Monday, October 29, 2012

Storing up treasure in heaven? Try deferred tax-exempt savings accounts

There are two stories out about how Mitt used the LDS Church's tax exemption to defer taxes and earn investment income (tax free?).  This "trust" account (ironic term, huh?) earned Mitt a load of cash.

see:
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/10/29/bloomberg-news-romney-rented-mormon-churchs-exemption-to-defer-taxes-for-15-years/
and
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/10/29/romney-avoids-taxes-using-exempt-status-of-mormon-church/


When Mitt refused to disclose his financial/tax information, he said (around the end of August), "Our church doesn't publish how much people have given...One of the downsides of releasing one's financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known." (
http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/54744938-90/romney-says-church-tithing.html.csp )

I wrote that "This underscores a pattern of secrecy that he likely learned as a member of the LDS church." I discussed this on the blog and in an MT article on Sept 12.
It was Sept 16 when I was hauled into the stake president's office because I was "reported to be in apostasy".
These leaders had never met me, and they told me to stop writing my blog and articles, of which the Romney pieces were the latest writings I had put up. I saw the timing as suspicious. No, there was no direct admission by the church that it was over my Romney articles that they applied pressure. A lot of media speculation went around and around.


Now that we know Mitt 'rented' the church's tax exemption to defer his own taxes, we see he was doing some very shading dealing, and apparently with church approval. When I wrote, in the article/blog that "Hiding financials is a lesson Mitt may have learned early in life as a young Mormon" I didn't realize how close Mitt was to the heart of the problem and how the church is mixed up in it.

The LDS church does something similar to Mitt, I believe. They take tithing, invest it for a period and accrue investment interest earnings. They take those earnings and then use them to build malls and develop land. They claim that technically no tithing/donations are used for profit. They defer using the donations for ecclesiastical (i.e., "LDS charitable") purposes and use the earnings for profit. This is almost just what Mitt has been doing.

I repeat: Hiding financials is a lesson Mitt may have learned early in life as a young Mormon. Or maybe recently as a Mormon leader.  Recall, he has been a stake president and a bishop.  Less than 1% of the claimed 14 million Mormon membership can "brag" about serving as high up as Mitt has.  There's no doubting he has had and could have plenty of face time with the highest ecclesiastical authority as well.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Churches have no Laboratories


When Einstein published his complete theory of general relativity in 1916, he proposed three tests of general relativity, one of which was the deflection of light by the sun. Science could already predict the timing of eclipses, and knew that one would occur in a few years where the darkened sun would allow them to test Einstein's prediction that the sun deflected light. In 1919, an expedition set out to observe the deflection of light by the sun during an eclipse, in to the west African island of Principe. The expedition leader was British astronomer Arthur Eddington who acquired photograph negatives showing the deflection of light of stars that were near the sun. 


The resulting observation precisely matched Einstein’s predictions.  That is, Einstein had made a precise prophecy about the future down to meters of precision and within seconds of accurate timing.  This is the kind of accuracy in prophetic ability one never sees in religion.

Religion, speaking for God, seems to have enjoyed a monopoly of claimant powers; that is did, until science and technology caught up with and now surpasses its predictive and miracle claiming abilities. Science has gone a long way to eradicating famine, if not turning one loaf into thousands in terms of farmland efficiency. Medical science finds cures for plagues, mends the lame and gives sight to the blind, with numerical healings that far far exceed the onesy-twosy healing claims of ancient priesthood holders. Claims, I repeat, because in modern times, faith healing has never been truly verified, while modern science healing is verified daily in tens of thousands of hospitals and clinics. These days, the prophets seem silent and science vociferous in predicting all kinds of future events--from the gender of unborn children to eclipses and tsunami, and even general trends in climate change. Science is beginning to look forward in ways only God was once claimed to do.

Carl Sagan once wrote the following: "...if you want to really be able to predict the future -- not in everything, but in some areas -- there's only one regime of human scholarship...that really delivers the goods, and that's science. Religions would give their eyeteeth to be able to predict anything like that well. Think of how much mileage they would make if they ever could do predictions comparably unambiguous and precise."

