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LDS Church leaders provide insight into church finances

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LDS Church Office Building for Mormon Times historic photo comparison Salt Lake City, Utah, July 18, 2008.

LDS Church Office Building for Mormon Times historic photo comparison Salt Lake City, Utah, July 18, 2008.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church has spent "billions of dollars over the past few years" to meet global welfare and humanitarian needs, according to one of two documents about the faith's finances released Tuesday through its official websites.

The documents provided additional insight into the way leaders of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints manage its finances as it continues to expand worldwide.

One release included answers to 14 questions about how the church uses tithing and other funds, when and how it pays taxes, how and why it invests in stocks, bonds, businesses, real estate and agriculture and why it maintains financial reserves. The question-and-answer section is available on mormonnewsroom.org.

One question addressed why the church maintains reserves when unmet humanitarian needs exist around the world.

The release says the church has spent "billions of dollars over the past few years" to meet global welfare and humanitarian needs. In a March news release about a $1 million donation to provide food in Africa, the church had said its humanitarian arm, LDS Charities, now has provided more than $2 billion in monetary donations in 191 countries and territories since 1985. However, that figure did not include other streams of welfare spending by the church.

Tuesday's releases also said the church's reserves are necessary to sustain future church growth, which includes a global temple-building program and renting or building meetinghouses in developing areas of the world.

"Ever-increasing financial means are needed to preach the message of Jesus Christ throughout the world, build and operate a fast-growing number of temples and houses of worship and provide educational and other opportunities to lift people out of poverty and promote self-reliance," the Q&A said.

The church additionally provided a response to a question about whether the church is a rich one.

"Some people may try to attach a monetary value to the church in the same way they would assess the assets of a commercial corporation," the Q&A states. "Such comparisons simply do not hold up. For instance, a corporation's branch offices or retail outlets have to be financially justified as a source of profit. But every time the church builds a place of worship, the building becomes a consumer of assets and a financial obligation that has to be met through worldwide member donations. The ongoing maintenance and upkeep, utilities and use of the building can only be achieved as long as faithful members continue to support the church."

The releases on lds.org and mormonnewsroom.org both draw heavily from a March talk given by Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, who provided a broad, contextual and historical view of the finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his keynote speech at the 2018 Church History Symposium, "Financing Faith: The Intersection of Business and Religion," which was held in the Conference Center Theater.

The full transcript of Bishop Caussé's March talk is available here.

The new releases go further.

For example, the Q&A addresses the church's tax obligations. Churches and other nonprofits in the United States are generally exempt from federal and state income taxes and property taxes, but the LDS Church "pays all taxes that are required by law" worldwide.

That includes paying taxes on all income derived from revenue-producing activities "not substantially related to its tax-exempt purposes"; on net income generated by church-affiliated for-profit corporations; property taxes for property not used for religious, educational or charitable purposes; government fees, levies and assessments connected to the development of church property; employer taxes; and sales and use taxes.

The releases combined with Bishop Caussé's previous talk appeared aimed at helping people find answers to common questions about church finances in one place.

In the second document released Tuesday, a blog item on lds.org written by Bishop Caussé, he breaks down church spending into six major areas:

• Providing and maintaining places of worship for more than 30,000 congregations around the world.

• Administering the church’s welfare and humanitarian aid programs, including employment centers, storehouses and more than 2,700 projects in 2017.

• Providing education programs, including church schools, universities and seminary and institute programs.

• Supporting worldwide missionary operations, including 420 missions and approximately 70,000 missionaries on proseltying and humanitarian service missions.

• Building and operating nearly 160 temples around the world with many more to come, and administering an expansive family history and records preservation program.

• Supporting the general administration of the church.

He also expanded on the four spiritual principles that govern the church's institutional finances that he shared in March — the law of tithing; self-reliance and independence; provident living or preparing for the future; and "in the Lord’s own way."

The Presiding Bishopric manages what the church terms temporal affairs. Bishop Caussé said that means its daily routine resembles those of executive boards of international firms. However, he said the church is neither a financial institution nor a commercial corporation but manages member contributions only with spiritual objectives in mind.

Invested funds and reserves, he said, "can be accessed in times of hardship to ensure the ongoing, uninterrupted work of the church’s mission, programs and operations, and to meet emergency financial needs."

The LDS Church does not disclose how much members donate annually.

The releases restate Bishop Caussé's statement that in managing the church's finances, LDS leaders follow the counsel they give church members about living within their means, avoiding unnecessary debt and preparing for the future by developing reserves, including food and financial assets.

"The church is all about people," he wrote in his blog post. "It is all about individual members who are bound together by common beliefs and covenants. They are its strength and its future."