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Interpreting Interpreter
The Incentives of Apostasy

This post is a summary of the article ““An Analysis of the Financial Incentives in Attacking the Restoration” by Ron C. Rhodes in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Rhodes provides financial context for the work of popular online organizations that are critical of the Church, suggesting that there are key monetary incentives for creating critical content that may help explain their prolific output.


The Summary

In this article, Ron C. Rhodes highlights the potential incentives surrounding the work of online organizations who focus on creating content critical of the church, providing key statistics on video counts, view counts, revenue, and salary information for the two largest such organizations (Mormon Stories and Mormon Discussions), both of which, as non-profit organizations, are obligated to publicly disclose their financial information. In doing so, Rhodes outlines what he feels to be the core business model of these organizations, operating largely through the solicitation of donations, but also being paid for based on number of views and for fee-based services (e.g., seminars, coaching, merchandising). Other critical organizations that rely solely on donations tend to not be as financially viable. The production of large quantities of negative videos may be a key element of the financial success of organizations like Mormon Stories and Mormon Discussion. For Rhodes, this business model creates an incentive to sow doubt in as many people as possible, using as many avenues as possible, with the implication that this could be done without regard for accuracy, quality, or reliability.

Rhodes contrasts these organizations with entities that defend the Church, which he suggests endure derision for being driven by volunteer efforts. The Church itself is also a target of contempt, a contempt that, according to Rhodes, fails to align with the stated mission of some critical organizations. Some critics suggest that critiques of their financial incentives are hypocritical given the substantial financial reserves that the Church holds, but Rhodes suggests that the purpose and use of those funds (e.g., religious services, education, welfare) should be taken into account.

Rhodes indicates that the primary responsibility for addressing critical arguments lies in the home. This can be supplemented by leaders who become familiar with reliable and faithful sources of information, and who can work proactively to prepare members for criticisms of the gospel. As he concludes:

“Critics of the Church may present themselves as mere seekers of truth who are just asking sincere questions, but their actions and apparent financial incentives may be at odds with such innocent appearances… There are clearly difficult things to understand about Church history. Like all types of history, our Church’s history is fraught with inadequate documentation about certain events to which we all wish we had more solid answers… However, our members must recognize that the critics’ portrayal of events in Church history or of questions related to our doctrine and scriptures often seek to transform the unknown into something sinister or laughable… There are credible and faith-building answers available through faithful resources, [and] there is a great need to make such information more broadly available and more widely understood to better strengthen faith and understanding, and to better protect members from the trauma of an unnecessary faith crisis.”


The Reflection

I appreciate Rhodes’ thoughts here. But the immediate counterargument that comes to mind is “what about Book of Mormon Central?” Would they not face the same financial incentives to put out quantity rather than quality? In a sense they do have an incentive to put out regular content, and they do have almost 2,000 videos to their name (on the Scripture Central channel, at least) as of the time of writing. One of the differences, I think, is the expectation of their audience. The brand of Book of Mormon Central is built on quality and not necessarily quantity, with each video usually accompanied by well-researched articles based on reputable sources. Without that, it’s hard to imagine that their audience (or the donors) would keep showing up as consistently as they do.

The audience for these critical organizations is telling, I think. Based on a recent poll on, the majority of the Mormon Stories audience was revealed to be non-LDS—that is, those who were not and had never been members of the church. A lot has been said of the phenomenon of audience capture, but in this case it provides a set of cultural and social incentives that may be as powerful as the financial ones. It’s safe to assume that a non-LDS audience would have no problem with contempt for the Church, and may in fact care very little about the well-being of those facing doubts, to say little of considerations for accuracy or intellectual integrity. I’ll leave judgments about whether the critics could be or have been captured or influenced by that audience to the eye of the beholder, but it strikes me as a fruitful avenue for those studying the incentives facing Latter-day Saint media operatives.

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