(RNS) — On Sunday (May 14), former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints portfolio manager David Nielsen broke his long silence, granting an interview about his 2019 whistleblower complaint to the IRS about LDS finances. The church had employed him for nearly a decade at its investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors.
In an interview on “60 Minutes,” Nielsen recounted a culture of secrecy at the highest levels — a charge disputed by a member of the church’s presiding bishopric, who also granted an interview.
Here’s a recap of six points about the wealth of the LDS church, drawn both from the “60 Minutes” interview and from other reporting. As this is an opinion column, I’ll also be sharing my own perspective. I’m a church member whose faith in the institution was damaged when I learned the extent of the church’s wealth. As I’ve chronicled in previous columns, I now pay my 10% tithing to other charitable organizations that are transparent about where their money is going and are committed to alleviating poverty.
EPA funds, seeded with tithing donations, shored up two for-profit ventures.
The “60 Minutes” segment repeats the original complaint’s assertion that the church’s investments aren’t being used for charitable purposes. In fact, Nielsen claimed they are not used for much at all, other than to multiply the nest egg.
“I thought we were going to change the world,” Nielsen said about why he took the job working for EPA and the church. “And we just grew the bank account.”
In the interview, the church’s point of view on this is represented by Christopher Waddell of the presiding bishopric.
“It’s not just incorrect; it’s flat-out wrong,” Waddell told “60 Minutes.” Given that strong rebuttal, I expected him to counter the evidence that Nielsen presented in his original claim. Instead, Waddell merely said that Nielsen didn’t have “a full picture” of Ensign Peak Advisors (which, given the church’s secrecy about its finances, is scarcely surprising; how could he?).
Waddell then tacitly conceded that some of the accusations were correct. He seemed to regard the fact that the church had bailed out a for-profit insurance company with funds intended for charitable use as an entirely unproblematic — even providential — allocation of the money.
“Fortunately, the church had the financial resources to bail out Beneficial Life during the financial crisis (of) 2008–2009,” he said, emphasizing that the insurance company had already repaid most of that money. And the City Creek Mall “was not a bailout; the mall was an investment” that had produced financial returns.
The church claims that some of EPA’s money is used for charitable purposes.
Where Waddell pushed back was on the accusation that EPA’s vast reserves were never used for charitable purposes. He said money was transferred from the EPA to the church nine times a month, on average, to fund various operations, including some of its charitable outreach.
Nielsen, though, said this was a drop in the bucket, comparing it to the difference between having a checking account to dip into for day-to-day expenses versus a much larger retirement account that is intended to be untouchable, geared only for long-term growth.
An IRS chief counsel representative who was interviewed in the segment seemed to side with Nielsen, saying EPA’s funds were like “the Hotel California,” meaning that once the money checked in, it never checked out.
But he also said it’s unlikely that the church would ever be punished for this or lose its tax-exempt status, because prosecuting it would be such an enormous political risk.
The angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple is silhouetted against a cloud-covered sky, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
The SEC charged the church with creating shell companies to “obscure” how wealthy it was and how it had centralized control of that wealth.
The Securities and Exchange Commission did fine the church and EPA $5 million in February of this year, according to an SEC press release, for their failure to report EPA’s holdings from 1997 to 2019. The church acknowledged that it regretted “mistakes made,” faulted its lawyers and considered the matter closed.
The SEC suggested that the church intentionally deflected attention from the size of its holdings by creating 13 “shell companies” to make it look as though EPA’s holdings were more modest. In this way the church hid its assets for nearly a quarter century.
That’s not a mistake; that’s a decision. And I’m not the only one to be troubled by it.
The EPA’s wealth may now be in the realm of $150 billion.
In 2019, when Nielsen’s twin brother (apparently without his permission) sent the IRS whistleblower complaint to the media, it claimed that EPA controlled more than $100 billion in investments (not including much of its real estate portfolio or some other investments, apparently). Other employees confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that this was largely accurate, placing assets between $80 billion and $100 billion.
The “60 Minutes” reporter asked the church’s representative to comment on how much money EPA has in its portfolio.
Waddell: Yeah, that’s something I can’t share with you right now. I know there’ve been reports on approximates, and that kind of thing, and that’s as far as we can go right now.
“60 Minutes”: It’s been estimated at 150 billion dollars. Does that sound correct?(Video) Mormon whistleblower: Church’s investment firm masquerades as charity | 60 Minutes
Waddell: I’m . . . that’s an estimate that some have made.
“60 Minutes”: Are we in the ballpark, or no?
Waddell: Um, we have significant resources.
