When I watched Bishop Waddell on 60 Minutes this weekend (and you can watch the entire piece regarding church finances HERE is you haven’t already), it left an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t perfectly place why at first, but then I remembered another man I’d been briefly exposed to only a few days earlier. Let me tell you about him first, then I’ll come back to Bishop Waddell and church finances.
Below is a social media post from the past week that went semi-viral (at least in my online circles) of a man who calls himself “The Muscle” standing next to two young LDS missionaries and telling his readers how much he admired them and talking about “the religion” they’re teaching and “their God”. His words (especially his swear words) made it sound like he wasn’t personally a member of their church, but a quick scroll down on his page reveals he is LDS as well, and just baptized his own daughter a week earlier. That’s fine. The post just made me jump to the conclusion that he was an outsider looking in, impressed with the missionaries.
I scrolled through his social media for a few minutes, which was long enough to decide that while he might be a perfectly nice man, he was definitely not someone I would personally choose to follow online. He owns a very expensive home, loves very flashy toys and accessories, adores his very beautiful wife (who looks like a model in every single video and made me think – do they literally have a hair and makeup team on standby at all times?!) and his daughters, and is very focused on personal wealth acquisition and teaching others how to be wealthy too. I have no idea who this man is. I am clearly not his target audience. All of my assumptions about him are based on recent posts within the last six months or so. If you know him in real life and he’s the coolest guy you’ve ever met, I’m very glad to hear that. I’m only responding to his public persona online.
Another post showed him shirtless while talking about getting into the best shape of his life six months from now, where he casually dropped how many followers he has (“I promise all 1.4 million of you” – as if 1.4 million people will actually read that specific post). He also frequently talks about goals he has to make other people millionaires, making it clear he believes he is a very important person to know with extremely valuable resources if people want to also be filthy rich, just like him.
I didn’t love how he constantly talked about how hard he had worked and how *he* had created all of his wealth and his fantastic lifestyle. I don’t doubt he did work very hard, but many other people also work very hard and yet never own a landing pad for a personal helicopter outside their living room. He worked hard AND he was lucky. He also worked very hard in a direction that would specifically give him payback in the form of financial gain that he can then loudly show off, which again, is fine for him. That’s just not my personal jam to follow.
He also had random videos where he preaches values (like, “infidelity is ruining relationships!”), that made me think, “Sure, okay. Is that the most original thing you can think of? What makes you a moral authority that I should listen to you? You aren’t striking me as much of a saint with all of your “bullshit”s and “dammit”s.
He advertised an event in his home that you could purchase tickets to, where you could “in person get to see, feel, touch big time players that are gonna tell you secrets in life that helped them become successful”.
The thing is, all of those people advertised in the video all looked exactly like him. They were big, beefy male bodybuilders that I actually don’t think would offer me much personally. For other people (maybe men who want to be large and beefy and fly helicopters for fun?), sure. But their lifestyle didn’t appeal to me much.
Another video showed him taking his personal helicopter to go look for a missing boy, and said, “the same people who are pissed that I have a helicopter that I land at my home… are the first people to message me when a young teenage boy goes missing, asking for help…” (I mean really, couldn’t a neighbor be annoyed that you’re constantly landing a noisy flying machine in the backyard next to them, blowing dust and sticks into their yard, AND still want to ask you to at least use it for something good when the opportunity arises?) Mostly though, I just felt like this post was a little braggy, saying “look at what a charitable person I am – you can’t be mad that I have so much wealth if you even once ask me for help for anything”.
The Muscle moved into a huge, beautiful house on the mountainside last fall, and gave a very grand tour of it for his Youtube channel. It’s a fabulous house. It’s also extremely excessive for what his family needs for daily living, and he paid a professional camera crew to come film it to show off to everyone. On the one hand, yes, obviously he would do this – he’s a social media influencer and that’s how he makes his living. On the other hand, I felt literally exasperated at this point from his bragging about how much money he has.
