OK, it's Sunday when I usually post something inspirational. Most often it's a great video, a beautiful hymn for example. But for days I have been pondering an article written about the church that includes slanted information provided by a cousin of mine, 1/2 cousin and down the line. He's professor Ryan Cragun. I haven't met him. I read his Facebook posts, I followed him on Facebook, I've read on his blogs.
In the early history of the church and in modern times some who have the greatest love of seeking to damage or discredit the church are those who were once quite involved. In the early history of the church apostates who were very high up were instrumental in causing the extermination order that resulted in unimaginable persecution. They led the mobs that murdered, pillaged, stole, and raped.
Now I don't give cousin Ryan that level of influence but it looks like he is trying. He's a Dr of something and specializes in the sociological study of religion at the University of Tampa. He served an LDS mission, and wrote a book about Could he Vote for A Mormon for President. The answer is no. He received a degree at the University of Utah.
I'm guessing he like a neighbor of mine, and former member of my Church Congregation in Issaquah, Ed Decker. Mr Decker, creater of The Godmaker made money and an industry among Christian Congregations. His family remained active in our Ward, a son served a mission while I lived there.
Cousin Ryan seems to have contributed his so called expert inside information as to our Church's income and expenditures, how much we give to charitable causes and the like. Here is a quote attributed to Ryan: Given their array of corporate interests, it would probably make more sense to refer to them as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Holdings Inc.”
The article was shallow, yet .proudly he noted in on Facebook as a good article.
I'm not concerned that I don't know the details of our church financial P & L. Why? Here are a few reasons, and they are good ones. I offer my experiences and refer you to an article the Church just published. They paint a credible picture. I know well the commitment of the Church to help bring people back to Christ, and to assist those in need.
I served as a Bishop in Bellevue Washington for 5 years. I was expected to be the steward of the members donations, treat them as the Lords trusted funds. Whether it be as the widows mite, or a large donation from a wealthy tithe payer - they were sacred donations. My handling those funds was strictly monitored. Two of us had to take the deposits to the bank. Always at least two of us, one being a member of the bishopric handled the funds from being given to the bishopric in an envelope to opening the envelope, logging in the donations, double checking for accuracy, and making the deposit. There is a reverence and respect in this process.
More interesting perhaps was that I as the local Bishop had the stewardship and was the sole decision maker as to how I looked after those in need in my Ward. I was taught principles of Welfare in The Lords Way. We sought to help each member in trouble rise above their problems and become self sustaining. In some cases the challenges were severe. However, a member in need definitely could come to me for assistance, and they often did. If only the nation were run as correctly as is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Mormons.
I learned as a Bishop the role of faith in God being a greater problem solver than welfare assistance. God is real, he knows us. Our faith in him can cause us to see great miracles. People that came to me first received a partner in building faith.
Church Welfare isn't a program you sign up for. I had a local man call me one day and tell me he wanted to sign up for our rent subsidy program. I told him we didn't have such a thing. Oh yes you do he said, my apartment manager told me so. There was a single mother in that project who did need help. I assumed that was who he was referring to, that the manager told him to contact me. I explained members who have been contributing, who are faithful, and who have exhausted all other resources can sit down with me and look at a temporary situation on what resources we can bring to their aid. That aid could include temporary financial help that might include rent. That's what I thought he said, I want to join your church. No he didn't really, he just wanted in on a rent subsidy program.
In the 5 years I served as Bishop in Bellevue we did help many people. That's what the welfare program is for. But even more than financial help we brought to their aid among other resources, counseling, job hunting support, and at the same time provided ways for them to serve others as they received assistance. People were blessed as receivers. That is part of the Lords way, when administered in righteousness. I felt the responsibility to be a just steward over the needs of my congregation as I had no bank balance, just a checkbook. As I wrote a check I knew that some of that money might have come from a struggling member striving to make ends meet, even in a far off primitive country, keeping their commitment to give back.
Unlike a program you sign up for, it's a vision of becoming self sustaining, even to the point you can assist others. Our father is a prime example of that.
When I was 15, our dad came down with Cancer. It took him out of action for over a year. He was treated with radiation treatments that blistered his groin area, caused him great pain that lasted, and sapped him of his strength. He was an electrician with little financial reserves. It was a difficult time for him, and he looked to the church for assistance. Self reliance was not an option for my dad at this time, and he was, we were the recipients - the receivers.
But, the gift of the Welfare system is that it is a blessing to the giver and the receiver. My dad recovered and we became the givers. At the time, In Idaho, the Church owned at least two large farms. The members were responsible to support them as part of the welfare system. We grew beats, carrots and potatoes. Every summer, dad hauled me out of bed to hoe beats, thin potatoes and carrots, and the hardest of them all - haul spuds. Either way it was back breaking, bending over to thin beats and carrots, or standing up lunging huge bags of spuds onto the truck.We were blessed by this, and this time we were the givers. To my dad, we were the givers back. I remember going to what is called The Bishops Storehouse to fill a food order signed by our Bishop. It was hard on him to go there. I always went with him. He would say to me, son, this is only because we need it. I guarantee you, we will give back. We did. He made sure of that.
Our expert cousin, Dr Cragun helped come up with a number that implied that for the massive dollars the Church took in, we gave back a paltry amount.
Now I ask you cousin, did you measure what I and other Bishops provided? Did you put a number to the professionals that serve in the support system? How could you have? What else did you miss?
Now to another point. I am serving here on Church Campus with about 1000 missionaries. We are here because we love to serve. We turn in our papers and know they can call us to go anywhere in the world. We may go on a humanitarian mission in a poverty stricken place. We may be called to Russia, which Kathleen feared. We were called here to serve in Genealogy support for all people who need assistance, member or non member. In our mission, Family and Church History and supporting the Church Headquarters is the focus. There is also the Temple Square Mission here. We are not here as tin robots heeding orders from the Prophet. Once again the giver is the receiver. It's called service. We serve because we want to. I now know, I would have been happier the last 5 years if I would have done this 5 years ago. I say that often, we should have done this 5 years ago. It is a rich and rewarding experience. Some we work around, I am thinking of some in the training zone, have extended their missions to the point they have been here up to 12 years. A single lady left last month after 5 years. She said she might be back, if she doesn't like it at home. In the 5 years she has been here, she has never heard a cross word from anyone. Truly, there is a special spirit in serving on a mission.
I don't know how you put a value to all the humanitarian service performed by members, their time and skills throughout the world.
Now, I am not authorized to speak for the Church, these are my feelings and experiences. Dr Cragun isn't either.
The Church did respond with an official statement. I offer it for your reading. Click Here.
For those of you who made it this far, I thank you. I thought long and hard about responding as I felt insulted by the article and especially how it was depicted on the cover of the magazine I will not name. I was embarresed it was a cousin. It reminded me of a friend here in Utah, who was proud about his anti Mormon radio show. He was once close to the Church, also a missionary at age 19. He acted proud and unconcerned how it affected his parents and siblings, even his children.
As I said, I think of the many who turned against the Church in the beginning. People very close to the Prophet Joseph Smith that caused people to be murdered and the members to suffer. My grandfathers and grandmothers were some of those people. Grandfather Elisha Cragun died on the plains to Utah, as they emigrated, driven out by mobs. Grandfather Sanford Porter, his family was run out of their homes in the mid of winter. After a time, he returned and pleaded with a neighbor to share with him some of the food he had confiscated, so they wouldn't go hungry as they headed west.
I know, this isn't the same - or is it? Isn't it similar at least, to a degree, tainting a religion. And I ask, Cousin Ryan, for what reason?