Thursday, December 24, 2020

Follow the Profit: A New Way to Track LDS Church Stocks

When church members pay tithing, they have an expectation that the hard earned money they pay will be spent as the Lord has directed. These expectations are rooted in D&C 119:2, which gives us the scripturally-based purpose of tithing:

  1. "For the building of mine house [temples]
  2. and for the laying of the foundation of Zion [developing people who are of one heart, one mind and dwelling in righteousness with no poor among them]
  3. and for the priesthood
  4. and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church."

Here are some very basic questions about church finances:

Q: What is the church's income?
A: Today, the church receives as much as $7 billion in members' tithing each year. It is speculated that the church has over $100 billion in assets. [1]  

Q: How are tithes allocated?
A: Here's the church's own statement, dated May 22, 2018:

"The Church's Council on the Disposition of the Tithes is composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presiding Bishopric. Together, they establish and administer the specific policies and budgets guiding the use of Church resources (see D&C 120:1). Those policies embody the following principles:

  • Expenditures will not exceed forecasted revenue.
  • The budget for operating expenses will not increase at a more rapid rate than anticipated tithing contributions.

Budgets for the Church's efforts are specifically approved and funds are appropriated by the Church's Budget and Appropriations Committee, a subcommittee of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes."  [2]

Q: How are tithes audited?
A: Usually, large organizations hire outside accounting firms to audit their finances. However, the church has its own Audit Committee which does the job:

"Additionally, the Church Auditing Department, which is independent from all other Church departments, employs credentialed professionals to ensure that Church funds are administered and recorded in accordance with Church policies and standard accounting practices." [2]

Q: Do members get to see how the money is spent?
A:  Apparently so. The following is a transcript of an interview between Pres. Hinckley and a reporter (which can be viewed in its entirety here):

"REPORTER: In my country the...we say the people's churches, the Protestants, the Catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.
HINCKLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
REPORTER: Why is it impossible for your church?
HINCKLEY: Well, we simply think that the...that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world. That's the only thing. Yeah." [3]

This is interesting because the church published its last financial report in April, 1959.

Q: How is the money spent?
A: Here's The First Presidency:

"The vast majority of these funds are used immediately to meet the needs of the growing Church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work and missionary efforts throughout the world. All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church's divinely appointed mission." [4]

D&C 119:2 (As Amended)

So, the Church's divinely appointed mission now includes the development of high-rise office buildings, luxury shopping malls, planned communities and other real estate developments, several businesses, numerous radio and television stations, an insurance company, cattle ranches, farms, stocks and forged documents.

I won't go into detail regarding these various investments; other articles have done an exemplary job of that (for example, see here). In response, the church has admitted that it "also sets aside funds each year for future needs. These funds are added to Church reserves, which include stocks and bonds, taxable businesses, agricultural interests and commercial and residential property." These "Investments can be accessed in times of hardship or to meet the emerging needs of a growing, global faith in its mission to preach the gospel to all nations and prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ." [5]

The source if these funds? Again, church leaders disclosed, "the vast majority of its financial resources comes from the tithes and offerings of Church members." [2]

That means, by the church's own admission, your tithing money is spent on laying "up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt." [6]  Anyone paying these tithes is therefore complicit, to one degree or another, in these anti-scriptural endeavors.

I could write many, many posts regarding the incongruity between modern-day church expenditures and what the Lord originally intended in D&C 119:2. But today, I'd like to focus on just one portion of the church's assets: its stock portfolio.

The Definitive LDS Church Stocks Tracking Chart

For 22 years, Ensign Peak Advisors has managed the church's reserve investment fund.  For reasons the church declines to elaborate, [7] it never filed required government oversight paperwork until February 14, 2020 (although there is no evidence of intentional obfuscation, these are some pretty bright advisors who surely know the government expects these reports). 

These reports - filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - are here: https://www.sec.gov/cgi-bin/browse-edgar?action=getcompany&CIK=0001454984

There, you'll see four reports, each filed on a quarterly basis in 2020. What you can't see is how these stocks have been traded from quarter to quarter. What stocks has the church purchased or increased, decreased or eliminated? 

To see that, I have downloaded each of the four reports and converted them into spreadsheets. Then I imported all four spreadsheets into an Access database, using their CUSIP as a common index field. Then I gave each stock issuer (for example, Microsoft) its own row, with each quarter's investment amount in the subsequent columns. After quarters 2, 3 and 4, I also listed the ?, or the percentage change from quarter to quarter.

OK, enough of the technobabble. 

Click here to access my Ensign Peak Advisors Tracking Chart

This spreadsheet has five tabs: Master Data, Top 20 investments, Winners (which stocks have increased), Losers (which stocks have decreased) and Pharma.

