LDS Church Leaders Cannot Serve God and Mammon7
August 6, 2012 by P. J. Toscano
LDS Church leaders cannot serve God and Mammon. They cannot serve the Lord or the spiritual interests of the Saints while preserving the conservative economic and political interests of the corporate Church and running it on a soviet model of authoritarian leadership.
The ecclesiastical institution owns billions of dollars of real and personal property free and clear of liens in scores of jurisdictions throughout the world. It owns farms and business interests; it has a mammoth budget that must be managed and accounted for; it has lawyers, accountants, architects, real estate professionals and other advisers that must be attended to; it operates schools; it produces publications; it requires public relations experts to manage and protect its image; it pays an army of employees—not to mention the missionaries and members who serve without pay.
All this requires constant caretaking, money and energy. The LDS apostles, acting as a board of directors of the vast LDS ecclesiastical empire, have a duty to grow, preserve and pay for its holdings, interests and investments. To do this, they confound sacred materiality with profane materialism. They encourage acquisitiveness and discourage equality. They countenance sins of calculation and condemn sins of passion. They require Church members to tithe on gross rather than disposable income, a policy that favors rich over poor and directly affects the access poor members have to church offices and to temple blessings. Church leaders amass Church property free and clear of liens while ordinary members are mortgaged to the hilt. They allow the Church to become more conservative and capitalistic. They profit from gender inequality in the work place. They seek political and economic power by forfeiting compassion and demonizing feminists, intellectuals, and homosexuals. Thus, they render unto Caesar that which is God’s and unto God that which is Caesar’s.
Consequently, they cannot castigate the world for its inequalities because they contaminate the Church itself. They cannot call to repentance this or any other nation, kindred, tongue, or people without exposing the Church’s wealth to attack, seizure, or destruction. They do not preach Joseph Smith’s complex, rich and fascinating teachings that proclaim universal salvation, deny the existence of hell, call for equality, communalism, stewardship of the environment and decry greed, exploitation, violence and war; instead, they mute the message of the Restoration and recite mind-numbing anecdotes in its place.And so, the outward kingdom is maintained at the expense of the inward kingdom.
In the long, chilling shadow of these apostolic errors, many complicit men and some women have profited and prospered by the promulgation of heresies that replaced the gospel and the revelations and that serve the privileged to the detriment of the disadvantaged. I understand these errors may not have been first made out of malice or for personal self-interest. But they are spiritually fatal nevertheless.
Critics of my critique will say that it is unfair and unbalanced; that I am blind to the many laudable aspirations and achievements of the Church and to the personal goodness, integrity, and dedication of many leaders at every level; that I am blind to the determination of both leaders and members to improve lives, to make bad people good and good people better, to promote rectitude and honor; that I am blind to the hierarchy’s efforts to protect people from unnecessary pain, from despair, from the vicissitudes of life, from the evils of hostility, intemperance, and addictions of all kinds; that I am blind to the Church’s promotion of personal honesty, loyalty, integrity, education and industry, to humanitarian and charitable service.
But I am not blind. I acknowledge all these accomplishments and aspirations of the LDS Church, its leaders, and its members. I see nothing wrong with any of these ends.
My complaint is not with ends, but with means. My lament is that virtue cannot be achieved by compliance to the demands of corporate Mormonism or by mindless obedience to its leaders. The praiseworthiness of its objectives cannot compensate for the worst of all the errors of the LDS apostolate: The failure to preach Christ’s gospel of spiritual transformation based on faith in the unconditional love of God and their replacement of that gospel with a legalistic regimen of corporate rules and expectations of conformity driven by the carrot and stick of rewards and punishments, approval and disapproval, acceptance and rejection, fellowship and disfellowshipment, advancement and exclusion. Holiness cannot be achieved by substituting loyalty to the Messiah and the Holy Spirit with fawning obsequence to the corporate Church and its management.
