09 May 2011

PE: I worked on Sunday

This post actually has nothing to do with being gay. It does have to do with being Mormon. This Sunday, I worked. I don't normally work on Sundays, but this week, I did. I work downtown, just minutes away from temple square. On any given day, you will pass quite a few homeless people. Some are in groups. Some are taking a nap on the grass. Some hold signs hoping for some money. Others will just approach you and ask if you could get them a burger from mcdonalds. Some are old. Some are young. Some are mothers, and there are those that are just kids. Ever since I started working downtown, it bothered me. But Sunday it really bothered me.

I made it to work in my fastest time. As I drove out of the neighborhood I live in, cars were filing into church parking lots and families were entering the buildings all dressed up. Sunday is a good day to drive in Utah because everyone is at church. But while everyone was sitting in church, I was driving by the homeless that wander the streets around temple square. And maybe it was just my imagination, but there sure seemed to be a lot more out there on Sunday. It seems so backwards to me. Why are there homeless people in a state where so many Mormons live? But more than that, why are there masses of visibly homeless people surrounding temple square?

Meanwhile, the church is building the 3 billion dollar city creek center across the street from temple square. A massive project that includes luxury condos and an upscale mall with a retractable roof. I don't care were the money is coming from, no church should be putting money into an upscale shopping center before taking care of the homeless and needy that surround its very headquarters. In Jan. 2006, from the Church PR department, (Deseret News Publishing Company): Edgley said, “that since 1984, the LDS Church has donated nearly $750 million in cash and goods to people in need in more than 150 countries. I wouldn't have believed that the church would spend more money on a mall than on over 20 years of humanitarian aid.

Some will argue that it is only costing 1 billion dollars... my answer would be, only? And this IS the number the church initially reported... actually, it started at $800,000. However, take a look at this article from DESERET NEWS, and you will find that indeed, "City Creek Reserve is spending more than $1 million a day on construction, and the project ultimately will cost around $3 billion, said Chris Redgrave, a KSL executive who also chairs the Salt Lake Chamber's Can-Do Coalition." Mind you, this number was given in November 2009. Costs tend to rise on these things.

Sorry for venting. I just don't get it. Am I missing something here? The way the church is choosing to revitalize downtown is to provide another place to buy a new outfit? Should I not be worried about this? Someone please make sense of it for me.


Bill said...

...by their fruits ye shall know them. Matt 7:20.

Anonymous said...

If nothing else, the project is providing a lot of jobs and the 3 billion could help the economy... it's not just sitting in the bank

Scott N said...

On the one hand:

If the church used all of its money to help the poor, it would soon find itself with no more money. Investment of funds (primarily in real estate, because it's a fairly safe choice with a virtually guaranteed return over decades) helps to ensure that the church remains financially stable in the future.

On the other hand, this particular project bothers me for several reasons...

It's ostentatious. I understand the importance of "doing it right" and paying reasonable prices for quality materials and workmanship. This increases the long-term value of the building. But there's a line between "reasonable quality" and "unnecessary luxury" and it seems to me that this project crossed that line a couple billion dollars ago.

I understand the desire to "invest" in the downtown area in order to maintain an appealing environment around Temple Square... But I have a lot more respect for a dilapidated inner-city church that cares for its neighbors than I do for a beautifully-appointed church in a gated community that keeps the riff-raff out.

I'm also disappointed by the church's assertion that "no tithing funds" were used to fund this project. It may be entirely true that the money has all come directly from other investments, proceeds from sale of other properties, etc... But ultimately the church has no money that doesn't trace its origins to the donations of its members. My parents' and grandparents' donations made those early investments possible, so the church is spending their tithing money even if it's not spending mine.

That's the main issue for me: The entire project, including the "spin" that the church puts on things ("no tithing", etc.) when it talks about it, all point to a greater interest in image and appearance than in improving the lives (either temporally or spiritually) of members and non-members.

jen said...

I wish I could help you understand, because that would mean I understand... The church does do a lot of good, but they seem to be doing the good in 'rameumpton' style... and it just bothers me.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Mormon and I don't live anywhere near Utah, but I'd like to add my thoughts. Explaining the behavior of the homeless is easy: they're going where the money is. My attitude towards the homeless is really bad right now. Where I live, the homeless people are very aggressive. I have been screamed at, followed, and dragged down to the ground by homeless people who wanted money from me. They often occupy their own personal territory, which they guard, and run their panhandling operation like a business. I hate it and it's one of the reasons that I'll soon be moving far away.

On the real estate issue, I was stunned when I read the figure of $3 billion. I've never known a church to put that much money behind a real estate development. In fact, I generally only expect a church to repair its own buildings and construct developments for the common good, like a hospital, nursing home, or shelter for victims of abuse. It's sort of scary for me to realize that the Mormon Church as *that* much money. What's frightening is that it's an example of the golden rule: those with the gold make the rules.

Boris said...

Thank you Jonathan and Scott N.--as the (U.S.) House Republicans love to say in re Planned Parenthood, money is "fungible." Whether or not tithing funds were used directly for the city creek center project is irrelevant--without those tithing funds in Church coffers, it seems to me unlikely the project could have gotten off the ground. In any case, Jonathan makes a great point that no commenter/Mormon apologist has yet addressed directly--what about the homeless? (And, what Jonathan didn't say: what about the politics of exclusion, supported by far too many Mormon ideologues, that has led to to so many people suffering so much for so long?)

Maybe SLC needs some down-to-earth street theater to convey the message, "to hell with city creek center, let's get real about the hundreds (maybe thousands) who are trying to survive on the streets in spite of such widespread indifference from those religious leaders who perhaps ought to be their protectors.

Boris said...

PS: Jonathan asked, "the way the church is choosing to revitalize downtown is to provide another place to buy a new outfit? Should I not be worried about this?" Another good point: apparently, the church would, like so many other present-day political and religious leaders, prefer us to be "happy consumers"--which is to say, we should be mindless of the damage our addiction to consumption causes to so many other people and cultures throughout America and the rest of the world.

So, let's keep the Prophet and his Apostles happy by buying up products from all those companies in which the church has invested its "surplus" (and not just the ones that produce/sell "garments").

Boris said...

PPS to Jen: I can't disagree, but why in the world would the Holy Mormon Church do good things in 'rameumpton' style? Surely, they would know better, wouldn't they? (Unless, of course, they thought most of their tithe-paying members were too faithful or too stupid to know the difference?)

Anonymous said...

I'm an active Mormon, and was a full tithe payer to the tune of over $10K last year (I don't think our ward budget even reaches that level). You'd think a church that tells its members to live within their means would not begin such an endeavor when the real estate market is imploding...and condo market vacancies will mushroom when this thing is completed.

Anonymous said...

So you worked on Sunday and saw lots of homeless people and the construction work being done on the Mormon project. While people are out bad-mouthing the church for its solvency, what have you personally done to help this situation? have you helped the homeless? Given them money, food, your time? have you written Mormon headquarters and asked them to do more humanitarian work amongst its own there in Salt Lake? It's easy to point fingers at everyone, but what about each individual? What did you do to make the situation better for the homeless? Man up and accept responsibility for your own actions and not the actions of others.

Jonathan Adamson said...

@Anonymous- I doubt you will read this, but this is my response. I wasn't planning on making this about me and what I am doing, but fyi, any time I pass by a homeless person, I will give them whatever change I have. I keep it to a dollar or less except for rare occasions. I think the most I've given is $20. But you are right, I could do more. Not monetarily... because I really don't make much money. But I think you are missing the magnitude of what we are witnessing. The church is pouring 1 million dollars A DAY into a mall.

Using the figures reported in the Deseret News, the church donated 0.00000119% of what they are spending on this mall every year for 21 years in cash and goods for the needy. Using that figure, I donated more that 30X the percentage the church donates every year when I bought a young man a dollar menu burger the other week. That is using my donating in relation to my income in comparison to the church's reported donation in comparison to it's mall.

Lets use a more conservative number. For haiti, the church donated a million dollars worth of supplies (supplies are great, but I'm sure cash would have been much more helpful to the government and relief operations). That is .1% of what it is spending on this mall. If you take .1% of my income, then yes, I have done at least as much as the church for the poor this year, and I am not even an organization that claims to feed those that are hungry and house those without a home. I definitely am not building a mall. I am just trying to pay back student loans.

This post wasn't about me and my responsibility and you don't have the right to tell me what my responsibility is. The Church however claims to be a christian organization that helps the needy. If you make that claim, and then ask for my money in tithing and fast offerings, then yeah, I have a right to ask why so much is going to a mall and so little to the homeless.

jen said...

@Anonymous - I know your comment was to Jonathon, and he did a beautiful job replying. I just want to add my thoughts, because I feel really strongly about this.

I hold the church to a higher standard because of who they claim to be. Maybe that isn't fair of me, but... It is what I do.

At church, I was taught to sacrifice, give 'til it hurts, and then give some more. Put the needs of others before my own needs. Serve first. That organization has not done what they taught me to do. Those teachings have effected me deeply. Believing that they were right nearly killed me. I don't mean to be dramatic, but in my desire to give and serve, I felt guilty if I had anything.

So, I have a really hard time watching the church do one thing and preach something entirely different.

Boris said...

@Jonathan and Jen - you both gave great answers to a TBM (the second anonymous) who apparently wanted you as individuals to take responsibility for what the Holy Mormon Church refuses to do: i.e., practice what it preaches. Perhaps what you are really asking for is called "accountability" and "transparency." As a vocal EX-Mormon, it seems to me REALLY STRANGE that so many religious organizations (not just the Mormons, but the Catholics and the Pentecostals and many others) are NOT accountable to their own members from who they collect millions/billions of dollars in (TAX-EXEMPT) tithes and contributions every year. Why can't they give their members an "annual report" on their income and expenditures like publicly-held corporations are required to do? After all, if the Holy Mormon Church refuses to reveal what they do with YOUR contributions, what are they hiding, and WHY? Second anonymous is just deflecting your very legitimate criticisms of the Church and how it uses its wealth by asking YOU the very questions that ALL tithepayers/contributors should be asking their own Bishops, Stake Presidents and General Authorities. If, indeed, as the GA proclaim, "TRUST US, we have nothing to hide," then transparency should be the rule. But, in fact, there is NO transparency in Mormondom.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous - I posted the earlier comment regarding the irony of the church recommending that its members live within their means while building luxury condos downtown. A refreshing change that should occur is greater transparency. A while back, I was looking at the Seventh Day Adventist's website. I don't know much about their church, other than their obvious position on the true Sabbath day. I was surprised to learn that they have more members than the Mormon church (16.3 million), and their website includes not only the number of schools, church buildings, hospitals, aid organizations, etc., but also financial data, including total tithes and offerings. Here's their facts & figures website:

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