Top 20 tab: As of November 12, 2020, the church invested over a billion dollars each in Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Both Apple and especially NVIDIA (a computer chip manufacturer) saw the church's stock purchases in them increase more than 20% between August and November, 2020.

Winners tab: between August and November 2020: Grocery Outlet, trucking company Schneider National, genetic testing company Natera then several pharmaceutical and therapeutics companies.

Losers tab: The church divested itself of over $79 million in stocks between August and November 2020. They're listed in the Losers tab.

Pharma tab: I list the 17 "COVID-19 RELATED" testing labs / vaccine developers which the church has invested in (red font; four of them are listed in the Top 20 tab). 72 other "CONFIRMED PHARMA" companies are listed in a blue font. Finally, 45 other Therapeutics companies are in a black font.

As you will see, the church is investing over $1.6 billion in tithed funds into COVID-19 testing or vaccine developers. Another $1.7 billion is invested in non-COVID-19 related pharmas, and just under $100 million in other therapeutics companies. All totaled, the church invests almost $3 billion, or 4% of its total portfolio, in these three sectors.

All spreadsheets will be updated on a quarterly basis as new SEC filings are submitted.

In a future post, I'll detail how the church is staunchly committed to vaccinations, including COVID-19 vaccinations. We'll examine the implications of this stance as it relates to these investments, the church's employees and members. 


"Furthermore, I want to say to you, we may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God." (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, Apr. 1907, p. 7)"


QUESTIONS

Based on the aforementioned facts, I have the following questions:

  • How does the church's investments in these various sectors (see italicized text above) square with the scriptural definition of tithing found in D&C 119:2?
  • When was D&C 119:2 amended to include real estate and other investments? When was this revision presented to the church for a sustaining vote per the Law of Common Consent?
  • What interesting points did you find in these spreadsheets?
  • Why did Pres. Hinckley say that budgetary "information belongs to those who made the contribution," but the contributors (tithe payers) haven't seen that information since April, 1959?

SOURCES

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Sunday, December 6, 2020

Are the Brethren Hypocrites?

"Rules for thee, but not for me."

This fall has shown us quite a cavalcade of leaders who say one thing, and do another with respect to Coronavirus lockdowns. Here are a few:

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi went to a public hair salon without a mask. [1]
  • Senator Diane Feinstein wandered around without a mask at both the Capitol building and Dulles International Airport.  [2]
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom dined at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant with two California Medical Association senior officials and about seven others (all members of several other households), all without masks.   [3]
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was forced to change his plans after he announced on the radio that he was having his adult daughters and his 89-year-old mother visit his home in Albany for Thanksgiving.   [4]
  • San Francisco Mayor London Breed was caught the night after Newsom was busted at the same restaurant - The French Laundry -- attending a birthday dinner there with 7 other people. [4]
  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler has been busted twice flouting his own restrictions. "First, he hosted 20 people at a wedding and reception for his daughter at a downtown Austin hotel. The very next day, he took 7 other people in a private jet to his timeshare in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Then, while there, he addressed Austinites via a Facebook video in which he said, 'We need to stay home if you can.'" [4]
  • Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ignored travel restrictions to go to Joe Biden's victory party in Delaware, which she said "absolutely" qualified as "essential travel" (which is exempted from the mayor's quarantine order). [4]
  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock tweeted a reminder for people to "Stay home as much as you can, especially if you're sick… Host virtual gatherings instead of in-person dinners. Avoid travel, if you can." A few minutes later, he boarded a plane to spend Thanksgiving with his own family members in Houston, TX. [4]
  • San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo apologized for attending a Thanksgiving dinner with relatives from five different households, saying it was "contrary to state rules". [5]
  • Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hung out with jubilant Biden supporters on election night, flaunting their own COVID restrictions. [6]  In Mayor Lightfoot's case, she was also caught getting a haircut in the midst of her new stay-at-home order. Her explanation? The public needs to make sure she looks presentable. [7]
  • Several members of the California Legislature enjoyed a trip to Hawaii to attend a conference about COVID restrictions. The trips were paid for by a special interest group. [8] 
  • Los Angeles County supervisor Sheila Kuehl dined at a restaurant hours after voting to ban dining at restaurants. [9]
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci attended a baseball game with 2 guests while his mask pulled down in an otherwise empty stadium. [10]

As we read these consistent reports - all members of a specific political party - I wonder how much they believe in the COVID-19 related restrictions and rules they have enacted. 

