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    • The Washington Post published this article today about the family dynamics wrapped up in the whistleblower complaint to the IRS about the LDS Church’s wealth and its alleged noncompliance with the laws governing nonprofits.

      This particular passage prompted me to recall my own service as a Mormon missionary, and made me understand the situation these twin brothers faced little better:

      Lars went to rural Mexico [on his mission], where he was a branch president for the church in two towns, a position usually reserved for someone older.

      “That was the most powerful thing that could have happened to me,” he said of being responsible for 600 members. That experience “laid the foundation for all the future skepticism I had.”

      When he learned from his brother about the church’s untapped funds, Lars said, he thought of the people he had pressed for donations. He recalled in particular a woman who went without food so she could contribute as much as possible to her tithe — which is 10 percent of one’s earnings — to try to help her ailing son.

      “I’m crushed that I extracted the most regressive tax from people who were suffering and they never got it back and they don’t even know the money doesn’t go to anything good,” he said. “I can see the face of the old woman on my mission who starved herself so she could donate tithing that week because her son was dying and she thought it would help.”


    • As a member of the church in question, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I’ll admit I thought the story lacked substance, but so does the initial story about the allegations. Perhaps we simply don’t know many details yet.

      The one twin obviously has some strong feelings about the Church that are independent of any financial questions, and he lost a lot of credibility with me with the story he shared about serving a mission in Mexico.

      I’ve attended church my whole life, read extensively the scriptures and teachings, attended in poor areas of the world, and I’ve never felt anyone was being “squeezed” for money. In fact, unlike in some churches I’ve attended where a plate is passed or donations are solicited at the door, all giving is done privately and directly to Bishop of a ward, or even without his knowing. My husband and I donate “in-kind” online so none of our local leaders even know we donate or how much. They certainly don’t know how much we make, and have never made a comment about the Church wanting or needing money. You self-report as a full tithe payer.

      So many Christians tithe that I’m still confused if the problem is not with tithing but that the church saves money instead of spending it all? We don’t have a paid clergy, which I’m sure helps.

      As members of the Church, we are asked to tithe 10% of our annual increase. I appreciate the money it costs to run the Church and I love using the buildings and beautiful temples for worship, I benefit from the publications, apps, music, etc. that they produce, and I appreciate their humanitarian efforts. But honestly, the principle of a tithe (whether to a church or not) has tremendous power for any individual to put money in its proper perspective and have an attitude of abundance. I know I’m more generous outside of my tithes than I would be otherwise because I’m used to living with less so I can give to worthy causes.

      The Mexico story got me because the Church has funds and resources available to feed and assist and educate their members who are struggling, in addition to their broader humanitarian efforts. Yes, someone who has very small increase is still expected to pay 10% but they also have access to support far greater to help sustain them and improve their situation. I’ve seen that played out in my local area as a leader who assessed needs and distributed food. There is dignity in contributing what you can, rather than just receiving a hand-out.

    • I didn’t post the link to this story to make members respond in defense of the church or its financial practices. I’m sorry you felt so compelled...

      As I’ve thought more and more about this story (which I thought was quite insightful, actually), I am struck by just how many things influence one’s personal faith—even things that aren’t readily apparent.

      In fact, your response shows that numerous outside forces have also shaped your perspective and your faith.

      I find it quite thought-provoking that these two brothers — so similar in so many ways— are grappling with the same questions in very different contexts and with quite different perspectives. I think questions of faith are absolutely central for each of us to ponder throughout our lifetimes. It makes me sad to see that two brothers, so close at one time, have had to sacrifice their relationship and struggle alone. I understand the pain of that, and it is unnecessary, but all too common.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. The quote you pulled from the article was, I felt, both inconsistent with my experience as a Church member and fairly damning if taken in isolation (and most people don’t read the long version!) If that young missionary was “pressing people for donations” or counseling a woman that her son would be healed if she paid her tithing, he was out of line with church policy and teachings. I try to speak up whenever I see what I believe to be inaccurate information propagated online. I hope I conveyed that my intent was to defend truth (and discourse) and not to be defensive (which is a word we now use synonymously with taking offense, I think).

      Of course, it’s unfortunate that this has fractured a sibling relationship (for now), but it actually doesn’t strike me as a matter of religious disagreement the way it’s described. One brother didn’t agree to go public and had initially gathered the information, the other forged on ahead. That’s going to cause problems in any relationship, no?

