I have written a number of posts about how at one time members of the LDS Church were also part of an ethnic group known as Mormons. Mormons were an extended family rather than a high demand/low reward organization that is referred to now as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (not Mormons). I’ve also written about how the church culture has shifted from membership in a family to servants of a Church.

During this same era, the First Presidency moved away from suggesting to members that they look to the church first for assistance. Now, members are encouraged to turn to extended family first, then to the state and last to the church welfare program. In the past, the corporate church was also advocating for universal health care and similar things that no longer have a focus in priesthood manuals. I find that change to be striking in today’s political environment.

Another area of change is the enmeshment of church and state in access to welfare — that dynamic has occurred in a rather unique environment and that has created unusual issues.

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In the past, Mormons taught that one went to the State last in seeking assistance. Currently, the LDS Church teaches that since members have paid federal taxes, they should go to the government first and seek the benefits they have paid for and earned. I can see the sense in that.

However, due to a number of factors, the State of Utah’s first response to anyone seeking assistance is to send them to the LDS Church.

This situation evolved over a number of years. Almost forty years ago, Public-Private partnerships were encouraged. Private entities were contracted to help distribute aid to many communities. Those entities were often associated with a church while being run as a separate charitable entity. At that time, federal law was changed to allow states to funnel money through those church charitable programs. Research had shown that for every dollar spent, those charities gave more than a dollar in welfare benefits.

The next step was a change in laws to allow state governments to take fiscal accounting credit for the full amount that those churches and other charities spent in charitable giving. Once those numbers were recorded at a high enough level, the states were able to divert federal welfare funds to other projects. In Utah that includes money spent by the LDS Church in other states and in other countries.

 The state agency in charge of public assistance in Utah counts a percentage of the welfare provided by the LDS Church toward the state’s own welfare spending according to a memorandum of understanding between the church and the state obtained by ProPublica.

What that means is that over the past decade, the Utah State Legislature has been able to dodge spending at least $75 million on fighting poverty that it otherwise would have to spend under federal law, a review of budget documents shows

https://www.propublica.org/article/utahs-social-safety-net-is-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints-what-does-that-mean-if-youre-not-one (note some quotes are paraphrased for clarity).

The result is that the state of Utah provides a great deal less support to the poor than it otherwise would be required to spend by federal mandate. The amount of aid and the number of people receiving it has dropped from about 60% of those living in poverty to about 10% of those who qualify.

As of 2019, the state was providing direct assistance to about 3,000 families out of nearly 30,000 living in poverty, a precipitous decline from the mid-’90s, when Utah’s program served roughly 60% of these parents and children. Utah denied welfare applications, on average, more than 1,300 times every month last year [2018], including during the pandemic.

Pro Publica

This leads to “leadership roulette affecting non-members just like members. Some leaders are expressive with providing aid, others are extremely constricted. And Pro Publica reports:

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Many bishops are continually generous with aid. But some might feel justified in politely denying assistance to poor people who are not Latter-day Saints — or to LGBTQ people — even in some cases turning away struggling church members who have not been attending services or paying 10% of their income to the church in tithes.

“There’s this term in the church called ‘bishop roulette,’” said David Smurthwaite, a former bishop in Salt Lake City, referring to the differing choices about welfare that get made by each bishop in congregations across the state

Pro Publica

Of course, there is no appeal past a Stake President and the various rules and demands they or the relevant bishop might make. This leads to strange results in and out of Utah, such as the Catholic Diocese of Stone Harbor in New Jersey providing food assistance to members of the local LDS branch who have been deemed, by local LDS leadership, to not be worthy of any LDS Church assistance until the branch is able to fully staff all of the auxiliaries.

The issue is not that the Church is not spending money on the poor, it is that the system that has resulted has multiple points of failure.

Pro Publica points out that the Church is above the baseline, just as the State of Utah has fallen so far below it. To quote:

Experts on charitable giving note that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members arguably do more than any other religious community to help people in poverty. (In Utah, the church has given tens of millions to fight homelessness.)

Pro Publica

The shift is interesting and makes one wonder what is next.

What do you think?