I'm also reminded of several quotes regarding hypocrites and hypocrisy: 

  • "He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him." [11]  
  • "For the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery."  [12]
  • "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:"  [13]
  • "For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail."  [14]
  • "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."  [15]

How the Brethren Betrayed Themselves

On Friday, Nov. 20, President Russell M. Nelson shared "a fast-acting, long-lasting spiritual remedy" into the world: "showing gratitude for our privileges" where, "for the next seven days" members would "turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. Post every day about what you are grateful for, who you are grateful for and why you are grateful." Members were also instructed to "use the hashtag #GiveThanks."  [16]

Now, for many decades and on just about every church-related website, blog and social media group, members are told several times a day to "Follow the Prophet" because "He knows the way" and that "history has shown that there is safety, peace, prosperity and happiness in responding to the prophetic counsel." [18] 

Pres. Ballard went on to say that "Great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord given through him. When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt."

Although the response by many members was indeed positive and prompt, there was one class of members among whom Pres. Nelson's words were practically meaningless:

The 15 Brethren including Pres. Nelson himself.

Just to reiterate: the #GiveThanks marketing campaign was touted as an inspired, "fast-acting, long-lasting spiritual remedy." If that's true, then we would expect our leaders to enthusiastically magnify and multiply what members considered prophetic counsel. And by the looks of it, that's what happened, as this church news article publicizes.  [18]

But the devil, they say, is in the details.

Let's take a look at the social media accounts (via this webpage) for the 15 brethren during that 7-day #GiveThanks challenge. Pres. Nelson announced the challenge on Friday, Nov. 20th. The challenge would be held "for the next seven days," which is presumably through Nov 27-28th (depending on how you interpret his words):

First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve
Participation in the #GiveThanks Campaign

(Invitation by Pres. Nelson was to post daily to social media)

* My thanks to IHAQ, who inspired my own research into this matter.

As you can see, there should be 15 entries for each of the days in white. But there weren't. In fact, even Pres. Nelson (who set forth the invitation/challenge) only posted on three days. Elder Uchtdorf never posted at all.

QUESTIONS

Based on the aforementioned facts, I have the following questions:

  • So, what's going on here? 
  • Do the Brethren even believe the challenge (to post for 7 days on social media) was inspired?
  • If it was inspired (as the general membership tends to believe), what are we to think of the Brethren minimizing/de-emphasizing/ignoring that inspiration, without exception?
  • If it was not inspired, then (1) why was it given in the first place and (2) why would Pres. Nelson lead us to believe it was?
  • How are we to follow the Brethren (including the church president) if they don't even do what they ask of the members? 
  • If this initiative had the potential to help infuse a "a fast-acting, long-lasting spiritual remedy" into the world, then why wasn't it enthusiastically embraced by all 15 men?
  • How are we to respond to the next initiative pronounced by Pres. Nelson?
  • What is the definition of hypocrisy?
  • Do we see it in some national, state and local leaders?
  • Do we see it in some church leaders?
  • What does God say about hypocrites?
  • What would God say about those who follow hypocrites?

SOURCES

1.   https://nypost.com/2020/09/03/salon-owner-denies-that-nancy-pelosi-hair-appointment-was-a-setup/
2.   https://abc7news.com/dianne-feinstein-viral-video-facemasks-coronavirus/8052416/
3.   https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8961441/Gavin-Newsom-ate-birthday-dinner-INSIDE-California-restaurant.html
4.   https://www.zerohedge.com/political/these-are-hypocritical-government-officials-who-demand-you-stay-home-while-they-party
5.   https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/san-jose-mayor-releases-statement-regarding-thanksgiving-gathering/2411840/
6.   https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-pritzker-lightfoot-hypocrisy-20201116-ejenf2lkqjdntd7r6h66dr32cq-story.html
7.   https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/roster-of-covid-19-hypocritical-politicians-grows
8.   https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-11-16/california-lawmakers-hawaii-conference-covid-19
9.   https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvxvd3/elected-officials-just-cant-stop-violating-their-own-covid-restrictions
10.   https://www.wusa9.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/anthony-fauci-face-mask-down-photo-coronavirus/507-e33379cb-d79e-479b-9960-13293c96572f
11.   Job 13:16
12.   Job 15:34
13.   Isaiah 29:13
14.   Isaiah 32:6
15.   Luke 12:1
16.   https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2020-11-20/president-nelson-special-message-gratitude-spiritual-remedy-healing-hope-covid-19-198180
17.   https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/video/2011-03-091-following-prophetic-counsel?lang=eng
18.   https://www.thechurchnews.com/living-faith/2020-11-23/president-nelson-give-thanks-gratitude-social-media-posts-church-leaders-198314

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