      It sounds as though they have other siblings in and out of the church as well, and they were on speaking terms previously even when they didn’t see eye to eye about church activity. Lars seems to have had a falling out with his wife about faith, though, and you hate to see faith (or lack thereof) drive a family apart when the usual intent is to elevate everyone together.

      I’m curious to understand what you meant about outside forces shaping your faith. Can you elaborate more? Isn’t that true for everyone? How could it be otherwise? I agree that a story about twins certainly highlights divergent paths. Lars cited an example from his mission, but I’m sure there were hundreds of moments along the way that influenced his perspective today.

    • This is one of life's biggest issues for me, and I think it is for lidja, amacbean and @slamdunk406 too, because we have all experienced the pain of having family members become divided over our faith. It is tragic because the #1 reason I joined the church was its family values.

      I agree with Anne, that on the local level money is handled carefully for good cause and with many controls to prevent fraud. There is no paid ministry on the local level and in fact when I was Bishop I paid to do it, including all my expenses to travel for the church. I got to disburse many funds to help poor families and it was incredibly inspiring to watch families in our congregation donate anonymously (only the financial clerk and I knew) to people in need.

      A filmmaker from our congregation who had won an Academy Award for The Great American Cowboy got a call from the president of our church to make a film for the visitor's center in Salt Lake. President Hinckley showed Kieth a widow's mite he kept on his desk to remember where funds from the church came from and to be respectful with the budget. Perfect. I thought that was inspiring and so did Kieth.

      Later, the church did something that I was asked to participate in as Bishop that I thought was illegal. I wasn't an attorney, I wanted to trust the leader who was championing it, but it was really getting to me and I thought about becoming a whistleblower. I didn't because whether I was proven right or wrong, I thought it would divide me from my family and many friends. I've wrestled with my conscience ever since. It's a hard thing to be a whisteblower whether in a church, business or government.

      A guy came forward who was an attorney and sued the church over it and they were found guilty of fraud. But even though he was proven right, it took a real toll on him. Tragic.

      I hate to use the word church, because in my mind it was a very small group of authorities who were given too much power and money. I think they were in a small minority; that has happened all through history even, according to the New Testament, to Jesus. Money, power and secrecy only up the odds.

      I don't know about the current situation, but the majority of my dealings with the church and its members is hugely positive. I just think it does us all good to have some transparency and protection for whistleblowers.

    • Really good thoughts in this thread! Love it! I agree that the church for the most part uses its money wisely and does a lot of good to help people in need. My current calling is a ward clerk, so I’ve gotten a little window into the financial side of the church. No one in my ward at Stanford is pressured to give money to the church and everyone does so privately. I certainly have never been pressured to give money to the church. My motivation in doing so is because I believe God wants me to do it and in general, I believe my money is going towards a good cause. I use the church facilities to play basketball (I got a key to a couple of different churches where I can hoop it up!), attend firesides, attend church, institute, etc. I feel that all that the church has given me, I can give 10% of my money to it. 

      That said, I also feel there are other good ways to use your money to help people. Like the other day, I felt prompted to buy myself an extra slice of pizza (I usually get three, but decided to get a fourth). Right after I walked out of the pizza joint, a homeless person walked up to me and asked for a slice. I gave them one. I felt that was a good way to spend my money to help others. I’ll do this on occasion. Buy someone a Gatorade or a sandwich. Something small like that. So, I definitely feel like giving to the church isn’t the only good way to donate your money or help others. 

      Finally, I do know that errors do happen in the church from time to time when it comes to the financial side. I don’t think it happens often, but there are cases where people do things that are shady and against church teaching. If one sincerely believes church policy is not being followed and/or illegal activity is happening, one should report it and be a whistleblower or whatever you want to call it. When allegations of wrongdoing come forward, they should be treated seriously and analyzed closely. That way, the truth comes out and any justice that needs to be met is met. 

    • A few thoughts:

      1. The account I highlighted from the story (Mexico) was absolutely commonplace when I was a missionary (and I served halfway around the world from Mexico). I assume the whistleblower twins and I are probably from a similar generation — back then, this policy was actually even spelled out in the “White Bible” (the missionary handbook).

      2. Whistleblowing. Absolutely a no-win decision. I’m glad @Chris decided not to go there, even though he would have been in the right. (I recommend this New Yorker article that explores the hell that is the life of a whistleblower.)

