The Wall Street Journal has written what is says is the first article with Church comments on the $100 billion investment fund. I found it generally fair and a good example of how journalism should be practiced in our days of shock headlines and one-sided stories.
Take a look here.
Here are some key excerpts:
In their first-ever interview about Ensign Peak’s operations, Mr. Clarke and church officials who oversee the firm said it was a rainy-day account to be used in difficult economic times. As the church continues to grow in poorer areas of the world like Africa, where members cannot donate as much, it will need Ensign Peak’s holdings to help fund basic operations, they said.
“We don’t know when the next 2008 is going to take place,” said Christopher Waddell, a member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak known as the presiding bishopric. Referring to the economic crash 12 years ago, he added, “If something like that were to happen again, we won’t have to stop missionary work.”
During the last financial crisis, they didn’t touch the reserves Ensign Peak had amassed, church officials said. Instead, the church cut the budget.
A former employee and the whistleblower in his report said they heard Mr. Clarke refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ as part of the reason for Ensign Peak’s existence. Mormons believe before Jesus returns, there will be a period of war and hardship.
Mr. Clarke said the employees must have misunderstood his meaning. “We believe at some point the savior will return. Nobody knows when,” he said.
When the second coming happens, “we don’t have any idea whether financial assets will have any value at all,” he added. “The issue is what happens before that, not at the second coming.”
Whereas university endowments generally subsidize operating costs with investment income, Ensign Peak does the opposite. Annual donations from the church’s members more than covers the church’s budget. The surplus goes to Ensign Peak. Members of the religion must give 10% of their income each year to remain in good standing.
Dean Davies, another member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak, said the church doesn’t publicly share its assets because “these funds are sacred” and “we don’t flaunt them for public review and critique.”
Mr. Clarke said he believed church leaders were concerned that public knowledge of the fund’s wealth might discourage tithing.
“Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money,” Mr. Clarke said. “So they never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.”
I also liked this:
The former employees offered more details of Ensign Peak’s operations. During the bull market of the last decade, some of them said, the fund grew from about $40 billion in 2012 to $60 billion in 2014 to around $100 billion by 2019. About 70% of the money is liquid, one of the former employees said. As its assets swelled, Ensign Peak grew more secretive, said some of the former employees.
The firm doesn’t borrow money–the church warns members against going into debt. It also doesn’t invest in industries that Mormons consider objectionable—including alcohol, caffeinated beverages, tobacco and gambling. Mr. Clarke said the fund has pulled some of its money from an investment firm called Fisher Investments after firm founder Ken Fisher made remarks last year that Mr. Fisher, in a newspaper column, called “inappropriate.” A spokesman for Fisher declined to comment.
Among rank-and-file members of the church, the whistleblower report unleashed an intense debate about tithing and how the church uses its vast resources.
On a recent snowy Sunday at a Salt Lake City meetinghouse, members said they trusted church leaders with their own money, and would continue to donate 10% of their income. “They use it well,” said Lasi Kioa, a 61-year-old immigrant from Tonga and a lifelong church member. “They help other people. They build the church.
I believe in that.”
But Sam Brunson, a church member and tax law professor at Loyola University, said he wished church officials would use the $100 billion to help those in need today.
“They could go a good way to eradicating malaria, or fix Puerto Rico’s electrical grid,” he said. Alternatively, he said, the church could change what it considers tithing, allowing members to give 10% of their income to charity, rather than to the church itself.
Notice how the article quotes somebody both in favor of the Church position and against it? I know that is rare these days, but this is how journalism used to happen all the time.
Anyway, it was nice to see a fair article on this issue. Read the whole thing.