Sunday, January 22, 2023

Why It's Nearly Impossible To Sue The LDS Church For Fraud

Previously, a replay: Did The Lord Choose Not To Anoint 'The Lord's Anointed'?
At the right side of this page you'll see a list of the ten most popular blog posts on this forum. I have nothing to do with choosing these rankings; the posts are selected automatically by the algorithm based on the number of hits.  The all-time Number One post I ever wrote, Are We Paying Too Much Tithing? has been read by more visitors to this site than any other, except for now and then when How Corporatism Has Undermined and Subverted The Church of Jesus Christ would climb up and knock it off the top spot for awhile.  So with around 600 visitors a day to this site, the piece on tithing has been seen by more people than I've ever even met in my life.  It's fair to say that the information in that piece has had an effect.  One effect it had was to get me kicked out of the Church if I didn't agree to take it off the internet.

Well, if you'll glance just over to your right you'll see it's still here. 

The gist of that piece on tithing -as with most of my articles- demonstrates how we Mormons too often accept false teachings about the doctrines of the Church from sources other than scripture. Most of the problems we encounter in the Church today are a result of taking our doctrines from fellow humans -what the scriptures call "trusting in the arm of flesh"- rather than going directly to the scriptures to see what the Lord had to say about things.  A prime example is this: what we mistakenly refer to as "the law of tithing" was very clearly spelled out long ago by the Lord himself, yet we allow teachers and leaders -and even our parents- to convince us the Lord meant something else entirely.

If you've read that piece, you'll recall that the Law of Tithing as spelled out by the Lord is very easy to obey, while the false teaching most members struggle with is often quite a challenge.  In a nutshell, here's what the Lord requires: after we have covered all of our normal expenses, we look at what we have left, and then give the Lord a meager ten percent of those leftover funds.  So if you've got, say, a hundred dollars left over after covering all your family's expenses, you give ten dollars for the care of those less fortunate.

Easy-peasy, right?  Yet the law as most of us were taught growing up in the Church is that we must give a full ten percent of our earnings to the bishop every month right off the top, before we pay our bills or buy our groceries.  Not so easy, and certainly not very peasy. 

After reading that post for the first time, many devout members are hopping mad when they realize they have been tricked into overpaying, especially with the recent discovery that the Church has been sitting on well over One Hundred Billion Dollars, dollars that are not being used as the Lord directed, and apparently never will be. So folks sometimes ask me if it's possible for them to sue the Church for defrauding their families out of what can sometimes amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life span of some marriages. 

So should you sue? Well, you can always try, but I think it will be a bit of an uphill climb.  Before you attempt any legal challenge you'll want to be able to articulate what's called your "theory of the case," because if your first motion to the court is shot down by your adversary, your case will be thrown out before you even get a chance to argue it.  The first thing the Church attorneys will do is claim your suit is frivolous, even in the face of mountains of evidence that you clearly overpaid.  I'm the last guy to try to talk you out of seeking justice, but I think it would be wise to understand what you'll be up against.

I've been thinking about this for some time now and I have been meaning to revisit this topic. In the original post I quoted from several early Church leaders who got it right as well as several later general authorities who got it disastrously wrong (current president Russell Nelson among them).  So I wanted to come back to this topic because, as it turns out, there are additional quotes I was then not aware of or did not have access to. Happily, these sources continue to prove that Church leaders -at least in the early days- had a firm understanding of how much and how often the Lord expects us to tithe. 

Ironically, it's these rock-solid quotes that I think might make it difficult for an individual to claim the Church had defrauded him.  One example of sources available now that were not available previously can be found courtesy the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  That source and others provide further light on why I believe that even though there is no doubt you may have overpaid by thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, it would be very difficult to prove fraud -even though the fraud is palpable and undeniable.  In other words, you're right. You have been conned. But you'll still have a hard time winning a judgement. 