What would constitute “significant resources”? Now that the church has been complying with the SEC’s quarterly reporting requirements (without the use of shell companies this time), that part of its portfolio is more out in the open. The Deseret News, drawing from information from SEC reports on the website 13F, says the portion of the portfolio in U.S. stocks has fluctuated “from a low of $29.8 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2020 to a high of $52.3 billion at the end of 2021.” The most recent filing from the first quarter of 2023 declared the figure to be $46.2 billion.
But that’s only what it has in publicly traded companies in the United States — the church’s top five holdings in Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), United Health and Amazon. The SEC only requires information about “U.S. exchange-traded stocks (e.g., NYSE, AMEX, NASDAQ), shares of closed-end investment companies, and shares of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).” The church has stated that its overall investments are well diversified, “including stocks, bonds, commercial and residential real estate, and agricultural properties.” (The Wall Street Journal says there are prominent hedge funds as well.)
If U.S.-traded stocks in the portfolio alone are currently valued at $46 billion, an estimate of $150 billion doesn’t seem impossible.
Church leaders raise their hands during a sustaining vote during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ twice-yearly conference, April 2, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The church appears to have significantly increased the amount it is donating to charity. Or maybe not.
In a report two years ago, the church wrote that “since 1985, Latter-day Saint Charities and its affiliates have provided over US$2.5 billion worth of assistance in 199 countries and territories. This amount does not include the value of volunteer labor, worth many millions of dollars.”
This means that in the past two years the church gave nearly $2 billion to charitable projects, whereas it reported giving $2.5 billion over the previous 35 years put together.
That’s either a) an astonishing and welcome increase over a short period of time; b) an apples-to-oranges comparison because one entity is LDS Charities and the other is the church itself; or c) an indication that the church has recently changed the way it counts charitable contributions.
I think it is likely a combination of these factors, but with emphasis on the lattermost.
In the 2022 report, I’m not seeing a repeat of that earlier language about how the amount “does not include the value of volunteer labor.” Rather, it appears that volunteer labor might indeed be quantified in some way to reach that $1.02 billion figure.
For example, the report touts more than 6.3 million hours of service by church members around the world, including donating blood to the Red Cross, serving humanitarian missions, facilitating addiction recovery groups, helping people displaced by natural disasters and teaching language classes to refugees.
It also appears that the church is quantifying its own in-house assistance programs that help members only, such as fast offerings (which members contribute in addition to their tithing), bishops’ storehouses, Family Services counseling and church food programs.
All of these are worthy and wonderful things. But the only monetary donations to outside charities that I see mentioned in the report add up to $63.9 million:
- $32 million to World Food Program USA
- $5 million to UNICEF
- $5.1 million to the American Red Cross
- $16.8 million to Ukrainian relief efforts
- $5 million for temporary housing for displaced persons in North America
That’s not to say there weren’t other donations that aren’t mentioned in the report, which is all we have to go on. (Once again, a commitment to complete and regular financial transparency would go a long way here.) But from the report’s own information it seems that $63.9 million may be the real number, or closer to the real number, of what the church donated in cash to charity.
Donating nearly $64 million to alleviate suffering is fantastic, a step in the right direction. And as the church announced elsewhere, that particular line item of $32 million to combat hunger around the world was its largest-ever one-time donation for humanitarian relief. But it is a very far cry from a billion dollars in charitable expenditures.
The church is defending itself by looking forward but also looking back.
The church seems to have weathered the initial storm of criticism from 2019 and 2020. It cooperated with that 2020 Wall Street Journal article and lived to tell the tale. It moved away from old explanations for why it needs such vast wealth in reserve — to prepare for the Second Coming, David Nielsen was told while at EPA — to fresh rationales.
“We are a model minority” seems to be one of the newer narratives. “We are a Horatio Alger story worth celebrating” seems to be another. Yesterday, the Deseret News ran a well-written and historically informed article offering those perspectives on the church’s wealth. Like Waddell in the “60 Minutes” interview, it did not confirm or deny the reports of how much money the church has in its stores, but it did attempt to provide historical context.
The article is worth reading. It’s intriguing that it spends so much time crying poor:
“What the ’60 Minutes’ segment about the church’s finances and other reports often miss is the sweeping and at times poverty-ridden history that helps explain the church’s finances and decision-making today, including its modern-day record of self-sufficiency that sustains a global church.”
It draws from the late historian Michael Quinn’s research about how the church teetered at the edge of bankruptcy in the early 1960s and could barely even make its payroll.
