Insight: U.S. donors like Romney made Mormon church wealthy
If the Mormon church were a business, wealthy adherents like Mitt Romney would count as its dominant revenue stream.
Its investment strategy would be viewed as risk-averse.
It would also likely attract corporate gadflies protesting a lack of transparency. They would call for less spending on real estate and more on charitable causes to improve membership growth – the Mormons’ return on investment.
Those are a few of the conclusions that can be drawn from an analysis of the church’s finances by Reuters and University of Tampa sociologist Ryan Cragun.
Relying heavily on church records in countries that require far more disclosure than the United States, Cragun and Reuters estimate that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings in some $7 billion annually in tithes and other donations.
It owns about $35 billion worth of temples and meeting houses around the world, and controls farms, ranches, shopping malls and other commercial ventures worth many billions more.
The church claims 14 million members around the world, more than half outside the United States. All are supposed to tithe, or give 10 percent, of their income, which Mormons frequently interpret as pre-tax earnings. But only about 40 percent of Mormons counted by the church actually attend weekly services in the United States and Canada, and in many countries, including Mexico and Brazil, only a quarter of nominal members are active, according to Cumorah, an independent research group headed by a devoted, active Mormon.
These active members are most likely to tithe, and the result is that from a financial standpoint at least, the church remains largely a venture of active American members, says Cragun, who adds that U.S. Mormon men tend to be wealthier than the average U.S. male.