And I'll tell you why in a few minutes, because in order to grasp the argument, you need to look at the information that has come out since I wrote my original piece. Thankfully, I didn't have to do all that additional research myself because recently Bill Reel, the diligent proprietor of the Mormon Discussion Podcast recently laid it all out in a precise 43 minute Youtube video. This video is titled Why Most Latter-day Saints Are Overpaying Their Tithing By Thousands Of Dollars. Please watch it now, then we'll discuss it below:

Now that you've watched that video, first things first. Give that thing a "like" so Bill gets some props for all the good work he put in on it. 

Now, down to business. After watching that video there should now be no doubt in your mind that everything you were ever taught in Church about paying ten percent of your earnings to the Church once a month was a damnable lie.  But hold on...who was it who actually taught you that lie?

As a child, I first learned it from my parents, and it was explained that way repeatedly by my primary teachers, and all the way up through Sunday School and Seminary. When I was quite young my parents dutifully taught me to set aside ten percent of my allowance, but that game didn't last long.  My allowance was twenty-five cents, which you might think sounds measly, but for a five-year-old in 1956 that was pretty flush.  So after I got my first allowance my mom helped me put 2 cents in a tithing envelope to give to the bishop the following Sunday.

Guess what happened? I had already spent the rest of that quarter on Candy at Palm Pharmacy, and I looked at that envelope in the pocket of my Sunday pants and realized that if I kept those two pennies for myself I could use them to buy either two Tootsie Rolls or one Tootsie Roll Pop.  Happily, my parents forgot all about their plan to take me to the bishop to turn in my tithing, so when I got home I closed the bedroom door, tore open the gray tithing envelope, and pocketed those two pennies.

My brother might have ratted me out, but it turns out he had been quietly hatching the same plan. So Karl agreed he wouldn't tell on me if I wouldn't tell on him.  On Monday morning we both went across the alley to Palm Pharmacy where I bought a Tootsie pop. I believe Karl spent the Lord's money on a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum and a stick of red licorice.

Now, does anyone remember these things?  This was a peculiarly Mormon savings bank available at Deseret Book. The bank had partitions inside and three coin slots in the top. So assuming your kids got an allowance of, say a dollar, the idea was they would put a dime in the tithing slot, a dime in the slot to save for their mission, and the other slot they could use to save up for anything they wanted.  The first time I bought one for each of my kids, they dutifully put the appropriate coins in the various slots and felt really grown up turning the key in the lock and putting the keys in their pockets to make sure their money was safe.  

It won't surprise you to learn that the next day I went into their rooms to check those banks and found there was no money at all left in any of them.  But there were plenty of candy wrappers laying around.

My kids take after their father.

Now Where Was I?
Well, that was a pleasant trip down memory lane. But my point here is that "the Church" did not teach me that tithing was 10% of my gross, it was members of the Church -my parents, my teachers, and later some misguided leaders- who all stressed the importance of paying a tenth on my gross earnings, so that by the time I was 13 years old mowing lawns and babysitting (yes, I was a boy, and I was in high demand in my ward as a babysitter), and subsequntly at 16 with my first job as a dishwasher in the kitchen at the Anaheim Elk's Lodge, I was insidiously indoctrinated in how tithing was supposed to work.  And I continued in that misconception all the way through adulthood and the first two and a half decades of my marriage to Connie before I finally realized I had adopted and promoted one of those seriously false traditions the Book of Mormon warns us about.

But I didn't learn those false teachings from "the Church," if by "the Church" you assume I am referring to actual doctrines taught by Christ. Like many of us, I had spent my life confusing the actual doctrines taught by Christ with what we refer to as "the Church." Those are not anwhere close to being the same thing. The Church, as we learn from D&C 10:67, is the people. The Church means the members. And church members, as well as Church leaders, quite often get it wrong. Really, really wrong. 

In the video above, we learn that the early members of the Church fully understood what it meant to give a proper tithe, although in more recent times even general authorities tend to preach falsely about it. In my post entitled Are We Paying Too Much Tithing? I quote an egregious example written by some guy named Aaron L. West in the Ensign magazine, which, I need not remind you, is the official Church magazine. That piece should have never been published, but I doubt Brother West has ever been reprimanded.

