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Book Review: The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power

By D. Michael Quinn

Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2017

Reviewed by Eric Johnson

Money makes the world go around

The world go around

The world go around

Money makes the world go around

It makes the world go ’round.

–“Money,” from Cabaret

When it comes to money, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has plenty. How much? Nobody except the accountants at the Church Administration building in downtown Salt Lake City could hazard a somewhat accurate guess.  But there is no doubt that, each week, tens of millions of dollars enter its confers through church-owned Zion’s Bank. every week, more than anyone probably could ever imagine.

In his newest book The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2017), D. Michael Quinn—author of other “hierarchy” books—Origins of Power (1994) and Extensions of Power (1997)—pieces together the Mormon empire of wealth. The information he puts forth must have taken many thousands of hours along with boatloads of patience. This is a book many Mormons would never consider reading, but for those wanting a better understanding (as unofficial as it might be) concerning the history of the income and financial holdings of the LDS Church, this resource will need to be considered as the best place to find the information.

Although it is a 600-page book, only 157 pages are filled with regular text and chapter notes. The rest contains with appendices and listings, providing the minute details to whomever wants the research. While it will be impossible to be exhaustive in an Internet review, I would like to touch on the highlights of the book and perhaps give a sense of the vast wealth of the LDS Church.

A Paid Ministry

In chapter 1, Quinn shows how LDS Church founder Joseph Smith originally used the Bible in the early years of the church to support its leaders getting paid. In D&C 106:3, Smith explained how financial support (hire) should be given to any church officer who would “devote his whole time to this high and holy calling.” Then, all of a sudden starting in 1836, “hireling priests” became “a derogatory reference to modern Christianity’s ministers in publications by the Mormons” (pp. 2-3).

In later years, it didn’t seem to be a problem to have church leaders receive compensation, though the church still claims to operate without a “paid ministry.” As Quinn writes,

This support for the general authorities has sometimes been called a stipend. By the late-twentieth century, its preferred designation was living allowance or church allowance. After 1901, Mormon authors and publishers avoided the negative phrase “hireling priests” except when quoting nineteenth-century leaders. Nonetheless, into the 1990s, many LDS authors and publishers continued to reference “salaried clergy,” “salaried ministers,” “salaried ministry,” “salaried preachers,” and “salaried Priesthood” (pp. 3-4).

Quinn brings up this interesting point on page 15:

In view of traditional Mormon complaints about a salaried ministry, it is not surprising that, from the mid-twentieth century onward, I could find only four references by LDS publishers to general authorities receiving a “salary.”

Yet it is clearly shown that, from the earliest days, the general authorities have received “salaries”—call it whatever you’d like, but a salary is receiving income in exchange for something of value, such as work! In 2017, the renegade MormonLeaks website published the biweekly payroll stubs for First Presidency member Henry B. Eyring from 2001; it showed that he had received about $90,000 that year  for his work as an apostle. Another document from 2014 showed that the “base living allowance” for LDS general authorities was being raised from $116,400 to $120,000.  Source.

When Eyring’s payroll check was released, a church spokesman was quick to point out that “no funds for this ‘living allowance’ come from the tithing of church members but instead from proceeds of the church’s financial investments.” Fair enough. Others said this stub showed how “small” a general authority’s salary was in comparison to other leaders in other industries. Again, this is true. But are these two issues that matter? After all, it’s a non sequitur concerning where the money originates. (If the University of Utah receives an endowment for a music professor and the money to pay the salary comes from this source, wouldn’t we still say that this is a “University of Utah” professor even though the money didn’t come from tuition paid by the University of Utah students?)  And should it matter if what one person makes is less than what someone else makes? (If a $1 million baseball player earns much less than another player who brings in $30 million, would we say that the $1 million player isn’t getting paid a salary? No, it is just that one player happens to make more than the other, that’s all.)

