No paid ministry
FAIR: Defending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1997
Critics claim that Mormonism prides itself in having unpaid clergy as one proof of the Church's truthfulness. They then point to the fact that some General Authorities, mission presidents, and others do, in fact, receive a living stipend while serving the Church, and point to this as evidence of the “hypocrisy” of the Church.
Source(s) of the criticism
- Bill McKeever, "Mormonism's Paid Ministry," (accessed April 28, 2008).
- Sandra Tanner, "Do Mormon Leaders Receive Financial Support?" (accessed April 28, 2008).
A modest living stipend
Some members of the Church are unaware that at least some General Authorities do receive a modest living stipend. While it is true that some Church leaders receive a living allowance while they serve in a given position, it cannot be said that the Church has a professional ministry in the traditional sense.
A call to serve as a General Authority usually comes later in life, and none of these men has depended upon their Church service for their "career" or "income." Given the high caliber accomplishments of those called to full-time service, it is reasonable to expect that they could make a lot more money (with less trouble) in some other field of endeavor.
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.
A Scriptural Basis
Latter-day Saints care for their members through a resource known as the Bishop's Storehouse. This storehouse is filled through the contributions of members and includes temporal resources to assist individuals who have unmet temporal needs. It is administered through the office of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church and through the local administration of ward Bishop's. D&C 42:71-73 accounts for the support of individuals called to full time service in the Church. While the Church does not currently use the Bishop's Storehouse to provide for the temporal needs of General Authorities, as mentioned above, it does indicate a scriptural basis for them to receive support when warranted and according to their needs.
Church members have a particular sensitivity to issues surrounding paid ministries particularly due to admonitions in the Book of Mormon relative to a practices known as priestcraft, which is "that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion" (see 2 Nephi 26:29). It is warned against and decried repeatedly (see Alma 1:12,16, 3 Nephi 16:10, 3 Nephi 21:19, 3 Nephi 30:2, D&C 33:4). For this reason, the idea of compensation for service seems contradictory to strongly held values of the Latter-day Saint community. However, it should be noted that priestcraft as it has been defined is a condemnation of intent (to get gain and praise, and not for the welfare of Zion), and not about an individual receiving support. Living stipends are not compensations for service, but recognition of a practical reality that individuals who dedicate their full time to Church service are sometimes unable to simultaneously provide for their own modest living needs.
The example of King Benjamin adds to the LDS value of self sufficiency of leaders in particular. Benjamin, while king, still labored for his own support (see Mosiah 2:14). This is a very admirable demonstration of humility on the part of the king. However, this example was being used in the context of his political position as king, and would be comparable to a President refusing to accept his salary for his service. It should not be used to condemn the practice of helping provide for the modest living needs of full time leaders who are unable to dedicate time to earning a living.
No professional ministers
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." 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."
- the Doctrine and Covenants makes provisions for Church leaders to be supported by donations (see D&C 42:71-73).
- General Authorities previously sat on the boards of Church-owned businesses. This practice was discontinued in 1996.
Local Leadership (Ward and Stake)
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 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.
Some positions in the Church, namely a call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Quorum of the Seventy, are “for life” positions, meaning that the man chosen to fill the position serves until the end of his life. In such cases, if required, they are also given a modest living allowance. While many members of the Church are unaware of these allowances, that they exist and that they are comparatively modest was acknowledged in general conference by President 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. Calls to other Quorums of the Seventy do not require the same full-time commitment, therefore those who serve these positions do not receive a living allowance.
While a small number of Church members seek full-time teaching positions within the Church Education System as instructors, they are not compensated for ecclesiastical leadership or service. Church leaders are "called" by leaders in greater authority to occupy positions such as Bishop, Stake President, or Area Authority 70. One does not campaign for nor apply for such positions, and such an effort would undoubtedly be considered grounds for disqualifications to serve in such a significant role. Article of Faith 5 states: "We believe 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." (Articles of Faith 1:5) What is more, those who fill these positions are not compensated. Critics who complain about the use of Church funds do not contribute to the Church, and the funds they complain about are used to help leaders whom they do not sustain.
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. No tithing funds provide for stipends; such funds are drawn from business income earned by Church investments.
The Latter-day Saint practice of not paying our ecclesiastical leaders is not evidence of the truthfulness of the Church. Many people of other faiths admirably desire to serve as clergy in their respective churches, and go through extensive training to do so. Most clergy live on subsistence level wages. Principles of priestcrafts apply equally to these people as to our own leadership. The scriptures denounce preaching the gospel solely from a desire to make money and get rich, or to defraud people (see 1 Peter 5:2). The Book of Mormon likewise defines "priestcraft" as teaching for the sake of getting gain while not seeking "the welfare of Zion" (see 2 Nephi 26:29. Likewise, many members of other faiths devote time to their churches without any monetary compensation. Certainly they follow the teachings of Jesus by so doing, and accomplish much good thereby.
As with other issues, the real question regarding the "truthfulness" of the Church hinges on the endowment of priesthood keys and authority on those who lead the Church. Temporal matters and how they are handled are governed by spiritual principles. Leaders who serve faithfully should be sustained regardless of their personal finances or needs for modest financial assistance.
- [note] Gordon B. Hinckley, "Questions and Answers," Ensign (November 1985), 49. off-site
- [note] Articles of Faith 1:5
- [note] Mosiah 27:5
- [note] Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006). off-site
FAIR wiki articles
FAIR web site
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Questions and Answers," Ensign (Nov. 1985), 49.
- R. Lloyd Smith, "Sharing the Gospel with Sensitivity," Ensign (Jun. 2002), 53.
- Lowell Bennion, "A Mormon View of Life," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 24 no. 3 (Fall 1991), 68.
- Maribeth Christensen, "Volunteerism," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), :1539–1540. off-site off-site
- Paul H. Thompson, "Lay Participation and Leadership," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), :814–816. off-site off-site
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