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May 21, 2006

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Lunar Quaker

I think it's funny how the church makes a big stink about the Church Auditing Department in General Conference each April. That's about the only "oversight" that the Church has. They make sure to emphasize that it's an "independent" entity, but what do they really do? They simply rubber-stamp the decisions of the almighty Council on the Disposition of Tithes.

-Domokun-

Another point is that location aside, (which they own anyway, so none of that billion+ is for real estate, just buildings) even if the church has the money to throw around, spending a billion+ for two malls is WAY too much money for that kind of project. If I were of a suspicious nature, I'd want to check out who owns the contracting companies doing the work. That's a LOT of cash to throw at a building or two. Are the floors and walls going to be gold-plated or something? How can you even spend that much money on a retail facility? The mind boggles.

Cody

Excellent insight Equality. I have had some of the same thoughts myself. Doesn't seem right does it? I appreciate the perspective you add to these issues and enjoy reading the blog. Although your tone would turn off most every orthodox member, what you have to say is important. I wish more members were comfortable taking a more critical approach to issues such as the mall one. Just me anyway.

Equality

Thanks for your comments, Cody. I am not sure whether I should take your point about my tone as a compliment or a critique but I appreciate it at any rate.

Abner Doon

Wow, I really like your style, Equality. You're very articulate, clear, and to the point without sacrificing relevant information. Your blog is high on my list of must reads.

ChristFollower

I haven't really understood before why people were so worked up about the mall before, but I think I finally get it. Interesting that it's about 50% more expensive than the conference center, which IMHO is a true marvel.

Your comments on SLC boosterism, as well as hypocrisy, are well taken. I know shops in the mall will be able to serve alcohol, which boggled my mind when I was TBM. If the church has a billion to spend on civic boosterism, why SLC as opposed to Detroit, Kansas City, etc?

Cody

Equality, I guess you could take it either way, but let me explain myself further. I think ultimately, when it comes down to your tone, the question should be asked, "what is your/our ultimate goal?" Do we only want to accomplish having a forum where we can speak of things that “don't make sense" and express our dislike for certain decisions? Or, do we want to create change and help people think differently and arrive at more truth? So, I reckon the question of tone, whether good or bad, is contingent on what we would like to accomplish. Like I said before, I really enjoy the blog and agree with just about everything you publish on it. The thoughts about the mall purchase are totally legit and in my mind right. Your tone in it is just fine for me to swallow. But what I should make clearer is that if I/you want to get through to those whom I think need it most then maybe the tone or approach needs to be calmer and even more diplomatic. For, back to the people whom I think should hear what you have to say, they are turned off by it and instantly assume that we have an axe to grind or are mad at the church, etc. Just some thoughts that I've been having lately. You could totally be doing this already in your community/ward and are just using the blog to vent and get things off your chest. Anyway, I enjoy the posts, keep ‘em coming.

Randy

The thing about the malls that I don't get is that they've got that nice development that's sucking much of the business to a different part of downtown (forgive me, but I can't remember the name of it). This is the kind of thing that happens everywhere; why should Salt Lake be any different? It certainly doesn't seem like the kind of thing that should warrant a religious organization dropping a billion dollars to counteract. Also, malls are kinda out-of-style these days anyway, so it's not exactly a wise investment. But, yeah, the mall is more symbolic of other things than it is bad in and of itself.

Randy

And, might I add, I dig Equality's mode of expression.

Extremely Disaffected

I enjoyed this post and it gave me a lot to chew on. I disagree wtih Cody who asserts that you should sugarcoat the facts. Is this reminiscint of anything? People who are true TBM will not listen to anything. They would just take a sugarcoated version as evidence that the church is on the right side of the issue and one that is factually correct as "anti-mormon." My FIL today said to my DW about "apostate literature," "They'll never get me." In other words no matter what happens, no matter what evidence he is presented with he will not change, because obviously God makes things difficult to understand and believe because he is testing us to see if we will see through all the "so called" evidence and remain steadfast. Hmmm

-Domokun-

I think that there are two things to consider when talking about "facts", and that there are factual statements, and then there are interpretations of fact. Facts are things that can be objectively proven true.

