This week, a summons was issued in England for Thomas S Monson, President of the LDS Church on allegations of fraud.
Now, before you read, realize that I'm just an arm chair speculator, and probably don't know much about what I'm talking about. That said, I like thinking threw these things and consider the implications fascinating.
A little backstory:
It was two years ago at the exmormon conference, where I was pulled aside. A couple people had this crazy idea about suing the church, under charges of fraud.
You might think, why would anyone sue a religion, with essentially
unprovable claims? The difference between the LDS church and other
churches is that you aren't required to pay tithing in any other church
for eternal blessings. Second, other churches often have open
finances. However, in the LDS religion, you need to pay tithing in order to both go to the temple and the Celestial Kingdom. If you then collect this money
Most countries have laws to prevent fraud. There's probably more than just fraud that the LDS Church can be sued for -- they involve themselves in politics when Churches aren't supposed to, without losing tax-exempt status. (Link for one example of recent politicking against gay marriage, and link for politicking for liquor law changes that may cause more harm than good.) Something interesting that may have an impact on future lawsuits against the Church, is that the Church has to disclose its finances in the UK.. what if those finances don't line up with how a church is supposed to be? The LDS Church is the largest private landowner in Florida, WITH TAX-EXEMPT status because it's a church!
Anyways, the case has been a couple years in the making. Although the Deseret News quoted lawyers in how bizarre the case was, and how it would be thrown out of court, the case only started after careful inspection by various lawyers about whether there was even a case. Originally, Phillips intended on everything occurring in October 2013, so the case had been called the "October surprise", although few knew what it was actually about. I personally believe that the Church caught wind of what was going on, and tried to stop it back then, as rumors about it had occurred for months. That's why it's occurring in February -- Tom Phillips had to sure up his case, and convince the UK government that the case was useful and necessary.
The momentous announcement about a summons to Monson occurred with no press release, but a simple image posted to the Mormonthink website. The LDS church denied that a summons had arrived by then, as it likely had not. The rumor is that David Twede's blog had been hacked, so that Mormonthink released the story early out of fear that others would break it first. Looking back on it, I don't know whether even if it was hacked, that was a wise idea to do, as I doubt the writer as USAToday, who was likely a believing Mormon based on this piece, was the best person to "break" the story. The change in the media received probably would have been little to no different, if they didn't post the summons to their blog first. (Forgive me if I have these details wrong.. rumors are funny things and can likely be wrong.)
Is there a case?
Yes. Realize, that it isn't Tom that's suing, but two other individuals, who lost ~$30 million to tithing, over the last decade. Since the Church presented the Book of Abraham, and the other 6 points, as act but not mere belief, Philips plenty to stand on. As it stands, the Church has books and books, and talks and talks, advising members of the historicity of many disprovable teachings.
Regardless of the initial downplaying by articles, like in the Deseret News, the Deseret News still published information about if the case went to court. In my mind, here's the possibilities:
1) Tom Phillips drops the case, possibly by settling out of court.
According to rumor, the Church has already tried to settle out of court. The case is still proceeding. I highly doubt that Tom Phillips would settle, as this is not about money, but about morality.
2) The Church gets the case dismissed.
Considering that the case has already been delayed, I believe multiple times, this seems highly unlikely. The Church likely has been fighting against this well before the larger public knew about it. They probably didn't know the exact details, but enough to find out. The LDS Church wants its members to spy on others, which often has negative consequences, so I imagine the information was passed along after being rumored about on various forums.
3) The Church wins.
In the scenario that the Church wins, the bad press for the Church has already occurred. The longer the case goes on, the more bad press for the church occurs. I mean, it isn't good press that a religion is being sued for fraud.
I consider it highly unlikely that Monson shows up in the UK. One, it's a slight gamble since these are criminal charges that he'd be unable to leave, if the church were to lose (unless he can get diplomatic immunity by being an important person in the US?).
One important factor in winning the case could be that he, himself, not lawyers, has to strongly testify that the teachings of the Church are correct. That's part of what the case revolves around -- that Monson and others believe things other than what the church teaches. It's partially apparent that they believe differently, as the recent additions to lds.org show.