We don't really have to imagine, though, do we? When white European conquerors of ancient America were received as gods with their guns and eclipse predictions, they abused the power by controlling whole civilizations and fetching gold and slaves from the subordinate worshipping masses. If modern religions had the power of modern science (while hiding the source of their power), we'd hardly have to imagine the outcome.

But herein lays one difference between science and religion: religions cloud the source of their acclaimed powers in obscure passages and murky definitions of God. Science openly reports, competitively referees and carefully accredits each advancement to the whole world (if the world would but take the time to read the publications). Again, Sagan explains that while the scientist is human, science as a whole attempts to be objective and available to all: "Science has built-in error-correcting mechanisms -- because science recognizes that scientists, like everybody else, are fallible...Scientists do not trust what is intuitively obvious, because intuitively obvious gets you nowhere."

Another interesting difference between science and religion: churches have no laboratories. What I mean is that if a scientist has a clever thought (hypothesis), before he turns it into a belief (theory), he will comb the journals to see if it was already out there and tested. If not tested, he will go to the lab and painstakingly experiment until he has validated or--most often--eliminated the idea. It is in the lab where good ideas and bad ones are sorted out. Churches have no laboratories. Just belief systems.

(Ok, church do have laVatories of white porcelain thrones, which in the Mormon-brand, members must clean.)

Furthermore, the scientific methodology requires that any good finding should be re-found (repeatedly) and verified (openly) before it can be said to support hypothesis. Scientists pride themselves to be published in refereed journals, where honors go to those that can disprove findings or hypotheses with new findings--as Einstein did of Newton. It's a hard career at times--hard on the ego and personal life--but rewarding because of its unparalleled consistency and trustworthiness.

As a former Mormon--who happily believed in modern prophecy--I used to wonder why the prophets are so reluctant to predict as they did only a hundred-fifty years back. Why have miracles become no more than rumors and subtle coincidences visible only to the chosen faithful? By comparison, technology and science deliver health and happiness in brightly printed packages available to all regardless of faith, creed, race or nationality. It would seem that the prophets have privately given into science. I believe it is because they know they haven't a chance to be so successful when science has been so wonderfully accurate. A smart man doesn't claim to be guided by the supreme intelligence and give predictions that could so easily be countered by lab-coated scientists whose probability calculations are greater than 90% correct.

Okay, yes, it would seem I am giving far too much credit to science. It can't heal everything nor correctly predict many things--from tomorrow's weather to next week's stock market. Yes, science is still dealing poor predictions often enough. But in comparison to latter-day seers and apostles, it is uncannily and openly predictive.


Happy Halloween, all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To Salt Lake With Indifference

The following is the resignation letter I sent to SLC on Friday, Oct 19, at the Exmormon Foundation.  I read the first part aloud and sent it live in the conference.  I've been told there is an audio recording and I have a video of it, but the audio is nearly impossible to hear.


Greg Dodge/Admininistrator
Member Records 
50 E North Temple, Room 1372 
SLC UT 84150-5310

msr-confrec@ldschurch.org

Mr. Dodge or current resignation processor:

I have a feeling you know my name, as managing editor of MormonThink.com (MT).

Let me spare you and Mitt Romney all a load of more embarrassing media fallout and having to fire stake president Allan Pratt (you know, the star of the little-boyd-factory self abuse missionary video at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xd1nzk_mormon-mission-pres-allan-pratt-on_news) by foregoing your kangaroo courts of love.

First though, I want to thank church leaders and especially Scott Gordon (head apologetic cheese) for their skulking me and previously the site founder at MT. This produced the unintended but welcome ten-fold increase of traffic to MT.  With its balanced approach to looking at church history from all sides, MT is many times more popular than FAIR and its one-sided approach. For now, the Orwellian tactics using guilt and ”discipline” boosted our rankings. A dozen more active LDS have asked to contribute to MT to show a more balanced view of Church history.  MT, with its full disclosure approach, is stronger than ever with millions of hits each month.

