When Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012, the LDS church came under fire for its lucrative financial investments. While the LDS Church claims to have given over $1.3 in humanitarian aid over the last 20 years, critics point out that this is only a small amount of the LDS Church’s actual annual income from financial investments such as malls, ranches, farms, real estate, media, etc. (See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/photo-essays/2012-07-12/the-mormon-global-business-empire and http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/sltrib/news/54478720-78/church-money-lds-mall.html.csp)
Critics of the LDS Church enjoy referring to the church as a corporation rather than a religious institution, and even argue that such financial investments go against the fundamental teachings of Christ which seem to chastise the wealthy and those who seek for riches (Luke 18:22-25/James 2:5-6). A central theme of the Book of Mormon is the repeated warnings of the dangers of pride resulting from economic prosperity, and it chastises those who seek for riches before serving God (Alma 39:14/Helaman 6:17/Helaman 12:2). It goes so far as to suggest that churches are robbing the poor when they spend money on expensive materials (2 Nephi 28:13). On the other hand, the Book of Mormon states that it is possible for a rich person to use their wealth for good (Jacob 2:19). It is even possible for the saints to be rich and yet not be prideful (Alma 62:48-49).
I cannot effectively argue what the economic impacts are of the LDS Church’s financial investments, or whether such activities are effective in reducing poverty, increasing prosperity, and reducing human suffering. I don’t know whether it is inherently more Christ-like for the LDS Church to give away all its money in the form of welfare checks to the poor than it is to both give money to the poor and invest in a city’s or nation’s economy. There are, however, many verses in the Book of Mormon that could potentially justify the LDS Church in seeking to increase the economic prosperity of its members and non-members beyond simply handing out cash to every person below an arbitrary socio-economic threshold.
- The saints in the Book of Mormon are commanded to labor with their hands for their own support (excluding the sick and otherwise afflicted). It is possible that the LDS Church’s financial investments help members and non-members fulfill that commandment.
- “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands” (2 Nephi 5:17)
- “And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support” (Mosiah 18:24)
- “That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support. Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God” (Mosiah 27:4-5)
- “Therefore, all the prisoners of the Lamanites did join the people of Ammon, and did begin to labor exceedingly…” (Alma 62:29)
- The saints in the Book of Mormon are an industrious people who build buildings and manufacture all sorts of material goods. It is possible that the LDS Church’s financial investments help members and non-members be more industrious.
- “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and or iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Nephi 5:15)
- “And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war—year, the sharp pointed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all preparations for war” (Jarom 1:8)
- “And they were exceedingly industrious, and they did buy and sell and traffic one with another, that they might get gain…And they did work in all manner of ore…And they did work all manner of cloth…And they did make all manner of tools to till the earth…And they did make all manner of weapons of war” (Ether 10:22-27)
- The saints in the Book of Mormon must refrain from being idle or lazy. The LDS Church is potentially helping people refrain from idleness through its financial investments.
- “See that ye refrain from idleness” (Alma 38:12)
- “Now they were a lazy and an idolatrous people; therefore they were desirous to bring us into bondage, that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields” (Mosiah 9:12)
- “Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity” (Mosiah 11:6)
- Economic prosperity can benefit the society as a whole, provided the people follow the commandments of God. If the LDS Church’s financial investments improve economic prosperity for all, then they are fulfilling the Lord’s promises to the people of this land as described in the Book of Mormon.
- “And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses. And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind” (2 Nephi 5:10-11)
- “Yea, and many did preach with exceedingly great power and authority, unto the bringing down many of them into the depths of humility, to be the humble followers of God and the Lamb…And behold, there was peace in all the land…and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire. And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich…and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich. They did raise grain in abundance…And in the sixty and fifth year they did also have great joy and peace, yea, much preaching and many prophecies concerning that which was to come.” (Helaman 6:5, 7-9, 11, 12, 14)
- “And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich. But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him” (Alma 62:48-49)