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Continuing LDS Criticism of Other Churches: Greedy Ministers and Lazy Congregants

by Sharon Lindbloom
4 March 2024

“Good morning, sir!” Lucifer greeted the minister, “If you will preach your orthodox religion to these people, and convert them, I will pay you well.” The minister was happy to comply, but when he later understood that his employer was the devil, he grew concerned about the arrangement. He fretted, “If I leave his employ, what will become of me?” Nevertheless, the minister decided it would be best to end his employment situation and settle the bill. “I want you to pay me for preaching,” he told Lucifer. But, as might be expected, the devil would not pay up. Defeated, the minister turned and sadly walked away.

The essence of this scene was once part of the Mormon temple endowment ceremony, a very important religious ritual for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The scene portraying the minister-for-hire, a character positioned to represent Christian pastors from every denomination preaching biblical Christianity, was removed from the temple ceremony in 1990, but even so, that critical attitude toward Christianity’s paid clergy remains active within LDS culture.

Two weeks ago, Mormon author Gary C. Lawrence published an article at Meridian Magazine, an independent Mormon-focused online magazine that provides “Inspiration for living a Latter-day Saint life.” The article, “What Sets the Church Apart: Vertical, Geographic, and Unpaid” seeks to explain why the LDS church is able to quickly mobilize an impressive volunteer force to help people in times of need. Dr. Lawrence writes, “I submit these successes rest upon three simple characteristics that no other denomination fully matches.”

The first characteristic on the list, “We Are Vertical,” is described as top-down “invitations to participate in specific activities from a bishop, an elders’ quorum president or leaders in the Relief Society.” It’s unclear to me how this approach differs from organizational efforts employed by “other denominations,” but in the remaining two points on Dr. Lawrence’s list, he takes aim at Christianity’s paid clergy and the Christians these pastors serve.

In the section titled “We Are Geographic,” Dr. Lawrence praises the way the LDS church assigns members to wards based on where they live. This is a better system, he says, because when people are free to choose where they want to attend church, “preachers from the same religion find themselves in competition with each other,” which affects their volunteer efforts. Though he doesn’t cite any studies or other supporting evidence, Dr. Lawrence claims,

“Not a few ministers hesitate to ask their parishioners to join hands with those of other faiths or even those within their same denomination in a common volunteer cause because they’re afraid that someone might say, ‘You ought to come hear our preacher; he’s really good.’”

Dr. Lawrence explains,

“One is prickly about poachers when one’s paycheck depends upon putting posteriors in the pews.”

Dr. Lawrence goes on to suggest that in pursuit of a higher wage, a Christian pastor will try to woo Christians away from their own churches to bolster attendance at his church. “By comparison,” Dr. Lawrence writes, “when was the last time you heard of an LDS bishop marketing his sacrament meeting services to members of a neighboring ward? It simply doesn’t happen. No bishop spends time or money enticing members from other wards to attend his.”

While I wouldn’t suggest that these sorts of things never happen, in my 45 years of experience as a church-going Christian I’ve not encountered the kind of pastors and scenarios that Dr. Lawrence presents.

Up to this point in the article, Dr. Lawrence has maligned vocational Christian pastors as people who only care about themselves: They actively discourage their church members from volunteering to help people in times of need because it might end up hurting the pastor’s salary, and they try to “poach” from other Christian churches in hopes of getting a pay raise, with no thought for the congregant’s spiritual well-being. Just like the depiction in the earlier temple endowment ceremony, Dr. Lawrence describes Christian pastors as nothing more than obstructionist ministers-for-hire. But he’s not done with his criticisms yet. 

In his third point Dr. Lawrence turns his focus from the alleged immoral behavior of paid ministers to criticizing the Christians who attend these churches. Dr. Lawrence seems to believe that when Christians pay their pastors they think they shouldn’t have to volunteer for any sort of work themselves. Under the sub-heading “We Are Unpaid,” he notes, “While other denominations waste money on a paid clergy doing everything, we give every member a little something to do, but with no monetary pay…”

Dr. Lawrence portrays Christianity’s “paid clergy” as “doing everything” while, in his words, Christian congregants only have “an observational state of mind.” Therefore, Christians don’t participate in their churches, but instead are what Dr. Lawrence describes as “pew potatoes.”

It’s true that churches are always happy to add to their pool of volunteers, but Dr. Lawrence uses a very broad brush to mischaracterize what churches with paid ministers actually look like. Consider the church I attend as an example. Hundreds of volunteers in my evangelical church serve in the church, without pay, every Sunday morning. Beyond Sundays, more volunteers facilitate our weekday and evening Bible study groups, as well as Wednesday night children and youth programs. They work to maintain our grounds and facilities, provide hospitality, serve in various ministries for children at risk, those with special needs, prayer, missions, and so on. Christian pastors work hard and do a lot, but they don’t do “everything.” Christian churches are busy places with busy people volunteering as they serve one another and their communities for the glory of God. 

Dr. Lawrence argues against paid clergy not only because he believes it leads to greedy ministers and lazy congregants, but also because he thinks it’s a “waste [of] money.” To make his point, he calculates that if the LDS church were to pay its local ward leaders, the church would have to “shovel out” many millions of dollars “just to put rice and beans on their tables and roofs over their heads.” 

While Dr. Lawrence may think paying pastors is a waste, the Bible says otherwise. The New Testament tells us that those who oversee the church well, especially those who teach and preach, are worthy of double honor, and are deserving of a generous wage (1 Timothy 5:17-18). 

In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul explains, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).

The apostle Paul also instructs, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).

Biblically speaking, it’s the church’s responsibility to provide for the pastor’s material needs. Humanly speaking, it brings great joy to Christians as we lovingly support these servants of God. It’s not a waste. It’s not a burden. It’s a privilege and an honor to care for those who care for us. 

During the May 2009 General Conference of the LDS church, apostle Quentin Cook said,

“But notwithstanding the significance of our doctrinal differences with other faiths, our attitude toward other churches has been to refrain from criticism.” (“Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children”)

Though many Mormons deny it, Dr. Lawrence has demonstrated that Latter-day Saints do criticize “other denominations.” The LDS church may have removed the degrading portrayal of Christian pastors from its temple ceremony, but the mocking of Christians and low opinion of Christianity that has been a hallmark of Mormonism throughout its history lives on.

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

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