Mormonism and church finances/No paid ministry/General Authorities living stipend

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General Authorities' living stipend


Question: Why do General Authorities receive living stipends?

Gordon B. Hinckley: "the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people

Some members of the Church are unaware that some General Authorities receive a modest stipend as a living allowance. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that the Church has a professional ministry in the traditional sense.

Calls to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Quorum of the Seventy are calls to “for-life” positions, members of the Twelve serving full-time until they die and members of the First Quorum of Seventy serving full-time until retirement to emeritus status at age seventy. At the present time, calls to other Quorums of the Seventy do not require the same full-time commitment, so those who serve in these positions do not receive the living allowances.

The fact that this stipend exists has not been hidden. As President Hinckley noted in General Conference:

Merchandising interests are an outgrowth of the cooperative movement which existed among our people in pioneer times. The Church has maintained certain real estate holdings, particularly those contiguous to Temple Square, to help preserve the beauty and the integrity of the core of the city. All of these commercial properties are tax-paying entities.

I repeat, the combined income from all of these business interests is relatively small and would not keep the work going for longer than a very brief period.

I should like to add, parenthetically for your information, that the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people.[1]

The stipend has also been discussed many other times in the past

Conference reports published during 1940s and 1950s and 1960s always included financial reports; part of this was a "Church Disbursements," of which the first item read:

Office of the Corporation of the President: Including salaries of 49 employees: expenses of office; equipment; maintenance of the Administration Building; and the living allowances and traveling expenses of the General Authorities, all of which are covered by non-tithing income.[2]

In 1979 it was common knowledge for a non-member to wonder about why a successful banker would settle for the modest "living allowance":

In Honolulu a few months ago I boarded a plane, sat in my seat, and was strapping myself in when a man sat by my side. I introduced myself to him and extended my hand in a greeting of good fellowship. He was of Japanese extraction, spoke impeccable English, and explained that he was on his way to Boise, Idaho, to attend a bank directors’ meeting. Immediately I was curious.

“Which bank?” I queried.

“Citizens National,” he replied.

“Then you must be acquainted with Martin Zachreson, who is mission president in Southern California for the Mormon Church.”

“Yes,” he said. “ I wondered why he would leave the position of chairman of the board of a successful bank to serve as a mission president for a mere living allowance.”

As you can imagine, that opened a door that I was anxious to walk through. So I asked, “May I explain to you?”[3]

We have seen above President Hinckley's discussion in the mid-1980s.

In the early 1990s, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (prepared in conjunction with the Church) noted:

Unlike local leaders, who maintain their normal vocations while serving in Church assignments, General Authorities set aside their careers to devote their full time to the ministry of their office. The living allowance given General Authorities rarely if ever equals the earnings they sacrifice to serve full-time in the Church.[4]

In 2011, the Church's official magazine noted:

Serving as a mission president is both a challenging and a spiritually exhilarating three-year assignment. In dedicating themselves to this call, many couples essentially put their old lives on hold, including their jobs and families.

The interruption to professional employment can in some cases mean financial loss. While the Church provides mission presidents with a minimal living allowance, the couples usually have the financial means to supplement that allowance with their own funds.[5]

In a 2013 manual for Church teens, the text indicates:

In our day, General Authorities of the Church give up their livelihoods to serve full-time, so they receive a modest living allowance—enough for them to support themselves and their families.

Why is it appropriate for Church leaders who are called to full-time service to receive compensation for their needs?[6]

If there were no stipends, only the wealthy could serve

If the Church did not provide living allowances, then only those who were independently wealthy would qualify for Church service. Some critics would doubtless be troubled by this scenario, and would probably then claim that the Church exalted wealth and personal prosperity, and would not allow any without it to serve.

Many Church General Authorities come from respected professions from which they make a substantial living

Dedicating themselves full time at the sacrifice of substantial careers, these leaders live modestly, work tirelessly, keep grueling travel schedules, and continue doing so well past an age when others retire. They are also demonstrably men of education and accomplishment; one can hardly claim that they were unsuited for work in the world given their accomplishments prior to being called to full-time Church service.

Michael Otterson, formerly head of Church Public Affairs, observed:

I can hardly believe it when I hear people question the motives of the Brethren for the work they do, or when they imply there is somehow some monetary reward or motive.

