12/09/2008

which has more clarity...

Warning: if you are one of the people who gets their knickers in a knot when I compare Mormonism to Quakerism, just skip this post, ok?

Last night I attended a Finance Committee Meeting for our Quaker congregation. There were many agenda items and among them was a discussion of the wording for a statement about the appropriate usage of funds by various committees within the meeting. For about 10 minutes we debated whether two particular sentences were worded with clarity. The crux of the discussion came down to whether using a semi-colon or starting a new sentence would make a particular section of the statement more clear.

In this room were 4 women and 2 men. At least 4 of those people had advanced degrees. Four of us were "mature" and two of us were young-ish. Everyone had the chance to express an opinion. Each expression was considered equally and the decision was made to use the period rather than a semi-colon. My feeling was that the statement was fine either way and was clear either way. I didn't contribute much to the discussion.

As we moved on to the other agenda items, a large concern was how to make the Meeting's financial situation more clear to all those who attend weekly meetings--especially so everyone could know how important each contribution was to the well-being of our group. It was decided to put some of the information in the monthly newsletter and to create a graphical representation of the Meeting's various financial allocations to have in the area outside the Worship room, where we meet for refreshments each week following Silent Meeting.

IF you are familiar with the LDS church then you will know that there is no transparency about the usage of donated funds. And, to be a member in good standing you are required to donate ten percent of your income to the church. Yes, if you have a particular leadership calling you might know how local funds are allocated. But the church does not release any information about the usage of the funds sent to SLC nor does it disclose the value of any of its vast holdings and investments. And, as I have said before, there is great gender disparity about who gets to make any kind of financial decisions in LDS wards. Local leaders are not allowed to set their own policies about financial allocations--meaning that they can't decide how much of their funds go to Salt Lake and how much of it remains locally-held. This all comes straight from church HQ.

So sure, it can be a bit tedious to sit in a meeting and debate the merits of specific punctuation--especially when it seems such a very small detail. But I found it quite charming, simply because of the very fact that such an item could be on an agenda and could be up for discussion by all of us, even myself.

10 comments:

debra said...

Consensus is a beautiful thing. The time spent is worth it all; everyone
owns the decision.

Karen said...

This was very interesting to me as I've read a few books about Mormonism and am interested in it, in a scholarly way. My husband is the Financial Officer of our church and we do the same thing you describe: financial information for each month goes into the bulletin every week and we have a budget meeting once a year where any church member can question my husband, the pastor and the secretary about individual line items on the year's budget. It works for us. :)

Megan said...

There was an article in Time a while back that talked a bit about church income and spending. At the time of press they say, "With unusual cooperation from the Latter-day Saints hierarchy (which provided some financial figures and a rare look at church businesses), TIME has been able to quantify the church's extraordinary financial vibrancy. Its current assets total a minimum of $30 billion."

Also from the same article: "Their charitable spending and temple building are prodigious. But where other churches spend most of what they receive in a given year, the Latter-day Saints employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or stock in other peoples' companies but is invested directly in church-owned, for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media, insurance, travel and real estate."

You can read the whole article, Kingdom Come, right here.

I read a few days ago some analysis that concluded the church expends less than 1% of its income in charity. The comparison was Target - the store - which, according to the author, announced charitable contributions around 3 times the assumed annual total for the church. Since LDS finances are held secret I'm not convinced that this is a valid conclusion, but it's interesting. Of course, there's the inevitable point to be made about the purchase and renovation of the SLC downtown mall...

I like the point your community makes that members need visual confirmation of the value and importance of their donations - and that it is the responsibility of the organization to hold itself accountable. Tedious, yes, but personally I think I'd be a bit charmed to listen to the punctuation debate!

amelia said...

i understand the point you make here, jana, but i do think it's a bit like comparing apples and oranges. i like the transparency of the friends meeting and that Karen describes in her comment. but comparing the friends meeting to the LDS church is a bit like comparing a true democracy to a republic. in the mormon church there's a central governing body--of a relatively large church--that redistributes wealth, much the way governments do through taxation. should there be a system in place for each member to know how that wealth is redistributed if they want to know? i suppose. i see the reasons for there being such a system. but i don't think most people who do contribute really care to know; they just believe their money is in good hands.

anyway. i'm more drawn to the simplicity of the quaker approach at the moment. but i don't think theres One True Way to handle these things, even if there's a way you and i may prefer.

Terry Mazerolle said...

Speaking as a grammar nerd, I think that a conversation about punctuation is worth a baptism.

Erin G. said...

Our church in NYC is completely sustained by tithes within our local membership. Weekly income is printed in the bulletin and once a year we have a big "town hall" meeting to discuss and vote in the budget for the next fiscal year. The budget -- with all its line items -- is available for perusal at anytime in the church office and it is not permissable to move money from one line to another. It can be tiresome and silly sometimes when there's money there but you can't spend it they way you want because the congregation voted for it to be used another specific way, like, months earlier -- but yes -- giving thanks for the transparency and rules because it helps to squelch bigger issues that could come up without them.

Erin G. said...

Oh, for clarification -- my church isn't LDS. It's a "mutt" church. heh.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

but i don't think most people who do contribute really care to know; they just believe their money is in good hands.

Amelia, I actually think the comparison is quite apt. You know they keep track of what goes where, and that it would be a simple matter of making the information public.


And in fact, I think a lot of people (Mormons) would like to know what is being done with their money.

Many do believe their trust is well placed, but I'm convinced that just the opposite is the case - and the fact that the church refuses to say how it spends the members' money only strengthens that belief. If the faith placed in them (whether about money, or anything else) is indeed well placed - as the church of course claims - why is there absolutely no clarity in any of their dealings, and no oversight whatsoever for anything from tithing to official discipline?

I'm sorry, but when a huge powerful corporation hides its financial information, tries to bury its history and kicks people out who speak or publish truths that go against policy (doctrine), I can't help but feel you're hiding something nefarious. Or in this case, know that there is all sorts of nefariousness going on in that strangly phallic building I happen to live 1 block from.

Greg said...

I feel financial records should be open for all to see. I also feel any discrimination is wrong, your opinions are just as important as a man's.

I like your blog but sometimes feel bad for you... you have so much to offer.

Aerin said...

I think there is a tremendous amount of trust that must be placed in the mormon leadership process. The bishops and clerks must be 100% honest in giving all the $$ to Salt Lake City, and then that money must be tracked appropriately through the leadership. Then, decisions are made about how/where that money is spent.

I believe information/knowledge is power. I also believe that local decision-making for where money is spent is best. A great example is at my work, the past few years we have given to a christmas family.

This year, we decided to give to a food pantry instead because a handful of people felt like food donations were important. It feels so much more effective to decide ourselves than have someone outside in my company's leadership make that choice for us. Thanks for this post jana.