One objective fact is that the church is spending a billion dollars (although I've heard some recent estimates that it is now 1.5+ billion.) Another objective fact is that for similar developments in other cities, that is a VERY expensive mall or two. Another objective fact is that the church is not transparent with it's finances, nor is it publicly accountable to anyone. Those are staements of fact. If a TBM can't acknowledge those disturbing facts, there is no point trying to soften the interpretation of them.

Even though Equality's interpetation of fact above may not cause a typical TBM to feel a warm burning feeling, that doesn't mean his analysis is not fair or compelling, which I believe it is.

Equality

Thanks, guys. I think Cody was speaking more to the tone of my blog generally than the tone of my post on the mall. I share his concerns that someone who otherwise might be interested in what I have to say might turn away because of a sarcastic or negative tone. There is a balance to strike between saying what I truly think and feel and considering the way it might be received by a hypothetical reader. So, I appreciate his comments and any suggestions my (admittedly small number of) readers may have to improve my methods of communication.

Cody Clark

"Sugarcoat?" Who said anything about sugarcoating? Extremely Dissaffected, if you believe that I am suggesting to sugarcoat then maybe I didn't make myself clear. My bad. I do not believe, at all, in any degree of "sugarcoating". Sugarcoating has been a primary cause of many of my frustrations. But, what I am asking or suggesting is: Do you want to write in a way that only you and 15 other people who think and believe exactaly as you do will benefit therefrom? Or, is your goal in writing down your ideas and "statements of fact" to open minds, share truth, and create change? No sugarcoating whatsoever.

john f.

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.

As you know, this is a misrepresentation of the Church's plan to try to revitalize a section of downtown by adding an entirely new city section (complete with a BYU downtown extension) that consists of a mall, hundreds of new apartments and condos to create downtown living space, and generally to make SLC a more inviting and enjoyable city. This surely is sinister, isn't it?

john f.

That first paragraph was quoting from the original post.

Equality

I know no such thing, john f. You may have no problem with a church that involves itself in gargantuan real-estate development projects. I would prefer to leave such things to private for-profit corporations that do not use the guise of religion as a mask to their motives.

-Domokun-

John, remind me again why it is a church's job to revitalize downtown SLC? And don't tell me that it is just the commercial arm of the church's businesses doing it, because then I'll ask, why is a church "in business" at all?

Building a BYU extension campus and student housing I can understand, but why the malls? Why the luxury condos? Why the opulence? Why SLC? I'm sure that if the church wants to be civic-minded there are many other places that "deserve" it more than SLC, but even if they wanted to keep it local, (why is a "global" church keeping a project of this magnitude local?) why is it so capitalistic? Why is the church worshipping mammon?

If the only motivation is to beautify downtown SLC, why not turn those two blocks into a fabulous park, a la the Main Street plaza? That would certainly be a whole lot cheaper, and would be closer to what a church should be interested in.

The sinister part is that there is no public disclosure or impartial oversight. How do we know that the companies doing the work aren't related to the very same GAs making the decisions? How do we know that "no tithing funds" are being used?

That brings up another argument: Even if "no tithing funds" are claimed to be used, every single penny that the church has is a donation or is a derivitive of a donation. I think that alone entitles members to financial disclosure and to the right of criticism when a boondoggle/pork barrel such as this project rears it's ugly head.

john f.

why not?

-Domokun-

Why?

Cody Clark

BECAUSE..."my kingdom is not of this world."

Extremely Disaffected

Why not? I can think of much better projects that a church should be involved with than a mall. How about these:
1. Homeless shelters
2. Education in poorer countries.
3. Wait, I know you could just go to the NEW TESTAMENT to figure out what "The One True Church of Christ" should be spending its money on.

It leads me to wonder? Are there bonuses involved for GA's who help the church acheive financial goals, similiar to a corporations. We don't know because we don't know JACK S*** about how the church spends the money that was given to "the Lord."

