up in the news again.

Statement on Church Finances

I like President Hinckley’s statement on church finances that he shared back in 1985 in a priesthood session of General Conference. This was just after I decided that my book project would not produce results. He answered the question, “Is the Church an institution of great wealth, as some claim?” Here is his response:

“The Church does have substantial assets, for which we are grateful. These assets are primarily in buildings in more than eighty nations. They are in ward and stake meeting facilities. They are in schools and seminaries, colleges and institutes. They are in welfare projects. They are in mission homes and missionary training centers. They are in temples, of which we have substantially more than we have ever had in the past, and they are in genealogical facilities. But it should be recognized that all of these are money-consuming assets and not money-producing assets.

“They are expensive to build and maintain. They do not produce financial wealth, but they do help to produce and strengthen Latter-day Saints. They are only a means to an end. They are physical facilities to accommodate the programs of the Church in our great responsibility to teach the gospel to the world, to build faith and activity among the living membership, and to carry forward the compelling mandate of the Lord concerning the redemption of the dead.

A few Income-Producing Properties

“We have a few income-producing business properties, but the return from these would keep the Church going only for a very short time. Tithing is the Lord’s law of finance. There is no other financial law like it. It is a principle given with a promise spoken by the Lord Himself for the blessing of His children. When all is said and done, the only real wealth of the Church is the faith of its people.”

He then went on to address the issue of why the church is involved in commercial ventures of any kind, pointing out that the majority were formed out of necessity many years ago in the Pioneer days of our history. Of course some have grown while others, like banks and hospitals were sold off as being no longer needed.

Communications Businesses

I like the fact that the church has hung onto and strengthened the business ventures that involve publishing and broadcasting. Bonneville International and Deseret Book help to fulfill one of the primary missions of the church, which is to bring people to Jesus Christ through proclaiming the message of the restored gospel.

The church has made an obvious investment in their Internet properties over the years, which I have watched with some trepidation at first, but with growing pride over the years. I am amazed at how well the church has embraced and now uses this technology to communicate both internally and externally to the world at large.

In fact, I would venture to guess that we actually reach more people through our websites than our missionaries talk to each day. Add the thousands of individual efforts to those of the church and you have a wealth of favorable information now available to combat an equal amount of misinformation that can still be found.

The Church is not a Business

The idea that the church is more of a business than a church is laughable but you can still find it as one of the silly things that detractors of our mission continue to raise any place where they can get an audience. If they would bother to take a few moments to do some basic research they would see how ridiculous their claim is.

We will never have a lack of fault-finders, detractors and critics who are certain we are a deluded people. The most vociferous of them are former members who have been hurt in some way and now seek to inflict pain in retribution for their own discomfort. Painting the church as an impersonal corporation serves their needs.

I had invested a lot of time and energy in my research on church businesses and how they had come about. I was feeling disappointed. I had done so much work with nothing to show for it and wondered why. Sitting in that Priesthood session of General Conference so long ago, President Hinckley was speaking directly to me.

Build the Kingdom

He said in conclusion of the matter, “When we are called before the bar of God to give an accounting of our performance, I think it unlikely that any of us will be commended for wearing out our lives in an effort to find some morsel of history, incomplete in its context, to cast doubt on the integrity of this work.

“Rather, I believe we will be examined on what we did to build the kingdom, to bring light and understanding of the eternal truths of the gospel to the eyes and minds of all who are willing to listen, to care for the poor and the needy, and to make of the world a better place as a result of our presence.”

And that is why I just smile now whenever we are referred to as the big Mormon Corporation, with untold wealth being used to wield secret power and influence in America and on the world. I have studied this one out in great detail. Trust me, there is no secret agenda. There is no desire to conquer and control; only to bless.

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