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Nov. 20th, 2006 at 6:43 pm
The Church’s general counsel for international matters, Bill Atkin, recently gave a lunch presentation to the international subcommittee of the Utah State Bar. He spoke generally of his career in international law as a partner at Baker & McKenzie and also about some of the work he is called upon to do as counsel for the Church.
At one point in his presentation, Mr. Atkin alluded to issues the Church might be facing as a result of the corporate scandals that have occured in the United States in the last decade and which have resulted in the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation that many see as over-regulating the market. Specifically, Sarbanes-Oxley-type legislation in a number of countries around the world, particularly in Europe, might have implications for the Church on the issue of “transparency.” He did not elaborate on what kinds of problems the Church might be currently facing or might soon face as a result of such a focus on corporate transparency, but it is not hard to imagine what kind of scrutiny the Church might face in countries (ahem, Belgium) without a robust system of protecting religious liberties — including the liberty to be “non-transparent” as a Church about Church “governance.”
The Church is indeed a corporation (a corporation sole, I believe) but does that really mean it should be subjected to transparency legislation as if it were a massive company that needed to be policed in how it is investing its employees’ 401(k) funds? Sure, sure, ex- and anti-Mormons will assure you that the leader of the Church is indistinguishable in his evil from the CEOs of Enron, WorldCom, or any other major scandal-producing U.S. corporation. And although one would hope that most people would take such calumny with a grain of salt, it is all too believable that legislators in some of Europe’s “enlightened” societies will jump on the bandwagon (as they often have in the past, placing the Church, surely to the delight of ex- and anti-Mormons everywhere, on lists of “harmful” or “dangerous” cults). The thought is actually quite alarming, unless of course you happen to be one who relishes the thought of Belgian or French auditors scrutinizing how the Church spends its members’ private donations and passing substantive judgment on the amount that a general authority can take in compensation for his time. This member says it’s none of their bloody business!
“Non-transparency” of the Church’s governance is indeed a huge bugbear of ex- and anti-Mormons but simply doesn’t concern most regular active members. To the contrary, an entirely non-scientific observation drawn entirely from personal experience among regular active members would indicate, at least from my perspective, that the majority of them are extremely pleased with Church governance, particularly of the Church’s finances. Our buildings and temples are built (albeit unostentatiously) and beautifully maintained, and we are aware of our Church’s charitable and humanitarian efforts around the world. The expenditure of investment returns on revitalizing property already owned in downtown Salt Lake City and contributing to the cost of a new downtown core adjacent to the Church’s flagship temple simply is not something that bothers most of the Church’s active members who, dare I venture, like what they see as a “return” on their tithes and offerings.
Perhaps “non-transparency” is a clarion call to ex- and anti-Mormons because, although irrelevant, it can be spun to seem sinister much more easily than other benign aspects of being a Latter-day Saint, like wearing special underwear. In denigrating the latter, the anti-Mormon first has to overcome the hurdle of why he/she cares so much about what kind of underwear the adherents of the religion he/she reviles so much are wearing. That could prove tricky, since an anti-Mormon could fall into the trap of looking petty with criticizing members’ underwear choice. But in criticizing “non-transparency” in corporate governance, the anti-Mormon can appear to act magnanimously in championing the cause of those so blindly and “non-transparently governed”.