Making Up Doctrine Out Of Thin Air
See if you can guess who said this:
"We preach tithing to the poor people of the world because the poor people of the world have had cycles of poverty, generation after generation. That same poverty continues from one generation to another, until people pay their tithing.

I can see why you might have guessed that was Kamala Harris, but you'd be wrong. No matter how many times you read that paragraph it doesn't make any sense, so yes, you can be forgiven for thinking a convoluted, silly word salad like that came out of the mouth of our beloved Vice President. But nope. It's not her.  That was LDS Church President Russell Nelson hizz own self.

And guess who he was speaking to? A small group of latter-day Saints in Kenya, some of the poorest, most destitute Mormon converts in the world.  Missing from that sermon of course was any mention of a revelation showing that God had reversed himself from His previous teaching that tithing is to be paid on surplus and surplus alone, and not on the lowly subsistence wages of people barely able to scratch out a living.

I suppose there may possibly have been someone in that audience who earned enough to be able to claim a surplus, maybe some government hack or some guy sponsored by a globalist NGO. But this arrogant knucklehead Russell Nelson, now one of the richest multi-Billionaires in the world, was lecturing all the members present, not just a fortunate one or two.  This level of bullying seems almost unforgivable, but then what else can we expect from a guy who thumbed his nose at God in order to cheat his way into the office of Church president?

I hope you've already watched Bill Reel's video, because Nelson's lecture to those poor Saints is even more upsetting when compared to the words Bill introduces us to that were spoken by President Joseph Fielding Smith way back in General Conference 1907:
"Furthermore, I want to say to you, we may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the kingdom of God. I want to live to see that day, if the Lord will spare my life. It does not make any difference though, so far as that is concerned, whether I live or not. That is the true policy, the true purpose of the Lord in the management of the affairs of His Church." -President Joseph F. Smith, Seventy-Seventh Annual Conference, April 1907
Thanks to a brave former Church investment fund manager (that's right, folks; the Lord's true chuch actually employs a small army of investment fund managers!), we now know that the Corporation that owns the corporation that owns The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is today sitting on at least 120 Billion Dollars tax free, and some estimates suggest that number is much higher. That money is not being used to alleviate the suffering of the poor as the Lord commanded, but instead continues to be invested in the futures of other corporate powerhouses such as Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, making the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints many billions of additional dollars annually.  And that's on top of the estimated 7 Billion dollars a year the corporation continues to rake in through members' tithing donations. 

Which makes you wonder why Russell Nelson traveled all the way to Africa to shake down a shabby group of poverty-stricken believers instead of reaching out to offer them help.

It's also a very strong motivation for awakened members to wonder: why shouldn't I try to recover at least a portion of those overpayments I made to the corporation? 

The Answer Is In The Answer
By the late 1960's, members of the Church who were aware of the accurate statements that had been preached from the pulpit about tithing by our early leaders were confused by what they were hearing in modern times encouraging them to pay the Church ten percent of their earnings right off the top. Bishops were passing these concerns on to the Salt Lake City, asking the leaders to please provide a definitive answer: are the members supposed to pay ten percent of their monthly earnings, or is it ten percent of their surplus?

So in 1970, the First Presidency issued this statement to all bishops and stake presidents:
"The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay 'one-tenth of all their interest annually,' which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this."

Well, that clears things up, doesn't it? The trouble is, while that statement is absolutely true, the form in which the answer was given looks suspiciously like our leaders were deliberately attempting to obfuscate.

Why do you suppose the First Presidency, right after properly quoting the Lord as saying tithing was "one-tenth of all their interest annually" -why do you suppose they felt it necessary to editorialize just a tiny little bit by injecting their view that the word interest "is understood to mean income"?

Well, because it's true. In legal contemplation, the word income actually is understood to be synonymous with the word interest.

The problem is that, like many words in the English language, that word "income" has undergone a subtle shift in meaning in the popular mind.  So if you asked someone in Joseph Smith's day to explain the meaning of the word  "income" they would most likely provide you with the description Bishop Edward Partridge gave in a letter to Newell K. Whitney in 1838: "If a man is worth $1000, the interest on that would be $60, and one/10 of the interest would be, of course, $6."

Well, that's almost clear, I guess. But some people would ask of this hypothetical man, "what does it mean the man is 'worth' a thousand dollars?"

As Church historian Steven Harper explains, it simply means he owns a thousand dollars in savings or investments.  At the time Bishop Partridge wrote that letter, if a man with 1,000 dollars savings parked that money in a bank, in twelve months time he would earn 60 dollars interest on that thousand dollars. That sixty dollars "interest" is the "income" his money earned, and his tithing for the year would therefore be six dollars on the man's total income. Yes, that's correct. He may be worth a thousand dollars, but his total income for the year would only be sixty dollars.

And it's his income (a mere $60.00) that he would be paying his tithing on.  Ten percent of sixty dollars is six dollars.  According to the Lord's law of tithing. he would owe only $6.00 tithing for the entire year.

Are you beginning to see how painless the Lord makes it for us to give an honest tithe? We are called on to make some hard sacrifices during our time on earth, but tithing shouldn't be one of them. Tithing is easy.

So here's the problem: the word "income" has changed so much in the last hundred years through popular usage that if you asked someone today to explain what "income" means, he would most likely tell you income means "everything that comes in," or the totality of a person's wages. When the First Presidency issued that statement I think they were banking on people's misunderstanding of that word. I think they hoped the average member would continue in the belief that his income meant his total wages.  I firmly believe that the Church lawyers they enlisted to craft that carefully worded statement by the First Presidency wanted the members to continue believing that tithing on their income meant paying ten percent of the amount listed on their paychecks.  

And that is why I don't think a lawsuit against the corporate Church would succeed. Because the courts do understand the meaning of interest even if you don't, and the only official statement the modern Church has ever issued on the meaning of tithing makes it very clear that the hapless tithepayer had it carefully spelled out to him by his Church leaders what precisely his obligation was, and if he wanted to pay the Church substantially more than required, he had every right to do so. The courts quite properly don't want to get involved in controversies between a religious institution and its members, and the First Presidency's statement on tithing gives any judge an easy out.  

In my blog post on tithing I provide numerous examples from the courts explaining what "income" actually is, and you know that old adage that says ignorance of the law is no excuse?  You can't voluntarily contribute thousands of dollars to your Church and then come crying to the courts that you didn't know what you were doing. The Church was completely up front in their definition. It was you who furnished your own foolish interpretation. In that same carefully worded First Presidency statement, you were told the Church leaves it up to the individual to determine what he owes in tithing. So if you chose to be ignorant the courts will conclude it was your own dumb fault.  

Another reason you might have difficulty prevailing in a case alleging fraud is that every step of the way you were signing off on it whenever you gave the bishop your tithing. Take a look at the picture of the tithing slip in the top left-hand corner of this page. The Church has it's own high-powered law firm at Kirton McConkie, and a few years ago they crafted an ironclad disclaimer explaining how, unlike the way it was previously, you don't have a say in where any of your donations to the Church end up.  Here's how the fine print reads:

Though reasonable efforts will be made globally to use donations as designated, all donations become the Church's property and will be used at the Church's sole discretion to further the Church's overall mission. 

Translation: "This is our money now sucka, and we'll use it however the hell we want." 

Take a look at the current tithing slip compared to the old one:

You'll notice the former slip on the left had dollar signs in the boxes, implying that your contributions will be broken down and funneled to where you wanted your donations spent.  The new slip on the right has fewer boxes and no dollar signs. This was by design. No matter what box you check, everything goes into the general fund and you don't have a say. End of story, fade to black.

Do you think this change was made as a result of a revelation from the Lord?  Or was it more likely to protect the corporation from being sued by some disgruntled member who objected to the Church investing his tithing funds in pharmaceutical companies whose untested "medicines" might possibly kill the child he had sent on a mission?

