Mormons

The Mormon Church Amassed $100 Billion. It Was the Best-Kept Secret in the Investment World.

For more than half a century, the Mormon Church quietly built one of the world’s largest investment funds. Almost no one outside the church knew about it. Some of that mystery evaporated late last year when a former employee revealed in a whistleblower complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that the fund, called Ensign Peak Advisors, had stockpiled $100 billion. The whistleblower also alleged that the church had improperly used some Ensign Peak funds. Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormon Church, denied those claims. They also declined to comment on how much money their investment fund controls. “We’ve tried to be somewhat anonymous,” Roger Clarke, the head of Ensign Peak, said from the firm’s fourth-floor office, above a Salt Lake City food court. Ensign Peak doesn’t appear in that building’s directory. Interviews with more than a dozen former employees and business partners provide a deeper look inside an organization that ballooned from a shoestring operation in the 1990s into a behemoth rivaling Wall Street’s largest firms. Its assets did total roughly $80 billion to $100 billion as of last year, some of the former employees said. That is at least double the size of Harvard University’s endowment and as large as the size of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the world’s largest tech-investment fund. Its holdings include $40 billion of U.S. stock, timberland in the Florida panhandle and investments in prominent hedge funds such as Bridgewater Associates LP, according to some current and former fund employees. Church officials acknowledged the size of the fund is a tightly held secret, which they said was because Ensign Peak depends on donations—known as tithing—from the church’s 16 million world-wide members. The church is under no legal obligation to publicly report its finances. But the whistleblower report—filed by David Nielsen, a former Ensign Peak portfolio manager—has heaped pressure on the church to be more transparent about its finances, something the church has avoided for decades. The firm doesn’t tell business partners how much money it manages, an unusual practice on Wall Street. Ensign Peak employees sign lifetime confidentiality agreements. Most current employees are no longer told the firm’s total assets under management, according to some of the former employees; few employees understand what the money is intended for. In their first-ever interview about Ensign Peak’s operations, Mr. Clarke and church officials who oversee the firm said it was a rainy-day account to be used in difficult economic times. As the church continues to grow in poorer areas of the world like Africa, where members cannot donate as much, it will need Ensign Peak’s holdings to help fund basic operations, they said. “We don’t know when the next 2008 is going to take place,” said Christopher Waddell, a member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak known as the presiding bishopric. Referring to the economic crash 12 years ago, he added, “If something like that were to happen again, we won’t have to stop missionary work.” During the last financial crisis, they didn’t touch the reserves Ensign Peak had amassed, church officials said. Instead, the church cut the budget. A former employee and the whistleblower in his report said they heard Mr. Clarke refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ as part of the reason for Ensign Peak’s existence. Mormons believe before Jesus returns, there will be a period of war and hardship. Mr. Clarke said the employees must have misunderstood his meaning. “We believe at some point the savior will return. Nobody knows when,” he said. When the second coming happens, “we don’t have any idea whether financial assets will have any value at all,” he added. “The issue is what happens before that, not at the second coming.” Whereas university endowments generally subsidize operating costs with investment income, Ensign Peak does the opposite. Annual donations from the church’s members more than covers the church’s budget. The surplus goes to Ensign Peak. Members of the religion must give 10% of their income each year to remain in good standing. Dean Davies, another member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak, said the church doesn’t publicly share its assets because “these funds are sacred” and “we don’t flaunt them for public review and critique.” Mr. Clarke said he believed church leaders were concerned that public knowledge of the fund’s wealth might discourage tithing. “Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money,” Mr. Clarke said. “So they never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.” Some members are now asking why details about the fund have been tightly held for so long, what the money is for, and whether tithing so much to the church should still be the standard practice.

A fair question..  For more, click on the text above.