Then, too, there is an even longer history of the church not being able to trust the government to protect its interests in the 19th century, starting with successive U.S. presidents’ refusals to recompense the Mormons for their losses in the Missouri War to the federal government freezing the church’s assets during the height of the anti-polygamy crusade.
Mormons have a long memory for mistreatment. Reading the Deseret News piece, I was reminded of something Jana Spangler said recently on the “At Last She Said It” podcast, when she noted that the church’s deep and consistent commitments to food storage and financial preparedness are a form of trauma response.
By extension, we might understand the obscene wealth hoarded by the EPA as an extreme form of trauma response, a valorization of our ability to care for ourselves and rise above the challenging circumstances of our past.
However, I think it’s safe to say we’re not an oppressed, powerless minority anymore. Our situation has changed, so our thinking needs to change as well.
Instead of “how can we protect ourselves?” — the first question of a traumatized people — we are now in a position to ask instead, “How can we bless the world?”
On Mormon tithing and a $100 billion investment fund
Why I stopped tithing to the LDS Church
Mormon church fined $5 million for scheme to hide $32 billion investment portfolio - CBS News.Is the LDS Church more wealthy than the Catholic Church? ›
For Latter-day Saints, who have 16.3 million members, our church's wealth translates to about $6,130 per member, or 161 times the Catholics' money-to-member ratio. Looked at in the aggregate, $100 billion seems like a hell of a rainy-day fund.How is the Mormon church worth so much? ›
The faith, widely known as the Mormon church, maintains billions of dollars of investments in stocks, bonds, real estate and agriculture. Much of its portfolio is controlled by Ensign Peak Advisers, a nonprofit investment manager overseen by ecclesiastical leaders known as its presiding bishopric.Why was the LDS Church fined $5 million? ›
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Tuesday the LDS Church, and its investment manager, agreed to pay a 5 million dollar fine - connected to the charge that the church hid an approximately 32-billion-dollar investment fund.How much does the LDS Church give to the homeless? ›
"Over the last decade, the church has donated cash and commodities totaling more than $42 million to eight community and religious organizations that serve the homeless in Salt Lake City. There are dozens of partners that draw upon the church's food reserves at bishops' storehouses on a monthly basis.Is the LDS Church under investigation? ›
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the Mormon Church's past efforts to keep its giant investment portfolio a secret, a practice that ended after a former employee revealed in 2019 that the church had amassed $100 billion of holdings.Is the LDS Church shrinking or growing? ›
In recent years, the global faith of 16.8 million has grown by less than 1% annually and, in fact, is shrinking in a number of regions. In the United States over the past two years, for instance, 21 states saw Latter-day Saint membership decline.Which church is the richest on earth? ›
|Organization||Worth (billion USD)||Country|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints||100.0||United States|
|Sree Venkateswara Swamy Temple||30.0||India|
|Catholic Church in Germany||26.0||Germany|
|Catholic Church in France||23.0||France|
Local clergy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve as volunteers, without pay. But “general authorities,” the top leaders in the church, serve full-time, have no other job, and receive the living allowance.Does Mormon Church own Pepsi? ›
The fund didn't own stock in soda makers PepsiCo or Keurig Dr Pepper, either. Caffeinated sodas are not part of the church's health code, known as the Word of Wisdom.
The LDS Church today teaches that tithing is ten percent of one's annual income. It is left to each member to determine what constitutes "income".Does the LDS Church pay property taxes? ›
The Church Exemption is codified in Section 3(f) and Section 5 of Article XIII of the California state constitution. Section 3(f) exempts from property taxation buildings, land, and equipment that are used exclusively for religious worship.Why are so many LDS members leaving the church? ›
Most ex-Mormons leave Mormonism and the LDS Church because specific intellectual or spiritual reasons have led them to a conviction that the religion is false. The foremost reasons are disbelief both in Joseph Smith as a prophet and in the Book of Mormon as a religious and historical document.Why did the LDS Church hide $32 billion? ›
The church was concerned that disclosure of the assets in the name of the nonprofit entity, called Ensign Peak Advisors, which manages the church's investments, would lead to negative consequences in light of the size of the church's portfolio, the SEC said.Why did LDS Church hide money? ›
The head of Ensign Peak at the time said that Latter-day Saint officials kept a lid on the size of the church's reserves for fear of discouraging members from paying tithing, which the faithful view as a commandment of God and a commitment to their religion.Does LDS tithing go to charity? ›
Tithing donations are most usually remitted through the local congregational leader, or bishop, and from there to Church headquarters, where they are allocated and disbursed directly to the Church's many worldwide programs, including its educational, missionary, building, humanitarian and welfare efforts.How much money does the LDS Church give to charity each year? ›
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent more than $1 billion worldwide helping those in need last year, eclipsing its 2021 spending by more than $100 million amid intensified scrutiny of the Utah-based faith's finances.Does the church pay for Mormon missions? ›
All Mormon missionaries serve voluntarily and do not receive a salary for their work; they typically finance missions themselves or with assistance from family or other church members. Many Latter-day Saints save money during their teenage years to cover their mission expenses.How many times has the LDS Church been sued? ›
Pfau said his firm has 63 active claims against the LDS Church across the country — 31 of them lawsuits. He estimated more than three-quarters involved the Boy Scouts of America, a major part of LDS youth programs which has also faced lawsuits related to sexual abuse.Did the SEC charge the Mormon Church for hiding $32 billion in assets? ›
The federal Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Ensign Peak Advisors, which manages a $32 billion equities portfolio for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for obscuring the church's investments and misstating Ensign Peak's control over the investment decisions.