Instead of asking where the money originates or how much (or little) the salary is, here is the real question: “Is it true that general authorities receive a salary?” The answer, as Quinn clearly shows, is “yes.” Is there anything wrong with LDS leaders receiving salaries? No, there is not. After all, if these workers dedicate their full-time careers to their church responsibilities, they should be compensated. However, many Latter-day Saints are so brainwashed into thinking that their leaders don’t receive “salaries” that words such as “living allowance” and “church allowance” are used, apparently to protect the image that their motives are somehow pure. Yet what is a salary except money that is used to pay for one’s “living expenses”? The church needs to stop playing games with the vocabulary and state, quite emphatically, that their leaders are paid.

Many others working for the church receive salaries as well. In fact,a whole section at the church’s administration building is dedicated to the “payroll” department! Consider the many thousands of people hired by the church who receive salaries from the church, including:

  • Accountants
  • Secretaries
  • Mission presidents
  • Seventies
  • Leaders of temples, visitors’ centers, and other church buildings
  • Curriculum producers/writers
  • Maintenance staff for the thousands of LDS buildings
  • Seminary/Institute teachers/principals
  • And who knows how many more categories I haven’t mentioned

According to one report, the average salary of a church worker in Utah is “more than $56,000 a year,” which is more than $1,000 a week, or $25+ an hour (Source). A few years ago we showed that a mission president living in Utah has a six-figure financial package. (See here.) Consider many others who get paid a salary by the church:

Granted, a number of jobs in the church could be two-year volunteers. (See the section “Missionaries as unpaid employees” below.) But this couldn’t be close to the majority of skilled workers in the church. For instance, I have known a number of seminary teachers, and not one of them (to my knowledge) is doing their job without a salary. If the church would just provide numbers for how much money is brought in and then spent, it sure would take away the speculation!

Brigham Young

Out of all of Mormonism’s leaders, Quinn spends the most time documenting Mormonism’s second president Brigham Young, a very wealthy man. Quinn uses an accounting system that translates figures into what the money would have been worth in 2010. Thus, he determined that Young’s annual income reached $111,000 in 1870,  which would be worth $1.9 million today. The average (mean) wealth of LDS presidents at their deaths is $5.5 million, but without Young included, that number goes down to $2.2 million! As pointed out by Quinn, Young was worth $1.6 million when he died in 1877, which is equal to an astounding $35 million in 2010 dollars! Out of all general authorities, nobody ever came close to this amount, including #4 Joseph F. Smith (sixth president, $6 million in 2010 dollars), #7 Harold B. Lee (ninth president, $3.6 million), #9 John Taylor (third president, $3.3 million), and #11 Joseph Fielding Smith (tenth president, $2.7 million).

Young took full advantage of the church’s 1847 move to Utah, as he ended up owning more than forty Utah companies, which are itemized on pages 198 to 205. These companies included blacksmith and carpentry shops,  textile companies (including wool, silk and cotton), restaurants, freighting, agriculture, grain milling, livestock, kilns, lumber, maps, sugar, manufacturing, paint, paper and printing, plastering, pottery, real estate, education, shoes, and tannery, among others. In addition, Young had an interest in the Salt Lake House, which ran a bar in downtown. (He had owned the Brigham Young Tavern from 1837-1858 in New York.) Others who were involved in items prohibited in the Word of Wisdom supposedly given to Joseph Smith in the 1830s included:

  • Joseph Smith, who owned Navuoo Manison’s Bar-Room from 1843 until his death in 1844. Orrin Porter Rockwell served as bartender and “prominent visitor Josiah Quincy called it General Smith’s Tavern” in 1844;
  • Nathaniel H. Felt, who owned H. Felt’s Liquor Store from 1861-64 in Salt Lake City;
  • fifth president Lorenzo Snow, who was a tobacco dealer in 1869;
  • future president George Albert Smith, who owned the newspaper/magazine Mutual Improvement Messenger. The publication was established in January 1897 in Salt Lake City and “financed through publication of ads, including Davidson-Lake Tea & Coffee, 1921, and Coca-Cola, 1931.” The monthly bulletins were distributed free to all wards in the Salt Lake Valley until it ceased publishing in December 1931.