      3. The decision to leave the LDS Church is usually one that creeps up on a person over time. Even though it is usually a long process, it often is also a period of intense personal struggle. Ironically, the very act of clarifying one’s faith is labeled “losing one’s faith” by most members of the Church. Although there are many examples of people who have left the church for selfish reasons, there are also quite a number of people who leave the church for more noble reasons. That adds to the complexity. It appears to me that these twins are headed in the same direction, but at different “velocities” so to speak...

      4. Thinking about the different reactions I’ve read here, I now see why those who are active members zero in on the financial issues. I apologize for expecting a different conversation. As to the financial issues: the problem here is not that the church has hoarded 100 billion dollars. That part is absolutely up to them if they want to collect that amount of money from their members and stash it in the stock market, or in an insurance company, or in a mall. The problem is that they want to be exempt from paying taxes on that amount. Most nonprofits have to show that they are actively spending most donations in pursuit of their charitable purpose. (This is one reason why nonprofits have the reputation of living “hand to mouth.” There are even organizations that are dedicated solely to reporting on how charitable charities are by quantifying how much of a nonprofit’s budget is actually going to charitable services and not to staff salaries or fundraising events, for instance). However, Congress has decided that churches should be exempt, not just from taxes, but also from this kind of oversight.
      (There could be a whole series of threads devoted to the discussion of various aspects of the financials, but I didn’t want to get into that here. I am much more interested in the human story—not so much the financial one.)

      5. I absolutely agree that one’s faith is influenced by all sorts of outside forces. This is one of the most interesting topics to me at the moment. Exploring it helps me understand better why and how people make the choices they do. I believe that understanding someone else’s choices is a step towards understanding oneself.

    • Been lurking on the conversation and find it most interesting.

      First off, I applaud your courage in reporting a story that has a critical take on someone’s religion and that accuses it of fraud and violating its tax exempt status.

      There’s a similar wrinkle in the non-church non-profit world called a Donors Advisory Trust. Basically, a wealthy person can donate say $100,000 to the trust, take the tax deduction this year, and then decide “sometime in the future” where to donate the money. Investment management fund managers love them because they continue to collect their 3% management fee on the total assets for as long as they remain undonated.

      Think about how wrong that is on so many levels.

      Questions I would want to know about the church’s investment firm: how is the leadership of Ensign Peak Advisors compensated? Does it encourage hoarding of cash? Is the brokerage firm that holds and trades their securities also advising them on investments? Is the investment philosophy balancing the dual needs of mission and money?

      If anyone has answers to those questions, feel free to chime in.

      I also wonder if anecdotal experiences are sufficient to assume a church does not have systemic issues. I was raised Catholic and had a very positive experience with my church but that doesn’t mean that ... well, you get where I’m going with this.

      With zero government oversight, and without an independent audit of a church that measures their balancing of continued existence and immediate mission needs, how do you really know if your church is doing wrong with the money? A portion of any tithe goes to a national or global headquarters, so how would you know what goes on there with the money?

    • from a similar generation

      I feel very strongly about this. The church evolves and I think many of the things you and I saw are not seen now. I'll use a different church as an example: I adore the current pope but I know something about history. I think of my wonderful friends in the modern Catholic church and I especially remember how wonderful the priests and nuns were to me and my mom when we were desperate on the streets of Oakland. That's what I choose to focus on, but I still don't want to lose the lessons of history.

      When my wife and I stopped attending regularly, I was grateful for people like amacbean and slamdunk who stayed close just the same, and slamdunk's dad, the current Bishop and good friend. I feared they thought we had somehow become unworthy or fooled by misinformation on the Internet, but we are accepted now along with other members of the congregation who are very active & wonderful people, who just don't believe literally in some of the teachings.

      I identify with the twins because I believe that I saw things the amacbeans and slamdunks slamdunk's dad haven't, and those things have taken me years of struggle to reconcile. I keep them to myself for the most part to avoid straining friendships, but I can understand members' angst when they discover something they didn't expect. It can rock your world.

      More than ever in my life, I have come to believe in checks and balances and not too much power given to charismatic leaders. I guess our founding fathers learned that from King George III.

    • I have been thinking about (questioning) that very same observation, @Chris.

      I am glad @amacbean16 is unable to see how the Mexico story even makes sense in her experience. To me, this is a concrete example of the church moving from a focus on persuasion and conversion (as it was when I served as a missionary) to a focus on retention, as reported in Riess’ book, The Next Mormons.

