Much has been said about the City Creek Mall on which the Mormon Church spent over $2 billion. Personally, I like the new mall even though I’m not much of a shopper—certainly not a high-end shopper. I love the bustle of vibrant cities. I recognize that cities, like people, decline with age unless given expensive renovation from time to time. Downtown Salt Lake City was in need of a makeover, and the Church was the only entity willing and able to do it.
Naysayers believe the money should have been used to help the poor. So far, I haven’t heard of any specific projects proposed. Certainly, the Church has a right to invest its money for a profitable return—and, by law, businesses owned by the Church are subject to taxes.
A recent piece in Business Week estimates annual tithing received by the Church at $8 billion. Of that, less than 1% (about $50 million) goes to humanitarian aid. Kaimi Wenger, in a thoughtful blog at Times and Seasons, points out that the online fact sheet from which Business Week took their information does not include monies spent on welfare aid, which would raise the total. Still, even if welfare aid were included, the total for Mormon charitable funding would hardly approach the 29% of annual income spent on charities by the United Methodist Church.
How should the Mormon Church spend its monies? I suppose, like any other organization, the Church should spend its funds in ways that support its goals. The Church has long had a three-pronged focus: Proclaim the gospel, Redeem the dead, Perfect the Saints. The lion’s share of Church revenue is spent on missionary work, temples, and Church Education—all of which further those goals. City Creek Mall probably fits into the category of proclaiming the gospel. Public image would suffer if the headquarters of the faith were located in an urban blight of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, and seedy saloons.
A couple of years ago, the Church added a fourth goal to its mission statement: Care for the poor and needy. Obviously, this goal does not yet receive equivalent financial support. Perhaps the Business Week article will motivate movement in this direction.