Monday, February 6, 2017

065. Profiteership

As religions grow in size, wealth, and power, certain liberties are taken by the leaders that the members either excuse or turn a blind eye towards due to their allegiance to or belief in the institution as an extension of God. However, without common consent and transparency, what is the threshold for excess? How much should men who view themselves as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators be compensated for their time and for dedicating their lives to full time ministry? How much should those who labor for the church as general authorities, lawyers, contractors, teachers, professors, accountants, or administrators be compensated? Because it's the "Lord's church", should they be well compensated in order to attract the best talent in order to have the very best in "building up the kingdom", or should they be underpaid because it is a sacrifice and a privilege to serve the Lord in this way? Or, should it be totally voluntary service, giving of your time while holding down a "day job"? Should the total compensation packages for all employees of a church be made known to at least the members of that church? Why would a church work hard to NOT disclose how much its employees are compensated?

In Utah, there are thousands upon thousands of people who work for "the church". No matter how the church spins it, all of these employees are paid from what begins as tithing and fast offerings or any other donations made to the church (donations are pooled). BYU professors are paid well above regional averages, church accountants and lawyers are probably the highest paid in the state of Utah, contractors and subcontractors who work for the church make a killing in the absence of competition and church willingness to pay top dollar for materials, and then there is the clergy. Given the recently released pay stubs of LDS church officials, much has been written of late about how much the church pays its leaders (see here and here). Whatever their full compensation package really entails, it's at least double the median household income in the SLC area which has ranged between $60k and $63k since 2009. I know many well paid employees of the church. Many have multiple (luxurious) homes and live a luxurious lifestyle, with frequent exotic vacations and high end vehicles. With the surge in the church's building program (eg, temples, meeting houses) over the last decade, into whose hands is all this money going? It seems strange to me that the Lord would put in place a system whereby members of a church are required to pay tithing, and almost all of that tithing goes to paying people's salaries and maintaining buildings. Then those employees pay their tithing back into the church, and they in turn get paid again from the tithing, some of it their own. Very little of the billions and billions of dollars brought in by the church every year actually goes towards helping the poor (see here for a recent post on that topic). Where does all that money go? Is the church just hoarding it? What is the difference between this modern version and what other large orthodox religions of the past have done in terms of hoarding and managing wealth? Those religions now rely on that accumulated wealth to remain in existence because there is very little inflow from current members.

In Utah, there are also thousands upon thousands of people who are homeless. No matter how the church or our government spins it, we as a society have completely failed those less fortunate than ourselves. SLC was until recently a national leader in homelessness prevention and intervention efforts. Things have changed dramatically in the course of just a couple of short years and homelessness has increased substantially in SLC. Crime and safety issues plague the areas in which homelessness services are offered. The value of the land on which the current homeless shelter resides and the surrounding areas have skyrocketed in value due to limited housing in SLC and the need to build apartments and condos (much of it high-end properties - just drive around the area near 400 W to see for yourself). SLC has now unveiled plans to close its central shelter with capacity for up to 1,400 and replace it with a system of at least 4 small shelters with a combined total capacity for 550 individuals, including homeless families with children. The shelter is almost always at capacity, so where will the residual homeless go who cannot get in to one of the small shelters in the future? SLC refuses to allow an overflow shelter within its boundaries. Currently, many are bused to Midvale. An overflow shelter is basically a warehouse with bunkbeds that opens during periods of extreme weather or when a surge on the main shelter is experienced. So, where will the homeless go when these mini-shelters fill up? They will remain on the streets. They will not get basic services. Their situation will deteriorate more quickly and be prolonged. The problem will worsen and be compounded. Many homeless are individuals who have been recently released from jail or prison. Those who do not have family or friends to go to end up in the shelter system. Their criminal record prevents them from getting a job. Many return to crime to make money and they find themselves circling in the revolving door of prison-shelter-prison-shelter, etc. These are all signs that the homeless are simply not wanted in SLC. This is in the backyard of both a very liberal, publicly elected city government and a very conservative, private church that bears the name of Christ. Both entities have much power and influence. The church is very much aware of how these plans have unfolded. Given its vast resources, the church could easily eradicate this problem almost overnight. It is a total embarrassment and shameful situation that goes almost totally ignored while we continue to pour money into salaries, opulent buildings, and other waste.

What a contrast. Members of a church should not be profiteering from their connection to a church and the LDS church is no exception. This is the very definition of priestcraft.

064. Christ's Church

The only true church is a church whose foundation is built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ. There are a multitude of false Christian religions throughout the world that base their religion on someone's interpretation of a scripture or as a result of a schism among church leaders. However, it is only those who are led by the Spirit of God who become the Sons of God. Thus, those whose spiritual foundation is built upon the Rock of Christ are the true church of Jesus Christ, rather than a foundation composed of trust in men, traditions, and vanity, which is unstable and will surely crack under the pressures of the world.

People are often searching for a new church to join. One of the major reasons for seeking out a new church is to find other people that believe in the same way. However, you do not need to join a church to find others that believe in Christ. When you become a part of His church, He will find ways to lead you to know other people in His church. Christ's people can be found throughout the world. They are also led by the Spirit of God and Christ can help you to find them.

So, church is not really somewhere you go. Rather, you first go to Jesus Christ and develop a personal relationship with Him. Then, He leads you to becoming a part of His Church, being grafted in to the True Vine so that you will ultimately bear the good fruit in His cause. A gathering of people who meets in the name of Jesus Christ and who are led by the Holy Spirit are part of the true Church of Jesus Christ.

063. By Proving Contraries, Truth is Made Manifest

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was reminded of the following quote by Joseph Smith, as recorded in a letter he wrote just 3 weeks prior to his death:
"Although all is not gold that shines, any more than every religious creed is sanctioned with the so eternally sure word of prophecy, satisfying all doubt with "Thus saith the Lord;" yet, by proving contraries, truth is made manifest, and a wise man can search out old paths, wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted through obedience." (HC 6:248)
By proving contraries, truth is made manifest...
Webster's 1828 Edition of the dictionary defines "proving" as: "trying; ascertaining; evincing; experiencing" and "contraries" as being "two universals that differ in quality". Such contraries can take numerous forms, often coming into our lives in the form of paradoxes, opposites, or conundrums. These may be within oneself, or in our interactions with others. Answers and direction are not always straightforward. We must prove or test these contraries (whatever they may be) through experience, faith, endurance, revelation, etc. in order for the truth to be made manifest to us. God wants us to grow by working through such challenges, turning to Him in the process, in humility. I find myself wishing that we had more understanding of this principle from Joseph Smith. It seems there is an important truth here for us to carefully ponder and understand. William Blake, the 19th century Christian mystic, poet, and engraver once said, "Without contraries is no progression." Lehi taught "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one." (2 Ne 2:9). It is often only by directly comparing, contrasting, or "proving" one thing against that the truth is or can be made known aside from revelation.

As an added bonus, this quote from Joseph ends with an eternal truism that perfectly summarizes the essence of the fulness of the Gospel: "A wise man can search out old paths, wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted through obedience." This is the primary thesis of the Lectures on Faith. That a person can come into the presence of the Lord, commune with Him, and obtain their exaltation by following the commandments that the Lord gives them. The gospel demarcates the path that leads into eternal life, trail-blazed by Christ Himself. He has gained, by His experience, knowledge of the way to return home...all would be wise to follow Him, the Giver of Light.