Extremely Disaffected

Cody Clark,

Seems like we are on the same page. I just think from conversations with TBM's that some will consider anything that is not "faith promoting" must be "anti."

Cody Clark

ED,

Agreed.

Jordan

For some reason, the fact that the church is into malls has never bothered. Nor has the fact that we aren't always 100% sure where the tithing is going.

Yet this post does raise several interesting issues for me to think about.

Stephen M (Ethesis)

Building a BYU extension campus and student housing I can understand, but why the malls? Why the luxury condos? Why the opulence?

Because the project is not "sink $xxx into yyy" but is a project with a net transaction value of a billion or so, not a loss of a billion or so.

Where I live we have people doing half a billion dollar projects on far less money than half a billion dollars (i.e. the project may be 610 million, but they are only paying out a couple million to make the thing work).

Yes, if the Church just tore down all of the space, turned it into parks and decoration, that would be a billion dollar expense rather than a billion dollar project. That would take a billion dollars to do and -- would net a billion dollar loss -- justifying the criticism.

But, for the Church to swing a billion dollar renovation project that recovers costs with things such as condos, etc., may have a net cost of zero or may turn a profit (depending on how you cost account the BYU part).

Now if you feel the LDS Church should be losing money on the deal and spending a billion rather than doing a billion, it makes sense to object to they way the project is done.

But the criticism I read seems premised on the idea that they are spending a billion -- losing a billion in transaction costs -- rather than doing a billion, meaning completing a project with a billion dollars of money flowing through it.

Equality

Stephen M (Ethesis):

Thanks for the comment. You raise a valid issue and make an excellent point.

The article in the Deseret News to whcih I link in my post speaks of the church "spending" hundreds of millions of dollars. It is silient on the revenue stream that may be generated from the project and offers no details on how the financing of the project is sturctured.

If, indeed, the church is not spending $1 billion but that number represents the investment value, which could provide a net return to the church, it does negate some of the criticism levied at the church by me and others. However, I don't think that fact necessarily negates the 10 points I made in my post. In fact, it highlights at least one of them: lack of transparency of church finances. The wisdom of the business venture is not necessarily the main problem with the church undertaking the project for me. For me, the question is not so much whether the church will make or lose money on the deal but whether the church ought to be in the business of making such investments in the first place and whether if the church does make such investments, it should do so without full disclosure to its members.

Thanks for your comments. You are always welcome here. I respect your point of view. In fact, I think we may be in the same stake IRL.

Eight Hour Lunch

I don't want to let LDS, Inc. off the hook, but their mall is chump change compared to what I've seen here in Rome. Both evil, but it's a matter of degree. Since Mormonism is practically irrelevant to most of the world anyhow, I'm wondering if I shouldn't focus on the major world religions instead?

Brent Hartman

This reminds me of the Ray Stevens song, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?". I guess Gordon B. Hinckley's answer would be "YES! And he would also own the mall were you could buy your own." One more prophecy fulfilled.

Reformed_Egyptian

Thanks Equality for an amazingly detailed, direct and disarming post (gotta get my Monson Rythym of '3 alliterations' in there). :)

Last Sunday during my 1.5 hour 'chat' with my Bishop I brought up the mall issue (to me it was an issue). I told him one of my questions was, why would God be more interested in spending $2B-$5B on a mall when He only spends $40M a year on average on humanitarian aid? The Bish said, incoherently and in a dancing fashion so it's a bit messed up in my mind but here's the gist:
- tithing funds were not used
- it's the business end of the church (no pun intended)
- the $40M a year in 'aid' doesn't likely take into effect the $ used to help people with rent and utilities and food orders
- he doesn't know why the church is building a mall but he knows GBH is a prophet

To which I told him that I agreed the $40m did NOT include local bishop $ support for poor members (my understanding), however that point is moot for God Himself wants this mall to be built because He directs the Church. He, God, does NOT want the $2B-$5B to be used towards clothing the naked, feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. I told him it must be so for the church to be true and that I questioned God giving $ for a mall vs. helping the vulnerable and needy. He told me to focus on my testimony and that he didn't have an answer other than he was ok with it.

