Monday, November 5, 2012

Let the Donor Beware

My parents are and always have been full-tithe payers.  They pay their fast offering, too.  They've probably donated to the perpetual education fund, too.  But as far as their "charitable" donations go, that's about it.

I don't mean to judge them for a lack of charity.  I don't make any charitable donations (although I might if I made as much money as my dad does) other than the occasional used-clothing-drop.  What does bother me about their donating is that they seem to think that the church is the only place worth donating to.

When I was maybe ten and my mom was taking me Christmas shopping, we passed one of those guys in a Santa suit who was collecting donations for the Salvation Army.  I asked her why she didn't drop a few coins in, and she explained that "you never know where that money will actually go."

The implication, the way I understood her, was that if she gave money to the Salvation Army, she had no way of knowing whether it actually went toward helping the needy instead of paying for the affairs of church administration.  She couldn't be sure that her money wouldn't be used for a cause she did not support.  She further explained that this was why she paid her tithing and fast offerings--because then she knew that the money she'd donated was handled in a way she approved of.

I took this as a learning experience.  I learned that I should trust the church.  And I faithfully paid my tithing from age 16 until I was 20 or 21.

But I think my parents' faith in the church is misplaced.  Especially speaking financially.  Taking some of the weirder doctrines on faith makes more sense to me--my parents have seen evidence in their lives that Mormon doctrine has worked for them, and so they trust that some of the things that make less sense are equally as valid.  I don't agree with it, but I understand it.  But in financial terms, the same kind of trust has not been earned.  The church doesn't release its fiscal records, and my parents have no actual understanding of how the church's money is spent.  But despite a lack of evidence, they seem to trust that the church is the most trustworthy charitable institution to which they can possibly donate their hard-earned money.

It's tempting sometimes, when I'm at dinner with my parents, to ask them how they feel about the multi-billion dollar mall the church built.  It's been a long time in the making--perhaps some of my tithing money went into the construction of the new City Creek Center.  The church claims that no tithing money was used for it--but who can verify this claim?

It seems ironic that a church that stresses so heavily the concept that we are accountable for our actions does its best to eschew financial accountability.  You might even say...their works are in the dark.

That doesn't seem right to me.

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