Question: Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints employ a professional clergy?

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Question: Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints employ a professional clergy?

There can be no doubt that the Church does have an unpaid ministry. More precisely, it does not have a professional clergy

Some claim that because some of the General Authorities and mission presidents receive a living stipend, the Church's claim to have no paid ministry is false.

There can be no doubt that the Church does have an unpaid ministry. More precisely, it does not have a professional clergy.

Consider:

  • the Church does not graduate individuals with degrees in theology for the purpose of being used in an employed position as an ecclesiastical leader.
  • the vast majority of leadership positions in the Church are filled by those who receive absolutely no financial assistance and who have no formal training in theology or Church administration. This includes bishops, stake presidents, Area Authority Seventies, Relief Society presidents, priests, teachers, deacons, and elders, etc.
  • Missionaries or their families typically pay for the costs of their missions.
  • the Church has no professional ministry — one does not "go into" the priesthood in Mormonism as a form of employment. The Church believes that "a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."[1] No one can enter Church ecclesiastical government or administration as a career.
  • those few Church leaders who receive a living allowance, have already served for many years in unpaid volunteer positions of Church leadership, from which they derived no financial gain, and from which they could have had little expectation of making their livelihood by being elevated to high positions in Church administration.
  • the Book of Mormon makes provision for Church leaders to be supported by donations if they are in a position of financial need: "all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God."[2]
  • the Doctrine and Covenants makes provisions for Church leaders to be supported by donations (see DC 42:71-73).
  • General Authorities previously sat on the boards of Church-owned businesses. This practice was discontinued in 1996.[3]

Local leadership

Much of the day-to-day “ministering” that goes on in the Church takes place at the local, i.e., ward and/or stake level. Leaders at the local level -- that is, bishops, stake presidents, relief society presidents, elders quorum presidents, and other leaders or auxiliary workers -- do not receive any kind of pay for the temporary, volunteer service they render. They likewise do not receive any kind of scholastic training to prepare them for their service. A bishop usually serves for a period of 5 years, for example, but he remains in his normal occupation (accountant, welder, business owner, etc.) while he serves as a bishop. Early morning or release-time seminary teachers are an exception, but they are considered employees of CES (Church Education System).

Mission Leadership

Mission presidents usually serve for a period of 3 years, and may sometimes receive a living allowance during their period of service, if it is required. Many mission presidents are financially able to take time out of work to support themselves during their service (and return to their vocations when their service is complete), and do not require a living allowance.

Critics may be impossible to satisfy

If provision did not exist for allowing those who are not "independently wealthy" to provide full-time Church service, critics might well then complain that the Church "favors the rich" because it would not allow those of lesser means to serve. Without some mechanism for providing for the needs of those giving full-time service, only the worldly elite would be able to serve. This factor becomes increasingly important as the Church expands out of North America, especially into nations in the Southern Hemisphere who are less materially well-off than the industrialized west.


Notes

  1. Articles of Faith 1:5
  2. Mosiah 27:5
  3. Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006).