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Mormonism’s Paid Ministry

By Bill McKeever

According to Mormonism’s tenth president Joseph Fielding Smith:

“It can be said also that the officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who labor without salaries coming out of the pockets of the members, are just as spiritually minded, have just as good judgment and wisdom in directing the temporal as well as the spiritual welfare of the people, as are any of the ministers who spend their entire time in what may be called spiritual counsel. For instance, the bishops of our wards and the presidents of our stakes and other officers give their time freely without any monetary compensation paid by members of the Church. It is equally true that the young men and women who are distributed over the face of the earth as missionaries of the Church pay their own way, or their parents do. We do not have a paid ministry, yet these brethren put in as much time in spiritual and Church duties, as do ministers of other denominations who devote their entire time, and in addition, they are under the necessity of earning their own living by their daily employment in industry. They do this because they have an abiding testimony of the divinity of the work the Church requires of them” (Answers to Gospel Questions 3:79).

To read the above statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith, one can’t help escape noticing that this church leader, as well as many members in the LDS Church, boast of not having a paid ministry. Because many members believe this to be true, we can’t help but think that Mormonism’s paid ministry is probably one of its best kept secrets.

I can’t begin to number all of the times the argument of a “paid ministry” has been used by the zealous Latter-day Saint to “prove” his church as true. Many feel that a compensated ministry is proof that an apostasy exists among many of the Bible-believing denominations. It seems that, while many Latter-day Saints believe their leaders put in a full day’s work for their church, few can explain how they can do this without being compensated for their time. The only logical way that this can be accomplished is if each and every general authority in the LDS Church is financially independent. This, of course, is not the case.

Some Latter-day Saints have argued that while their leaders are offered compensation, some choose not to accept the living allowance they are offered. That may be commendable, but it does not erase the fact that many do. Besides, many Christian pastors serve their churches without compensation as well. We don’t have a problem with this. We do, however, have a problem when Mormons point fingers at the Christian churches and condemn them for compensating their ministers when the LDS Church is really doing nothing different.

It may surprise many Latter-day Saints that their own standard works support the idea of a paid ministry. For instance, Doctrine and Covenants 42:71-73 states that bishops (as well as elders and high priests who assist these bishops) are to receive “a just remuneration for all their services.” Writing on this passage, Hyrum Smith and Janne Sjodahl state:

“The law of remuneration is that those who administer in spiritual affairs must have their stewardships and labor for their living, ‘even as the members.’ This is wisdom. For in that position they are absolutely independent and can preach the truth without fear. Those who administer in temporal affairs and give their entire time to public business are to have a just remuneration. If they were to earn a living for themselves they could not give all their time and energy to the community” (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 1973 edition, p.234).

At best it could probably be argued that the church is no longer held to this agreement because bishops no longer work “full-time.” While section 42 never explicitly says this is the only qualification for “just remuneration,” I think many hard-working bishops might argue the point.

Further, D&C 75 specifically names certain men who were called as missionaries and states that “it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.”

Even the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (2:910), concedes that “Missionaries or their families generally cover the major costs of serving a mission. Missionaries called from developing nations may receive needed financial assistance from the general missionary fund of the Church. This assistance covers only basic living costs, as the Church has no paid ministry. No one is paid for missionary service.” Notice the words “generally” and “major.” Apparently we have a semantic problem over what it means to be paid. If the LDS Church is covering even a portion of a missionary’s expenses it seems certain that the one receiving the compensation is a paid minister. In other words, the Mormon missionary is not self-supported.

For years it was not uncommon for the LDS Church to appoint its general authorities as board members of businesses that the church owns. Other businesses, seeing the advantage of having an LDS leader tied to their company, have hired general authorities as well. This was one aspect where being a “G.A.” does pay off.

On January 18, 1996, the LDS Church changed its policy regarding its general authorities and these corporate board positions. According to the Salt Lake Tribune (1/20/96, B1), the LDS Church called for the resignation of all its general authorities who would continue to be on these boards, whether or not it is Mormon Church-owned. Such action was deemed necessary because of the increasing demands on church leaders as a result of church growth.

The article pointed out that this would result in a loss of $12,000 per year for LDS Apostle David Haight, who at the time was a member of the board of First Security Corp. (This position also paid him $1,000 for every board meeting he attended.) In addition, Mr. Haight was a board member of Deseret Management Co. and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation. The logical question is, how was Mr. Haight’s loss of revenue (and those of other general authorities) be made up? Is it logical to believe the LDS Church is just going to force its leadership to take a pay cut resulting in thousands of dollars? No doubt this deficit will be made up directly through the LDS Church’s payroll department.

The Mormon Church has a history of calling Christian pastors “hirelings of Satan,” yet we find that there is nothing unbiblical about a paid ministry. Take, for instance, the support of the tribe of Levi. Unlike the other tribes which received an inheritance of land in Canaan, God chose instead for the tribe of Levi to receive the tithe of the people as compensation for the work they performed in “the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 18:21,22). Their entire function was to minister to the people.

In the same way, Paul defends a paid ministry in 1 Corinthians 9. He correctly concludes that pastors should be supported by comparing the minister to a soldier, a vinedresser, and a shepherd. Does that soldier go to war at his own expense? Does the vinedresser not eat of the fruit he has planted? Does not the shepherd drink the milk of his own flock?

In light of the above, we do wish that zealous Latter-day Saints would stop using this argument in an attempt to give some validity to their organization.

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