Attempts at general conference to make MormonThink forbidden fruit have only shown curious members that "it is very desirable and delicious to the taste" as they bite into the fruit of knowledge. (BTW, can I get the new hottite temple Eve's phone number?)
While the aim of MT has been to objectively examine the history and doctrine of the LDS church, we understand that the latest actions by SLC has upset some members and caused increased resignations. By confronting truth-givers, the church has caused problems among its own ranks. Perhaps the church could avoid this if it started to disclose to its members and investigators the full truth of its historical foundations instead of hiding its history. At least it's unlikely church leaders will go after future editors with impunity now that they know what happens when they try to manipulate. Our Rolodex currently overflows with high level media contacts. Thanks for the help! 

If you’d like to help further, please by all means, excommunicate the next editor at Mormonthink.  Have leaders of the strengthening members committee stalk us.  Even better, send in the Danites! That should propel MT popularity into orbit around Kolob.

All loud laughter and evil speaking of the Lord's annoyed aside, the details you need to process my resignation are below.

My full name is David Twede; my date of birth __.  I was baptized on __. My membership record number is 000-XXXX-YYYY.  My residence address is __ ___ ___, Orlando, FL , residing in the Hunters Creek ward & stake of Orlando.

This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to church rules, policies, beliefs and 'discipline'. As I am no longer a member, I want my name permanently and completely removed from the membership rolls of the church.  All of this is to be done immediately and on the date and time given in the header of this email/letter.

I have given this matter considerable thought. I understand what you consider the 'seriousness' and the 'consequences' of my actions. I am aware that the church handbook says that my resignation "cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member and revokes temple blessings" I also understand that I will be "readmitted to the church by baptism only after a thorough interview". (Quotes from the current Church Handbook of Instructions.)

My resignation should be processed immediately, without any 'waiting periods'. I am not going to be dissuaded and I am not going to change my mind.

I expect this matter to be handled promptly, with respect and with full confidentiality.

After today, the only contact I want from the church is a single letter of confirmation to let me know that I am no longer listed as a member of the church.

It is my understanding that you are required to indicate on your form my "reason for leaving." Please state the reason as "At member's request" or "Doctrinal reasons," since that is, in fact, the reason. I insist that you should not put there any reason which may be derogatory to me. I wish to assure you that I am not leaving the church because of some personal slight or insult, or because I have "sinned" or am unable to "keep the commandments." I have simply come to the very sad realization that the church is not what it claims to be, that its doctrine is false, and that the LDS church is not where I wish to be.

If the request is not made effective immediately and you still feel the need to contact local authorities, delaying my resignation against my wishes, then I request that my name removal request be forwarded without delay to the stake president (assuming Allan Pratt hasn't been released for his bungling efforts ” in my behalf”) in accordance with the Church Handbook of Instructions. I will check with you in one week if you have not already notified me by then that it has been forwarded to the stake president.

If the request is not made effective immediately, please inform the stake president that I waive the thirty-day waiting period during which the stake president may hold the request in order to give me the opportunity to rescind. Rather, I request him to process it without delay. Please ask the stake president to notify me when he has forwarded my request to church headquarters. If I do not hear from him, I will contact him to make sure that my request is being honored without delay.

I will consider any unnecessary delay to be a violation of my rights of free association and freedom of religion as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

I consider this matter to be confidential to me and those I personally wish to share with, and I insist that no church representative discuss my resignation with any persons other than those church officers who are processing my name removal or those who must be informed to carry out their church duties; that if any church official speaks of this matter outside of official channels, I will consider it a violation of confidence, a violation of church regulations (CHI p. 150), and seek legal redress.

Thank you for your courtesy in honoring my request without delay.
Sincerely,
Dave Twede
Managing Editor
MormonThink.com



Friday, October 19, 2012

Infallible FAIL!


There’s a running joke among Mormons (and perhaps Catholics) that goes: The Pope says he’s infallible, and the Catholics don’t believe him.  The Prophet says he’s not infallible, and the Mormons don’t believe him.

The official LDS quote on this matter goes something like: The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray.  This is doctrine in the D&C.  It has been taught from the pulpit at general conference.  It is in official church manuals.

Is it true?

Earlier in 2012, after controversy surrounding statements by a BYU professor Randy Bott on the history of blacks and the priesthood, the church released a press statement that read: "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago...We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."



