When a person who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asks Bishop Gérald Caussé to describe his responsibilities as Presiding Bishop, he says “it is not an easy task.”
“It would be convenient to simply reply that my counselors and I constitute the executive directors of a worldwide organization,” he said during the plenary keynote address of the Church History Symposium held on March 2. “It is true that our daily routine is made up of activities similar to those of the executive boards of international firms. We define strategies, develop and administer budgets for operations and investments, manage several thousand employees, help grow the Church’s financial and real estate assets, and develop and operate distribution, information and communication systems.”
Although the list of responsibilities is long, Bishop Caussé said that “none of these explanations can adequately describe” his responsibilities.
“During the past few years I have become more and more aware of the uniqueness of the Church, its manner of functioning and its organization,” he said. “It is anything but a human organization. It is based on spiritual principles that grew out of several events from Church history and revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
These principles have become the founding guidelines in today’s administration of the Church’s financial resources, Bishop Caussé said.
“Some people occasionally describe today’s Church as a powerful and prosperous institution,” he said. “This may be true, but the strength of the Church cannot be measured merely by the number or the beauty of its buildings or by its financial and real estate holdings.”
Speaking in the Conference Center’s Little Theater, the Church leader shared insights into the processes and finances of the Church. This year’s conference topic, “Financing Faith: the Intersection of Business and Religion,” brought scholars and historians together for the two-day event.
“A distinctive point of doctrine taught by the Church is that harmony between the spiritual and the temporal is an important condition for the happiness of mankind,” he said.
Bishop Caussé recognized that in the Christian world, some believe that the temporal part of life is a hindrance to the spiritual.
“Those with this view feel that we should keep our lives free from the contamination of physical elements, which they see as fundamentally evil,” he said.Modern revelation teaches that the purpose of life is not to rid oneself of physical elements, but instead to “bring them in harmony with and in the service of our spiritual purposes.”
Six years ago while on his first visit to the historic sites in Kirtland, Ohio, Bishop Caussé received an impression about the Church’s finances, in which he noted the dramatic contrast between the poverty of Kirtland and the relative prosperity of the Church today. “The Lord has blessed His Church and the Latter-day Saints in a remarkable fashion.”Recognizing that the “abundance of temporal blessings” the Church is experiencing today has been “built upon the painful physical and financial trials that punctuated the first decades of Church growth,” Bishop Caussé spoke of how each of those experiences is meant to be used as learning opportunities.
“[The Lord] taught them the guiding principles, spiritual and temporal, that would allow them to become a strong and a self-reliant people, endowed with the temporal capacities and resources necessary to accomplish the Lord’s work in this last dispensation.”
Those same principles are important in accomplishing the Lord’s work today, Bishop Caussé said. He then shared four “founding guidelines” used in today’s administration of the Church’s financial resources.
First principle: The Law of Tithing
“Today, the law of tithing continues to be an essential practice of Latter-day Saints, regardless of where they live, their social standing, or their material circumstances. It is also the foundation of the financial stability of the Church,” he said.
Bishop Caussé said that since his call to the Presiding Bishopric, he has “never ceased to be amazed at the faith and loyalty of Church members as they live this law.”
Without tithing, the Church leader said, “the Church would be incapable of accomplishing its divine mission.”
Every year on the first Friday in December, the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric meet together “to examine and approve the allocation of the Church’s sacred funds from tithes and offerings for the following year,” he said. “Holding such a council ensures that decisions are made in a spirit of counseling together, revelation and unanimity.”
Leaders feel a great responsibility to use the funds in a way that is appropriate and pleasing to the Lord.
“We are not a financial institution. We are not a commercial corporation,” he said. “We are the Church of Jesus Christ, and this Church has no other objective than that which the Lord Himself assigned to it; namely, to invite all to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him,’ by ‘helping members to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.’
“By policy, sacred tithing funds are approved and appropriated to support the spiritual and religious mission of the Church. I am grateful for the law of tithing. It is the source of blessings, both spiritual and temporal, for the Church and for each of its members.”
Second principle: Self-reliance and independence
“Personal agency is one of the greatest gifts of God. It is crucial for our earthly progress and our eternal salvation,” Bishop Caussé said. “By becoming self-reliant temporally and spiritually, God’s children progress in their ability to make choices independently and thus fulfill the measure of their creation.”
Emphasizing the importance of work, self-reliance and independence, Bishop Caussé reminded listeners of the plea of many prophets to make self-reliance a personal goal.
“Just as wise budgeting at home enables individual members and families to maintain independence, prudent financial management is key to the Church’s ability to act independently,” he said.
Bishop Caussé reported that the Church has acquired complete financial independence and is able to accomplish its mission without any type of debt.
The policies of financial management have been determined by Church leaders and are carefully applied in building the budget and allocating expenditures, he said. The decision makers follow two clear and simple principles — first, that the total expenditures will not exceed forecasted revenue and, second, the budget for operating expenses will not increase year to year at a more rapid rate than the anticipated growth in tithing contributions.
Principle three: Provident living
Church leaders have frequently counseled members to practice provident living by establishing a home food storage. At a general level, the leader said, the Church “methodically follows the practice of setting aside a portion of its revenues each year to prepare for any possible future needs.”
“The moneys set aside are then added to the investment funds of the Church,” Bishop Caussé said. “They are invested in stocks and bonds; majority interests in taxable businesses, some of which date to the Church’s early Utah history; commercial, industrial, and residential property; and agricultural interests. These invested funds can be accessed in times of hardship to ensure the ongoing, uninterrupted work of the Church’s mission, programs and operations, and to meet emergency financial needs.”
The leader said the funds can also be used to provide additional financial resources as needed to support Church growth as prophecy is fulfilled that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be taught and the Church established throughout the world.
“The Church’s investments are managed by a professional group of employees and outside advisors,” he said. “Risks are diversified, consistent with wise and prudent stewardship and modern investment management principles.”
Bishop Caussé compared the Church’s assets to those in the parable of the talents. Not wanting to be like the “wicked and slothful servant” who did not invest the money for a reasonable financial return.
“Consistent with this spiritual principle, the Church’s financial reserves are not left idle in nonproductive bank accounts but are instead employed where they can produce a return.”
Fourth principle: In the Lord’s own way
Fulfilling the call to do things “in the Lord’s own way” means applying the principles and actions that access the power of God.
“As a bishopric, we counsel together to study issues, making use of our personal backgrounds, experiences and areas of expertise,” he said. “But ultimately our decisions are made in the spirit of prayer and the constant seeking of revelation as to the Lord’s will.”
Recognizing that they consider the macro-economic indicators and financial analyses available, the bishopric’s ultimate goal is to fulfill their responsibilities in the Lord’s way.
“This goal can only be achieved and implemented through inspiration and the power of His priesthood,” he said. “Given the directive to do things in the Lord’s own way, this calling fills me with humility each and every day.”
In conclusion, Bishop Caussé said that the real wealth of the Church is found in the faith of its people.
“In other words, the Church is all about people. It is all about individual members who are bound together by common beliefs and covenants. They are its strength and its future.”