    • Good questions.
      Questions relatively easy for one who is not affiliated with the church to ask.

      It is impossible for me to answer these questions, but I found it rather revealing that Ensign Peak Advisors decided to fire the employee who had some questions—decided to fire him and get him out of the office the next day because he might make some coworkers “uncomfortable.”

      Geez. Who does that to a guy who has been there for twenty years?

      The guy loses his job. The guy is grappling with the challenges of seeing his family disintegrate. His spouse, a member of the “church royalty” abandons him... He can’t speak to his twin brother because his brother is on a crusade against the church...


    • Sounds like a good way to spend some time tomorrow—on the Sabbath. 😉 Thanks for the link. 👍🏻

    • One (of many) points that resonated with me is how she likes the religious traditions and writings of various religions, such as Buddhism, even though she has long been under fire for not believing literally.

      That's me. I love so many things the Seventh Day Adventists do, I follow them. For example, they are fully transparent about their finances. Yay! They build orphanages, hospitals and schools in countries that need them. They incorporate the latest science into their word of wisdom (health code) and even sponsor science that could change their view, letting the chips fall where they may.

      I'm currently reading The Autobiography of a Yogi, the acclaimed book Steve Jobs re-read every year. Doesn't mean I believe it all literally.

    • There was a topic where I chose to work through the general authorities and one where they asked me for input. I think both revealed how people of good conscience who want to do the right things simply can't work it out, even by whistleblowing.

      The one I'll tell is a group of BYU scientists gave a fireside in our stake about population studies in ancient Cairo via DNA. It was fascinating. They could show the effects of trade routes on shaping the makeup of the city.

      I thought it would be fascinating to do the same for native Americans. Turns out a great guy in Australia, a fellow Bishop and respected PhD DNA scientist was already doing it. He and I traded emails and I studied his research.

      Unfortunately, he found out with a very high degree of certainty that every native American population known had Asian DNA, not Middle Eastern as the Book of Mormon would indicate. I thought this was a problem we needed to address because we were sending missionaries to tell the Middle Eastern heritage story.

      Simon and I made the case and eventually the church changed a word in the intro to the Book of Mormon that allowed for more varied ancestry, but kept the Middle East story. A general authority asked Simon not to publish his research. I feared how this would end. The authorities were all raised to believe the Book of Mormon is the most correct book and that criticism of church leaders is wrong. There was an imbalance of power and poor Simon got excommunicated.

      I didn't publish anything but several leaders visited me at my home and at church. They were all wonderful, caring, good listeners, but none were scientists and none believed what I had to say. They followed their consciences and advised me that I can't believe everything I read on the internet and I should follow the prophet. (Interestingly, the new prophet has an M.D. and a Phd in surgery.)

      I argued that this would only kick the can down the road because 23andme. Over the next few decades, everyone will be able to get a cheap DNA test and there will be more people wondering how to reconcile their 23andme results with the Book of Mormon. I thought that we really need is the prophet to go back to the Lord and clear this up. We've done that with other beliefs. The longer we delay, the bigger the problem.

      As of right now, we all feel bad about it. Everyone is acting according to their conscience and beliefs, everyone wants a good outcome, but many of us feel yucky.

    • Yeah, the whole all Native Americans come from Israel thing is an unfortunate idea put forth by the church. The Book of Mormon follows the journey of one family. Impossible to spot Hebrew DNA in Native Americans all these years later from just one family. What is interesting however, is some of the archeological and cultural evidence that supports the Book of Mormon. E.g. Ancient writings have been found on sheets of metal. Ultimately though, one has to have the faith. Debates around DNA and archaeology can go both ways.

    • Before European arrival there were between 50 and 100 million people living in the Americas!”

      Source: William Denevan, editor. The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, Second Edition. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

      “Some estimates say that 90% of the Native population died in just a couple hundred years.” 

      Source: Stephen Stearns and Jacob Koella. Evolution in Health and Disease, Second Edition. Oxford University Press, 2008.

      I think it’s reasonable to assume that, if 90% of the Native American population died, then entire tribes became extinct. Meaning their DNA became extinct as well.

      Therefore, is it possible that Middle Eastern DNA could’ve been in the tribes that became extinct?

    • The Book of Mormon does teach that one tribe (the Nephites) got entirely wiped out. The other tribe (Lamanites) mixed with the other tribes. I think this in part explains why its impossible to find traces of Jewish blood in modern day Native Americans. One thing that is interesting is that some Cherokee believe they have Jewish ancestry due to similarities between their cultures.

