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At the end of his welcoming address at the April 1907 general conference, President Joseph F. Smith permitted himself one vulgar expression — his phrase — regarding some who were criticizing the use of tithing funds by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The expression was humorous, and the official Conference Report published by the Deseret News recorded it was followed by laughter.
Here’s what he said:
Before I sit down, I would like to make another statement. Our enemies have been publishing to the world that the presidency of the church and the leading officers are consuming the tithes of the people. Now, I am going to tell you a little secret, and it is this: there is not one of the general authorities in the church that draws one dollar from the tithes of the people for his own use. Well, you may say, how do they live? I will give you the key: The church helped to support in its infancy the sugar industry in this country, and it has some means invested in that enterprise. The church helped to establish Z.C.M.I., and it has a little interest in that, and in some other institutions which pay dividends. In other words, tithing funds were invested in these institutions, which give employment to many, for which the Trustee-in-Trust holds stock certificates, which are worth more today than what was given for them; and the dividends from these investments more than pay for the support of the general authorities of the church. So we do not use one dollar of your tithing. I thought I would like to tell you that much, so that when you hear men talking about Joseph F. Smith and his associates consuming the tithes of the people you can throw it back into their teeth that they do not use a dollar of the tithing for their support. I would like our ‘friends,’ if I might be permitted to use a vulgar expression, to ‘put that in their pipe and smoke it.’
That statement came up in an internet discussion Tuesday.
Church leaders have spoken in general conference and to journalists over the years to explain the use of tithing. In the Bible and Latter-day Saint scripture, Jesus Christ commands church members to “pay one-tenth of all their interest annually” as “a standing law forever.” Church members believe in scriptural promises that tithing provides spiritual and temporal blessings.
Here is a sampling of what church leaders have said:
President Gordon B. Hinckley twice addressed use of church funds in general conference, in 2003 and 2004, after some said tithing had been used to build City Creek, a housing and shopping development south of Temple Square that he said was intended to protect the environment around the Salt Lake Temple.
As an aside, the facade of the old ZCMI building was used for part of City Creek.
Here is what President Hinckley said, in part:
Funds for this have come and will come from those commercial entities owned by the Church. These resources, together with the earnings of invested reserve funds, will accommodate this program.
In 2019, the First Presidency responded to a complaint over the church’s Ensign Peak investment fund and offered this insight:
We take seriously the responsibility to care for the tithes and donations received from members. The vast majority of these funds are used immediately to meet the needs of the growing church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work and missionary efforts throughout the world. Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future. This is a sound doctrinal and financial principle taught by the Savior in the Parable of the Talents and lived by the church and its members. All church funds exist for no other reason than to support the church’s divinely appointed mission.
Claims being currently circulated are based on a narrow perspective and limited information. The church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes and reserves. We continue to welcome the opportunity to work with officials to address questions they may have.
In 2020, the church’s Presiding Bishopric sat down for an extensive and exclusive interview with Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver and me about church finances. The three bishopric members said tithing is both a commandment and an act of faith, and that church leaders use tithing funds and fast offerings from established areas of the church and redistribute it to help finance less-established areas.
“In these emerging countries of the church, there is no way that the tithing, although members are very faithful … their tithing cannot cover all the expenditure, so it’s very important that members here in the United States and many other countries where the church has been established for a long time will contribute to it,” Bishop Gérald Caussé said. “There’s a great transfer of funds that happens, and it will be more and more in the future as the church develops in those countries.”
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