PUBLIC CHATTER HAS largely abated regarding the February 21 SEC order and its incumbent fines of $1 million against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and $4 million against church-owned Ensign Peak Advisors. You can read the specifics in the order by clicking the colored link above (its surprisingly easy to understand), but the tldr; version is that, between 1998 and May, 2018, the First Presidencies and Presiding Bishoprics (identified as “senior leadership” in the order) created 13 shell (or unfunded) companies into which they pretended to transfer portions of the Church’s billions in order to hide it from the public, and then they knowingly falsified documents (F13 forms) to cover it up. This is a civil* crime. The realization that our senior leadership spent two decades willfully committing crime ought to shock members to their core. It does me.
SEC orders are negotiated documents, which means the Church agreed with the accusations as stated in the Feb. 21 order. They did it. For 20 years, the First Presidencies and Presiding Bishoprics willingfully broke the law. The fact is, the following men, each of whom served in either a First Presidency or Presiding Bishopric sometime between 1998 and 2018, made hypocrites of themselves as they illegally hid the Church’s wealth from the SEC, the general public, and, most importantly, from its membership. They are:
- Presidents/prophets: Gordon B. Hinckley (deceased), Thomas S. Monson (deceased), Russel M. Nelson (who took the reins in Jan. 2018)
- First Presidency Counselors: James E. Faust (deceased), Henry B. Eyring, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Dallin H. Oaks (who moved into the First Presidency in Jan. 2018), as well as Thomas S. Monson while serving under President Hinckley
- Presiding Bishops: H. David Burton, Gary E. Stevenson, Gérald Caussé
- Counselors in Presiding Bishoprics: Richard C. Edgley, Keith B. McMullin, Gérald Caussé while serving under Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, Dean M. Davies (deceased), W. Christopher Waddell, L. Todd Budge
These men have been taught since infancy to be honest in their dealings and obey the laws of the land. They preach the importance of honoring our covenants. They teach that the Holy Spirit won’t abide with those who seek to cover their sin. What am I to conclude other than that, for those two decades, these men were unworthy of the Holy Spirit? These prophets, these stewards of the Church, these special witnesses of Jesus Christ… None of them should’ve rightly passed a temple recommend interview during the designated years. Not a single one. (Perhaps this explains certain “inspired policies” that don’t jibe with the NT Jesus.)
I take no pleasure in listing their names. However, sometimes the Who of a crime is more important than the What. This scandal has been more difficult for me to process than previous scandals, even though some of those scandals were more egregious because of the direct way they harmed people. I’ve been able to comprehend that very old men who were raised in religious bigotry and sexism would continue to perpetrate that bigotry and sexism, especially in a system that kept assuring them their thoughts are divinely inspired. On those issues, I’ve extended grace while encouraging them to do better. But on this? None of them were raised to be dishonest, to be law-breakers. They’ve known better from the cradle.
This SEC order overturns the rock under which senior leadership has hidden their sin. The sunlight is, I’m sure, harsh to their eyes, but what will it reveal about us? Do we believe these men are above reprimand? Do we believe that God asked them to violate the law? Or that it’s no big deal they dragged the name of the Church through the mud? That they lied to us? Betrayed our trust?
This coming weekend, members will be asked to sustain the men listed above who maintain positions in the upper echelons of the LDS Church. Although I’ll be in my house, watching the broadcast, I won’t raise my hand to sustain them. This post is my way of publicly acknowledging that I’ve had it. I oppose. I have no grace to offer men who would betray the name of the Savior and the trust of every member of the Church, nor have I patience with criminality in spiritual leaders. The Church’s press release should’ve been a mea culpa. Instead, it continued to obfuscate. Declaring a matter closed, as it does, doesn’t signal repentance, but avoidance.
To not sustain a church leader is a big deal. The word “sustain” is complicated outside of Mormonism and even more so within. Merriam Webster offers the following seven definitions of sustain: 1) to give support or relief, 2) to supply with sustenance, 3) to support the weight of, 4) to buoy up, 5) to bear up under, 6) to support as true, legal, or just, 7) to support by adequate proof. However, a Come Follow Me lesson for Young Women adds, “Sustaining leaders…means that we… obey their counsel and refrain from criticizing them.”
In Mormonspeak, if we sustain leaders, we must: 1) obey them, no matter what, and 2) remain silent about their faults and errors, even if they behave criminally. That’s how a person advances in the Church. It’s also how someone risks shattering their integrity. I reject both additions as defining characteristics of the word “sustain.” Do I need to explain that looking the other way when a crime is committed signals tacit approval? Unfortunately, I probably do.
