Opinion on the appropriateness of an expense

Discuss questions around local unit policies for budgeting, reconciling, etc. This forum should not contain specific financial or membership information.
daveywest
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Opinion on the appropriateness of an expense

Postby daveywest » Thu Oct 13, 2011 11:08 am

First, some background: 18 years ago, a group formed in my city to protest a newly opened pornography store. Because of the social and moral implications, the church encouraged members to participate. The picket lines were manned 24 hours a day for over two years until the store closed.

The protest group still exists in some form and conducts a yearly anti-pornography awareness campaign. Other then the common values, the group is not controlled or directed by church leadership.

The group has depleted their checking account and has asked the church to provide funds for their operation. The Stake President has requested I cut them a check.

I can't find anything governing this type of payment in the handbook, but I have an uncomfortable gut feeling with how this is being handled. Am I wrong to believe it is inappropriate for the church to directly fund a socially active lobbying group, or should I feel comfort knowing the Stake President has authorized and approved the expense?
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russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Thu Oct 13, 2011 11:27 am

Section 21.2j, Policies on Using Church Buildings and Other Property (and personally I'd consider money a property) says "Church buildings and other property are to be used for worship, religious instruction, and other Church-related activities. Church property should not be used for commercial or political purposes, which would violate laws that permit its tax exemption. Nor may property be used for other purposes that would violate these laws."

So I think your concern is well-founded. However, I'm not sure as to how you would take that up short of talking to the Stake President about your concerns.

Maybe someone else has a answer about who you would approach.
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dannykos
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Postby dannykos » Thu Oct 13, 2011 2:05 pm

RussellHltn wrote:Section 21.2j, Policies on Using Church Buildings and Other Property (and personally I'd consider money a property) says "Church buildings and other property are to be used for worship, religious instruction, and other Church-related activities. Church property should not be used for commercial or political purposes, which would violate laws that permit its tax exemption. Nor may property be used for other purposes that would violate these laws."


While I do think that the payment request is a little odd - I don't actually think the handbook section quoted relates to money at all. To me it's purely relating to buildings and other land owned by the church, nothing more.

Anyhow - if you have any concerns, just open the conversation by asking exactly how he would like the payment recorded on MLS, and that should open up a discussion whereby you can air your views.

Ultimately - he is responsible for the discharge of the funds.

robartsd
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Postby robartsd » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:35 pm

My interpretation of the handbook section would be that first it must be determined how such an expense would be seen by the IRS regarding tax exempt status. I think it would be much better for the stake president to raise awareness of this group's need and allow members to decide to help it on their own.

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:38 pm

dannykos wrote:While I do think that the payment request is a little odd - I don't actually think the handbook section quoted relates to money at all. To me it's purely relating to buildings and other land owned by the church, nothing more.


While we can debate if funds is "property", I think the part "should not be used for commercial or political purposes, which would violate laws that permit its tax exemption." is still valid. What I'm saying is that there's likely legal issues involved. I would suggest calling unit support and talking with them. They should be able to advise you on how to handle it.
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jdlessley
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Postby jdlessley » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:54 pm

Handbook 2, 21.1.29, discusses political and civic activity. Note what it says in paragraph one:
As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice. Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.
Members are encouraged as individuals and citizens, not Church units.

Note what paragraph three says about the Church's position:
While affirming the right of expression on political and social issues, the Church is neutral regarding political parties, political platforms, and candidates for political office.
Using Church money to fund a political organization is not a neutral act. It could land the Church in serious trouble in regards to its tax-exempt status. Note what is stated in 21.1.41about jeopardizing the Church's tax-exempt status.

Latter in paragraph three it states:
Only the First Presidency can speak for the Church or commit the Church to support or oppose specific legislation or to seek to intervene in judicial matters. Otherwise, stake presidents and other local leaders should not organize members to participate in political matters or attempt to influence how they participate.
The stake president has no authority to speak or act on behalf of the Church. This includes funding local political groups using Church funds.

In paragraph four it states:
Church leaders and members should also avoid statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of any political party, platform, policy, or candidate.
Funding a political organization is definitely endorsing a policy.

I haven't even begun to discuss the purposes for which the budget and fast offering funds are to be used and I am certain funding local political organizations is not one of them. Since I do not have Handbook 1 in front of me I cannot cite the references.

The stake president should seek additional guidance from his area authorities. I am certain he will be told such action is against Church policy.
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gregwanderson
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Postby gregwanderson » Fri Oct 14, 2011 7:57 am

Let’s take it down a notch, folks. From the description of this anti-porn group, they aren’t doing anything political these days (although it’s not clear what they did in the past). If they’re merely doing anti-porn awareness seminars now then that’s something which the church often endorses or officially sponsors around here (northern Utah). I think we fall into a trap when we accept the popular wisdom that almost every moral issue should be addressed as a political issue with a political solution. After all, everyone knew what “marriage” was before the government took charge of the institution. Now the definition is supposedly unclear and religious groups are blindsided by the need to become active in political campaigns.

That said, if there is a specific, political issue or “lobbying” of specific politicians, then the church can’t become involved without specific guidance from headquarters. But if a local group in Nevada wants to do an anti-porn seminar of some sort, I don’t see how that is automatically labeled here as a political activity.

The clerk is right to question how the stake’s funding should become involved. I would think the Stake President could make one phone call to an Area Authority Seventy and clear this up very quickly. While I don’t accept the notion that this is a political group, I do get the impression from the original post that the group would be dissolved without the church’s money. And, yes, something about that doesn’t sit well with me.

EDIT:

I found a little more background on this. I won't include the links but you can search for "Help Our Moral Environment Mesquite" and you'll find things (including a couple of items in the Deseret News archives). It turns out that in 1993 the "HOME" group started to protest that specific store and Latter-day Saints from the surrounding area (including Utah) got involved. One article says that they had a sign-up sheet at a Utah ward and a member said, "Our ward is responsible for eight hours [to be at the protest] today." Apparently, the Area Presidency at the time encouraged members to "Let our voices be heard in the communities where we reside" but didn't say anything about protests.

So I guess it makes sense that the Stake President still sees this as a group that the church endorses or supports.

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aebrown
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Postby aebrown » Fri Oct 14, 2011 1:08 pm

We should all be careful about getting into a policy discussion, which is prohibited on these forums by the Code of Conduct. Providing references to relevant Handbook sections or other documents is helpful -- the person posing the question can then use those in discussions with his priesthood leaders. But we should not be making specific interpretations of those policies -- that is reserved for those with the specific keys and authority for the units involved in this matter.
Questions that can benefit the larger community should be asked in a public forum, not a private message.


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