Zions Bank became an offshoot when it incorporated in July 1873. Zion's Savings Bank & Trust Company was established by the LDS Church to take over the savings department of the Deseret National Bank.Is Ryan Gosling LDS? ›
He and his family were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Gosling has said that the religion influenced every aspect of their lives.Why are millenials leaving the LDS Church? ›
“They have complicated relationships with the church, and in some cases, they're believing without belonging.” Ogletree said millennials leaving the LDS Church is part of the broader generational trend away from religion and toward a more secular culture — the trend that sparked Riess' study.Which church is losing the most members? ›
The Presbyterian Church has had the sharpest decline in church membership: between 2000 and 2015 it lost over 40% of its congregation and 15.4% of its churches. Infant baptisms have also decreased; nationwide, Catholic baptisms are down by nearly 34%, and ELCA baptisms by over 40%.Which religion is very rich? ›
According to a study from 2015, Christians hold the largest amount of wealth (55% of the total world wealth), followed by Muslims (5.8%), Hindus (3.3%), and Jews (1.1%).Which church is the true church? ›
The Lord Himself said that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church. When Joseph Smith prayed to know which church was right, the Savior told Joseph that he “must join none of them, for they were all wrong” (JS—H 1:19).What is the most expensive church in the United States? ›
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.Who is the highest paid LDS employee? ›
At LDS Church, the highest paid job is an IT Manager at $122,500 annually and the lowest is a CS Rep at $45,084 annually. Average LDS Church salaries by department include: HR at $104,827, Engineering at $109,451, Business Development at $96,938, and Admin at $54,943. Half of LDS Church salaries are above $103,113.How much do LDS bishops get paid? ›
The bishop is often called "the father of the ward" as he is the priesthood leader who is most intimately involved with individual church members. The bishop is not paid for the time he devotes to his position.How much do Mormon pastors make? ›
A second newly leaked document, from a more recent year, is a 2014 memo from the church's Presiding Bishopric (which handles all financial issues for the faith), noting that the "base living allowance" for all Mormon general authorities was being raised from $116,400 to $120,000.
So many Mormons then will say well, we should not drink any caffeinated beverages. MARTIN: In 2012, the church released an official statement stating explicitly that caffeinated soda is allowed under church doctrine. Still, many Mormons will not consume caffeinated drinks.Do Mormons stock up on food? ›
Like most lifelong Mormons, I grew up hearing about the importance of “food storage.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long encouraged its members to keep enough food, water, and emergency supplies in their home to last at least three months—counsel that has spawned a quirky subculture within the ...Does the Mormon Church own ancestry? ›
Is Ancestry.com owned by the Mormon Church? Due to the fact that many of the digitized records on Ancestry.com can be accessed at Familysearch, many people assume that the company Ancestry is owned by the LDS church. This is not the case!What happens if you don't give tithes? ›
God cannot accept the payment of tithes because of what Jesus has done. But God will accept you GIVING A TITHE. He will not punish you if you do not give a tithe.What happens if Mormons don't tithe? ›
The tithe is God's law for His children, yet the payment is entirely voluntary. In this respect it does not differ from the law of the Sabbath or from any other of His laws. We may refuse to obey any or all of them. Our obedience is voluntary, but our refusal to pay does not abrogate or repeal the law.Who pays for a Mormon funeral? ›
Who Pays for a Mormon Funeral? Like mainstream funerals, the family of the deceased is responsible for the funeral costs. However, if the family can't afford all or parts of the funeral services, their ward may have funds available to assist them.How much of Florida does the LDS Church own? ›
Joe's 382,834 acres brings the church's Florida holdings to 672,834 acres, or almost 2 percent of the state's land mass. The total does not include smaller isolated church parcels for its Orlando and South Florida temples and other interests. St.Does the LDS Church own the most land in the US? ›
A new database shows the LDS church is the nation's fifth largest private landowner.How much does a Mormon temple cost? ›
How much does a temple cost to build? It is estimated that they cost between $7 million and $70 million, depending on the size and location.  With one exception, the Church hasn't published the cost of building temples since 1981, so estimates are speculative.Have any LDS apostles been excommunicated? ›
Richard Roswell Lyman (November 23, 1870 – December 31, 1963) was an American engineer and religious leader who was an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1918 to 1943. Lyman is often noted as the most recent LDS Church apostle to have been excommunicated.
