Last week’s Washington Post article headlined, “Mormon Church has misled members on $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, whistleblower alleges,” put readers into familiar camps: One assumes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is exploiting its members, while another camp wonders when the mainstream media will understand the role of faith and charity in religious life.

Kathleen Flake, the Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia, falls in the latter group. In an article she penned for the university, she argues, “At some point, even with reliance on investments that augment membership offerings, the Church’s commitments to the members would become impossible to meet. The larger problem is, as any Bible-reader knows, tithing is about faith, not about money.”

Noting that tax law experts have already discredited the claims of a whistleblower alleging the Church of Jesus Christ improperly saves money, Flake highlights a few of the lesser-known aspects of the church’s charitable work:

“That it has an unusually robust welfare and disaster relief system may be known, but its scope can hardly be represented here except in passing: food production and supply centers, immigrant services, employment centers, literacy programs and access to higher education, family counseling, and drug addiction services, as well as its own version of Goodwill.”

Pondering the merit of added transparency for the church’s finances, Flake asks why the church doesn’t simply open up its records.

Her answer: The alleged problem is not about financial malfeasance, “it’s about competing views of what should be done with Church money and who gets to say so.”

“In other words,” Flake concludes, “this is a power struggle ... and one that we’ve seen before from those who don’t understand Mormonism and how it handles its money.”

Read Kathleen Flake’s full article here.

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