Let me share the reality. Not all the Brethren have been businessmen, but most have had extraordinarily successful careers by the time they are called to be an apostle. As President Spencer W. Kimball once pointed out, the ability to lead people and an organization is a more-than-helpful attribute in a Church of millions of people, especially when combined with spiritual depth and a rich understanding of the gospel. Because several have been highly successful in business careers, when they become apostles their stipend and allowances may literally be less than a tithe on what they previously earned.

Some of the Brethren have been educators. Elder Scott was a nuclear physicist, Elder Nelson a heart surgeon. Several were highly successful lawyers. Right now we have three former university presidents in the Twelve. President Boyd K. Packer was also an educator by profession, although in his spare time and in his earlier days he loved to carve beautiful things out of wood. That sounds curiously related to another scripturally honored profession — that of a carpenter.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be called to the Twelve? In most cases you have already had a successful career. You know you will continue to serve the Church in some volunteer capacity, but you have begun to think of your future retirement. The First Presidency and the Twelve, of course, do not retire. Neither are they released. With their call comes the sure knowledge that they will work every day for the rest of their lives, even if they live into their 90s, until they literally drop and their minds and bodies give out. Their workday begins early and does not end at 5:00 p.m. The Twelve get Mondays off, and those Mondays are frequently spent preparing for the rest of the week. If they have a weekend assignment, they will often travel on a Friday afternoon. Periodically, even though in their 80s, they face the grueling schedule of international speaking conferences and leadership responsibilities.

What about when they are home? I have the cell phone numbers of most of the Brethren because I sometimes have to call them in the evening, on weekends or when they are out and about. I’m not naïve enough to think that I am the only Church officer to do so. So even their downtime is peppered with interruptions. I invariably begin those calls by apologizing for interrupting them at home. I have never once been rebuked for calling. They are invariably kind and reassuring, even early in the morning or late at night.

Their primary time off each year is from the end of the mission presidents’ seminar at the very end of June through the end of July. And while this time is meant as a break, most of the Brethren use this time to turn their thoughts, among other things, to October general conference and preparation of their remarks. During Christmas break they do the same for April conference. Every one of them takes extraordinary care and time in deciding on a topic and crafting their messages. The process weighs on them for months as they refine draft after draft.

This is not a schedule you would wish on anyone. Yet they bear it with grace and find joy for some overwhelmingly important reasons — their testimony and commitment to be a witness of the Savior of the world and their desire to strengthen His children everywhere. They would be the very first to acknowledge their own faults or failings, just as we can readily point to the apostles of the New Testament and see imperfect people.[7]

In 1996, the stipend was in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year. In 2014 it was increased from $116,400 to $120,000

In 1996,[8] the church altered some of the responsibilities given to General Authorities. Prior to this point in time, they also served on corporate boards of church-owned companies and for these positions they received a stipend. At that point in time, some of the financial information was disclosed, indicating that the stipend was in the neighborhood of $50,000.00 a year.

To give a sense of proper comparison, US Department of Labor statistics list the 1996 average salary of a civil engineer at $52,750, that of a computer programmer at $50,490, and that of the average junior college teacher at $49,200. Therefore, the living allowance, which provides for most of the normal day-to-day expenses of a full-time authority and his family (including house payments, personal transportation, food, clothing, entertainment, etc.), is in line with that of a professional employee. It is far lower than the large management salaries that might be expected for someone with the skills that these General Authorities must have and the responsibilities that they must shoulder.


Question: Do General Authorities receive a large sum of money when they are called in order to "keep them quiet"?

Claims that General Authorities receive large "hush money" payments are pure speculation with little data

This type of criticism seems intended to imply that General Authorities perform their duties out of greed, rather than sincere belief. This seems implausible, given that most are at or beyond retirement age when called, and many have been highly successful outside of Church service.

Furthermore:

  • Non-disclosure agreements are standard practice with regard to salary and compensation.
  • The numbers suggested have consistently escalated over time, despite an absence of hard data.
  • Those who provide such accounts attempt to make normal practices seem nefarious or hidden.
  • The Church has not hidden the fact that general authorities receive a stipend, and there is scriptural warrant for the practice.