Therefore, under the Church’s definition, I cannot sustain the men on the list, including the current Presiding Bishopric and First Presidency, though, it’s true neither Presidents Nelson nor Oaks, who formed a new First Presidency in Jan. 2018, have the long track record of culpability that President Eyring has. I won’t pretend any of the men are above the laws, nor pretend it didn’t happen. Although I can’t sustain them under their terms, I’ll sustain them in the best way I know how–by calling them out.
The doctrine of obedience “to counsel” and its culture of silence has brought us to this place where our senior leadership has been corrupted by greed at best, and pride at worst. Someone must explain to me how, in good conscience, ordained prophets decide to violate the law and then the fellow “revelators” positioned immediately under them agree its the right thing to do. If any of this sounds like what Jesus would do, you best re-immerse yourself in the scriptures.
In 2007, President Oaks (then in the Q12) infamously stated that “it’s wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church even if that criticism is true.” He stands by it today. Never before has the self-serving, convenient nature of his statement stared back at us with more fish-eyed clarity.
Here’s the truth: the men who truly sustained senior leadership were the whistleblower/s.
But, in a way, I get it. The relationship between Church and member is often symbolized as parent/child, and the aged men who lead the Church were raised when children were to be seen but not heard. Artificial, fear-based respect for a father’s authority was often as valued as was genuine respect, lovingly earned. Yet, I am a child of God, not a child of the Church, and I stand equal with senior leadership in the eyes of God. I am my brother’s keeper. Their greater responsibility is what makes this crime and their betrayals egregious.
As a parent, I taught my children to use their voices to define and protect themselves, to speak up against injustice and for those without their privilege. There have been times when my adult children have rightly criticized me, and I’ve learned from them and pivoted, because that is what maturity and humility strive to do.
Childishness, on the other hand, looks like someone slapping a hand over the mouth of another to prevent them from saying, “This is your mess. Clean it up!”
Well, this is the mess of senior leadership, and they need to clean it up. This isn’t solely about a fine and forms. It’s about dishonesty, lying, hypocrisy, and the betrayal of trust. Paying a fine out of a pocket that really isn’t theirs and wanting to move on as if they’ve done no wrong is akin to a child closing the door of his messy bedroom and then expecting his mother to reward him with a cookie because he isn’t still behind that door, creating more mess. A respectable mother will withhold the cookie until he’s cleaned up after himself. Senior leadership needs to earn our trust back by changing the system that disrupted their moral core. That’s how they’ll earn back my sustaining vote.
I have two strong suggestions: 1) the First Presidency should fulfill the promise of former Church president Joseph F. Smith who, in a 1907 General Conference, prophesied, “[W]e 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 of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” We are there. No question about it. This would end the temptation to hide the Church’s billions in order to keep members tithing, which they’ve admitted was their motivation. Let members build the Kingdom of God in the ways the Spirit directs them. And 2), they should disconnect tithing from temple worthiness, thereby disconnecting monetary coercion from saving ordinances. Have a little faith in the people.
Obeying the law isn’t difficult. Lying and covering up a crime–those things are difficult. At least, they should be a great challenge to the ethical soul. Scroll up and read the names again. These are the men who perpetrated harm against the Church’s good name and betrayed our trust. Without significant changes to the system, the financial priorities of the Church’s senior leadership will remain unsustainable–and so will they.
*CORRECTION has been made here by the addition of the word “civil.” A comment by Bill Joyce (see below) has called my attention to the fact that they violated civil law, not criminal. My response to him follows his comment. I’ve opted to add the word “civil” here but am not making other changes in the post because I believe once I’ve published something, if it contains an error, I should acknowledge it, but otherwise let it stand as a means of transparency. I stand by the expressed sentiments.
Additional reading: The Church, The Investment Advisor, and the SEC, by Sam Brunson
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt. 6: 21).
Be sure to like and follow Life Outside the Book of Mormon Belt on Facebook by clicking here and the author on Twitter here.
11 thoughts on “LDS Sr. Leadership, the SEC, and my Sustaining Vote”
I can agree with the above post except for one aspect. Neither the First Presidencies noir the Presiding Bishoprics committed a crime. If they had done so they would have been charged in a court with criminal jurisdiction. They weren’t. Even so, not a good look, and certainly intentional, deliberate, and planned strategy to deceive the SEC with regard to ‘hiding’ illegal conduct. I imagine that many have now stopped paying tithes or any other financial contributions.
