Professor Brent Beal gave the following commentary on the LDS Church’s new City Creek Center:
I’m sure the new City Creek Center is amazing. According to the Deseret News, thousands flocked to the new development this past conference weekend. The church reportedly invested $1.5 billion in the project.
If I’m in Salt Lake, I’ll go see it. I’m sure it will be as grand as advertised. I’ll walk around for a while, mesmerized by the scale and luster of it, and then I’ll remember that the development—everything, including the fountains, the retractable roof, and the $20k Rolexes—is a physical manifestation of my religion, and the dissonance will start to eat away at the shine of it. I wonder how different things would be if we could fuel a bonfire with our collective vanity and let the heat forge it into something else—something else more worthy of our humanity and our spiritual aspirations.
I’m a business professor. I understand the mechanics of the situation. I know the church takes in more than it spends, and therefore has “reserves” it needs to invest. I understand that saving is a kind of thrift. I realize that there is an element of social responsibility in the decision to invest in a way that “revitalizes” the heart of a city.
But when I think of religion—true religion—I think of Doctors Without Borders, VillageReach , or The Small Enterprise Foundation (or hundreds of other similar organizations). I think of the hard work of those dedicated to alleviating the suffering of other human beings. When I see these kinds of efforts, it inspires me. It makes me want to do more. It makes me want to be a better person.
I don’t care where the money came from (and it’s silly to debate whether it was tithing money, or profits from invested tithing money, or profits from businesses started with tithing money, particularly in light of the new fine print on donation slips).
We seem convinced that God blesses the righteous with material wealth (Exhibit A: The“Pride” cycle in the BoM; Righteousness = Material Wealth = Pride, although we don’t worry too much about the last part of the cycle). It seems like we’ve turned things around, though. Somewhere along the way, we decided we needed material wealth so that our neighbors would see that God has blessed us (and then infer that we’re righteous). The church’s presiding bishop, H. David Burton, explained at the recent City Creek opening that it’s vital to create an atmosphere in Salt Lake City that people like and remember. He summed up is argument by stating, “Because Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah, it’s important that it is ‘dressed appropriately.’”
So that’s what this is about? By its own admission, the church allocated a total of $30.7 million in cash to non-Mormon charity work from 1984 to 1997, but investing 50 times that amount ($1.5 BILLION) in a high-end shopping mall is just part of “dressing appropriately”? It occurs to me that the vast majority of the time, energy and wealth members contribute to the church is directed internally—on building and maintaining our own gated community. Now, at least, our gated community has a nice club house. . . and our neighbors will see it, and I’m sure they’ll be impressed, like Bishop H. Burton suggested.
I wonder how far this kind of thinking extends. I suspect that the “need” to “dress appropriately” has something to do with this, and this, and this (and literally, with this)–and other trends in Utah that aren’t flattering.
This may have been a good business decision, at least in some respects (more on that next week), but that’s the problem. . . Good businesses decisions aren’t something religions should be proud of. I can’t help but think of this old Monty Python skit (or on a more serious note, this book).
On second thought, even if I’m in Salt Lake, I may not go (although I’ll be tempted to). If I have time to waste at City Creek Center, I have time to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. . . and I’ll feel better afterwards.
Someone created a t-shirt making this point, $5 from the purchase of which goes towards “Doctors Without Borders”.