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Mormon Business: Paying the Church’s Unpaid Clergy

By Sharon Lindbloom
18 January 2017

For a three-part Viewpoint on Mormonism series on this topic originally airing January 23-25, 2017, go to Part 1   Part 2  Part 3

Last week MormonLeaks (formerly MormonWikiLeaks) posted documents related to the salaries the LDS Church pays its full-time top leaders. These documents include several bi-weekly paystubs for LDS apostle Henry B. Eyring (dating to the year 2000), as well as a 2014 notice to LDS Seventy Bruce Porter confirming that he, along with all the Church’s General Authorities, was getting a raise.

The salaries provide a comfortable living for the 108 General Authorities of the Church and their families. In my opinion, this is fine and is their due. Yet the public revelation of these six-figure incomes has created quite a stir.

While some Mormons are not troubled by these disclosures (for example, BYU professor Daniel Peterson says he is “underwhelmed” by this “scandal”), they have nevertheless kicked into defense mode, arguing that the salaries are modest in comparison to what these men could earn in traditional secular employment. Furthermore, as one Mormon put it, “The leaders need to eat and provide the basics for their families. Since they can’t work on their own, it makes sense for the church to take care of their needs” (Kevin, posted January 12, 2017).

These arguments are quite reasonable. However, they avoid the elephant in the room. The problem regarding these leaked documents is not how much Mormon leaders are paid, but that they are paid.

The LDS Church has always asserted, proudly and repeatedly, that there is no paid clergy in the Mormon Church. This is touted as one of Mormonism’s distinctives – an important attribute that sets it apart from Christian churches. Consider a few LDS teachings on this:

“One of the important and distinguishing features of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that its affairs are administered by the lay members of the Church rather than by paid clergy. (Franklin D. Richards, Conference Reports, October 1968, 113).

“‘Did they also tell you that we have no professional clergy? All of us contribute our time, our talents, our means, and travel—all to help the work. And we’re not paid for it in money.’” (From a story told by Boyd K. Packer, found in Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B, Lesson 30: Tithes and Offerings, 251-256, 2000)

“Out of this body of priesthood, now great, were drawn, and are drawn the administrative workers of the Church: the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve Apostles, the Council of the First Quorum of the Seventy; the Presiding Bishopric; the stake and ward officers, and the many others needed, but only for such time as they are needed. The Church has carried on successfully with such a voluntary, unpaid body of officers and teachers.” (John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith: Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God, 1951, 128)

Additionally, many Latter-day Saints are quick to criticize churches that have a paid clergy, believing that paid ministers will succumb to greed and serving their own self-interests. The view against paid clergy has been widely disseminated within the Mormon community. Two BYU Professors articulated this attitude while discussing what they believe to be the evils of Christian creeds:

“Wherever creeds are found one can also expect to find a paid clergy, the simple truths of the gospel cloaked in the dark robes of mystery, religious intolerance, and a history of bloodshed.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 2000, 964)

Another contributor to the LDS idea that ministers should not be paid came from the Mormon temple endowment ceremony that, up until 1990, included the representation of a sectarian minister who was paid by Lucifer to preach “orthodox religion.”

All of this together has led to a widespread belief that no one holding an ecclesiastical leadership position within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is paid. This is why the MormonLeaks documents have made the news, not because General Authority paychecks provide for a comfortable living.

LDS defenders will argue that the Church has only said local clergy are unpaid (which excludes overseers of the entire church), or that the Church says there is no professional clergy (meaning no leaders are theologically trained), or that the money these leaders receive is only a living allowance (not a salary), or that these men are not actual employees because they were “called” into these positions (so though they receive money from the Church, they are not paid specifically for their service), or because the money they receive does not come from tithing funds (but rather from the Church’s business ventures), this somehow cancels out the fact that they are paid. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins explained,

“‘General authorities leave their careers when they are called into full-time church service,’ Hawkins said in a statement. ‘When they do so, they focus all of their time on serving the church and are given a living allowance. The living allowance is uniform for all general authorities [including First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, First and Second Quorums of the Seventy and Presiding Bishopric].’

“’No funds for this “living allowance,”’ the spokesman said, ‘come from the tithing of church members but instead from proceeds of the church’s financial investments.’” (Brackets in the original Tribune article. It’s interesting that the LDS Church spokesman admitted General Authorities are paid, but neglected to mention the non-General Authorities that are also paid; for example, mission presidents.)

Whatever the LDS Church has intended to communicate regarding its unpaid clergy, the message that has been understood by many Latter-day Saints (and repeated time and again to this non-member) is that the Mormon Church has no paid ecclesiastical leaders; and this, Mormons believe, is as it must be in the “one true Church.”

When commenting on The Salt Lake Tribune article regarding the leaked paystubs, an LDS woman named Cindy challenged the validity of the leaked documents rather than believe that Church leaders are paid. She wrote:

“And how reputable are the sources. As a long memeber of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for 55 years, with family in leadership positions, no one gets paid. Stop believing non members who are hateful and neglect the truth of the church. … get your facts straight and if you ONLY THINK YOU KNOW, get your facts right before you start talking and demeaning a CHURCH.” (These thoughts were posted in two separate comments.)

In Mormons Under the Microscope (2010), LDS author Ed D. Lauritsen answers the question, “How much does the Mormon Church pay its bishops?” Going beyond just the question of bishops, Dr. Lauritsen responds,

“In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, neither bishops nor any other ecclesiastical leaders – nor missionaries – are paid for their services. … (Paid ministry is merely one of many unauthorized changes that took place in Jesus’ ancient Church as a result of the ‘falling away’ that was prophesied.” (181. Parentheses in the original. Italics mine.)

Mormonism has a history of criticism toward Christianity’s paid clergy. This is especially egregious in light of the fact that the LDS Church pays its own full-time leaders. Whether called a “living allowance” or a “salary,” that is a distinction without a difference. Mormon defenders may continue to argue to the effect that what the Church said about paid clergy is not what it meant, but the fact remains that this MormonLeaks disclosure would not be news if so many people hadn’t been led to believe (by the LDS Church) that paid clergy equals corruption, and therefore LDS leaders are not paid.

Once again, the Mormon Church’s lack of transparency and its lack of clarity, has brought upon itself justifiable reproach.

For more on this topic, read What Does an Unpaid Ministry Look Like

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