Lastly from my tour through his social media, The Muscle currently has a video on his Facebook stories talking about how much he loves God and Jesus, while slowly walking up the stairs of his very expensive home to show a sitting area in front of a large image of the Savior. Yet talking about how much you love Jesus, the man who spoke very strongly *against* amassing wealth and neglecting the poor, by showing off expensive images of him in your very expensive house just feels…off. If Jesus was here, would he really think it was so awesome to see all of this? Or would he say, “Hey The Muscle, you’ve totally misunderstood my message. Don’t spend $3,000 on this setup in your house to remind yourself of me. Just engrave me onto your heart and give that $3,000 to a single mom who can’t afford groceries.”
Why does this all turn me off so much? And why does this remind me of Bishop Waddell on 60 Minutes Sunday night? Why does it make me think of the church and its massive amounts of wealth?
Immediately I began to realize there were other similarities between my (mild) distaste for The Muscle and my (above mild) discomfort with Bishop Waddell (who was representing all of church leadership to me). Not all of them are even bad things – like the fact that I am a woman and they are men makes me connect less to them both in general. However, the following things specifically bothered me about both of them. This is just my own personal list in a personal essay, and these things may or may not resonate with other readers at all. I have no issue with anyone disagreeing with me.
First, when I heard Bishop Waddell dropping the number “17 million members” in his interview with the 60 Minutes reporter, it reminded me of The Muscle dropping his “1.4 million followers” line. Just like his number of followers doesn’t equate to how many people are actively engaged and interested at all times to his posts, neither does that 17 million number reflect how many members are actively engaged in the church right now. It’s all just number dropping to sound more important and popular than you actually are.
I read the Deseret News article in response to the 60 Minutes story, as well as many comments from active members that all seemed to be saying, “This isn’t a bad thing. We are actually a really amazing awesome church that has worked so hard, and got so rich because of it. This whole thing just makes me realize how cool we actually are. Wow, good job us!” Every comment I read online like this, I can’t help but imagine it in the same voice The Muscle used while narrating his helicopter pad at sunset on his deck. I thought about all of the other churches that could’ve become just as wealthy but chose to place their values in different areas. Instead of promoting excellent businessmen and lawyers to the top echelons of their church hierarchy (for example), they placed lifelong pastors with ministry degrees there instead. There’s nothing specifically wrong with either route of leadership, but it feels clear to me that the LDS church feels money, size and power are important signs of success.
The Muscle works hard and his payout is making lots of money and people telling him he’s cool. A kindergarten teacher also works very hard, but the payout from that road is not money and fame. I feel like the LDS church is The Muscle, and the churches who put pastoral leaders (with zero business know how) at the top of their organizations are the kindergarten teachers of religion. You can’t really say that either is wrong or bad – they’re just different ways of being successful. We have to ask ourselves, “Do I want to be The Muscle of religions? Would Jesus be The Muscle, or is he a kindergarten teacher?” Your conclusion may be different than mine.
Continuing on, as the reporter pressed Bishop Waddell for actual, concrete numbers regarding the church’s wealth, he just kept smiling and saying things like, “Um…we have significant resources.”
The Muscle has a YouTube video showing off his large and expensive new home, and the church has a YouTube video showing off its large and expensive new temple. (Both comment sections are filled with people excited about how beautiful each building is.) I am sensitive to this topic, because I do not think a temple is the same as a private residence. It is open to many more people and built with a spiritual purpose behind it rather than just a home for one individual and his family. However, it is still very exclusionary to many people. None of my extended family members are LDS, so none of them got to attend my wedding. In fact, most of my active, participating LDS family members also didn’t come because they didn’t hold a current temple recommend at that time. The temple is still a very extravagant and exorbitant building that only an extremely tiny fraction of the world’s population is ever able to step inside of under normal circumstances. It’s hard not to watch The Muscle talk about God and being Christ-like and yet feel icky that he is spending SO MUCH money on just himself, and it’s hard not to watch Bishop Waddell talk about God and being Christ-like and yet feel icky that they are keeping SO MUCH money for just the church’s “rainy day” fund.
