Tom Phillips, an ex-Mormon from Britain who became disillusioned with the church a decade ago, is now filing a lawsuit against Church President Thomas S. Monson for fraud, claiming that Mormon church leaders have been deliberately teaching false doctrine in order to swindle people out of their money. Here’s the story on USA Today:
I’m not here to convince anybody to go out and become a Mormon today, but as an active member (who still voluntarily gives 10% of my income as tithes), and having served as a missionary and in local church leadership positions, I’d like to make a few observations:
- Any contribution given to the Church is voluntary. Phillips stated that paying tithing is “mandatory” in order to remain in good standing – which is true. But let’s talk about that phrase, “good standing.” Falling out of “good standing” does not mean your local bishop is going to take you out back of the shed and box your ears. Being in “good standing” means you are considered worthy to serve in church positions of high responsibility, it means you can be trusted to help serve other members of your congregation, and it is one of the qualifiers for entrance to the temple.Nearly every church position is voluntary. This means that Phillips, who was formerly a bishop, a stake president, and an area executive secretary, was not paid for his service in these positions.The temple is the highest form of worship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temples are different from regular churches, which have “Visitors Welcome” printed on the front of the building, and probably won’t turn away anybody unless they walk into the foyer in a Speedo, holding a blow-torch and screaming obscenities at small children.
Refusal to pay tithes will not result in a church member’s expulsion from either the church building or from membership. In fact, being baptized and entered into church membership only requires a pledge to pay tithing in the future, not an actual history of financial contribution.
In other words, by ceasing to pay tithes and losing his “good standing” in the church, Phillips lost his unpaid responsibilities in community service, and the opportunity the worship in one specific location, reserved for those living a high spiritual lifestyle.
- The law cannot prosecute you for believing something you can’t prove – which means that in order to prove the Mormon church was defrauding its members, Phillips would have to prove that church leaders were deliberately distorting the truth in order to secure money. He would have to prove that the church leaders themselves did not believe the message for which they’ve been teaching, living, and working tirelessly for most of their lives.
- Let’s talk a little bit about church in general. The Mormon church asks tithes of its members. As far as I’m aware, so does the Anglican church. And the Catholic church. Most Protestant churches. Islam. Judaism. Church of Scientology. So why is Phillips so hung up about this church specifically? Let’s be fair here, and sue every religion equally.While we’re at it, let’s take a look at how Mormon tithes are used. Most church positions aren’t paid, so where does all the money go to? Building churches. Building temples. Funding youth programs, addiction recovery programs, employment programs, education funds, and other charitable causes. Other contributions are often used to help provide food for needy families, and to finance humanitarian efforts. I lived in New Jersey as a missionary when Hurricane Irene hit my neighborhood. Within days, there were truckloads of cleaning supplies and thousands of unpaid volunteers helping people gut their rotten basements and assess the damage for their insurance companies. All paid for by the church.
- So it looks like Phillips’s main issue here is that he’s concerned about people being convinced to spend their money somewhere they ultimately don’t want to spend it.Now let’s talk about the Superbowl. It costs $4 million to advertise during the Superbowl. And why are companies willing to spend that much? Because they’ll make well more than $4 million dollars from that advertisement. And what kind of things are usually advertised during the Superbowl? Community service? Humanitarian aid? Oh, stop. You’re making me laugh. Everybody knows the Superbowl is about beer, Coca-Cola, beer, Dorito’s, beer, scantily clad cheerleaders, beer, heart-clogging fast food, lager, and more beer.So if Phillips is really concerned about people being convinced to spend their money foolishly, why is he attacking a charitable association instead of an unhealthy tidal wave of adverts sacrificing hapless victims to the rising obesity epidemic?
But I digress. This post isn’t about the Superbowl, or about fast food. It’s about faith. Either Phillips is suing a charitable organization for accepting his donation, or else he feels the Mormon church has lied about doctrine in order to extort him out of his money on the premise of providing salvation.
Which leads me to faith. Faith is the assumption that God knows more about the universe than you do. Which means that a belief based on faith is one that you can neither prove nor disprove on scientific ground: God is better at science than we are. So, as an American, I’m not sure what the British court system is like – but I wouldn’t be surprised if this case is thrown out entirely. Unless there are documents that prove the leaders of the church deliberately misled church members, Phillips won’t have a leg to stand on. Worst case scenario: the church is required to provide documentation of all its humanitarian spending, the news gets a good story, and the public learns a little more about what Mormons believe. I’m alright with that. ♦