Additionally, the proceedings of the case are likely to be publicized. I suppose the Church could attempt for details of the case to not leave the court room, but that seems unlikely, as I can't see any good grounds for it not to (but then again, I'm not a lawyer). That means, that all of those controversial aspects of the church, all the teachings they've claimed as fact, could be publicized in international news. No one cares about why the church isn't true, because only 99.95% of the population doesn't think it is. However, the longer the case goes on, the more likely more stories cover ongoing details about it, and the more likely people learn about more nuanced church topics.
Discovery orders will be issued, so that the Church has to open more of its finances. The likely result is that the Church doesn't. It will hide a lot of information. This is the smoking gun in the case, imo, because they don't bring information to the case, they will lose credibility in the eyes of the law in the case. If they aren't fraudulent, then why wouldn't they present the information requested? I don't see the Church as presenting its internal workings, as they have a lot of fingers in a lot of funny pots. (Rumor has it that the Church Office building security has tightened up dramatically over the past couple months, so that no one can leave with certain documents.)
Another interesting dynamic to consider, is who will they throw under the bus? There are very few people who know the entire inner workings of Church finance. There's the First Presidency, the Chief Financial Officers, and the Presiding Bishopric. Will the First Presidency throw the CFO's under the bus, making them testify? What about throwing Apostles or Seventies under the bus? Image is everything, in the Church, so what lengths will they do to protect their image?
Even if the Church wins, the UK government is giving a portion of their taxes to the LDS Church, which will likely be brought out in trial, and end that portion of the Church's income.
I don't believe the Church can win, even if it wins the case... (see what I did there?)
4) Tom Phillips wins.
Now the case where Tom Phillips wins is interesting. What would happen then?
Well, for one, it requires proof that the LDS Church knowingly misrepresents its teachings, which is pretty easy to prove. Here's on example, the Church changed its teaching on tithing and misquotes an LDS prophet in modern manuals (compare this from year 1899, on page 28, note the statements on tithing versus modern teachings).
First off, it then gives Phillips more credibility. At the moment, Mormons are baffled by the case, and consider Phillips a angry, exmormon, crackpot, as pointed out by numerous Facebook threads.
1) A warrant is issued for Monson's arrest, which then proceeds to either an extradition order to get him from the US or they'll simply wait for if he shows up in the UK. Obviously, this is speculation on my part, but I highly doubt the US would follow through with an extradition order. That would be weird, considering US Senators who are LDS would probably fight tooth and nail against that. However, it means that Tommy boy wouldn't be able to show up in the UK, unless he wanted to risk arrest. (I'm curious -- once Tom Monson dies, will the summons then pass to the next in line? That might require a new suit..)
2) The Church is fined. This seems to be the most likely result -- $30 million awarded to Philips and company. The Church has to play nice, unless it wants its property in the UK to be confiscated. The result of the trial is worse than paying out a measly $30 million, as that likely has a much higher impact on membership in the UK and worldwide.
Now, perhaps the most interesting result of this case, if Phillips wins, is that it then becomes incredibly easy for others to sue the LDS Church in the UK, by using this case as a precedent. This all will have the result of reduced membership in the UK, because families will tell each other of how other people are suing the Church and winning, leading more members to question.
In my mind, the likely result of the case is that Phillips wins, because the Church is too terrified to put in any real effort to defend itself (they've already stated Monson won't show at trial... isn't that an admission of guilt?). The next step is that the same suit then is repeated in both the UK and other European countries. Perhaps, eventually, it moves onto lawsuits in the US.
I leave with this:
Why wouldn't Monson show up at the trial? I mean, it's in the Articles of Faith of the church that he should. Why wouldn't he copy Paul before King Agrippa, if he's supposed to be a prophet for our times? He should stand before them, and testify of the truth of the things that the Church has taught for two centuries. If those things aren't true and historical fact, then why did we need a prophet again, especially if they are going to be repeatedly wrong?
We believe in being asubject to bkings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in cobeying, honoring, and sustaining the dlaw.