This statement is very profound.  It tacitly admits that the previous statement, that the Lord won’t allow a prophet to lead the members astray, is false.  For nearly 150 years the prophets have led the people astray with racist policies and the current prophet administration does not know why this happened, they just know firmly, racism is wrong.  That repudiation of the former policy, of hundreds of statements made by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, Bruce McConkie, and many more effectively opens the gate to an understanding that the current administrating prophets could be absolutely dead wrong on policies they have in place currently.

Many members believe this is in fact happening.  Without be-laboring a point I have made over and over on this blog, the focus on profits by the prophets is, in my opinion, absolutely a modern equivalent of the money changers at the temple square. 

For those members that agree, believe it or not, we can make a change.  The leaders often fall to peer pressure on many issues that trouble members as well as society at large.  Examples include the manifesto on polygamy, changes in meeting blocks, missionary age requirements or length of service, ordaining blacks and allowing entrance to the temple of minorities, changes in the view of what defines a Lamanite, going silent on the ban against oral sex, removing of acerbic & violent penalties in the endowment.  You may think that these were changed purely through inspiration, but don’t fool yourself.  If they were inspired to begin with, what changed in the world that caused a needed change in policy?  What changed were societal lack of acceptance on plural marriages, civil right pressures, scientific understanding of DNA and Amerindians, complaints about the violent pantomimes, exhaustion from prolonged meetings and more.  The inspiration changed because the people and evidence demanded it.

Actually, one could argue that the common element of change was the drop in donations or the loss of financial holdings, either wrongly by the government or correctly withheld by wavering members. Eventually, the emphasis on profits may ironically hurt the bottom line when tithing drops and profits at the mall cannot compensate that loss.  At that point, the leaders will be inspired to go back to basic charity and preach love and service like never before, in an effort to raise donations again.

Announcement:  This is likely my last blog as a member of the LDS church.  Something is about to happen.  Stay tuned…


Monday, October 8, 2012

What Ned could teach Mormons

Ned Ludd, a prole of 18th-century England, is famed for his rage against framing machines.  He became the stuff of heroic legend among weavers and framers that feared their way of life was on the decline when technologies (machines) were developed that could out-perform them. Early 19th-century “Luddites” destroyed the framing and weaving machines in the factories that were down-sizing their labor.

Raging against machines to preserve one's lifestyle has in Joseph Smith another memorable history: the destruction of The Expositor, a Nauvoo press that dared print the "interchanges" and dalliances between Joseph and several women.  There is no question that Mayor Smith ordered the printer’s destruction.  What I ask is, given other presses (even the New York Times) were also bad-mouthing the Mormons, why didn’t Smith order their demise as well?  Let’s get back to this in a minute.

Fast-forward to 2012.  The LDS Church attempts to shut down MormonThink by scheduling disciplinary courts on the founder, and then only a couple of months later on the managing editor on Sept 30.  The latter court of love is “postponed” after media fall-out.  Then a week later in General Conference, there are no less than three talks particularly dedicated to warning members to avoid the modern press, like those found on websites run by 21st-century William Laws.  

Some quotes (paraphrased since the actual transcripts have yet to be released—we’ll update then) include:

"Some have emerged themselves in internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcomings of early church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed." Elder Quentin Cook, 6 Oct 2012

Apostle Neil Anderson warned: "There has always been a few who want to discredit the church and destroy faith. Today they use the internet. Some of the information about the church, no matter how convincing, is just not true."

Elder Walter Gonzalez declared: "Today surrounded by so much information we might think that navigating millions of webpages will give us all that we need to know. We can find good and bad information on the web. But information alone is not enough. God has given us another source for greater knowledge even knowledge sent from heaven. Our heavenly father can give us such knowledge when we navigate the celestial web in our hearts and minds."

Elder Holland clamored against "Those who were once with us but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few culture hors d'oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the restoration and leave the rest of the feast."


And some years ago, President Monson told the youth:
"Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: ‘I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God’s word. I wasn’t with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it.’ "



While the leaders never speak about MormonThink directly in conference, it is clear by word and action they want it avoided or destroyed.  There are, however, dozens of other popular sites dedicated to discussing the history of Mormonism.  Why, then, are the GAs so particular about hunting the founder and editors at MormonThink?