You are correct. I’ve learned my wording isn’t accurate, and I should’ve realized that to begin with. I haven’t thought of any of the men on the list as criminals, but my language implies they are and it shouldn’t. I stand by the idea of what I’ve said, though I apologize for my error and lack of specific care to this point. Here’s the thing, what happened here is an intentional breach of what is to be done and remains a breach of trust. That is basically what civil law is–and that’s why this is devastating to me. The senior leadership broke trust with its members in order to ensure members keep paying (according to their own spokesman). It remains knowing deception. It’s not being honest in all your dealings with your fellow man. Civil or criminal, my view of this is the same.
Thank you for your comment. I’ll add an * and a correction that points to this comment.
We’re both on the same page. Made my original comment simply as a matter of fairness,
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That is exactly how I feel, totally disappointed. I am hoping for a miracle this week in GC, but do not think would happen. Last week was our Stake conference and the GA assigned to it was supposed to answer a question regarding the SEC fine, but he did not address it at all. When I asked one of the Stake counsellors why he didn’t do it, I was told the GA did not have time to cover all the questions. As usual, he covered the same regular questions that are covered over and over again, but the SEC fine that is obviously a big deal was considered not important to be answered.
My understanding of the situation is that church leadership approved this strategy based on faulty legal advice. IMO, this is just the nature of managing entities of this size. It’s complicated and inevitable that mistakes will be made. Given how small the fine is, it would seem the SEC doesn’t even think this is a big deal. I’ve made relatively similar mistakes on my personal taxes. That doesn’t mean I knowingly broke the law.
As a separate issue, the motive may be concerning. If this was done to hide the church’s investments from its members, then that’s silly and I wish the church would stop trying to protect us from knowing certain things. I hope the reason was to keep their investment strategy private to retain their competitive edge. That would just be good business for cases where that can be achieved legally.
The church’s press release definitely crafts the idea it’s the attorneys fault. And I do understand errors can be made. But this oversteps an oopsie on a tax return.
I can’t imagine an attorney advising religious leaders that it’s ok to create shell companies and file false reports. Now, I don’t know how all of this was presented annually to the senior membership. Maybe they rubber-stamped what was being done without paying it any mind. And as I said, Pres. Nelson an Oaks had only been in the presidency a few months so it’d be easier fore to think it was unwitting on their parts. They had a lot to figure out their first few months as a first presidency. But they owe members an accounting. That hasn’t happened.
I think the great care the SEC took to explain why the fines happened demonstrates that they know exactly how big a deal it is to fine a church. It’s huge in my eyes.
As to their motive, a church spokesman stated at the whistleblowing that the First Presidency had begun on this path bc they were concerned members would cease to tithe to the church once we discovered its wealth. They wanted members to receive blessings, he said.
Of course, I don’t expect them to ever retract tithing *to them* as a commandment. But I fail to see how giving 10% to a charity that helps the needy instead of the church fails to build the kingdom of God. We are all God’s children. So maybe just tell local leaders to not take recommends away from those who tithe to battered women’sshelters, or suicide prevention programs, or inner city charities, etc.
The other reason given for breaching the law was bc the Sr leadership didn’t want members to mimic their investments. That’s sticky, too.
Thanks for reading and commenting
I agree they owe members an accounting. The church needs to better model the repentance process they encourage us all to follow.
What false reporting are you referring to? There’s the Form 13F that they didn’t submit. If you were to assume creating these shell companies was legal, then you wouldn’t submit that form because it wouldn’t be necessary. Right? Is there something else they falsified?
It’s really silly and unfortunate that the church thinks their total wealth would have an impact on members paying tithing. Even if that were true, then let people work through that rather than hiding that challenge from them.
The definition of “sustain” that I subscribe to better aligns with the dictionary definition. I recognize your Mormon definition is the dominate understanding in the church. This really needs to change. Our understanding of who prophets are is distorted and likely untrue. The reality is probably much humbler. With that in mind, these kind of mistakes should be expected. The focus shouldn’t be on that it happened, but rather how we react and repent. The church needs to work on this repentance part, and like you say, provide more transparency.
The other way the church can show they are repentant is to make the financials public. Would be nice to see the annual financial reports for the church and all its subsidiaries.
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I love this article. Its very well written and expresses exactly how I feel. I know we have a Heavenly Mother. I dream of her often and in my prayers and in my minds eye she sits beside her husband on the throne listening to our prayers. I like to imagine she is the one who responsible for family relationships. Why would we be made male and female and brought into family units if this was not an eternal concept? Why make women if there is no mother? Though we may not understand it… I am positive that having a heavenly mother was necessary for our creation.
I love this comment! I suspect, however, it may have been left on this post in error rather than on one in which I addressed the topic of Heavenly Mother. Feel free to post it elsewhere. If you do and if you’d like, I can then remove it from this thread. Otherwise I’m happy to leave it here. Let’s talk about Heavenly Mother everywhere!
Yes to transparency.