In the terminology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the word "gentile" can be used to refer to people who are not members of the LDS Church, since members regard themselves as regathered Israelites.What can you be excommunicated for LDS? ›
Excommunication is typically reserved for those accused of the most serious offenses, ranging from sexual abuse and murder to teaching false doctrines.Is the LDS Church more wealthy than the Catholic church? ›
For Latter-day Saints, who have 16.3 million members, our church's wealth translates to about $6,130 per member, or 161 times the Catholics' money-to-member ratio. Looked at in the aggregate, $100 billion seems like a hell of a rainy-day fund.Is the LDS Church in decline? ›
In recent years, the global faith of 16.8 million has grown by less than 1% annually and, in fact, is shrinking in a number of regions.Why doesn't the LDS Church pay taxes? ›
Q: Does the Church pay taxes? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pays all taxes that are required by law. Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12). Worldwide, the Church and its affiliated entities pay applicable taxes and other governmental levies.Is the LDS Church worth $100 billion? ›
The Securities Exchange Commission is investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints over allegations it failed to disclose investments in a secretive $100 billion portfolio, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, years after the church was accused of skirting tax rules and deceiving donors to build up ...Did the Mormon church get fined for hiding 32 billion? ›
The Mormon Church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and its investment firm will pay out $5m (£4.1m) over claims they hid a huge cache of shares.Why did the Mormon church hide money? ›
Roger Clarke, the head of Ensign Peak, tells The Wall Street Journal that LDS leaders wanted to keep the church's $100 billion reserve a secret because they were afraid, upon seeing the church's amassed wealth, some members might stop paying tithing.What does the Mormon church do with all its money? ›
Use of funds. The LDS Church reports that it uses most of its financial resources to construct and maintain buildings and other facilities. The church also spends its funds on providing social welfare and relief and supporting missionary, educational, and other church-sponsored programs.What is the wealthiest Church in the world? ›
|Organization||Worth (billion USD)||Country|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints||100.0||United States|
|Sree Venkateswara Swamy Temple||30.0||India|
|Catholic Church in Germany||26.0||Germany|
|Catholic Church in France||23.0||France|
Feds fine Mormon church for illicitly hiding $32 billion investment fund behind shell companies. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engaged in the scheme for more than 20 years.Is the Mormon church declining? ›
In recent years, the global faith of 16.8 million has grown by less than 1% annually and, in fact, is shrinking in a number of regions.Does the Mormon church have a secret vault in Utah USA? ›
The Church of LDS built the Granite Mountain Records Vault in 1965 to preserve and protect records of importance to the church, including its vast collection of family history microfilms. The vault is a large archive and is excavated 600 feet into the north side of Little Cottonwood Canyon.What happens if you don't tithe in the Mormon church? ›
The tithe is God's law for His children, yet the payment is entirely voluntary. In this respect it does not differ from the law of the Sabbath or from any other of His laws. We may refuse to obey any or all of them. Our obedience is voluntary, but our refusal to pay does not abrogate or repeal the law.Has the Mormon church ever been sued? ›
While denying wrongdoing, the Utah-based faith settled its part of the California case for $1 million. (Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. A California jury has awarded nearly $2.3 billion in sex abuse lawsuit that named the church.Where does LDS tithing money go? ›
Tithing donations are most usually remitted through the local congregational leader, or bishop, and from there to Church headquarters, where they are allocated and disbursed directly to the Church's many worldwide programs, including its educational, missionary, building, humanitarian and welfare efforts.Do all Mormons pay 10% of their income to the church? ›
Because each person gives 10% of their income, Mormons regard everyone's contribution as of equal merit, because the cost to each person is the same. And so each giver is equally blessed by God for their gift, regardless of its actual size.How much does a LDS mission cost per month? ›
Since 2003, the monthly amount that a missionary, family, ward or branch pays to help cover a missionary's living costs has remained unchanged. This amount has been the equivalent of $400 USD.