Quinn writes in endnote 12 on page 92 that “for some readers, church leaders’ participation in the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages might be the most controversial aspect of this volume.” How many really knew that the church was so heavily involved in items prohibited by God, as he so detailed to Smith in D&C 89 in February 1833?

One interesting business owned by Young was the Brigham Young Barbershop (from 1861-77), known as the Temple Barber Shop because it was near Temple Square, “as the Pres. Wished to be shaved without coming in contact with gentiles.” John Squires operated the shop and accompanied Young “on all excursions among the settlements, and shaved the company [travelers] during their journey.”

Despite Young’s wealth, the second president did not do a very good job of taking care of everyone in his family, which included 55 wives and 56 children. As Quinn writes on page 24,

In view of the consistently massive wealth of Young and his counselors during this period, most Utahns recognized the irony. Six months before her husband issued the criticism of capitalism, Emily Partridge Young confided in her diary: “I feel quite ashamed to be known as a wife of the richest man in the territory, and yet we are so poor. I do not know why he is so lo[a]th to provide for me. My children are his children. He provides sumptuously for some of his family.”

According to the Bible, not taking care of one’s family when the husband/father had the means is problematic. First Timothy 5:8 says, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Concerning the favorite wives/children he apparently had, James 2:8-10 adds, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

The role of the LDS Church in local businesses

After Young passed away, church leaders continued to play a large role in the business of Salt Lake City and Utah. As Quinn writes,

…by the early 1900s there was widespread knowledge that members of the hierarchy were serving as directors or officers for dozens of Utah’s large businesses. Therefore, US senators were amused and astounded in March 1904 when President Joseph F. Smith could not remember all the companies for which he was currently an officer or director. During hearings of a Senate sub-committee investigating apostle Reed Smoot’s election, his questioner observed sarcastically that “it would seem that the number has grown so large that it would be an undue tax upon your memory to charge you with naming them all.” Only in response to direct questions that named the enterprises could Smith remember that he had a management role in fifteen companies, and editorship in two of the church’s periodicals. After the questioner asked Smith if there were “any others?” the witness replied, “No; I think not; not now. I have been in times past, but not now. . . I do not recall any others at present.” Appendix 5 shows that in March 1904 President Smith forgot fourteen other businesses in which he was an officer or director as of that year (pp. 61-62).

Led by Young’s exodus from Nauvoo and entrance into Utah in 1847, the Mormons were instrumental in settling Utah and creating businesses that were managed by LDS general authorities, even though the church denied in 1907 that it sought “absolute domination in temporal affairs.” Quinn illustrates his point by using a hypothetical young man named Brown who lived in Utah to show how dominating these Mormon-based businesses were. From pages 62-66, a person living in Utah would have to buy his food, read his newspaper, finance his house, light and heat the house, etc. using LDS-controlled or -owned businesses. There were really no other options. Here is just one paragraph of an illustration that covered several pages:

They financed a new house with a mortgage loan from Zion’s Cooperative Home Building and Real Estate,built by Utah Construction, with materials from Emigration Canyon Rock, Enamel Brick and Concrete, Mount Nebo Marble, Salt Lake Iron and Steel, Union Portland Cement, Utah Lime and Stone, Utah Lumber, and Utah Onyx Development. They insured their home with Utah Home Fire Insurance, furnished it with purchases from Granite Furniture, and bought household items from Eagle Mercantile, with parts from the Utah-Mexican Rubber Company and Utah Smelting (p. 64).

Quinn calls this the “cradle-to-grave world of early Twentieth-Century Utah,” a classic part of the book showing how dominant LDS businesses really were.

