What is to some members of the LDS church a trifling matter is to those in the DAMU a matter of frequent discussion and derision. I speak of the church’s decision a couple years ago to purchase a moribund shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City. The price tag? At least a billion dollars. The frequency with which disaffected members raise this particular issue is bemusing to true believers, who either don't know about it or simply shrug it off. But I think I know why disaffected members tend to fixate on the church’s billion-dollar boondoggle. For me, the shopping mall is a shorthand method of speaking to a number of serious issues I have with the church. The mall is emblematic of these larger problems. Here are some of the things I think the mall symbolizes:
1. The capitalist-corporate nature of the
church. The church has a billion dollars
in cash to spend and it decides to use the money for a mall? This is a decision one might reasonably
expect from a corporation. But what kind
of church owns a billion-dollar mall?
2. Lack of transparency in church finances. How many members would have guessed the
church was so flush with cash? The church
says no tithing funds were used to purchase the mall and that all the money used
has been generated by church-owned businesses. If this is how the church spends
money we know about, what about all that we don't? Again, what kind of church owns enough
businesses to throw off a billion dollars in cash? And the fact that the church is not using
tithing funds is really irrelevant because the church could use
business-generated income to supplement tithing or fast offering funds, so
spending that money on a mall does affect the amount of money the church has in
its accounts used for ecclesiastical purposes.
3. Lack of accountability. The church has no accountability to its
members, government regulators, or anyone else for that matter. True believers do not find this problematic,
probably because they really believe Jesus is making sure the church leaders
never make any missteps. For those of us
who are skeptical about quality of the church’s celestial regulatory oversight,
the lack of accountability to any earthly person or organization is troubling.
4. Arrogant leaders. Here
is something the leaders of the church appear to have in common with the
current White House occupants. They have
the attitude that because they are the “Lord’s anointed” they should not be
questioned. When they are questioned,
they either decline to answer questions or respond with evasive obfuscation.
5. Lack of revelation and real knowledge from God. We are supposed to believe that of all the
things Jesus would tell Gordon Hinckley, He told the Prophet to buy a mall? For ten years, the only new light and
knowledge given to the world by Jesus through His Prophet are the doctrines of “no
penny poker,” “no multiple earrings,” and “no gay rights.” And now we are expected to believe that Jesus’
latest revelation is the need for His church to get in the shopping mall
6. How far from the biblical Christ is the modern church. The mall-buying scheme is emblematic of how far the leaders of the modern LDS church are from the gospel of Christ taught in the life of Jesus in the New Testament. It is emblematic of the LDS church's preoccupation not with Christian ethics and social progress but with the “god of this world,” money.
7. How far from the church's own roots it is on
economic issues: the church of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught the
law of consecration and attempted to implement cooperative economic schemes. The modern church has embraced fully the
capitalist ethos and has now decided to run one of the prototypical enterprises
8. Hypocrisy. The church will profit from stores that cater
to the latest fashion trends, Hollywood styles, and other things the General
Authorities routinely decry at General Conference. And I bet they’ll be open on
Sunday. Another example of “do as I say and not as I do.”
9. Cultural and regional myopia of the church
leadership. Church leaders are overly
concerned about how Salt Lake City looks, about how bad it would be to have a
closed mall across the street from temple square. What will the tourists think?
Perhaps it would affect the market value of church properties in the vicinity
including the Prophet's penthouse pad. A disproportionate concern for the
goings-on along the Wasatch Front is not what one would expect from a God
concerned equally for the welfare of all his children on earth. The mall decision is just one more in a long
line of decisions made by church leaders that exemplifies their cultural and
10. Lack of candor from the highest echelons of church leadership. Gordon Hinckley has said the church is not wealthy, that its holdings mainly are revenue drains not revenue producers, and that the church relies on tithing to generate income. But at the same time, he says tithing was not used for the mall purchase. So, the church has enough revenue-producing holdings to throw off a billion dollars or more in cash to buy a decaying shopping mall and yet Hinckley scolds the media for reporting that the church is wealthy.
Well, that’s just a few problems with the church that are highlighted by the Crossroads mall purchase. So, the next time you see someone in the DAMU mention the billion-dollar boondoggle, remember—it’s not really about a mall.