Noticed today as I went to pay tithing that the "tithing and other offering" slip has undergone some small changes but has some bigger picture consequences. This is the first time in my lifetime I've noticed the slip has changed. This is the old slip:
The fine print below the totals box reads "All donations to the Church's missionary fund become the property of the Church to be used at the Church's sole discretion in its missionary program."
Today while filling out a slip I noticed there is a new version now in use (see below).
The new form has fewer donation option boxes. The following donation boxes are now absent from the form:
-Book of Mormon
And the fine print has been changed in a not so insignificant way. More on this in a second.
Some other minor changes are that now instead of your address, the form now asks for your membership record number (if your one who takes to time to memorize such a thing). There is still an "other" box on the form where you can specify what you would like your donations (separate from tithing) to be used for.
But what struck me the most was the new fine print below the totals box.
"Though reasonable efforts will be made globally to use donations as designated, all donations become the church's property and will be used at the Church's sole discretion to further the Church's overall mission."
The previous fine print applied only to missionary fund donations, and the statement made sense to me. But now the donation boxes are hardly relevant as the new fine print extends the Church's ownership until there is no longer any boundary. It encompasses any of the donations (whether tithing, missionary, humanitarian...) and makes it all property of The Church. And will be used at the Church's sole discretion. Technically the "Church" is not a legal entity. It's actually "The Corporation of the President" if we want to be technically accurate.
"Reasonable effort", "all donations", "Church's property" "Church's sole discretion", "overall mission". The fine print makes the message quite clear. Or, depending on how you read it, it mystifies a donation until there is zero confidence left as to where the donation will actually end up. I didn't enjoy loosing confidence and transparency about who the recipients of the donates are. An "overall mission" verbiage seems to be an umbrella giving allowance for things that would otherwise be excluded. And which now don't have to be transparent, or even visible to the church members. Since there is very little transparency with regard to Church financial matters anyway it seems those folks donating, are to a large degree, left in increasing darkness on the matter.
Why only "reasonable" effort being made? Why not "every" effort? Who is making that effort? Accountants? Lawyers? Bankers? Now days reasonable effort likely involves a computer mouse. The wording takes more control, offers zero transparency, and removes the giver yet another degree from the recipient. This seems to be a trend. I'm not finding fault, I sincerely want to believe the Church's financial department is acting with integrity. However if I take as my paradigm the scriptures which speak of modern Church's being built up to "get gain" and "loving money more than the poor", I have to pause and consider if the scriptures are directing a warning directly at us so we don't get in trouble.
During previous eras of the Church a financial accounting was given in general conference. We no longer get that. Instead we are left to assume all is well, without being able to study it for ourselves. Basic financial transparency doesn't seem like too much to ask. Scriptures state the church has the authority to collect and distribute tithes. I have no problem with this. I pay tithing and have found it to be a true principle as well as a blessing. That being said it would seem logical and a matter of good practice for an organization to show that their financial practices have integrity. One day it will be up for divine review, so why hide it now?
The responsibility for what the church does with our donations lies with the Church as they are stewards of the donations. However I don't think that means we turn on back and wash our hands of what goes on after it leaves our hands. Scriptures in D&C indicate members have at least some duty to be aware and involved in these matters. But that's a matter to be decided personally. I"m just writing this post as my view and sharing some facts that I noticed.
I wonder what prompted them to have to change the fine print. If we were asking continents to move, I can see how "reasonable effort" would be acceptable. Moving continents is difficult. So what was the impetus for this change to now give sole discretion for all donations to headquarters? Were there lawsuits? Were people suing the Church over stuff like this? Are there grumblings which lead to this legalistic wording? I can't think of very many noble reasons to hide the truth of these things from the public. Fine print doesn't satisfy peoples need to know basic facts. It just creates more questions. I think more publicly available data with regard to donation usage would be welcomed and be a great benefit to members and non members.
Before I end the post I have to say that I think it's possible to wonder about Church related concerns in a honest way. Also possible to do so while maintaining a negative, accusatory or critical spirit. My hope is to investigate and seek answers with a spirit of charity and faith in the Lord. I want an increase, not a loss of light. I happily pay tithing, and will continue to as long as asked. I must say though my preferred attitude is how Christ taught. "Do your alms in secret" (3 Nephi 13:3-4). That way, that way the heart, and devotion lie with the Lord, not men or an organization.