    • I think it’s reasonable to assume that, if 90% of the Native American population died, then entire tribes became extinct. Meaning their DNA became extinct as well.

      Yes, even the Book of Mormon says that before Columbus came, the Nephites were slain by the edge of the sword and hundreds of thousands died.

      It's an arithmetic problem. We all have some Neanderthal DNA unless we came out of Africa, but there is no trace of the Nephites despite how large a civilization they built.

      I have mostly become at peace with it. I'm not aware of any non-LDS scientists or archaeologists who view the Book of Mormon as literal history; I'm aware of very few active LDS who view it as just a collection of inspirational stories. It's okay. It means a lot to millions of wonderful people. As long as Native Americans we teach are aware that a significant part of their heritage is Asian, I can deal.

    • In my mind, this issue — and so many others like it — reveal my own outlook as well as the outlook of those who believe.

      It is easy to get caught up in the absolutism of Truth. We assume people value Truth and that all good people surely want Truth to be at the core of one’s various perspectives.

      Nope. Wrong.

      Through experience I’ve learned that even though Truth is a core value for me, there are a lot of other core values out there. For instance, Choice may be a core value (anti-vaxxers?), Belonging may be a core value (groupies?), Nature may be a core value (environmentalists?), Compassion may be a core value (those against capital punishment?), Exceptionalism may be a core value (spiritualists?) etc.

      It is a waste of time to “preach” my core value(s) like Truth to people whose core value(s) are centered around, for instance, Faith, or Exceptionalism, or whatever else is more important to them than Truth. It only makes them angry and makes me frustrated. If I step back and look at the situation to understand better how it is that we each have different priorities and goals, despite what we both SAY our goals are, then I can more easily disengage from the disagreement and develop more valuable insights that will help me learn over the long term.

      In other words, I have to let go of the idea that MY core values are the best and the only worthy core values.

    • Thank you for recommending this interview. 🙏🏼

      Pagel’s perspective recalls the very reasons I decided to study the Humanities, eventually found my way into Arts Administration, and relished university teaching.

      Just as she says in the interview, “despair is not the best option.” Negotiating the challenges that life throws without losing oneself to despair is indeed the greatest challenge.

    • Same. I was drawn to science with the belief that truth is the ultimate. Unfortunately, as every author and movie maker knows, truth is usually boring or unpleasant.

      My theory of journalism is it’s hard to make money on truth because every reporter’s story becomes the same, so it’s a commodity. To really bring in the viewers, you have to be like Sean Hannity and put your own spin on the truth that makes your story unique, more emotional, and something you’d rather believe. It just can’t obviously look false, which is where skill in the telling comes in. As Steven Spielberg says, the best science fiction feels like it could be true.

    • I think of my wonderful friends in the modern Catholic church and I especially remember how wonderful the priests and nuns were to me and my mom when we were desperate on the streets of Oakland. That's what I choose to focus on, but I still don't want to lose the lessons of history.

      I was raised catholic, admire a lot of priests who I've met over the years but, world wide, the Catholic Church has concealed and protected paedophiles amongst its ranks.

      The movie Spotlight is a brilliant explanation, and example of, this

      wiki link to movie

      My personal view of religion is that I'm a grown man, I know right from wrong and don't need anyone to advice or councel me.

      I do have faith but I have zero interest in any branch of religion.

      ( sorry if this is off topic.)

    • “Some estimates say that 90% of the Native population died in just a couple hundred years.

      The Nephites (and another group of people in a completely separate instance, the Jaredites) were said to have died off in a single battle, though. All citizens, mind you - women and children as well. The Nephites would have been within the last two thousand years. The Jaredites some time before that. Each case supposedly left millions dead on the battlefield in what is now New York.

      The prevailing army is not going to stick around to clean up millions of dead bodies in a time with no mechanical equipment. So where are those bones? Where are the weapons and armor they would have dropped? People have searched and no one has found any evidence of them. Where are the buildings they left behind? They were said to have covered the land. Why can't we find even one of the two civilizations that were millions strong in North America in the last few thousand years? But we can find fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals that lived millions of years before. We know about the Aztecs and the Mayans.

      DNA evidence is one thing, but at least as important is archeological evidence.

    • Just wanted to say how thrilled I am that we can have spirited yet respectful discussions here that would get you in a world of hurt if you tried to have them on Facebook.