In the earliest days of the LDS Church, a large contingent of the membership came from the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries like Sweden. Brits and Swedes (and Danes) were a big reason why the church is what it is today. And I believe, they are to become the catalysis of what the church will soon become. It appears that Europeans are leading the way to vast changes which will be thrust upon the church as it reforms in the Internet age. Some of this was seen in the recent Swedish Rescue and in the most recent Proclamation to the First Presidency by former bishops and stake presidents in the UK.
See these links for more details.
I believe these same groups have a second chapter to add to this reformation tale. But before I get to that, I want to comment about...well, some of your comments to me.
In the past few weeks I have received many positive messages for the release of the Mission President’s Handbook, and particularly discussions on the way the church asks the presidents not to disclose the reimbursements. However, several readers, some former close friends, have had some negative comments. Some tell me that I revealed nothing new—that members have known the Mormon clergy receive “modest stipends” and “necessary living expenses”. I was asked: How could I expect them to work full time in the church service and not be compensated for their living needs? Some even told me that I have become such an anti-mormon that in fact, my acts are practically anti-christ. One even called me a Korihor.
I looked up the Book of Mormon story in Alma 30, relating the verbal melee between the prophet Alma and his critic Korihor. A few particular verses struck me (Alma 30:31-34)
“And [Korihor] did rise up in great swelling words before Alma, and did revile against the priests and teachers, accusing them of leading away the people after the silly traditions of their fathers, for the sake of glutting on the labors of the people. Now Alma said unto him: Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people. And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time. And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?”
This is the test that the Book of Mormon creates for honest motivations of the clergy. If they do it of their own, without compensation, then it what does it profit a prophet to spend his life declaring the truth?
Indeed. If it is shown that the prophets, apostles, seventy or mission presidents are paid even one senine (whatever that is), would this mean they just might have ulterior motives? Perhaps not. What if they receive a million senines? What about fancy homes in gated communities paid for by the corporation of the presiding bishopric? Expensive automobiles with armored protection at the courtesy of LDS secret security? What if the church pays their debts and gives their family forgivable loans? If the top leadership were found engaged in criminal behavior, would that cause members to pay a little more attention to what Korihor had to say?
In the coming weeks, Utah government may be presented with what some see as scandalous behavior by members of good standing in the highest places of their state offices. (For a hint of the background, see http://www.adventure-journal.com/2012/03/utah-governor-wants-to-take-over-federal-land/ and this Desnews article) There are some members who may see the apparent illicit land-sell-off as unbecoming of a semi-high ranking Mormon. What if the highest leaders of the church have engaged in highly questionable real-estate transfers for years? The outrage coming for UT government leaders might be eclipsed when other revelations of the religious leaders are unveiled.
Until then, however, we already know that in foreign countries, the kind of tax-evading behavior advocated in the Mission President’s Handbook is very likely illegal and may bring criminal charges against individual LDS leaders in the coming year.
On the one hand, the Catholic Church “received a generous early Christmas present from European Union chiefs with the announcement that illegal tax exemption (on Italian property tax) from 2006 to 2011, which saved the Catholic Church billions of euros, will not have to be paid back.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-lets-catholic-church-off-its-billioneuro-tax-bill-8426163.html ) However, it was always known that the Vatican claimed these exemptions on its properties. They, presumably, didn’t hide the information, they just disputed that they should be billed for the tax since they are a “church” even if the properties under question had established commercial enterprise. The EU is taking a pragmatic view of what would be a very difficult collection operation if it were to force the Catholic Church into past compliance. They forgave the past, but will be steadfast in collecting the taxes here out, if my understanding is correct.
On the other hand, the MP Handbook clearly outlines, in what is meant to be a secret guideline, that they will evade taxes by never disclosing the amount of money paid to the mission presidents, by using a church-controlled bank account, and relying on the MP to remain silent, even to tax advisers, about the pay outs.
There are at least two European countries where the tax law is very clear about reimbursements being taxable: The UK and Sweden. The church is, apparently, not paying these (mission presidents are not filing these, believing the church does it for them, but the government filing records seem to be missing these incomes).
The UK collects income tax and payroll taxes. The following UK Tax document (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/worksheets/sa102m-notes.pdf) outlines what can and what cannot be excluded from “ministry” taxes and income. It lists “gifts and grants”, “stipends”, “Personal expenses paid for you, living accommodation, vouchers and credit cards”, and “Vicarage or manse expenses” among many other items in its 10 pages. The latter “Vicarage or manse expenses” is listed as utilities, home (manse) costs, gardening, etc. These are the very types of things listed by the MP Handbook as being reimbursed.
In Sweden, the tax law requiring these reimbursements be taxed has been around for many years, but in 2012, the Jehovah Witnesses challenged the law (decision made by the Swedish Skatterättsnämnden Court on 30 April 2012). The Supreme Administrative Court (Case No. 3330-11) established taxes to be paid on simple free housing, reimbursed meals and a small cash amount of SEK 1,000 per month to cover other private expenditures. I’m told by a person who works with the Swedish Tax Authority that, regarding taxes, “the crucial point is that the person gives any kind of labor return to the religious organization who hand out the cash or benefits...The only time one can receive benefits or cash and not being taxable income is when one lives a simple monastery life without any labor return to the giver.”
At this time, a challenge is already placed with the UK HM Revenue & Customs authority. The church apparently has a UK company (or several of them) which states it acts for the US-based church on transactions for its missions. Remember, however, all LDS businesses are owned under two sole-corporations: The Corporation of the President of the COJCOLDS, and The Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric of COJCOLDS. If and when criminal tax evasion charges are made by the UKHMRC, it just may go to the prophet (or presiding bishop) himself, as sole corporate owner. The same should happen in Sweden, where our fellow members may act on the same charges and tax rules.
In the US, the situation is a little more difficult. The IRS leaves well established churches alone. However, if clear evidence of secretly funding of personal clergy (i.e., apostles) to the tune of millions in real-estate or other dealings were shown, then the IRS would have to take notice.
Stay tuned. 2013 may be a new year for the Mormon moment.
The Disney-ish Polynesian Cultural Center, LDS owned amusement park