I'm glad I got to bring it up in front of my TBM DW cuz up to that point she never even knew the Church was building a $2B-$5B mall (in Canada, this is not talked about at all or common knowledge).


dpc

Based on the logic of this post, I guess that the Catholic church is equally at fault for having Michelangelo paint the roof of the Sistine chapel. I bet that wasn't cheap. God forbid that a religious organization try to improve the community in which it is headquartered!

Equality

dpc,

When did the "one true and living church" start taking its cues from the "mother of harlots"?

dpc

Equality:

I'm not a McConkie-ite, so I don't believe that the Catholic church is the 'mother of harlots'. There are a number of religious traditions that you could insensitively besmirch. You could replace the Catholic Church with any number of religious institutions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, take your pick. Like it or not, religious groups are market participators and they are going to spend money on things other than 'administering to the poor'.

Plus the histrionics of the those who would see the money donated to the poor is amusing. People are usually poor for socio-economic reasons. Just giving them money isn't going to solve the problems (although, along with other initiatives, it can help). You have to reform the social institutions as well. If you were to give $40,000 to every person in an impoverished village in Africa, it would accomplish very little for a variety of reasons.

But here's where I ask a serious question: If redevelopment of downtown Salt Lake city is a problem, how should the Mormon church spend its money? You raise an issue, but you don't offer any alternatives.


Correction to my previous post: Michelangelo painted the *ceiling* of the Sistine Chapel and not the *roof*

Equality

"Just giving them money isn't going to solve the problems (although, along with other initiatives, it can help). You have to reform the social institutions as well. If you were to give $40,000 to every person in an impoverished village in Africa, it would accomplish very little for a variety of reasons."

And Jesus said unto him, "Go, and sell that thou hast, and invest it in multinational banks who can then giveth low-interest loans backed with guaranties from my corporation, and reformeth the social institutions."

Sister Mary Lisa

Howsabout the church spends the $2B-$5B on social reform for poor people rather than on making a rich corporation richer? Or on educating the rich Mormons who are living righteously enough to be blessed with money how to help the poor better and how to reform the imbalance of money in the world?

-Domokun-

dpc, you bring up the Sistine Chapel as an example, but isn't a mall complex quite a bit different than a structure meant for worship? The complaint is not that the church spent that much on new temples or church buildings, but on a mall. Also, when you can point to a mall that has been around for hundreds of years, with tourists coming to visit it from all over the globe, just to look at the ceiling, then you might have a point. As for your other point about a better way the church could spend it's money, I suggest you look at my guest post on that subject here:

http://equalitysblog.typepad.com/equality_time/2007/05/lost_opportunit_1.html

Lincoln

Ya know Equality, I think the Church buying a mall is a great idea. The church could set up shop as tenants and get free tenant improvements, in a big space, and offer free personality tests. Then they could offer a free Book of Mormon to help the people out who were diagnosed with depression or aggression, and Mormonism could solve all that for them. Yeah. The church could name it "Blessing Emporium" or something like that. There could be a section where people got patriarchal blessings for a small fee, just like in the early days of the Church. Except they could call them "Early Days Blessings" and the Patriarch could walk around wearing cowboy gear and chaps. Then after they got their blessings, they could take an old west photo with the patriarch to put up on their wall, to remember the time they went to the Blessing Emporium to receive their Early Days Blessing!! How cool would that be! People could relive the Nauvoo and Kirtland days right there in the Church's own mall! And the church would be a winner because they would come out ahead charging for the ED Blessings, and it could be win-win for everyone! I don't see why your are bent on criticizing this whole mall idea. The possible religios based outlets are limitless. It's win-win, why can't people see that?

Equality

Lincoln, I think you are on to something. And as dpc points out, the LDS church could learn a lot from the Catholic Church. After all, the Catholics have 2000 years of experience to draw upon. If the mall is a good idea because the Catholics gave us the Sistine Chapel, then maybe the LDS church can follow the Catholic example and start selling temple recommends (and no snark about tithing here). If you break the Word of Wisdom and want a temple recommend, fifty bucks. If you skip your meeting, seventy-five. Chastity, that's a big one. Masturbation is gonna cost you $25 (think of the revenue stream!), adultery is costly: $500. Hey, if the Catholics did it, it's OK, right?

dpc

Domokun -- Does downtown Salt Lake need a new hospital? Does BYU need a medical school? It seems that they do not offer any advanced degrees in philosophy. Maybe they should build a bigger philosophy department before the medical school. Or would that be wasteful in your view? Why not a dental school? A chiropractic school?

An organization shouldn't just build things to spend money. If Utah was not adequately served by the medical school at U of U, then there might be an argument for building a medical school at BYU. But is there currently a pressing need?

dpc

“And Jesus said unto him, 'Go, and sell that thou hast…’"

Was Jesus teaching political discourse to the rich young man? Or was it that he teaching faith and sacrifice? In another scripture it states that anyone who sacrifices for the kingdom will receive an hundredfold in this lifetime and the life to come. Unlike Abraham who knew that even if he sacrificed Isaac, he would get Isaac back, the young man didn't have the faith to sacrifice and get back what he had.

It's easy to tell another person how to spend their money. If anyone here condemns the Mormon church for how it spends its money, you are equally condemning yourself. Strictly speaking, any dollar spent on yourself that in not absolutely necessary for life is stained with the blood of poor and starving. If the church is guilty, then so are you.

Plus, as Stephen points out above (and which everyone seems to conveniently ignore) is that the church isn't spending one billion dollars or two billions dollars. It's the transaction value of the deal. Anyone who claims otherwise is obfuscating the real heart of the matter which is whether a church should only spend money on things that are either religious in nature or related to poverty-eradication. I think that I believe that a church can reinvest what it has back into the community in which it is headquartered. I'm sure that the Mormon church owns a lot of property in Salt Lake City, most of which would be exempt from property taxes. All the tithing money is exempt from local taxation. Instead of lauding the church for building something that contributes to the tax base of the city in which it is headquartered, this is seen as short-sighted and a wasteful use of money.

-Domokun-

dpc, you wouldn't hear me complaining if the church used that money to expand ANY educational program, either connected to BYU or not.

As I said in my post, yes, I think there will be a growing need for competent medical care as the baby boomers age. The church lost an opportunity to be a wise steward.

You said, "An organization shouldn't just build things to spend money", and I agree with that statement. But, it sure looks like the church is spending money on a mall just to spend money. Do you happen to know if any GA has any family or business connections to the companies doing the work?

About "telling someone else how to spend their money", doesn't the church demand 10% from it's faithful? Is there any responsibility on the church's end to use that money wisely? Besides, the "mission statement" of my family is to promote the health, safety, education, and future well being of me, my spouse, and our children. The "mission" of the church should be different than that of individuals. Mostly because is it not an individual, but a collective. A collective has different goals, and means to atain those goals, than that of individuals or familes. To say that my family and the church should use our money in exactly the same way is rather cultish, don't you think?

Isn't it being rather selfish of a self-proclaimes world-wide church to concentrate so much money in a single place?

Bob 21

"Last Sunday during my 1.5 hour 'chat' with my Bishop I brought up the mall issue (to me it was an issue). "

Are you KIDDING me? Do you really think the Bishop is the spokeperson for what the church is doing? I can't believe your life would be so absent of interesting activities that you would choose to talk with your biship for an hour and a half, and about a mall purchase of all things.

Gosh, you're probably a heck of a fun guy to hang out with on a Saturday night...haha

Res Ipsa

"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."

Now that is a great line! I laughed out loud.

Becky

"Wow, I really like your style, Equality. You're very articulate, clear, and to the point without sacrificing relevant information. Your blog is high on my list of must reads."

Ditto to Abner Doon. You are an excellent writer. Good job.

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