Many men such as Bishop Waddell and The Muscle have invited me to come and learn from them throughout my life, promising they have very useful secrets to success. However, none of them look much like me, and they’re usually not my vibe – but hey, they might be yours if you are a white, elderly, male human who also likes to wear a shirt and tie literally everywhere, even to sporting events or the rodeo (do they have someone with freshly pressed white shirts and a lint roller on standby at all times?? They always look perfect and so formal!). I just happen to be a younger, female, yoga pants to the grocery store type gal myself. It can be hard to connect with them very often.
Sometimes I hear random sermons from church leaders about topics I don’t feel they are authentically experts on. When they talk about love, I wonder why they can’t love and accept the LGBTQ community exactly as they are. When they talk about everyone being equal before God, I wonder why women aren’t allowed to hold callings of authority or preside. When they talk about God loving all of his children the same now and always I wonder why black members were denied blessings for so very long. Their words often feel hollow, and I wonder “What makes you a moral authority on this topic?” (Kind of like when The Muscle posts a video telling people what their moral failings are and how he would fix them, but I have no idea what justifies him giving out relationship advice.)
And finally (in my list of comparisons), just like The Muscle bragged about using his helicopter to look for a lost teenager, the church often brings up all that they actually have been doing with their wealth when someone raises an objection to them stockpiling cash. Just because I might complain sometimes about the amount of wealth the church has in its many investments doesn’t mean I don’t hope they pull it out occasionally and use it for something good. I can voice my concerns about misuse, but also ask them to help. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
I genuinely don’t think The Muscle or Bishop Waddell are bad human beings. They are just humans. If I lived next door to either of them, we’d probably be friends (although I’d also be like, “dude, can you PLEASE not land the helicopter after 11 pm?”). I have many flaws and keep too much money for myself that could be better spent somewhere else. However, the icky feelings I got while observing both of them joyfully and proudly proclaiming their wealth bothered me in very similar fashion.
Does Jesus really want us to be fabulously wealthy, with beautiful comforts and gorgeous artwork and enormous stockpiles of cash invested and growing as large as humanly possible? Or did Jesus ask those who follow his teachings (which hopefully would include all of us – myself, Bishop Waddell and The Muscle) to forsake our riches, give everything we have to the poor, and follow him? None of us are going to perfect at it in this life, but we can choose which direction we are headed in. The Muscle and The LDS Church seem to be headed in a specific direction and I wish them both the very best – but I think I’d like to choose a different route.
Perfectly expressed. I’m happy to report that I missed out on the whole The Muscle semi-viral posts.
Well said. Your posts always resonate with me.
Abby! Your last few posts have been fire!!! You are such a good writer and hit all the points that make me so uncomfortable, too.
Perfectly said & 100% agree!
Excellent article. Like you were in my brain! Thank you for sharing your talent to help those of us say what we want to say in your beautiful words. ❤️
I felt like this was very well written and described well what is in my heart. Feelings I have not been able to eloquently explain.
I do want to challenge the passive implication that either path is find. The path of the church is not fine because it is fraudulently using the funds of church members and not abiding by the laws of which they proudly proclaim to follow in their beliefs. And I would also venture to say the muscle man is unethical as well as a contributor to the wealthy imbalance in our nation. His platform leads many participants on social media to hate their lives or leads to mental health issues. Especially related to the muscle’s wife who always looks “perfect”. How many followers look at that person and wish they were someone else? The path of the church must be challenged. The roads must be mended or demolished. Detours must be created. Change. We need change.
I have no idea why we are ignoring these verses- or essentially all of Mormon. Hasn’t been quoted in conference in a long time…not hard to imagine why.
