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Shopping centers and skyscrapers don’t serve God

While Florida is most associated with Walt Disney World, a different part of the state, known as the Deseret Ranches, is nearly ten times bigger. The ranch occupies 290,000 acres of land — more than nine times the size of San Francisco and almost 20 times the size of Manhattan Island. It is the largest private ranch in the country, owned and operated by the Mormon Church.

The Church is currently working on ambitious, extensive plans to transform much of this land into an entirely new city, to house as many as 500,000 people by the year 2080.

I have personally known Mormons to be incredibly friendly and focused on community, so this story instantly fascinated me. Will this city be a sort of utopian experiment? Will it resemble the group of Christ-followers in the book of Acts, all living in kinship and helping one another?

No, it won’t. This city will have nothing to do with the religion itself, and will contain office blocks, high-rise hotels, apartment buildings, a university, schools and hospitals, along with new motorways and rail lines — all for profit.

Eric Jacobsen, general manager of Deseret Ranches, said turning portions of the ranch into residential and commercial developments is simply a practical business decision.

Why do Mormons want to create a massive city open to all people when preaching Mormonism to them isn’t listed as a goal? To make a profit, presumably, but why? The Church isn’t supposed to be a business.

Maybe you say they’re just trying to invest their money, which makes sense considering it’s not the first time the Mormon Church has invested in secular businesses. Across the country, affiliates of the Church control 1 million acres of land. Real estate ventures include a massive apartment complex in Texas estimated to be worth tens of millions, a Salt Lake City skyscraper where Goldman Sachs is a tenant and the $1.5 billion City Creek shopping center.

I don’t present all this information in an attempt to rain on the Mormon Church’s parade. Again, I have met many Mormons and consider them to be good friends and genuine people. All that being said, I have to wonder why the Church is using such exorbitant amounts of money on projects unrelated to their faith, especially when the congregations’ donations are involved.

The Church claims such projects don’t come from tithing, but these claims have never been verified, and the Church ceased releasing financial information to its own members years ago.

I wonder why tithed funds are being used — directly or indirectly — to finance endeavors that don’t spread Mormon beliefs, which is why people tithe in the first place. Why was the money not used to build more churches, train missionaries, lower financial burdens for missionary families or increase humanitarian aid?

In an increasingly secular culture, I understand the draw of such endeavors. Churches may think it would be beneficial in the long run to fund non-religious enterprises in hopes they would attract others to a Sunday-morning service. While this may work occasionally, shopping centers and skyscrapers are not the way to go about it.

Christians should engage with the secular world, but they should also fill needs through service rather than feed a consumerist mindset. Creating after-school tutoring programs for elementary students, developing agriculture in poor areas or running centers for recovering addicts are all worthwhile enterprises off the top of my head. None of those are inherently religious, but the act of genuine service is a hallmark of Christ-like living.

I encourage churches to avoid using their resources on earthly pleasures, instead storing up their treasures in heaven. After all, a literacy program is far more likely to lead to a conversation about faith than a shopping center is.

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