This is the same kind of question asked about why Smith didn’t go after other presses.  It should be obvious by now.  It’s a matter of access.  That is, access to the press or the editor or the site.  Smith would’ve been hard-pressed to send his legion to N.Y. City or Boston or elsewhere.  Nauvoo was local.  If he had legions in place in those cities with the power and strength to take out the presses, there is little doubting about the attempt.  

Older men like my stake president, like Elder Anderson, Elder Cook and Elder Holland find sites like MormonThink as an enigmatic weapon or disease. They don't understand it but want to inoculate members, telling them to avoid the sites at all cost, and to repent if they ever do come into icky contact with them online.  In fact, they really seem to prefer members avoid or take special care going on the Internet at all (unless it is for advertising the church as a member-missionary on facebook or doing genealogy at familysearch).  

The Internet is one of the most important inventions of humankind.  It has changed the face of the planet and will only increase in its position evermore.  It is not a fad.  It is not going away.  And yet, if Anderson, Cook or Holland had a switch that would turn off the Internet everywhere in the world, they would power-down The New Expositor without pause, despite the miraculous human change it brings about.

Technology, like the Internet, with its foundation in semi-conductors on-top of the theory of quantum mechanics, validates science each day with every data-bit sent across the network.  Trillions of data points.  It’s the same quantum theory that validates radio-active dating methods of the old-age earth theory and evolution.  The same foundation that allowed Watson & Crick to develop a precise understanding of DNA structure that has spiraled into revolutions in medicine.  The same underlying evidence and methodology that confronts Ancient American historical claims of the Book of Mormon, of Noah’s ark, of Jaredite barges, of Adam & Eve as first humans, and so much more.  The evidence is overwhelming and continually pouring forward with new scientifically sound technology filed daily at the patent office.

And modern Luddites fear that their way of life is going extinct.  They want to toss aside in heaps the framework of science and the weaving of technology in everyday life just as the framers and weavers resisted the rise of machines centuries before.

Ned’s people are gone.  They did not win.  They lost the idea war in a complete technological slaughter.  It’s sad to watch old suits who protest progress.  But they are teleprompt-reading dinosaurs at the brink of extinction.  



Thank you, President Monson, for supporting the Paisley Perestroika at Sunday's GC. 
Giggidy on the choice tie.  Did you tuck it in because the Church is tightening its financial belt?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A thought experiment

What if all Mormons stopped donating or paying tithing? Just a hypothetical...

How would the LDS church appear if tithing abruptly quit flowing in?

It probably wouldn't take long for temples to be boarded up & perhaps sold off. No member can enter, work in or pass through the temple if they stop paying tithing. Likewise, meetinghouses would suffer for lack of support to pay utilities, up-keep and ”learning materials”.  BYU campuses would raise tuition, drop classes, close down some facilities and run on bare costs. Visitor centers, institutes, seminaries and genealogy libraries would probably lock their doors.

But the LDS City Creek Mall would still retail fine apparel, gold watches and fifth-gen IPhones. Condos looking over the mall would still collect fees. The church-owned cattle ranches and Polynesian theme park would still sell beef, punch tickets and host luau dinners.  Insurance agents would collect premiums. Deseret would still line the shelves with new books. LDS radio & TV stations would keep broadcasting advertisements.

Without tithing, the church would most definitely go on in a form much like many other conglomerate corporations.

What about missionaries? Would they still seek out new tithe payers? What about LDS charities? Would they still disperse aid?

Perhaps, but we don't know since the church has little financial transparency on these endeavors.

Now compare this scenario with another thought experiment. What if UNICEF - one of the largest secular charities - abruptly stopped receiving government & private donations?

UNICEF receives about $3.5 billion a year in donations (about a third privately). It has financial transparency, listing its internal audits in complete, showing that it disperses just over 90% of its receipts back into charitable programs & services. The other ten percent pay to run and advertise its mission.

If UNICEF stopped receiving donations, it would likely disappear in a year. Just evaporate. Because it's a true charity and has no profit making agenda.

Not that it isn't without criticism, but it hands out well over $3 billion at present per year in aid and services. That's about twice what the LDS church has done in a quarter century, even though the church collects closer to twice what UNICEF does in a year.

Think about that. The church collects much much more in donations and takes about fifty years to disperse as much in charity as UNICEF does in a single year.

The LDS ”church” is a business. We really should be questioning its tax exemption.