When I lived in Utah, in a neighborhood with very few socioeconomic resources, there was a young man, just barely 18 who got into an argument on-line with The Muscle (who was significantly older). They arranged to fight in a parking lot where The Muscle proceeded to assault him and leave him badly injured. I can’t help but think of that story every time something about The Muscle pops up. How he was so insecure about himself online that he beat up a teenager in real life.
This young man challenged ‘the Muscle’ to a fight; he brought his injuries and problems on himself with that beatdown. He should’ve been more disciplined, kept his mouth shut, and ignored ‘Muscle’, the oversized bully.
Thus, while my compassion for the beatdown vic is genuine, my sympathy is completely nonexistent for someone stupid enough to being it on himself to challenge Muscle in the first place. ***
First of all, the MOMENT ‘the Muscle’ went on his ‘self-love fest’, I TUNED HIM OUT and ‘flicked him like a booger’. I have NO USE for shallow Hals’ like that.
I highly doubt he even went on a mission AT ALL. He’s just an attention-starved suck-up that appeared to be devoid of substance to any measurable degree.
As to Bishop Waddell and the issue of Church finances: Church finances have not been disclosed to the general Church membership since General Conference in 1959. I see no reason for them to start now, as that would open a Pandora’s box they could never close.
The fact is that with accountants running THAT portion of the show, the overwhelming majority (99%+) of members DO NOT WANT to know, simply on the grounds that finances in the Church are strong, stable, and there to benefit both the Church, and YES, the world at large, and they trust their leadership to whom the beancounters report that information.
Nor should the Church see the need to cast its pearls before the swine of the world (enemies of the Church); in other words, those who’d get their rocks off in bringing about the downfall of the Church, which is not going to happen. If anything, they’re going to have to use a MUCH more creative argument.
What many people do not realize is that the Church does A LOT behind the scenes- –both in the United States and Canada — as well as internationally, in making the lives of others better, often through easing their suffering, and unlike incompetent progressive Democrats in the United States Government, who insist on maintaining the moronic idea that throwing cash on problems will fix them, the private sector is FAR MORE EFFICIENT and RELIABLE.
Case in point: When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and much of Southern Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, much of that area did not regain full restoration of electrical power for MONTHS.
WalMart — on the other hand — the largest private employer in the effected area –jumped in to the rescue, and had every store up, running, with power restored, and OPEN, within DAYS, with employees earning themselves a livelihood, and people in need of supplies to repair and restore their homes.
Again, the private sector FAR AND AWAY outshining the useless government resources that again fell flat in failing to serve the people they took an oath to serve and protect.
Were the Church’s trailers up and running, using some of that ‘reserve’ to assist those in need, complete with yellow t-shirts, both missionaries and members alike, working should-to-shoulder? YOU. BET. THEY. WERE!!!
A lot of assistance given by the Church is done quietly, and especially under the radar, no seeking recognition, in keeping with what the Savior taught us in Matthew 6: 4,6. About the only mention you’ll ever hear of it is interesting Church Newsroom, is because they record it as a matter of historical fact.
This is where Sharon Eubank, head of LDS Charities and former counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, comes in, with her team, doing the wonderful work.
So, while I understand you had some concerns, this is one area while I will respectfully agree to disagree with you, on the grounds there is some information Bishop Waddell has for which there is NOT A NEED TO KNOW for members to know the details here.
I detailed the CBS piece in my article BIGOTS AT PLAY (https://timothychristopherrollins.substack.com/p/bigots-at-play) on my Substack page — complete with all the needed links following it — showing both side of Nielsen’s addiction for attention.
This may not satisfy some, and I can respect that. It’s just that for operational security — and yes, safety — reasons, some information must be withheld, to ensure smooth, competent operations can continue for the benefit of one and all, even the dissenters.
I wish you peace in your pursuit of the full truth. ***
Outstanding post and excellent comparison, Abby!