Mormons to end long association with Boy Scouts of America

The Mormon church announced Tuesday it will sever a more than century-old tie with the Boy Scouts of America and transfer its remaining 425,000 boys in the program into a gospel-focused youth group it is developing. The church’s announcement follows the Boy Scouts’ unprecedented decision in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders and last year, to allow girls in its ranks – both seemingly at odds with the conservative beliefs of the Mormon church. Last week the BSA announced it will drop the word “Boys” from its name to reflect the inclusion of girls. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints initially said it was “deeply troubled” by the Boy Scouts’ policy change on gays but stayed with the organization after receiving assurances it could appoint troop leaders in accordance with its own religious and moral values. After the official separaration, slated for Dec. 31, 2019, the Mormon church will create its own gospel-based youth program, FOX 13 reported. In a statement the church said its new youth program will “help all girls and boys, young women and young men discover their eternal identity, build character and resilience, develop life skills and fulfill their divine roles as daughters and sons of God.” The Boy Scouts of America in a statement thanked the thousands of Mormons who have served as scout leaders and wished the religion well on its new program. The organization said individual Mormons who wish to stay in Boy Scouts would be integrated into other troops. The church has long been the biggest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United States, constituting around 19 percent of the 2.3 million youth in the organization, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Following the Boy Scouts’ move to allow girls into the organization, nearly 4,000 girls have joined roughly 170 Cub Scout packs participating in the first phase of the new policy, and the pace is expected to intensify this summer under a nationwide multimedia recruitment campaign titled “Scout Me In.” Though the flagship program’s name is changing, the parent organization will remain the Boy Scouts of America, and the Cub Scouts — its program serving children from kindergarten through fifth grade — will keep its title, as well.

What a sad sign of the times..  My older brother and I both were in Boy Scouts, and both of us were elected into the BSA’s “Order of the Arrow” program, back when it really meant something.  What a disappointment this is..

‘Blood Moon’ seen as sign of end times by some Mormons

A rare confluence of a lunar eclipse and a supermoon set to happen this weekend has prompted such widespread fear of an impending apocalypse that the Mormon Church was compelled to issue a statement cautioning the faithful to not get caught up in speculation about a major calamity. Sunday night’s “blood moon” and recent natural disasters and political unrest around the world have led to a rise in sales at emergency preparedness retailers. Apocalyptic statements by a Mormon author have only heightened fears among a small number of Mormon followers about the looming end of time. The eclipse will give the moon a red tint and make it look larger than usual. It won’t happen again for 18 years. It’s unclear how many Latter-day Saints buy the theory, but Mormon leaders were worried enough that they took the rare step this week of issuing a public statement cautioning the faithful not to get carried away with visions of the apocalypse. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told its 15 million worldwide members that they should be “spiritually and physically prepared for life’s ups and downs,” but urged them not to take speculation from individual church members as doctrine and “avoid being caught up in extreme efforts to anticipate catastrophic events.” The Mormons preparing to hunker down Sunday night aren’t alone. Some from other religions also fear a doomsday scenario. A Christian pastor in Texas has written a book predicting a world-shaking event. Storing away enough food and water in case of disaster, job loss or something worse is part of the fundamental teachings of the religion. Many homes in Utah are equipped with special shelving for cans of beans, rice and wheat. The belief that regular history will someday end, bringing a second coming of Jesus, is embedded in the minds of Mormons and the church’s official name. Though most Latter-day Saints probably haven’t even heard of this latest theory tied to the blood moon, the church’s decision to address it publicly is significant and shows leaders felt the need to reassert their authority on the matter, Mormon scholars said. “For it to filter up to that level means and for them to decide to send out a policy letter means that they felt there was something they needed to tamp down on,” said Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. Kevin Allbee, spokesman for Utah-based Emergency Essentials, said his company has seen a steady rise since June with sales up 200 to 300 percent. He attributes it to a variety of events leading to more anxiety, including the earthquake in Nepal, Russian’s intervention in the Ukraine and economic concerns in Greece and China. He said it goes well beyond Mormons in Utah. They do most of their sales online with customers outside the state. The public pronouncement by the church comes after leaders earlier this month sent a memo to teachers in the church’s religious education system for high school and colleges telling them to be wary of Mormon author Julie Rowe’s books. Rowe writes about and speaks to audiences about a near-death experience in 2004 when she says she crossed over into the Spirit World and was shown tragic upcoming world calamities and told she would be expected to tell others in the future. “That time has come,” her website proclaims. It is believed her teachings have fueled some of the speculation. The church memo says that while Rowe is an active member of the religion, her books are not endorsed and should be recommended as a teaching resource. Rowe’s publisher, Spring Creek Book Co. in Idaho, did not return requests for comment. She issued a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, which reported on the rise in apocalyptic worries among some Latter-day Saints. Rowe said she doesn’t intend to make her comments church doctrine, but chose to share her story to help people prepare for the “times we live in by increasing their faith in Christ and by looking to our prophet and church leaders for guidance.”

Very interesting…  I know someone who was raised as a Mormon who I think is reading that book..