But there's also something interesting on the old tithing slip, the one on the left, which specifically gives the Church carte blanche to decide how it uses donations you might have wanted to designate to the missionary program.  If you thought your donations to the missionary program were somehow contributing to the support of some poor struggling missionary, boy are you naive!  Unbeknownst to me, while my parents were scraping and sacrificing to support me on my mission, my beloved mission president, Graham W. Doxey (later promoted to become a general authority, natch) and his wife, and his children, housed for three years in the spacious mission home in Independence, Missouri probably never had it so good in their lives. While I was sleeping on a bug-infested mattress on the floor of a basement apartment in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, my parent's tithes to the Church were paying for every conceivable comfort for the Doxey family, including Christmas and birthday gifts for his children and anniversary gifts for Doxey's wife. And while I was out there, the Doxey's oldest son went on a mission to Japan which was fully paid for by the church, in part with the tithing my parents were paying on their gross earnings while at the same time struggling to send me a monthly check. 

Oh, and when Doxey's kid got home he got to go to BYU tuition free. Also housing, meals, and all other expenses were paid for by the Church.  And did I mention textbooks? Those were all covered as well by the tithes of working members who struggled to put their own kids through school.  

But just to be sure I'm not just picking on Doxey's kid, every single child of every general authority in the church who wants to attend BYU gets to do so, with the same perks paid for from the tithes of the members.  

If you haven't already seen it, take a look at Jonathan Streeter's blog post exposing how every imaginable expense (and many you can't even imagine) are covered for mission presidents and their families by way of the tithing contributions of the members. Included are screen shots from the secret Mission President's Handbook. If this doesn't make your head explode in righteous fury, nothing will. 
What these stunning revelations indicate is that the massive salary they call a "modest stipend" as well as unlimited perks provided to a mission president almost certainly continue when that mission president comes home and is promoted into the ranks of the general authorities.  Virtually every desire of their hearts is paid for. If you think politicians are living high on the hog on money the IRS extorts from you, think about how well Church leaders are living off the money you shovel at them voluntarily.

Remember, Kids! The Church has no paid clergy!

Spiritual Malpractice
I don't want you to think I'm not in favor of disgruntled members attempting to sue for fraud. I'm all for it as I think there are legitimate grounds for doing so. As Jonathan Streeter correctly alleges in a more recent post, Church leaders are guilty, at the very least, of spiritual malpractice. They have taken advantage of the members' misinformed consent. Jonathan also has provided an informative video that should be of assistance to anyone contemplating a lawsuit against the corporate Church. I feel it's important to learn from other's efforts as to what works and what doesn't. Last I heard, James Huntsman's appeal to the 9th Circuit Court is still moving forward, but Huntsman apparently has the financial means to fight this battle against the Church bureaucracy. Most of us do not. 

There Is At Least One Thing You Can Do

If nothing else, you could at least stop being a sucker. You might want to consider what thousands of other believers have done and simply stop supporting the corporate Church with your hard-earned money. The law of tithing does remain a sacred obligation for those of us who still maintain a belief in the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith, so you most certainly are required by the Lord to give of your substance to those in need.  But you would be a fool to believe you are pleasing God by continuing to throw your money at the corporate behemoth. That gluttonous fraud has betrayed God's trust and thereby severed the sacred contract.  So just do what the rest of us do and give your tithes directly to those in need.  And when you overpay, as most of us do anyway, you will be blessed because your sincere donation is benefitting living, breathing human beings in need, and not being diverted to the bulging stock portfolios of the Brethren.  Jana Reiss, long-time Religion Editor at the Salt Lake Tribune, tells how she can honestly declare herself a full tithepayer even though she recently stopped paying tithing to the Church

As foretold in prophecy, the Lord has set his hand a second time to gather His people. And as before, he is bypassing the Pharisees.  Maybe it's time you got on board.

Update, June 22, 2pm:
Bill Reel has just announced an upcoming live discussion on tithing where I'll wager a lot of what was presented here today will be discussed. Tune into the link below on Wednesday, January 25th at 5:20 PM. It looks like our old friend Radio Free Mormon will be on hand:
Mormonism Live: Tithing-What's In a Word?