These kinds of speculations as to money received almost always comes from disaffected and former members, and involves large round numbers such as $300,000, $500,000 or $1,000,000

They all claim (in true conspiracy theory fashion) to have an inside source. They always make claims with no evidence - and use nice big eye-catching round numbers such as $300,000, $500,000, $1,000,000, and so on. Should the church provide some data, it would almost certainly be dismissed as a cover up of the truth (protected of course by those NDAs, right?). There may be a lot of reasons why people become General Authorities, but it seems doubtful that getting wealthy is one of them. You would think, with hundreds of General Authorities, all supposedly getting excessive payments from the church (as the allegations go) for the last century, there might have been some sort of financial scandal that the critics could pin their speculations to. But it doesn't seem like it, does it?


Question: Do General Authorities sign a non-disclosure agreement promising to never divulge what they are paid?

It is highly likely that General Authorities sign a non-disclosure agreement

Not only do many of the employees of BYU sign such non-disclosure agreements, but, those who have access to this information are also required to sign such agreements. Generally speaking, these agreements allow organizations to sue for damages when a breach of confidentiality occurs. The major point here, though, is that if general authorities are given a stipend (for living expenses), it is quite possible that the stipend comes with a non-disclosure agreement (an NDA). This would be the "contract promising never to divulge to anyone what they are paid". Of course, it is presented in a way that makes all sorts of insinuations. But probably if such a thing exists and happens, it follows the standard boiler plate legal language used elsewhere by the Church's legal team to handle the same issue. That contract wouldn't actually list the compensation, and so while this person may have seen the NDA, we can be certain that they have no personal knowledge of what the compensation actually is. The $300,000.00 figure is just being tossed out with no real evidence behind it, save anonymous hearsay.

Now, what is the point of this sort of agreement? Mentioning the NDA in this kind of discussion is intended by the critic to demonstrate that something nefarious us going on. That is, we are meant to conclude that the Church is covering a big secret of some sort with the use of NDAs.

A non-disclosure agreement does not guarantee secrecy

This, however, doesn't make much sense. One problem with an NDA is that in order to get relief the injured party must sue. And in suing, the contract itself would become part of the court case, and potentially available for public scrutiny. If the objective is complete secrecy, then the concept of an NDA utterly defeats the purpose in this case. Not only would it open up hidden information for public consumption, it would also tend to confirm whatever had been said by the general authority who offered information. This would only be some sort of problem if the church was trying to hide something. And so if the church is trying to hide payments to general authorities, then the whole process of having a NDA creates far more problems than it would solve.


Question: Who is the highest-paid Church employee in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

The head football coach at Brigham Young University is likely the highest paid employee

Who is the highest paid church employee? As of 2014, it is probably Bronco Mendenhall (the head football coach at BYU). His base salary is estimated to be at least $900,000 a year. With incentives and bonuses, it could be as high as $2,000,000.00 per year. Even at 2 million a year, he would only rank 59th (of 126) college football coaches (a lot to us individuals, not excessive by the narrow standard of his peers).[9]

Of course, nobody is really quite sure how much he makes because, like most employees of BYU, Bronco Mendenhall has signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) about his salary. And being that he works for a private university, you cannot simply request this information. This is, by the way, standard practice for private universities in particular, but its also true of most private entities. Organizations where salary information is widely available are usually managed by group contracts and are often unionized. The Church does not fit that particular mold. The business side of the Church (and its corporate employees) follow business practices that recommend these kinds of NDAs.


Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Questions and Answers," Ensign (November 1985), 49.
  2. This example is from Conference Report (6-8 April 1945), 18.
  3. Royden G. Derrick, "The True Value System," BYU address (15 May 1979).
  4. Marvin K. Gardner, "General Authorities," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992).
  5. Heather Whittle Wrigley, "New Mission Presidents Blessed for Exercise of Faith," Liahona (December 2011). See also an on-line "Church News" feature which reproduces this material from 1 July 2011.
  6. Unit 15: Day 4, D&C 69-71," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (Salt Lake City, UT: Intellectual Reserve, 2013).
  7. "FULL TRANSCRIPT: Michael Otterson addresses FairMormon Conference," lds.org (7 August 2015).
  8. Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006).
  9. http://www.coacheshotseat.com/SalariesContracts.htm (accessed 28 March 2014)