Before 1996, LDS general authorities sat on a number of boards of Mormon-influenced businesses. Then, in 1996, the First Presidency announced that the general authorities would no longer serve as corporate directors. Still, as Quinn pointed out, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, chair of Property Reserve, “oversaw the church’s City Creek shopping center project, occupying twenty-two acres in downtown Salt Lake City (just across the street from Temple Square and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building). The church would eventually acknowledge paying more than $1.5 billion to build and furnish this single project” (p. 89).

Getting rid of the deficits

Spending more money than the church brought in was apparently a common trait in later 19th century Mormonism. For example, fourth president Wilford Woodruff borrowed what the church did not have in order to build railroads, power plants, and entertainment resorts. When he took over control of the church, succeeding President Lorenzo Snow criticized Woodruff’s policies that led the church into almost $2.2 million worth of debt, equal to more than $56 million in 2010 dollars. Snow told the church apostles that “the Lord was displeased with us for borrowing or going into debt to the extent of nearly two million dollars for business enterprises” (p. 110).

It was the spendthrift ways of the LDS leadership that got the church into such financial hot water, even though Quinn explained that

the official story in church circles was that the debts were the result of anti-Mormon oppression. In 1901 newly sustained President Joseph F. Smith claimed that the church’s 1898-99 debt resulted from “the troubles incident to the confiscation of its properties.” Commenting on this “bondage of debt” ten years later, the First Presidency repeated that it was “largely the result of … the operations of the antipolygamy statutes.” Decades later the official “Ward Teacher’s Message” explained that “when Lorenzo Snow became president of the Church, it was involved in debt owing to the troubles incident to the persecution of early days.” Such statements directly contradicted what Snow had announced within the Salt Lake Temple in June 1899 about “the Lord [being] displeased” for involving itself in speculative investments (p. 111).

Quinn said this idea has persisted, possibly even to this day, though it is not close to the truth. He continues,

Oddly, the erroneous claim persisted even after the official 1930 Comprehensive History of the Church acknowledged “unwarranted financial schemes in which the Church had been launched.” The 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism reverted to the pre-1930 myth: “By 1898 the Church owed $2.3 million, an overwhelming burden of debt considering its resources. The major cause of debt was the U.S. government’s escheat of church properties under the provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 (p. 111).

Old lies are apparently hard to put away!

An interesting note about polygamy

Speaking of polygamy, the church was so scared about the government taking away its possessions that it placed several of its temples into secret holding companies. For instance, the Logan Temple Association, which was run by Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, took possession of the Logan, UT temple on July 19, 1884 “when the federal government was threatening to confiscate church assets; sponsored lectures; deeded back property, July 27, 1912, and disbanded.” The Manti Temple Association, whose president was Daniel H. Wells, took possession of the Manti temple and later deeded the property back to the church in 1925; and the St. George Temple Association took possession of this southern Utah temple in 1886.

In later years, the church worked hard to not go into debt. In April 1943, for instance, Orval W. Adams, chair of the Church Finance Committee, affirmed, “The Church has held to its policy of not running in debt.” In 1950, the church tithing was at $23 million, which was tripled to$72 million by 1959. However, during that same time, expenditures went up in a multiple of four times, from $17.6 million in 1950 to $72 million in 1959. Thus, the church spent about $8 million more than it brought in through tithing. In 1962, the year’s deficit went to $32.7 million, which is equivalent to $236 million today. According to Quinn on page 121, “this overspending made the church nearly bankrupt.” In 1959 the leaders stopped disclosing the church’s financial numbers, and it has become a guessing game ever since.