Of course I could be wrong about this. But is it probable? Is it probable that holiness can flow from idolatry? Is it probable that Jesus would let his prophets, seers, and revelators become profiteers and regulators? Would replace the Mormon watch cry “the kingdom of God or nothing” with the ejaculation, “Let’s go shopping!”? Is it probable that the Atonement—the Messianic sacrifice of divine power, voluntarily accomplished as a pure grace of unconditional love, to rescue us from our blindness, power-lust and egocentric cruelty and to sanctify us as joint-heirs in glory—is just a crass debt repayment plan? Is it probable that Christ liberated us from the Mosaic Law, rendered the Ten Commandments a palimpsest for his Eight Beatitudes, transformed the Hebrews’ tribal solitary God of war into a cosmic plural Godhead of peace, and suffered himself to be crucified to death in order to inflict upon us the very religious legalism he so relentlessly castigated when he was on earth and then, in the latter-days, to authorize his modern apostles to seduce people with the promise of eternal life only to grind them up in a church machine?
Yes, I could be wrong. Mormonism may not be what I think it is. But is it probable that the Restoration has degenerated to what it has become by revelation?
–Paul Toscano, taken from Holy Shift, a presentation made at the Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium, July 28, 2012
Just throwing out there that while I’ve heard people give personal opinions on the subject, I’ve never seen an official definition of what it means to pay a full tithe. We’re asked if we’re full tithe payers but not asked to show how we calculated such. I don’t doubt there are bishops or stake presidents somewhere who unrighteously demand the same, but that fault is with the individual local leader, not with apostolic error.
That particular point aside, the thesis as a whole is an intriguing one.
Might I suggest profiteers, CEOs, and regulators, since you were missing a malapropism for seer?
Paul, well said and welcome to the Mormon Worker. So much packded in such a short post! “Rendering unto Cesar that which is God’s” hits the mark. And even a swipe at reducing the atonement to a “crass debt repayment plan.” Penal substitution is so 12th to 17th century. Great to have your voice and thoughts here. If we accept the BOM as the prophetic voice for our time, then how can we ignore that warnings that us gentiles would “sin against the gospel” (3 Nephi 16) and “pollute the Holy church of God.”? (Mormon 8).
I appreciate how you couch the possible critiques of your critique in the form of questions. It gives your piece a kind of humility it might not otherwise have. Like many non-conservative Mormons, I find myself sometimes wondering if I am not being too critical of things I can’t control. I think it’s good for us to experience and express some sense of concern over our views as a kind of antidote or preventative measure against self-righteousness, smugness, and arrogance. Thank you for your thoughts.
Enjoyed the post paul. As I have thought about the city creek mall, tithing, and financial decisions by the church I have come to believe that the institution does not believe in Jesus or at best they are as he said in his new sermon on the new mount, ye of little faith. Peter was told to get a gold coin from the mouth of a fish. Jesus of course asks us to consider the lilies and not worry about things like $ and believe that God controls everything and will provide. Sure we all fall short but we all don’t claim to be in a special relationship with deity and ask members to tithe with promises that are often fulfilled by God. And yet it is a form of hypocrisy that demands more of its members than it does of itself. Business ventures, investment strategies, etc, etc all reveal that the belief that the kingdom can be built with mammon. That God can’t really provide and that we must rely on arms of flesh.
Your observation that energy expended on investments and financial interests is something I find many members don’t consider. There are only so many hours in a day, and the Church’s Board of Directors are constantly pulled in a direction that takes them from the tasks they should be focusing their time on.
At my blog, “Pure Mormonism,” a reader left a comment that I am inclined to sadly agree with when he lamented, “Year by year the church gets farther off the mark. There is simply no righting this ship.”
Huh? What teachings are those?
I have often wondered why the church quit disclosing finances. I think in the early 1900’s an Apostle spoke about the evils of corporations. Look where the church is now-a big corporation.
My family is struggling due to my job loss thanks to the economy and where I live. It would be nice if the church would help members like me: faithful, tithe payer, 100% attendance, never turned down a calling, do visiting and home teaching each month. (I saw investigators get bills paid and groceries- why not me?) Also interesting how we are told not to be obsessed with riches but yet there are very many very rich Mormons, and I know we are not to judge but my experiences with rich members has never been faith promoting and never a good experience. It seems the church is becoming more and more like mainstream Christianity in teachings, example, behavior, etc., and like the mega churches on TV constantly asking for donations for the Lord while the Pastor gets filthy rich. “They draw near unto me with their lips but their heart’s are far from me”