The LDS Church and City Creek Center

Jesus told the following parable.

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
  15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
  16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
  17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
  18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
  19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
  20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
  21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
  23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
  25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
  26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
  27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
  28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
  29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
  30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30).

In summary, a man had three servants to whom he gave different amounts of money. One received five talents, another two, and another one. What was important was not how much the servants were given but what they did with what they had. The servants who took their money and increased it were praised and given more when their master returned. One servant hid his money, doing nothing with it, and certainly not increasing it. This servant was punished for his wickedness and sloth.

This parable is not really about money but I’m going to draw some monetary parallels. Some people criticize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for spending as much money as they are on the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Would not this money be better spent on the poor? First, any who criticize The Church for not doing as much as they can to care for the poor is being disingenuous. Besides, does all money The Church has have to ‘help’ the poor?

We read of a time when Judas criticized the use of some expensive ointment when he thought it would be better to sell that ointment and give the money to the poor:

“1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” (John 12:1-8).

Now how is City Creek Center like this example? There are times when it is appropriate to not just spend Church money on the poor. There are more ways than one to build His Kingdom.

I’ll share one last example. Let’s say that I loan you $100. What are you going to do with it? Will you spend it on some new clothes? Will you pay your cable bill with it? Will you repay part of a student loan? Will you give it away to help the poor? Are any of those things bad? No, they are not. Helping the poor with the money is wonderful. However, what if you decided to invest that money or take it and buy some supplies that you use to make something else and sell for a profit. Pretty soon, with your ingenuity and diligence, you have $1000 where before you only had the $100 that I loaned you. Now you have enough money to pay me back and to continue to grow your wealth. As you continue to make more money you never stop helping to poor but soon you have enough money to build an entire orphanage. You have enough money to teach indigent farmers around the world how to improve their crop yields so they no longer are merely and barely surviving but are able to have an excess of food.

So what is a better use of money? Giving all of what you have away or using the money to increase what you have so you can be in a secure financial position to be able to help more people? Do you hide your money away or even give it all away, or do you work hard and increase it?

The LDS Church is in a similar position. It has tithing funds that are used to build temples and church buildings, to fund the upkeep of those buildings, and to help the poor and needy, among many other things. There are fast offerings that go to help the needy – both in and out of the Church. There are humanitarian funds that go to help the needy worldwide. The Church has an education fund that loans money at low interest rates to people so they can get the education they need to pull themselves out of poverty.

Then there are the commercial arms of the Church, like Property Reserve that is paying for City Creek Center. With this massive expenditure the Church is renovating downtown Salt Lake City. This benefits the businesses in the area, it benefits the people of Salt Lake, it beautifies the surroundings, and it is a good investment for the Church. They will be able to continue to grow their real estate holdings. The Church is trying to take its talents and increase them.

Simply giving money to the poor is not always the best way to help. I’ll end with some words by Arthur C. Brooks, who gave a forum address at BYU in 2009. He said:

“Rockefeller was famously quoted…as saying, ‘God gave me my money ‘…. Now, that’s sort of troubling to Christian people. God gave him his money? Some have used the quote as evidence that John D. Rockefeller was a bad man—that he believed he deserved to be rich when other people were poor. But that’s not actually what he meant.

In 1906 Rockefeller went on to tell a newspaper reporter for the New York American: “I believe the power to make money is a gift from God
. . . to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind”…. What Rockefeller meant was this: He believed that he made money because he was charged with helping others with his money, and he honestly believed (as he wrote at other times) that if he stopped giving his money and giving it in the right way, then God would take his money away.

Now, that still might trouble you theologically that God would intervene in the direct finances of John D. Rockefeller, but you have to admit that it doesn’t sound so weird at that point. John D. Rockefeller believed that he was rich because he gave so much, and throughout his life, before he was a rich man, he gave a lot. He was a charitable person.” (Source).

There is charity and there is charity. What I mean is that where some would simply give all their money away – again, not that that is bad – others will increase their talents and strive to help more and more people as they grow their holdings. You can help as many or even more people through business as you can through donations. I am not advocating we all become business owners but for good or for ill, businesses are at the heart of our world.

This post isn’t meant to be a commentary on economic theory. It is simply my opinion on matters of LDS Church spending. Critics will find any way they can to attack the Church. You might disagree with what the Church does but it is the Lord’s church. He directs the Church. This does not mean that leaders do not make mistakes but even if they do, it is not our place to be critical of them. Instead of attacking we should be building up the good we see in all around us. The LDS Church is doing many great things all over the world – things that benefit people both temporally and spiritually. This is the Lord’s work and He works in diverse ways and through diverse means.

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