I think it’s a good thing for the church to own income-producing assets. The Businessweek article attempts to paint some aspects of church finances and business interests as bad things, but I think it (the article) fails to do so. The things that the article points out, to which it points a finger and says “Ah ha!”, are actually good things in my opinion.
Charitable and other non-profit organizations, that intend to be around for multiple generations, need income-producing assets in order to protect their income-consuming assets (such as chapels, temples, mission offices, mission homes) during periods when donations drop off (such in recessions).
Multi-generational charitable organizations also need reserves. One of many ways to safely hold reserves is in a widely based stock portfolio. Another is in assets that tend to appreciate over time, such as land.
If those assets can both generate income (such as agricultural land, or even hunting preserves) and appreciate in value, so much the better.
The Businessweek article also fails to point out the many millions spent annually on the church’s direct welfare to church members when talking about the church’s humanitarian donations to non-members. (Though the church doesn’t publish that figure.) I consider the church’s welfare system that feeds and supports many members as humanitarian aid too.
Those who accuse the church of not making charitable donations to other organizations seem to forget that all the church’s expenditures on its core mission are charitable: building and maintaining chapels, temples, church schools, maintaining over 300 Mission Offices and 300 Mission homes around the world, flying 30,000 missionaries to/from their mission every year, feeding many members, etc. etc.
From my point of view, these income-producing assets have resulted in less financial requests being made of members.
When I first joined the church in the early 1980′s, members were requested to pay not only tithing, but also contribute a portion of local chapel construction, their ward budget, and a “temple assessment”.
There is currently a line item on the donation forms for temple construction, but it no longer is expected of members as it was back then. There is no longer a “your ward/stake must collectively donate/raise X dollars before construction” of your temple or chapel.
Line items no longer exist on the donation form for chapel construction or ward budget.
So in a very real sense, Mormons are being asked to pony up a lot less money today than 30 years ago. And I think the church’s investment income may have a large part in that.
The LDS Newsroom has a related article here.
Deseret News responds to the Businessweek article: