I’m up here in the Pacific Northwest for the holidays. Attended a beautiful “sacrament meeting only” Sunday service at the local ward. Some extra instruments, a big choir, some nice arrangements … and I was thinking about one hundred billion dollars. What else could you think about walking into an LDS chapel last week? The closing song was Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Perhaps you’ve never noticed this, but the cadence fits right in with that amount. “Hal-le-lujah. Hun-dred billion. Hun-dred billion. Hun-dred billion. One hundred billion!”
The Church put out another lengthy non-explanation of the hundred billion at the Newsroom last week, “How the Church of Jesus Christ Uses Tithes and Donations.” A more accurate one-sentence explanation would be: We spend some of it on running the Church, we spend a little bit on charitable projects, and we direct a lot of the donations to building up our hundred-billion-dollar financial portfolio, which used to be your money, but now it’s our money. But I’m not going to parse that Newsroom article. Instead, let’s spend another couple of paragraphs exploring the new reality of belonging to a hundred-billion-dollar church. It is just very hard to unthink this financial revelation (you see what I did there?). Once thunk, it seems to show up everywhere.
The local sports team just re-signed an aging former player to boost its roster for the end-of-season run for the playoffs. He will probably make a million or two for playing a couple of games. That used to sound like a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to a billion or two, much less a hundred billion or two. If you want a comfortable retirement or perhaps an extravagant one, don’t teach your kids to play football. Help them start a church or even a religion. There’s a lot more money in religion. A hundred billion.
Last night, we all went out to see the lights at a local mini-megachurch. It was quite a display, colored lights covering their small but impressive campus. The “pavillion” (a small clubhouse) had free cookies and hot chocolate for visitors. The whole side of the church building was a light show. Inside, there was an eight-person live band playing Jesus music. Not quite my idea of a church service, but hey those people were having a good time. No one was bored and checking out their cell phone in that congregation. All this on a budget of probably a few thousand dollars, with volunteers to direct visitors and run the busy parking lot. And my church, the hundred-billion-dollar church, can’t manage more than a potluck dinner where members bring most of the food. Even Temple Square … just white lights, no colors, no light show. A hundred billion dollars, and we can’t even get trumpets in the chapel. These guys have a live band. And a coffee shop inside their church building. And a kids play center about ten times the size of an LDS nursery. You would get a much longer article at the Newsroom if it were titled, “How the Church of Jesus Christ Doesn’t Use Its Tithing and Donations.” Short version: It doesn’t use it on you.
So tell me: did that hundred billion dollars cross your mind in church last week? Is this going to define the way people, both inside and outside the Church, think about it for the next few years? Have we become The Church of Jesus Christ of One Hundred Billion Dollars?