Missionaries as unpaid employees

The section “Missionaries as unpaid employees” brought out information that I did not know. According to Quinn, the church fills a number of positions for “clerical, administrative, and blue-collar work to reduce the cost of salaries and benefits that would be paid to regular employees” (p. 135). These volunteers are responsible for all of their own expenses. In fact, “a recent notice of opportunities called for a clerk, a receptionist, forklift operator, ranch hand, shop foreman, welder, truck driver, and Blackberry developer.” Here is one example of an advertisement from a 2009 ad:

“Real Estate Specialist: A mature couple, sister, or brother is needed to support the Real Estate Services Division in leasing, renewing, and managing leased properties throughout the United States and Canada on behalf of Church departments. The position is located at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.” The volunteer needed to be able to “analyze real estate market data and negotiate commercial lease agreements. Significant experience in commercial leasing or property management” was required. (p. 135)

Getting quality Mormon workers to donate their time, even if for just two years, is an incredible coup for the church. As Quinn writes,

The importance of these unpaid missionaries as staff employees cannot be overstated. For instance, during 2010 there were 20,813 church service missionaries working as unpaid employees in various capacities. Considering the efforts of headquarters to recruit people with established skills and work experience, CSMs probably saved the church a billion dollars in salaries and benefits in 2010 (pp. 135-136).

How much tithing?

How much the church collects in tithing is unknown, as the government allows the church to keep its financial affairs a secret. In 1991, the Arizona Republic attempted to determine the tithing numbers by looking at income tax returns of Utah taxpayers in 1988. The newspaper figured it would be $2.5 to 4.3 billion annually, with an estimate of $400 million more from its businesses. This would have put the church at number 110 of the Fortune 500 list of top corporations. Meanwhile, the New York Times estimated that, in 1996, the tithing number was $5.2 billion, which averages out to $120 million each week! Quinn says even that number is a billion dollars short, as he claims it would have been $6.2 billion that year. These numbers don’t include the money made by the church on businesses it owns. And remember, these estimates were last made more than two decades ago when the church had only half the members it has now. As Quinn writes on page 141,

It is stunning to contemplate that the LDS Church’s income from all sources has reached tens of billions annually in the twenty-first century. Speculation runs amok. A few years ago there was a report saying that the church had spent $1.4 billion for humanitarian aid in 179 countries from 1985 to 2011. While admirable, it is just a drop in the bucket when Christian agencies such as World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and other organizational giving is considered. While $1.4 billion is a lot of money, no doubt, this is only $56 million per year. It seems like a drop in the bucket when, in 1996 when half a billion dollars was brought in monthly just from tithes!

While it is all speculative, Quinn estimated that, in 2010, the church brought in more than $33 billion! This number, he points out, “does not include income from investments and for-profit businesses. When itemized, its commercial income varied between 29.7 percent and 17.5 percent of its total revenues. If he is correct that there is a 12.9 percent increase each year, this would mean the church is bringing in more than $1 billion a week in 2018!

This leads to the question as to why the church just doesn’t come out and publicly sat how much it is worth and how much money it brings in. Quinn thinks this would make sense. He writes on page 142:

In my judgment, negative reactions would decrease significantly if LDS headquarters resumed a detailed financial report to each April’s general conference. Such annual reporting could show how the billions in profits from the church’s commercial investments make possible its worldwide ecclesiastical and humanitarian expenditures.

Quinn cites Alan Blodgett who wrote,

I can only guess that Church leaders fear that individual members may not understand the vastness of Church resources and operations[,] and having this information might negatively influence their faithfulness and support …. Personally, I believe … more good than harm would come from the Church leaders offering an accounting of Church finances to the membership of the Church.”

I tend to agree with Blodgett.  Imagine what happens when the local Christian church budget comes out and members find out just how much the pastor is making. “He makes what?” someone will say. “Just for working on Sundays?” And they are tempted to stop giving. This fear seems to be why the LDS Church numbers will continue to remain secret.

One thing is for sure, though. The church leadership could eliminate speculation by detailing these numbers just as they do the convert baptism rate each April.


Quinn does a thorough job of crunching numbers to give the reader an idea of just how financially powerful this organization really is. As long as the church leaders continue to convince the membership to give their money away to this church, it will continue to wield great power in this world. After all, money makes the world go around, and to many members as well as potential converts, this idea of financial success—with magnificent temples being built each year and a facade of “making it”—is obviously more important than spiritual truth. In this category, the LDS Church is bankrupt.

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